Five-Hundred Year Anniversary: Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre by Erik Martiny

It seems fitting that the current Louvre exhibition has surrounded the Renaissance man who saw himself as a scientist with all the latest in new technologies to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of his death. Although the Mona Lisa is absent from the exhibition (it has remained on view in its usual display case for all to see in the Italian Renaissance galleries of the Louvre), access to the iconic painting is available by dint of a virtual reality headset. In some ways, it’s actually better than viewing the real painting behind its thick bullet-proof glass covering at a distance, usually behind a bustling throng of visitors. You get to see the painting released from its frame. You even get to experience the grain of the poplar wood panel underneath the paint. The VR documentary also showcases da Vinci’s sfumato technique, an approach which involved applying numerous thinned layers of paint that make the transition from light to shadow almost imperceptible. To round off the experience, you get to fly into the ghostly blue mountains that reach far behind the enigmatic sitter.

The virtual reality experience allows you to get as close as you would like to the painting while a soothing voice unpicks its secrets. You learn, for instance, that the reason why the Mona Lisa never travels abroad is that a single journey could be fatal to it. Da Vinci spent the last ten to fifteen years of his life painting it (alongside two other masterpieces) during his final stay in the employ of the French king François I. When he died, Leonardo gave his last three paintings to one of his pupils who promptly sold them at an exorbitant price to the king. François I cherished Leonardo’s work as much as Louis XII had, to the extent that he installed the paintings in his favourite room, his lavishly decorated bathroom.

As you can imagine, years of exposure to hot steam did little to strengthen the poplar panel on which the Mona Lisa is painted. It warped the painting into a permanent convex shape. It is currently so fragile that a split at the back of the wooden panel still threatens to break right through Mona Lisa’s face. Apparently, even a small temperature difference during a trip abroad could snap the whole piece in two. While the lapis lazuli paint underneath is still intact today, the coat of varnish that covers the painting has darkened over time, making the silk veil covering Mona Lisa’s dress seem opaque rather than translucent.

Another novelty in the exhibition’s scientific display apparatus is the widespread recourse to infrared reflectograms, a technique that makes the drawings underneath the painting visible to viewers. Reflectograms pick up on the carbon signatures of the drawings so that you can see the graphite without the overlying coat of paint. This allows the viewer to perceive any pentimenti, changes that Leonardo made to the drawings as he executed the paintings, but it also allows you to see the murkier parts of the paintings, those cast in shadow by the chiaroscuro technique that Leonardo used to such astounding effect. There were reflectograms of all the major paintings that could not be present at the exhibition but also of those on display. The only pity was that the reflectograms weren’t placed side by side with the finished paintings to make comparison easier.

There were a larger number of Leonardo’s scientific drawings and notebooks on display, including Vetruvian Man, probably the most famous drawing in the world. It almost didn’t make it into the exhibition, becoming the object of a polemic, France and Italy being at loggerheads in the current political climate. Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi was supposed to be delivered but hasn’t arrived yet. Another Renaissance version of the painting is on display though; ditto for The Last Supper which was of course impossible to present at the exhibition as it is painted onto a wall in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan. (There was a tendency in the Renaissance to place themed works in appropriate places: The Last Supper was deemed ideally suitable for the church canteen. El Greco’s The Disrobing of Christ was similarly painted for the ecclesiastical cloakroom of a church in Toledo.)

The French king Louis XII liked The Last Supper so much that he attempted to remove it from the wall of the refectory to bring it back to France. He failed to do so and the mural has remained in its original setting ever since, fading slowly year after year. The technique of fresco painting is something that Leonardo was entirely new to when he began the mural and he quickly discovered it didn’t suit his painstaking, slow-moving approach. To make the fresco adapt to his slow delivery, Leonardo used various chemicals which haven’t aged well. Leonardo’s scientific turn of mind pushed him to experiment relentlessly, proceeding by trial and error. There are errors in his military drawings too, those he drew for Lodovico Sforza, the duke of Milan. Some have argued that these mistakes were put in deliberately so that others would not steal his secrets and take the credit for his inventions. He also wrote from right to left, possibly as a way of perplexing spying eyes. 

