Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life

July 22, 2013 / Arts and Culture

By DG

An art exhibition with a strong, yeasty flavour.

Tate Britain

Until 20 October 2013

Admission £15

 

Both Marmite and Lowry have polarised Britain. Even the curators at the press view were more than a touch tentative, acknowledging there was a great divide between the devotees and the cynics, but hoping that this exhibition would persuade the doubters that there was more to Lowry than scores of little hunched figures on their way to work at the mill or scores of little hunched figures on their way home again. Or scores of little hunched figures at a football match, or a fairground, or a cricket match, or on a boating lake. Hundreds of them. Painting after painting, full of little hunched people, against a grim backdrop of mills, chimney stacks belching out smoke and flat skies. Lowry’s reputation has suffered over the years, particularly in his homeland, although he did have some critical success in France.

The organisers have included a number of French works by Pissarro, Utrillo, Seurat and his tutor at Manchester School of Art, Adolphe Valette, whose paintings of urban life at night have a whiff of Atkinson Grimshaw, but without the spark. There is even van Gogh’s oil of the outskirts of Paris, painted the year before Lowry was born, which is a puzzling inclusion. By showing his attempts alongside these others only serves to highlight the fact that he was simply not a very good painter. There, I’ve said it. He is not a naïve painter, as he had formal training; it is not outsider art, as he was in the mainstream world of galleries and museums; he is not a folk artist. What is he? The merchandise in the shop at Tate Britain says it all - Lowry placemats, Lowry coasters, Lowry tea trays (rectangular or circular), Lowry mugs, Lowry tote bags, Lowry cufflinks and Lowry silk ties are all part and parcel of this, and most other ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions these days, but the inclusion of a ‘Lowry’ flat cap at £28, is either a postmodern ironic statement or just downright patronising. The chasm that has opened up between those for and against Lowry is nothing to do with elitism or snobbery, or a north-south divide, or working class versus the middle class. It is to do with quality, and, frankly, he just doesn’t cut the mustard.

One thing that stands out about his subjects in this exhibition, is that he never gets close up and personal, and his people are mostly little dots in the landscape, as he never actually engages with his subject, painting poverty, suffering and everyday life in Manchester from a distance. This is a shame, as some of his portraits have a rawness and wit about them, redolent of Bernard Buffet. One painting, however, 6, should have a dynamic evoking the tough world of construction in the city, and yet, we are offered another distant view of a few dark figures with ladders, wheelbarrows and shovels. Compare this feeble attempt to three paintings exhibited at the RA a few months ago by George Bellows, in which the American depicted slices of urban realism in his views of Penn Station being excavated, both at night and in the snow, full of drama, dynanism and life. One painting from 1946 entitled Snow in Manchester is a rare example of a genuinely atmospheric composition, as is his Industrial Landscape, Wigan from 1925 in the gallery called Ruined Landscapes. Alongside is a quote from George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, who described ‘the lunar landscape of slag heaps’ and ‘a world from which vegetation had been banished; nothing existed except smoke, shale, ice, mud, ashes and foul water.’ Apart from these few successful portrayals of urban life, which includes the slightly quirky A Protest March from 1959, Lowry is pretty much destined to remain as placemat art, under the dinner plates of the British nation.

 

Originally published in Kensington and Chelsea Today.

www.dongrant.co.uk

Weird Ad of the Month

July 21, 2013 / Humour

By The Beak Street Bugle

We sort of understand this idea. But it's still rather odd. Good job Ukraine.

It certainly grabs your attention, but this Ukrainian ice cream commercial is actually pretty disturbing. Make sure you're regularly eating this brand of frozen goodness so it doesn't ever have to come to this.

Keeping it Brief

July 17, 2013 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Short & Sweet – from a grassroots London short film night to a global network.

Most people don’t appreciate short film like they should, but one thing the ad industry has to be proud of is the regard it shows for this art form. Commercials are essentially just short films designed to sell stuff, so it’s only natural that the person to spread the gospel of short film started her crusade while working in London’s busy commercial production industry.

Short & Sweet founder Julia Stephenson is a South African now based in Cape Town. We caught up with her while she was briefly back in the UK so she could tell us the story of how her ‘moving image art gallery’ grew from one short film night a week in London into an international celebration of short film.

