Remember this?

In my first year on the degree course at Manchester we assembled in the former lost property offices of the Manchester Corporation( we still got little old ladies popping in complaining of lost umbrellas, even though it had been closed for years) We were a motley group of individuals from all over the country. Myself from not far away, but we had others from as far away as Walthamstow, which to us was really the dark side of the moon. A bloke addressed us with a cigarette in hand and told us his name was Williams, he had more spots than the rest of us poor chap. I don’t fully recall what he said but he did try his best to make us feel welcome.

In the days that followed we got to know the rest of the staff, slowly. My own tutor was the children’s book illustrator Tony Ross, who’s sense of relief when I was given a free transfer to another team, was palpable. In retrospect I don’t blame him, I suspect that I talked too much and worked too little. The guy who took us for life drawing was a man addicted to his pipe and looked like a retired major from the lancers. The advertising bloke had the demeanor of a frantic market trader that went well with his name: Driver.The typography/design bloke was a little more intense.

We had visiting ‘celebs’ too, probably as a result of the wily ways of our head of department, who seemed to know these people. Brian Redhead came to see us, he was pretty major at the time, and presented the news on the BBC. The equivalent of John Humphries today. Unlike his perceived friendly persona on the radio I found him to be a quite an unpleasant character, or perhaps he was having a bad day. Ronnie Kirkwood, an advertising guru of the time who turned up in a very grey and dark Manchester in a gold suit. We could not believe it!

All the memories of the time will be coming back on Thursday when our little exhibition in Manchester kicks off. Open to the public from the Friday, come along and see the sort of things that a few of us have been doing for the past 50 years after this Manchester start.

Honky Tonk?

With the coming exhibition in Manchester coming up next week, I make no excuses for putting myself about as they say. I’ll be exhibiting with a number of friends who I spent my time with at Mancheste in the 60s. Sadly two of them have died in the meantime, but their work will be there, and many happy memories of them.

I had a brilliant time in Manchester after first completing the Foundation year, which was in Openshaw and surrounded by heavy manufacturing factories and there were times there in our lunch breaks when we would play football on a piece of waste ground against the lads from the factory. They thought we were easy meat of course, how could they possibly lose to a bunch of poncy long haired art students, especially as they were armed with steel toe capped boots and we were unsuitable clad in desert boots.

They were right. We always lost.

I think that year, after being cooped up in boarding school, was possibly one of the most exciting years of my life. We had a go at everything but the basis for everything was drawing. I thought I was pretty good and was possibly a little arrogant about my skills. I’d always been top in art at school. Looking around at the rest of the class which also included a fair collection of girls of my age, a novelty of massive proportions for me, I was soon dispelled of my beliefs. They had also been top in art! And they were much more top than I was. In addition a tutor described my work as ‘bloody awful’ and then set to, making me aware of my failings and how I could get better.

One or two of the students in that foundation year will be exhibiting with me from next Friday, the others were on the Degree Course that followed. We’ve kept in touch over all these years, I can’t wait to catch up with them again at the scene where it all started.

Making an exhibition of myself, again.

One of the posters for the Exhibition

If you happen to be in Manchester anytime after the 24th, then feel free to take a trip to the Benzie Building at Manchester School of Art, where I and a bunch of fellow graduates from 1969 are exhibiting to celebrate our 50 years in the business, and since our graduation. All the details you need to know are on the poster right here. Don’t forget it’s weekdays only, but then if you are in Manchester on a weekend you do need to look at your life in detail.

I’m off there for the opening and looking forward to seeing my old friends. My own graduation and final show was in retrospect not my shining hour, so I’m hoping that this makes up for it a little. I passed, but perhaps only just. My priorities at the time were football, music, beer and female company if I could find it. So the work took a rather sorry 5th place. I was far too young to go to college and although I worked hard in my foundation year ( I had to to get into the degree course ) I have to confess that I was extremely relaxed in the degree course.

