Tag Archives: modernism

Back to The Future

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

This is one from the original concept for this blog; one of the hundreds of slides that i took while working at the A**s C***cil in the late 1990’s and early 2000s.

The work afforded lots of opportunity for travel and because I’m nose-y, also allowed me to poke my nose into places where people didn’t often go. I can’t remember how I first heard about Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion (probably while working at the H**ry M**re Foundation in the early ’90’s) but it had always been high on my list of interesting places to visit. Virtually inaccessible except by Geordie public transport or by car, the sculpture (sculpitectre? (c) Sir Anthony Caro) was a bastard to find in those far off pre-google maps days. I drove twice round Peterlee first, far too intimated to ask for directions to something that I already knew that the locals hated…but there it was, nestled in a grassy dell of the Sunny Blunts estate, surmounting a rancid lake, the Chapel Perilous by way of A Clockwork Orange: something heroic, Arthurian and abandoned, a pissy, graffitti-ed castle. The sculpture (completed 1969) was named for the moon landings, and represents the fag-end of British Modernism, as the sixties curdled into the 70’s, Alfie growing into Jack Carter. The Pavilion was a symbol, not of the heroic age of modernism, but of the slow decline of British visual culture into the 1980’s, into the apotheosis of middle-class philistinism, Margret Thatcher.

The Pavilion is now restored, having been refused listing by New Labour’s ‘Tony’ Banks in 1998 (Cool Britannia rejecting the visual culture of Old Labour in all its forms), a Community Association having been formed to protect it (how wrong I was) in 2003 and  £336,000 awarded to Peterlee from the HLF in 2008. The steps have been reinstated, the fence and ‘softening’ planting removed, as befits an icon of British modernism. In 2011 is was awarded Grade II* listed status, the second highest level of listing by English Heritage. I link to a image of it restored, but, secretly, I still prefer its abandoned state when only I, like Sir Percival, knew the location of the grail, and whom it served.

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Spitfire Parade

Paul Nash (1889-1946)
Battle of Britain, 1941
Oil on Canvas
(c) Imperial War Museums (art.IWM ART LD 1550)

So here’s a thing.  My grandmother was a painter, and both my parents were architects and also painted, and the tradition of mid-century English painting and design was present in my early life to such an extent that, for me as a child, it seemed that that was how painting was done…which was why my discovery of Pop or Abstract Expressionism at school such a mind-blowing revelation. Because Spencer, Nash, Moore, Ravilious, Baynes, Piper, Sutherland, Hale; that mid-century aesthetic, forged in two world wars, but coloured with the gentility of the middle class, created the way that I, we, perceive visual culture: the Home Counties Apocalypse of John Wyndam, or John Christopher, souring into the nihilistic rationalist psychedelia of Aldis and Ballard.

So it is hard for me to name this work or even see this as art, since this is a baseline from which all art (by definition, deviation) deviates. I’ve come to love it, but it is a love of nostalgia, not of knowledge. Living in the US, this work is unavailable to any real extent, in the same why that Turner, the antecedent of this work, is also a virtual unknown.  Nash’s painting as war artist of WW2 shows the conflict as a sometime surreal dream, a dream where the details, the shine of water, the tilt of the horizon from the cockpit, are more present than actual visceral realities of conflict. What strikes in this image is not the clash of man and machine, but sheer vastness of the space in which that conflict takes place.  Testimony from fighter and bomber pilots from the war are not about close contact, but about the distance between objects; the size of the canvas on which they played. And of course, for a boy (man) my age, the Battle of Britain is one of the heroic definitions of our generation. This painting makes real the revelation that the war in the air was not about ideology, men or machine, but about space (so back to Ballard and the surreal again).

We had a Nash on the wall in the JCR at college; a painting of tanks on exercise on Salisbury plain (where I was at school); though oddly I can’t find a reference for the painting online. I also knew Nash’s nephew, Peter-Paul Nash, the composer, for a while; he married a good friend of mine.

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The Cabin in The Woods

FALLINGWATER world-famous masterwork by Frank Lloyd Wright, designed in 1936 for Lilaine S. and Edgar J. Kaufmann. Endowed and given in their memory to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, 204 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa 15222. Please call or write: admission by reservation only.
South Elevation/Summer

Despite its aged appearance and style, this is postcard from no later than 1993; nearer 1991, I think, purchased by me and my now wife during one of our road-trips across country when she was at Brown, Rhode Island and needing to get back to Minnesota for the summer. I’m not sure that there’s much more to be said about the insanely ambitious (and largely just insane) Falling Water. It’s actually only a late-period Wright, but for me marks a point where he could have persisted to become a true modernist master rather than dissolving into the twiddlely world-building of the 1950’s. Those two crossed slabs suspended over the water fall in the woods; taking the ‘prairie style’ from out of Chicago and off the prairie and placing it deep in the Pennsylvania woods created a shocking and abstract clash of form and intention that has never been (and possibly) couldn’t be equaled.

