Caroline Ward


Theory aside, which most artists avoid, the progenitor of a still life deploys their gift to shepherd the eye to what they think is important. With the best will in the world, the artist’s ambition is impotent without an endowment of a special talent that is nursed, but not taught.

The evolution of Caroline Ward (pictured with her still life entry to the 2014 RHA exhibition) into one the Ireland’s foremost still life artists has been breathtakingly rapid: a trajectory from aquifer to surface in recent years has been marked by a technical virtuosity to match the broadening of her visual spectrum, from memento mori to the transience, both emotional and physical.

For Ward, light emerges as chiaroscuro, the gradation of contrasting tones, though her light is never harsh or dramatic. It has none of the aggressive voltage of Caravaggio’s tense tenebrism. Ward’s light is not the battleground of opposites. It is, however, despite its transience, a source of endless possibilities.

Her signature is instinctively recognisable: she has carved her own niche with a collection of work that is immediately distinctive, an intense study in metamorphosis, the remorseless quest to recapture the initial impulse of excitement and curiosity on the canvas.

Book Emporium


Best bookshops in the universe? I’d recommend two in Bath: Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights and Topping. They are, as the crow flies, around the corner from each other and boast both readings by visiting authors (David Mitchell in Mr. B’s and Lee Child in Topping), and a plethora of signed books, with Topping offering the weary bibliophile free coffee. It is, however, difficult to find a bookshop quite like Topping of Bath anywhere. There are as many signed as unsigned novels, a genuine collector’s paradise. Further afield, I’d recommend the very pleasant and quaint The Yellow Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury, which also has author readings,  Helen Macdonald etc.



Augustin Hadelich/Thomas Ades

1-3 Violin Concerto Concentric Paths

What makes this recording by Augustin Hadelich stimulating, with Hannu Lintu conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Britain’s oldest, is the opportunity to hear a fresh interpretation by a daring violinist of a challenging composition by Thomas Ades.

Hadelich went out of his way to consult with the English composer prior to the recording, which substantiates the violinist’s reputation as a musician intrigued by the essence of music, by the forces behind the progenation.

There is less opportunity for Hadelich’s fast-gingered brilliance, to paraphrase The New Yorker, to be put to the test with Concentric Paths, although his virtuosity is given ample outing in the accompanying Violin Concerto Op. 47 by Sibelius.

Putting Sibelius and Ades on the same ticket is a smart and practical move: two composers from the opposite side of the musical fence – Ades is very much alive – with the polyrhythms of the former and the different tempi of the latter, and seamlessly served by the virtuosity  of a violinist who, with Concentric Paths, overcomes Ades’ hurdles with such ease that it is tempting to forget the scrupulosity of his approach.

In Concentric Paths, Ades has the violin and orchestra play in different meters, but this challenge is one of many. Ades is a composer who can think like a theatre director, and interpreters of Concentric Paths ought not to lose sight of a Pantheistic feel to his music.

The composer stressed the importance of almost excavating the circularity of each movement to Hadelich, with each note pushing against the next, the tension maintained from the pulsating first movement, the brewing second and the intense third and last.

The first movement flows into view, Hadelich’s violin almost going against the flow, like a leaf struggling to stay afloat on a spinning vortex, but Ades’ strings are Spring-like, gushing: the second movement is a passacaglia, a gorgeous bridge between what has gone and what is to come, with the emphasis on an almost subterranean tension, with dramatic gusts. In the third movement you feel the tone is more vulnerable, the colours almost drained.

I read once how Ades apparently used aligned cycles to provide harmonic, melodic and motivic material, and if this is another way of striving for conclusion, the third movement makes harmonic sense, if you can imagine it standing apart from the other two, it is sumptuous as played by Hadelich.

I don’t know what’s happened to Summertime: 9A in the Tate. I normally visit it whenever I pass through London, but it wasn’t there this time. Maybe it’s on tour. An awful pity, really. Tate had located a seat almost as long as Summertime:9A, facing it, and if you turned round, there was a large Monet verging on abstraction from his late period. There is, however, the wonderful Yellow Islands (pictured), painted some years after Summertine:9A. If anybody knows where Summertime has gone, let me know. I feel bereft without the promise of seeing it again soon.

Robert Stone

Death of the Black Haired Girl

Robert Stone is a writer’s writer, a journalist’s journalist, a connoisseur’s connoisseur: his fiction is unfettered in its confidence and precision, his vocabulary immense, his breadth of knowledge unfathomable, and, if you didn’t know better, you might think that Death of the Black Haired Girl was written by a new adherent to the genre of crime writing.

Each sentence has a dexterous freshness, with a younger writer’s natural instinct to embellish each observation, so that ‘the mild sweet wind carried dogwood and azalea blossoms, mission fulfilled, message delivered.’