The incentive of surviving after I left made me a little less relaxed about what I should do next and after a period driving a lorry delivering cakes to all points North I saved enough to go and find my fortune in the London. My mother bought me a suit so that I could go to the interviews at the various advertising agencies that I had lined up to take advantage of my minute talents. I’m not sure if she thought that the interviews were in the Orkneys or somewhere similarly cold and wet, but the suit was built for Manchester and not the sunny south east. I must have looked like a pink piggy at the interviews, I certainly sweated like one. Wether it was nervous energy but that and the bulky suit challenged my supply of right guard to the limit. Not many people seemed to be wearing the waistcoat where I was going, or if they were it was without a jacket and they looked like they’d bought them from an old army surplus store. Whereas my bespoke special had only been made after I’d been asked which side I dressed. “Nearest the window” was my puzzled reply.

Come along and see some great work, not from me, but from the talented friends I made all those years ago, and who went on to become big in the business. I found myself in the end and more than eeked out a living. What a lucky chap I was to have such talented friends who had a huge influence on me, and unlike me at the time, knew the meaning of hard work, enthusiasm and raw creative talent.

I can’t wait to see them again, see if I can borrow a tenner off them.

This is the full poster and the drawing was done by a chap called Anthony Woolaston, who sadly we have been unable to trace. He obviously had a lot of talent as he managed to capture the essence of all of us. That’s me on the front row, fifth from the left, wearing my old school scarf, what was I thinking? Anthony, or ‘Doove’ as he called himself at the time, put himself in the picture and he is 8th from the left with the flowery tie.

If you happen to know of his whereabouts let me know, be good to get him along, and at least thank him for the use of the drawing.

Mr Grumbly wanted for light balloon duties

You will be stationed next to a large metallic object the looks like a massive toy balloon and is the work of world renowned artist Jeff Koons. This is an exceptionally tactile piece of his work and is set on a plinth at the LACM Galleries here in Los Angeles. This plinth also reflects the work.

Your duties will be to observe anyone getting too close to the artwork or, heaven forefend, actually touch it. You must advise them to step away from the balloon.

You will be suitably armed with a plastic covered identity badge and a sullen manner, as well as a personal radio so that you can warn the authorities that the work is likely to be seriously compromised by visiting small children who think that this display, is what it seems to be.

This is an extremely tough assignment as temptation will be high on busy days, whereas on quiet days it is likely you will spend many hours contemplating exactly where your own life went wrong.

Salary will be commensurate with exactly how miserable a ‘vibe’ ( as they say in these parts ) you can impart.

It has to be emphasised that the present incumbent is well established in the post.

Seriously though this is a brilliant piece of sculpture, and it’s well worth a trip to LACMA to view it, and the poor guy who has to stop people who get too close!

Jumping Spider-Man

I think this is a really super poster, and it sits nicely above the chair. I suppose it would need to be a Hercules chair for Spider-Man. The drawing here is first rate and the composition adds to the drama, can’t fault it. The addition of typical L A blue skies helps too.

Frank’s place, inspired by hollyhocks.

This is the Frank Lloyd Wright house in LA which like the Schindler House is well worth a visit, even if you are not that interested in architecture.

Here’s a little more about it for a better understanding that I can give

We went on a clear sunny day and the place is located in a small park. Unlike the Schindler House, and you will see from the information that Schindler was very much involved in this house too, here you cannot take photographs indoors. This is a great shame as the interior is absolutely fantastic. Wonderful feeling for space and a rug that was made as one unit to cover a large area. Lloyd Wright designed almost everything in this house, including the rug.

Outside we had a guided tour by a historian who gave us a lot of the background and the story, well worth that too.

The design is said to have features based on the hollyhock, but personally I’ve never seen a hollyhock that’s squared off quite like this. The location overlooking Hollywood and the city is stunning but it’s a shame that they’ve built a huge modern building quite close, I’m told it’s a hospital and that one is supposed to forgive them for that, I don’t.