Although Leonardo is known today mostly for his paintings, historians argue that he was really more of an engineer who liked to paint. He tended to leave his paintings unfinished as soon as the prospect of an engineering position cropped up, leaving the commissioners of his paintings in the lurch. He left his first major commission in Florence unfinished to enter the employ of the Duke of Milan, a man who was mostly keen on waging war.

As a military engineer, Leonardo devised the most brutal military weapons alongside the first known tank, portable bridges and other strategic weaponry. He even invented a monster-sized crossbow that was 27 yards across. It was never built, however, and was probably designed to fire large stones or primitive bombs that would explode on impact.

After Milan, he moved on to Venice and finally back to Florence where he became obsessed by a longing to invent flying machines, hundreds of years before the first engineers devised airplanes. Observing birds, he understood the way their wings worked through flapping but also using subtle feather movements that captured air. His later drawings show a willingness to devise flying machines that attempted to harness the forces of nature: using wind and air, rather than trying to counter the force of gravity.

Although few of his inventions ever saw the light, recent attempts to construct some of his drawings have been fruitful. Leonardo can be credited with having invented the ancestor of both the hand-glider and the helicopter. He also he invented what is called an ornithopter, a machine based on the working of bird wings.

Understandably, the exhibition at the Louvre tends to favour the painter in Leonardo, pointing out that he wanted to elevate painting to the level of the most prestigious sciences. In his day, poetry was placed as highly as mathematics in the hierarchy and there was no real distinction between the sciences and the humanities. Leonardo called painting “the divine science”.

The curators of the exhibition are at pains to emphasize Leonardo’s passion for painting, disqualifying the long-standing idea that Leonardo was interested mostly in conception to the detriment of execution. The small number of paintings attributed to Leonardo (between 15 and 20, according to most contemporary experts) does not reflect a dilettante approach to painting; on the contrary, it shows how slow, meticulous and earnest he was about the technicalities of the art. He often spent several years painting the same picture. The Mona Lisa, for instance, was started circa 1503 and “finished” circa 1517. Some experts argue that he didn’t see it as finished when he died in 1519. He would have agreed with E. M. Forster that a work of art is never finished, it is only abandoned. Most artists would agree in fact. The French painter Gustave Moreau used to add finishing touches to his paintings no less than thirty years after he first “finished” them. Henry James was known to modify the sentences in his published novels when he found copies of them in other people’s homes.

The curators of the exhibition in the Louvre are so keen to emphasize Leonardo’s devotion to painting that they opine that the unfinished paintings (those left half painted with the drawings left apparent) were part of his sprezzatura, his lightness of touch, his rumbustious spirit of endeavour, something which Leonardo called his “componimento inculto”, a sort of intuitive composition that included movement and unfinished sketch-like compositions.

Basing their point on the thousands of drawings and the tumultuous preparatory drawings on the panel of The Adoration of the Magi, the curators argue that Leonardo was an artist who constantly changed his mind, reworking compositions endlessly. But the theory really only works for The Adoration. As the reflectograms show, Leonardo’s other painted compositions vary little from the initial drawings sketched onto the wooden panels that support the paintings. There are a few pentimenti one or two other early paintings, such as The Annunciation or The Madonna of the Yarnwinder, but the other paintings follow the original drawn lines very faithfully, suggesting that Leonardo’s compositional quandaries plagued him mostly at the beginning of his career. He later painted two completed two substantially different versions of The Virgin of the Rocks, but only because his commissioners found the first one problematic on a theological and iconographic level: it was objected that the angel Uriel was pointing at Saint John the Baptist rather than Christ. His commissioners failed to appreciate the compositional originality of the first version (the one in the National Gallery in London): Leonardo used the pointing angel to draw the viewer in to the scene to indicate a model of devotion, Saint John addressing his prayer to Jesus.

Although the componimento inculto theory is enticing, making Leonardo a kind of anticipatory Renaissance Futurist who relied primarily on shifting impulsive intuitions, it’s ultimately more convincing to accept that Leonardo was a perfectionist who never managed to find the time to complete his paintings. He certainly had a whirlwind of swirling ideas on his mind, but he was also a man with no fixed social position at a time when political earthquakes were constantly sending out premonitory cautionary tremors that made Leonardo shift his professional and political allegiances at the drop of a hat. Leonardo was restless and footloose and eager to make a living wage wherever he could find it. He was often pulled away from his paintings by his desire to make it as a military scientist.

