Keith Haring at Tate Liverpool.


Art When New York artist Keith Harring exhibited at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1982, true to form and in keeping with his belief that art should be as accessible as possible, he turned the space into a night club, with florescent lighting, break dancers and his partner DJing in the corner.  Such an approach was not unusual for Harring.  He first became noticed for his subway works, in which he'd masking tape a piece of black card to the curved wall of a pedestrian access tunnel and draw his images free hand in white crayon.  He was arrested several times for this, but he presumably knew that if he was able to draw a crowd then with his images, symbols and themes that he was on the right track.

For their retrospective, Tate Liverpool have created a black light room in order to give us a flavour of what it must have been like in that gallery in 1984.  Inside are a number of his fluorescent paintings, shining brightly under ultraviolet light, his familiar mix of three eyed faces, barking dogs, pyramids and headless beings accompanied by a speaker stack pumping out 80s disco from a compilation available in the gift shop.  The effect is transportative, representing one of the key achievements of this exhibition, much like the Warhol show a few years ago and Glam before that, of placing the artworks within their chronological context, heralding those of us who lived through these times backwards in both memory and emotion.

There was only one reaction I could have to this.  I danced.  On entering the space during yesterday's press preview, throwing caution to the wind and entirely forgetting about my latest hernia, I began to shift my legs about in time with the music.  Slowly at first and then slightly more pronounced.  The image was probably hopeless and at the age of forty-four could quiet correctly categorized as Dad dancing despite me not having any children.  I shifted around in circles like a demented George McFly letting the images and beats flow over me.  A visitor wandered through and smiled as she took photos the paintings.  She asked if I was enjoying myself.  I nodded. I was.  I could quite happily have stayed there all day.

Except there is so much more to see.  Unlike some recent shows, this Keith Harring retrospective fills the whole of the fourth floor.  Although his career barely spanned just over a decade, he was incredibly prolific.  Beginning with his aforementioned early work from his time at the School of Visual Arts on East 23rd Street, to his street art, his activist works protesting apartheid and nuclear arms to his part in the Club 57 scene, onward to his drawings then his more commercial works and finally the material he created around the HIV/AIDS epidemic as he watched his friends die, Harring following in 1990 at the age of 31, not slowing his workflow down at all.

This is incredibly accessible artwork, visually legible and also incredibly profound.  Harring didn't like to offer explanations and most of the paintings are untitled and the Tate have declined to give contextual labels.  Instead as you enter the space you'll find a small visual dictionary which provides some background to his repeated symbols, the baby, flying saucer, figure with a whole in his stomach, nuclear, tv, computers, robots, religion and money.  The meaning behind the juxtaposition of these shapes is rarely cryptic.  A man riding on the back of a leviathan with a Commodore Pet like computer for a head stomping on what look like police murder outlines of decapitated corpses is probably about the dangers of rampant technology.

Obviously I'm most drawn to the apocalyptic images of flying saucers bringing about the destruction of humanity, his simplistic representations of people escape through rooftops only to be exterminated by death rays raining from above, joining the piles of corpses below.  Sometimes robots are involved just to add to the misery.  Along with the grotesquely portrayed many breasted hermaphrodites accompanying by what look like nuclear reactors in the shape of mutant rabbits, it's like witnessing a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape drawn in the style of an early nineties Nickelodeon cartoon, The Garden of Earthly Delights starring Ren and Stimpy. 

What's perhaps most impressive about Harring's technique is that he created these drawings and paintings freehand, mentally planning the structure rather than, as might be inferred from just looking at photographic reproductions, filling in pre-draw pencil outlines.  Much of the time he'd paint on the floor in acrylics, base colours first then the lines of his subjects on top blurring the lines between painting and performance art, especially when creating in public.  One of his largest pieces, The Matrix, spans an entire wall at the Tate, ten metres of dense imagery, almost all of his usual symbols, structurally improvised in front of an audience.

Due to work commitments, yesterday was my first Tate preview in a while so it helped that it was an artist I'd (a) heard of and (b) already liked.  Harring's bold creations helped to define the 1980s and inspired plenty of the design work of the era.  Although I was a teenager then and would not have known he was the source, stepping into the space took me right back to then, leafing through Smash Hits Magazine looking for Kylie interviews.  That we didn't get to see how Harring's work would have developed in subsequent decades is a great loss.  But the crises he highlighted back in the eighties continue to surface and it's up to us to heed his message and act accordingly.

Production Design. It's Complicated.

Film Short piece in The Guardian about Nancy Meyer's comments at a Producer's Guild of America meeting about the double standards her films have endured at the keyboard fingers of predominantly male critics, especially about production design:
"I don’t love when a journalist or critic will pick up on that aspect [of the film’s design], because they’re missing why it works. It’s never done to male directors who make gorgeous movies, or where the leads live in a gorgeous house."
Damn right. Films like Grand Budapest with their overt production design do tend to be recognised at awards more than as might be the case in a Nancy Myers film, even though they both offer similarly complex design challenges.

