Friday, December 28, 2007

Turkish Confectionery Art. The necessary arrival of Polish foodstuffs in British shops has seen me optimistically searching for either appealingly dated or enticingly exotic Polish packaging. So far I've been disappointed, most Polish beer cans or orange cordial bottles look as brightly bland and contemporary as any other items of consumer enslavement on Tesco or Asda's shelves. The search for graphic novelty has had to continue elsewhere...

Ulker Cokokrem, now on sale in the UK, is a Turkish liquid chocolate confection packaged in toothpaste style tubes. Perhaps its sugar-saturated contents will be a hit with sweet-toothed children. The acidic green and red packaging is what locked my own adult eye in pleasurable wonderment. Garish candy-stripes and bulging typefaces are seldom used by Western European graphic communicators, but here they are working a treat, like a breath of unsophisticated Bosphorous air. Look how the Turkish designer revels in presenting the product smeared on a crust of bread in total un-natural, lava-like, rippled glory. See how the tube's goofy troglodyte cartoon character could be almost drawn by Ed Roth and how the red plastic cap works as the trog's headgear. Perfect!

I hope I'm feeling well enough by New Year to munch a little bit of Ulker Cokokrem. As they say in downtown Istanbul...mmm, Kremasi!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sick-Note Bagnall. My sincere apologies to all my friends who I was unable to send Happy Christmas wishes to. I've been struck down with the worst streaming cold since I was a lad in short trousers. The timing couldn't have been worse. Pax Vobiscum to you all and I hope you'll keep reading and commenting in 2008 A.D.

Above photo is of St. Padre Pio revering the Christ Child during a 1960s Christmas at Pietrelcina, Italy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

If you feel compelled to spend your miserable wages on Christmas Tat then these examples of festive kitsch are about one degree preferable to the corporate evils on display in our Capitalist marketplaces. Why? This German Advent calendar doesn't contain any branded chocolate and so you may happily reflect on The Annunciation and the Flight to Bethlehem etc. without teeth decay /contributing to some fat Cadbury executive's Christmas bonus. The St.Nicholas doll above may look cute but he is definitely not modelled on the dominant company-originated image of Santa Claus we all have to put up with. The red-suited and white-bearded brand of Santa comes directly from Coca Cola advertising in the 20th Century. This St.Nick is offering what he owns to the poor and there's not a Nintendo Wii in sight!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Another Edward Bawden mention is long overdue. This lovely Bawden print of The Titfield Thunderbolt is available as a Christmas card from the Royal Academy online shop.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Winter is definitely upon us, but so is the season of Advent, the start of the church year and the holy period of preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ.

Adventus is the Latin word for "coming" and is the exact equivalent for the Greek word parousia, the word most commonly used in reference to the Second Coming.

On Sunday you were all permitted to light the first candle on your Blue Peter coat-hanger Advent Crown. I hope you remembered to ask permission from Dad to use his matches...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

John Bratby revisited. When I wrote about the slightly-neglected British "Kitchen Sink" artist John Bratby in my September 13th post I didn't expect much of a response and true enough, no blog comments were received.

A little while later though I received an email from musician and artist Harley Richardson with a very interesting and unexpected Bratby connection. His Dad, Ian Richardson, a former BBC employee, had once had his portrait painted by the great palette-knife wielder. I knew Bratby had concentrated on portraiture since the late 60s and his sitters had included British luminaries like John Betjeman, Sir Alec Guinness and Spike Milligan, but never dreamed I would hear first-hand details of what it was like to be painted by the whiskered one. Ian Richardson has kindly written about his encounter especially for Bagnall's Retreat and this is what he remembers:

"When I was on the BBC staff, any mail for 'Ian Richardson' would come to me and that would sometimes include fan letters for my actor namesake, who had made a name for himself, not least in 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy'. Late in 1982, I opened an envelope to find a letter from John Bratby inviting me to pose for an exhibition 'The Individual in the Growing Egalitarian Society'. I was told that the exhibition would also include new portraits of the Queen Mother, Paul McCartney and a number of other prominent folk. Clearly the invitation was not intended for me, so I wrote back to John, saying how flattered I was but the invitation was obviously for the actor and had been forwarded to him. This amused John and he thought it would be fun to paint both Ian Richardsons, so in March 1983 my wife and I went to his house in Hastings and sat for several hours as he did the large portrait using a palette-knife and oils. Throughout the sitting, his wife, Patti, brought me coffee in an outsize cup and a frequent supply of bacon sandwiches. She would take the opportunity to study the progress of the portrait, then would return a few minutes later to hand John her comments scribbled on a scrap of paper.