The Beak Street Bugle: How was the idea for Short & Sweet first born?
Julia Stephenson:
I came up with this idea late in bed one night. I was working for HLA at that point, representing quite a few directors. I would often be sent showreels from exciting young directors looking for someone to represent them. I was absolutely amazed by the short films I was getting. I was like “that’s what we can do. Let’s have a regular showcase of all these films that I’m finding because they were making me feel something.”

I wanted to share that feeling with everybody else, so I found a venue – Café 1001 let me have that for free. I wanted to make it free because a gallery is free.

So that’s how Short & Sweet was born. It’s been a hell of a journey, but it’s been absolutely wonderful because I keep getting a second wind when I see the reaction from the audience after watching these films.

BSB: Can you give us a quick history of how it progressed from there?
JS:
I started Short & Sweet in London in 2006. It was a free night and it ran every single Monday night for five and a half years. Every night I showed a different selection of short films, music videos and short animations from around the world. Old films and new films from established directors to directors who are completely undiscovered. [Then] I also hosted a second night, so I did Monday in Café 1001 and Tuesday at AKA Bar.

Then we did a short film competition during that time for Getty Images. The winning film – Photograph of Jesus by Laurie Hill – has won almost every single animation award in the world. It was brilliant. And Getty Images are left with a timeless piece of art.

We’ve also taken Short & Sweet to Copenhagen to the C02penhagen Festival – the very first carbon neutral festival in the world. We showed films using renewable energy over two days. People were riding bicycles creating the power to show films.

In 2010 we launched the first 3D stereoscopic cinema system in the UK at the Barbican, which was awesome.

Jordan left London to set up Short & Sweet in Toronto [in 2011]. Then I went back to Cape Town and set up there. I’m not running a weekly night as such – I’m doing seasons. I’ve got an inflatable screen now that’s nine metres by five metres. It’s the only one that South Africa has. I’ve introduced a drive-in cinema and we’re doing the very first short film drive-in cinema. We call it the Full Moon Drive-In, so you watch the full moon and we show short films and you tune into a [radio] station and you watch it.

And last year we launched in Edinburgh. They phoned me up and they were like “we came to Short & Sweet every week and we really want to start Short & Sweet in Edinburgh. We love it.” So we’ve done it in Edinburgh. There’s a wonderful team there.

This wonderful girl Emma came to Short & Sweet in Cape Town and told me “I really want to do this in Portland, Oregon.” So she’s going to set that up in Portland.

BSB: It sounds like it’s grown very organically.
JS:
People have been inspired by what they’ve seen and they want to spread the love in the city they’re living in. It’s all about spreading the love. What the hell is the point of having your film on a shelf with no one to see it? Old or new, it’s got to be showcased.

BSB: How would you describe Short & Sweet to someone who hasn’t been?
JS:
It’s not a festival; it’s an experience. I tell people when you come to Short & Sweet you’re guaranteed to laugh, to cry, to feel frustrated, challenged, even horny, but I promise you, you will walk away feeling excited and inspired.

It’s wonderful to have your film shown on a massive screen and to see the reactions but it’s really important for me that the audience gets to know the mastermind behind the creation, so I always encourage the director, if they’re not able to be there on the night, to give a one-minute video introduction so the audience can see them.

What I love about Short & Sweet is the atmosphere. There are not a lot of things you can go to on your own and feel comfortable. That’s why I encourage people at to come on their own and I always say to people “number one, I hope you enjoy one film because we’ve all got opinions,” and secondly, you have to have made a new friend, so I always say to people during the break “turn around to the person behind you and make a new friend.”

It’s becoming a community and a family. We have lots of regulars, but I always ask “who’s here for the first time?” and about half the audience puts their hand up. It’s very much word of mouth. You come once and you’ll definitely want to come again.

BSB: There are other short film nights of course. What makes Short & Sweet stand out?
JS:
The way that I’ve programmed and curated, I think, is really different to other kinds of short film evening because I put my heart and soul into it. I like to take people on a journey. And I like to spread the love.

The whole point of what I’m trying to do is to try and find a way to monetise short film, but I think before we can monetise short film we have to educate the world on what short film is. And I truly believe short film is a critical art form that can stand on its own. It should be celebrated on its own. It’s not a mini feature. It’s an art form. And I like to describe Short & Sweet as a moving image art gallery.

