Geometric and meaningful

BETWEEN A ZOROASTRIAN (Parsi) well and Churchgate railway station, both in central Mumbai, there stands a wonderful steel sculpture, which was financed by the Tata company (named after its Parsi founder).

The sculpture, completed in 2011, is the creation of the architect Nuru Karim and colleagues. Consisting of two closely placed spirals, it rises to a height of 11 metres. The spirals are formed using a set of triangular frames made of a type of Tata steel alloy.

The sculpture is named ‘Charkha’, which means ‘spinning wheel’, and refers to the spinning wheel which Mahatma Gandhi encouraged his followers to use to help make India self-sufficient and less dependent on British imported textiles. Each of the triangles are unique. Combined together in this sculpture, they are supposed to portray unity within diversity, and India’s rich mix of diverse cultures. In other words, the artwork is expressing the idea or hoped-for ideal that although a rich mix of different people, India is one united country.

Whether or not India has achieved this ideal, this sculpture is both aesthetically pleasing and a welcome addition to Mumbai’s incredibly rich mix of visual delights.

Two in one

THE GOVERNMENT MUSEUM in Chennai has a magnificent collection of mostly early medieval Hindu and Buddhist bronze sculptures. One of these wonderful religious artworks was exceptionally interesting. At first sight, it seems like a sculpture of a human figure, but soon you will notice many odd things about it.

The figure has two right arms and one left arm. It’s left breast is female in form. The right is male. The right side of the torso has male characteristics, but the left side has sensuous female curves. As for tthe shapes of the buttocks, the right one is different from the larger left one. The right leg is largely unclothed, but the left is covered with a depiction of a cloth covering.

The statue I gave been describing is half male and half female. According to an information panel nearby, this sculpture is an 11th century depiction of Artanarishvara. It is a composite of Shiva (right half) and Parvati (left half). It represents the belief that the Godhead, Shiva, and his consort, Parvati, cannot exist without each other. It also shows that without the coexistence of male and female, human life cannot be propagated and continued. No doubt, there is much more meaning encompassed in this interesting sculpture, but I am not competent to discuss this further. Suffice it to say, seeing this unusual sculpture gave me food for thought.

Until today, I had never seen an Artanarishvara. This beautifully crafted work was one of many lovely pieces in the bronze collection of Chennai’s version of the British Museum.

Purple Haze on the Isle of Wight

THE STATUE LOOKED incongruous where it was standing, in a flower garden next to Dimbola House in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight. Made in bronze and life-size, it depicts Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) strumming an electric guitar. At its base, there is a title of a Hendrix song, “Purple Haze”, and below this some poetry (not the lyrics to the song) and the words “I.O.W. lavender”. Appropriately there was a lavender bush with purple flowers growing close to the statue. Nearby, a door leading into a second-hand bookshop housed within Dimbola is decorated with stickers bearing photographs of Hendrix. Not being knowledgeable about Hendrix, I was puzzled to discover this monument to him in a place that seems to be in a different universe to that of Rock Music.

Between the 26th and 31st of August 1970, the small island off the south coast of England hosted the Isle of Wight Festival at Afton Down. This music festival was attended by between 600000 and 700000 people, that is more than met at the famous Woodstock event (USA, 1969). On Sunday, the 30th of August, the performers included, to mention but a few, Kris Kristofferson, Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, Joan Baez, Pentangle, Leonard Cohen, and … Jimi Hendrix. Jimi played late at night and into the early hours of the 31st.

Sadly, Hendrix died a few weeks later, on the 18th of September in Notting Hill Gate. His death occurred in the still existing self-catering apartment hotel, the Samarkand at number 22 Landsdowne Crescent. He had recently moved in there with his new partner, the German artist and figure-skater Monika Dannemann (1945-1996).

The statue of Hendrix at Dimbola was commissioned by the Isle of Wight Festival organiser, John Giddings, in 2006. Why it stands at Dimbola was a mystery to us. Someone in the museum in the house explained that Giddings had wanted the statue to be placed at the site of the 1970 festival, but was refused permission. As he knew the director of the organisation housed in Dimbola, Brian Hinton, he asked whether it could be placed there. Hinton agreed. Later, he is reported saying:

“Jimi is now immortal, a man for all seasons, and it is lovely to dress him up to celebrate cultural and sporting events in the vicinity of the Afton site, where he very much helped put the West Wight on the map, as did Mrs Cameron and Alfred Lord Tennyson a century earlier.” (https://onthewight.com/dimbolas-jimi-hendrix-statue-to-get-lycra-makeover-for-tour-of-britain/)

Mrs Cameron was Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), a pioneer in 19th century photography, about whom I will write in the near future. And Tennyson needs no introduction. Although the statue does not flatter Jimi Hendrix, it is wonderful to see a place, which many people think as being a 1950s-time warp, is pleased to celebrate someone who burst open cultural barriers not so long ago.

An uninteresting artist in a Hertfordshire church

SAWBRIDGEWORTH IS AN ATTRACTIVE small town with many picturesque old buildings and a parish church, St Mary’s, whose construction began in the 13th century. It is an unusual edifice, being about as wide as its length, rather than longer than its width as is the case for most English churches. It contains a fine selection of elaborate funerary sculptures.

