A morning in the Henry Moore Institute

I had a couple of hours to kill in Leeds recently (I was waiting for the lovely wife to have her hair sorted – it seems to take hours on end and it looks the same at the end of it, but don’t tell her) so I decided after a slap up breakfast to combat a hangover and then on to get some culture.

I always wonder what people think when they come to Leeds in search of culture and not shopping. It must be bloody hard to find. When the book club boys go to mainland Europe on our annual trips, one of our first port of calls (after the bars obviously) is the art gallery. So I put myself in the shoes of a ‘cultural visitor’ (yes, they do exist) and set about visiting Leeds City Art Gallery and The Henry Moore Institute.

The exhibition in the Institute consisted of a room of 3B pencil scribble on a massive, white, Β emulsioned space. It wasn’t bad but it seemed to confound all of the visitors who were there the same time as me. Maybe that was the point. The artist was called Alan Johnston, I quite liked it and the artist seemed like he had the worst case of OCD I’ve ever seen.

As my old mate Streety would have declared “You’re havin’ a laugh!!!”

The main gallery has some interesting stuff in there, some old some new but it just seemed like a mish-mash of old stagers and new chancers. I just can’t shake the feeling that art in Leeds is just not taken seriously by anyone with their hands on a serious pot of money, which is a huge disappointment.

This city has been working towards a very commercial vision in recent times and I think we’re all the poorer for it – literally and philosophically. In some ways the recession has put paid to some of the more ludicrous plans, and I’m pleased about that.

It strikes home pretty powerfully too when you try and spend a couple of hours in the city centre that’s don’t involve shopping, eating or drinking. The city just feels culturally impoverished and although the new city museum is a captivating diversion, it’s aimed rightly at mainstream family visitors. We are still missing a ‘proper’ cultural destination.

Look at Manchester’s great old art gallery. Look at The Baltic. Look at Tate Liverpool. What happened in Leeds, and who’s responsible?

Delight

A good friend recommended that I read a book called Delight by J B Priestley.

Although I’m reasonably well read, I’d never read any Priestley (unless I had some force fed at school, but I don’t recall) so I took up the recommendation and ordered this book. Apparently Priestly was a notorious curmudgeon and classic miserable Yorkshireman (not that we’re all that way out, but we have our moments) and this book was a reaction against that. He decided to write about the things in life that delighted him and in which he found joy.

Interesting then, to read the preface by Priestley titled ‘the grumbler’s apology’ – where he makes no bones about how miserable he had and could be and that, ‘rest assured, if I looked miserable on the outside, I was feeling far worse inside’.

Although the book was written in 1949, there are many timeless delights as you would expect and some that are definitely of their time. It’s a book perfect for dipping in and out of at times when you have a few minutes as the book comprises a series of essays on a wide variety of subject matter.

A few that have stood out for me so far are:

Fountains – everyone likes them and they still continue to draw people to them

Waking to smell bacon – of course

Coming home – even though we moan endlessly about it, it’s still home

Shopping in small places – even in 1949, small shops were a delight and still are

Bragging – we imagine that we’re being modest, but we’re not really and we secretly like it

On top of all this great stuff, it’s a beautifully packaged little book printed on lovely ivory paper and the typography is exquisite. It’s designed in a timeless, classical format and typeset in an Eric Gill font, Perpetua. In fact, that’s another delight to add to all of the others.

Nice Tee

Those nice people at Howies have produced another great t-shirt. In the current climate of 6 Music and Asian network cuts, it gets right to the point and manages to pull off a double graphic design whammy.

Daredevil

When I was a kid, I was completely obsessed with Marvel comics. There was little else to capture my attention – TV was crappy in the seventies, the cinemas were closing down or situated in foreboding city centres.

Saturday morning was my fix. I’d head up to the local newsagents where my comics awaited. I had filled out a form and ‘reserved’ my copies (it’s what you did, honestly). I started with The Avengers and then it blossomed from there.

Here I find myself many years later reacquainting myself with the superheroes I idolised. And guess what, in order for these characters to remain relevent and compete with the modern world, they’ve given artists and writers carte blanche to reinvent the superheroes of my youth.

One of my favourites was always Daredevil. A blind lawyer who swung around Hell’s Kitchen in New York using his enhanced senses instead of his sight. He always seemed such a far fetched idea, but I have to say after just reading the latest Anthology of his most recent stories, they have taken his world to a whole new, and crucially, believeable level. It’s like a cross between the Wire and Batman.

I think it’s time for them to take another look at a Daredevil movie too.

Inbetween

Those of you that know me reasonably well will know that I’m kind of working at the moment, but not really. It’s a very weird situation to be in, as I’ve always had a job since leaving college and never had more than two weeks off for holiday in my entire working life (although we did take a three week holiday in California in the eighties, that doesn’t count as it was before children).

So I find myself biding some time and getting my life (and the garden, promise) into some order after some twenty years running full tilt at the coalface of the design industry. It’s an interesting time not just for me, but for the industry in general, and I’m expecting to be back in operation with a renewed vigour and super clarified focus on what I’d like to achieve in the next phase.

Someone who’d been through this phase said it’s incredibly valuable in determining exactly what the next thing is going to look like, and although it seems a little early for me to say too much about that just yet, I am beginning to see what they mean.

There’ll be a lot more to say about this interregnum in due course. In the meantime, there have been many simple pleasures I have enjoyed that, to be honest, would not have happened if I were in full time employment. So I’ll take these and enjoy them – they will help inform the next step forward in some way.

One of my oldest friends arrived at lunch today with a scrap of paper scrunched up in his pocket with four key questions he wanted to make sure we covered. At Jacob Kramer College of Art in 1980, he was always an odd combination of diligence and waywardness with an enviable talent. He’s still the same (hence the note). He could, and still can, draw better than I can.

Great to catch up then: old friends, new thinking, our music, Leeds Savages and New York experiences. All over a pint in The Vic. Lovely.

And yes, we did cover the four questions. If you want to know what they were, you’ll have to ask me yourself.

Music

Once in a while I see something where I say ‘I wish I’d done that’.

The guys at Music in Manchester have down just that, producing their own promotional book. Every one in agency land out there knows how hard it is to get something done that’s for yourself. There’s always client deadlines and insistent account managers who scupper it. The analogy of the cobblers children being the worst shod is never more true than in our industry.

So when someone produces a piece of self promotional work that is exceptional, it really is hats off to them. The book (and it is a weighty tome) they have produced is based around all the things they love from Noggin the Nog to The Six Million Dollar Man – from dingy Manc pubs to baking bread, it really is a thing to behold and a proper piece of work.

Try to get hold of a copy if you can – I’m sure every designer in the country will be desperately trying to get their hands on one after it was featured recently on the Creative Review blog.

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