It’s also where filmmakers start. They start experimenting with new techniques. You can do that in short film. I’m really excited about the different techniques and styles that are coming out because people are becoming very innovative. They’re not just telling a story as they see it. They’re integrating it with a bit of stop motion and visual effects and all this stuff. You can’t go straight into making a feature. You’ve got to experiment first, and short film lets you experiment.

BSB: What’s next?
JS:
Once a week I’m running a film club in a township in South Africa, which is a very interesting experiment. I showed them a few short films and the kids didn’t really understand them. They were sort of like “we want to see more.” So I’ve got to educate people that it’s art. But I’m talking to people who really have got nothing. They live in a shack and have had a hard life. So that’s an interesting experiment.

I want to take film into the rural areas of Africa and empower and educate and inspire the people there. Because I believe short film is universal. So we’re doing the very first solar powered cinema in July and if that works then we’ll try and get some funding order to take it right the way around Africa.

BSB: That sounds like it has its challenges…
JS:
Sure, there are lots. I’m really looking at what content I can show. I might even have to make some content. There’re a lot of challenges. Trying to get in there is one. I’m going there with an open mind but I will talk to you when I come back.

We’re working with a project called Trees for Zambia, so a lot of people from the rural areas are coming to a festival to plant trees, and we’re going to be bringing out a screen to showcasing films there. But I’m interested to see what works and what doesn’t.

Advertising, For Goodness’ Sake

July 15, 2013 / Features

By Alex Reeves

ACT Responsible: Fighting the good fight for charity advertising.

There’s good advertising. Then there’s advertising that does some good. A lot of ads are neither. Thankfully, some are both – brilliant examples of communication with a core aim to make the world a better place.

Since 2001, Advertising Community Together (ACT Responsible) have worked to make sure people see the best advertising for good causes, promoting the importance of social and environmental responsibility within the advertising industry. With this mission in mind they gather and exhibit the best advertising for associations, charities and non-governmental organisations around the world.

Arguably their most important exhibition is the one they curate each year in Cannes, while the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is going on. The work here is on show for free to the public and this year over 5500 votes were counted to decide choose best work across four categories of responsible advertising.

But ACT Responsible aren’t just showing off good work. They’re trying to build an environment in which better advertising can be made for these clients. But even after over a decade’s work, the challenges responsible advertising faces are significant.

One of their goals is to close the chasm of understanding between agencies and their charity and NGO clients. And, boy, is there work to be done there.

“Both are hard to educate because they are really not speaking the same language,” explains co-founder Isa Kurata. “Agencies are very creative and they don’t understand why, when they come up with a great campaign, for free, for an NGO, the NGO doesn’t take it.”

That seems like a strange situation. Why wouldn’t you accept free, top quality creative work? The problem is that the message has to be completely right, says Isa. “As associations, even if the campaign’s beautiful, if it’s not our usual tone, if it’s not our beliefs, if it’s not our fight, then we can’t accept it.”

That is a message that ACT Responsible are trying to explain to agencies. The way an NGO represents itself is fragile. Often, the bigger ones even have shareholders – just like in the business world – so it’s not always easy to push an idea through as the creative industry thinks.

Another point worth considering, Isa points out, is that a lot of prominent agencies have had long and very happy relationships with NGOs. Amnesty International and TBWA\ go way back and David Ogilvy has been involved with WWF since its foundation. Other agencies need to realise that accepting campaigns from others can be a political faux pas for these clients. They might think they’re helping a cause by creating a speculative one-shot ad, pro bono, but after putting in years of relationship building and strategy, a loyal agency can easily feel betrayed by this kind of thing. Not to mention the work is less likely to be any good.

“Many agencies have not been doing one-shots,” says Isa, “but working on strategy for years with their client and that’s why they make really good campaigns. Everyone always said TBWA were doing Amnesty’s campaigns to win awards. They couldn’t do Amnesty’s campaigns that well if they didn’t have this relationship. It’s an easy way to discredit the agency and this needs to change.”

There’s ignorance that needs fighting on the other side too. NGOs often don’t know how to brief properly, says Isa. “We are educating them on how to brief their agency to have a clear message. Agencies take the opportunity to make great campaigns because they haven’t got a brief and because [they think] the NGOs are going to accept the ad at the end of the day.”

Of course, the obvious obstacle to these relationships is that agencies can’t justify spending their resources on a client that wants work done for free. “Because they can’t pay it’s hard for the agency and the shareholders,” says Isa. “[Some NGOs] don’t understand that they can’t be treated as paying clients.”