The most impressive funerary monument is the memorial to John Leventhorpe and his wife Joan, who died in 1625 and 1627 respectively. Within a multi-coloured marble frame, both of the deceased are depicted reclining on their left sides with their heads propped up by their left hands. John holds a sword in his right hand and Joan a small book in hers, Beneath the two statues, the couple’s six sons (one of whom, Arthur, died as a baby) and eight daughters are depicted in bas-relief, all kneeling in prayer. Baby Arthur is also present on the memorial but has been sculpted much smaller than his brothers. The whole sculptural ensemble is magnificent, and if you had time to see only one thing in Sawbridgeworth, this should not be missed.

High on the wall facing the Leventhorpe memorial, there is a smaller one, commemorating Jeremiah Milles (died 1797) and his wife Rose, who died in 1835. It is typical of early 19th century memorial art. It shows a female mourner in Hellenic dress kneeling in front of a sarcophagus. It was sculpted by John Termouth (1795-1849) of Pimlico (London).

The sculptor of the Leventhorpe memorial has been forgotten, but Termouth, who sculpted the Milles memorial, has not been consigned to obscurity. A notice in St Mary’s revealed that Termouth was:

“… an uninteresting artist whose symbolism was always obvious, hackneyed, and uninspired.”

From Piccadilly to New Delhi

APPLE TREE YARD is a cul-de-sac near London’s Piccadilly. It runs east from Duke of York Street and parallel to Jermyn Street. On its south corner where the Yard meets Duke of York Street, there is an interesting monument consisting of three slightly separated carved basalt slabs with letters inscribed in them. The letters make up the following words, all in capital letters:

“SIR EDWIN LUTYENS ARCHITECT

DESIGNER OF NEW DELHI

LAID OUT HIS PLANS HERE IN APPLE TREE YARD”

Although I have never been to Delhi, I am familiar with the work of Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944). I was brought up in north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb not far from its Central Square, which is surrounded by buildings that Lutyens designed before embarking on his projects in New Delhi. Although the above-mentioned basalt blocks were completed in 2015, I had not been past Apple Tree Yard  until yesterday (13th September 2022). Next to the inscribed blocks there is an attractive figurative bas-relief carving, also in basalt, mounted on a wall.

The carvings were made by Stephen Cox and he describes them in detail on a web page (www.lutyenstrust.org.uk/portfolio-item/apple-tree-yard-sculpture-honours-spirit-lutyens/). Here is a brief summary of what he wrote. The bas-relief sculpture is called “Relief; Figure emerging”. It was inspired by sculptures in Hindu cave temples, especially those around a town near Chennai (Madras): Mahabalipuram. The basalt that can be seen in Apple Tree Yard was quarried near the south Indian temple town of Kanchipuram. Cox, who has a studio in Mahabalipuram, was assisted by local carvers, when he created the bas-relief.  In summary, the monumental slabs and the nearby sculpture have their roots in India, which is highly appropriate as they commemorate an architect, who worked in India.

I must admit that amongst all the foreign architects, who have made significant buildings in India, Lutyens is not my favourite. Those, whose works I have seen in India and liked, include William Emerson (1843-1924), Frederick W Stevens (1847-1900), Le Corbusier (1887-1965), and Louis Kahn (1901-1974).

Lutyens, who was a former Viceroy of India’s son-in-law, drew up the plans for New Delhi in an office at number 7 Apple Tree Yard. Hence, the location of the monumental stones. Number 7 was for a long time the home of the Royal Fine Art Commission, but it exists no longer. It is now covered by a new building. However, his work in both India and the Hampstead Garden Suburb can still be admired by those who like Lutyens’s work. I feel that Cox’s memorial to him is much more elegant than much that I have seen of his buildings.

Great expectations

I LOVE OUTDOOR sculpture exhibitions. Also, I enjoy visiting the exhibition spaces of the White Cube Gallery, which are located in Piccadilly and Bermondsey. So, it was with high expectations that we drove up to Arley Hall in Cheshire to view an exhibition of outdoor sculpture by artists with whom the White Cube represents.

The works on display until the 29th of August 2022 are by artists including amongst others Gormley, Noguchi, Tracey Emin, Mona Hatoum,and Takis. This is a formidable line up of artists.

Arley Hall and its gardens are magnificent. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the temporary exhibition of works by eminent modern sculptors. Unlike other outdoor sculpture shows I have seen (e.g. Frieze at Regents Park, Houghton Hall, and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park), what was on display in Arley Hall’s garden was unexciting despite the delightful setting. I felt that White Cube, whose exhibitions are, if nothing else, always dramatic, could have displayed a more impactful selection of artworks.

Exhibition aside,visiting the grounds of Arley Hall was well worthwhile as it has given us the opportunity to spend some time in Cheshire, which we do not know well.

