In the first of two exclusive video interviews with Christo, the artist explains how the giant London Mastaba installation on the Serpentine lake is the culmination of over 60 years of working with stacked barrels.
The temporary London project, which is 20 metres high and consists of 7,506 barrels, was unveiled last month. But the artwork has its genesis in experiments made by Christo, 83, and his late partner Jeanne-Claude in the fifties and sixties.
“I was born in Bulgaria and I escaped from the communist country to the west on 10 January 1957,” Christo explains in the movie, which Dezeen filmed in London. “I met Jeanne-Claude in November 1958 and we together fell in love.”
“We lived in Paris in between 58 and 64,” he continues. “I was so poor, I had no studio and I was living in one room. I started working with little cans, tin cans of industrial paint. From the cans of the smaller size, I moved to the smaller sized barrels. I rented a garage outside of Paris when I started working with real barrels.”
In 1962 he blocked a Paris street with stacked barrels in a reference to the Berlin Wall that was erected the previous year.
“I was worried the third world war would start,” Christo says. “The Soviets took over Budapest during the revolution [in 1956] but I escaped and there was a big turmoil. I remember I was very scared that they would run over West Germany and come back to Paris and I proposed to do my artistic Iron Curtain in the smallest street, in the Rue Visconti, of the left bank of Paris.”
It’s often said that we are a product of those closest to us. Growing up on the outskirts of Johannesburg in the Tsakane township, it was three women who shaped the man Tshepo Mohala would become.
Denim designer Tshepo Mohala grew up watching his mother grind to give him the opportunity of a good education, he listened to his pastor grandmother’s stories of hope that transported him back to 1945, and he admired his cool aunty who dressed for the red carpet. “I don’t know if you remember Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake’s Canadian tuxedo moment at the 2001 American Music Awards?” Tshepo says with a smirk. “She rocked that look.”
This exposure to hard work, community and bold style would lay the foundations for Tshepo’s character and inform his namesake denim and ready-to-wear label, Tshepo the Jean Maker. In five years, the brand has grown from a Facebook page to a fan base that includes Meghan Markle and a team of 15. Its success can be chalked up to the designer’s positive outlook on life. Seldom without a smile, his energy is infectious. “If you’re willing to put yourself out there if you’re courageous, and if you really love what you do and want to leave a mark on this world then it can happen,” Tshepo tells me. It is an attitude he has learned from the powerful women around him. “I was raised by my grandmother who was a public servant in her duties as a pastor,” Tshepo says. “I watched her treat everyone in the neighbourhood with the same respect regardless of who they were. The biggest thing for me is serving the public.”
Matthew Burrows is an East Sussex based abstract painter. However, if you regularly post your artwork to an Instagram account you may recognise his name as the founder of the Artist Support Pledge. When the Covid-19 pandemic started to affect the UK in the first half of March, Matthew Burrows had the idea to start posting works for sale for £200. When he had sold £1k worth of artwork he pledged to buy some artwork himself for £200 and encouraged other artists to do the same. 95,000 posts later the #artistsupportpledge is playing a vital role in keeping the visual arts industry alive, as well as helping to build a community and promote generosity. In this interview, I wanted to find out more about the man who has inspired thousands of artists to buy and sell contemporary art, and take a closer look at his paintings, and find out exactly how he’s managing through Covid-19 lockdown.
Matthew Burrows’ Studio
To read the full interview, please go to the following link:
In the year 1611, an English trader by the name of William Finch came to Lahore with the sole purpose of purchasing indigo, which according to him after accounting for all expenses to get it to England via Persia, yielded a 400 per cent profit.
It was Finch who for the first time wrote about the story of Anarkali the dancing girl who was buried alive by the Moghal emperor Akbar. He had heard the story from many a person in the streets of Lahore and from other indigo traders.
The scandals of the Moghal court and the fight between father and son over this beautiful courtesan were titillating conversation in Lahore in those days. I decided to once again pick up this indigo trade story and to see how the strands of Lahore’s greatest export played out, and how this trade, eventually, died out.
My story starts off at three points, for that is all that a brief piece like this allows. A graveyard, a ‘mohalla’ inside the walled city and from well-known historical facts. Very few might know this but surely the oldest Christian graveyard in Lahore is opposite the Nursing Hostel of Mayo Hospital just behind Ewing Hall at Nila Gumbad and next to the back wall of Sacred Heart School opposite the GPO. Behind the wall are scores of ancient graves; among them are several graves of the pre-Sikh period of ‘Indigo Planters’, which description is clearly marked on the tombstones.
The indigo consignment of Finch was “a large boatful that left the docks” that then existed at Khizari Gate, now known as Sheranwala gate, for the River Ravi then flowed around the walled city and moved southwards towards an alignment that today is the Sanda Road moving towards the present river alignment.
It headed towards Multan and then to Bander Karatchi (Karachi) to a Persian port and towards the North African coast and on by sea towards Portugal, which in those days was the world’s largest trading nation. The effort to reach India by Vasco de Gama had specifically indigo and spices in mind when undertaken.
