#art/#history: doesn't it sometimes seem impossible that certain people ever existed, so determined to live life on their own terms? so it is with our beloved subject - who, i hasten to add, is much more than the sum of her perfectly straight fringe & enviably legendary bob. she carved a ragged road from the ziegfeld follies to highly vaunted (if controversial) roles in celebrated european films that were sexually charged & taut with social commentary. her return in the early 30s to hollywood saw her acting work sag, so she dabbled in dancing, radio & writing. mercifully, her films were revived in the 1950s by french film historians, who proclaimed her superior to marlene dietrich & (former dalliance) greta garbo. by her own admissions, her sexually liberal attitudes were informed by an incident of molestation when she was nine years old. she said it left her incapable of real love. this tragedy lay just beneath the surface of everything louise brooks ever did. what i love most about louise is her grace. she wrote to an author who’d slagged off clara bow & gave him a right tongue lashing: 'you brush off clara bow for some old nothing like brooks. clara made three pictures that will never be surpassed'... she died #otd in 1985, with generosity of spirit intact.
the bold & the beautiful baldwin
#art/#history: 'i imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.' james baldwin, born #otd in 1924, was a sage for the ages. his observations on society - from race & class to sex - were too much for harlem to hold...even from one of its native sons. james knew from the start that he was more intelligent than anyone expected him to be & he realised that he'd have to do something with his brain. by the time he was 24 years old, james began to understand that america was a hostile environment for black homosexuals & he wanted to be free of the racial constraints he'd endured up until then. paris embraced him & he began to write from a context outside of that of an african-american. he didn't abandon his birth country, however, & returned to lend his unique perspective (somewhere equidistant from the more tolerant MLK & the more overtly militant malcolm x) to the civil rights movement. returning to france, he continued writing poetry & fiction - both on his own & through collaborations with margaret mead & richard avadon. amongst his friends & admirers: nina simone, marlon brando, sartre, jean genet, josephine baker, maya angelou... if you've never read any baldwin, start with 'giovanni's room' - &, if you've never seen him debate, my goodness, wriggle your fine arse over to youtube & watch him at oxford tearing strips off william f buckley.
peanut butter & shelley
every year, my tradition for percy bysshe shelley day is to attempt a portrait of my celestial papa. this year, he looks a bit like rutger hauer. anyway... #art/#history: 'poets & philosophers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.' does anyone know a good agony aunt? i need to talk to someone about my obsession with percy bysshe shelley. dude's been dead 197 years (born #otd in 1792) & i'm still trying to transfer his image from my imagination to paper. every year, i make an attempt (sometimes several) to properly portray this revolutionary (atheist, vegetarian, socialist) poet & political radical in a way that will represent his complexity & dualism - his cherubic appearance making stark contrast with his fiercely passionate verse, through which he defended everything from nature to the more vulnerable members of society (both human & non-human). it was his quixotic side that set sail in an unsafe vessel of his own design. it was his romantic idealist who stuffed a copy of keats's poems into his jacket pocket as the 'don juan' went down. he knew he couldn't swim & he didn't believe in a god, so he'd die with his beloved friend's words close by.
decca was a fascist decker
#art/#history: that old quandary - nature or nurture - has been rankling & flummoxing the human race for as long as we existed...or from the second generation, at least. if you think you've fixed your ideas on the subject, you may not be familiar with the mitford sisters. as the fifth sister of six, she was surrounded by that particular brand of english eccentricity. it's no surprise that jessica (or, as her sisters anointed her, decca) was left largely to her own devices. the room she shared with her older sister, unity (who would later have an intimate relationship with adolf hitler), was designated in a typically adolescent way. your sister may have had bon jovi posters on her walls whereas you had bauhaus. decca had the communist hammer & sickle to mark her territory. unity drew swastikas (bon jovi, clearly the fascists in this scenario). another mitford sis, diana, married oswald mosley. the other three were a duchess, an author (nancy of 'love in a cold climate' fame) & pamela just cavorted. at the age of 19, decca bought a camera with her father's credit & ran away to fight in the spanish civil war. she became a communist; moved to the states; married a civil rights lawyer & got involved with the struggle for equality; wrote 'hons & rebels'; got into investigative journalism & didn't die (#otd in 1996) until she'd recorded a cover of the beatles' 'maxwell's silver hammer'. decca's daughter, dinky, decided she'd be more like her mum than her aunties & married james forman, who was a member of both the black panthers & the league of revolutionary black workers. i'm dedicating my portrait to decca's pet lamb, miranda, about whom her mistress said: 'she was the light of my life'.
bonus decca dooda: she contemplated assassinating hitler because her sister, unity, would have afforded her easy access.
