Friday, 22 January 2016

New Portrait of Lord Byron

The portrait will be available from April 19th. 
Click on image for eventual finished painting.

It began with this message from the Byron academic Nicky De Spinoza (not his real name):

"Calling all Byronists with an artistic bent! I would like to offer the opportunity to any interested artists who might be interested in designing the cover for my forthcoming book, Byron and the Best of British Poets. What I am looking for is a sketch/drawing/painting/silhouette/whatever of Byron ... etc"

I responded:

"I am an artist, though not bent, and submit an early expressionist portrait I pummelled the canvas in oils with in the poet's likeness, or not as the case may be, for your delectation; though I am willing to undertake a fresh commission of his lordship if tempted by the prospect of exposure to the preferably pleasing or, if not, philistine eye. My preferred medium is oil on canvas. Rest assured, the pending Lord Byron portrait will not be as expressionistically challenging as my one of Lady Caroline Lamb."

Nicky De Spinoza replied:

"Give it a go, Bish! The deadline's still far away and I should like as many to choose from as possible. Knock yourself out, as our American cousins say."

Whereupon I knocked myself out, using paint brushes rather than boxing gloves. The portrait manifested and took on a life of its own. Whether Nicky De Spinoza adopts it or not for his book cover, I am content either way. The important thing for me is to have been inspired.

A copy of the finished portrait was forwarded by email to Nicky De Spinoza who responded:

"Bish, this is very powerful indeed! Thank you so much. It goes straight to the head of the queue! Once all the 'contenders' are in I will submit the pictures to the publishers for consideration. In the meantime, a very happy Easter to you and yours."

My original source of inspiration for this full face portrait of the poet (he was normally painted in semi-profile of full-profile) was the locket kept on the person of Lady Caroline Lamb whose obsession with Lord Byron is recounted in my biography of her, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know (Gothic Press, 1992). In the miniature the sitter is looking straight ahead. My new portrait - more akin to the beloved locket owned by Lady Caroline Lamb (and kept on her person until her death) than anything else - is executed in oils on a 20" x 16" canvas.

More obscure and indeed mysterious is an ambrotype attributed to a lost Byron portrait which interested me as a photographer. An ambrotype is a negative image on glass that becomes a positive image when a dark background is put behind it. Every daguerreotype and ambrotype, therefore, is one-of-a-kind. It has been claimed by the owner of the ambrotype that the photograph is a record of a lost oil portrait of Lord Byron by a nineteenth century artist. The ambrotype photographic process (the second kind of photography after daguerreotypes) was introduced in 1854, peaked in 1857-59, and waned in 1861 when the more convenient and inexpensive tintype became popular. Both the Byron Society and the Daguerreian Society have seen the ambrotype image, but their verdict is inconclusive.

The ambrotype of a suspected lost portrait.

The locket owned by Lady Caroline Lamb.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Consider the Birds in the Air

Consider the birds in the air: 
They neither sow nor reap, 
They have neither storehouse nor barn, 
And yet God feeds them. 
Are you not of more value than they?

All photographs taken on 15 January 2016 in the late afternoon.

Monday, 11 January 2016

David Bowie R.I.P.