There are docents ( a word new to me, but apparently it means volunteer helper ) to help you with questions and they were all ladies of charm with an eagle eye. You are not supposed to touch anything and one is given covers for your streetwise foot ware. The inside ceilings are painted concrete and it is said that the client, a wealthy oil heiress, told Lloyd Wright that she wanted it green but not green. She sounded like a difficult client. They did not get on that well and she never lived there. She was also a socialist single mother in an age when they were certainly not the flavour of the time in the USA.

The house is set in a small park and is surrounded by a chain link fence, which is a massive shame, but it would possibly not survive without it. California has legalised cannabis and while we were visiting there was a small car full of young people making the best of it. They got high on weed and we got high on design, or was that secondary smoke we’d inhaled.

Supposed to be based on hollyhocks, well I believe them but some might not.

We are back from our trip now but these USA posts will continue for a while, a sort of blog lag. A bit like jet lag, but in word form.

Bit thanks to all those who’ve dropped into our LA trip.

Deer antler trading?

This place, like many of my images from the last few weeks, is from Korea town, so it might be expected that there are Korean shops like this one, but what on earth is Deer Antler Trading? I suspect medicinal in some way.

I did not venture inside.

No image can do it justice, and there’s little justice.

My recent pieces have been about signs and other things that I’ve found interesting here in L A. The item below is a bit of a departure. Social media is about how good things are for the writers and I’m no exception but this one is not.

We have been in L A for a few weeks wandering the streets, taking pictures of all sorts of items that I find either stimulating or amusing. Some areas are better than others and a so called poor district can be a street or so away from one where they advertise “armed response” security in little signs on the beautifully kept lawns.

Yesterday, I walked back to where we have been staying from the car hire place after returning the car to them. “You’ve only gone just over a 100 miles” said the Avis man. May be I said but believe me I’ve sat in that car for quite a long time. It took us 2 hours to get the 20 miles back from Santa Monica.

On that trip we drove through, or crawled to be exact, through some of Hollywood’s richest districts. At one point a massive vehicle that looked like a Brinks Mat armoured truck pulled out in front of us driven by blond housewife seemingly on her way to collect the kids from the local private school. It looked for all the world like a military vehicle. No one was going to mess with her.

So on my walk back from the care hire I took the opportunity to take a few more pictures. In an area of Korea Town on the main road, there on the pavement was a bundle of what looked like rags, all in black. A man of small stature, bearded and possibly in the worst state I have encountered a human being. Sitting crouched down like a wounded animal, which he was really. Quiet but desperate.

Absolutely the dirtiest human being I have ever encountered. A white man that looked like he’d been down a coal mine. In fact the last time I have seen a man so dirty was many years ago in the North West of Lancashire when I was a child of seven seeing miners leaving work, their teeth, unlikely to be their own, shone white from blackened faces. They were smiling, this poor man looked like he might never smile again. A picture could not do this justice and the least I could do was not to take one and with it what remained of his pride, if any remained.

Poor desperate people are not uncommon here. They carry all their worldly belongings with them, in bags or shopping trolleys or both.They populate the areas near the freeways and try to set up camps and shelters under bridges with bits of plastic and their inadequate bedding.

The other day we were going out in the car and as we stopped at a traffic light, there beside my window was another man, down on his luck. Not more than 30 years old, matted hair and again a filthy state. He looked me in the eye and I turned away, I’m not sure quite why, so looked back at him, he was looking at the ground so as to avoid any eye contact, not just with me, but with anyone. Someone’s son off the rails and alone in possibly the richest city on the planet. We have our fair share of poor and homeless in the UK, but these men were really the very poorest I’ve ever encountered.

It’s a blight on this country that they do not seem to look after these poor souls a little better than they do.

Sign of regeneration

Not far from the Getty Villa there are walks in Topanga National Park, we took a trail behind the Villa and climbed to the top to get the view over the coastline and in to L A. It’s worth it. It would seem that this area too has been affected by fire with blackened stumps here and there, but nothing too devastating, and it was good to see the trees regenerating with fresh green shoots appearing out of the blackened bark.