#art /#history: it's juneteenth (the day that commemorates 19 june 1865, when slavery was abolished in texas) & i needed to draw a simple monotone portrait for a tea towel project - so who better to represent than the evergreen badarse that is angela davis? from her roots as a counterculture activist & her work with the black panthers to her speaking tours going strong today, she's still kicking away at an unjust system - & she's begun to be more vocal about the links between human & non-human subjugation. i'm going to use her words to drive the point home. she says it with much more eloquent energy than i ever could: 'i think the lack of critical engagement with the food that we eat demonstrates the extent to which the commodity form has become the primary way in which we perceive the world. most people don't think about the fact they're eating animals. when they're eating a steak or eating chicken, most people don't think about the tremendous suffering that those animals endure simply to become food products to be consumed by human beings.' one struggle, one fight!
debbie does her thing
it's a super quick art/history lesson tonight, 'cause i've got no time to mess about - but i couldn't let debbie's 74th pass without mention.
& another glorious year of debbiedom passes. i love her more each day. even when she's rude, she's irresistible. :) #art/#history: dirty harry - but the only thing that could make blowing bubbles even more fun is a punk rock queen inflating that sugary cud straight into your face. in that contest, there's really only one champion: snarly-soft-smarty, debbie harry, who was born #otd in 1945. although she made her debut in miami, she's more strongly identified with the big apple. her adoptive parents were from new jersey, you see, so she grew up there & escaped to NYC in 1965. you all know her musical history & the contributions she made to pop (arguably including the first female rap as well as a shimmery risky disco single that proved to be a massive crossover hit), but did you know that she's not afraid of the f-word? to wit, she wonders, 'how can one be a woman & not be a feminist?' debbie's heart isn't made of glass. it's forged from purest gold. in 2014, she was instrumental in having a new york city carriage driver's license revoked. she wrote an impassioned plea to council members imploring them to retire all carriage horses to sanctuaries. totally cool, but never cold. debbie, i <3 you!
has anybody seen the bridge?
#art/#history: i've been inspired by all the brilliant comic artists who surrounded me at the #bam show at the weekend & i've done this fast & loose nod to phoebe waller-bridge, with whom, by complete happenstance, i share a birthdate. i never wanted to like ‘fleabag’. she made me
the second sister
#art/#history: anyone who has a sibling knows how it is to feel overshadowed, but spare a thought for helene here. it can't have been easy for her growing up the younger sister of a feminist phemomenon - writer, existential philosopher, & political activist, simone de beauvoir. it may be more galling for those of us viewing the situation from outside, because helene was doing her own thang & didn't seem at all bothered about her infamous sister. indeed, she was there at sartre's funeral, comforting simone throughout. when it was over, she went home to her art studio & painted tableaux that raised awareness about feminist theories & women's issues. helene even served as president of her local refuge for women escaping domestic violence. perhaps the lack of celebrity scrutiny contributed to helene de beauvoir's longevity: she was born #otd in 1910 & lived to the age of 91.
#art/#history: not only could she play two steinways simultaneously, but she'd clearly mastered the perfect eyeliner flick. i really don't understand why hazel scott - trinidadian pianist & singer who was born otd in 1920 - hasn't been as highly revered as nina simone. maybe she is. maybe i'm just ignorant & don’t run in the right circles. anyway...hazel was committed to civil rights & even had her own telly programme, 'the hazel scott show'. it was axed when she appeared before the house un-american activities committee because she'd been a vocal opponent of mccarthyism & of racial segregation. 'to hell with this', she said (or, perhaps, something saltier), & she moved to paris until 1967. upon her return to the states, she got into politics in order to ensure equal recognition of black people by the entertainment industry. she carried on making jazz, collaborating with charles mingus & other musical luminaries. hazel only made it to the age of 61, when that bastard, cancer, smote her.
#art/#history: fascinatingly complex, turbulent, magnificently imperfect civil rights warrior & french resistance spy who dabbled in song & dance in her spare time...it's only josephine bloody baker, who was born #otd in 1906. i could write essays about her (& likely will. you've been warned!), but i didn't leave myself enough time. best advice: discover her & succumb to josephine's enigmatic & irresistible charms.
#art/#history: the floating & stinging & all that? they were undoubtedly impressive. for me, though, what made muhammad ali the greatest were his ethics & conscience. on this day in 1967, they led to his being stripped of his heavyweight title when he refused to honour his military induction. the previous year, muhammad had filed for status as conscientious objector & had warned then that he would not serve. take a breath & get a load of what he said at the time: 'my conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother or some darker people or some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big, powerful america. & shoot them for what? they never called me nigger. they never lynched me. they didn’t put no dogs on me. they didn’t rob me of my nationality, & rape & kill my mother & father. why would i want to shoot them? for what? i got to go shoot them, those little poor little black people, little babies & children, women; how can i shoot them poor people? just take me to jail.' those, ladies & gentlemen, are the words of a champion.
boris loves his creature comforts
#art/#history - #inktober: some of you may deem this a bit 'cheaty', but i couldn't resist the opportunity to illustrate the magnificent boris karloff - &, in spite of my disdain for greetings card holidays, i seized the day in order to celebrate something that means the world to me. 200 years ago, in 1818, mary shelley's 'frankenstein' was published for the first time (disgracefully, not under her name). although her story has never been given the cinema treatment it bloody well merits, in 1931, karloff embodied the creature as no one else can. he had said that he had a great fondness for the character & it's obvious that he understood the emotional fragility & alienation that lay at the core of shelley's baby. there was something vulnerable in his eyes. do you see it?
