Bow Common


Every time I travel out east, usually en route to my godfather in the Isle of Dogs, this church intrigues me. I’ve never seen it open or got to go inside, but hopefully these photos (top one by @miloliren, second by @clau500) shows why.


St Paul’s Bow Common, built 1958-1960



This dead end really brought me up sharp – it was like another Paris has been airdropped into the Rue Varenne: a bomb site maybe; the banlieus; the skyscrapers of La Defense… It could also be a piece of art by Rachel Whiteread, who specialises in installations about absence and space.

January 2018.

You must remember this

I’m late to the party, but now I’m hooked on the Hollywood history podcast, You Must Remember This. Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Peg Entwhistle, Jean Harlow, Gene Tierney, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly pre-Monaco, Bacall post-Bogie, and most of all Joan Crawford, are all lodged in my head.


Most of all what’s clear are the repeating patterns: Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe; Peg Entwhistle and Bette Davis; alcoholism; poor relationship choices (mainly Sinatra).


Listen in and get ready to fire up your Netflix.


Jacqueline Ayer


The House of Illustration is very good at making me see artists I hadn’t heard of before (e.g. Linda Kitson), but who are very accomplished and had fascinating lives.


Jacqueline Ayer’s parents had moved from Jamaica to New York in the 1920s and Jacqueline grew up helping her father’s ad agency, the first aimed at African Americans.


Her observation for fabric and costume fed into her children’s’ illustrations when she moved to Bangkok in 1959, and after coming back to America in 1963 she founded a Thai textile line. I wish there’d been more room for her work with the Indisn government, her autobiography, and what was clearly a fascinating life, but I’d still recommend this to anybody.


A glimpse of Notre Dame


A glimpse of Notre Dame in the afternoon by Matisse (1902). I like how his reduction of the cathedral to its outline reinvents it as a modernist urban factory, in vogue with artists of the time and a world away from Monet’s detailed paintings of Rouen cathedral, for example.

image from Wikiart

Perfume: go, go


I was pretty sceptical when I heard that Somerset House was putting on a show about perfume, and even more so that it would be done in the manner of a contemporary art installation. Well that’ll show me – it was actually great fun, very well thought out, would be perfect to do either on a date or with friends, and is actually both non-intimidating and witty, a real achievement for a craft that is second only to wine-making for jargon, history and insiders’ snobbism.


As the notes to the show said, self-taught perfumiers are now breaking the mould, getting away both from the stuffiness of some schools, and the idea of scent as a marketing product. I won’t tell you too much about the perfumes in this exhibition as the whole point of the showing is to have a guessing game / voyage of discovery of your own, but you can see from the pictures above how inventive the sets were. In other rooms you smelt white cotton scarves or brilliant liberty-style print pouches, whilst the room with “paint pots” inspired this response from some other visitors:


I didn’t get so creative myself, but enjoyed the game of hide and seek, and the weekend I went there was also an interesting series of presentations from perfumiers at the end in the testing lab.

PS in the first room you smelt the bowling balls…it felt quite James Bond, actually.

Tiger women

In the middle of heat rage a few weeks ago, I saw this fierce woman, captured in a 1930s photo by Fubing Chang.


Instantly I thought of her waving a battle banner, and @jennifershortotextiles showed me both the flag and how this girl might appear nowadays.


Finally, her palace: on sale in the Atlas Mountains via Christie’s,


where she sits waiting for lunch in the heat (@thebreadcompanion)



Women in tension


John Gutman “Sisters”; Vivien Maier.

As I’m in Vienna today, it struck me that these were both photos that Freud could happily analyse, even if taken in 50s & 60s New York and Mexico.

The Mexican photo is especially apposite as I’ve just started Sybulle Bedford’s account of her 1950s stay in Mexico, A Visit to Don Otavio. Here she describes how she sets off:

Oh yes, Peru, decidedly Peru. I set out to tour the travel agencies with energy. They showed little, but proffered what turned out to be an extremely expensive air ticket to Lima. I could not afford it. There were no boats to Chile for the next six months. Then I spotted with the idea of Uruguay. A friend from Montevideo who loved Italy had talked and left a sense of Opera and red plush, late hours and delicious food….The friend also talked of a freighter. The freighter did not materialise…An agency, at which I had my name down, offered train reservations to Mexico City for the end of the week. We took them.