Monday, 19 March 2018

Old Bailey judge in crime cover-up

Tom Keating
Cold case - evidence sought. In 1979 a crime was committed in the dock of Court no. 1 at the Old Bailey, in front of the judge.

The perpetrator was Tom Keating, the artist, picture restorer and master forger. On trial for unleashing his 'Sexton Blakes' (rhyming slang for fakes) on to the art market, he was defended by the redoubtable Lord Hutchinson.

Here is an extract from Jeremy Hutchinson's Case Histories by Thomas Grant QC:

"Meanwhile Keating himself spent his time in court drawing. It was reported that he had already accomplished seven sketches of faces in court and that the 'policeman whose job it is to make sure he doesn't bolt for it was full of admiration for his work'."

Sir James Miskin by Richard Stone Guildhall Art Gallery
It is illegal to draw in the courts below the Supreme Court. When I tell people this, they visualise all those pastel courtroom sketches and say I am deluded. But these have to be drawn from memory. Please see section 41, Criminal Justice Act 1925. The penalty for drawing in a court or its ill-defined precincts is a fine and a criminal record.

Judges have no discretion in the matter. Except for one, it seems. Was Sir James Miskin, the Recorder of London, indulgent, unobservant or just a bit rusty on the Criminal Justice Act?

He and Keating are now dead. Does anyone know what happened to the sketches?

The prosecution abandoned the case after Keating came off his motorbike and was not well enough to attend court. Some said the art market should have been in the dock, rather than Keating, who became a folk hero. If you find Civilisations a tad disappointing I suggest you watch his enlightening Channel 4 series Tom Keating on Painters on YouTube.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Havona laugh

I return to the long-running disruption that is Havona House (planning permission applied for in 2009). Here is the impression on the website of the project's original architects. They have removed the zebra crossing at the foot of Portobello Road:

Architects' impression, minus zebra crossing

Real version with cheeky garage

The original architects say: Havona House, Pembridge Villas, is a 10,000 sq ft new build house in Notting Hill Gate... The new property totals seven floors, including the largest private indoor swimming pool in London within a four storey basement. A traditional facade design is based on the Tower of the Winds, including a set of modern sculptures commissioned from celebrated artist Theo Gayer Anderson. The design emulates the historic development of the Notting Hill Gate area, which saw the 18th century house type develop into Italianate Villas in the late 19th century.
CLIENT: Private 
YEAR: 2011
BUDGET: £3.5 million

It's hard getting the garage gates even
I am envious of my neighbour Barry, who saw a car being driven into the garage, or rather car lift. To the mournful crossing-sweepers and apple-cheeked rapscallions merrily whipping their hoops along the cobbles hereabouts, that would be a bigger treat than seeing Tower Bridge open.

View from front door

View from front door

Barrier inside balcony
View through side gate to back garden & overlooking properties

In the picture above you can glimpse a spiral staircase and, at the back, one of the windows in the overlooking properties.
Only the garage is lit at night in the empty house

There are more than 1500 empty homes in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. We're waiting for this one to have a resident. Must like swimming and balls.

Monday, 12 February 2018

UK Supreme Court Yearbook

..."and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversation?"

The UK Supreme Court Yearbook is more Wisden than Wonderland but passes Alice's test if you interpret 'conversation' generously. I'm asked to do a couple of new drawings for re-issued back numbers.

First, would I depict the court's emblem? Logos are sacrosanct but I persuade myself that it would be OK to represent the iridescent wall panel in Court 2, in the spirit of fan-fiction. I learn a new word - guilloché, the term for the intricate waves visible if you stand close to the panel. Apologies and respect to Yvonne Holton, Herald Painter in Scotland at the Court of the Lord Lyon and Dingwall Pursuivant of Arms, who created the emblem.

The editors select just the central posy (Tudor rose for England, flax flower for Northern Ireland, leek leaves for Wales, thistle for Scotland, let's not think about breaking the union). But here is the complete picture which includes omega (court of last resort) and Libra (justice), as well as my windblown colour tests.

Then, would I draw the building? I've got an unfinished sketch (a preliminary drawing for the cover of my harrowing exposé, The Supreme Court: A Guide for Bears), so I rub out my furry friends and continue. To allow a clear view I ignore a tree and the stone benches guarding the front.

I'm asked if the court is a little, erm, left-leaning. It's a fair cop - I have a strong left-handed curve. The original is above; in the Yearbook the court has shifted to the right.

