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Paragon Station.. Inside now

Friday, 7 December 2018 at 19:16

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It was time for a break from the cityscapes. Still looking at the city, but my new project's about how people inhabit its spaces. I've done Paragon several times from up and above outside. Let's look at it from another angle.

Here's something in progress: I think's it's about half-way to being there. Let's see. I'm now thinking about gesture and how that relates to public space.

Sticking with Euan Uglow

Friday, 7 December 2018 at 18:50

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Euan Uglow is one of my heroes. He famously took a long, long time over his paintings. Models would go off, get married, have babies, get divorced, in the course of a portrait. Sometimes, the original model was no longer available, and others had to be found to fit in. Upper part is X, Legs down is Y. This is extreme formalism. Uglow would insist on each body part being in exactly the same position, marked by paint, nails etc. He might take hours waiting for the light to return to the previous day's work. Or paint a model from a series of different, absolutely detrermined perspectival differences.

Maybe, I'll post something more on Uglow's method another time.

Meanwhile, here's a Uglow-like set-up; but with a huge difference: I had just two sessions of about two hours on this. Hoping I'll get another session. There's a nod to Uglow's mathematical proportions, but everything is done very quickly here. If only I could organise studio time to work like Uglow. We do what we do and make the best of it. But, one way or another, I'll sort this, at least the white sheet if I can't get the model back.

Back in the Studio

Friday, 7 December 2018 at 18:46

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it's taken a while to get going in the new studio. The heating finally got connected this week. Here's what's on the easel at the moment. It's been slow, but a couple of things are coming along, which I hope to finish before Christmas.

Russia: Minus Twenty-Seven

Monday, 3 December 2018 at 09:41

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Photos of a demonstration camp set up in Red Square in the winter of 1992-93. Below poems from Minus Twenty-Seven (1993) which came out of a couple of trips to Russia at that time.

Russia: Builder of Communism

Monday, 3 December 2018 at 09:40

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Through the Forest

Monday, 3 December 2018 at 08:57

Here is the third and last poem from Minus Twenty-Seven.

I was staying with a Russian family in the Vladimir. One day we were going out and they gave me skis. I told them I'd never skied before, but they couldn't understand how anybody hadn't learned to ski, and just assumed I meant I hadn't done it for a while. This was cross-country, not downhill, so I managed somehow.

Like most Russians, the family did use their outside window ledge as a fridge in winter.

There was a lot of moonshine around then, too. There's a great novel Moscow-Pietushk, by Venedict Yerofiev, which gives recipes for moonshine cocktails made from various domestic ingredients, an idea I borrowed for the made-up hooch names in "Security".



The poem also appeared in New Writing 4 (Vintage, 1995) and in The Dade County Book of the Dead (1995).

Through the Forest

Minus Twenty-Seven. The town gives out,
trolleybuses terminate in dirty snow.
Out there it’s clean. You click skis
and head towards the aching sky.
Fangs fasten upon the woods.

Rats’ teeth threaded on the wind
pierce your lobes and gnaw.
Birch trees run out like barcodes
– those western goods eyed on Arbat stalls.
Your mind is as clear as that last vodka batch,
out on the sill, gripped in a handshake of ice.

Already the moon is twisting silver
like a lure where the sky fatigues.
Then it’s gone, loping over your shoulder
as you slither a bend at speed
to catch the sun’s last lick around tenement teeth.
The air’s smudged by a single cloud:
a speech bubble over the lit-up factory.

At the edge of the forest, your blood is hot.
No more than a hundred heart-beats ahead of night,
you pause, pant out stars and wipe
the pelt of frost from your face.
Eyebrows crackle with static.
Ice has woven through your hair.
It beaks under your clumsy glove like birdbones,
hanging, hinged on feathered splinters from a paw.

My Boot Upon A Horizontal Stalin

Sunday, 2 December 2018 at 19:41

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Another Russian poem from the distant past. The photo shows me a quarter of a century ago in front of Mayakovsky's grave.

Why "City of the Dead"? The necropolis here refers partly to the monumental mauoleums of the communist era, partly to a contrary impulse to knock down statues of those now out of favour. There really was a park filled with horizontal statues of former heroes. This was also the time Moscow got its first MacDonald's. The conspicuous consumption of capitalism was just getting a hold while the austerity and bizarre inconsistencies of the communist command economy were still very much in evidence. The state-run GUM department store was mostly empty counters, with the odd surrealist glut of, say, buttons, or outsize flowery dresses or curtains cloth, or possibly it was a dual-function material. The upside for tourists was that it was still very cheap. A friend and I ate in what was probably Moscow's best restaurant, the Praga, near the Kremlin, and an excellent several course meal with a couple of bottles of Russian champagne, Georgian wine and a litre of vodka came to less than $25 for the two of us. A couple of years later, I stood outside and realised I couldn't afford the the $400 a similar meal would now cost.