Whatever the case may be, the exhibition is certainly very successful in having brought together a large number of his masterpieces, the largest ever gathered: eleven out of around fifteen. It’s actually a world record – even Leonardo never saw that many of his greatest paintings reunited.

The three greatest visual treats on show, as far as I’m concerned, are the Louvre version of The Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo’s Leda and the Swan and Andrea del Verrocchio’s amazingly beautiful sculpture, Christ and Saint Thomas. Verrocchio was the first major artist that Leonardo came into contact with when he joined his workshop as a very young apprentice. One of the greatest artists of his day, Verrocchio is supposed to have said that he would never paint again when he saw how exquisitely and accurately the young Leonardo had painted the angel on the left of his Baptism of Christ. The Leonardo workshop version of Leda and the Swan brims with erotic energy and playfulness. Its motifs and composition will have you spellbound for minutes. As I moved from masterpiece to masterpiece, I kept wanting to circle back to it.

Four Dope Queens

Natu Camara, photograph provided by Shimite Obialo and Anoko

In my own small neighborhood in Brooklyn there is global representation ranging from East Asia, to South America, to Eastern Europe and Africa. It is apparent is everything; businesses displaying signage in not one language, but five; the aromas that waft out from the many small eateries, the languages I hear spoken daily, some of them a splicing of two languages. 

New York without any doubt, the most diverse place I have ever lived.

In a city with such a cultural melange, it is essential to promote the traditions of each, so that they do not get lost in the sometimes chaotic collection of so many people. 

That is exactly what Shimite Obialo, founder of Anoko (which means ‘wealth’ in the Nigerian language of Igala), has done. Founded in 2016, Obialo’s mission has been to create a community for creatives and entrepreneurs of the African diaspora, which promotes friendship, networking, and mentorship. 

Through the platform of Anoko, Obialo has promoted a plethora of African women in New York City. We, at Litro, want to help these women flourish through their distinct narratives. 

Sewit Sium, an artisan and educator, has developed a business in which she utilizes her creativity and culture to craft historically referenced jewelry, each piece of which holds a powerful message. Sium believes in using craft as an educational tool, in order to create a connection to hers and others ancestral roots in Africa. She wants the African community in the United States to reconnect with their own cultural imagery and iconography that might have been lost. 

“As a jewelry designer I’m interested in the animacy of objects. When my pieces are worn, they’re activated – that is, their story and felt sense of meaning are brought to life.”

Sewit Sium, photograph provided by Shimite Obialo and Anoko

Sium is not alone in promoting African female entrepreneurship. Dadé Akindude, model and educator, believes in embracing her beauty as an African woman in New York. She has developed a line of skin care products, Awomi Naturals, that is a mission-driven social enterprise. All of Akindude’s products are sourced from raw materials produced by women owned businesses in West Africa, specifically, in places where women might not have a lot of economic autonomy.

Dadé Akindude, photograph provided by Shimite Obialo and ANOKO

Along with Sium and Akindude, Natu Camara is employing her unique artistry to empower women and children of the African diaspora. A Guinean  singer and songwriter, Camara’s. Music incorporates social and political issues. While her lyrics touch on a wide range of issues, the focus of her work is education. She is actively involved in education initiatives in Conakry, as well as, other parts of Guinea.

Her music embraces her cultural roots from the Ivory Coast and Guinea. She describes her sound as a combination of ‘Miriam Makeba, Nina Simone, soul, Afro Funk, folk and pop’.

Tickets for her upcoming show on April 26th, at SOB’s in New York are available here.

Natu Camara, photograph provided by Shimite Obialo and ANOKO

All four of these queens are utilizing their talents to achieve a greater good. They, individually and as a community, are advocates for black women and girls in New York City, Africa and across the globe. Through education, entrepreneurship, and craft, they are strengthening the traditions and identities of the global African diaspora.

