The Roses of Heliogabalus is an 1888 painting by the Anglo-Dutch academician Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1888)

Art: A Victorian Obsession at Leighton House

I was thrilled to be invited to Leighton House Museum for a private tour of a new collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings recently. I’m obsessed with the interiors of people’s houses; psychological most certainly to do with feeling disinherited as a member of Generation Rent.

The Arab Room, Leighton House Museum

The Arab Room, Leighton House Museum. Image: Flickr

Frederic Leighton’s house in Holland Park, speaks of an artist who was sociable enough to sustain his career, but not for a love of people; the rooms are opulent but there are no guest bedrooms.

It’s a solitary house, built to and for his own requirements (unlike Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, whose rooms flow into one another like it was built for a party and whose table was always set for friends).

Outside of the collection, the focal point of the house is the Arab Room, which is filled with Islamic tiles from Damascus. Curious, then, that he was no Orientalist. He created it simply, he said, ‘for the sake of something beautiful to look at once in a while’.

In an austere gallery environment, I can find portrait art a bit dull, but Leighton House is warm and enchanting in itself. Each room holds just enough paintings to let you take them in together with the room.

The Enchanted Sea by Henry Arthur Payne (c.1890)

The Enchanted Sea by Henry Arthur Payne (c.1890)

In the drawing room, I was drawn to The Enchanted Sea by Henry Arthur Payne. The baked, earthy colours make sense when you find out Payne worked with stained glass; the umbers and oranges seem cut through with sunlight.

One picture of Leighton’s muse Dorothy Dene really seduced me. In Crenaia (the Nymph of the Dargle), the muse is enveloped in the folds of her drapery, which flow into the waterfall behind.

Crenaia (the Nymph of the Dargle) by Leighton (1880)

Crenaia (the Nymph of the Dargle) by Leighton (1880)

The centre of the collection is the Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tameda.

It tells the story of the Roman emperor Heliogabalus smothering his guests to death with rose petals, which apparently made little sense to critics at the time, since the people in the painting don’t seem to mind or have noticed.

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tameda (1888)

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tameda (1888)

A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection at Leighton House Museum
14 November 2014 – 29 March 2015

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Culture: Exploring With Bradley Garrett

I debated whether or not to write this introduction or just post my piece as is. If you’ve been following me on Twitter you may have seen a few angry tweets about Smith Journal stealing my freelance pitch idea for their new issue. I guess the wonderful thing about the internet is that it democratises people’s experiences and I wanted to let people know my side of the story. Whether I’m right or wrong – that’s up to you guys.

I wrote to Smith pitching an idea on Bradley Garrett and urban exploration of The London Underground.They originally said they liked the piece and I got to work interviewing Bradley and spending several days researching and writing. Once I sent this through, I was told they had changed their minds. Even though I offered to rewrite it or just publish a Q&A with Bradley, they told me the subject matter didn’t fit with the next issue. So I was surprised to find that they have contacted Bradley directly and will be publishing a first person piece in their next issue. I find it hard to believe their claims that this was done independently of my idea since I had been in contact with both them and Bradley’s publicist months ago and no one mentioned this.

Well anyway, I’ve not read their piece but wanted to post mine here so you can all judge for yourselves how similar it is This is a first person account, as told to me by Bradley and edited by myself…

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I’ve always been an explorer. When I was growing up in California during the 90s, I spent most of my time skateboarding, which was mostly about exploring the city to find new spots to skate. When I got a car, I started driving into the Mojave Desert to look for old mining camps and ruins, where I could build a big bonfire, dig around and read. It seems to me that if you’re a curious person, who enjoys the feeling of discovery, you’re going to do that in whatever environment you find yourself near. So when I moved to London and met urban explorers here going out every night to find hidden places in the city, it made perfect sense to get involved.

I am so in awe of the London Underground, which is so immense and has so many in-between spots you can slip into. The train tunnels are threaded though and around bunkers, sewers and drains, the Mail Rail, cable runs and secret government tunnels. A lot of that had to be built blindly as well because the government wouldn’t tell engineers where the “secret” tunnels were underground. The complexity of it all just blows me away. And most of the tourists walking at street level, photographing Parliament, haven’t got a clue that it’s all tangled up under their feet.

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The whole city is thick with layers of memory and often they’re very difficult to decode. Fredric Jameson once described ‘ontologies of the present that demand archaeologies of the future’. I love that idea, that we’re not just finding old stuff but we’re actually rewriting the (his)stories of these places with us in them as a fresh layer. Nothing is ever dead or lost. There are all sorts of associations that are connected to places that you can’t erase. They’re like old etchings just awaiting the curious explorer to show up and dust it all off; to start understanding it all again.

Then of course, the more time we spent exploring the city, the more certain things became visible. Like how people build relationships to places, how space is surveilled, controlled and regulated, how the city is built to influence not just our behaviour but to actually condition the way we think about what is ethical, right and even possible. As the geographer David Harvey has written, the freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is one of the most precious and neglected of our human rights. But that of course, in the current political climate around the world, is a mentality that some people find threatening. It’s a sad state the world is in, where playing seems threatening.

