The Taxidermist’s Daughter: Kate Mosse

I have to admit I’ve never read any of Kate Mosse’s work, but I was drawn to her new novel The Taxidermist’s Daughter by it’s intriguing blurb…

Is Constantia who she seems – is she the victim of circumstances or are more sinister forces at work? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Gifford House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

The Taxidermist's Daughter - Kate Mosse

I found it quite disjointed to begin with, possibly due to not having the time to get into it properly. However, the tale begins with and delights in the technicalities of Contantina’s trade (AKA: Connie), learned from her father who was once one of the best taxidermist of the time. Despite detailed descriptions of taxidermy, as Connie works on her recent Jackdaw project Mosse manages to create a romantic atmosphere with descriptions that are fascinating as opposed to repulsive. Since a mysterious event that has left Connie with no memory of the past the plot involves her mind recuperating after events 10 years previous.

As her memory slowly returns she meets her love interest Harry and soon after strange things begin to happen in the village. The body of a girl is discovered at the bottom of her garden and along with looking after her alcoholic father Gifford, Connie is subject of whispering’s and rumors in the village. Along with the traditional folklore still rife in Fishborne The Taxidermist’s Daughter has the feel of more of a Victorian pastiche. It has a wonderful feel to it, as the mystery unfolds the pace quickens and the sense of menace is never far away. Climaxing with a devastating storm, I could quite literally envisage the rising water and feel the battering wind, the final pieces of Connie’s jigsaw are put together and her memory returns. The true terrors of what happened 10 years ago are revealed.

The characters within The Taxidermist’s Daughter are easy to identify with, making the macabre turn of events even more shocking. I didn’t see it coming and despite being slow in some places Mosse has created a ethereal Gothic thriller full of intrigue and mystery. Throughout the book excerpts from a taxidermy manual, detailing the methods used in the preservation of specimens are quite distracting from the story and a tad unnecessary – Mosse’s writing needs no tricks. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Taxidermist’s Daughter, I just wish I had read it quicker!

If you liked this you may also like The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

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Stuart Mcalpine Miller Art

The Best of Brogues In A Coffee Bar 2014

So, it’s almost 2015! A new year and almost 10 months since the beginning of Brogues In A Coffee Bar. I must say what a year it has been… Firstly, let me thank all you wonderful readers and followers. I have some exciting things coming up in 2015, more art, sculpture, book reviews and more artist interviews. To keep informed and receive exclusive news and art inspiration you can join the Brogues In A Coffee Bar mailing list here.

To celebrate a fantastic first 10 months blogging here is a list of the top 15 posts from 2014…

 1) Being my first artist interview, this is also my personal favourite. Malcolm Ryan is such a lovely man, his work is just stunning. Read more in Artist Interview: Domestic Paintings By Malcolm Ryan.

2) Another artist interview with Neill Fuller, I will definitely be writing more interviews for you guys!

3) The Enchanting and Secret World of Ryder.

4) My exhibition review and memoir from a trip to The Museum Of Modern Art in Arnhem, Holland…Threads: Textiles In Art & Design.

5) A highlight from 2014 has to be being nominated for the UK Blog Awards which went to pubic vote throughout November. To celebrate this I held Brogues In A Coffee Bar’s very first art giveaway.

6) An early post featuring Nic Joly’s Dantes Interno.

7) Folkestone Triennial 2014: The Goldrush.

8) Overlapping Images & The Eroticism Of Everyday Life featuring artwork from Stuart McAlpine Miller, Chris Acheson and Horyon Lee.

9) Another post about sculptor Nic Joly… World War One commemoration, Never Forgotten.

10) Book Review: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix… One of the most terrifying books I have read in a long time!

11) Raphael Mazzucco ‘Montauk’ Launch, Mayfair.

12) ‘Olivia’ by Alex Russell Flint, she is just stunning!

13) Drawings by Mark Powell.

14) Frieze Art Fair feature Corrado K, AKA: ‘The Collector’

15) It’s the secret artist again, painting under a pseudonym Ryder ‘Winter’s Warm Hearts’.

For more inspiration, affordable artwork and features do keep checking back in 2015!

The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway: Tracy Chevalier

It’s been a while since my last book review,apologies! After reading The Miniaturist, with it’s rich and colourful scenes of 1686 Amsterdam, I was drawn to the very famous novel by Tracy Chevalier ‘The Girl With The Pearl Earring’. Having enjoyed Chevalier’s bestseller I then decided to go on to her most recent novel, The Last Runaway. Going into this novel with an idea of Chevalier’s work – I think her highly visual writing is hypnotic, I was immediately drawn into The Last Runaway.