I was thinking of going to Moscow for a Russian course, but Kyrgizstan is much, much cheaper. They (that is the Kyrgiz) say the Russian spoken in Kyrgizstan is very good, too. It seems that many Russian teachers from Saint Petersburg were shipped off there in Soviet times and the locals picked up the classy accent and a nice sense of grammatical correctitude.

City of the Dead

New Year 1993

They say that now the winter’s not so cold,
Siberia’s a blunted knife, warming
with the rest of the globe. New Year, new worries.
We change or die, the prices see to that.
Bright domes of working churches, the magnetic gold
of shopfronts glowing on Gorky Street.
– Damn it, Tverskaya! – Dior, Nina Ricci,
new names tell us we’ve joined the world.

You join the shuffle through fast-falling dark,
just off Red Square the kiosks start to sparkle.
You think of statues lying toppled in the park
– your boot upon a horizontal Stalin.
Once, also cold, they lay in state, but now they stare
up from their winding-sheets of last-year’s snow,
to catch a sputnik’s gleam among their stars.
Their House of Columns is a night club now.

There was Dzerzhinsky of the KGB
– another stony bastard gone. But you remember
his like each time you pass the Kremlin,
and look up into the unconquered sky to see
red crystal stars, still burning like persistent embers
above walls tall enough to bury any human in.

Liberated from their bones, can these Undead
look down upon us here and truly see:
the struggle for the crust of bread;
the millions still yearning to be free
– from the gangs, the guns, the bodies dumped out in the night,
the threats, the fears, the palms all greased with cash?
At last the Old Guard have their names in lights:
Cyrillic glints as an odd remaining head
is mug-shot in a tourist’s flash.
Eyes glazed by snow, an iced glaucoma robs all sight,
yet elsewhere shimmers x-ray bones
through chests of medals, overcoats of polished stone.

Some years ago you joined the queue across Red Square.
(The Mausoleum’s closed this month. Repairs
they say.) – Yet even back then Lenin looked sickly,
skin yellow with preservatives. You think of
cyclamates, tartrazine, those new numbers that start with E.
(You know about the junk they're dumping now,
wrapped in bread that chews thin as snow.
The West’s revenge for our bistrot!)

But Lenin – shrunk, the body just wasn’t right.
You couldn’t believe in that wrecked relic
– like a waxwork melting under studio lights –
that Soviet science and the embalmer’s art
had kept safe as any saint from corruption.
Perhaps the effigy’s been spirited away
for retouching, care of Lancôme or Fabergé,
those golden names face-lifting Tverskaya.
Or, perhaps it’s in the Ministry of Public Works,
perfumed with formaldehyde, among the jars
of abortions, monsters, extinct species, quirks.

Your granny thinks it’s time to put him in the ground,
a decent burial to lay his soul to rest
and let his body wither like a flower.
Or every night, like some ill-omened bat,
she thinks he’s doomed to fly around
the sky-pointed finger of the Spassky Tower.

In the Novodevichy Cemetery,
sometimes you think you hear the nuns’ ghosts sing.
Snow keeps falling on Chekhov, Shostakovitch.
White erases the stony edge of things.
Staring into his ancient future, Mayakovsky,
his young man’s hair turned white with snow,
reminds you that you bought, last week at Dom Knigi,
for less than the price of one Spearmint Chew
his (six vols. hardbound, illust.) Complete Works
– and Pushkin’s too!re

On Novy Arbat: videos, dildos;
they’re shifting Snickers, CDs, booze.
In GUM now, manicured under mannequins
Olgas go lipsticking pale starveling statues.
You watch as those most un-Russian of anatomies
are made fragrant by atomized Chanel.
Remember when the priest came back, the little church?
He swung his censer full of fuming incense.
It was as if you’d died. You were in Limbo,
waiting for either Heaven, or for Hell.

*The House of Columns is where Soviet leaders lay in state.

The French word bistrot supposedly comes from the Russian word for fast, buistro. 19th century emigrés in Paris liked snappy service.

Dom Knigi is (was?) the state-run House of Books.

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