#art/#history: the older i grow, the more convinced i become that i was a complete dick when i was younger - which is not to say that i'm now not a dick. i'm just a slightly wiser one. when i first heard laurie anderson, when i was studying art, i was so busy being as antithetical (that is to say, i was a (pot-&-lagerhead, speed metal grebo) to the stereotype as i could that i dismissed almost everything as 'pretentious'. because a lot of my professors were into the avant-garde, poor laurie was consigned to the 'you won't catch me dead listening to this rubbish' heap. turns out, i was only hurting myself. laurie is experimental, it's true (after all, she invented the goddamned talking stick), but she's never been superficial. there's always been substance to what she's done. conceptually clever (read about how jules massenet's 'le cid' influenced 'o superman') - & what HASN'T she done? she's drawn comics, written books, produced innovative live shows &, in 2015, she directed a documentary about her beloved dog, lolabelle, ('heart of a dog') which helped her deal with her grief over the loss of both lou reed & lolabelle. it also led her to a startlingly lucid conclusion: 'the purpose of death is the release of love'. laurie, born #otd in 1947, is a treasure of a human being.
the cocteau twins
#art/#history: #inktober i hope it's true that, upon reading of her death that morning, jean cocteau said of his best mate: 'now piaf is gone, i can die, too' - & he promptly did (#otd in 1963).
o, my days...
#art/#history: i've heard it said of her that she was dismissed by serious cinephiles & film critics - & even by general society - because she possessed true goodness. what you saw was what you got, but she was much more complex than you'd know if you didn't dig your digits in & really scratch the surface. doris day died today & the sun seems not to shine so brightly. she wouldn't want me to say that. after all, she'd often professed that she just wanted to make people happy. i think that's because she overcame some excruciating crucibles in the course of her 97 years. she fell in love with men who abused her both physically & mentally. she built a solid foundation only to discover that her manager husband had left her penniless...but our doris clamboured up & started over. from sweeping soundscapes across two decades to haunting portrayals in hitchcock & razor-sharp comic timing in donen's 'the pajama game', she gave us everything she had - & i don't believe we quite realise how much that was. the animals will miss her kindness, but the doris day animal foundation (which she determined to make a success in honour of a dog friend she lost to a road traffic accident as a child & whose death for which she always blamed herself) is a fitting legacy for the golden piped, resilient, funny, compassionate & TRULY GOOD ms doris day.
#art/#history: here's the moment just before her life's work comes into sharp relief...amelie's epiphany. can't you feel her heart escaping through those noisette eyes? no spoiler alerts. if you've not yet seen 'le fabuleux destin d'amelie poulain' (or 'amelie', released in france #otd in 2001), why the hell not? from its sublime soundtrack by yann tiersen - which is equal parts yearning melancholy & grin-inducing, heart-swelling, sundrenched quirk - to the perfect cast & cinematography, this film will not leave you alone...unless, of course, you're irritated by it (in which case, what the fuck is your personality flaw & who hurt you?). as uplifting as 'amelie' ultimately is, it never slips into syrup. times are hard for dreamers & amelie poulain teaches us that we sometimes need to marry our imagination with action.
you should love linda
#art/#history: right...who's guilty of slagging off linda mccartney? queue up for a slap. i've always loved her - especially in her 'dorky bowie' phase. she didn't give a microgram of fuck what people thought about her hair, her voice or her influence on paul. would he be vegetarian without her? not only did she co-write each & every one of wings' number one hits, but none other than the smiths asked her to guest on 'the queen is dead'. she declined. anyway, she & paul were solid partners. i'm sure she had something to do with 'give ireland back to the irish', written in response to events that happened in 1972. whenever i draw her, i can't stay away from the warm palette. linda, who died #otd in 1998, absolutely coruscated from within.
#art/#history: i've been meaning to draw this most excellent human being for ages...but it's #inktober & that's the month when another superb human celebrates her arrival on this planet - & she happens to love benjamin zephaniah. she's why i've chosen today to honour him. his life is poetry. he's proof, too, that people whom society might write off as no good (he went to prison for burglary) aren't necessarily lost causes. benjamin has made it his life's work to make poetry accessible to all. his subjects are varied, but always infused with compassion for others - as well as a good dollop of humour. not only has this 60 year old polymath been vegan since the age of 13, but he's also turned down an OBE. he's as perfect as it's possible to be.
if the chou fits
#art/#history: he was far from parfait & really tested the boundaries of his public's love for him...but that's what made him an undeniable genius. if you can't find a song you adore amongst the genre-bending scads of his 22-year canon, you're impossible to please. yes, serge gainsbourg would have been 91 today - if only his smoke-&-drink-fuelled dreams of immortality had come to pass. some might say his dreams of immorality did. #gainsbarre on his unique appearance: 'i prefer ugliness to beauty, because ugliness endures.' ps: uh-huh, it's a cabbage pun. do you understand?
