Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Grand Old Duke of York

My first cultural outing saw me taking in the wonder that is the Saatchi Gallery, also in Chelsea.
I had originally anticipated it being a space in which was showcased a rotating selection of Charles and Doris Saatchi's private art collection.
But no.
It is in fact a gallery created to exhibit the works of emerging or little known contemporary British artists, and contemporary artists from elsewhere who are relatively unknown in the UK.
First established over 25 years ago, the Gallery has been in its current location since 2008.
And that location is magnificent.

Adjacent to a sprawling luscious lawn, the gallery is housed in the former of Duke of York's Headquarters, an elegant late Georgian building (completed 1801), complete with so many of my favourite features, including beautifully aged red brick, fan light windows and a Pantheon-like portico popped on the front.
The interior, however, does kind of kill me. Very few signs of the original interior remain, and I am all about a traditional architectural feature.
However, I do love the original being juxtaposed to the contemporary, particularly when done so unapologetically, where the contrast gives integrity to both styles, and they appear seamlessly joined.

Of course, of greater import are the works on show. And of all the amazing pieces I saw the one that resonated the most for me was this incredible installation. It is a site specific installation that occupies the entirety of a single massive room. It is the work of Richard Wilson, one of Britain's most celebrated sculptors

The immediate effect of the work on the viewer is one of great calm, despite having very little idea what the work actually is. And to describe it won't do it justice, but I'll try.

The railing you see in the above image is on the purpose built viewing mezzanine. 
The thin black line you see around the perimeter and the pillar is the rim of a tray fixed to the wall. This tray is filled with oil. And the effect, although mildly confusing, is in fact mesmerising. For what appears on the surface of the oil is in fact the reflection of everything above the tray.
The oil, although shallow, conveys a sense of a bottomless pool.

And into this pool is submerged a sunken and tapering walkway to nowhere.

I am not an art critic, so I won't endeavour to 'explain' this work. But I did enjoy how it deeply challenged notions of space and texture, in an incredibly provoking way, but without causing any discomfort. 

The Saatchi Gallery, and this work specifically, is absolutely one of the major highlights of my trip.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Cheers in Chelsea

Next stop Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea - fabulous casual brasserie style eatery, and rumoured haunt of a courting Wills and Kate.

Part of the empire of celebrity chef Tom Aikens, this is exactly my style of restaurant.
You can drink at the bar without having to order any food.
If you do order the food it is absolutely sensational.
The service is perfect. The exact right balance of professional, familiar and attentive.

And the environment is great: although I feel we are at risk of overdoing the whole industrial look right now, I really like the way it's done here.
The space is theoretically a little overstuffed, but in an orderly fashion.
And the elements, although potentially disparate, come together beautifully.
Industrial fans and lights amongst painted pillars.
Subway tiles with wood panelling.
Rusted courtyard mirrors alongside Old Master replicas.
All of which create the perfect mood for any tone.

Which really works for me, because I can be all about anything from a quick tete a tete over a glass of wine to a long and noisy boozy lunch, and Tom's Kitchen offers all of this.

A trip down St Martin's Lane

First port of call was to the much celebrated St Martin's Lane Hotel, to collect another traveling Australian.
As you may imagine it is on St Martin's Lane, which is in Covent Garden, in the West End, the traditional home of the performing arts in London.
This area was just pumping.
All day and all night.
There seems little evidence of the recession we all know Britain to be in, and the warmth and sunshine had neutralised the much publicised negativity from locals towards the upcoming Olympics.

The St Martin's Lane Hotel is in an unassuming building that resembles government offices, or low rent accommodation. The only exterior evidence of the luxury that lies within comes in the form of a perfect pair of topiary plants at the main entrance.

But upon walking through that revolving glass door, you are instantly transported into a cool, quiet sanctuary. The expansive space is defiant in its mere presence, given the crowds outside, and the tiny inner city dwellings for which this city is known.
Designed by Philippe Starck, who I've always felt is appropriately named, it does have that ultra modern cool concrete thing going on, of which I am not a big fan.
However, the palette, the opulent Louis inspired furniture and the witty touches in the other pieces bring warmth and personality, making it inviting and comforting.

And although I felt way too uncool to actually stay there, my traveling companion and I enjoyed the refuge provided by the foyer, the bar and the restaurant on several occasions.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Through the ages

I'm going to go a little off topic here and over the next few days share some images and experiences from my recent trip to London. I have been there on numerous occasions and each time I discover something new, and rediscover something much loved.
And this time I was really reminded of the old and new cohabiting so cohesively together. London means such different things to so many people, all of whom have equal ownership of it, and its many different areas.
And they're not just the locals.
The first time I went there I was 18 years old, and one of the first things I did was to go shopping.
As you do.
I remember walking down the massively wide footpaths of Oxford St and hearing so many different languages being spoken around me. It was a truly exhilarating experience. For these languages were not just being spoken by handfuls of tourists, or small groups of minority migrants; they were being spoken by hordes of people from all over the world, in London for all manner of purpose, who belonged to London as much as the English, and to whom London was very much home, no matter where they were from, or how long they stayed.
London to me really is the centre of the western world, with only New York to compete for this title. Yet while New York's sense of history and tradition cannot be denied, it cannot compare to London on this.

I stayed in an apartment in a tucked away little corner of Westminster, a borough famed for the high profile Abbey and Houses of Parliament, but also a densely populated and very quiet residential area.
My accommodation displayed perfectly that English predilection for a greatly pared back version of grand country style in even the smallest of urban dwellings.
And while I have never been a fan of the 'country look', this particular penchant seems to be a defining experience, and one that I enjoy in this context.

The apartment was in a multi-story red brick Victorian style building, that was originally built as council housing in the first quarter of the 20th century.
Part of the Peabody Estate, so named for the philanthropist who helped fund such projects all over England, each of the buildings in this unique zone is named after a famous 19th century artist.
Turner House.
Rossetti House.
To name a couple.
Which is particularly pertinent to the location of these buildings, just behind the original Tate Gallery.

First opened in 1897 to house Sir Henry Tate's gift to the nation of his private collection of British art, the building is a fabulous example of late 19th century embellished classicism.
Palladian meets Victorian.
And despite its grandeur contrasting quite starkly with the modesty of its neighbouring buildings, its contents and function clearly inspired their names.
And interestingly for a colonial visitor, the mother ship of the Tate Britain is built on the site of a former penitentiary where detained convicts awaited transportation to Australia.

Nearby addresses also include the quietly grand Vincent Square and Marsham St.
The former is one of the largest private garden squares in London, home to a substantial cricket club and pitch right in the middle of central London. The buildings lining this quadrangle vary in age from 17th to 19th century; many are apartment buildings, some are still single houses. And although only a finely honed stone's throw from those of the Peabody Estate, cater to a very different demographic, mainly very old, under the radar, aristocratic money.

Neighbouring Marsham St is defined by its unique deco architecture from the early 20th century. Although reminiscent of grand deco apartment blocks in America, theirs is a particularly English take on art deco, a style not widely seen in Britain. And again the residents hale from another sector of society: many of these are the London bolt-holes for members of parliament from all over the country, easily accessible to Westminster Palace, but within a surprisingly quiet and serene enclave.

So with this uniquely peopled and out-of-the-limelight neighbourhood as my platform, I set forth to enjoy the multi-layered inspiration that London can provide.