The Aleppo Codex

Window on the World by Hugh Cornwell and a Private View at WaterHouse & Dodd

Window on the World by Hugh Cornwell

Window on the World by Hugh Cornwell

Remember the song Golden Brown by the Stranglers, “Golden brown, texture like sun” – well I’m reading the dishy lead singer’s first novel , Window on the World.

The story takes place in the London art scene. We’ve got a botanist come writer called James Thornberry, a sexy gorgeous up and coming artist called Katherine Gaunt who Thornberry falls for (for her or her paintings?) and  Miles Goodfellow, a London gallery owner who’s Jame’s best friend and who represents Katherine. There’s a recurring reference to the act of defenestration which means to throw somebody or something out a window (or a swift dismissal or expulsion as from a political party or office) but it’s clear Cornwell is only concerned with the first meaning.

Passing Waves by Karen Gunderson

Passing Waves by Karen Gunderson

Actually I’m surprised I’m reading it at all because I don’t usually read books never mind novels and especially contemporary novels mainly because I’m a slow reader. The last book I read was in 2012 by Matti Friedman called The Aleppo Codex: A true story of obsession, faith, and the pursuit of an ancient bible – an absolutely brilliant read about the theft of a 10th century bible. In fact I’ll reread it when I finish this, probably in early 2015. Right now I’m on chapter 7.  It’s an easy read with a dark side and I’m always intrigued to know what happens next. I’ve been reading it in bed and on the tube – something I haven’t done in years –  and  another  joy is that the cover has an inside flap which I use as a book mark so I don’t have to bend over the page corners.

Growth Period 5 by Alex Rennie

Growth Period 5 by Alex Rennie

Anyway, that’s what I was reading on the tube yesterday on my way to Waterhouse & Dodd for their private view of works by Alex Rennie and Karen Gunderson.  Both have something going on – personally I preferred Rennie’s work – but what struck me the most was a painting in the back of the gallery out of view by Russian artist Marie Vassilieff. Now she’s someone I would have loved to hang out with.

Femme Assise Marie Vassilieff, 1910

Femme Assise, oil painting by Marie Vassilieff, 1910

Waterhouse & Dodd has recently moved to Albemarle Street from Cork Street – it’s a great new space. Interestingly, I’ve just read in section 2 of The Art Newspaper that they’ll soon to be joined by the Paris gallery Tornabuoni which will open there in Feb 2015. And seeminly, New York based Dominique Lévy is also looking for a gallery space in Mayfair. Albemarle street always had lots of galleries but it didn’t have the same connotations as Cork Street – maybe it’ll become the new Cork Street – for better or worse – who knows? Anyway, the London art scene is the best in the world whichever way you want to look at it.

I’m off to bed now with Hugh Cornwell – can’t wait. If you fancy a bit of him too you can read the first two chapters of Window on the World here.

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I went through a portal in Brixton

Lesley Hilling, Tracey Citron

Lesley Hilling and the Art Detective’s Muse

Saturday, 29th March at about 11 AM I went through a portal in Brixton. It happened when I was standing in the artist Lesley Hilling’s front room in amongst her clutter and bric-a-brac. All of a sudden I went back in time and space to a state of being I hadn’t felt in decades.

The invite from the Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton was for “a coffee morning with artist studio visit”. The plan was to meet at the gallery at 10.00am, have a quick cuppa there, then walk over to the artist’s house where she would speak about her work over more tea and cake. No mention of portals.

Lesley Hilling

A sculpture by Lesley Hilling

There was already a dozen people at the gallery by 10.00 AM. I took a couple of photos and noticed many of the sculptures had already been sold. ‘Excellent examples of British art’, I heard someone call them and I kinda understood what they meant, but what made them so special for me was how a load of old junk, disparate bits of wood, glass and bric-a-brac, had been forged into such beautiful, cohesive and perfectly balanced works of art.

It was a lovely bright sunny morning as Rufus Webb Knight, director of the gallery, led the way over to Lesley’s house. We chatted about the area which I’m not very familiar with and the Brixton art scene and Lesley. By the time we got there, I was feeling rather curious about what to expect.

Rufus Knight Webb entering Lesley Hilling's house in Brixton

Rufus Knight Webb entering Lesley Hilling’s house in Brixton

Walking through the front door, I noticed the walls were covered from top to toe with drawings, photos and paintings of people and animals and how the sliding door of the loo was plastered with pages from one of my favourite books, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli) by Carlo Levi. In Italian, unread and unknown to the artist, she’d stuck the pages on her wall.

About 8 of us tried to cram into her studio as she chatted about a door she’s making from mementos that once sat on a mantle piece and belonged to a dear friend’s mum who had recently passed away. Upstairs on her first floor, I saw two more doors made the same way, they looked great in situ and I thought of how they’d make amazing gifts.

Lesley Hilling's house

A load of old rubbish!

As in the hall and studio, Lesley’s front room was loaded with stuff: shelves upon shelves of all sorts of everything. I saw wooden frames, a naked plastic doll, a tin airplane, snooker balls, old clocks, an empty birdcage, a jar of feathers, a vinyl record and basically anything I would have thrown into a black sack given half the chance.

Then in a split second it all appeared completely different. Nothing had changed but I no longer saw a load of old junk. Now I was looking at pieces of life and each piece was in its rightful place. I no longer needed to judge or label it. In fact, I no longer needed to judge anything or anyone including myself. We were all just entities, like the bric-a-brac, perfect as we were in time and space. I felt expansive, harmonious and calm, devoid of worry, judgment, waiting or hoping, or any feeling that hankered with the shear perfection of life! All was truly well in that moment and everything was in sync.

It was just a fleeting second and obviously I didn’t mention it there and then (what would I have said?) but the memory of it lingered throughout the day. I’m sure I was absorbing the energy of Lesley’s house, there was such a strong creative flow there. When I asked her if I could have a photo of us together she said yes, but that she wasn’t too happy about wearing her mum’s old jumper. ‘Who cares,’ I thought, I just felt so much gratitude for her, for living her life the way she wants, doing what she does. It had brought me back to my own essence, my own creative flow.

Lesley Hilling doors

Sculptured doors by Lesley Hilling

I wandered up to the top floor, to the kitchen and living room, where her partner was organising the second batch of tea and cake. I tucked into a piece of yummy chocolate cake and chatted with two other women who like me, are feeling the need to create – write, paint, sculpt, whatever. I told them about this blog and about working with Charley and how we want to recover the missing pages (stolen and sold on the black market) of an ancient Hebrew bible called the Aleppo Codex. They said it sounded like a Harrison Ford movie and that I should write about it. I told Charley I’d start this week…

I was happy as I walked down Atlantic Road back to Brixton tube station and so thankful for having been invited and for having gone. It was a strong reminder of how art and artists are so essential and the joy, not to mention the importance, of being inspired. I’d felt more than inspiration though, I’d gone through some type of portal, or shift on a soul level at least for a split second.  In any case, I started writing the minute I got home and didn’t stop until I went to bed about 10 hours later.

Since then, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to live in that state of being continually and how Lesley relates to all the pieces of life she collects. I must remember to ask her the next time we meet.

For more info about her work please contact Rufus or Mirri at the Knight Webb Gallery Brixton.