In the case of even It's Complicated, a designer has to decide exactly why a character lives in this house, has decorated it in this way, all the fixtures and fittings, from wall art to dishes and how they express that character.

Frequently films do have a generic interior thrown together on the quick and it strikes the wrong note undermining the suspension of disbelief. That's never the case with Nancy Meyers films and too often this is held against her.  God forbid that she'd want to control the whole image.

 Meyers is superb at what she does and the fact that she's only made one film in the past fifteen years is an utter shame.  And before you start, The Holiday is a classic. Yes, it is.

Destination TARGET:
Barnes Common.


Books Having completed a full watch of the television of Doctor Who up until that date in 2013, the second most important pilgrimage for a "we" seems to be read through the whole lot again in the form of the prequels to the era. To that end for the past few years I've been slowly collecting the TARGET novelisations and although there's plenty more to find, and indeed afford since some of them are really quite expensive for what they are, yesterday, just for now, I began with the first chapter of Doctor Who and the Daleks.

As you can surmise from the photo, in order make this even more worthwhile (!), I've decided to read each book in a place with some kind of thematic or actual connection.  This will not stretch very far.  The Himalayas seems like obvious setting for a thumb through John Lucarroti's Marco Polo, budget and time suggest this would be about as practical as visiting Marinus making somewhere in Chinatown a more feasible setting.  Lorks knows where I'll end up for Terminus, but World Museum Liverpool will probably be seeing a lot of me.

To the point: when the first three Doctor Who novelisations were published in the 1960s, author David Whittaker didn't know that a decade later such things would become a publishing sensation, so his interpretation of Doctor Who and the Daleks notoriously begins with a rewriting of the origins of the series.  Quite why Whittaker decided to offer such a radical rethink of Terry Nation's script surely someone reading this will know and enlighten me via Twitter (Jim?).

Instead of two teachers tumbling into the TARDIS from the junkyard after following one of their students home, we have the first person account of Ian Chesterton, scientist on his way home from a disappointing job interview stumbling into Barbara Wright who has just survived a crash with an army truck on Barnes Common as she took her pupil Susan home, still out of curiosity as to her living conditions.

With the flexibility of prose, Whittaker takes the opportunity to increase the atmosphere of his opening, the sinister shadows and noirish light sources suggesting the opening of a Hitchcockian thriller from his British period, with Ian as a more dynamic, cigarette smoking figure in the style of Richard Hannay or Adolf Verloc.  Barbara is referred to as "the girl" for much of the chapter and a problem Chesterton is semi-reluctant to solve.

As Mark Gatiss recognised when he gave it a nod An Adventure in Space and Time, the setting for this revised opening, Barnes Common, has become a particularly jolly in-joke and since reading the book many, many years ago (possibly as much as a decade), I've wanted to visit and see how close the locale is to what's the described in the book.  Was Whittaker familiar with area when he wrote the piece or did he simply select it from a copy of the A-Z because it sounded right?

The main destination for my monthly visit to London on Monday was the Wallace Collection (home of The Laughing Cavalier and Poisson's A Dance to the Music of Time), but that's small enough (for someone not that interested in porcelain wear, guns and armour) that something would be needed to fill the rest of the afternoon and Barnes is only about twenty minutes outside of Central London via a change at Clapham Junction. 

As you can also see from the photograph, quite quickly after leaving Barnes station, it became clear that Whittaker's description of the place refers to the general area around Barnes Common rather than the parkland itself.  It's mostly woodland and shrubland with patches of grass whereas the book suggests a space consisting of larger fields away from civilisation.  Barnes Common is framed with housing on all sides.

Barnes Common is also on the tourist trail for rock fans as Marc Bolan, some ten years after the publication of the book in 1977, was the passenger in a purple Mini which rammed into a tree killing him instantly in an odd parallel to the events in this parallel version of Who's origins.  For decades, the tree on which this occurred was decorated with scarves and keepsakes from fans until a memorial bust was erected recently.

Now, what I'd really like to describe is finding a spot, perhaps near the memorial, and reading through this chapter, soaking up the atmosphere and wondering if seeing the very space where the crash is supposed to happen.  I'd like to say that.  But yesterday, the rain around Barnes Common was persistent enough that some of the pavements disappeared beneath the terentials.  There was nowhere dry enough to stop and sit and take in the view.

So here's a photograph of somewhere I could have sat if the weather and been dryer:


And another:


Some large wooden balls (Jim?):


Instead, I waited until the train home:


The book will now return to the shelf until I've completed the collection (fifty pounds for The Wheel in Space?!?) and decided on the most relevant venues for the rest of the books.

The fate of that Kit-Kat is another story.