Reviews

Objects of Desire: David Hockney's Muse in 'A Bigger Splash'

The private world of David Hockney's creativity will never be a disappointment.


A Bigger Splash

Director: Jack Hazan
Cast: David Hockney, Celia Birtwell, Peter Schlesinger, Ossie Clark
Distributor: BFI (UK)
Rated: PG-15
Year: 1974
UK release date: 2012-01-29

The ennui, the lethargy; it’s a hard life being a famous artist, surrounded by beautiful boys! David Hockney, who is no actor believe me, stars in this drama-doc directed by Jack Hazan and based in the time during the early '70s when Hockney and his ‘set’ bestrode the world of fashion and art. Amongst the contributors are Ceila Birtwell and the late Ossie Clark. Their seemingly effortless arts-school style helped to define the era and the acceptance of different lifestyles was ahead of its time. Living amid the groovy setting of Notting Hill and Kensington the airy, easy spaces of their studios are evoked and the partying and jetset lifestyle is still something to envy.

Hockney is tracked as his relationship with the beautiful California art-school graduate Peter Schlesinger breaks up. He draws Schlesinger, including the delicate detail of his features and clothing, and takes him as his ‘muse’. His is the body in the pool drenched in West Coast sunlight and easing gracefully around the pastel world of the ‘Splash’ paintings. There is a delicate, relaxed quality to the film; it’s a pseudo-drama. Nothing really happens in this artistic world, but it all looks great!

The apartments are beautiful: the clean lines, period features reflected in pristine mirrors and vases of sumptuous lilies. And we have front row seats for an Ossie Clark fashion show – which can’t be bad. It's intriguing to see the parade of designs and just how ‘now’ they are – the influences are so clear and one can truly say on this evidence that fashions come around again and again! This is 1973, and the clothes could have just appeared on the Spring 2012 catwalks. We also have a privileged ‘over-the-shoulder’ shot as Birtwell sketches out some of her flamboyant fabric designs. And the private world of Hockney’s creativity is never a disappointment.

Was something else supposed to be happening? Oh, yes – something about a relationship breaking up. I got distracted by the clothes and the art. This is a lovely, stylish, hip, funky, creative piece. The artists and designers in it are not being real or themselves; they are acting the part of icons of style and coolness. They are aloof and photographed in minute close-up or with panning shots along the body, or seen at a distance striding across a road in West London -- all flying lapels and droopy brims. And they chainsmoke unceasingly.

Hockney, for me, just does not date. His recent explorations in colour and form using the iPad, his new exhibitions at the Royal Academy, and documentaries about the history and theory of painting demonstrate the energy that the artist possesses (more of which could have been shown in the extras for my preference). He is now the grand old master, but in A Bigger Splash he was still the insolent upstart. Schlesinger, also a sculptor and photographer in his own right, is still generating work and maintains contact with Hockney – acknowledging the painter’s influence on him. For all the supposed scandalous goings-on that this film might reveal it is ultimately a quiet testament to creativity. Also style -- and gorgeous interiors, and retro design that never seems to date.

8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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7

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

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Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

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10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

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