The UK Supreme Court Yearbook, Volumes 1-8, published by Appellate Press, is available from bookshops including Wildy & Sons and online retailers. The latest issue has a sketch of Miller, the Article 50 appeal, by Robin Sukatorn, whose book Drawing Democracy is out this month.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The right trousers

I inherited six manual typewriters, gave away five and regret it. Please send unwanted ones my way.

I use my remaining one to hammer out the words on the cover illustration below: it needs an air of effort and energy, to reflect the work of the students who've written Big Voice London's look-alike Law Commission reports.

Graphic design: Peter Sloper
I want a colourful background. The overalls worn by Ben Wilson, the Chewing Gum Artist, are perfect. He paints miniatures on gum deposits in London and beyond, using acrylics, car varnish and a mini-blowtorch. His uncle worked on an oil tanker, hence the orange cotton serge jumpsuits.

Uncharacteristically monochrome - Ben Wilson
The sun was bouncing off the paint crust on Ben's overalls last time I visited him on the Millennium Bridge. You'll find hundreds of his works there; he also paints on more portable objects such as bricks.

He depicts the passing scene or fulfils orders in his notebook, many of which commemorate births, marriages and deaths. He also paints at the whim of tourists.

One tourist, a girl of ten in an expensive coat, was showing off about having a YouTube channel and bullying her kid sister, who didn't. Ben stood up, spread his arms wide like the Angel of the North and gave the girls a ringing explanation of human values.

Oxford Street

Lichen on Ted Hughes's memorial stone, Dartmoor

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Is this the source of Paddington Bear's pop-up?

Watching Paddington 2, I get a Proustian jolt when the big-hearted bear opens a faked-up film-prop antiquarian book and Tower Bridge pops up: as a child I had a real version of this.

But where is that book now? I thought it was among the hundreds of musty tomes I'd smuggled into the house after my parents died. I ransack the double-stacked shelves, constantly distracted: Cockney Stories of the Great War, World War II knitting patterns, anything by P. G. Wodehouse...

Paddington's version

Can't find it. What the hell. I get another on eBay.

Bookano Stories 'with pictures that spring up in model form' were produced almost annually between 1929 until his death in 1949 by S. Louis Giraud, who coined their name with its deliberate echo of Meccano. His 'Strand Publications' was based in North Finchley in what is now a ready-made curtain outlet. The paper engineer Theodore Brown is not credited.

This is the penultimate issue, number 16. Growing up with John Tenniel, Phiz, Phil May and Aubrey Beardsley, I knew its black and white illustrations were not top notch. The materials and colour printing are cheap and cheerful.

A boffiny article about how Tower Bridge was built is absorbing, but there is nothing in the twee rhymes and stories to detain us. An account of As You Like It (plagiarised from Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare) is shoe-horned in for some cultural cred.

But the book, being a childhood companion, was more than the sum of its parts. The online interloper lacks the the aura of our lost copy, which served as one of the silent, solemn household guardians lining the defensive walls.

Bookano books in action:


Monday, 25 December 2017

Annie Curtis Jones

Costume designer Annie Curtis Jones had many facets to her life and I knew only one: her ingenious designs for Notting Hill Carnival outfits as creative director of Elimu Carnival Band at Paddington Arts.

She achieved lavishness, wit, flamboyance and an eighteenth century sensibility on a strict budget.

As designer and maker (trained at the Central School of Art & Design) she was calm and cheerful amid the clamour of preparations, never losing sight of the detail.

Annie died unexpectedly on Christmas Day, leaving a shocked carnival community.

Forgive me if any of the unrepresentative pictures here are not her costumes - the chaos is mine and never Annie's.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Carols in the Supreme Court

The Treasury Singers are never knowingly over-rehearsed and a good thing too, considering the day job. This year they are raising money for Shelter by singing carols in the triple-height library of the Supreme Court, boosted by voices from the Parliamentary Choir, the Westminster Abbey Choir and the court's own Can't Sing Choir, a misnomer in Santa hats.

The library inscriptions include a quotation from Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

The Lords and ladies are away leaping or dancing - no Justices are here. But are job applicants casing the joint? The bench has vacancies.

I find a discarded note downstairs in the café. A girls' school party has been observing today's appeal, which is not about cats. I learn from the internet that baffed [sic] is a word, distinguishable from baffled. Girls, judge not, that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1), or at least don't leave the evidence lying around.

Should've stopped at this stage, I never learn