As John and I parted he gave me a signed copy of his book 'Breakdown'. It was intended for his psychiatrist and already had a hand-written dedication in the fly-leaf, but John had simply added my name and the date and handed it to me. My actor namesake declined to be painted by John and my portrait never appeared in the exhibition. John later offered to sell it to me for £300, but I was so poor at the time that I couldn't afford it. Later, after John had died and I was financially better off I contacted Patti Bratby asking if the portrait was still available, but she couldn't find it anywhere among his collection."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cardboard Box Art. I've always liked the simple images you find printed onto functional cardboard boxes. At a time when most graphic communication is over-sophisticated and pretentious the sight of a basic pictogram warning a warehouseman to go easy with his Stanley Knife warms the cockles of my heart. I cut the above example off a box found this week and the image seems to be a more eccentric variation of the message "careful with your knife when opening this box". My interpretation is this: Don't insert your beef-slicing cleaver into this packaging or you might split the thread on the bobbins inside, especially when wearing a dickie-bow.

More cardboard art to follow.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A comic strip of moral advice. Mind you, I need to take note of that advice more than most, and I wrote and drew the blinking thing!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Firework Art. Walking to church this morning at 8.30am I couldn't help taking note of the previous night's firework detritus in the streets. Not only were the used label designs disappointingly perfunctory, unimaginative and basic but most people seemed to have celebrated Bonfire Night two nights early!
When I was in short trousers I used to look forward to the morning after Bonfire Night so I could gather up the burnt-out rockets and roman candles which were scattered in the streets. The label designs then were perhaps more exciting than anyone's actual firework displays. Here is a small sampling of beautiful Firework Art from the 50s and 60s. Even the names of these old firework companies conjure up a million associations of Old England: Brocks, Wessex and Pain's. The first Brock's Fireworks poster alone is an anonymous masterpiece in my eyes.

Loyal readers will know that hand-painted signs are one of the regular obsessions of this blog, including rare "ghost signs" painted onto brick. I can't take credit for the above double beauty, though. It's from Sam Brown's excellent brickads site. For more of Sam's fine collected vintage advertising go here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Professional Transylvanian Signs. There were lots of charming and eccentric examples of these in Brasov town alone. The above selection will hopefully speak volumes as far as visual appeal goes. Wouldn't you rather buy your next pair of bi-focals at Helioptic Optistar rather than Specsavers?
I loved the wristwatch illustration in its half-moon shaped frame but still can't determine what the lovely shop in the first two photos was selling. Is a Bijuterii a jewellers? Perhaps jewellry repair. Hard to say, as this beautiful store of mystery would not let you see its wares. I can't tell you how much I prefer this silent window frame and fascia to today's Sunday shopping experience at my local B&Q and Argos...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Concrete Transylvania.

I suppose we spoilt Western European tourists when visiting former Iron Curtain territories can't help looking out for bleak architectural remainders of the 20th Century Communist era. I knew President Ceausescu enjoyed deliberately erecting ugly utilitarian factories next to historical Romanian sites and had no qualms about bulldozing churches and houses to make way for his immense neo-classical palace in Bucharest.
Here are three examples of appealing Socialist Modernism, all from the town of Brasov.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Hand Painted signs of the amateur variety seemed to abound in Transylvanian back-streets. Most of them were practical warnings for selfish folk not to park their clapped-out Dacia cars in front of wooden garage doors but I particularly liked the "Posta" one with its envelope diagram, artfully slapped onto a doorway encrusted with years of weathered paint.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Back from Transylvania! A fortnight has passed since returning from this adventure (too many mishaps like a cancelled plane and a middle of the night dental hospital visit for it to be called simply a holiday.) Nevertheless, this region of Romania has indelibly carved it's virtually Third World identity on my heart. The mountains were beautiful, the architecture exotic, the people both friendly and religious and the food/drink hearty and very cheap. I was happy to see Transylvanian's earning something from the Dracula merchandise they had for sale near Bran Castle, though since getting home I'm tired of being asked "Let me have a look at your neck..."
Will be posting some pics of great hand painted signs from the region plus some remaining architectural vestiges of Communism. But if you really can't wait, here is a big batch of Transylvanian snaps to gaze at.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Transylvanian Twist. On Sunday I begin my long awaited holiday to Romania. First the capital of Bucharest and then by train to the Carpathian Mountains. Above is the Transylvanian town of Brasov, my base for exploring these ancient Saxon lands.