parlez de dita
#art/#history: arguably, my avatar for tonight's subject is better known than the person she represents. dita parlo has influenced both madonna & dita von teese, so...yes, she's iconic. her relevance to jean renoir (who died #otd in 1979) is that she starred in one of his greatest films, 1937's 'la grande illusion', in which she portrays a german woman who offers refuge to jean gabin's WWI lieutenant. the plot explores class relationships & the futility of war, but that's as far as i'm gonna' go - other than to say that it was one of two 'desert island' films cited by orson welles. director jean renoir issued from artistic lines (his father was painter, pierre-auguste) & it's all over his films. from what's considered one of the first films noir ('la bete humaine') to the banned-in-france satire, 'la regle du jeu', renoir always imbued his work with sharp wit, complex humanity, breathtaking artistry & acute social observation. a pacifist & a communist, renoir left a wealthy legacy of warmth & sumptuous visual that shan't likely be equalled.
un vraie cunard
#art/#history: fashion icon fash basher - two seemingly disparate attributes that mingled together quite nicely in this heiress author's personality. whilst she was busy doing what her socialite parents didn't want her to do, she also fought racism, contributed to an anthology by the sitwells & effortlessly provided a muse for writers & artists you may recognise (aldous huxley, ezra pound, hemingway, man ray, james joyce & langston hughes). in paris, she explored modernism, dada & surrealism - all the while bedecking herself in african artifacts that became her signature style & propelled her to the head of the avant-garde pack. she must have looked a picture when she worked as a translator for the french resistance. such a brave heart with so magnanimous a soul should never have ended her life destitute in a paris hospital, but that's what happened to the fearlessly fierce nancy cunard, born #otd in 1896.
#art/#history - #inktober: 'i wish you could approach rock & roll with the same intensity of a great novel.' thus mused lou reed, who died #otd in 2013. seems oddly appropriate that he went on what would have been sylvia plath's 81st birthday.
#art/#history: 'one's life has value so long as one attributes value to the lives of others.' did this person change your life like she's changed mine? whether or not you're aware of her groundbreaking theories, chances are you've been influenced through someone else. author of a book ('the second sex') that pissed off none other than albert 'crybaby' camus with its thorough examination of female oppression & its forensic insight into what defines 'woman', simone de beauvoir, was born in paris on 9 january in 1908 (&, yes, i am horrified that i was late with this; but you're not getting the tedious background story that explains the delay, so...silver linings). she & sartre were committed to one another for 51 years & informed each others' existential philosophies - but he never tamed her. they never lived together, never married & didn't have children - which is just as simone wanted it. she was, she said, 'too intelligent, too demanding & too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely. no one knows me or loves me completely. i have only myself.' fucking CREDO!
who puts the bel in mondo?
#art/#history: this cheeky rogue was born on this day in 1933. he's been bringing the bel to the mondo for 86 years - & specifically to cinema from 1956 to 2009. whether it's gangster, clown, murderous GP or a man who finds himself homeless with his dog friend by his side, jean-paul will have you fully immersed. whatever he's doing these days, i hope jean-paul belmondo is happy & healthy. will someone just go & check on him, for fuck's sake?
birth was the death of him
#art/#history: 'birth was the death of him' - &, lest you think i'm all uppity, one of my favourite stories - possibly apocryphal - about samuel beckett (born on this day in 1906) is that he played chauffeur to a 12-year-old andre the giant. how did this situation arise? well, (if indeed there's any truth to the anecdote) sam was a member of andre's papa's card-playing group & andre's acromegaly meant he was too big for the local school bus. it's perfectly normal that a famous irish poet & playwright would step into the breach, n'est-ce pas? o, to've been a bug on the windscreen in that car... captain's log: 'i pause to record that i feel in extraordinary form. delirium, perhaps.' so, as dark was his perspective on human existence, you can feel the humour & pathos & pure compassion in beckett's words just as you can see them etched into his face of sunbeaten pink clay. he can also teach us a lot about context. you've seen the motivational phrase 'fail again. fail better.' well, it's an extract from 'worstward ho' & it's nowhere near as optimistic & encouraging as it appears. if anything, it's an acceptance of life's utter absurdity. so...if you fancy waiting for godot, i can recommend allee samuel beckett in paris 14. ps: you should also know that sam worked as a courier with the french resistance & was nearly caught by the gestapo when his unit was betrayed.
au revoir, agnes
#art/#history: remarkable agnes has left & the planet feels less colourful. i fell hard for varda & will write more when i put the finishing touches on this #wip of the legendary belgian born/french auteur, director who, above all, was a human of incredible insight, magnanimous heart & boundless joy.
gift of gabin
#art/#history: serious hair envy. the undisputed king of the quiff, he's deservedly one of france's most revered actors. jean gabin & his bloody marvellous barnet (probably) were born #otd in 1904. he was, in his earlier years, a staple of film noir, starring in 'pepe le moko' (which also featured #frehel), 'le quai des brumes' & in jean renoir's 'la bete humaine' alongside simone simon. he went on to canoodle with marlene dietrich & to reinvent himself in 'touchez pas au grisbi' & 'le chat'. if you don't know who he is, please fix your life.
