Monday, 21 August 2017

Black is the New Black


News Release


Friday 18 August 2017  





Naomi Campbell Trevor McDonald


Naomi Campbell by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick; Sir Trevor McDonald by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick   



The National Portrait Gallery has acquired thirty-seven portraits of black Britons chosen for their achievements in politics, business, culture, religion and science, it was announced today, Friday 18 August.  It is the Gallery’s largest acquisition of portraits of Afro-Caribbean sitters into its primary collection and will be the subject of a major display at the Gallery in November 2018.


The sitters, representing a group of people at the height of their achievements, were photographed by Simon Frederick for a BBC TWO documentary Black is the New Black. Shown in 2016 the sitters disclosed heartfelt stories and opinions to paint a unique portrait of modern Britain’s past, present and future. With the support of OATH, Simon Frederick has offered the entire portfolio of thirty-nine prints as a gift to the National Portrait Gallery.


These include model Naomi Campbell, newsreader and journalist Sir Trevor McDonald, actress Thandie Newton, musicians Jazzie B of Soul II Soul, Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah, footballer Les Ferdinand and recently appointed Editor in Chief of British Vogue Edward Enninful.


Other popular figures include Maggie Aderin-Pocock, presenter of The Sky at Night; David Harewood, celebrated for his role in the Showtime series Homeland; former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, who has explored racism through her writing for children and young adults; Lord Morris, who became the first black leader of a major trade union in 1992; and John Sentamu who was appointed Archbishop of York in 2005, becoming Britain’s first black Archbishop. 


Artist and director Simon Frederick constructed still portrait photographs as well as filming the participants for Black is the New Black, a four-part documentary in which Frederick employed the power of talking heads with no archive footage or voiceovers.




Laura Mvula by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick; Edward Enninful by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick; Thandie Newton by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick; Tinie Tempah by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick


The acquisition is announced prior to a public talk by Simon Frederick at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday 24 August 2017. Selected for the Gallery’s annual Slavery Remembrance Day talk, Simon Frederick will discuss the impact that the Gallery’s painting The Anti-Slavery Society Convention by Benjamin Robert Haydon of 1840 had on him as a child visiting the Gallery with his mother and how it led him to create Black is the New Black, allowing black people’s voices to be heard
and their experiences to be understood. The event at 7pm is free but ticketed   


This event follows Simon Frederick’s last appearance at the Gallery in 2016 when he took part in a panel discussion about identity and achievement with three of the sitters in Black is the New Black Oswald Boateng, Ekow Eshun and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock.


Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘These striking portraits of black British sitters powerfully reflect the diversity and variety of contemporary British achievement in public life. The National Portrait Gallery is delighted to receive Simon Frederick’s very generous gift of photographs.’


Dr Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘Photographing with sensitivity and insight, Simon Frederick has made extraordinary portraits of some of the most influential Britons of our time. We are proud to welcome these works into our collection, where they will be seen, enjoyed, and celebrated for generations to come.’   


The acquisition represents an addition and update to Donald McLellan’s Black Power series, displayed and acquired by the Gallery in 1998. This portfolio includes some sitters not already represented in the Collection including journalist Gary Younge and singer Alesha Dixon.


Artist, photographer and director Simon Frederick’s work spans from celebrity portraiture to art exhibitions to global advertising campaigns and TV. He is known for his recent role as a lead judge and co-host alongside Isabella Rossellini on the Sky Arts programme Master of Photography and for his series Black is the New Black on BBC TWO.   


THE ACQUISITION Black is the New Black portfolio P2034-2072

by Simon Frederick, 2016

39 archival inkjet prints, each approx. 380 x 260 mm image size on paper 420 x 295 mm


DISPLAY Black is the New Black

National Portrait Gallery, November 2018 – January 2019   

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

MF at KM

this blogpost is rather belated, but there are a good few weeks still for this exhibition at Kelmscott Manor presenting the usually shadowy [though physically large] figure of Mary Frances Vivian Lobb,  friend and companion of May Morris's later years.

From Cornwall to Kelmscott, Kelmscott Manor SAL, 2017
Images and documents come from the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth, whither they were bequeathed by MF, as May called her, and recently researched by Simon Evans. 

