Tag Archives: Alexander McQueen

The Surreal World of a Spellbinding Genius

24 Dec

Somerset House has been transformed into a veritable fairyland, a surreal world belonging to the magical stylings of Tim Walker.  Walker has always been fascinated by the make-believe since as a 19-year old intern at Vogue he established their Cecil Beaton Archive.  After completing his studies at the age of 25 he shot his first Vogue fashion story; the rest, as they say, is history.  He was the recipient of the second ‘Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator’ at the British Fashion Awards in 2008 and the following year he received an Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in New York. His photos are instantly recognisable including many famous fashion campaigns such as those of Mulberry (who are supporting the exhibition), Hèrmes and Valentino.

Giant doll

Tim Walker, Giant doll kicks Lindsey Wixson, Eglingham Hall, Northumberland, 2011.  Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

The extravagant and dazzling exhibition seeks to replicate the photos.  The first room contains a life-sized Spitfire, a prop used for a 2009 Burberry shoot for Vogue starring Lily Donaldson.  Here, it has crashed and erupted through the fireplace.  There’s no slow start.  This is Walker – take it or leave it.

Spitfire

Tim Walker, Lily Donaldson and Blue Spitfire, Glemham Hall, Suffolk, 2009. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

The exhibition guides us through Walker’s collaborations with some of the biggest names in contemporary fashion and culture: Alber Elbaz sporting a pair of rabbit ears (fairy tales are frequently referenced); Karen Elson up against it with a giant crocodile; Agyness Deyn in the sand dunes of Namibia; Tilda Swinton in Iceland; Alexander McQueen and a memento mori of skull and cigarettes; Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton turning an Essex garden centre into a danse macabre; Stella Tennant in a pink cloud among the rhododendrons of an English country garden and a visitor from outer space who surprises a foxhunt in Northumberland.  Some of the scenes are a bit bizarre to say the least but they are not scary – in fact they are mesmerising.  Walker’s images are characteristically British – from the models and design to the background.

© 2009 Tim Walker. All rights reserved. Moral rights asserted.

Tim Walker, Stella Tennant and pink powder cloud, Eglingham Hall, Northumberland, 2007. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

As with the Spitfire, props from the photographs are brought into the gallery.  I, for one, love bringing props into exhibitions and so they were onto a winner here with me but, when busy, this can make the display seem cluttered.  In particular, the room with the giant swan is very difficult to navigate especially as all the cold skaters from the Somerset House ice rink are migrating inside, seeking warmth from anywhere, even an art gallery.  The wall labels are also quite amateurish and some are even peeling off – a shame considering how the rest of the show has been thought out.  The wall labels and quotes are printed on corners making you move with them – the photos aren’t straightforward and the display follows this.  Despite these flaws this is a really fabulous show where the new East Wing at Somerset House has truly found its feet .

_64181756_64181755 from bbc

Skaters at Somerset House.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk

In this exhibition, we are transported to Walker’s world where his imagination comes alive. And what a world it is!  Walker shoots entirely in film – for him, the easy part is pointing and shooting and the camera ‘is simply a box put between you and what you want to capture’.  The magic, and his genius, lies in the designs of these amazing sets that show off his models and all their couture finery.  The team involved here includes hair and make-up artists, fashion stylists, costume fitters, model makers, set designers, builders, producers, painters, prop suppliers and models with Walker at the centre waving his magic wand.

Olga Shearer

Tim Walker, Olga Shearer on blue horse, Sennowe Park, Norfolk, 2007. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

Somewhat surprisingly, Walker’s preference when looking at this show is his portraits, favouring the stripped back contrast of the faces to his previous flamboyance.  He feels it’s time for something new but I find it very hard to believe he’s going to leave all this behind.  Who knows?  Let’s see.

Alexander McQueen

Tim Walker, Alexander McQueen with skull and cigarettes, Clerkenwell, London, 2009. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

Looking at Walker’s photographs feels as if we are somewhere else, in his own surreal land.  The soft focus, framing devices and clever lighting enhances this.  It is, in fact, the experience of viewing the photograph that stays with us longer than some of the specific images.  The works are an incredible cross between fashion, theatre, design and art.  They don’t have to come down in one place as they encapsulate all these things; and they encapsulate them faultlessly. 

And so it was time for me to journey to my own winter wonderland and don some skates at the Tower of London to be whisked away once more, this time onto the ice.

skates

Tim Walker: Story Teller is at Somerset House until 27th January 2013, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

Ceçi n’est pas une chaussure…

12 Apr

This is a slightly strange one…  Blame it on last week’s illness if you like (I’m in need of an excuse) but, earlier this week, I set off for the Design Museum, excited to see their Louboutin exhibition.  I had been disappointed that it was scheduled to open on 28th March, while I was on holiday, and I therefore assumed that I’d missed all the press hype and a visit was overdue.