Images of my mother’s sculptures rediscovered

MY LATE MOTHER (Helen Yamey: 1920-1980) trained as a commercial artist in Cape Town (South Africa) before WW2. In 1948, she came to London to marry my father. In London, she painted and, according to my father, took lessons from the great Stanley Spencer (1891-1959). Around the time when I was born (1952), my mother began making sculptures. The first of these was a terracotta mother and child. Maybe, she was depicting herself with me in her arms.  By the 1960s, she was working in the sculpture studios of St Martins School of Art, which was then near Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. There, she was in the company of artists such as Anthony Caro, William Tucker, Philip King, and William Turnbull. At least one of these now famous artists taught my mother how to weld and solder.

My mother exhibited her works in important art galleries at least twice. In late 1961, she exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in a show called “26 young Sculptors”. In 1962, she exhibited sculptures at the Grabowski Gallery, along side works by Maurice Agis and David Annesley. Although she sold a few of her creations, she did them more for pleasure than for profit.

My mother was a perfectionist. She destroyed much of what she created. However, at some time during the 1960s, she had a series of professional photographs taken of some of her mainly abstract works. These were kept in a yellow Kodak photographic paper box in a drawer in our home in Hampstead Garden Suburb. As a teenager, I used to look at them occasionally and wonder what became of some of the creations recorded in these photos.

My mother died in 1980 and my father remarried 11 years later. After remarrying, he and my stepmother moved from our home in Hampstead Garden Suburb to another house (near Primrose Hill). After the move, I used to ask him what had happened to the photographs of my mother’s sculptures and other family photos. Each time I asked, he would say that they were stored somewhere, possibly in the garage of his new home. After a while, I gave up hope of ever seeing these pictures again because it was clear to me that Dad had little or no interest in these photographs and in addition he could not imagine why anyone else would find them interesting. My father died, aged 101 and 6 months, in 2020. What with covid19 and its associated problems, we did not see his widow, my stepmother, again until recently this year (2022).

When, at last, we met her, she arrived carrying a plastic carrier bag, which she handed to me. To my great delight, it contained the box of photographs described above and another filled with family photographs taken mainly in the late 1950s. My stepmother told me that she had found them when she was sorting things in the garage of the house where she and my father had lived.

The photographs of my mother’s sculptures all bear the name of the photographer: Joseph McKenzie, ARPS (95 Blenheim Gardens, Wallington, Surrey). According to Wikipedia, Joseph McKenzie (1929-2015) is regarded as “father of modern Scottish photography”. More relevantly in the context of my mother’s works, he taught photography at the St martins School of Art.

Some of the photographs have notes written on their backs. The handwriting is my mother’s. One of the pictures, that of the mother and child has the words: “my first ever sculpture, terracotta, mother and child, 24””. Some of the other photos have information about the size and the material of the work depicted.

About 10 years before she died, my mother became disillusioned and practically gave up making sculptures. Although she made a few abstract images in pen and ink and a few carvings in alabaster, her abandonment of sculpture making as a full-time activity left a great hole in her life.

I have taken pictures of the photographs, and they can be seen on:

http://www.ipernity.com/doc/adam/album/1323344

From his garden to his grave

IT IS PLEASANT to stroll beside the Thames along Chiswick Mall. Occasionally, we take a look at the graveyard of Chiswick’s St Nicholas Church. On a recent visit to this place, we walked deeper into it than usual and spotted a grave marked by a remarkable sculpture.

The idyllic, romantic, leafy churchyard by the river is chock full of graves. Several of them caught my attention. One is that for the artist William Hogarth, who lived close-by. His monument is protected by a cast-iron fence. An urn on a plinth decorated with an artist’s palette and brushes. It was erected after the death of his sister in 1781 (who is also commemorated on this monument) and was restored by a William Hogarth of Aberdeen in 1856. Another painter, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812), who was born in Strasbourg, is buried with his wife Lucy de Loutherborg (née Paget). Like Hogarth’s, their decaying monument on the north side of the cemetery is surrounded by cast iron railings. In 1789, Philippe gave up painting temporarily to develop his interest in alchemy and the supernatural. Later, he and his wife took up faith-healing. The remains of yet another painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), lie in the cemetery.

Private Frederick Hitch (1856-1913) is less famous than these artists. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (January 1879) in the Anglo-Zulu War fought in South Africa. He is also buried in this large cemetery.

Amongst the more recent graves is the one with the unusual sculpture. It is that of Baronet Percy Harris (1876-1952), who was a Liberal politician. Son of a Polish immigrant, he was born in Kensington, and died there after a long career in parliamentary politics. According to a website listing British Jews in WW1, Percy was Jewish, yet his grave is distinctly Christian in sentiment. Aesthetically, his grave is the most remarkable one in the cemetery next to St Nicholas. It includes a semi-abstract, vorticist carving of The Resurrection of the Dead, created by the sculptor Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903-1973) in the 1920s. Harris had acquired it for display in his garden long before it was moved to adorn his grave.

Although Percy Harris was born Jewish, he is buried in the graveyard of a Church of England parish church. Despite searching the Internet, including reading his extensive entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, I cannot determine whether or not he converted to Christianity sometime during his life.