Pray for the safety of my mortal soul so that I don't return as one of ....(shudder) the Undead.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Kitchen Sink Art. It's hard to imagine these 1950's canvases as once being thought controversial, offensive or vulgar. They are all paintings (barring the film poster) by my current favourite British artist John Bratby, and yes, it would be no exaggeration to say Bratby was briefly the Damien Hirst of his day, thickly daubing provincial back-yards, washing lines, chip-pans and toilet bowls to the horror of the refined sensibilities of mid- 20th Century Royal Academicians. Disgusted art critic David Sylvester coined the term "Kitchen Sink Painters" to denigrate John Bratby and his associates, who insisted on depicting the drab, grey, mundane, musty and rusty.

John Bratby's notoriety was abruptly cut short by the onset of the swinging 1960s and the heavily publicised Pop Art of David Hockney, Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton and Allen Jones. Their cool paintings and sculptures referenced international Pop Culture, and the glamorous influence of the USA media. 1950's UK Kitchen Sink art was suddenly and cruelly consigned to the critical scrap-heap and consequently meant that a Bratby canvas could still be bought for under £10,000 in 2005.

Much as I enjoy 60s British Pop Art as a visual counterpart to the revolutions of the Fab Four, Psychedelia etc. I now prefer to hanker after the smelly oil-paint, crew-neck jumper and goatee bearded art of the former Kitchen Sink era. This alluring, semi-forgotten bohemian world has a lineage that goes back to the heyday of the Slade School of Art, the dingy realism of Walter Sickert and the dank, gas-lit interiors of the Camden Town Group.

What clinches Bratby's artistic appeal for me is discovering he was still in favour enough to be commissioned to paint the giant canvases for the film The Horses Mouth. In this fine 1958 movie, based on Joyce Cary's classic novel, Alec Guinness plays maverick artist Gully Jimson, a bearded eccentric not unlike John Bratby.

Alec Guinness, Joyce Cary, John Bratby. In UK cultural terms I can't currently think of anything currently more appealing And what could be more in need of re-discovery? I hear the Saatchi brothers recently bought and displayed a brace of choice 1950s Bratby pictures. But how many more will look beyond the glitz of the Sixties to stare into the greasy water of the Fifties kitchen sink?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Disappearing Put-Down?

I hope none of you fellows have ever been on the receiving end of this withering judgement, the latest in my series of Disappearing Phrases drawings.

A midden, for those who don't know, is a dung-heap commonly used before the advent of modern sanitation. I've never heard this phrase spoken by anyone under the age of 50.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A hand-painted sign miscellany. These three are all unrelated except for differing degrees of faded-ness and decay.

The first is an out of business barber shop in Bishop Auckland Co.Durham, probably most interesting for the window boards which are now revealing underpainted black on green "highest quality horticulture" lettering behind the flaking red top coat.

The second is a nicely weathered board fixed onto a red-brick end terrace in Blackhall, Co.Durham. Blackhall itself is a small coastal town of such dreary abandonment that its silent atmosphere clings to you like a black cloud long after you have driven away.

The third is from a side-street in Wheatley Hill, Co.Durham. Again this is a place of forlorn decay, only disturbed by sullen gangs of pasty Chavs with Staffordshire Bull Terriers barely under control. I tried to photograph the Catholic Church in Wheatley Hill which is now closed and no doubt due for demolition but was put off by a barking guard dog at the neighbouring Dairy and aggressive teenage lads circling the area on bikes. This sign is a hand painted board over another of an earlier vintage. Both are now virtually illegible.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Pope In The Bathroom. I wrote and drew the above strip for this year's Caption comic convention booklet but didn't get it finished for their deadline, so I'm posting it here. The 2007 convention's theme is "Dreams & Nightmares", not usually my kind of subject-matter, but this vivid dream was fresh in my mind and I thought it needed to be set it in the semi-autobiographical Fairfield Prodigies Liverpool neighbourhood which I've mentioned in earlier posts.