Set in the 1850’s modest Quaker Honor Bright travels from Dorset to Ohio with her sister who is due to marry. The optimistic and already heartbroken Honor (her relationship in quintessential England has broken down) soon encounters her first stumbling block upon the ship crossing the Atlantic. Crippled by nausea she lands on American soil sick with her own preconceptions. As she travels by stage coach Honor encounters an unsavory slave hunter and soon her beloved sister’s life and comfort is tragically taken from her. It is here that we see Honors character really flourish and an in built resistance to her new life begins to emerge.

She is taken in by an unusual character who runs a millinery shop just outside of the town where she is due to meet her sisters fiance. Unaware of his soon to be wife’s death Adam Cox retrieves Honor where she is relieved to be out of the way of the strange going’s on of Belle Mill’s shop. In her new alien land Honor soon marries a dairy farmer and becomes accustom to the Ohio way of life, from it’s animals, botany and food to it’s different Quaker traditions. She discovers that principles count for nothing and her opinions on human rights are vastly different from her new family’s.

Written around the time where hundreds of runaway slaves are travelling up from south America to freedom in Canada Honor is drawn into the clandestine world of The Underground Railway. Does she disobey her husband by hiding and helping the runaway slaves? Or does she turn a blind eye? She soon decides to act on her true principles and with the help of two defiant and brave women Honor becomes fully embroiled in the illegal Underground Railway.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, despite being exciting and unpredictable it is calming and has a lovely easy flow to it. Showing life in 1850’s wild west America, complete with it’s dirt tracks lined with spit to the daily lives of farm workers through the harsh winters. What really stands out though is Chevalier’s portrayal of the relationships between Honor (a privileged English lady), Belle Bills (a wild at heart, unmarried seamstress) and Mrs Read (a free black woman).

The Last Runaway is a powerful journey brimming with drama and colour. I have to say the book allows you to picture lush greens, mustard coloured sunlit fields and grey’s with pastel yellows. There is not anything in particular that makes this book unputdownable, I am still trying to figure out exactly what it is, but the character of Honor Bright is real and sympathetic. I felt for her and wanted to jump in to the pages to warn her of oncoming dangers. From somebody who doesn’t know about the Quaker way of life, with Chevalier’s endless research, The Last Runaway brings an important time in American history to life. However, I did find the use of “thee” and “thou” a tad annoying but see what you think… Buy The Last Runaway here. I’d love to know your thoughts.

Tracey Emin selfie

Coffee Table Art Books

So, its October already, the first of the month. It’s my first day back in the gallery this week so what is the first thing I do? Coffee of course! Naturally, this got me thinking about my favourite coffee bar’s and after discovering The Whitechapel Galleries recent project showing us a glimpse into top artist’s studio libraries I have decided to make my first post this month about coffee table books…

Artist’s often turn to books as a source of information and inspiration. The publications they covet offer a peep into the artist’s creative ideas and whilst their libraries are personal spaces The Whitechapel Gallery has urged names like Tracy Emin, Anthony Gormley and even Damien Hirst to send them a selfie with their book collections (images below). Fascinating!

So what do your art books say about you? Here are a few from my bookshelf…

Richard Long: Walk The Line Showing a retrospective of his work the past few years and with most of the photos taken by Long himself this book is just stunning. A large, unusual sized coffee table book it is the one that doesn’t quite fit on the shelf.

Sophie Calle – M’as Tu Vue? Do You See Me?… This is one of my most prized books, purchased during a visit to the MOMA, NYC. I have mentioned it in a previous post titled ‘Sophie Calle: Paris Shadows and Rachel, Monique’. This book not only celebrates Calle’s artwork but also gives us further insight into her artist vision and unique intelligence.

100: The Work That Changed British Art Published by Saatchi to mark the opening of his new gallery in 2003 this book shows 100 works of art that Saatchi believes changed the perception of British art. It does what it says on the tin, an excellent reference book.

One Thousand Drawings by Tracey Emin Whilst being a collection of Emin’s works on paper as well as an expose of her life as an artist it is itself a collectable artefact. She chose the images for this book herself, making it a glimpse of her profundity and a reminder of her vulnerability.

And finally, Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings The authors of this beautiful book explore Van Gogh’s drawings from pen and ink works to graphite and charcoal sketches. It is a joy to delve into the world of the renowned master’s sketchbooks.

What art books do you have on your coffee table? Do comment below, I’m always looking for recommendations to explore.

Horrorstor

Horrorstor: A Novel by Grady Hendrix

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Columbus, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring wardrobes, shattered Brooka glassware, and vandalized Liripip sofa beds—clearly, someone or something is up to no good.