Much in evidence, almost omniscient, is Stone’s aquifer of knowledge: the insights and the extrapolations which often betray a grinding weariness, an exhaustion of the soul. There is a brilliantly wrought scene in a diocesan office as a priest casually obstructs a grieving father’s attempt to reinter the remains of  his daughter with her mother.

“How about opening up and receiving the kid’s ashes?”

“Yeah, well,” Father Washington said in a strange tone, different from the brisk one he had been employing. “Now you want us.”

“Yeah,” Stack said. “Now I want yez.”

“Not so easy,” said the priest, with the hint of a smile.

Any journalist who has dealt with the Catholic Church of old will appreciate the ring of authenticity: Stone, author of Dog Soldiers and a septuagenarian writing better than ever, spent time in a Catholic orphanage, which couldn’t have been a walk in the park.

An orphanage run by the Church makes an appearance in an early short story, Absence of Mercy, and is described by Stone as having “the social dynamic of a coral reef.” In his life, Stone has been around the block a few times: he was in the US Navy for four years, observed the bombing of Port Said by the French, worked for the New York Daily News, hung out with Beat writers and has been publishing novels since 1967.

Death of the Black Haired Girl is less crime novel than thriller, though Stone doesn’t deliberately deal in suspense: sure, there’s a killing and there’s a killer on the loose, but that’s a side show to Stone’s Greek drama. A single event can corral people with apparently little in common. But spilt blood is a rose of union.

Stone is a master of both ambience and atmosphere: the affair between Professor Steven Brookman and his student Maud Stack has as its back drop a college in New England, shrouded by the hues of winter or a river fog. As the affair tumbles messily towards its denouement, reason becomes a slave of the emotions, and shit happens. Stone’s characters are never less than a stone’s throw from a vortex, to which they drift helplessly. Stone once remarked: ‘Somebody has said that it’s almost as hard to stop being a Catholic as it is to stop being a black.’ Death of the Black Haired Girl is also a novel about faith, which is why Stone is compared with Graham Greene. Fiction is a quest to uncover meaning in the darkest of places.

Bill Carrothers


A smiling Bill Carrothers, who has accompanied well known Irish trios including The Tommy Halferty Trio and The Phil Ware Trio , looks over his shoulder to drummer Kevin Brady, at a recent two set gig at Wexford Arts Centre, as if to query: what next? Looking bemused is bassist Dave Redmond.

Three artists………

Three gifted Irish artists chewing the cud. One is from Wexford, living in Dublin. One is from Dublin, living in Wexford. One is from Wales, also living in Wexford. The venue is the RHA open studio, and the artists are Hanneke Van Ryswyk and David Begley, who work from a converted outhouse in Bunclody, and Anne Marie Bridges. Van Ryswyk had a solo show this year in the Olivier Cornet Gallery in Dublin. Begley’s drawing based animations will be exhibited in 2015. Bridges has been quiet, but the sabbatical is over. She’s back in the studio.

Berwick Church

An ordinary looking Church in a sylvan setting in the English countryside with something quite extraordinary inside: Berwick Church is a good ten minute drive from Eastbourne (if you know where you are going), but it’s worth getting lost if you find your way there eventually, as I did. Inside, bright murals conceived during the war years by the Bloomsbury trio,  Quentin Bell, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, cover the pulpit, chancel arch, nave walls and screen. Most of the time the little church in the South Downs is empty, so it’s easy to lose yourself in work reminiscent of Matisse, a major influence on Grant. If your cup is not runneth over with Bloomsbury art, return to the Toner museum in Eastbourne, where there are other Grant paintings

When in Roma


I am often asked: which is the best café in Rome? The answer might depend on the season, the weather, the company, your mood, the location, but ultimately the deciding factor has to be the quality of what you are imbibing. There is also ambience. Café Sant Eustachio, at the rear end of Piazza Novana, is not a place where you sit. It’s in, grab a caffe lungo, and depart. This is my brother lounging with a smile on his face: we had just escaped a Roman shower – torrid, but brief. If you want to linger, I’d recommend the incomparable Antigua Tazza D’Oro Coffee House, a stone’s throw from the Pantheon.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis is pictured  mastering a questions and answers session at the Barbican in London. Unusually, I didn’t have a pen to take notes. And nobody around me had one either. Pens are becoming extinct and people have given up writing things down. Is shorthand a dying art?  Marsalis is engaging, intelligent and articulate: every question was met with a profusion of enlightenment. The questions came thick and fast from adults and kids, but mostly kids. All the questions were smart and about jazz. He likened improvisation to natural and effusive speech, that it must be in essence individual, as original as a fingerprint, or DNA.  Jazz, basically, has its own grammar, where some choices turn out to be better than others. What is the sweetest tune Marsalis has ever played? To date, Danny Boy. He was asked to play it at the funeral of a musician.