Friday, 29 July 2011

Five Fab Folks I'd Like to Have a Brew With

Janis Joplin

Janis was a fat, spotty, misunderstood teenager from the deep South. The blossoming soul sensation wore her feet bare, dressed in boys clothes, and always carried a portable harp, breaking into song whenever she considered it appropriate. “Conventional behaviour at Goldsmiths 2011!” I here you cry. But in 1950s Texas? The girl must've been vivacious. Joplin went on to demonstrate her passion and energy in huskily-delivered, soul-tingling ballads, her colourful dress sense and hard drug habits. Like the recently deceased Winehouse (and, mysteriously, her musical counterparts Cobain, Morrison and Hendricks) Joplin died aged just 27, a victim of her own hedonistic habits.

Nigella Lawson

Nigella's food writing transports us to a a realm of culinary sensuality and ecstasy-inducing flavours, where the humble peanut possesses 'a pleasurable, palette cleaving clagginess', and chocolate mousse is 'like chocolate satin cream...almost shocking in its pleasurable intensity'. Nigella openly celebrates the 'masturbatory' shamelessness of eating alone, and her flawless, nipped waisted glossy-lipped glamour, coupled with her cocoa-spill of goddess locks, has converted a sizable male audience to her cookery programmes (which, by the way, are an absolute scream, overflowing with unmistakeably phallic imagery and squirm-inducing oral suggestions). Despite being chided for the 'pornographic' quality of her presenting, Nigella ignores feminist criticism of her work. Actually, Nigella is a role model for any aspiring writer, presenter or glamour-puss, becoming world renowned and extremely wealthy despite self-confessed crippling shyness, harboured from a childhood overshadowed by her MP father and beautiful socialite mother. She's graduated from Oxford, held regular columns in top newspapers and become synonymous with the finer things in life: oak panelled kitchens with designer mixing bowls and fairy-lights, silk robes, and caramel croissant pudding at midnight...

Kit Williams

You long to fall into the dream worlds conjured in Kit William's captivating paintings of enchanted countryside and humanoid characters, and they're executed with such skill and detail, you almost feel you could. After leaving the navy, Kit travelled Britain for ten years, alone in a dilapidated caravan, drawing inspiration from his surroundings. William's favourite subjects include agile, nymph-like beauties in outfits emulating the flora and fauna of William's beloved countryside, and elderly gents twinkling with wisdom and mischief. As you'd expect of a chap with such a sparkle in his eye, William's work tends towards the cheerfully cheeky; take Patience and the Passing of Time, where the viewer peers into key-hole shaped frame at a respectable middle-class lady, playing solitaire with nudey-lady playing cards. In 1979 Williams revealed even more creative ability, casting a delicate hare charm from gold and precious stones; every page of his picture book, Masquerade, offered a befuddling riddle hinting at its secret underground location. Williams combines traditional attention to detail with a fresh wit.

Leonora Carrington

Carrington's literature was a godsend on our explorations course last year, where tales of her legendary peculiarities spiced up a Monday morning lecture. Leonora was expelled from several schools for refusing to work in anything but mirror writing; she would habitually serve house guests omelets she'd bulked out with their own hair, which she'd severed while they slept, for a giggle! And, brilliantly, she allegedly spent the entire social whirl of her coming out ball crouched in a corner, head in a novel. Carrington's life, until she was recently deceased at the age of 94, was tumultuous. She travelled with the surrealist artist Max Ernst, until war separated the lovers, after which Leonora had a breakdown, was institutionalised, and then retired to Mexico to focus on her creativity. Carrington's surreal art and literature draw us into an alternative existence of childish naivety, interjected with anthropomorphic transitions, psychological projection, and underground feminist cults.

Indeed I do Have a Short Grey Beard that Conventional People Would Find Repulsive... Personally I Find it Rather Gallant.” (Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet).

Maya Angelou

I thought I knew enough about the work of Dr Maya Angelou to declare myself a devotee after reading her autobiographical volumes. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings charts Maya's life until the age of sixteen, during which she is sexually abused, becomes mute for five years, discovers a passion for the arts and wins a scholarship to drama school. Gather Together In My Name follows Maya as she drops out of school, has an illegitimate son at the age of sixteen, and proceeds to single-handedly lug her baby around America, attempting to support herself through various means including Creole cookery, concert hall dancing, prostitution, drug dealing, a stint as a brothel madam... all while maintaining a passion for literature and learning. The autobiographies are riveting, almost too action-packed to be believable, and laudable also for their rich poetics. But that's just the surface of Angelou's successes. She's got four further biographies, in which she dabbles in opera and film acting, teaching and journalism in areas as far flung as Egypt and Ghana, mastering the languages of French, Spanish, Arabic and West African. She is a renowned spokeswoman and inspirational speaker, having worked alongside Luther-King and Malcolm X in the civil rights movement and lectured in universities worldwide. She's written novels in abundance, a few Creole cookery books, has earned 30 honours degrees, served on presidential committees, directed films, and won three Grammies. She's obviously a passionate and impulsive woman, unafraid to embark on new fixations. In the words of Maya:

How Important It Is For Us To Recognise Our Heroes and She-roes!”

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