Friday, 30 January 2009

Phoney Pharoah

Excuse the Private Eyeism. This building is perfectly real. Being ignorant of The Egyptian House's very existence, imagine the surprise when I stumbled across this masterpiece on a recent visit to Penzance. It is simply magnificent and beautifully maintained by the look of it. Owned by The Landmark Trust, it's a mixture of shops and rentable appartments - what a fabulous place to stay! Designed by John Foulton of Plymouth, it was built around 1830 in the fashionable Egyptian style, originally serving a similar function to the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly which exhibited curiosities from all over the world. From memory I believe Gideon Mantell, the famous geologist and paleontologist (of Lewes) records visiting the London building and being much impressed. Having read some erudite architectural deconstructions of Penzance's pride and joy I find myself even more surprised that not only is it where it is but the fact that it got built there in the first place. The answer is of course that where there is money, just occasionally and deliciously, philanthropy sometimes follows. This is the product of a mind that clearly wished to create something absolutely unforgettable amongst the sturdy granite and brick fishing buildings of this West Country outpost...maybe something he'd seen on a rare trip to 'that London'. The Egyptian architectural and symbolic references apparently stand little scholarly scrutiny, but what do I know, its bloomin' marvellous and a real breath of (albeit 170 years old) fresh air

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Window shopping

When is a shop not a shop? Answer, when it's a cabinet of curiosities. This weird and wonderful collection of ephemera is subtly altered around (balloons are deflated sometimes) and objects changed/substituted on a random basis. You can't see the tinplate flying boat unfortunately but the sheet music to 'The Teddy Bears Picnic ' is clearly visible. Behind this old shop window lays a dwelling and a recording studio. It's owned by Patrick Berge(i)n the actor famous for playing Robin Hood and Julia Roberts' husband in 'Sleeping with the Enemy' amongst others. I rather like the surreal nature of a shop that sells nothing and displays all the goods it doesn't have for sale in the window which isn't a shop window anyway...if you see what I mean. Anyway it's in the village of Rottingdean, East Sussex and lies to the South of the Coast Road next door to possibly the finest Thai restaurant in the greater Brighton area, the 'Ros Thai' run by the unlikely sounding Gus himself a son of Siam. Not far away used to be the landing stage of the wonderful but ill-fated 'Daddy Longlegs' electric railway which once ran all the way to Black Rock, Brighton. Designed by Magnus Volk it was a crazy Victorian contrivance that actually worked but not well enough against prevailing South Westerly winds and died the night the old Chain Pier (see painting by JMWTurner et al) was destroyed. More of that another time when I can get a shot of the giant concrete sleepers which are still evident at low tide.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

In Kent he made his Marc

A winter jaunt took us along the coast eastward from New Anzac and beyond Hastings and its tarred netsheds, whence we struck up inland gradually moving towards western Kent. Our goal, under a grey sky was to seek illumination through the work of Marc Chagall. Not the most obvious place to look, yet in a small village near Tonbridge, the church at Tudely has a complete set of Chagall stained glass windows. Made in memory of Sarah d'Avigdor-Goldsmid they are a remarkable sight and somehow flood the church with a brightness not always associated with that medium. Chagall, often cited as the most important Jewish artist of the twentieth century seemed to struggle with his faith and sought ways of reconciling Judaism and Christianity - hence these and other pieces. He was a thorough Modernist and a contemporary of Miro, Picasso and Modigliani. Throughout his long life he worked in most mediums producing pieces for august bodies like the U.N. It is therefore a real surprise to find these windows in such an out-of-the-way place - although Tudely appears to be in the middle of nowhere it is cheek by jowel with busy Tonbridge and readily accessible. We were led to this place by a friend, herself a stained glass artist and it's fair to say we were all moved at such work being so natural and approachable. Funny stuff, stained glass, and very difficult to 'get right' if you know what I mean. From a stylised sailing boat against a setting sun in the fanlight of a 'twenties' front door to work like this, stained glass moves in mysterious ways its responses to elicit.