All photos by Bradley Garrett

 

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Travel: Autumn in Tasmania

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to do a post on my trip to Tasmania. I’m just about ready to organise going on my next one. My hubby is a massive history nerd and had been begging me to go with him so he could check out the old penal colony and see a really important part of Australia’s history. I was also keen to check out MONA and the gorgeous landscape. I have to say Tasmania surpassed all our expectations and more to the point where we’ve officially added it to our ever-expanding list of dream places to run away to.

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One of my favourite things about Australia is how it feels so young, and yet so old at the same time. The frothing surf and rugged cliffs of Wineglass Bay have an almost timeless quality to them. You feel as if you could be there at the dawn of time or the end of the world and it would still look the same. And when you visit the penal colony, it’s so beautiful but you can imagine how oppressive the same sprawling forests and narrow causeways would have felt to a prisoner there, only really held captive by their fear of being lost in the wild. We were only in Tassie for a long weekend but it felt like weeks, I can’t wait to go back.

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Alex in Tasmania

If you’re planning a trip soon – here are some things you can’t miss in and around Hobart:

  • Wine Glass Bay
  • The fish farm / truck just before wine glass bay (look out for signs on the way)
  • Port Arthur
  • Ethos Restaurant
  • MONA

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Albert Park Pier

Style: The Weekly Beautiful

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There’s nothing like good friends, food and fresh, sea air to bring you out of a slump. I had a bit of a bad start to the weekend after having a mini crisis of confidence in my new writing class (putting myself out there + public speaking= no fun). Luckily things ended on a much better note with wine and sunset gazing at the beautiful pier in Albert Park. It’s nights like these that make me realise how much I love living in Australia. Even when you’re at your lowest, you’ll come across something so heart-stoppingly stunning that you realise how small your problems really are.

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I also got to check out Carsten Höller and Jean Paul Gaultier at The National Gallery of Victoria. Getting stuck into a bottle of bubbles in the tea room meant we were super late for the exhibition and were the last ones in. Being a stickler for schedule, I was anxious for everyone to get a move on but as it turned out, this meant we got the place to ourselves and even spotted model Andreja Pejić having a low-key moment with her family. Sometimes a plan falling apart is the most wonderful stroke of luck!

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Style: When in London…

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Going home to me is always tinged with a slight sadness along with so much joy to see my family and friends. These shots are from a wedding that meant so much to me as the bride and groom actually introduced me to my husband and have been our very cherished friends for a long time. Not to mention it took place in Stoke Newington where we have so many happy memories from living in and around the area, not to mention our own nuptials two years ago.

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As the wedding party walked from the church to The Londesborough, I couldn’t resist asking Alex to play the photographer as I stood in front of one of the gorgeous terraced houses. I loved this look, despite debating whether it was appropriate to wear a full white skirt to someone else’s wedding. I think the contrast of the black top and multi-hued bolero, plus the fact it was quite an informal affair, meant it worked. And I could pull the jacket off later in the night for more of a party look.

‘But you are home,’ cries the Witch of the North. ‘All you have to do is wake up!’ The journey is hard, for the secret place where we have always been is overgrown with thorns and thickets of ideas, of fears and defences.

Peter Matthiessen’s “The Snow Leopard

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Skirt – Zara, Top – Seed, Bolero – vintage, Bag – Vintage, Shoes – Windsor Smith

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Style: New York City Ballet x Mary Katrantzou, Alexander McQueen & more

If the world is a stage and the street is a catwalk then it makes sense that the ballet is a runway. Tonight the New York City Ballet will debut a brand new collaboration with designers Mary Katrantzou, Alexander McQueen, Carolina Herrere and Thom Browne at their opening gala.

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Sarah Burton, Alexander McQueen

The idea was the brainchild of Sarah Jessica Parker, who is bringing a high-fashion edge to her role as NYCB board vice chair. Each designer was paired with a choreographer to create a look for a dance piece, adapting their signature style with second-skin fabrics and free-flowing lines that allow the dancers to move.

I love these looks from Mary Katrantzou and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen for their sense of drama, texture and playfulness. You can really see the negotiation between attention to detail and the all-out glamour that stage costumes inherently require. Hopefully this spells the renewal of the long love affair between ballet and fashion.

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Mary Katrantzou

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Mary Katrantzou

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Mary Katrantzou

 

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Travel: Beautiful Cinque Terre

City breaks may have some serious style and culture appeal but sometimes it takes having absolutely nothing to do to really be on holiday. Not that you can do nothing just anywhere… there’s an art to it. For me sickly sweet cocktails by the pool of a personality-lacking resort just won’t do it. Call it the egomaniac creative in me but I prefer to while-away summer days in a place of serious beauty with lashings of authenticity.

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I could write a guide of things you absolutely must-do in Cinque Terre but wouldn’t that defy the point of taking it easy? I will say this, find a spot by the harbour where you can read a good book with your feet dangling in the water. One sunset a fellow traveller kindly offered to take a picture of me and my hubble sitting on a rock watching the sunset as it struck her as really beautiful. I thanked her but declined feeling that it wouldn’t have been a perfect moment if we’d have taken a picture.

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