MFVL's will,  National Library of Wales 
A much fuller account of MF is now emerging, which one hopes will erase the misogynistic and homophobic notions of a foul-mouthed land-girl handed down by contemporaries after both MM and MFVL were dead.  
More information on the exhibition HERE

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

John Blanke project

I've finally made my contribution to the JOHN BLANKE PROJECT initiated by Michael Ohajuru.
This is the site

The image is tiny, but so eloquent!

Portraits of non-noble sitters in Tudor Britain are very rare, because this new form of visual art in the sixteenth century was aimed at sustaining the fame and power of high-status individuals. Lesser folk might have pictorial images in woodcuts or manuscript illustrations, but these were often crude and typically generic representations, not recognisable figures. The Black trumpeter in the 1511 Tournament Roll is therefore amazing on many levels.  
As the earliest depiction of an individual of African ancestry in British pictorial culture it demonstrates how in recognition of his unique or at least special qualities he literally stood out from his fellow trumpeters, shown as a team of look-alikes in the yellow and grey livery worn by all attendants in the procession.   They are bareheaded, too, whereas he wears a turban, which indicates the personal appearance of a known individual,  just like the dark skin carefully delineated alongside dozens of white faced figures.  As it happens, the Roll’s illuminator forgot to colour in his visible right hand holding the trumpet, which remains as pale as the others’.

This is more of a ‘thumbnail’ image than a carefully observed portrait in the classic manner  exemplified by  Holbein’s drawings of Tudor courtiers, but it is a likeness which contemporaries would recognise, of a known figure in the musical retinue.
Even more remarkably, it has proved possible to name this exceptional musician using Court records.  Or at least find the name given to him at the courts of Henries VII and VIII.   It’s too bad there is no surviving record of his real, or original name, which might have pointed to a country or region of birth.  ‘John Blanke’ has the hallmark of official convenience,  although one wonders whether it derives from a functionary entering the name of ‘John Black’, a common way of registering dark-skinned foreigners, or from ‘John -----’, a literal blank line in the absence of a familiar cognomen.

One can  assume he came as an immigrant to England, presumably in the entourage of Katherine or Catalina of Aragon when she arrived to marry Arthur Tudor in 1501.  Following Arthur’s death, she married Henry VIII in 1509, and the Westminster Tournament was held to mark the birth of their son, who sadly died within six weeks.  Katherine’s later life was no happier,  but John Blanke evidently throve as a court musician, and may well have had numerous British descendants. 
Tudor portraiture also flourished, on a rather grander scale than this tiny image – tiny, but invaluable as both portrait and history.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

May Morris exhibition from WMG

Message from Rowan Bain  WMG 

THANK YOU for helping us reach 67%
11 July 2017
For May Morris: Art & Life by William Morris Gallery, London
Thank you to everyone who has helped us get to 67%, which, has unlocked the last £5,000 of match funding we needed to get us to our target! This means our landmark exhibition to give May Morris the recognition she deserves can go ahead.

However, there are four days of our Art Happens campaign left to go and still time to get one of the exclusive rewards - can you help us go even further? For every £100 extra we raise, we can conserve and prepare another of May’s works for the exhibition allowing even more of her work to be seen and appreciated.

As part of the exhibition, some of May’s work will be exhibited publicly for the first time since her death and will need careful preparation to ensure they can be enjoyed for generations to come. We will be working with skilled conservators to make sure that May’s works look their very best for the exhibition’s visitors, and for the future.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Alma Tadema at Leighton House

 Like most ambitious 19th century artists, Lourens Tadema began as a history painter.  Born in the north Netherlands, he studied in the great Flemish art city of Antwerp and with Henri Leys, from whom he took the idea of incidents from the early medieval Merovingian period of Clovis, Clotilde, Fredegonda, etc.   Visits to Rome and especially Pompeii in 1863-4 changed his trajectory towards visual re-imaginings of Antiquity, a genre he specialised in following his move to London and marriage to Laura Epps, a student of Ford Madox Brown, who was similarly drawn to dramatic historical scenes.   Lawrence Alma Tadema, as he now styled himself perhaps in emulation of double-barrelled Brits, then carved out a distinctive career blending classical settings  familiar to Englishmen from their schooldays with domestic activities that featured throughout British genre painting. 