The work of these is women is leading toward the launch of Anoko house. With the goal of opening in 2020, here in New York, the co-working space will be designed to ‘nurture, promote, and celebrate people of the global African diaspora’.

Please visit the Anoko website for further information.

As a New Yorker, I want to do all that I can to keep diversity alive in this wonderfully idiosyncratic city.

Feature Film: Enemy

There are countless films out there that deal in adultery – pick pretty much anything at random and there’s likely a bit of secret sex going on. And that’s usually the thing; it’s employed, often a little cheaply, as motivation for all kinds of plot-advancing shenanigans, from murder, to burglary, through fist fights, shootouts, bloody revenge – the lot. Infidelity is at the ground floor of many a narrative structure and for the characters, more often than not, it’s all about the sex.


Here, in his follow up to the tense but overlong two-hander Prisoners (2013), Denis Villeneuve presents the psychological perspective and it’s a refreshing take on an age-old trope. Enemy is relatively low on plot (and sex, come to think of it), and is more than just a riff on the doppelgänger motif; it charts the breakdown of one man’s existence when it splinters into two separate lives. (At least that’s how I saw it.) What happens to the mind of a man cheating? How does he consolidate two opposing existences? Not easily, it appears.


Gyllenhaal, blinking decidedly more than the last time you saw him in Nightcrawler, and teaming up again with the Canadian writer/director (which was made before but released after Prisoners), delivers a split performance oddly reminiscent of Adaptation.‘s Charlie/Donald Kaufman. And like that film, archetypal milquetoast tackles archetypal shark, playing out to surprising ends. But with Enemy, as the title suggests, it’s far more sinister.


Based on Nobel prize winner José Saramago’s 2002 novel O Homem Duplicado (The Duplicated Man, or The Double), Villeneuve’s adaptation is shrouded in a beguiling menace, striking a thematic, dreamlike note somewhere between “Eyes Wide Shut” and “The Machinist”. History professor Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal #1) journeys into a murkier world than his repetitive but at least well-lit lecture hall when he decides, on recommendation of a colleague, to watch a DVD late one night in his spartan apartment. Finishing the film he shuts the lid of his laptop little impressed and goes to sleep. But Adam wakes in the night, compelled to revisit the DVD, remembering something strange about it in his dream. He plays the film again, skipping through to solve the nagging question in his head. Did he see himself in the hotel scene? Here, we are led to believe, begins the split.


“It was Hegel who said all the great world events happen twice,” Adam tells his students (presumably not for the first time), “and then Karl Marx added: the first time it was a tragedy, the second time it was a farce.” There are few laughs to be had by the time Adam seeks and finds the name of his ‘double’, Anthony (Gyllenhaal #2), online. Bumbling, detached Adam hasn’t got much else going on it seems, apart from some repeating history lectures and the routine, angry sex with his muted girlfriend Mary (Laurent) – each adding only sourness to his existence. He’s not ‘satisfied’, that much is clear. So what the hey. Adam sneaks into Anthony’s agent’s office, calls his apartment a couple times, all the while becoming accidentally obsessed and increasingly confused – and all with good reason.


Anthony, it turns out, is borderline: a slicker, apex twin of Adam. By the time we’re properly introduced we’ve learn some unsavoury facts about Anthony’s past, his pastimes and his relationships. He’s married to Helen (Gadon) with a baby on the way. When Adam starts calling and confusing the situation, Helen becomes suspicious that he’s been cheating again. It’s not long before Anthony’s up to much worse, with Villeneuve cranking up the tension on a tetchy score.


The dreamlike developments trade effectively on the film’s surface confusion. Logically, judging by his dreams, Adam and Anthony are more familiar with each other than they think. All is and is not what it seems. Where Enemy departs from the familiar theme of infidelity is presenting these two lives as concretely separate and the relationships unconnected. It’s uncanny – the plot, though seeming familiar, deviates still from the standard trajectory, employing a nightmarish filmic language, building on its themes nonverbally and contradicting it in dialogue.


Villeneuve is aware his audience is wise to well-worn twists (and creates a truly startling final shot), but he rushes to the finish. For a picture that’s assembled with such precision, one event in the third act is the piece’s only weakness. Still intriguing is Villeneuve’s deft blurring of perspective (which half of the pair are we watching?) with Adam/Anthony’s mother (Rossellini) appearing to reveal clues. Perhaps she is the key to the entire piece.


