Nazarene Brutalism

We have scarcely begun exploring the sacred sites of Israel and Palestine.

The churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and shrines marking their locations are usually, of course, ancient, dating to the first millennium or earlier. But very often they are relatively new, built some time in the last century on the ruins of earlier buildings (quite a few seem to date from 2000, built with various millennium funds). They tend to be contemporary iterations on earlier structures, sensitively designed polite pastiches employing familiar vernaculars.

The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth – more often referred to as the Basilica – is a striking exception.

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We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold, Jeremy Deller, painted by Stuart Hughes, 2013

William Morris: Anarchy and Beauty

This piece first appeared in Issue Eleven of the New Escapologist magazine. 

Any New Escapologist happening to idle past London’s National Portrait Gallery between now and 11 January should make some time for Anarchy & Beauty, an exhibition tracing the work, ideals and lasting influence of the great Victorian artist, designer, poet, novelist and campaigner William Morris. Curated by Morris’s biographer, Fiona MacCarthy, the show gathers a fascinating array of items illustrating his idea of ‘art for the people’ and the achievements of those he inspired.

Morris believed in life, and set himself against everything that denied it. For him the desire for creative expression through the exercise of skill and the imagination is a fundamental human need, like that for love, food and shelter. He considered the measure of a civilised society to be the opportunity it affords its members to find meaning and satisfaction in their work, and indeed in all of the ordinary tasks of everyday life.

For Morris everything we do has an aesthetic dimension, and can afford its own opportunity for creative fulfillment. ‘It seems to me’, he wrote, ‘that the real way to enjoy life is to accept all its necessary ordinary details and turn them into pleasures by taking interest in them’. He wanted a society where art has become such ‘a necessary part of the labour of every man who produces’ that it has no name.

Famously, Morris lived by that creed, mastering an extraordinary range of skills ranging across the conventional arts and well beyond. He was a poet, a novelist, an essayist and an artist; a furniture designer, an embroiderer, a weaver, a typographer, printer and bookbinder; an architect, a town planner, a gardener and a cook.

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Introducing Sceptical Scot

Over the past few weeks I’ve been glad to help with the development of a new current affairs website, Sceptical Scot, which launched this week.

The site hopes to bring more light than heat to the ongoing, intense discussion over the future of Scotland in the wake of last year’s referendum. It will range widely, covering political, economic and cultural issues.

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A Rothko playlist

There was an interesting Aeon Magazine post a week or two back about the musical associations evoked by particular works of art, notably those of Mark Rothko.

In Going to the chapel Nathan Dunne observes that there’s something about Rothko’s work which sets an internal soundtrack in motion, and that the music we tend to associate with it has been coloured by knowledge of the circumstances of Rothko’s death, and Morton Feldman’s piece Rothko Chapel, an atmospheric but bleak Modernist piece written to mark the Chapel’s opening in the early 70s.

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John Ruskin’s celestial city

I’m glad that this weekend I at last caught the John Ruskin: Artist and Observer exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which runs till 28 September.

It gathers a substantial collection of Ruskin’s pen, pencil and chalk sketches and watercolour paintings, demonstrating his exceptional capacity to observe both the works of nature and the human hand in forensic detail.

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