Category Archives: fine art

2022 ➤ New Romantics? Here are some who won’t own to that name

BFI Flare Film Festival 2022, Tramps!, Kevin Hegge, Brian Robertson, movies, New Romantics

After yesterday’s Gala premiere of Tramps! – BFI host at left, then director Kevin Hegge, Scarlett Cannon, Jeffrey Hinton, Philip Sallon, Verity Susman (music), Matthew Sims (music) and Brian Robertson (producer). (Photo © Tessa Hallmann)

❚ MAYBE IT TAKES AN OUTSIDER to see a whole decade with a fresh perspective? Saturday night saw the launch of a documentary called Tramps! that attempts to do just that in almost two hours.  The much-spun truths and fables of a movement which, even after this film’s premiere, refuses to own its given name, appears to have a new champion. In truth there was not just one group of people who started the emerging movement, there clearly were many who at times intermingled but also grew their own quiet revolutions under a greater umbrella that later came to be called a cult: the New Romantics. This is the story of some of them.

Tramps!, BFI Flare Festival, Mark Dooris, review, movies

FILM REVIEW BY
MARK DOORIS
(Photo Tessa Hallmann)

The Canadian Kevin Hegge’s film opens cleverly to a domestic picture of the model Scarlett Cannon tending to her sun-drenched garden as she recollects her formative years. In this unexpected view of a woman whose powerful and iconic imagery has been documented and used as one of the least compromising style statements of the Eighties (playing “key identity” for the V&A Museum’s major exhibition From Club to Catwalk), she speaks about simply being there!

Just like the film’s poster, this is well-placed bait that slowly draws you into what will turn out to be a very well-constructed game plan. A definitive film about the so-called New Romantics has yet to be made but this contribution to the BFI’s annual Flare Film Festival offers a well-stacked sandwich of people and events that gives a very personal view of their experiences through a uniquely creative period of history.

Driven by a musical score that both emotes and supports the story, we see unfolding before us spliced and collaged pictures and film clips of a selection of renegades who love and survive in punk’s underlying gloom and spend ten years carving out a brighter world through Thatcher’s hectic Britain. The patchworking together of views and motivations of some of the witnesses proves that the movement was bigger than its over-used title.

Judy Blame steals the show by saying it as it is. The unrepentant gay designer, who has sadly died since being interviewed by Hegge, is often overlooked for his contribution to Eighties style and gay culture. Disc jockey Princess Julia remains a constant through the film, as indeed she should, as a very relevant force in style and club culture to this day.

In a new twist, nightlife entrepreneur Philip Sallon was given credit and indeed respect for his very singular influence on both the scene and indeed the followers who helped change the growing movement. Unlike many previous interviews, this time they let his wit and views be heard rather than using him as the cymbal-clapping monkey who offers only light relief to the story of the times. At Saturday’s screening, the effervescently clad Philip asked the audience to be kind to each other and to look beyond the superficial outer paint to the person within and that, at its core, is what this film itself does.

BFI Flare Film Festival 2022, Tramps!, Kevin Hegge, movies,

Kevin Hegge, director of the documentary TRAMPS! © Kevin Hegge

“If you have a bone of contention with
the movie… make your own movie”
– director Kevin Hegge

John Maybury talks of his film-making career and the people who appear in the clips we see of his days in the legendary Warren Street squat, plus the influence and support that director Derek Jarman gave him to discover and use his skills after being invited to join what turned out to be the cult film Jubilee in 1977. Artist Andrew Logan with his occasional Alternative Miss World competitions is rightly identified as a pioneering force in the new bohemia party scene that was emerging, while the painter Duggie Fields added some graceful recollections of this time gone by, he too having passed on since filming.

Thrown aside are the frilly shirts in favour of the BodyMap duo of David Holah and Stevie Stewart, offered up as the fashion revolutionaries who, hand in hand with Michael Clark and Les Childs, danced to a different beat. Performance artist Leigh Bowery is featured throughout the film and images of his eccentricity almost drive the visual impact with its cinematic styling and its Venus in Furs-esque vibe. An intriguing insight is given into the apparent genius of Bowery’s room-mate Trojan (Guy Barnes), his part in the Taboo nightclub set and the impact he might have continued to make if not for his untimely death.

Michael Costiff and his amazing partner Gerlinde are acknowledged for their roles in both the club world and the counter culture that was emerging, as were Miss Binnie and the Neo Naturists who are almost forgotten in most reviews of the Eighties. Sadly many people were lost to the Aids epidemic that cut its way through the careers of others referenced within the film and their contribution to gay culture, as was the demise of many in the drug-fuelled parts of club world. What and who are missing is a list too long to type but a refreshing and often underplayed star emerges in disc-jockey Jeffrey Hinton’s outlook during a pivotal chapter in the history of style.

Curiously, the title Tramps! and its poster are misleading about the ground this film covers and what it offers instead, but as an insight into how key people saw their time in the sun, it’s a winner. And impressively moving.

The Gala evening was not awash with big names from the Eighties and indeed a grave lack of New Romantic superstars was evident at both screening and drinks party after. Sadly the promised Questions and Answers section never really hit the mark and no chance was given for the audience to question the director or cast. That said, Tramps! made a great choice for the closing night of the Flare Festival.