In his work, history painting ignored heroic themes in favour of household events, albeit in exotic homes and gardens furnished with fountains and marble terraces warmed by Mediterranean sun.   Some are simply stunning, others quite comically extravagant.   They catered for male and female clients together, wives and husbands imagining themselves lounging in such high-culture environments, far from everyday London life.  Punch punningly called him a ‘marbellous painter.’

Promoted by successful dealer Ernest Gambart, Tadema’s works were so popular that in less than twenty years he was able to build a large studio house in the wealthy artists’ quarter of St John’s Wood, and to live a life of luxurious industry and sociability.  He was knighted as Sir Lawrence in 1899 and nominated to the Order of Merit by Edward VII.  One might have expected a long list of pot-boiling variants on the same theme, and to an extent this formed his oeuvre.  He was and is admired for historical accuracy, in that his settings are based on the archaeology and scholarly research then available, although any hint of Roman realism in the style of Sickert is extinguished by the techincolor glow: no slavery or cloacae maximae here.  But the paintings' chief merits are visual - the often oblique or canted viewpoints with dramatic  foreshortening and cropping, in spatially innovative compositions that give the viewer a cinematic sense of being right there  This Tadema perhaps borrowed from both photography and French painting, creating a view of classical life as if seen by Manet or Caillebotte. He also put himself into numerous pictures, his round Dutch face instantly recognisable among  the togas; a provisional list of such self-portraits is in the NPG’s online Later Victorian Catalogue 

The current exhibition Alma Tadema: at Home in Antiquity, fills Leighton House with scores of canvases by Sir L and a few by his family and friends.  There is also a great video show of movie clips from Quo Vadis and Gli ultimi giorni di Pompeii (both 1913), The Ten Commandments (1956) and Gladiator (2000)  which show how strongly Tadema’s influenced visual ideas of Rome for a century and more.
Below is a nice, modest study by his daughter Anna Alma-Tadema, from the Ashmolean Museum.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Zanele Muholi in London

Zanele Muholi self 2015

I first saw Zanele Muholi and her work in Cape Town about a dozen years ago  -  with a sequence of sepia close-ups of dark skin, arresting and beautiful images set beside terrible accounts of attacks on LGBTQ individuals.   Since then, her work has been seen internationally, as I glimpsed in Johannesburg last year.  It's an ongoing, ever-developing project entitled Somnyama Ngonyama,  the latest phase of which is  on view at Autograph ABP,  Rivington Place, EC2A 3BA  Tues-Sats 13 July till end October

"I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other. My reality is that I do not mimic being black; it is my skin, and the experience of being black is deeply entrenched in me. Just like our ancestors, we live as black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear." - Zanele Muholi 

Interview with Muholi and more pictures  here

Friday, 2 June 2017

Ras Mäkonnen (Wäldä-Mika'él)

The Archive of the Lafayette photographic studio in London has some splendid portraits of Ras Makonnen (1852-1906).  and the delegation from Ethiopia who attended the coronation of Edward VII in summer 1902.  What's more the images are fully annotated, not just with details of the individuals seen but notes on their honours, garments and accessories, with extensive bibliographic references.  Some welcome research there, apparently by the V&A  which now manages the Lafayette Archive.

Together with the  Spy portrait of Ras Makonnen in Vanity Fair, (above, which now looks as if it may have been 'assisted' by the Lafayette images)   the photos testify to the newsworthiness of the delegation in 1902.  I don't know  why the Ethiopians sat to Lafayette Ltd rather than to Benjamin Stone, who photographed many coronation-visiting dignitaries and entourages at the Palace of Westminster, but possibly Lafayette saw Makonnen and his colleagues as greater celebrities.  The group is posed on a carpet and in front of a scenic backdrop more usually seen in publicity images of showbiz stars.

I wish I could have included these pictures in Black Victorians, but as far as I know they exist only as photographic negatives, not prints.  Maybe some other archive has contemporary prints?  The images are of stunning quality as well as historical interest and deserve to be well known.