Inside, the building’s a mess, dark (especially, I suppose, in the summer), small, cramped and pretty uncomfortable (just like a real cabin!). Outside it’s a surrealist/modernist sublime. Thinking about Albert Speer and his Ruinenwerttheorie, (this is the 30’s after all), one can hardly wait to return one day and see the whole thing collapsed into the rushing water, blocks strewn with weed, amongst a cloud of dragonflies and kingfishers.

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Coverley Cathedral

12th Century Norman, Romanesque Parish Church.

A double header for today. I was at Oxford University, in the mid 1980’s, but I never visited Iffley in the East of the city. I knew the Iffley Road well, and of course the Cowley Road, where all the interesting shops, pubs and restaurants were. The Cape of Good Hope pub, The Rat’s Hole Irish bar, Rainbow’s End comic shop, the Penultimate Picture Palace with the giant Paul Robson hands (where I slowly went through all the movies in Danny Peary’s books), that one Jamaican restaurant where, apparently, they only charged you what they thought you could afford (try that one on for size, David Cameron and Boris Johnson). Churches weren’t so high on the agenda, but when I was at The Courtauld, I went with my two very good University friends Caroline and Andrew one autumn day, when we fancied playing at being grown-ups. St Mary’s is wonderful; high Romanesque, built around 1170. It’s quite unusual in that it is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin; that Anglo-Catholic specificity speaks to the high church traditions of Oxford, dating back to the Civil War, when the city was an important base for the King’s forces.

St Mary The Virgin, IFFLEY, OXFORD.
12th Century Norman, Romanesque Parish Church.

Interior is similarly high quality, with Victorian pews ranged beneath an astounding Romanesque semi-circular vaulted roof with typical Norman zig-zag decoration; a motif that extends to the treatment in the interior and exterior of the great round-wheeled west window. I love the Romanesque style; there’s a marvelous element of Brutalist purity to the architecture, a sense that the use of the semi-circle and circle was how buildings should be, rather than the more efficient and safer fudge of the pointed arch that marks the debased Gothic style. My tutor at The Courtauld, Peter Kitson, delighted in telling us about the numerous earthquakes that struck English church buildings throughout the early middle ages; unusual natural phenomena, perhaps more attributable to the application of biblical knowledge to the collapse of inherently unstable stone buildings, rather than actual geological activity. And of course, the church also marks the place of the mighty Coverley Cathedral, erected at the site of the final defeat of the usurper Henry of York and conclusion of the War of English Succession, and the acclaimation of Stephen II as the rightful king of a Holy Roman England in 1526.

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White Jazz

New look from Hollywood Freeway with Los Angeles’ tallest structure, the City Hall 464 ft high, with the Federal Building and the Hall of Justice.
Color photo by Orville Logan Snider C5089
Allard Novelty & Postcard Co. 4626 W Wash Blvd, Los Angeles 16

Another post card to the Bartsch’s in Mankato. Sent Jan 6 1963 from Las Vegas from Kurt, Vi, Gladys, Wally and Hilda. Written in very faint and spidery capitals: HI: WE ARE HAVING A VERY ENJOYABLE TIME. WEATHER IS IDEAL. SAW THE WELK SHOW LAST NIGHT AND ALSO WENT TO THE PALLADIUM BALLROOM. NOW ON OUR WAY TO LAS VEGAS. Links for my non-US readers; fans of mine from the US will already know about the Welk show and North Dakota’s most famous son…

Cars race down the freeway past the LA Civic Center; you almost hear the theme tune to Dragnet. Not much to say about this one, only to observe that America is the country where modernity arrived first. They blazed the trail for all of our futures…and the lesson is that that, no matter how awesome, every present will become a past.

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Oh So Pretty

State Capitol Bank, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
This beautiful and modernistic designed bank located at 3900 No. Lincoln Boulevard is called “Bank of the Future.” It is equipped with a floating air lobby from the main floor to the lower floor, and cashier to customer TV drive-in window.

‘Saw this from the hwy. Feb 1970’, written in pencil on the rear of this card. The Bank of the Future had been at 3900 N Lincoln since 1964, and is still there today. Designed by Robert Roloff of Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson & Roloff, it was designed for State Capitol Bank. BBDR where quite modernist trail blazers and were responsible for some of Oklahoma’s most memorably ‘lounge-core’ buildings, including the Buckminster Fuller inspired ‘Gold Dome‘ (1958) off Route 66 for Classen State Bank. The State Capitol Bank building has changed considerably since it was photographed by modernist documentarian Julius Schulman. Now an outpost of the Arvest banking group (chaired by Jim Walton, youngest son of Sam Walton and the 9th richest man in the world) solid concrete walls replaced the glass curtain walls that linked the 17 ‘saucers’ to the ground, taking into account safety and HVAC issues. While from Google satellite the saucers are clear landmarks, from the street it looks like this today.

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