“The Pepys of the Artworld”

Today I spent the morning invigilating an exhibition at the Otter Gallery at the University of Chichester.  The exhibition is called “Circles of Influence: A Diarist’s Perspective” which has been brought together by Dr Gill Clarke, a visiting Professor at the university.  Dr Clarke is also the author of a book ‘Randolph Schwabe, a life in art’ around which this exhibition has been curated.

Schwabe was a prolific diarist and recorded his everyday life and thoughts for over 2 decades, including in his scripts many a unique and subtle comment about the people he met and worked with. In the exhibition introduction, Dr Clarke says “Schwabe’s diaries are candid and witty, providing rich and new material about the practice and spirit of twentieth century British Art, revealing the inter-relationships between familiar figures in the art community and the tensions within.”.  The thrust of the exhibition is taken from the diaries and features works from the permanent collection of the Otter Gallery together with work borrowed in from other institutions and private collections, which when seen as a whole provide an insight into how each of the featured artists were connected to one another through Schwabe in one way or another.

This morning I was fortunate enough to be ‘on duty’ while there was a Curator’s talk given for the Friends of Pallant House Gallery.  This talk, given by Dr Clarke and assisted by the Otter Gallery curator, Laura Kitchner was absolutely riveting.  For a little over an hour, Dr Clarke spoke knowledgeably and eloquently  about Schwabe, his family, working life and the various connections he had with the artists and artworks in the exhibition.  The exhibition opens with a drawing of Schwabe by Francis Dodd, a well known portrait painter and war artist from the early twentieth century, but one whose work fell out of fashion after the First World War and is followed by works from other artists from the period including Dora Carrington, Eric Ravilious, William Roberts, Mark Gertler and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  The Mackintosh works are 3 designs for textiles on loan from the V&A  which have a diary extract alongside them to the effect that Schwabe had spent the morning looking through work by Mackintosh after his death and had managed to find some worth keeping, the rest he threw away!  Towards the end of the exhibition, which is hung in a loose timeline, is a work  by one of my favourite mid-twentieth century artists, Ivon Hitchens.  The work, titled “Autumn Stream” was painted in 1940, possibly after his move from London after being bombed out, to West Sussex where he remained for the rest of his life.  Hitchens said of his work “I have a horror of a meaningless smear, but I do try to say clearly and directly by tone and colour what I feel is the essence of the object and I see no point in building up with many little strokes when one will suffice and be more vital.”  A caption from Schwabe’s diary accompanying the work recalls a day in 1931 when Schwabe visited Hitchens studio in Adelaide Road, London. “Visited Ivon Hitchens in his studio in Adelaide Road, work very agreeable but without guts.  Some of his flower pieces would make admirable decoration for light modern rooms.  He (Hitchens) was at Bedales and has that slightly morbid character that all old Bedales men seen to get“.

The exhibition is supported by various books,  prints and personal ephemera from Schwabe and his circle, together with ceramics from Bernard Leach.  Over the MAC screen showing a series of Schwabe’s sketches on a loop are hung his top hat and malacca cane.

This is an interesting and unusual exhibition, which is brought to life by the diary extracts.  It is worth seeing and more so if there is the opportunity to be at a curators talk which last 1 hour.  The final talk will be on April 15th  from 12.30 to 1.30pm.  More information can be obtained by emailing the gallery on gallery@chi.ac.uk.

“Circles of Influence: A Diarist’s Perspective” is on until 19th April 2016 at the Otter Gallery, Chichester University Bishop Otter Campus, College Lane, Chichester, West Sussex (www.chi.ac.uk) . An excellent book by curator Gill Clarke, is also available to accompany the exhibition.




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Treasured Possessions

The other day I went with my good friend Sonia (Androulaskitchen.wordpress.com) to Goodwood House to hear a talk in aid of the Chichester Cathedral Festival of Flowers.  The subject of the talk was to be The Hidden Treasures of Goodwood House and the main speaker was Tim Wonnacott )of TV’s Bargain Hunt, Antiques Roadshow and Antiques Road Trip fame) ably assisted by the Curator of Goodwood House, James Piell.

A variety of small objects not generally on public display had been selected for discussion and it was through these that a picture of the various Duke’s of Richmond was painted.  The first items were a pair of tiny boxes, one containing a lock of hair and the other a shard of wood.  These items are said to be a lock of hair from the head of Charles 1 and a fragment from his coffin.  James Piell explained in great detail how these items had come into the possession of the family and how they could be certain that they were “the real thing”.  It all made for a fascinating story!  This was followed up with a  delightful portrait miniature by Ozias Humphry of the 3rd Duke, encased in a gold case which is engraved on the reverse with the name of the artist and the sitter, it measures some 4cms x 6cms and has the most incredible detail.  Personally I am not one for carrying images of my loved ones around with me, but if I had a portrait miniature of Mr PP as beautifully painted as that of the 3rd Duke, I would take it everywhere.

Various other equally interesting objects followed including ledgers, papers and paintings followed including a small ledger hand written by Charlotte, Duchess of Richmond, wife of the 4th Duke detailing the guest list and other instructions for a Ball.  Not just any old Ball however, this Ball has found its place in history. Held in Brussels on the 15th June 1815 – the date is a clue; virtually every high ranking officer of Wellington’s army was present including the Duke of Wellington himself.  This Ball, known as “the most famous Ball in history” took place two nights before the Battle of Waterloo.  Someway through the evening a message arrived for Wellington to advise that Napoleon had beaten the Prussians into retreat from Fleurus and had advanced further, crossing the river.  A second message arrived advising Wellington that the French advance had reached Quatre Bras at which point Wellington took action, with the Duchess alleged to have implored him that perhaps the officers could stay for one more dance?

A slightly odder object resembling a pile of mould was shown encased in a glass bell dome mounted on top of a gilded stem with an engraved plaque which reads “The Protestant Cheese”. The wedge shaped object inside was indeed a piece of cheese.  In 1825, the Duchess of Richmond was given a piece of the ‘Protestant Cheese’ by the Duchess of Ritland which had been cut from a large block of cheese that had been specially made by the burgesses of Chester to celebrate the quashing of the 1825 Emancipation Bill by the House of Lords. (This was one of a number of Bills introduced to relax the restrictions placed upon Roman Catholics during the English Reformation).  It was certainly one of the most bizarre objects I have ever seen, all grey-green and mouldy inside it’s vacuum protected glass dome.  Most odd.

The nicest story connected to an object was for me, the one about the Charlton Hunt and the “Greatest Chase that ever was”.  This was an account in the 2nd Duke of Richmond’s own hand of a day when the meet set off early one morning finding their quarry at 8.15am.  They then pursued it until finally capturing and killing it at 5.50pm having covered a distance of some 57 miles around the Sussex countryside.  At the end only the 2nd Duke and 2 others were present, but it had been such a momentous day that the Duke wrote an account of the proceedings and even sent servants out with a measuring wheel to follow the route taken to ascertain the exact distance -they returned with the measurements some 2 days later!  To celebrate the tradition of the old Charlton Hunt and the connection with Goodwood, there is to be an exhibition exploring its history at Goodwood House  1st to 31st August 2016. (See https://www.goodwood.com/goodwood-house/summer-exhibition).

It was a fascinating morning, the objects brought to life by Tim and James who are both excellent and engaging speakers.

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Goodwood House, Chichester, West Sussex


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Knit and Natter

At the end of last month I started a Knit and Natter group.  Why on earth did I do that when I am not a very good knitter?  Well partly because I am not a very good knitter, in fact I have only really been knitting properly since October last year, so just about 4 months now, and knitting in the company of others who were far more experienced than me and from whom I could hopefully learn seemed like a good idea.  Also, I had been asked by the manager of the arts centre where it takes place if I would do it.

I must confess that I was more than a little nervous about doing something like this – what if nobody came, what if my inexperience was met with derision, what if people came and hated it (and me) and didn’t come back?  So many “What if’s”, but as they say “faint heart …etc” so I duly arrived for the first session and it wasn’t long before the first ladies started to arrive.  Phew!

K and N 2

Knitters and Natterers

And what a lovely bunch of ladies they are as well!  Different ages, different walks of life and knitting abilities.  Of course we don’t discriminate against those who wish to come and crochet, everyone is welcome.  Talk is animated and the variety of subjects that get discussed is hugely varied.  It is a nice way to spend an hour and a half on a Friday morning in pleasant surroundings doing something practical and creative among sociable and like-minded people.  In the USA they call it a “Stitch and Bitch”, but while we stitch there is certainly no bitching.  I think we are more like “Yarners Yarning” – we are working with yarn and having a good old yarn (conversation).

yarn table

Patterns and yarn on the Knit and Natter table

Knitters can bring their own project to do or take part in a group project.  The first of these was to knit some “Twiddlemitts” which will be given to the Dementia Unit at the locla hospital.  In case you don’t know what a Twiddlemitt is, more details can be found here http://www.pramacare.org.uk/Twiddlemitts_are_taking_the_area_by_storm.html   and a pattern can be found here http://www.cmft.nhs.uk/media/1502319/twiddlemitts-a5-leaflet-knitting-pattern.pdf.


My Twiddlemitt under construction (bottom centre in green)

After 3 sessions I am still working on mine, but it is almost finished.  Bernice and Gina have both finished theirs and others group knitters are also well on the way to finishing.

Twiddlemitt under construction and two finished articles made by Bernice

The group meets at Cranleigh Arts Centre, 1 High Street, Cranleigh, Surrey on a Friday morning between 10.30am and 12 noon.  It is free to come along and no booking is required, just turn up.  People can drop in and out of sessions to suit their personal commitments, and I am sure the day may come when I will be sitting there all by myself because everyone else has something else on that day.

2016 Knit Natter postcard v2 copy

Our next project is to knit and crochet as many flowers as possible by the end of April for a special feature which will be part of a new art exhibition opening in May. Watch this space…



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Remastering the Renaissance

A few days ago I made a visit to Petworth House to have a look at their new winter art exhibition “Remastered – Bosch to Bellotto” which is an opportunity to see some of the important artworks in the Petworth art collection, some from the personal collection of Lord and Lady Egremont and some which has recently been cleaned or reframed for the show. So, a show which is long on promise then.

I think that it may well come as a surprise to many that know me to discover that I have a bit of a weak spot for Renaissance art.  This dates back some 30-odd years to when I was studying A-Level art and the last lesson on a Monday afternoon was Art History.  The teacher for this class was a Mr Wilson and he was reasonably young. He also had suffered from alopecia and wore a wig which was obviously a source of amusement to the youth of the mid-late 1970’s.  Mr Wilson was a nice man and very enthusiastic about his subject.  It is this enthusiasm which has stayed with me all these years.  He would talk to us using his own slides of some of the greatest artworks in Italy and Northern Europe created by the ‘Greats’ of the Renaissance period including Bellini,  Botticelli, Filippo Lippi, Piero della Francesca, as well as Michelangelo, Tintoretto and Bronzino from Italy.  Northern Europe was represented by the likes of Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden,  Hans Holbein, Albrecht Durer and one of my absolute favourites, Hieronymous Bosch.  thinking back, Mr Wilson was a great scholar, enthusiastic and knowledgeable and inspirational, well he must have been, I still remember his lessons after all these years and I wasn’t the best of students!

The curators at Petworth have taken a few liberties with the title of their show, as the Bellotto is not the latest picture in the show, while the Bosch is also not the earliest work and it is also quite possible not actually by Bosch himself, although it is attributed to him which is not quite the same thing.  The original work is a triptych oil painting on wood panel and is in the custody of the Museo del Prado in Madrid and is somewhat larger than the work at Petworth which is also an oil on panel (c1515) and is a squared off section of the central panel.

J. Bosch Adoration of the Magi Triptych.jpg

The Adoration of the Magi by Heironymous Bosch (c1485-1500) (image from Wikipaedia)

I really like this work and seeing a version of it ‘up close and personal’ at Petworth was a real joy. The colours are vibrant and intense, brushwork is invisible and detail is minute. The actual image is straightfoward being a depiction of the three kings (or Magi) visiting the new born baby Jesus, but there are various interpretations of whom the central figures actually are.  Petworth suggest that it is Jaspar kneeling at Mary’s feet in the centre with his gift of gold in the form of a sculpture  representing the sacrifice of the prophet Isaac and suggesting the death of Christ himself.  Standing behind him is Melchior clad in a cloak featuring King Solomon receiving gifts from the Queen of Sheba, foreshadowing the adoration taking place in the painting; while Balthazar stands to to the left holding  a casket of myrrh which is decorated with another scene from the Old Testament in which 3 warriors gave water to David on his becoming king of Israel.  Bosch is famous for his religious pictures full of strange beasts and monsters and human suffering and this one os no exception with the hem of the robe worn by Balthazar decorated with images of fish being consumed by strange monsters – an allusion to the Original Sin.  The partly naked figure emerging from the hut has been variously identified as Joseph, a priest or the AntiChrist. Bosch’s work is the stuff of dreams tempered by nightmares although his work does reflect orthodox religious beliefs of his time and it often represents visual translations of verbal metaphors and puns drawn from both biblical and folkloric sources to teach specific moral and spiritual truths.

The exhibition itself is shown in two sites, first there is a small and intimate showing of key works in the exhibition gallery where portraits by Bronzino and Titian can be seen alongside a stunning full length portrait of Henry VIII (c1543-7)from the studio of Hans Holbein.  It is, I think, remarkably contemporary and has some of the qualities of a collage.  The King himself appears to float in the picture plane, his feet on the ground and yet also appearing to hover slightly above it.  It is the work of a highly skilled artist.  Another quite striking and contemporary looking portrait is Bronzino’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man'(c1550-1555).  An unidentified sitter, it replicates another painting of the same name which is currently on loan to the National Gallery and which includes a statue of the God Bacchus.  The Petworth version is only head and shoulders and is cropped very tightly against its background.  It is the absence of other indentifying features that gives this painting such a contemporary feel.

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From the catalogue of Remastered: Bosch to Bellotto

Other notable pieces in the main gallery are the 8 miniatures by Adam Elsheimer which have been temporarily reframed in the set of Rococco frames which were specially commissioned by the 2nd Earl from French frame maker Joseph Duffour.  Painted on sheets of silvered copper they were probably originally to decorate a piece of furniture.  There are only 50 known pieces by Elsheimer in the world today.

In the main house there are 3 rooms which have been rehung to show works by major artists from the period 1420-1610.  Several have been cleaned and now benefit from a new lighting system.  Others are awaiting these delights.  The new lighting system is fabulous and affords a much better view of the work, in many cases the paint seems to almost glow.

It is not a huge exhibition and there are some interesting, not to mention important works on display.  However it is also an exhibition which I think does require some level of academic understanding of how to read an artwork as well as understand the significance of religion in everyday life at the time and the importance of the Earl Collectors of Petworth.

Remastered – Bosch to Bellotto is at Petworth House, West Sussex until 6 March 2016.



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More Christmas stuff

Continuing with the festive theme, Mr PP and I spent a couple of hours visiting another Christmas Tree Festival, this time at the impressively named church of St Peter Ad Vincula in Wisborough Green, West Sussex.  This church has been holding this event for a couple of years now and it seems to go from strength to strength.  This year the church was crammed with beautifully lit trees each dressed to a theme chosen by it’s sponsor.  The creativity and imagination which goes into dressing some of these trees is marvellous.  Two trees in particular stood out, one by the local hairdresser who had used hair care products to make inventive ‘baubles’ and the other from the local playgroup, Climbing Bears who had covered their tree in delightful angel bear shapes decorated by the children.  It was the last day of the festival today and the trees looked as fresh as they probably did when they were first installed a week ago.  I am looking forward to seeing next years offering – it’s fast becoming a tradition to visit!


Hairdresser Tree (note wall painting in background)

just hair

Close up of hairdresser tree baubles made from hair rollers

climbing bears

Climbing Bears Angel Tree

trees 2

View across church of some of the many trees

After the church we decided to continue on up to Petworth House to have a look at their Christmas decorations.  The theme this year is a focus on Christmas below stairs with the servants quarters dressed as if for Christmas around the turn of the century. To accompany this there were live demonstrations in the kitchen where traditional Christmas fayre was available for tasting.

While the decor was festive, it didn’t have quite the same impact as some of the previous events for Christmas which have been almost theatrical in presentation.  There were a couple of ‘wow’ items, first in the shape of a stunning tiered cake depicting hunting scenes and the house by Sublime Cakes (http://www.sublimecakes.co.uk/) and an amazing chocolate cake with roses and cherubs hand made by the fabulous Choccywoccydoodah of Brighton (https://www.choccywoccydoodah.com).  It is nice to see houses like Petworth making the effort and drawing out a different focus to that usually promoted at other times of the year.


Housekeepers Pantry


Demonstrating the making of Christmas goodies


Dairy Still Room (with Festive  Cow Parade Cow)


Sublime Cakes amazing handbuilt and decorated cake showing hunting scenes at Petworth


This is made entirely from chocolate!  Handbuilt by the chocolatiers at Choccywoccydoodah in Brighton – awesome!

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… again

It’s THAT time of year again, December comes round so fast and Christmas is almost upon us.  Today Mr PP and I went out to buy our tree and also to do “something festive”.  Actually we did two “festive” things, first we made a visit to the Christmas Tree Festival at St Nicolas Church in Cranleigh.  This is the first tree festival at this church (I think) and they had 50 trees donated by local Christmas Tree grower Santa Fir (where I bought my own tree) which were then decorated in various ways by local families, community groups and schools.  The ingenuity and humour expressed through the decorations was fabulous and the whole made for  a delightful and interesting way to spend an hour, while also giving time to think about Christmas.  Some of my favourite trees are shown below…

knitted tree

My favourite Tree – The Knitted Tree by the Lock family

arts centre

Cranleigh Arts Centre – Knitting Around the Christmas Tree

skeleton tree

Cranleigh Physio – Cranfold’s Cracking Christmas (them bones, them bones…)

money tree

The Money-Tree by the Woodhams family (the images are all of Chancellors of the Exchequer)

angels 2

Cranleigh CofE Primary – The Litera-Tree

Later in the afternoon we visited Standen House a National Trust property near East Grinstead (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/standen-house-and-garden), a fine Arts and Crafts house which has dressed its rooms for Christmas in the style of Christmasses for each decade since it was built.  I have seen Christmas decorations at Standen in the past, but this year they are very good with some excellent information available without that intruding on the display.  Lighting is always very low at Standen due to the delicate nature of the furnishings so it is ideally suited to a festive setting.  Here are a few pictures of some of the decorations…

edwardian tree

Victorian Christmas

knitted bear

Cute vintage knitted teddy

60's 70s room

1960’s decorated room

60s treet

1960’s decorated tree

80s tree

1980’s decorated tree

scary santa suit

Hilarious but somewhat scary Santa costume worn by Mr Beale in the early 20th century


Light bulb installation at the end of a corridor


Contemporary Tree with Robins

Outside the house this year is a special decoration, a tree dressed by the fashion designer Zandra Rhodes and artist Andrew Logan.  I had been really looking forward to seeing this tree as I had read and heard much hype about it.  Honestly, I was SO disappointed.  I was expecting something really “WOW”, funky, clever and innovative.  What I saw is a mess.  A tree swathed in neon pink plastic with orange painted plastic mirrors and other ‘junk’ attached.  Many of the decorations have been made by students from recycled materials and found objects, but this does not mean that they are actually any good.  In this case, quite the opposite.  I am sure there is a deeper meaning connected to the trashiness of Christmas linked to consumption and excess and some sort of comment on the loss of the “true meaning of Christmas”.  Frankly, it is rubbish and really only fit for landfill, if that weren’t such a paradox.  It is a shame that such high profile artists can only come up with what can only be described as a “Dogs Breakfast”.  DISAPPOINTED.

rhodes tree Trashy Tree

rhodes tree detail

Tawdry Trashy Tree detail, so disappointing.

Some of the trees at the church in Cranleigh were funnier, edgier and more politically aware in a Contemporary Christmassy way than the hideous pink nightmare at Standen. It just goes to show that being famous doesn’t guarantee great work!




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The Cult of Cute

The other day I made a trip back to my old university to see Kawaii!!!? an unusual exhibition currently on display in the James Hockey Gallery.

uca The main entrance to UCA, Farnham, Surrey

So what is Kawaii?  It is the Japanese word for Cute.  But this is a very special kind of cute; something small, shiny and bright.  It’s most obvious manifestation is in the well known and popular ‘Hello Kitty’.  It is also found in Manga (Japanese comics), Anime (Japanese animation) and the sub-culture of CosPlay (a type of theatrical role play where people dress as characters from Anime and Manga.  As with all of these things, Kawaii has a deeper and darker side….


