christmas houses

one of my recommendations this xmas holiday is to go to the geffrye museum – i havent been for ages, but its on my list of things to do.   its a lovely time to visit, there is an exhibition of christmas past, 400 years of seasonal traditions in english homes! its a lovely day out, combine it with a visit to the flower market on sunday, pick up your wreath and mistletoe at the same time.

for an insight into 17C london life, you must visit the fascinating dennis severs house in spitalfields. they have a special spirit for the christmas season. the 17C silkweavers house ,which was lovingly restored as a working house but in its original time, is an insight into life of that period and it certainly keeps your mind wondering. since severs has passed away the house has been beautifully maintained and continues to show in all its glory what life would have been like. – the grandeur of the wealthy, the darkness of the poor. its a museum, cum drama, cum personal collection – its just breathtaking – your eyes dart from corner to corner of each of the rooms on the 5 floors – absorbing the different scenarios, the different smells, the crackling of the open fires , the flickering of the candles- it really is a must visit. why not buy a visit for a friend – they would just love it. think of art crossed with drama.

another interesting place is the charles dickens museum – especially if you are fascinated by the writer.  there are always lots of interesting events , but usually  there are portraits of the family, the writing desk that dickens used to create his famous novels,  his personal book collection –  and even personal artefacts such as jewellery.   at this time, the house will look very festive as they are including artefacts that influenced ‘A Christmas Carol’  ; after reading his biography by Claire Tomalin my interest in dickens was born.


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candles from some of my folded photographic cards  – you can now buy them in a box all prettily wrapped in tissue paper – choose from flowers, or nature or whatever you like…..

the church in the modern age

last night we went to see Jo Harman at St Pancras old church – it was the first time that I have been inside the church and what a wonderful jewel it is.  the church dates back from 625AD and is just reeling with history.  Jo sang with just a piano and her incredible voice filled the church so beautifully and poignantly – it was a perfect setting.   I particularly love ‘silhouettes of you’ – try and see her if you can.

churches now have to be very flexible with their uses  – with high maintenance costs, they are all opening their doors to help pay the bills.  the actors church, st paul’s church, in covent garden has its own theatre company, so look out for future productions. the garden is haven in the midst of the bustle of the market .

the union chapel is quite well known for putting on concerts and live music – and what an atmospheric space to hear music in.

its lovely to walk around smithfields on a sunday when its quiet and explore – its strange how tranquil parts of london become on a weekend; but if you are there in the week, its good to visit st bartholomew the great – its a beautiful old church originating from the 12C – the cafe is open for breakfast and some evenings its open for cocktails – its very atmospheric! i saw a spectacular theatre performance there, so keep an eye out for events that go on there.

st lukes church in old street is a hawksmoor church that also holds lot of concerts and workshops, and its where the london symphony orchestra hold their rehearsals.

i first saw st barnabas church in soho recently and was taken back by this gem of a church right in the busy centre;  its attached to a member’s club now,  but non profit making aiding homeless people into work;  there is also the added benefit of a beautiful garden.

one of my favourite churches – the metropolitan cathedral in Liverpool.


the playground theatre

if you get a chance, do go and see ‘Picasso’ at the Playground Theatre , not only an interesting space, but a  glimpse into the life of a man that we have all been brought up to love and admire – a world hero and emblem of modern century painting – this play somewhat destroyed my illusion of the man.  I guess I should have realised he would be like that, knowing the number of women in his lives.  women whose lives were taken and manipulated –  some would say it was a small price to pay for being immortalised in one of his paintings – room for debate.   an emotional, powerful and moving performance made strong by good actors.  its made me want to read more about Picasso – we have a 3 part biography volume by John Richardson that has always daunted me by its size, but maybe I will tackle it.

And there is  a lovely cafe at the front of the theatre where you can meet early, take tapas, or drop by for coffee at any time.  ‘Picasso’  is only on for the rest of this week.


rachel whiteread

if you get a chance go and see the Rachel Whiteread exhibition at Tate Britain;  its a retrospective of the artist works and includes a film showing the execution of the life size house that she cast and helped her win the Turner prize.  the sculptures range from large monumental rooms and library shelves to the simple everyday object but all define the space within.   made from a variety of materials, including wax, concrete, plaster  – they all share a muted palette of calmness – a beautiful serenity and extremely tactile, but of course you can’t touch these pieces.   also intriguing are the paintings of Jaspar Johns – we are all familiar of his flag paintings, but to see them up close shows a texture and depth that you never perceive from flat photographs or postcards.  I particularly liked his monochrome works, his dark graphite works and etchings.   there are so many important artists on show at the moment – we are so lucky in london to have them all on our doorstep.


islington has changed so much, more upmarket shops and places to eat and that includes art galleries too;  you can visit the Estorick Collection with its Italian art collection in the handsome Canonbury square, or take a short walk to the wonderful lofty spaces housing the victoria miro and parasol galleries.  they are kind of connected,  and share a courtyard garden with a particularly lovely water installation and work by Robert Montgomery.  I really liked the work by Idris Khan – very architectural.  close by Suzy Harper has reopened with other makers at 99 Essex Road – lovely knitwear, and individual clothes.   I have worn suzy’s cotton tops for many years and they never date and work with everything.   we popped in for a coffee at the Bellanger  – another French brasserie by Corbin & King; what with the Ivy opening up everywhere, they are all seeing to be too commercial now – and less of a special place to visit- more of a typical Parisian brasserie.

Sainsbury centre

I didn’t realise how quick the journey from the cottage to Norwich is, 45 mins drive, so maria and i made our way to the infamous centre for the arts,  which was designed around 1974 , the Sainsbury Centre being  the first major public building designed by the now renowned architect Norman Foster.   although its over 40 years old, it still feels so modern – somewhere between an aircraft hangar and  oversized shed – it houses the amazing collection donated by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury.   the ground floor of the gallery houses the highly recognisable works of Degas – the beautiful bronzed ballerina, Bacon and Chillida – an incredible collection of art, and this floor is free to see and wander around.  at present there is an exhibition of Russian art, alongside the frivolous Faberge eggs and Tatlin’s structure, and some beautiful pots by Lucy Rie.  the roomy and lofty cafe overlooks the gardens that adjoin the university campus are a nice place to take a coffee.

afterwards we drove to the city centre and  had a bite to eat at cafe 33;  previously I had lunch in the very healthy vegetarian restaurant ‘wild thyme’, and apparently the library has been recommended.


courtauld institute

I have embarked on another term of life drawing at the working mens college – i always seem to miss a couple of classes in the term, but when i make it to the class, i always feel a sense of fulfilment.   its not always nudes, Janet changes the class format so that its more interesting.  i love it when clive and kit come in character – this image was inspired by cezannes card players, which you can see at the courtauld  gallery in somerset house.    we are usually given about half an hour to sketch, paint or draw whatever materials you feel like using, and then the models turn around to give another interesting pose and angle – practise definitely helps.  there is an exhibition of paintings by the French painter Soutine – his subjects were all hotel staff, so butlers, chefs, chambermaids – they are quite caricature at times, in that he emphasises certain characteristics of that person – but the richness of the colour and oil paint is striking in all the images, especially the reds and blues.     afterwards, see the melancholia exhibition and photographic exhibition thats on at Somerset house – you can also see them preparing the skate rink for the annual winter skate.

there are lots of adult institutes around the country offering drawing and life classes – go and join one next term, you will be amazed  at what you can achieve.

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