The Roses of Heliogabalus is an 1888 painting by the Anglo-Dutch academician Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1888)

Art: A Victorian Obsession at Leighton House

I was thrilled to be invited to Leighton House Museum for a private tour of a new collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings recently. I’m obsessed with the interiors of people’s houses; psychological most certainly to do with feeling disinherited as a member of Generation Rent.

The Arab Room, Leighton House Museum

The Arab Room, Leighton House Museum. Image: Flickr

Frederic Leighton’s house in Holland Park, speaks of an artist who was sociable enough to sustain his career, but not for a love of people; the rooms are opulent but there are no guest bedrooms.

It’s a solitary house, built to and for his own requirements (unlike Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, whose rooms flow into one another like it was built for a party and whose table was always set for friends).

Outside of the collection, the focal point of the house is the Arab Room, which is filled with Islamic tiles from Damascus. Curious, then, that he was no Orientalist. He created it simply, he said, ‘for the sake of something beautiful to look at once in a while’.

In an austere gallery environment, I can find portrait art a bit dull, but Leighton House is warm and enchanting in itself. Each room holds just enough paintings to let you take them in together with the room.

The Enchanted Sea by Henry Arthur Payne (c.1890)

The Enchanted Sea by Henry Arthur Payne (c.1890)

In the drawing room, I was drawn to The Enchanted Sea by Henry Arthur Payne. The baked, earthy colours make sense when you find out Payne worked with stained glass; the umbers and oranges seem cut through with sunlight.

One picture of Leighton’s muse Dorothy Dene really seduced me. In Crenaia (the Nymph of the Dargle), the muse is enveloped in the folds of her drapery, which flow into the waterfall behind.

Crenaia (the Nymph of the Dargle) by Leighton (1880)

Crenaia (the Nymph of the Dargle) by Leighton (1880)

The centre of the collection is the Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tameda.

It tells the story of the Roman emperor Heliogabalus smothering his guests to death with rose petals, which apparently made little sense to critics at the time, since the people in the painting don’t seem to mind or have noticed.

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tameda (1888)

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tameda (1888)

A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection at Leighton House Museum
14 November 2014 – 29 March 2015

Style: The Weekly Beautiful


There’s nothing like good friends, food and fresh, sea air to bring you out of a slump. I had a bit of a bad start to the weekend after having a mini crisis of confidence in my new writing class (putting myself out there + public speaking= no fun). Luckily things ended on a much better note with wine and sunset gazing at the beautiful pier in Albert Park. It’s nights like these that make me realise how much I love living in Australia. Even when you’re at your lowest, you’ll come across something so heart-stoppingly stunning that you realise how small your problems really are.






I also got to check out Carsten Höller and Jean Paul Gaultier at The National Gallery of Victoria. Getting stuck into a bottle of bubbles in the tea room meant we were super late for the exhibition and were the last ones in. Being a stickler for schedule, I was anxious for everyone to get a move on but as it turned out, this meant we got the place to ourselves and even spotted model Andreja Pejić having a low-key moment with her family. Sometimes a plan falling apart is the most wonderful stroke of luck!





Arts & Culture: David Bowie Is

Unless you’ve been living in complete isolation for the past few months you will have invariably heard the hype surrounding the new David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A. You may well be thinking that it couldn’t possibly live up to the media’s expectations and scoffing at your friends and family clamouring to buy tickets. Well then, you would be wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. It’s the best thing they’ve curated in years and more than justifies the frenzy surrounding it.

I pretty much leaped out of my chair when offered the chance to go and see this and walked around the exhibition with a big fat grin on my face from start to finish. It’s honestly that good.

bowie border

I know no one who dislikes David Bowie. His music seems to transcend boundaries and add an uncannily celebratory power when played. The end credit sequence of Lars Von Trier’s Dogville; Young Americans played over images of Depression-era families and children is so powerful with or without the context of the film it gives me goosebumps every time. And what kind of person didn’t kind of fancy the Goblin King in Labyrinth? I mean, come on now.

But I digress…

It would be impossible to categorise ‘David Bowie Is’ as simply an exhibition of music memorabilia, it is so much more. Part fashion retrospective, part art installation, it tracks a journey from small town anonymity to all-encompassing, boundless expression, floating through space and back again, through drug hazes, ludicrous outfits to piercing, stripped-down clarity. Sure, I’m gushing a tad, but rightly so. The curators have included every conceivable variety of memorabilia, from scrawled lyrics on cigarette packs to some of his most iconic images.

bowie yama 2

This exhibition is fantastic in so many ways, a beautiful multimedia celebration of a career so varied and intertwined with popular and niche culture. Every facet of Bowie’s ever-changing image and artistic intention is lovingly explored through a mixture of photography, video installation, literature and, of course, costume. It chronologically charts his progress through varying sounds and identities yet still allows him to remain enigmatic.

I was half expecting him to be roaming round the galleries himself, disguised and slipping unnoticed around the journalists and bloggers. Alas, he wasn’t.

