Author Archives: Nicholas Charles Williams

A Sunday drive

In 1976 the controversial French film director Claude Lelouch caused outrage with his short film C’était Un Rendez-vous. It depicts a drive of lunacy through the early morning streets of vintage Paris up to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. It was shot in a single take with a ten-minute can of film.

The piece retains filmic qualities: the car emerging from the blackness of a tunnel at its beginning on to its dubious ending implying a sense of narrative.

The film’s anarchic nature raises ethical questions. Upon its release stories soon developed around the film which added to its notoriety: the director being arrested at the premier; the mystery that a Formula One driver was behind the wheel. As with all fiction it blurs the boundaries of artifice and reality.


A Sunday Driveposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in Film, The Road, Wheels

The National Gallery and Room 90, British Museum

The National Gallery and Room 90 of the British Museum are equal contenders
for my favorite spaces in London. Even the scent that occupies the rooms of
the National Gallery remains consistent since my first visits as a child.
What has changed are the crowds – the days of discovering a room to yourself
have long gone.

Room 90, the display room for the Prints and Drawings Department at the
British Museum is still a hidden gem. With its waist high rail and
invitation to lean, rest and take your time. The room attracts a medley of
perusers: from students to connoisseurs, the curious and the inquisitive,
flaneurs and pop stars. On two separate occasions I have noticed Jarvis
Cocker examining the contents of the cabinets.

One of the wonders of drawings is that they represent moments of time
preserved on paper, like insects frozen in amber. Each individual line and
gesture has a speed of execution attached to it. When one looks at a swift,
300 year old sketch by Rembrandt we can revisit and share the period of time
he took making it.

With the British Museum’s holdings of approximately 50,000 drawings, from
the beginning of the fifteenth century up to the present day, room 90
provides some of the most outstanding exhibitions to be found in town.

Two Women Teaching a Child to Walk, c. 1640, Rembrandt, British Museum

A male nude seen from behind c. 1539 – 41, black chalk,  Michelangelo, British Museum

The National Gallery and Room 90, British Museumposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in Art

A Stendhal Moment – Caravaggio

Some years ago I saw Caravaggio’s painting ‘The Taking of Christ’ for the first time. It was an image I knew but had never experienced. When I saw the work I had a Stendhal moment. Overwhelmed I had to check myself from crying. I have puzzled since and tried to unravel what it was that produced such a palpable reaction. I have seen other sublime works which have demanded my attention at different levels but rarely with the emotional power to hold me to the spot.

In 17th century ‘The Taking of Christ’ made a notable impact on artists who came to view it. What they saw was a kind of alchemy, something elusive and indescribable along with a realisation that everything Caravaggio was capable of was distilled in this one picture. When Caravaggio made his final brush stroke he must have known it himself, although may not have understood how or why.

A Stendahl Momentposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in Art

John adams

As a painter I find myself empathising with classical musicians, primarily I guess, because of the shared aim to grasp a particular discipline before ideas and feelings can be fully expressed. A bad note becomes a hurdle to concise and emotional expression just as poor drawing in certain genres of figurative painting unsettles the eye and disrupts the engagement with the image.

While I admire plenty of individual works by contemporary artists, I can think of no equivalent artist in the visual arts to the American composer John Adams. A prodigious talent with the deepest understanding of his craft and a sensibility that has a finger on the zeitgeist.

Adams’ opera Nixon in China explores Richard Nixon’s 1972 historic trip to the People’s Republic of China to meet Chairman Mao to forge new relations between the two nations, the first U.S president to do so. (cont. below)

Mao and Nixon, 1972

Beyond the spectacle of symbolic handshakes, grand banquets and political speeches the music and libretto draw out the private thoughts, insecurities and egos of the central characters giving the opera a sense of intimacy that invites the listener to eavesdrop and be in on the event.

John Adamsposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in Music

Sandow Birk – artist/surfer

I first got to know of the Los Angeles artist Sandow Birk and his work some twenty years ago, following an exchange of a few letters sharing our interests in surfing and art. We followed, it seems, similar paths of travelling and surfing before becoming full time artists. Not quite the Grand Tour but certainly rewarding.

Sandow is a serious and prolific artist who has carved out a highly respected and successful career with works in numerous public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA. His work is often gritty, confronting social and political issues head on. Some projects are of epic proportions such as his journey with Dante, adapting the text of the entire “Divine Comedy” into contemporary slang and setting the action in contemporary urban America. Waves are never far away and perfect peaks, rights and lefts often appear in the most unlikely of settings.

Mundaka, ink, acrylic on board, 36″x40″, 2009, Sandow Birk

Two sculptures made entirely from debris found on the beaches of Southern California. “California Dreaming #1″ and “#2″, Sandow Birk in collaboration with Elyse Pignolet, 105″ x 36″x 40″, found object assemblage, 2009

Sandow Birk, artist/surferposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in Art, Surfing

against the grain

One book that has remained with me more than any other since I read it in my twenties is Joris-Karl Huysmans’  À  Rebours, published in 1884. The novel is a sea of imagery and is full of sensory associations.  Yet paradoxically it focuses on one man, Jean Des Esseintes, who has retreated from society to live in isolation.

The reader is served a fascinating and detailed account of Des Esseintes’ unrestrained aesthetic and intellectual explorations. The book goes deep into the human psyche and presents a convincing argument (though perhaps a futile one) that some of the most engaging aspects of life can be achieved almost entirely cerebrally without having to step outside the door.

The author, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Tilburg, 1876. Photograph,

Against the Grainposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in Art, Brainfood

pina bausch

Great art rarely comes out of conformity, and developing a confidence that allows for failure is a critical part of the process. The late Pina Bausch is an outstanding example of an artist who intelligently continued to push the boundaries of the expected.

This trailer for the superb Wim Wenders’ film on Pina Bausch provides a glimpse of her singular vision and the Tanztheater Wuppertal ensemble. Although no film, however beautifully crafted can do justice to live performance.

PINA – Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost – International Trailer from neueroadmovies on Vimeo.

Pinaposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in Art, Music

iron crows

For surfers and the like, the sea is a source of immense pleasure but for the workers in the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh and elsewhere it offers a grim but necessary bounty, a desperate means to keep them and their families alive.

In 2009 the Korean film director, Bong-Nam Park released the documentary Iron Crows, a vividly disturbing film that reveals the lives of the heroic workers at the port city of Chittagong, southern Bangladesh. Driven by extreme poverty, men and boys are subjected to un-forgivingly harsh conditions as they labour to break down old ships. There are frequent fatal accidents and the yards are laced with hazards, with exposure to toxic gases and asbestos.

Around 90% of world trade is carried by ship. In the 21st century it is difficult to comprehend (and is morally indefensible) that such a powerful industry and the International Maritime Organization have not acted to finally resolve the conditions of these forsaken people.

TRAILER Iron Crows | Bong-Nam Park | South Korea | 2009 | 93′ from PRAVO LJUDSKI on Vimeo.

Iron Crowsposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in This World

Biography of a fish

I am one of those surfers fortunate enough to have hung onto their first surfboard, never wishing to part with its associated memories. In my case a 5’9” fish. I learnt to surf as a child in the 70s around Harlyn Bay, North Cornwall and bought the board secondhand from a local shaper, lifeguard and legendary surfer Tigger Newling – the 1973 British Champion. (cont. below)

I was told, while buying the board, that it had belonged to Jimmy Blears who had won the 1972 World Championships with it at Ocean Beach, California and that he had left the board as a gift after a trip to the UK. To an eager grommet this remarkable story became my mantra to anybody who asked. I have remained curious about the board’s history and have often wondered if my memory had played tricks with the facts. I recently decided to look into it further and discovered a revelatory old advert for Fresh Fish surfboards. The ad’s stylistic artwork matches succinctly with the distinctive decal on the bottom of the board. (cont. below)

I also got in touch with Tigger Newling, now living in Australia, who generously supplied a number of illuminating new details and context. Tigger could not recall meeting Jimmy Blears in the UK, but said that they did meet and become friends at the 1970 World championships in Bells Beach, Australia. In 75 Tigger was invited to compete in the Hang Ten American pro at Sunset Beach, Hawaii where he stayed with Jimmy Blears and his family at their Makaha home. Tigger recalls returning to the UK with a 6’10 Lighting Bolt board, but alas not a fish. (cont. below)

The dates certainly match up and I have since read that Blears did make a UK surf trip but whether this board was the actual one ridden in the World Championships of 72 may never be known as he sadly passed away last year. Whatever the board’s true history it can be seen as part of the chronology of British surfing and of the evolution of surfboard design. The board is now in it’s forties, no longer in the best shape and permanently beached for its own sake. A fish without water seems morally wrong, so a few years back my then three-year old daughter re-christened it with a few waves.

Biography of a Fishposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in Surfing

Judy Fox

At times it seems that contemporary art has been hijacked – mutated into an homogenised, internationally institutionalized beast that forever chases the money. There is plenty of interesting and sincere work being made but we do not always get a chance to see it in our public galleries.

One such artist British audiences should have a chance to see and assess is the American sculptor Judy Fox. Fox’s ideas, often conveyed through the physiognomy of children, can sometimes appear problematic but a recorded lecture with the artist reveals that her compelling sculptures are imbued with a depth of meaningful purpose and respect.

Judy Foxposted on by Nicholas Charles Williams in Art