#art/#history: 'out of the ash i rise with my red hair & i eat men like air.'
this one’s personal, because sylvia plath was the first one to let me know that it’s okay not to be okay - & i know i’m not alone under her pedagogy.
since my first prepubescent reading of ‘the bell jar’, i’ve lived by its imparted wisdom - most especially: ‘if you expect nothing from somebody, you are never disappointed’. it strikes me as much more optimistic than it sounds.
her depression often overshadows her staggering achievements as a woman whose literary genius couldn’t be denied. her brilliance was a shot in the arm of second wave feminism, giving voice to female intellect, emotion & experience.
the third time that she tried to wriggle out of life’s painful yoke, the year was 1963. sylvia succeeded again.
#art/#history: i don't even know where to begin. even in memoriam, i'm a bit intimidated by eunice kathleen waymon (whom, inspired by simone signoret in 'casque d'or', changed her name so she could play clubs without embarrassing her mum) she was - from the instant she felt earth's cold air on her newborn's skin - a fearsome creature. by the age of three, she was playing piano. it wasn't too much later that she realised how many obstacles lay between her & the success her talent warranted: at her first recital, the 12-year-old refused to play until her parents were permitted to move from the back of the hall (where they'd been relegated in favour of white folk). this desire for equality reached its apex for nina simone (born #otd in 1933) in 1964. she wrote furious protest songs like 'mississippi goddam' & 'old jim crow', which she incorporated into her live shows - along with impassioned entreaties for civil rights. after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, she settled in france & kept kicking against injustice until breast cancer killed her body. her spirit? it's as loud & fierce as ever. just listen.
marguerite needs space
#art/#history: can you imagine being such a gifted author that one of your most radical & inventive novels was practically a product of automatic writing? best known, perhaps, for providing the screenplay that would become alain resnais' 'hiroshima mon amour' - which is not a bad place to start if you've not yet become infected with a madness for marguerite duras (who died #otd in 1996) - she largely escaped acclaim outside of france. this is regrettable. duras was a master of written dialogue, crafting it in such a way that the space between her words informed the story as much as or more than what she spelled out. as a human being, she was remarkable: during WWII, she worked for the vichy government whilst simultaneously belonging to an active french resistance cell (the one that included francois mitterand, natch). it was during that same decade that she joined the french communist party, the PCF. no wonder the main theme of the novel to which i alluded at the start ('abahn sabana david') is the art of refusal & the freedom of a defiant 'NO!'
no #art/#history tonight, per se...just a bit of practice with my favourite model & all round splendiferous human: freddie merciry. he's been my pal since i was nine & i'm forever trying to perfect my interpretation of him.
oo la, tallulah
#art/#history: born 31 january in 1902, tallulah bankhead was a whiskey-voiced libertine with a social conscience. an alabama native whose legendary turns on stage & screen (you may've seen her in hitchcock's 'lifeboat') were nearly dwarfed by her infamy. rumoured to have cavorted with garbo, dietrich & billie holiday, tallulah told the doctor who performed her hysterectomy (necessitated by venereal disease): 'don't think this has taught me a lesson.' a staunch supporter of civil rights, tallulah booed segregationist south carolina governor, strom thurmond, when he appeared during harry truman's inauguration parade. wouldn't you just love to have knocked back a few pints with her? wild times.
#art/#history: three years gone (nearly) & born #otd in 1947, but always timeless - even when i try to put the 'art deco' down on snowdon's #bowie. i hardly need to mention his cultural contributions, so i'll just tell you the other reasons i so adore the thin one. first is his refusal of an obe & of a knighthood (because, he said, 'i seriously don't know what it's for.') second is his insistence upon being cremated - & without a funeral service. he really was a monumental human.
#art/#history: gordon parks, who died #otd in 2006, was first at loads of things. he was the first black american to direct & produce major films. with 1971's 'shaft', he (along with melvin van peebles & his 'sweet sweetback's baadasssss song') created a genre annointed 'blaxploitation' by then-head of the NAACP, junius griffin, & brought emancipated black experience to cinemas. nearly two decades prior, as the first black photojournalist to work for 'life' magazine, he used his privilege as the first black fashion photographer - & the camera he'd bought in seattle for $7.50 - to document the lives of migrants & poor minorities across the country, but most notably in chicago. i was so struck by this vibrant chi-town couple that i made them the focus of my tribute to gordon. i've been wondering all day about who they were & what they got up to, such is the power of mr parks' photography. throughout his life, gordon played & composed music. later, he took up writing & painting...then, in his spare time, he co-founded 'essence' magazine. i don't think polymath quite covers it. thank you, sir, for enriching our planet.
#art/#history: quick & filthy homage to my favourite commie bastard - the master of (absurdist) cinema, jean-luc godard. although swiss-born #otd in 1930, he's indelibly associated with the french new wave of filmmaking. a good story, he said, needs a beginning, a middle & an end...but not necessarily in that order. perhaps the most politically engaged of all his peers, jean-luc could be found on paris streets in mai 68 with the protesters & his pal, sartre. in the late 70s, godard travelled to a newly-liberated mozambique to document the country. he refused to use kodachrome in his camera because he insisted that it was racist, having been developed specifically for lighter skin tones. j-l loves colour. watch 'pierrot le fou' if you need proof.