Bear welcomes the visitor to Kawaii

In Japan, Kawaii is a constant reference in the conversations of young girls who dress in bright coloured baby-doll like clothing reinterpreting the ideal of Lolita – genres include Sweet, Princess and Gothic and the streets of the Harajuku area in Tokyo are filled with girls and young women in these costumes.  This is taken to different levels with the introduction of other ‘fashion cults’ such as Decora Girls, Schoolgirl, Maids which lead on to more fetishised clothing as seen in Keisuke Kanda and the androgenous music inspired Visual Kei.  All of these fashion styles can be found in the pages of Manga such as Vampire Knight, Maid Sama, Naruto, Code Geass and Blackbird as well as in the Anime of the same – ordinary people living the fantasy extraordinary lives of their comic book heroes, females with their overlarge doe eyes and male characters with the ‘LadyBoy’ look, youthful yet chiselled.  In her catalogue essay, exhibition curator Lesley Millar says of Kawaii “As a construct Kawaii embodies contradiction: it is ‘official’ (cute and sanitised) and ‘underground’ (pornographic, iconoclastic and anti-bourgeois).  It is a means of sexualising the pre-pubescent/adolescent girl fuelling and fuelled by male erotic fantasy.”  One of the artists in the exhibition Minako Nishiyama has taken this to another level by recreating a Tere-Kura ( telephone dating clubs popular in 80’s Japan where men could phone in, book a room and receive a ‘sex call’ from an unknown young girl). A series of posters with the face of girl comic book character and a telephone number were placed all over Tokyo and men could ring in to a phone in a gallery where visitors were encouraged to answer it. Out of hours, a recorded message in the style of Rika-Chan (a popular Japanese Barbie type doll) would be played.  Cute the image may be, but its underlying message is very far from it.


Rika-Chan poster

Probably more recognisable is the Red Riding Hood costume by  Chie Kinoshita.   Although Western in style, it is made using traditional Japanese hand dyeing and kimono making techniques.  It tells the story of Red Riding Hood  in a different way where the wolf represents men, and being eaten has a sexual meaning.  The artist explains in an interview in the exhibition catalogue “did she (Red Riding Hood) deliberately set out wearing a garment she knew would attract attention to herself and pretend not to care?  It is a different kind of Kawaii-ness, a sweetness that belies a hidden poison.”

red riding hood

Red Riding Hood Costume

 Japanese clothing and fashion is famous for it’s folding and pleating which is an art form in itself.  Two incredible examples of this can be seen in the work of Chie Sakai who uses the folded fabrics as a metaphor for female sexuality.

ring a roses

ring a roses detail

Ring a Ring o’ Roses 

Shin Enomoto’s peculiar Nobigurami characters look cute in a sort of weird, deformed way.  The artist says their name comes from a combination of his nickname ‘Nobi’ and the Japanese word for stuffed toy “nuigurami”.  He says they are like his alter ego, living things, strange and weird.  They don’t like Anime and Manga and probably prefer dinosaurs to monsters.  They remind me of some of the odd sock puppet-style toys that are so popular with young children now.



Kawaii is a phenomenon that has swept across the world with international conventions such as London Comic-Con which takes place twice yearly celebrating all that is Kawaii by the thousands of people of all ages who attend dressed as their favourite characters.  Kawaii is populist and consumerist, yet it also fulfills people’s inner desires.  At face value Kawaii appears at face value to be fun, shallow and probably something for children; scratch away at the surface and a deeper, darker meaning exists… the journalist Mikako Sawada says of Kawaii “kawaii in the 21st century is moving at a pace which cannot be kept up with by critics and authority, it is a culture which is ushering in long term values and will remain with us.”  The question is are these values ones which are desirable in our modern, equal world?

This piece by Gendai Bijutsu Nitouhei sums up the true meaning of Kawaii, cute but perhaps not quite so cuddly.

hug me bear

Please Hug Me

This fascinating exhibition is at UCA Farnham, Surrey until 12 December when it then moves to Rugby Museum and Art Gallery from February to April 2016.  Entry is free.

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