Thursday, 31 December 2009

A man's list...

Yup, like a lot of men of a certain age I like to make lists, so this is my end of year review as 2009 draws to a close. All my favourite magazines are filled with their favourite records, films, books and TV at this time of year which gets the cogs in my own feeble brain whirring as to what have been my own cultural highlights.

Francisco Zurbaran, 'Saint Serapion', 1628

My favourite exhibition this year has been Wilhelm Sasnal at K21 in Dusseldorf. I think my fine art interests increasingly becoming narrower and narrower each year to just painting, and other more traditional forms such as sculpture and photography, and this exhibition pushed all the right buttons for me. Sasnal’s engagement with the medium opened up possibilities in my imagination but also confirmed some of my own convictions in the decisions I’ve made in my own painting practise in terms of keeping it mobile and varied. I also really enjoyed Van Dyke in Britain at Tate Britain, and Per Kirkeby at Tate Modern, as two other examples of the vigorous possibilities in painting from very different places but very rooted in its traditions. I always found ‘The Sacred and the Real’ at the National Gallery, the exhibition of Spanish Realism in the Polychrome sculptures and paintings of Zurbaran and Velasquez, two favourites, very moving. Seeing Zurbaran’s ‘Saint Serapion’ (above) in the flesh has been a particular highlight this year. The best things locally had to be Neal Rock’s sculptures and Gordon Cheung’s paintings at New Art Gallery Walsall. These two exhibitions, that ran alongside each other, were really exciting, particularly in their ambition and engagement with their materials in service to the ideas. I’ve also enjoyed discovering the paintings of Janet Fish and Rackstraw Downes this year.

And the worst? Well, it has to be The Event, the Birmingham Contemporary Art Forum in November. Trudging from one venue to another in Digbeth’s Eastside on a cold Sunday afternoon to view ever increasingly esoteric installations was a bit soul destroying. I did enjoy visiting the old factories where some of the events were housed though. it was just a shame to spoil them with such boring installations. When it came to being asked to fill in a questionnaire on my experience I just didn’t know where to start or what to say….I just quietly slipped it back on the table and hurried away…

Wilhelm Sasnal

In music, it’s been a great year for my two favourite artists, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The Boss’s ‘Working On A Dream’ was an album full of surprises and memorable songs, both uplifting and stirring, poignant and poetic. I really loved it, and his Glastonbury performance with the E Street Band was so exciting. Dylan’s Together Through Life was a great record too, with a warmer, more spontaneous feel than ‘Modern Times’, and Christmas In The Heart, the controversial Christmas album is inspired to these ears. It’s like a Theme Time Radio Hour Christmas Special only with all the songs performed by his Bobness. It’s divided opinion but I think the arrangements are terrific. It’s been on my stereo non-stop in the last few weeks anyway.

I’ve also recently enjoyed updating my Kraftwerk albums with the digitally remastered Autobahn and Radio Activity. I think the latter must be one of the most affecting albums I’ve ever heard. It’s both disturbing in parts with its experimental sounds and also very sad. Also sad and wonderfully melanchoIy was Richard Hawley’s ‘Trueloves Gutter’. I was also lucky enough to see him live at the Town Hall earlier in the year-he was fantastic, one of the best live acts around.


I’ve also enjoyed a good slice of so-called Americana (which seems to cover most things American with guitars) with The Gaslight Anthem’s ‘The 59 Sound’, Ryan Adams’ ’29’ and ‘Jacksonville City Nights’, The Low Anthem’s ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, Grizzly Bear’s ‘Vectamist’ and The Felice Brother’s ‘Yonder Is The Clock’. The latter were 2009 releases, and are all terrific listens, but my album of the year has to go to The Low Anthem (below) with its range of songs that were one minute reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, the next Tom Waits in raucous jug blues band mood. ‘Champion Angel’ must be song of the year. They were a spectacular live act at The Glee Club in Birmingham too, as were The Felice Brothers.

I’ve not seen much in the way of new films this year, but really enjoyed ‘The Wrestler’ and the lo-fi sci-fi ‘Moon’. The film which made the most lasting impression had to be Swedish Vampire film, Let The Right One In. As mentioned in a previous blog my favourite TV was all five seasons of ‘The Wire’ which were shown late on BBC2, and also ‘Occupation’. This 3-part British drama set in war-torn Iraq proved that our own home grown drama can be every bit as good as the American dramas that are so lauded. It was an amazing piece with very powerful performances by James Nesbitt and Stephen Graham. It was every bit as good as The Wire. I also, rather guiltily, enjoyed ‘Desperate Romantics’, the (very) fictionalised story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an art movement I’ve never really enjoyed, but this was great fun, again with great performances.

Let The Right One In

I’ve read a fair bit too as usual. I’ve previously blogged about my enjoyment of the novel, ‘Heartland’ by Anthony Cartwright which is probably my favourite book this year. I discovered the poetry of Jackie Kay, and enjoyed her ‘Adoption Papers’ and the collection ‘Darling’. More recently I read my first George Pelacanos (below) book, ‘The Night Gardener’, which was really absorbing and unexpected. It was very reminiscent of ‘The Wire’, which shouldn’t be a big surprise as he produces and writes a lot of it, but also had a downbeat quality with an interest in the ordinary and mundane details which I always enjoy and relate to.

As a postscript to the previos blog where I asked what am I going to do now ‘The Wire’ has finished, Santa kindly bought me the DVD miniseries ‘The Corner’, which was the precursor to ‘The Wire’ and the book ‘The Wire:Truth Be Told’, by Rafael Alvarez, the inside story of the series. So that should keep me going! Happy New Year!

(Please feel free to share some of your own lists...!)

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