As is so often true, just getting people in the same room talking is good for fostering understanding and ACT Responsible has been doing this for a number of years now, in the form of the NG’Ad Club – a collection of people from NGOs of varying sizes, who ACT Responsible have brought together. ACT Responsible regularly take the group to meet people who can help them make better advertising, from media who can help them get their message out there to digital agencies to work on their social strategy.

Another challenge for ACT responsible to take on is the perennial criticism that charity advertising is an easy brief. Isa virulently opposes this. She argues that this comes from people thinking that charity briefs are open and unconstrained. But on the contrary, the best advertising for NGOs has come when a brief has been detailed and constraints are put on the creatives.

ACT Responsible have a lot of established sentiments to rage against. Accusations that the advertising industry is everything that’s wrong with the world certainly add to this list. Let’s be frank. The average person doesn’t have a great fondness for the marketing business. Isa recognises that advertising professionals are “accused of all the evil in the world.” Bill Hicks probably summed it up best when he told everyone from the industry to kill themselves. Seriously. That was over 20 years ago now, but lots of people still hold similar opinions.

Isa thinks ACT Responsible is great answer to these criticisms, proving that agencies work hard, usually for free, to make the world a better place and support great causes. “We’re showing that advertising is not only about selling goods,” she says, “but it’s also about changing mindsets and ideas, about educating, alerting. It has a huge role.”

Admittedly, good work for good causes helps the reputation of the people who make the ads, but however cynical you are about their motives, they still have a positive effect on the world. “Those ads are changing minds,” says Isa, “making people evaluate or discuss those subjects, where before they weren’t.”

All of this is interesting to the advertising industry and on a selfish level, it is great for everyone involved to shout about how much good they’re doing, but there’s more positivity here than that. Good causes aren’t here to better their personal interests. They exist to improve the future of humanity.

Isa is adamant that not everyone in advertising is selfish and amoral. Agencies love working for great causes,” she insists, “not only because they can make beautiful ads and present it to awards, but also because working for a cause gives sense to your work. So after working all day on ‘how am I going to sell the next washing powder?’ it gives them a break to let them think about ‘how can I make people understand that hunger is the biggest disease in the world?’ Personally, it’s more fulfilling and rewarding, and creative people love that.”

Maybe we shouldn’t all kill ourselves, then.


See all the public’s favourite campaigns from this year’s exhibition here

Signed: John Strong

July 11, 2013 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

A young director with a knack for the dark and unexpected.

The first film John Strong ever directed was for an eighth-grade school project in which he shot, played every character and edited a video about the Underground Railroad. Not even a decade later (John is now 22) and he’s won himself representation at Forever Pictures on the basis of a tiny reel, including only two un-comissioned, self-funded music videos. 

While studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, his thesis won both “Best Direction” and “Best Cinematography”, despite the chair of the film department wanting to fail him for turning in three music videos.

He’s got that third video coming soon, which, in a penny-pinching effort, was shot on the same day as one of the others. Watch his reel carefully over the coming years. With the support of Forever Pictures, we think it’ll grow pretty quickly.

Watch some of his work here:

High Five: July

July 3, 2013 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Advertising can be fun. Honest. Look at these ads.

It’s the summer time and the weather is – well, variable, to be honest. But people are going on holiday and stuff, so there’s that to be thankful for. Also, the commercials this time of year have a jaunty optimism to them that says “don’t worry, everything is gonna be just fine (as long as you buy our product.)” This month’s best ads come from some good-time products, so why argue? Just buy the bikes, games consoles, booze and energy drinks and go on a summer bender of reckless fun.

Brand: Halfords
Title: Tour de Britain
Production Company: Independent
Director: The Glue Society
Production Company Producer: Jason Kemp
Director of Photography: Chris Sabogal
Ad Agency: Mother
Editing Company: The Playroom
Editor: Adam Spivey
VFX Company: Framestore

Halfords – Tour de Britain

This film plumbs the depths of a home truth we may never have thought about – that there are lots of amusingly reductive stereotypes associated with cyclists. Jumping on the Tour de France while it’s inspiring people to get biking, it serves as a little reminder that Halfords sell bikes if you fancy getting one. Not a particularly pioneering idea, but a fun, sunny one, worthy of Mother’s reputation for provoking smiles. With The Glue Society bringing a good dose of epic to it, it’ll probably sell some bikes.