By the way, my Dad really did once wear a Tam O'Shanter like the knitted one in panels 2 and 3. Click image to enlarge and read!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Today is the Feast Day of St. John Vianney (1786-1859), Patron Saint of priests and more universally known as the Cure d'Ars (parish priest of the French village of Ars.)

The setting of St. John Vianney's life was France in the years after the Revolution, when bishops, priests, nuns and seminaries were being violently suppressed. He inherited the rural parish of Ars which was sunk in drunkenness and debauchery and through great effort eventually made it a model of sanctity. He was intent on eliminating "occasions of sin" and even cut down the apple trees in the orchard to deprive the village boys of the temptation to go scrumping. He disdained to sleep in a bed, the floor was sufficient for him. For food he would cook a pan of potatoes once a week, hang them in a wire basket and eat them until there were none left. The final potatoes were always rotten and wormy.

Counter-cultural and extreme to the last, this bony old cove somehow inspires a lot of affection in me. Pray for us today, St. John Vianney.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I like this set of I like postcards. Here is my left hand happily clutching the first paper and print examples of Anne Ward's unique photographic snaps usually only seen online on her deservedly acclaimed blog.

Anne should have an Alan Whicker style budget to further her travels with camera, husband and two children. Take a look at her collection here and I guarantee you'll be impressed, dazzled and delighted.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Stanley's faded dancehall days. This "ghost" sign, painted directly onto an end-terrace wall in Stanley Co.Durham, was one of the first I ever spotted in this region. The letter style puts it at least as far back as the 1950s and it seems to be advertising the then very popular dances which were the only place anyone could do a bit of "courting".

My friend Gordon Wearmouth (who is in his 70s) said the only drawback to these cafe venues was that they had no licence to sell alcohol - he and his mates used to skip every third tune, nip over the wall to a pub, swig a pint in record time and be back before the band had struck up the next opening chord.

It's a miracle this sign has survived so long. Below it is a Primary School playground, can't believe it hasn't been painted over with some hideously bright community mural which educationalists seem to think stimulate young children.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Look, Tunnocks on wheels!

This Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Wagon has to be the smartest livery on the UK's roads today, especially since the Eddie Stobart Haulage Co. tragically dropped their traditional green and red brush-written cabs in favour of sad and underwhelming Photoshop digital signage. And to add insult to injury, Stobart drivers now may wear sloppy corporate polo-shirts instead of their once compulsory collar, tie and v-neck standards have dropped in the transport cafe milieu.

I've quite often spotted these fabulous Tunnocks vehicles on the road but have never had a camera in my pocket to take a snap. The other week I was very lucky to see this sparkling beaut parked up on an Industrial Estate in Chester-le-Street, Co.Durham. I was as happy as a trainspotter on a busy day at Crewe Interchange to get this shot.

But there is more to add to the whole Tunnocks biscuit debate first begun on my post of 5th July. A close gourmand friend has dropped a line to say: "much as I love Tunnock's teacakes and the packaging and their business philosophy, can't help but feel Lee's have the edge with their Snowballs and I really love Gray & Dunn's caramel wafers without the chocolate coating". I'll admit that Lee's snowballs are delicious with a cup of PG Tips and the (now rare) Gray & Dunn "bare" wafers are a spartan treat maybe even permissable during Lent, yet I feel even if Tunnocks products were made of noxious wax the packaging would still make them the outright winner in anyone's traditional confectionery stakes.

So, despite my sanctimonious condemnation of the power of contemporary marketing, I have to concede design wins over taste-on-the-tongue in this particular case. Any comments on products bought mainly for their visual appeal would be welcome. One other example for me is Wright's Coal Tar Soap. I love its plain paper packaging and the 1st World War style odour, but any contact with my problematic 21st Century skin would be inviting terrible sores and flaking...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Bagnall's Retreat is just over One Year Old! Should have had a couple of jars round the snug to celebrate. Nothing can spoil a good booze-up like a bloke who won't get his round in, though. Astute readers will recognise the above Disappearing Phrase as a variation on the "Long Pockets, Short Arms" syndrome...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

14th Sunday of the Year. Have just discovered this jaw-droppingly beautiful photo archive of 1960s Catholic Street Altars and Marian Processions from London's East End.
The Legion Of Mary and the Knights of St.Columba are fully in evidence here. Such social cohesion and cultural identity is now long gone of course, successfully eroded by the total triumph of consumerism. You mean there was once something else to do on Sunday other than go shopping?

For more, go here.