A painter’s peregrinations

Field Notes: Walking the Territory Maxim Peter Griffin, London: Unbound, 132pps, hb., £16.99 Several years ago, when I was thinking about writing a book about Lincolnshire, I found a strikingly original Twitter account. Almost every day, the seemingly tireless Maximpetergriff posted pictures painted during or after apparently endless walks across Lincolnshire, in all weathers and… Continue reading

Art as agitprop

Artivism: The Battle for Museums in the Era of Postmodernism Alexander Adams, Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2002, 201pps, pb., £14.95 Ars gratia artis – ‘art for art’s sake’ – was the motto of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studio, seen at the start of their films, surrounding their logo of a roaring lion. MGM was of course… Continue reading

A banquet of Bacon

After/Après Francis Bacon Alexander Adams, Bristol: Golconda Fine Art Books, 2022, 60 pages, £10. English and French (French translation by Peggy Pancini) In today’s British landscape of the arts, Alexander Adams stands out strongly – a craftsman among conceptualists, a ‘conservative’ among self-styled ‘radicals’ and a dogged campaigner for better aesthetics, and subtler understandings of… Continue reading

Flights of fancy (and fact)

Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald, London: Jonathan Cape, 2020, hb., 261pps. £16.99 Helen Macdonald’s 2014 H is for Hawk, her searing account of a grief-charged relationship with a goshawk, soared into the literary firmament, the best book about a bird since T. H. White’s Goshawk of 1951 or J. A. Baker’s 1967 Peregrine. These articles on… Continue reading

English origins

The Anglo-Saxons – A History of the Beginnings of England Marc Morris, Hutchinson, 2021, hb, 508pps, £25 England is one of the oldest nations in the world, and tales of its foundation have been told since at least 731 AD, when the Venerable Bede completed his Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum. The Northumbrian monk described the… Continue reading

Fernando Pessoa’s many persons

Pessoa: An Experimental Life Richard Zenith, Allen Lane, 2021, 1,088pp, £40 For a small country, Portugal has many major claims to fame – medieval navigations, rich imperial history, the Lisbon Earthquake, sweetly-melancholic fado folk-music, and, of course, port-wine. We hear less about Portuguese poetry, despite practitioners ranging from Lusiads author Luis Vaz de Camões (1524/5-1580)… Continue reading

The index, linked

Index, A History of the, Dennis Duncan, Penguin, 2021, 340 pps., £20 All readers of non-fiction take for granted the ability to find whatever they’re looking for quickly by recourse to an index at the end. In this playful but profound work, literary historian Dennis Duncan shows that this apparent afterthought has an intriguing history… Continue reading

Seas within seas

History of the Adriatic: A Sea and its Civilization Egidio Ivetic, Cambridge: Polity, 2022, hb., 352 pps, £25 The Mediterranean flows always through European awareness, Homer’s ‘wine-dark-sea’ and the Romans’ Mare Nostrum becoming ‘Our Sea’ too by ancient immersion. But within the world-historical susurrations of those waves can be heard the sounds of smaller waters,… Continue reading

Territorial waters

The Ship Asunder – A Maritime History in Eleven Vessels Tom Nancollas, Particular Books, 2022, hb.. 336 pages, £20 An ocean of clichés surrounds Britain’s maritime history – from Chaucer’s Shipman to Drake, and Nelson to the ‘little ships’ at Dunkirk. Tom Nancollas, whose 2018 Seashaken Houses treated lambently of lighthouses, now navigates debris-strewn territorial… Continue reading

Deptford dreaming

Aircraft always overhead, trains pulling in and out, traffic backed up along the New Cross Road, pulsating rap from open windows, plastic bottles in the gutter, pigeons with fungus-eaten toes, gang tags on gritty walls, smells of exhaust, fast food, sweat and the shower-gel of the highly made-up, high-heeled woman who just clicked by oblivious,… Continue reading