Anthony’s told: “You’re not a man, you’re nothing.” Direct references to history, control and totalitarianism may present a dual meaning: at what cost does a man retaliate against his transgressor? Anthony is determined to destroy his softer other while Adam himself rises against aggression and surprises himself.


Remarkable too is Enemy’s confident pacing. It’s a relentless chokehold of a film chock full of heavy symbolism becoming almost wilfully impenetrable and encouraging (aptly) a second viewing. Interpretation seems very much Villeneuve’s intention and simple answers there are not. Fidelio as many have interpreted Eyes Wide Shut, may not be the password here – Adam/Anthony’s dissatisfaction runs deeper than a lack of commitment. There aren’t very many solutions offered up to this male type’s conundrum of relationship ‘control’, or his loss of masculine identity. “It’s a pattern. It repeats”, as Adam says to his class. Though Enemy may suffer from a somewhat weak final act, with its final shot the cycle begins again. It repeats. And with this Villeneuve adds a different dimension to the simple cheating husband – and for once it isn’t just about the sex.


Trapezoids and History

Chaperones, Gossip, and Banned Books by H. M. Bateman

Lombra by Rodrigo de Souza Leão


By Rodrigo de Souza Leão, 2009.

Oil on canvas, 80 x 50 cm.


Alex Vannini — Sunset

How to Make a Black Hole

Steven Appleby’s work has appeared in newspapers, on television, on Radio 4, on stage at the ICA and in over 20 books. The Coffee Table Book of Doom, published in September by Square Peg, makes an excellent Christmas present, and is available from all good bookstores and online.

How To Speak French

Steven Appleby’s work has appeared in newspapers, on television, on Radio 4, on stage at the ICA and in over 20 books. His Coffee Table Book of Doom was published in September, and his website is

How to Make a New Memory

‘Once Upon a Riot’ by Louie Stowell

ArtistLouie Stowell has been drawing cartoons and other illustrations for Litro for a year or so. Her drawings have appeared in other off and online magazines and an annual charity art exhibition called ArtSHO. She also writes children’s books for Usborne and recently co-wrote a book called the Write Your Own Story Book, published at the start of June.


Laika by Magda Boreysza

Magda Boreysza is a freelance artist living in Edinburgh, where she graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art in 2007 with a first-class honours degree in visual communication. As well as illustration work, she is also available for mural commissions. Her comic Toastycats is available in selected shops and online at



I See The Promised Land by Arthur Flowers & Manu Chitrakar

Writer: Arthur Flowers teaches in the English Department of Syracuse University, USA. A native of Memphis and co-founder of The New Renaissance Guild, he is a performance poet who considers himself heir to the western written tradition as well as the African oral one.

Artist: Manu Chitrakar lives and works in Naya village in Bengal. A Patua scroll artist who sings and paints, he is part of a living art and performance tradition that is as open to contemporary news stories and politics as it is to ancient legend and myth.

Leonard Cohen by C.M. Evans

New Superheroes by C. M. Evans

Cartoonist: C.M. Evans, author, artist, thinker, recycler, philanthropist, grew up in Upstate California. His work, (both art and literary) has been published for many years online and offline in places like Milk Magazine, McSweeney’s, Dear Sir, The Bridge and displayed at various venues in the US, China, and Mexico. He is cartoon-editor- at-large for


‘Buffalo Chris’ by Chris Wiewiora & Dan Folgar


An Adventure of Buffalo Chris: Inspiration & Collaboration
By writer Chris Wiewiora

I came up with the idea of a comic series called The Adventures of Barista Chris while I was working for a corporate coffee chain. The storyline would be based on my job. And so, I planned for my co-workers to be drawn as animals (i.e. my bad-tempered boss would be a bear), thus disguising their names, if not their identities.

