Paul Farley is a Liverpool born poet who grew up at a time when the city’s avant-garde art scene was flourishing. We asked him to take a look around Tate Liverpool’s exhibition Centre of the Creative Universe, and he discovers an exhibition that’s close to his heart.
I wanted to start and show you this painting by the poet and painter Adrian Henry called The Entry of Christ into Liverpool. It’s a kind of homage to James Ensourn. It was painted in 1964. Henry makes 1964 like a pop cultural year zero so there are lots of different things going on in this painting. It’s almost as if Palm Sunday is as far as pop cultural kind of reference if you like so you get adverts: Keep Britain White, Ban the Bomb, all the slogans of the era.
I wanted to start with Henry because this is a Liverpool that I was born into but is not necessarily the Liverpool I recognise. From this we can go backwards and forwards. If you follow me over this way I will show you some photography from the ‘40s and ‘50s and ‘60s. These photographs are by Edward Chambré-Hardman who was a Liverpool based photographer working out of a little house in Rodney Street, had his own studio and this is the Liverpool before I was born.
I find this absolutely fascinating all of these silver gelatine prints. Nearly 40 years before Anthony Gormley set up his figures on the foreshore of Formby, we have got this, this is Keith Arnott’s Beach Burial. He has taken a slightly more realistic and corpulence and performancy approach to this. This reminds me of burying my parents on the beach at New Brighton.
This is a big exhibition and I have come through to the other room. These images are by the Boyle family. They made casts of the Herculanian Dock in Liverpool. The Boyle family tried to almost remove themselves or remove the hand of the artist. My dad used to take me down to Herculanian Dock and Albert Dock in fact, where we are now, and it was very, very derelict in the early ‘70s. So I find these really moving especially this one over here which is an image they have made of the actual Dock steps.
There are a set of imagines in this exhibition by the photographer Martin Parr. Parr is probably better known for his super saturated almost gaudy images, especially the ones he made over the water in New Brighton which shows Liverpool at play in the 1980s in a setting he called The Last Resort. I have never seen any of these before and they are amazing images and almost a corrolally if you like to what is happening over the water in the mid ‘80s.
If you come along here to this image, this is a housing estate called Netherlee on the outskirts of the city. This is where I grew up. I can’t believe anyone took a camera there. Anyone of Parr’s reputation bothered to go to the peripheries and photograph in this way, so again incredibly moving.
These images are by Tom Wood, beautiful colour photographs and this is a Liverpool I really recognise. This is the Liverpool I grew up in. I don’t want to call it an underbelly but it’s an unexamined unscrutinised Liverpool and all the better for it I think. He seemed to spend a lot of his time riding around on buses and Liverpool is a city of buses in the way London has its underground, Paris has its Metro.
Liverpool is a bus city. I have always wanted to write a poem about bus travel in Liverpool or the journey of the 79 from Netherlee into the Pier Head as a kind of metaphor for the journey of the soul through purgatory but there is no point because Tom Wood has already done it brilliantly. He has captured lots of decisive moments of his own and also some extremely indecisive moments.
This is Liverpool at play again in the early 1980s in some of its clubs and I can’t help looking for myself in these photographs because I will have been exactly the right age and this was all happening at exactly the right time and these were the places that I used to frequent.
Liverpool is a city that is used to hearing the sound of its own voice and it’s used to seeing itself and has been for the last four decades, certainly since the mid ‘60s. It’s a very media saturated place.
This exhibition shows you many different Liverpool’s and shows that there is as many different Liverpool’s as there were people to practice in the city, living here and working here too. There isn’t a cliché in sight.