❏  The film is not yet on general release

Blitz Kids, film, New Romantics, Swinging 80s, Michele Clapton, George O’Dowd, Lee Sheldrick , Princess Julia, Kevin Hegge, Tramps!, BFI Flare Festival

Leading the Goth wave in 1980: Blitz Kids Michele Clapton, George O’Dowd, Lee Sheldrick and Princess Julia, on the rooftop at St Martin’s School of Art, photographed by Graham Smith and dressed in Gothic mode for Stephen Linard’s “Neon Gothic” collection in the second year’s Alternative Fashion Show

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: 1981, Who are the New Romantics, what are their sounds and how do they dance?
➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1980, The year the Blitz Kids took their first steps into the headlines

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2020 ➤ Saatchi hosts those Gen Z degree shows you missed

London Grads Now, SaatchiGallery, fine art, exhibition, UAL,

Hamish Pringle, Wimbledon: Lockdown 2020, digital print on canvas

❚ GENERATION Z ARE REPUTED to feel a bit down about the world bequeathed by their parents and the work of this summer’s art-school graduates has caught that mood – not to mention the lockdown blues. Their tutors seem to agree, at least in the synopses posted on the walls of a selling exhibition titled London Grads Now, hosted by the Saatchi Gallery in its new guise as a charity. [Update – Since extended from three to five weeks.]

This welcome but rum snapshot – many of its 150 artists were allowed to show only one work each – follows in the wake of this year’s cancelled graduation shows and expresses such zeitgeisty themes as political extremism, coronavirus and racial controversy. Many are largely sanguine about the new normals, except perhaps the feisty Black British History Quilt, which celebrates black artists, writers and figureheads including an 18th-century fop, by CSM’s Jahnavi Inniss and also Blackness (The Manifesto) by Michael Forbes at the RCA whose prosaic exhortations are listed on a vast board. Empassioned though this wall of words is, it does prompt the question, yes, but is it art?

Students and tutors have done the selecting and while there are impressively few copycat themes which often infect whole degree shows, there is a trend for titles to embark on narrative excursions, as for example these: Suddenly as if the moon trembled under my feet and every direction revealed itself … or Sleeping with the Enemy: Oscillations of a Fleshly Organ within a Jihady Cavity … or Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.

The tutors offer portentous “artist’s statements” to introduce each of seven London colleges spread across as many galleries. Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon’s declare: “In a world gone crazy, I’m a wild one”. In this year of cultural ruptures, conventions have been abandoned as students reflect issues of the moment: lockdown, the lure of nature, identity, gender fluidity and post-colonialism.

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

Topping this page you see an elegant but tough take on Lockdown by Wimbledon’s Hamish Pringle – a human eye photographed peering out from a head helmeted by what looks like a coil of rusty steel but, as Hamish comments below, is actually industrial sandpaper belting. At the foot of the page is a ghoulish family portrait painted on traditional canvas by Wimbledon’s Xinan Yang with the title I Still Care. . . while from Camberwell there is an in-yer-face clash between rustic rapture and urban sexuality in Fag Attacks the Country starring the artist himself Claudio Pestana.

A Goldsmiths tutor talks of reconciling crushed dreams and aspirations and in a wall-hanging textile Slay Within by Anosha Khan we see an axe-wielding dreamer dealing with her nightmares. Elsewhere four fluorescent tubes inscribed with a romantic verse by Daniel Keler titled Love Letter to a Stone actually support half a dozen varieties of rock evoking different eras in the Earth’s evolution.

The Royal College of Art curator dwells on “escapism, resilience, beauty in the mundane” and appropriately Alejandro Villa Duran selects a spartan wardrobe on a wire hanger, titled Running until the end of the world as only lovers are left alive. Quian Jiang’s One Minute of Photographic Time collages 60 separate snaps of a seascape which proves utterly mesmerising the longer you stare… Yang Xu’s Missing you is like Fire is painted in oil on synthetic carpet… while Emily Moore’s Chained is a huge lockdown collaboration in crocheted black yarn.

The Slade School curator reminds us to “breathe in and breathe out” when contemplating lessons learnt recently about cultural identities. This is evident in Khushna Sulaman-Butt’s Ascension, a powerful group portrait painted in oil which maintains tension between photographic realism and caricature. In one of the show’s rare videos Anna Baumgart transforms herself wittily into various female relations in Fitting in with Nanny, Mutti, Mum and Omi.

The Central Saint Martins curators conclude by suggesting that, in this post-truth era, nostalgia could gain new relevance, “not as a malaise in longing for a past moment, but as a proactive and sentimental yearning for continuity”, all exemplified in Legs by CSM’s Rowan Riley. Let’s call this one of the few pieces of sculpture in the show. The legs are made from filled cotton and bear personal messages and familiar quotations embroidered with colourful metallic and cotton thread: “Are you going to Scarborough Fair?” and “This is a portrait of a green-eyed lady”. Either a whopping wallow in nostalgia or a necessary a kick up the 2020s?

London Grads Now, SaatchiGallery, fine art, exhibition, UAL,

Xinan Yang, Wimbledon: I Still Care, 2018, acrylic and oil on canvas

➢ Book tickets for London Grads Now at Saatchi Gallery
London, extended until 11 October 2020 – exhibition supported
by Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery

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