Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain

Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain is a scholarly tome from the team at the Hepworth Wakefield. Written to accompany an exhibition there in 2018, which I didn’t see, it attempts to position the photographer Lee Miller at the heart of the British surrealist movement in the 1930s and 1940s.

I can’t remember where I first encountered Miller’s photography. It was in an exhibition many years ago. I recall seeing solarised images she had made in collaboration with Man Ray alongside the photographs she took as a war correspondent during and at the end of the Second World War. I bought a postcard of her image ‘Portrait of Space’, depicting a landscape seen through a torn piece of netting with an empty picture frame hovering over the sky, because it made me think of Magritte. I was drawn by the framing and lighting of her images, that borrowed from the world of fashion she had experienced as a model and that also had a theatrical feel to them.

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Birds: Paintings of 100 British Birds

I’ve been saving up Moir’s art book, Birds, for when I had time to sit and absorb his watercolours.

This is a restful book. In the foreword, Chris Packham captures in words what it is that I respond to in Jim Moir’s bird paintings.

… Jim doesn’t just see birds, he looks at them, so intensely that he understands them. Not just anatomically or behaviourally – he knows how they feel.

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Crudo

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Read 03/05/2022-08/05/2022

Rating 4 stars

Crudo is Olivia Laing’s first novel. I read her excellent exploration of how loneliness informs art, The Lonely City, a handful of years ago and kept meaning to read more by her.

In The Lonely City, I liked the way Laing included memoir in what is, essentially, a biography of eight artists. Her first novel is a memoir of sorts, a fictional one this time. Inspired by Chris Kraus’s biography of Kathy Acker, as well as by Acker’s own approach to literature, Laing has imagined an alternative Kathy who is also partly Laing, too. Continue reading

White Horses

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Read 31/05/2021

Rating 5 stars

White Horses is a modern production of a book that never was, a new imagining of a work that should have been, featuring autolithograph reproductions of paintings by one of my favourite artists, Eric Ravilious, and text by Noel Carrington. Continue reading

Hit Factories: A Journey Through the Industrial Cities of British Pop

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Read 05/04/2021-18/04/2021

Rating 3 stars

Hit Factories is a curious and eclectic book. The title and the flyleaf blurb suggest a social history of pop in industrial cities – how the industrial landscape influenced the music and vice versa. It’s not that, though. It’s more personal, built around an attempt by author Karl Whitney, a Dubliner transplanted to the North East of England, to understand Britain differently.

Whitney has drawn on a travel writing approach of exploring the relationship between landscape and community, finding the out of the ordinary and drawing on the voices of those involved in the story. The book examines why certain industrial cities developed, or didn’t, distinctive music scenes and represents the condensed musical histories of 11 cities across just over 300 pages. Continue reading

Permafrost

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Read 21/02/2021-26/02/2021

Rating 5 stars

Permafrost is the first novel by Catalan poet Eva Baltasar. It’s a thing of beauty, visceral and uncompromising. It’s about depression, and being cared about but not loved; it’s the story of someone who tries not to let others in because being self-contained is safer. It’s also deeply, dryly funny.

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Boy Parts

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Read 11/07/2020-12/07/2020

Rating 5 stars

Book 5 in my 10 Books of Summer reading challenge, a substitution in the original list.

I find it hard to believe that Boy Parts is Eliza Clark’s debut novel. It’s confident, fiercely funny and its chattiness belies the darkness at its heart.

Not since Chuck Pahlaniuk have I felt so delighted to be entertained by the vagaries of human nature. Not since James Kelman has a writer captured so well for me the hard edge of working class play and working class survival. Not since the translation of Virginie Despante’s Vernon Subutex trilogy into English have I been so pleased to meet a character that is so grotesquely charming. Continue reading