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Saturday, 30 July 2016

Abbey Road Studios

The Abbey Road Studios and that crossing, St John's Wood, London
The Abbey road studios in north-west London are, of course, famous for being the place where the Beatles recorded nearly all of their singles and albums but it has an interesting story of it's own to tell.
Firstly a brief bit of historical background: In the year 1130 Kilburn Priory was established for a community of nuns and lasted until the Dissolution Of the Monasteries in 1537 by Henry VIII. The property at number 3 Abbey Road was originally a nine-bedroom Georgian private townhouse built in 1830 on the lane that lead to where the priory had once stood. There was never an abbey as such but the road was so-named after the religious community. The building is now an English Heritage Grade II Listed Building - for historical rather than architectural reasons. Incidentally, it might be of interest to British readers to know that the Abbey National, now part of Santander, was founded in Abbey Road in 1874 as The Abbey Road & St John's Wood Permanent Benefit Building Society.
In 1931 The Gramophone Company bought the building and Sir Edward Elgar then conducted the recording of some of his own music. They soon combined with The Columbia Gramophone Company to form EMI. Many famous recordings of classical and popular music were made there over the years by artists ranging from Pablo Casals and Paul Robeson to Pink Floyd. George Martin, worked at Abbey Road from the 1950s mainly producing comedy records for people like Peter Sellars and Spike Milligan. Brian Epstein had tried in vain to get the Beatles signed to a record label but George Martin was the only one who saw something in them. After their first recording session he asked the Beatles if there was anything that they did not like. George Harrison said "Yes, your tie for a start!" and a rapport and a mutual admiration was formed which propelled the recordings and the band into a sensational world-wide phenomenon. On August 8th, 1969, at 11.35am the Beatles walked onto the pedestrian street crossing outside of the studios for a ten-minute photo session for the cover of their new album, Abbey Road. 
Abbey Road, 1969
Now the crossing itself is also Grade II listed and is the most famous street-crossing the world. The studio and crossing has people from all over the world hanging around in awe all of the time. There is even a website where one can observe the scene, live on camera twenty four hours a day!    
(PS: OK, I just visited that camera and there is nobody around at 6:30 on a Sunday morning. So sue me!)
Finally an interesting footnote. The studios were actually named after the Beatles album, in 1970. Before that they were known as The EMI Studios!
Sir George Martin, 1926 - 2016
I'm listening to Revolver, my favourite Beatles Album

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Painting of the Month (63), July 2016: Gustav Klimt

The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1907-8, Ã–sterreichische Galerie, Vienna
 In the opening decade of the twentieth century Klimt had been vilified for his work, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudencewhich he had painted on the ceiling of the University of Vienna. It was derided as “pornographic” and “perverted excess” for it’s nude images. It was, of course, none of those things, especially by today’s standards. His reputation had been damaged and his career was in a downward spiral.
He painted The Kiss in 1907-08 and it was a huge success being sold before it was even finished for a fee much higher than the previous record for an Austrian painting. It is now, beyond any doubt, one of the most iconic and well-known pictures in the world. It’s a huge square painting measuring 1.8 metres, or 6 feet, along each side, although it is often truncated to a rectangle for marketing purposes.
Gustav Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist painter born in 1862 in Vienna. Symbolism is the expression of an idea over a realistic description or depiction of the natural world.
Like many great works of art it reflects a collision of artistic styles. The prevailing style of the day was Art Nouveau, characterised by intricate linear designs and flowing curves based on natural forms but the simple form and bold patterns of their cloaks also shows influence of the organic forms of the earlier Arts & Crafts movement.
A few years before creating this beautiful work Klimt had seen the Byzantine mosaics in the San Vitale Church in Ravenna. He was inspired by the use of gold-leaf and the flatness of the paintings and lack of perspective which had the effect of making the gold seem to shimmer and stand-out. He achieved a similar effect by combining gold-leaf and oil paint. Other clear influences were the fin-de-siecle spirit of sensuality and decadence. Also, I think it’s clear that Japanese painting had an influence.