 

Brand: PlayStation
Title: Greatness Awaits
Production Company: MJZ
Director: Rupert Sanders
Production Company Producer: Laurie Boccaccio
Director of Photography: Greig Fraser
Ad Agency: BBH
Creative Director: Nate Able
Copywriter: Rick Herrera
Agency Producer: Jennifer Moore Bell
Editing Company: Work Post
Editor: Neil Smith
Music Company: Woodwork Music
Sound Company: Trinitite
VFX Company: The Mill

PlayStation – Greatness Awaits

Speaking of epic, it would have been impossible to make this ad without mentioning the word. It’s a tried and tested idea – PlayStation have been celebrating the godlike powers video games give you for yonks now, and why not? It’s the reason a lot of gamers game. It’s the sort of spot people enjoy making – a grandiose script, lush production design, fantastical creatures and space ships to keep the VFX wizards at The Mill busy. As a result, it’s fun to watch.

 

Brand: Southern Comfort
Title: Shampoo
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Tim Godsall
Production Company Producer: Rick Jarjoura
Director of Photography: Darko Suvak
Ad Agency: Wieden + Kennedy
Creative Director: Jimm Lasser
Creatives: Nick Kaplan, Jeff Dryer
Agency Producer: Orlee Tatarka
Editing Company: Mackenzie Cutler
Editor: Gavin Cutler
Music Company: Good Ear Music Supervision
Sound Company: Sonic Union
VFX Company: The Mill

Southern Comfort – Shampoo

Here’s another aging eccentric to serve as champion for this unorthodox tipple. He might not be quite as instantly lovable as his beach-strolling predecessor, but this chap has that effortless oddball charisma that Southern Comfort are all about these days. It would be easy to ruin this idea with bad casting or a tiny slip up in direction, although Tim Godsall helming certainly alleviates some of these worries. A great follow-up to last year’s iconic commercial.

 

Brand: Strongbow
Title: Moments of Truth
Production Company: Rogue
Director: Sam Brown
Production Company Producer: James Howland
Director of Photography: Tom Townend
Ad Agency: St Luke’s
Creative Directors: Julian Vizard, Al Young
Art Director: Kamlan Man
Copywriter: Al Young
Agency Producer: Ben Catford
Editing Company: Marshall Street Editors
Editor: Tim Thornton-Allen
Sound Company: GCRS
VFX Company: MPC

Strongbow – Moments of Truth

O Fortuna must get brainstormed all the time as an ad soundtrack. It probably gets dismissed as too hackneyed most of the time – it’s musical shorthand for the ominous and daunting. But it’s the perfect accompaniment for this surrealist extravaganza, and the sound design works in complete harmony with the visuals. A fun script, well envisioned and fantastical. With Sam Brown behind the camera and MPC providing impressive VFX it fits into Strongbow’s legacy of filmic TV ads just fine.

 

Brand: V
Title: Silence the Troll
Production Company: Bare Films
Director: Adam Gunser
Production Company Producer: Kelly Doyle
Ad Agency: Albion
Creatives: Debs Gerrard, Jack Gallon
Agency Producer: Petrina Kilby
Editing Company: The Whitehouse
Editor: James Norris
Sound Company: 750mph

V – Silence the Troll

Do you know what rule 34 is? You do? You filthy internet people disgust us. For those purer of mind, the rule says that if something exists on the internet, there’s some kind of porn related to it. The people who know that will love this film, because they have likely spent a lot of time on message boards and comment threads and are therefore familiar with the troll species. It’s a fun piece and the online campaign around it is a good laugh.

Unsigned: Michael Lawrence

July 2, 2013 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

A Buffalonian director in Brooklyn, via Indonesia.

Born and growing up in the post-industrial landscape of Buffalo, NY, Michael Lawrence originally wanted to be a writer, but turned his attention to more visual arts pretty early while still in education. That switch seems to have been a good one because he's pretty good.

He now lives in Brooklyn, but got there via a stint living in Bali, working as a photographer – not the most direct route, but going from equatorial jungles to the city that never sleeps can’t hurt an artistic talent.

Since moving back to New York he’s developed from a stills photographer into a film director as well, building a diverse portfolio of films for bands and brands.

He’s represented in France, Germany and Canada, but is yet to find a shop in the UK or the USA - something that desperately needs remedying.

Watch some of his work here: