Monday, 18 October 2021

Making sense of Emin and Hirst

WHY pickle a shark? Why decant 10 pints of your own blood into a plastic head and plug it into

WHY pickle a shark? Why decant 10 pints of your own blood into a plastic head and plug it into the mains? Why display a filthy bed covered in the detritus of your three-day depression? And most pertinently of all, why call it art?

These are some of the commonly-asked questions that will be addressed by Reading artist Julian Gordon Mitchell at a “light-hearted” lecture at Reading’s South Street Arts Centre in March called Pickled Sharks And All That.

Mitchell, an artist who tends towards the traditional with his own work — painting still lifes and portraits in oil on canvas, for example — will talk about how art has changed, but also how our perception and appreciation of it has also changed during the last 100 years or so. He organised the event after his first lecture at South Street, six months ago on the history of art was well received.

He said: “That first lecture was a bit of an experiment to see if something a bit light-hearted would go down well with the public. I didn’t really look very much at the present, and a lot of feedback I got after the event was from people who said they enjoyed it but wanted to hear more about things in the media at the moment, such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.

“This time I’m going to look at what happened in the 20th century. There’s something peculiar about why art, which used to be about paintings and rather staightforward stuff has now become something completely different. I mean, who has actually seen Hirst’s pickled shark or Emin’s unmade bed? It’s a media thing, and that’s something completely new.

“I’m going to try and tell the historical story of that. Things started to change in the late 19th and early 20th century and by the Fifties there was a lot of modern art around that most people found incomprehensible — from artists such as Picasso and Jackson Pollock for example. Then there was the pile of bricks at the Tate gallery, and lately work such as Emin’s My Bed. Sophisticates, though, think that is all wonderful.

“There’s a division between people who feel themselves to be the intelligentsia who like stuff that is not popular or understood by people at large, and that’s something new to the 20th century.”

Mitchell, 44, who was born in Reading, knew he was going to be an artist from the age of about six. He said, “I had it like a rock in my head. I just wasn’t interested in anything else.”

After leaving school he studied drawing at Heatherleys in Chelsea, and did his masters in fine art at Brighton University. He has exhibited regularly at the Barry Keen Gallery in Henley, as well as at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the Mall Galleries in London, among others.

He said the Reading lecture should be “fun”. “There’s a bar, and it’s a Saturday night, so it’s going to be light-hearted,” he said.

le_SHrSPickled Sharks And All That is at South Street Arts Centre on Saturday, March 2 at 8pm. Tickets are £8.85 in advance (subject to booking fee). Box office 0118 960 6060 or

PUPILS from Rupert House School star in a new, shortened version of the musical Annie coming to the Kenton theatre next weekend, writes Lesley Potter.

The tale of little orphan Annie made its musical debut on Broadway in 1977 and won seven Tony awards. The story, inspired by a comic strip which ran in the New York News in the Twenties, is about a little girl who runs away from the evil clutches of Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage where she lives, and ends up at the luxurious home of billionaire Oliver Warbucks.

The specially-revised version written for children — only one hour and 10 minutes long — is produced by children’s stage school Act Now Entertainment and stars 13-year-old Kerry Ingram from Bracknell, who recently won an Olivier award for her starring role in the West End production, Matilda.

Director Matthew Chandler said: “The children have done exceptionally well. Some of them are very young and are new to acting, and it has been hard work for them. We have been really putting them through their paces, but they are looking great.”

He added that the show has one of the best scores on the musical circuit, including the songs It’s The Hard Knock Life and Easy Street.

The show has been choreographed by Jaye Elster who is currently starring in Singin’ In The Rain in the West End, and Oscar Warbucks is played by Cameron Bell, who has had roles this year in two films, Les Misérables and The Dark Knight Rises.

The show runs at the Kenton Theatre from Friday, February 15 to Sunday, February 17 and there are several shows per day. For timings, and to book tickets, call the box office on (01491) 575698 or visit the theatre website

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