David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016) was a patron of expressionist art who, before the end of 1976, increasingly showed interest in the burgeoning German music scene. He was prompted to move to West Berlin to clean up his drug addiction and revitalise his career. There he was often seen riding a bicycle between his apartment on Hauptstraße in Schöneberg and Hansa Tonstudio, the recording studio he used, located on Köthener Straße in Kreuzberg, near the Berlin Wall. Working with Brian Eno, he began to focus on minimalist, ambient music for the first of three albums, co-produced with Tony Visconti, that became known as his Berlin Trilogy. Leading contemporary composer Philip Glass described Bowie's Low (1977) as "a work of genius" in 1992, when he used it as the basis for his Symphony No. 1 "Low"; subsequently, Glass used Bowie's next album as the basis for his 1996 Symphony No. 4 "Heroes." Glass praised Bowie's gift for creating "fairly complex pieces of music, masquerading as simple pieces." Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980) produced the number one hit "Ashes to Ashes," featuring the textural work of guitar-synthesist Chuck Hammer and revisiting the character of Major Tom from "Space Oddity." As "Ashes to Ashes" hit number one on the UK charts, Bowie opened a three-month run on Broadway starring in The Elephant Man. Though he intended the group Tin Machine to operate as a democracy, Bowie dominated, both in songwriting and in decision-making. The band's album debut, Tin Machine (1989), was initially popular, though its politicised lyrics did not find universal approval: Bowie described one song as "a simplistic, naive, radical, laying-it-down about the emergence of neo-Nazis." Gerard DeGroot's The Seventies Unplugged: A Kaleidoscopic Look At A Violent Decade (Macmillan, 2010), quotes Bowie telling German journalists "Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader." On his return to Britain, Bowie greeted his fans with a Nazi Salute. "I think I might have been a bloody good Hitler," he told Rolling Stone [magazine]. "I'd be an excellent dictator." The sudden prominence of reactionary rock deeply annoyed those who assumed that rock's rhythms were virtuously leftist. 

Speaking as The Thin White Duke, Bowie's persona at the time, he made statements that expressed support for fascism and perceived admiration for Adolf Hitler in interviews with Playboy, NME and a Swedish publication. Bowie was quoted as saying: "Britain is ready for a Fascist leader ... After all, Fascism is really Nationalism ... I believe very strongly in Fascism, people have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership." He was also quoted as saying: "Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars," and "You've got to have an extreme right front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up." That notwithstanding, on 24 April 1992, David Bowie married Somali-American model Iman in a private ceremony in Lausanne. 

His January 2016 release Blackstar (★), which is said to take cues from his earlier krautrock influenced work, according to The Times: “may be the oddest work yet from Bowie.” I have always viewed him as a artist using himself as the canvas and incorporating ideas and symbols, some of them dangerous, to achieve whatever effect he sought. He tried to dismiss his excesses as derangement. But Davie Bowie was never deranged. He knew exactly what he was doing. Born David Robert Jones, this unusual man died of cancer two days after his 69th birthday on 10 January 2016.

David Bowie was speedily and secretly cremated. The iconic singer told his loved ones he wanted to “go without any fuss” and not have a funeral service or public memorial. A source in New York told the Mirror newspaper: “There is no public or private service or a public memorial. There is nothing.” The financially astute singer was reportedly close to bankruptcy in the 1970s, but managed to save himself from financial ruin, leaving a fortune worth £135 million to his family.

The singer had what is known as a “direct cremation,” described on the New York State’s health department website as “the disposition of human remains by cremation without a formal viewing, visitation, or ceremony." It is also considered to be one of the more affordable ways to dispose of someone who has passed away, costing between $700 to $900. The deceased is generally collected from the place of death and transferred to the crematorium. Following the paperwork, the remains are then cremated, and then generally returned to the family unless otherwise specified.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Pale Blue Eggs

Thank you for the gift of bullfinch eggs. They 
Unexpectedly arrived on New Year's Eve.

"So glad the pressie made it, and I am relieved 
It managed to arrive before New Year's Day!"

Thus we all raise our glasses to toast the bird

Song of the bullfinch (which we haven't heard).

Dear cousin in America, oh deary dear,
The gift that came before New Year
To our surprise contains no legs,
Beaks, eyes, wings of feathers fine.
Nor even yolk in these pale blue eggs

That are made of mint chip maltball
— At least, that's what it says on the sign 
Mimicking Maltesers in their design. 

Friday, 1 January 2016

Stone Memorials

Another year, another stone
Memorial to add to so many
Already standing alone
And without a penny

In their dead pockets
For bangers and mash
And sky rockets
And other trash.

A new year has flown
In through the window
For flesh and bone
To greet and grow.

You say Hello,
I say Goodbye.
The old had to go;
The old had to fly

Into what is now
A fallen bird;
Into what is now
A song unheard.