The Design Museum. Own photograph.

So, as I sat in the taxi from London Bridge station down to Shad Thames and loaded the Design Musuem website, imagine my surprise to see a picture of a gorgeous Louboutin shoe in the section for forthcoming exhibitions.  It would seem that the dates have changed and it’s now not opening until the 1st May.  Great!  As beautiful as it is to come to this part of London I didn’t really need to trek down the Thames to the Design Museum but, having done so, I thought I might as well see what was going on.

The River Thames by the Design Museum. Own photograph.

The Design Awards are celebrating their 5th anniversary this year.  Currently on show at the Design Museum is the longlist including The London 2012 Olympic Torch, the Duchess of Cambridge’s Wedding Dress, designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, and the London 2012 Velodrome.  These are not designs to be taken lightly, with the exhibition including some of the big hitters from the worlds of architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport design.  The awards aim to be as wide-ranging as possible and the exhibition certainly shows off the diversity of design and the all-encompassing bracket of this term.  Many of the designs here have a conscience and seek to address vital needs.

Designs of the Year. Image courtesy of Luke Hayes and via www.designmuseum.org. 

The objects’ explanation panels help understand the motivation behind their creation and many of these deserve attention.  One work that caught my eye was the redesign for the ambulance by the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art.  Their innovative new system enables a stretcher to be accessed from all sides and includes a digital communications and monitoring system that can send information ahead to the hospital.  The new ambulance is more efficient with a cleaner finish; it resembles a mini-hospital rather than the interior of a vehicle.

Ambulance redesigned. Own photograph.

Thisotropes by Conny Freyer, Sebastien Noel and Eva Rucki of Troika was commissioned by Selfridges.  It is a light sculpture formed of eight mechanised structures, each of which consists of a series of intersecting geometric profiles.  It’s a dizzying combination of science, technology and art which come together to create a beautiful and mesmerising moving chandelier.

Thisotropes. Own photograph.

Also included is the 2012 Olympic Torch that will be used to carry the Olympic flame this July. The piece has been designed to reflect the celebratory nature of the games; the body is made of aluminium alloy skins, held in place by a cast aluminium top and base.  The skin is perforated by 8,000 circular holes – one to represent every torch carrier.  As well as creating visual lightness, the holes enhance the piece on a practical level by significantly reducing its weight.  It is not only practical but deeply symbolic and very British.

2012 Olympic Torch. Own photograph.

Even The Hepworth Wakefield is included in these awards; when I visited last September I was struck by the confidence and power of the building.  Designed by David Chipperfield Architects, The Hepworth is very exposed and isolated; it rises from the River Calder, like an old mill or Venetian palazzo.  Made from warm grey concrete, the building consists of ten geometric forms that can be viewed from all aspects.   The Hepworth is a strong, yet sensitive, design far removed from the ubiquitous sterile, white-box gallery space.

The Hepworth Wakefield.  Image via www.hepworthwakefield.org

Although it includes some ingenious pieces of design, I found the exhibition to be messy; it appears cluttered and unforgiving to the objects on display.  The works are displayed on cylindrical drums that create an overload of ‘stuff’.  I was surprised by the lack of finesse and interior design here – quite ironic for a museum of design.

Clutter at Designs of the Year 2012. Own photograph.

Notwithstanding this, I will, of course, be back in May for the Louboutin exhibition – unless the dates change again!

Designs of the Year 2012 is at the Design Museum until 4th July 2012, www.designmuseum.org.  The winners of the seven categories and the overall winner will be announced on 24th April 2012.

Contrasting Cultures at Somerset House – Amazon and Dazed & Confused

10 Dec

I’m particularly interested to see what’s going on in the new East Galleries at Somerset House as they will be hosting the London show of In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe from July 2012, with which I’m very involved.  Well, I wasn’t disappointed.  Aesthetically, the new galleries look stunning – with their 18th century features and-low level lighting, the space is wonderful.

Amazon in the East Galleries at Somerset House. Own photograph. 

For the inaugural exhibition in this space, Somerset House is showing Amazon,  in aid of Sky Rainforest Rescue, showcasing works by award-winning photographers, Sebastião Salgado and Per-Anders Pettersson.

The exhibition is intended to draw awareness to the plight of the Amazon which covers over 6.7 million km2 and comprises 40% of the world’s remaining tropical forests.  The information panel at the beginning states that every minute, an area of Amazon rainforest the size of three football pitches is lost to deforestation.  The statistics continue.  The impact is immediate, this exhibition is designed to shake us and make us realise the severity of the situation.  The Sky Rainforest Rescue is a three-year project that aims to save one billion trees in the State of Acre. 

