Tate Etc

MicroTate 6

Peter Davidson, Bjorn van der Horst, Pelé Cox and Billy Childish reflect on a work in the Tate Collection.

Bjorn van der Horst on Eduardo Paolozzi’s Meet the People 1948, from ten collages from BUNK

I grew up in the USA where I Love Lucy, diners and tuna fish sandwiches in my lunchbox were part of my daily life. I was fascinated by how wonderful this culture was: big, sweet and carefree – but as I get older it seems further away. Now I’ve become less American, though every once in a while I allow myself a little bit of pop culture. Some food for thought or memories, such as a watermelon milk shake, just for old time’s sake. This work is for the dormant child in all of us. Grownups beware. For everyone else, here is the recipe for bubblegum marshmallows.

Bubblegum marshmallows
Recipe yields 50 pieces

125g Granulated sugar
50g Still water
70g Egg whites
2 Leaves of gelatine + (water for soaking)
Red food colouring
3 Drops of bubblegum essence (can be found through a company called MSK. If you need its details, I can provide you with them)

Pastry piping bag
Sugar thermometer
Flat tray
Silicone paper

Soak the gelatine in room temperature water to soften it. Combine the sugar and water into the pot and cook over medium heat to 140°C. While the caramel is coming to temperature, whisk the egg whites in the blender. When meringue consistency is achieved lower the speed to slow and pour the caramel over the egg whites slowly so as not to burn them. Incorporate all the caramel and then add the soaked and strained gelatine; continue to mix slowly. At this point add the red food colouring and the bubblegum essence. You can be the judge of how pink you want these marshmallows to be. Once incorporated, stop whisking and transfer mix from blender to pastry bag, and pipe little bonbons on to a tray lined with silicone paper. Let stand for three hours and then enjoy.

Meet the People was presented by the artist in 1971.

Peter Davidson on Eric Ravilious’s Midnight Sun 1940

Flicks of paint are placed regularly on the paper with a rising flick of the wrist. Then dashed-in flecks of black lift the pattern into three dimensions and show the force of the arctic sun that blazes above the horizon. His hand was firm enough to paint the cliffs of England in an onshore wind, steady enough to draw by the light of enemy shells, strong enough to launch tennis balls like bullets through all the summers before the wars.

“I’ve painted the midnight sun at Lat 70° 30’,” Ravilious wrote on 30 May, 1940 (a poignant burst of letters written in an hour or two when the ship on which he travelled as a war artist had put into port).”The seas in the arctic circle are the finest blue you can imagine, an intense cerulean and sometimes almost black.”The immaculate topographer has entered the otherworld:” I was delighted to see how far north it was… It is like some unearthly existence.”

His otherworld had always been the snowline and the north. As a student he collected books of arctic travels, loved the icy watercolours of Francis Towne, kept mountaineering supplements from the illustrated papers. Snow shadowed his days in wartime, haunted and transfigured his paintings and his voyages as a war artist. His wife remembered sadly that he was standing shaving in their bare East Anglian farmhouse, in the last days of the August of 1942, saying: “I will go to Iceland, it is the promised land.” The north was at his heart. The old British affair with ice, mist and distance. But it was not to be - on 2 September his plane disappeared over Iceland.

Midnight Sun was presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee in 1946.

Pelé Cox on Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Exquisite Corpse 2000

Homage to Exquisite Corpse: The Spider’s Web

I am nature’s church
dew’s rest
flight’s grave
a wide white eye
and hell
for the butterfly.

Do not wish for
any tangible intricacy
Beyond the idea
I am quick, quick

Search out the delicate, pulling
think; original frost
a dew-poised
balancing act!
His raised hand,
its broken line, pulling at

Have you found my little streets;
the insecticide, the bed
and this; the line
the captured wing has read.

The Exquisite Corpse series was purchased in 2000.

Billy Childish on Kurt Schwitters’s Opened by Customs1937– 8

Here’s Kurt Schwitters doing his stuff, even slinging in some brush marks for fun. So was I in 1977: I made a couple of hundred collages in what I imagined was his “Merz” style, walked into St Martins School of Art and was accepted on to the painting course in 1978. I walked out half a term later.

Returning to Chatham, I opened a bank account under the name of Kurt Schwitters, had a short poem of his tattooed on my left buttock and travelled to play in Kurt’s home town of Hanover with my punk group The Pop Rivets.

Two years later I reapplied to the painting course at St Martins because Margaret Thatcher was hot on my tail. Like fools, they had me back, and again I was lost. Then one day I noticed that the Marlborough Gallery was planning a show of Kurt’s stuff. I had written a booklet of poems celebrating Kurt’s life, titled The Man with Wheels, so I asked if I could sell it at the show. They told me I needed permission from Ernst, Kurt’s son, who was going to be in the gallery that Friday. I couldn’t go as I was off to play real rock ‘n’ roll music in Hamburg, so I asked my girlfriend Sheila to ask him.

When I called home to see how the meeting went, she said: “Ernst was really nice, he was in a wheelchair, so he laughed at the title. He read the poems and said it would be a pleasure to sell the booklet and to send his kind regards to Mister Childish.” Good old Ernst, I knew he wouldn’t be a stuffed shirt.

Yes, Kurt Schwitters entered my life and, like all my good heroes, saved me. All my favourite artists are mates who speak to me across the years, advising me to stay true to my heart and ignore fashion and the pretenders. I look at Kurt’s collage with its pretty colours and it says: “Be brave, be true. Everything matters and nothing matters. Oh yes, and don’t forget to laugh as well.”

Opened by Customs was purchased in 1958

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