To unravel the mystery you are drawn into the unusual world created by Grady Hendrix, this book is a real unique feast for the eyes. Set out in the form of a popular Swedish furniture catalogue it is not instantly recognisable as a novel. It would draw anyone who happened to notice it on your coffee table and despite the quite large text which I didn’t get on with in the beginning, it immediately becomes unputdownable. Complete with illustrations of flat-pack furniture as well as a shop floor plan and other mysterious contraptions (see below) I devoured this book within a day, a record for me.

Set in a new branch of furniture giant Orsk (a cheaper knock-off store selling Scandinavian interior design) it is a very visual book that almost anyone who has been to Ikea can identify with. Within the store employees begin to notice odd things happening, from stuff moving around over night to soiled sofa’s. So what better way to investigate and create a traditional ghost story? An over night stakeout of course! A bit cheesy you might think? No, I found Horrorstor utterly terrifying and there are many unexpected twists along the way.

A group of employees are volunteered to do the overnight shift and sweep the warehouse floor, full of room layouts, corporate signage and weird shadows. Amy, the sarcastic college drop out who clearly doesn’t want to be there and Ruth, the employee of the month goody two shoes stumble into two of their colleagues conducting a ghost hunt. Complete with EVP (thats electronic voice phenomenon for those of you not familiar with TV series Ghosthunters) and infrared cameras.

As strange things begin to happen and inevitably the group split up, the store begins to move before their eyes the real terror begins. It becomes apparent that the Orsk megastore is situated on the site of an old penitentiary who’s phantom inmates still inhabit the building.

Initially, I wasn’t enthused by the stereotypical characters however, as the story progresses the characters develop. In particular the relationship between Amy and her unlikable swot line manager Basil. I found myself rooting for them and whilst some Orsk employees don’t make it out alive and I found that this book well and truly got into my head. I’m sure I won’t ever feel the same when visiting much loved Ikea.

Publishers Quirk Books say:

We promise you’ve never seen anything quite like it!

Author Grady Hendrix certainly does not disappoint. I can see this novel being used to create one of those scary but slightly satirical horror films and that’s definitely not a bad thing. Buy your copy here.

For more inspirational art and features on Brogues In A Coffee Bar click here and don’t forget you can see updates and follow me on Twitter!

The miniaturist - Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

Immediately, The Miniaturist (written by Jessie Burton) delves into the lives of seventeenth century Amsterdamers. Nella’s new marriage and household is not what it seems and after several lonely nights confined to the splendour of her new lavish bedroom Johannes, a respected member of the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or, in English, the Dutch East India Company) presents his new wife with an unusual wedding gift. A cabinet sized replica of their home which is based on the real thing housed in The Rijkmuseum till this day. I was there only a few weeks ago (see what else I saw here) and the dolls houses displayed in the world famous museum really are haunting. Jessie Burton takes inspiration from the 2.5 metre tall dolls house and creates a fascinatingly complex world which has gripping plot and is deeply atmospheric. I could NOT put it down!

 To furnish her gift, in a resentful protest Nella employs the services of the miniaturist – an elusive character who spooks with her miniature characters and objects that mirror the Brandt’s private life in an eerie way. With several shocking twists the story evolves at an exciting pace and Johannes gift allows Nella to delve into the secrets of her household, whether she likes it or not.

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .

Readers can instantly connect with Nella and other key female characters Marin and Cornelia, as they are strong females. With Burton’s clever and colourful words the women, clad in their noble costumes, are very much alive. They are outspoken and I thought more akin to that of a 21st century twenty something female. I think it is Burton’s history within the theatre that allows this fantastic book to be so visual. Amsterdam in the late 1600’s had a lot of social development to do, particularly when it came to racial and sexual issues. The people of Amsterdam even eat sugar in secret! As Nella’s world unravels with eye watering scenes of bigotry she becomes more and more obsessed with the miniaturist’s observations – or are they predictions? Does the miniaturist hold the Brandt’s fate in her hands?

It soon becomes apparent that along with the mysteriously changing miniaturisations of her life, Nella has to navigate and learn about her new cut-throat world fast and she truly comes into her own. Despite this book being written alongside a miniature world it is far from small – It is everywhere but I must say the hype around it is well worth it.

Buy it now and even follow the author Jessie Burton on Twitter here. For more inspirational art and features on Brogues In A Coffee Bar click here and don’t forget you can see updates and follow me on Twitter!

Sophie Calle - M'as Tu Vue

Sophie Calle: Paris Shadows and Rachel, Monique

After a few days drawing a complete blank regarding what to write about (I blame the effect of not being in the gallery everyday and that lethargic feelings which comes with over sleeping and relaxing too much) I have finally been inspired by my wonderful friend’s blog post ‘Art in Novels (Fictional and Otherwise)’. Discussing books that deal with the subject of the artist’s daily routines and creative habits. The post opens up a discussion about artist’s and writer’s routines and so inevitably the collaborative work between Paul Auster and French conceptual artist Sophie Calle came up in the comments.