For each The Adventure there would be an accompanying An Adventure – a tangent narrative that would somehow connect back to The Adventures. For instance, An Adventure of Buffalo Chris is an adaptation of the Texan-American tall tale of Pecos Bill and the taming of his wild horse Widowmaker. The parallels to The Adventures is that Barista Chris rides a dangerous motorcycle he named Betty Jo (in the tall tale the wild horse is named Widowmaker) and also in The Adventures, Chris eventually falls in love with an apron-only wearing – otherwise nude – woman named Eve (like how Sweet Sue captivates Pecos Bill).

But there’s a problem: I can’t draw. Well, it’s not that I can’t draw, it’s that I don’t draw. I don’t draw, because when I do draw, the best I can do is draw birds as a lowercase m up in the sky.

And so, I got my buddy Dan Folgar (also a former corporate coffee employee) to collaborate with me on The Adventures of Barista Chris. I write. He draws. More accurately, Dan illustrates – he brings alive the imagery of my words.

The first thing at the top of my script for Buffalo Chris was a summary of the character(s), desire, and plot in one sentence:

Buffalo Chris is a feral boy who seeks danger via taming a wild horse.

I noticed the word that I kept using in my script was “wild.” And when I think of wildness I think wilderness, and the struggle to survive in that dangerous and unforgiving environment. But I was curious to see how Dan would represent wildness. The concept sketch Dan sent me was of a wiry boy in a loincloth and wearing a buffalo headdress.

I realize that American tall tales are about the United States’ folk heroes like Pecos Bill (or Buffalo Chris). However, I don’t believe that those stories are only about their characters; rather the characters embody their stories’ settings. The character’s character represents their story’s region. More simply, a story is about place, too.

In Dan’s concept sketch, Buffalo Chris’ hands float out and away from his body over the empty space around him. And maybe here, I can switch roles and give some words for Dan’s illustrations of Buffalo Chris: His landscapes are lush as well as wild. Dan gives dynamic images starting in the Texan deserts heading westward along the prairie, through the forests, over the mountains, and all the way to the Pacific Ocean where the sun sets.


Writer: Chris Wiewiora ( is a MFA candidate at Iowa State University’s Creative Writing and Environment program. He mainly writes nonfiction, but previously collaborated with Dan Folgar illustrating another comic titled Life of the Coffee Bean, published in Bateau. Together, they have compiled a comic anthology that is seeking a publisher.



Artist: Dan Folgar is a cartoonist/artist from Miami, FL. He is currently seeking an MFA in visual arts at the Miami International School of Art and Design. He has comics forthcoming in Candy or Medicine, and an online comic series at

Me and my Dad and a Long Time Ago by Neil Dvorak


Writer/artist: Neil Dvorak says: “I think the farthest a human can go is to ask a really great question. Right? There are so few truths or answers on Earth … here are three: I love my friends and family. I love bugs and drawing. I made everything else up.” See

Hand me my Hand by Alan McCormick

‘You can pin a maggot on a mackerel but you can’t pin a mackerel on a maggot,’ whispered the featureless child, his unheard words of wisdom floating away on the wind.

There was lot of wind on the Suffolk coast that day and it was busy dragging the kite belonging to the father of the featureless child along the far side of the beach.

‘Feck it, feck it and feck it,’ scalded Dad.

The snake on a rope thought he said ‘fetch it’ but his impulse to slither over and fetch it was curtailed by a sharp yank on the tie-rope around his neck. His trunk slinked and then coiled up into itself; his gasping tongue protruding to fork the passing currents of air.

Amongst the masses of messed up line attached to the kite emerged a giant ugly deep sea fish. It stank and shouted at a woman and a baby ahead of it.

‘Not mackerel, not a maggot and not a monkfish,’ mumbled and murmured the featureless child.

‘Mmmmer mmmmer mmmmer, can’t make any fecking sense of any fecking thing you say, lad,’ blasted Dad.

‘Sssssand shark, it’sssss a sssssand shark,’ hissssssed the snake.

Dad went to have a closer look. The stinking sand shark bit. He came back with the kite but without his hand.

‘That takes the biscuit,’ sobbed Dad.
‘That took your hand,’ corrected the featureless child.

Dad looked at him for a moment. ‘I understood that bit, lad, you’re right. Good to hear you talk normal for a change.’

The snake slithered back with Dad’s hand.