#art/#history: we've got another dead one here - & she's extremely dear to my heart. have you ever seen the film 'gigi'? well, this wild genius wrote the book on which it was based. she's the belle epoque beauty, colette - actress, journalist, novelist, cat adorer &...mime. colette had so much natural talent & charisma that she couldn't find enough outlets. she just embraced life - & lovers. love her? i do. thanks for being on this festering planet for a good 81 years. you debuted on this day in 1873 & you bid us adieu in 1954. i'll bet you never once glanced back.
leave it to cleaver
#art/#history: just doin' me thing for #inktober - in this case, that's kathleen cleaver of the black panther party, which was founded #otd in 1966. kathleen's still doing her thing, too - thank feck.
he wants to be yours
#art/#history: punk poet - the bard of salford - john cooper clarke was born #otd in 1949. he can make vacuum cleaners, raincoats & leccy meters symbols of undying allegiances of passion - & he's made poetry accessible to those whom might otherwise just as soon beat themselves to a throbbing pulp with a copy of john milton's collected works as listen to someone actually reciting rhyming couplets. jcc himself wasn't convinced that his attraction to poetry was anything other than an odd, unwanted affliction until an appearance on 'opportunity knocks' by pam ayres convinced him that the 20th century needed him. good thing, that. buzzcocks & sex pistols gigs wouldn't have been nearly so erudite without him. his influence reaches into present day - most notably through alex turner of arctic monkeys.
socialism's wilde man
#art/#history: #inktober never forget that one of the world's sharpest wits was more than his champagne-supping gadfly persona reflected. oscar wilde (born #otd in 1854) believed that socialism would spell true liberation for the human species. if people were financially comfortable through ownership of the means of production, they would be free to explore their creativity & live fuller, more meaningful lives. i couldn't agree more & that's why i'll always adore the wildean beast.
'if you can't fly, run. if you can't run, walk. tell them there won't be no resignation. if you can't walk, crawl to the polls & vote your determination. any old way you can make it, baby, you keep on movin' on.' #art/#history: we all ::cheesly pun klaxon:: owe a debt of gratitude to this outspoken human being. alabama born but california bred, she had operatic training from the age of 13. that's pretty evident when you listen to her pipes. her self-doubt prevented her from pursuing a career as a mezzo-soprano & odetta (born #otd in 1930) & she took up a role as an ensemble member for the turnabout puppet theatre (alongside elsa lanchester, of all people). 1950 proved to be magical. she fell in love with the san francisco balladeers & set her sights on folk music. jazz was her gateway drug & she recorded a couple of fairly standard albums in that style, all the while acting in films. 1968 really turned the tide. once she'd performed a barnstormer of a set at woody guthrie's memorial show, odetta focussed on writing & performing music that would motivate people toward social change. she embraced the civil & human rights movements so passionately that she became known as 'the voice of the civil rights movement'. she utterly beguiled the biggies of folk (bob dylan & joan baez), rock (janis joplin) & activism (rosa parks). if you've never listened to much of her stuff - especially if you don't classify yourself as a folk fiend - please spin 1970's 'odetta sings' & see if you don't fall under her spell.
breathless for jean
#art/#history - #noirvember: 'au bout de souffle' may be neo-noir, but jean seberg's birthday is #otd in 1938 & i want to ensure that nobody forgets her heart. style icons be damned! jean was compassionate, intelligent & strong-but-soft. the FBI under j edgar hoover tried to ruin her because she supported civil rights & the black panther party. they planted horrible stories in the newspapers & slandered her reputation. by 1979, she'd had enough & gave up. style icons be damned! jean was compassionate, intelligent & strong-but-soft.
jamais j'en ai marre de johnny
#art/#history - #inktober: the more i read morrissey's recent spoutings, the more intensely fond i grow of johnny marr (born #otd in 1963). after all, as wonderful a lyricist & melody maker moz still is...his work has never quite achieved the belly-tingling musical majesty of the smiths - & that's down to the alchemy between manchester's lennon & mccartney. besides, johnny is every bit as conscientious as his more celebrated counterpart. he knew he couldn't help write a mournful ode to the much-maligned cow & continue to munch on beef burgers & bacon sarnies. he went vegan sooner than mozza did, as well. & he doesn't moan about how hard it is. johnny angel: halloween baby, ain't nowt scary 'bout you.
hands up or elsa
#art/#history - #inktober: you'd think that anyone would be satisfied that life goals had been achieved by starring alongside boris karloff in the 30s 'frankenstein' franchise, but elsa lanchester (#botd in 1902) was also a socialist & an atheist. frightfully cool.
#art/#history: in 1939, billie holiday - who was born eleanora fagan on this day in 1915 - kickstarted the civil rights movement with the release of her recording of 'strange fruit'. it remains one of the most gripping, haunting indictments of racism across all artistic disciplines. only billie could inhabit a song like that. she's been criticised for her lack of depth & range, but she told a story with the texture of her voice. she could make you feel every word & nuance. that's worth a thousand beyonces or mariah careys. you don't need to throw your lungs all over like the shop like an olympic gymnast. billie instinctively recognised this. ray ellis, who worked with her on her penultimate record ('lady in satin') said that he wasn't impressed by her performance of 'i'm a fool to want you'. it had brought billie to tears, but ray thought she should give it another go...until he stopped to listen to her final take with his emotions rather than with a technical ear. it was then that he realised she'd sung it perfectly. lady day brought love, heartbreak, sorrow, rage & sensuality to life because she experienced them in such abundance during her short time in this world.
