One of my favourite science fiction books, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, was published in 1932. In June of that same year, Pablo Picasso curated his own retrospective in the Galeries Georges Petit, Paris. ‘I feel like I am witnessing a retrospective vision of myself ten years after my death,’ Picasso is quoted as saying. It was a busy year for Picasso, not even halfway through his career, balancing another crumbling marriage with the attentions of his young mistress Marie-Therese Walter and exploring a number of different art forms and subjects.
This hectic period of the great artist’s life is very well represented in the current exhibition at the Tate Modern in London which ends on 9 September. I had the good fortune to find myself in the city with an hour on my hands and in a hotel not five minutes walk from the museum. The exhibition shows ‘The eroticism of a giant’ to quote Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and I would love to share some of the photographs I took while strolling around the ten rooms arranged in chronological order. However I fear that the Tate Modern, while happy for you take photos of most of the exhibits – including sketches, oil paintings and sculpture mostly of female nudes abstracted in his bizarre interpretation of form, but also including scenes of the crucifixion, bathers on a beach and animals – might not take too kindly for their unauthorised reproduction here.
Although Picasso once said, ‘You start painting and it becomes something altogether different. It’s strange how little the artist’s will matters,’ his seemingly barking-mad interpretations of the female form do follow some pattern in their abstraction. Curves are accentuated, form made phallic, hands flipper-like, facial features crushed into geometric simplicity with love, sorrow and longing in every brushstroke. I would’ve liked to have stayed longer than an hour but that’s all I had before the galleries began to close.
I lingered in the gift shop umming and ahhing about buying a catalogue of the exhibition as I was completely bowled over by his work, having only ever seen a handful of his work in the flesh before that day, but the tightwad in me won over and I retreated to back to hotel to investigate the free tea and coffee in my room.
Sipping my free tea I watched a bit of the France v Belgium World Cup 2018 semi-final. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days you should know how that match played out and indeed how the whole tournament ended. Football didn’t quite come home but it did end up in the home nation of the guy who first had the idea of staging a global football tournament.
It has been the best World Cup I can remember for a long time – lots and lots of goals, not too many red cards, great VAR decisions for the first time (on the whole), some corking matches (Portugal’s six-goal draw against Spain in the group stages, Belgium coming back from 2-0 down versus Japan, and of course Colombia versus England) and surprise results e.g. South Korea hilariously ousting Germany from the competition. Shame England didn’t make it all the way to the final, but hey, I’m Welsh anyway. Perhaps we should have a Great Britain team instead so we can Gareth Bale up front?
As mentioned previously, I read The Radleys by Matt Haig. It’s the story of a married couple of vampires abstaining from drinking blood and trying the live a normal life in leafy suburbia with their son and daughter. Unfortunately they opted not to tell their kids about their supernaturalness and when the daughter ‘kind of accidentally’ kills a schoolboy who tries to attack her after a party the husband calls his brother for help.
His brother isn’t abstaining and indeed is growing increasingly dangerous in the way he is flouting the terms of an agreement with those members of the police who know of vampires’ existence. This agreement, to allow the killing of undesirables by vampires, is a weak point of an otherwise very well constructed story. Of course the appearance of this bad influence within the rocky family unit has disastrous consequences especially because the police are watching the Radleys with great suspicion. Haig provides some of the insightful observations about everyday life that worked so well in The Humans, but while it was a fun read it had less of an impact on me than that book.
Because I was travelling to London I selected Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Regiment as my next read – it fitted nicely in the outside pocket of my small overnight bag. The novel is set in England for a change and while it does feature a short battle on the border between Spain and France at the end of the book, the action is mostly centred around Sharpe’s search for the missing Second Battalion of the South Essex Regiment. The regiment needs reinforcements but Sharpe thinks something underhand is afoot back home and goes to investigate.
Suffice to say that Sharpe, with help from Harper as usual, sorts it all out and various types of justice are served out to the bad guys. The Prince of Wales is featured a lot and the portrayal reminded me a lot of High Laurie’s performance in Blackadder III. Sharpe manages to get his leg over a scheming Lady Anne under some bushes in a London park but ultimately gets married (again), to Jane Gibbons (who was in Sharpe’s Eagle). There’s just no stopping him.
On television (Netflix) Siggy and I watched the film Cool World starring Kim Basinger and Brad Pitt. It is a bit like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in that it combines animation with live action, but unlike that hit film it does it rather badly and the story is as flimsy as some of Bassinger’s costumes. I cannot recommend it.
However, if you have Netfilx and you like in-depth historical documentaries then I can 100% recommend The Vietnam War: A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novik . Told in ten long (approx. 1hour 40min each) episodes this is the definitive documentary of the war from it’s historic origins during French colonialism to the present day (or near as damn it). It showed previously in the UK on BBC 4, but the episodes were edited down somewhat. On Netflix it is presented in all it’s long-form entirety. It is an emotional journey for the survivors from both sides of the war, the POWs and the civilians. And it’s no walk in the park for the viewer either – there are graphic scenes and descriptions of all types of things that happened and a number of powerful interviews.
Over on Amazon Video we also watched The Death of Stalin a comedy take on a crucial period of time for the USSR based on a French graphic novel. I’m a big fan of Armando Iannucci’s political satires and I was not disappointed. There are some great performances by the likes of Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Rupert Friend (Homeland) and Jason Isaacs.