The breadth of Bowie’s immersion in and influence on culture is astounding and thought-provoking. Unlike the majority of today’s crop of “out there” performers, Bowie put a great deal of consideration into his influences, twisting them into something new rather than simply referencing. The exhibition pays special attention to the influence of the work of J.G Ballard, George Orwell and Stanley Kubrick on his music and image, with key pieces of their work positioned in the context of Bowie’s vision. The hollow, savage worlds of Ballard are dangerous yet fascinating, referencing the strange beauty of huge abandoned swimming pools and high-rises while emphasising aggressive sexuality in the smallest of facial curvature, magnified beyond all recognition, as in The Atrocity Exhibition. The exploration of inner space brought out by these works fascinated Bowie and allowed him to construct new identities, new worlds for his music to play in. He invites transformation and expression in himself and his fans, an aspect the exhibition pays homage to.

bowie yama

His lavish and iconic costumes populate the space on thin white mannequins; of particular interest are an Alexander McQueen tyre track printed suit and the extravagant shapes and textures of  Kansai Yamamoto’s all in ones. There is such a kaleidoscope of colour and effect in these pieces it’s quite difficult to absorb all at once, but the curation places them in the context of transformation and evolution, it all somehow makes sense. For me the most impressive part of the collection is the huge video installation in the central room, thirty foot high translucent screens with concert footage projected, speakers cranked to the hilt. Completely immersive and awe-inspiring, it is an experience that will stick with me for a good long while.

bowie video

Whether or not you’re into David Bowie you can’t deny the effect he has had on music, fashion and the way we express ourselves. The exhibition is truly comprehensive, and regardless of if you view him as a highly skilled plagiarist (no) or a trailblazer who was / is way ahead of his time (yes!) it’s well worth spending a good few hours in.

The exhibition opens on the 23rd, as far as I know tickets are selling fast so get in there swiftly…

For more photos check out my Pinterest board at


Arts & Culture: Takashi Murakami at the Gagosian

After reading numerous negative reviews of Murakami’s latest exhibition, I decided to potter along to Kings Cross and cast my own admittedly untrained eyes on the pieces that had caused such sneering indifference in the press.

The online notes for this show were mercifully scant, yet claimed this latest collection acted as an investigation of the sexual complex of some Japanese men, whose fantasies have been altered by a saturation of unrealistic, two-dimensional female images in their popular culture. These childlike, nymphette anime girls with huge, spherical breasts, hairless bodies and slightly unnerving baby-animal eyes act, for some as a replacement for ‘real’ women with all the sticky reality of a sexual relationship removed. You know what you’re going to get, but still, somehow getting it comes as a surprise.

Upon entering the gallery space (for free, thankfully) hapless exhibition-goers are confronted by ‘Three Metre Girl;’ a truly grotesque sculpture. What would be an amusing and somewhat harmless image in two dimensions is rendered quite uncomfortable to look at without a slight squirm. The ‘girl’s’ breats, waist and head are grossly exaggerated – the discomfort of her stance throws itself at the viewer to the point that despite your will to look away you can’t help but stare into her immense, vacant eyes. This cutsey expression is added to by the frilled, Lolita style dress she is rammed into, overly large breasts straining  against their bondage straps and threatening to snap her tiny waist. Foul, foul, foul. But you can’t look away. Despite the unreality of this image, her strain is almost palpable. If alive, she would be in pain, a deformed, flawed creature, crippled by a lack of proportion. If Murakami’s aim was to expose the total lack of sexuality in this sculpture then job done, point well made. Loudly and seared into my eyes.

The extremity of the piece in itself is fascinating; a 2D ‘fantasy’ made as real as possible, a whole different beast ‘in the flesh’, so to speak. Line drawings of strain and exaggeration do not have the same effect as an actual, ill-proportioned object. While it didn’t completely shock, it revulsed and intrigued, making for interesting snatches of conversation to echo round the gallery; fleeting looks of disgust from most, maybe the odd sly glance of appreciation from some.

While the other pieces didn’t give such an immediate impact, they were based along the same lines. The target audience of the exhibition was not entirely clear, as I guess the most successful shows are. For me, Murakami’s women were sad and hollow creatures, particularly the re-imagining of ‘Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment.’ Sure, they were visually attractive and harmless enough as pictures. But with the notion that for some they constitute a sexual ‘reality’ they become disturbing in their clean lines and cartoon eyes. It is unclear, however whether Murakami is asking his audience to sympathise with those who get their jollies from these anime girls. If that’s your thing, then I guess that’s your thing, buddy. Who is anyone to judge? But there is an unmistakable feeling of disgust inherent in some pieces. While it is indeed lamentable that for some a healthy woman’s body with its hairs and imperfections is less attractive than a two-dimensional fantasy creature, it is surely not the individual that is to blame, more the industry that has cultivated this idealism.

The other two main sculptures, a giant silver vagina and golden penis (of course) were cheerful enough, with happy faces grinning out from the clitoris and head respectively. Their cartoon names, ‘Miss Clam’ and, ahem, ‘Mr. Big Mushroom’ remove the two completely from their function as genitals and into a clean parody of sexuality – these then would be the idealised, chrome counterparts to their two-dimensional fantasy ‘humans.’

They really come into their own, however, when juxtaposed with the two Pop-Art style paintings hung just behind them. These also represented a penis and vagina, yet with their ‘flaws’ deeply emphasised with hair, wrinkles, veins and fluids on prominent display. While as graphic as each other, the sculptures’ clean lines and gleaming surfaces are uncomfortably, easier to look at than the more ‘realistic’ (yet still somewhat exaggerated) images behind.

Murakami has proven himself to be a controversial figure in the past, depicted by every other critic as the ‘Japanese Andy Wharhol,’ creating consumable / ‘lowbrow’ art that has divided audiences. He caused outrage among French critics and patrons  following an exhibition at Versailles, sparking a petition for his work to be removed. Looking at these pieces, however, it is a shock in itself that he once caused such incessant hatred.

Despite the graphic imagery on display, there is nothing that hasn’t been seen over and over again in cartoons and manga. The flatness of the exhibition seemed like one big obvious statement, beating you about the head with the point as one would wield  ‘Three Metre Girl‘s‘ pendulous breasts as a weapon; overt sexuality tipped over into a sexless void. And nothing else. But then again, there lies the complex itself.

Takashi Murakami’s 2011 Exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street, London – Jun 27 – Aug 5, 2011