Just one word about the graveyard before we move on to our ‘mohalla’. The old folk who live nearby and look after the graveyard tell of an unmarked grave of the real designer of the Taj Mahal. I have written earlier about this architect from Venice who was executed on the orders of Shah Jehan by a Portuguese Jesuit monk and buried at this place.
The pen is mightier than the sword, they say, but sometimes it’s the cartoonist’s pencil that stings the most. Around the world, caricaturists of all political stripes have long used their illustrations to lampoon the rich and powerful. Sometimes, their humour is focused on the foibles and follies of celebrities. This can take a dark turn when jokes are based on racist, misogynistic, homophobic or other tropes (consider the controversy over a cartoon of Serena Williams in 2019). But, such illustrations can also be a lighthearted means of exposing the mundane and endearing flaws of those whom we admire. Roasting the actions and decisions of the political élite, on the other hand, can bring about wrath unmatched by that of sports or entertainment stars, even when the images’ stated purpose was the betterment of society and progress in politics. The lands of the former Ottoman Empire are certainly no stranger to such dynamics. In 2017, our colleague Daniel Lowe curated an exhibition of the Arabic comic tradition that contained a considerable representation of satirical cartoons. For this year’s World Press Freedom Day, I’m going to share a few examples of the Ottoman Turkish satirical press from the British Library’s collections, and highlight some of the special connections between the United Kingdom and this vibrant part of Turkish culture.
While a lot of people grew up watching Popeye and Tom & Jerry or had their kids watching it all the time, most likely just a handful knew the genius behind it. Eugene Merril Deitch, most commonly known simply as Gene Deitch, was an American illustrator, animator, comics artist, and film director. He was also known for creating the animated cartoons Munro, Tom Terrific, and Nudnik.
Deitch spent most of his life in Prague, where he relocated back in 1959 when Rembrandt Films promised to fund Munro. He lived there his whole life and sadly passed unexpectedly on April 16, 2020, at the ripe age of 95. Since hearing about his passing, artists from all over the world have flooded the Internet with touching artwork as a tribute to the late illustrator.
During this time of isolation, art lovers around the world have found a way to unite and stay creative: by recreating classic artworks using whatever they can find at home. Several social media ‘challenges’ have gone viral online by institutions like the Getty Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine on Instagram. I’ve compiled…
As one perhaps knows, Monarchy is not an Islamic institution. By the time the Mughals established there hold in India, the Muslim world had reconciled itself with the concept of monarchy. And the monarchy within the within the Islamic framework was being justified by the Muslim jurists by an extended interpretation of the Tradition of […]
For a sector where 53% of business have recently closed their doors, this is catastrophic. The olive in the dog-wee martini is that when the debt for supporting the country through COVID-19 arrives, cultural workers will be expected to pay it off just the same. Some governments subsidise their cultural sectors, and others do not. Only the Coalition, it seems, has found a way of getting its cultural sector to subsidise them.
Stop telling the arts to do better
The response so far to this right-royal example of policy ineptitude has been a predictably economic one. The Australia Institute has put out a report on the economics of the creative arts and called for the sector to be more “confident” in dealing with government on the basis of that data.
Arguments for Australian culture often focus on what it should say to demonstrate its worth. Rarely considered is the government’s capacity to listen, or the extent to which it is able to meaningfully interpret the truckloads of evidence put to it. The sector can present all the data it likes. In the end, the government has to choose which to accept and act on. For this, it needs its own cogent idea of culture.
After Holt was presumed drowned, the contest to replace him lay between Paul Hasluck, a publisher and poet, and John Gorton, founder of the Australian Film School and the Australian Film Development Corporation. If it was Gough Whitlam who brought culture into the Cabinet, it was the Liberal Senator Tony Staley, one of the better arts ministers we have had, who took it to the next level of policy consideration and kept it there.
It is absolutely not true, therefore, that a proper appreciation of arts and culture is to be found only on the Australian political Left. But it begs the question what on earth has happened to create this perception? Why has a deep-rooted and persuasive cultural policy vision by and large vanished from Coalition beliefs and values?
Its absence is good neither for the government, the sector, nor the country. Bipartisan cooperation on matters of national interest – and the fate of Australian culture is surely one of these – is not a matter of pat verbal agreement.
Politics is not a game of ideological Snap. It arises when different parties advance their own interpretations of particular domains, and these are then incorporated into what the sociologist Norbert Elias calls “the social fund of knowledge”. When no such interpretations are advanced, the process of arriving at beneficial policy outcomes breaks down.
It’s not only the hole in the emotional heart of Coalition politicians the cultural sector should be concerned with right now, it is the hole in their corporate memory. However confidently the sector puts forward its numbers to government, the context for turning them into coherent industrial strategy is missing in (in)action.
The way forward for Australian cultural policy lies in the minds of our politicians, not the attitudes of the sector. This does not mean Coalition ministers and their advisers should accept ideas and arguments they do not like or agree with. It means they must come up with ones of their own.