‘Thanks, snake,’ said Dad with a playful yank at his tie-rope. ‘Now let’s go home, your Mum has got some serious sewing to do.’


Writer: Alan McCormick’s collection of short stories, and shorter pieces illustrated by Jonny Voss, Dogsbodies and Scumsters, is out now on Roast Books. Alan was recently Writer in Residence for the Stroke charity, InterAct Reading Service. His short stories have won numerous prizes and have been widely published and performed, often in London with the Liars’ League.

Artist: Jonny Voss studied illustration at Brighton University and then went on to study at the RCA. He has been working in London as an illustrator since 2000 – see Alan and Jonny collaborate on illustrated shorts as SCUMSTERS – see,, and



How to Enjoy Doom


The Coffee Table Book of Doom, by Steven Appleby & Art Lester, is published by Square Peg on 3 November. £14.99.

In Search of Life in London’s Sleepy Art Season

It’s August and London’s art galleries are silent. Dealers have fled to the sun and staff have a few precious weeks to chill the best they can before the build-up begins for London’s hectic October art season. Signs of life are few and far between; at 196 Piccadilly you may be able to catch glimpses of Phyllida Barlow’s inaugural show at Hauser & Wirth being installed.

Peeping through the large doors of the Lutyens-designed former bank are bits and pieces of materials, trolleys and the tell-tale expanse of plastic sheeting that signals the arrival of a crack teams of art technicians. Opening September 2nd , this show should be marked down as a must see in your calendar. Barlow is a unique figure in contemporary British sculpture and it will be fascinating to see how her rough and ready materials sit within the interior of the Hauser & Wirth’s plush gallery space.

Security issues…

Over on Saville row, it’s the same story; more plastic sheeting and paper pasted up over gallery windows. One exception though is in the ex-Christie’s, ex-Gagosian director Pilar Ordovas’s new space where the largest security guard I have ever seen is standing directly behind the glass door. Teenagers swinging sacks of Abercrombie and Fitch turn and giggle at his menacing gaze. I have no idea why he is there. By the looks of it there is not a huge amount of art to defend as of yet. Maybe it’s a throwback to Ordovas’s days at Gagosian which always seemed to have a platoon stationed within their Britannia street gallery. The first show at Ordovas is slated to open in October in time for Frieze and most probably will be well worth visiting, if you can get past security.

Max Bill at Annely Juda Fine Art

If you haven’t been to this gem of a gallery I can recommend a visit. Located at 23 Dering Street, the entrance is just to the left of the recently opened Blain Southern space. Following the gallery sign, you need to duck through a nondescript doorway and clamber up the stairs to the 4th floor. Once buzzed in you will be struck by natural daylight; it floods through the gallery space from the large central skylight. During exhibitions your eyes can have the double pleasure of traveling from delicious examples of 20th century abstract work upwards to bright blue sky.

Today the gallery is filled with the works of the Swiss creative polymath Max Bill (1908-94). Although generally regarded as an artist, sculptor and architect, he also found success as a silversmith, product designer, typographer, politician and professor. He studied at the Bauhaus under Kandinsky and Klee and after the war, he was a force in the founding of the Ulm School of Design, the principles of which would be similar to his alma mater. Among the students and faculty of this new institution were Otl Aicher, Joseph Albers and Johannes Itten, whose famous  book The Art of Color still passes in front of painting students in art schools today.

Some of the paintings in this exhibition pass a little more than a fleeting resemblance to some of the illustrations in that book. Bright polychromatic planes are brought together by Bill and even though he is thought of as rigid and logical, very human compositional decision-making is evident throughout the work. Sadly he is still very much underappreciated in this country and this is evident by a gaping vacuum in our top public collections.

His influence abroad also has yet to be fully understood; with the current interest in the development of Latin American Abstract art, his contribution to this scene through his visits to Brazil in the 1950’s and his influence on artists such as Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica is still not well known. Surprisingly, strong similarities can also be seen between the works of Bill and the “rediscovered” South American abstract artist Carmen Herrera (recently picked up by Nicholas Logsdail’s Lisson Gallery). With new interest in this area fuelled by emerging South American money it will be interesting to see what new information is brought to the surface from this potentially rich vein of art history.

Thomas Murr