#art/#history: the awkward thing about my tribute is that i'm almost certain that greta thunberg (born #otd in 2003) would feel uncomfortable about it - &, i hope, not because she doesn't like the drawing. yes, i'm sure great greta is too humble to want people to openly honour her. i understand, but she's just such an admirable human being. only sixteen, it's been a good few years she's had her eyes firmly open to the devastation that human activity has wrought upon our planetary home. her persuasive ways have resulted in a supportive family who now live a vegan lifestyle & avoid air travel. when greta speaks about this earth crisis, she's impassioned without being melodramatic. she's the voice her generation needs to emulate...& quickly. but any of us who are alive right now & sliding round on this magnificent marble need to buck up & do our bit - like, tout de suite.
no face, but all heart
#art/#history - #inktober: always a good idea to be stricken by an experimental muse when crunch time is breathing down your neck. still rushing this tribute - & one of my favourite directors merits so much more care & time. most of the image is in homage to his groundbreaking 1949 film, 'le sang des betes'. he filmed inside the abattoirs near the canal d'ourcq in paris & juxtaposed their horrors against the everyday lives of the people who benefitted from the products of slaughter. he confessed that he was traumatised & cried for two days once filming had finished. the figure is edith scob from 'les yeux sans visage'/'eyes without a face', a masterpiece that features cinema's most creative death scene - a vivisectionist being mauled to death by the dogs he imprisoned & used in his experiments. yes, i confess: i adore georges franju. his christiane suffers unspeakably for her father's whims, but wins in the end by not only liberating herself, but also the non-human victims he held captive.
un homme qui ecrit
#art/#history: it's international book day, don't you know? here's one of my faves, french author georges perec (who was born #otd in 1936). he's the one in the cardigan, not the cat - i'm pretty sure... as a member of raymond queneau's oulipo group (workshop of potential literature/ouvroir de littérature potentielle) many of perec's writings deal with issues of loss & of missing pieces, but they explore these themes through plenty of word play. in the angloverse, his most recognised novel is 'life: a user's manual'. it's not at all a bad place to start - only, don't deprive yourself of any of his constrained method books. they feature lipograms, puns & other rules observed during the writing process. don't feel like reading? watch the 1974 adaptation of perec's novel, 'un homme qui dort'. stark & atmospheric, it will pull you into a stifling summer in paris. by the end, you'll feel as though you've discovered the secret to liberty. it's better than it sounds. as you can plainly see, perec was a complex & gentle human. he lost both of his parents to the second world war - his father to battle & his mum to the nazis. georges wore that cloak throughout his 45 short years & i give him a mind hug every time i read his stunning stuff.
#art/#history: she was 'too strong-minded for a woman' & 'i couldn't control her', said her husband. who is the recipient of this greatest of accolades? well, it's green belt movement founder & environmentalist, wangari maathai, who was born on this day in 1940. i could write a full-length essay about this remarkable pioneer whose ingenious ideas & contagious fortitude influenced her fellow kenyans & reached across the globe - if only i had the time. wangari, we need you!
#art/#history: she's been nominated for 16 cesars (french oscars) & won two. they weren't for her fabulous resting bitch face, - which, in her defence, does not at all imply that she is as sang froid as her reputation would have you believe - but i'm highlighting it because i think it's delightful. you'd look slightly fed up, too, if you'd acted in over 60 films over the past five decades. studying the acting craft? you'd better watch isabelle huppert. born #otd in 1953, she is a treasure - a gift to the world & a living legend. i'm telling you, she is spectacularly unnerving - a tiny dynamo you would not want to meet down a dimly lit parisian side street. actually, you would. just don't ask her about her private life. i love her & she might intimidate the hell out of me until we began chatting about inequality in the world. it's her biggest social concern. when asked about sexual inequality in the entertainment industry, she said: 'yes of course, you can always wish for change, because obviously it’s a worldwide fact that women have still a lot to gain. when i started as an actress, i did everything possible to fight for myself. in a way, fighting for myself was fighting for women in general, but i always felt i had to be in a certain position in the films i was doing.' see? she's a pussycat, really.
world river day
#art/#history (#inktober hangover edition): grumpy fucker that i am, national holidays & international belly button fluff days are not really my thing. i resent being told when to celebrate anything. there are some such things, i'll concede, that are too important to ignore. earth day 1990 is one i'll never forget. it was the day that i saw an interview with river phoenix. he was talking about his childhood & said the word, vegan. when he explained what it meant, i realised it's what i'd been calling 'strict vegetarian' & it's what i was striving to be. everything fell into place & i fell a little in love with river. he's not why i've been vegan for nearly 29 years, but he was mercury that day & he delivered a bolt from the blue. from then, my awareness of the planet around me came into sharp focus. i became more political & more compassionate. i think about him often & i know he'd still be the most badarse plant-eater on earth if he hadn't danced that last jig with the 'medicine' that he thought he needed to numb himself to all the pain he saw in the world. bisous, beautiful boy - &, o, yes: happy #worldveganday, everyone.