Per-Anders Petterson, An aerial view over the rainforest in Amazonas state, Brazil on June 21, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

Pettersson presents photographs from his recent visit to Acre, documenting the shocking deforestation in progress as well as showing those who are benefitting from the Sky Rainforest Rescue.  His images aim to show the stark reality – both ‘beautiful and heart-breaking in equal measure’ – and the effect that these changes are having on local communities.  His recent trip to the area gave him ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the work that is being done firsthand and to help showcase it’, looking at how Sky, WWF and Acre State Government are helping the area. 

Per-Anders Petterson, An aerial view as sun rises over the rainforest in Amazonas state, Brazil on June 21, 2011.  Image courtesy of the artist and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

In striking contrast, Salgado’s works, from his on-going photographic essay Genesis, portray Amazonian landscapes in their most pristine state and give a rare insight into the lives of two Amazon tribes.  His often-monochrome images try to show the environments that remain intact despite the scale of destruction, aiming ‘to highlight the beauty that must be preserved.’  His works are beautiful, reminding of us the rich habitat that can still exist in this area. 

Sebastião Salgado, The State of Amazonas, Brazil. 2009 – fishing in the Piulaga laguna during the Kuarup of the Waura group.  Image courtesy of the artists, Amazonas and nbpictures and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

It always bothers me that charitable organisations produce such elaborate and OTT promotional material, like the lavish book being handed out here.  Are they getting enough of a return to make this worthwhile?

However, it is a very moving exhibition .  The two photographers could not be more different in their styles but, between them, they highlight the severe scale of devastation.  It’s always good to get these issues into the public eye and Amazon succeeds in a breathtakingly beautiful manner.

Sebastião Salgado, The State of Amazonas, Brazil. 2009.  Image courtesy of the artists, Amazonas and nbpictures and via www.somersethouse.org.uk

Just next door in the main building of Somerset House, stretching across the courtyard and terrace rooms, it could not get more different, with an exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the magazine, Dazed & Confused.

Dazed & Confused has been gracing our bookshelves since its inception in 1991.  Dazed aimed to strip away artifice and show ‘real’ life.  They weren’t a normal fashion magazine; they were shocking and, at times, alarmingly honest, in their portrayals.  The magazine is not to everyone’s taste and has provoked controversy and polarised opinions over the years.  Although it started in one room, 20 years later a measure of its success is that about 65 people work on the Dazed team.

Jubilee, October 2000, photography by Paulo Sutch, styling by Katie Grand. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk

Jefferson Hack, co-founder of the magazine, deserves an exhibition about his extraordinary life. But, in a way, I suppose this is his life – the eccentricity, excitement and wildness of the magazine is Hack on paper.   Hack met Rankin on a journalism course at the London College of Printing.  Rankin, on a break from a photography degree, was running the student magazine and, together, at weekends, they began producing this.  Untitled won three Guardian Student Media Awards and they took their vision and passion over to Dazed, the magazine which became a ‘social scene …  a conceptual thing for young creatives’.

Pulp – It’s a Wrap, 1995, Photography by Rankin.  Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk

The exhibition presents highlights from a new book about the magazine.  Curated by Jefferson Hack and Emma Reeves, it features a range of work that includes ground-breaking photography by Rankin, Nick Knight, David Sims and Terry Richardson; specially commissioned projects by artists Jake & Dinos Chapman, Damien Hirst and Sam Taylor-Wood; cutting edge fashion pages by stylists Katie Grand, Katy England, Alister Mackie and Nicola Formichetti; and specially selected designs by fashion giants Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Gareth Pugh.

The curation of the exhibition reflects the nature of the magazine, immortalising its most infamous visual stories.  Dazed sought to publish unheard voices and new talents – quirky, fashionable, extraordinary and different.

20 Years of Dazed & Confused magazine at Somerset House. Own photograph.

The exhibition is surprisingly extensive but, then again, Hack has never done anything by half.  It celebrates what Dazed is all about and what makes Dazed so wonderful is that it doesn’t fit a mould.  Hack and Rankin have never tried to conform.  When they started, they didn’t really know what they were meant to conform to.  The magazine took off, people loved the freedom of expression it allowed and, as they connected, the creativity burgeoned…and still does to this day.

Amazon is in the East Galleries at Somerset House until 18th December.  20 Years of Dazed & Confused Magazine: Making It Up As We Go Along is in Somerset House’s Terrace Rooms until 29th January 2012, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

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