Immediately, I jumped up to my bookcase to grab my rather dusty but precious copy of Sophie Calle’s ‘M’as Tu Vue’ – A beautiful book documenting her conceptual artwork from the 1970’s to 2003. In 1994-97 Calle responded to Paul Auster’s novel ‘Leviathan’ which is loosely based upon the artist’s life by following a number of “Personal Instructions for SC on How To Improve Life in New York City (because she asked…)” From smiling and talking to strangers to occupying a phone booth as well as embarking on The Chromatic Diet.

However, when thinking about peoples daily routines and lives it is her early work that intrigues me the most. In her project titled “Paris Strangers” Calle followed strangers in the street, she photographed them without their knowledge, took notes of their movements then finally lost sight of them and forgot them. A bit strange you might think? But the result was a mesmerizing incite into people’s world’s which leaves you with a yearning to find out more. The images are dark and mysterious and when presented alongside her notes tells of a loneliness within the city of Paris.

It is the ethereal quality to her images which brings me onto Calle’s most recent artwork titled ‘Rachel, Monique’, presented by Paula Cooper Gallery, NYC in the Episcopal Church of The Heavenly Rest (from May-June 2014). The installation displayed within the church is a melancholy reflection of her mothers life and death. Bringing together several works including the 2006 film of her mothers deathbed, a photograph of ‘Rachel, Monique’ (she referred to her mother using several names) in her coffin and the word “Souci” created using real butterflies. Her mother apparently uttered the words “Ne vous faites pas de souci” or “Don’t Worry” as she passed away.

From the top of the church you can hear recordings of a woman’s voice reading out extracts from her mothers personal diaries, creating a sense of who she was and revealing quite an unflattering portrait of a complicated, extremely selfish woman. In an indirect way it seems Calle wants the audience to see her mother for who she really was. What did ‘Rachel, Monique’ do to earn the grief displayed here? It never becomes clear and I cannot help thinking that it is all just a bit too much. It’s a bit too personal and is an artwork that perhaps wouldn’t work quite so well outside of it’s ecclesiastical surroundings. Unlike Sophie Calle’s early works which, when displayed, leave the viewer to make up the rest of the story and can be exhibited anywhere this new artwork directs the viewer around the church and is as much about the location as the subject. It certainly gives an incite into the world and mind of an artist and will be interesting to see where the ongoing project will go next.

Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell: The American Mirror

Following a big collection release in my day job I have been doing a lot of research into the art of Norman Rockwell. I never realised the extent of his vast artistic influence and so have decided to share with you a new book which I have discovered. It might make you think and reconsider your initial impressions of Rockwell’s work.

Norman Rockwell was born in 1894 and he is most famous for his cover illustrations depicting everyday life scenarios that he created for The Saturday Evening Post Magazine. He created work for them for over four decades and is one of the most popular 20th century American artists of his time. His work is seen as the precursor to modern pop art as we know it as well as influencing the photo realist and comic book movement. Having little faith in himself and his talent he referred to himself as an illustrator. His most recognisable characters include World War Two private Willie Gillis and Rosie The Riveter – a common icon of feminism in America (see more of his famous artworks). Providing 1950’s America with a mirror showing it’s aspirations and dreams, he portrays a togetherness and decency in his perhaps idealistic views of the home and family cheer. For me his work is nostalgic and quintessentially American. But is it?

A new book (published in November 2013) called ‘American Mirror: The Art of Norman Rockwell’ by critic Deborah Solomon has sparked off quite a debate about his iconic artwork. If you are a fan I would stop reading now… Deborah Solomon takes evidence from unpublished papers and controversially writes about who she describes as the real Norman Rockwell. She describes him as an obsessive personality who…

“Wore his shoes too small, washed his paintings with Ivory Soap, and relied on the redemptive power of storytelling to stave off depression”.

He frequently pictured innocent boys alongside burly men and it is widely known that he saw himself as the boys. Read into this what you will but Deborah Solomon spares no punches and it seems Rockwell cannot do anything without this biography finding sexual overtones. It leaves the reader questioning how they feel about his work. She writes:

“The thrill of his work is that he was able to use a commercial form [that of magazine illustration] to thrash out his private obsessions.”

Despite this, his new biography brilliantly explains why Rockwell deserves to be remembered as a great American master. There is nothing I love more than a bit of nostalgia and vintage charm. I adore his bold use of colour, see some of my favourite below. How do you see them? I wonder if you see them the same after reading Deborah Solomon’s biography, all comments welcome.

 

For more inspirational art and features on Brogues In A Coffee Bar click here and don’t forget you can see updates and follow me on Twitter!