#art/#history: he may be the father of surrealism, one of the founders of the bureau of surrealist research & the author of the first 'surrealist manifesto', but andre breton (who was born #otd in 1896 was rather a lucid dude. an atheist, when he wasn't coaxing dreams from the public or canoodling with salvador dali, leon trotsky (okay, just once) & paul eluard, andre was busy protesting french imperialism & disapproving of the algerian war - so opposed was he that he signed the 'manfesto of the 121'. up until the end of the second world war, daddy andre had felt politically inclined toward communism. it was as post-war pushed into the 1950s that he passionately embraced anarchism & he stayed in its arms until he died in 1966, aged 70. never let it be said that ageing inevitably leads to centrism.
be more barbara
#art/#history: too many protest singers. not enough protest songs? i dunno' - & even if that is strictly true, not all protest singers are of equal value. some important artistic rebels are not even afforded the recognition they should've eaned from the moment they picked up their fascist-killing machines. don't take it from me. i'll let bob dylan tell you about this particular living legend: 'the world needs more people like barbara, someone who is willing to follow her conscience. she is, if the term must be used, a hero.' influenced by woody guthrie, barbara dane (who was born on this day in 1927 & is celebrating her 92nd year) made her name with the blues. in 1964, she recorded an album with lightnin' hopkins. before that, she toured with some of the jazz greats & the likes of memphis slim, willie dixon & mama yancey. louis armstrong was a fan & told everyone barbara was 'a gasser'. her voice? seductive. she's 'bessie smith in stereo'. her heart's even bigger than her lungs, reaching out, as it always has, for the underdog...which is why she returned to her first love - folk. it enabled her to express her political views & culminated in one of the most powerful musical indictments of the free-market ever recorded: 1973's 'i hate the capitalist system'. with titles such as 'working class woman', 'i don't want your millions mr' & 'the kent state massacre', you know you're in for some kick-arse lyrics. barbara knew that she'd sacrificed popularity for content, that maybe she didn't hit the charts too hard because she sang so often about an unjust society. ultimately, that's the way she preferred it. she didn't give a flippity-foo about having a manager & so did it all on her own, because, in her words, 'i was too stubborn to hire one of the greed-head managers, probably because i'm a woman who likes to speak for herself. i always made my own deals & contracts & after figuring out the economics of it, i was free to choose when & where i worked, able to spend lots more time with my three children & doing political work - & even brought home more money in the end, by not going for the bigtime.' this also meant she could appear on a 1962 episode of 'alfred hitchcock presents' along with james mason & angie dickinson. not much room for any more cool when barbara's about.
glenda the good bitch
#art/#history: she ain't afraid of no 's' word. indeed, in a recent interview to promote her return to the theatre, she said that socialism isn't the scare word it once was & is finding its feet in the political lexicon of the left even in the states. she should know. glenda jackson, who was born on this day in 1936 (along with a host of other cool people - albert finney, sophie scholl, alan bennett, pierre desproges - who jostled for prominence in my brain & art bin before i settled on good glenda), spent 23 years in parliament as labour MP for the hampstead constituency. her political career followed swiftly on from her equally enduring success in the film industry, so i'd say that sweet smile belies a fierce intellect & a formidable determination. in 2013, as she was winding down & preparing people for her departure from the westminster circus, she gave an excoriating speech 'in memoriam' of margaret thatcher in which, expounding on the idea that MPs were duty bound to eulogise the first female prime minister of the united kingdom, she said, 'to pay tribute to the first prime minister denoted by female gender, okay; but a woman? not on my terms.' glenda also famously remarked, in a debate about banning fur farms, 'nobody really needs a mink coat...except the mink.' there's a lot to love about glenda. i'm not sure how her apple, dan hodges, rolled so far from the tree.
carol brings the beat
#art/#history: had to do a quick homage to one of my greatest influences. carol kaye - still criminally obscure - was born on this day in 1935. she began in 1957, racking up sessions with phil spector & brian wilson; so you've undoubtedly heard her bass playing. she's contributed to near enough 10,000 recordings. you can't really miss her. as part of 'the wrecking crew'/aka 'the clique', carol played on 'pet sounds' (that unmistakable bassline on 'good vibrations'? all kaye, okay?), nancy sinatra's 'these boots are made for walking' & glen campbell's 'wichita lineman'. frank zappa's 'freak out!' sees her larking about on a 12-string & paul mccartney credits her artistry on 'pet sounds' for inspiring his creativity on 'sgt pepper'. most recently (2006), carol took to the studio with frank black for 'fast man raider man' & she's still producing videos for aspiring bassists. her casual cool is contagious &, even though you're not sat in the room with her, it feels that way. she's a friend - & you know she wouldn't tell you off for sipping a beer of having a spliff after class. i don't really know what's going on in her birthplace of everett, washington these days...but if they've not named every street after carol kaye, it'd be a screaming, crying shame.