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Harry Pye's Postcard From London

Part 1

Recently in London the sun has put his hat on and come out to play which means everyone seems in a good mood. I've been working hard on my third solo show at The Sartorial Gallery (www.sartorialart.com). The show is called, "Values" and it features paintings, songs, videos and essays about the things most important to me at the moment.

I've made a new painting called "Somebody's Fool" with my friends Rowland Smith and Marcus Cope. Because the weather has been so nice we were able to make the painting in my front garden. Marcus painted his version of a Russian castle and Rowland painted the penguin paperback book that the main figure is reading.

Harry Pye, Rowland Smith, Marcus Cope.
Somebody's Fool. Acrylic, canvas, 2010.

A short time ago I visited Calvert 22 (www.calvert22.org) to see Olga Chernysheva's photographs. The Calvert 22 gallery is looking great and you can see by the visitor's book that all the best critics are attending the shows there. Olga is a Russian artist whose photos capture the everyday existence of ordinary folk in Moscow. Her work makes references and possibly pokes fun at the official Soviet Union art of yester-year.

Lee Maelzer. Load. Oil on canvas, 2008.

Calvert 22 is perfectly located as it's a short walk from both Old Street and Liverpool Street tube. Parallel to Calvert Avenue is Redchurch Street (where several years ago I curated a show called "For Peel"). On the first Thursday of every month hundreds of people go to all the openings in the Redchurch Street area. It's kind of good and bad really. People say the same about Tate Modern (which recently celebrated it's 10th Anniversary). Thousands of more people are coming to see art events each week but less and less are really looking at the work. People want to say that they were there and bought the T-shirt but less and less do you see people spending hours with the paintings and making connections.


Olga's show received good reviews in the London press and I think Calvert 22 is well thought of. Russian economist Nonna Materkova opened the space and runs it as a charity. I met Nonna a few times a few years back and enjoyed her company. She was generous enough to trust my London friends to put on their group show, Fresh Air Machine in their space. One of the best artists in that exhibition was my friend Lee Maelzer who contributed some very beautiful landscape paintings that were one of the show's highlights.

Olga Chernysheva. Guard.
Gelatin silver fibre print, 2009.
Courtesy Galerie Volker Diehl,
Berlin and Foxy Production,
New York

Part 2

Recently I re-watched "Love And Death". I forgot how funny it was.

Few would disagree that when you think of  Woody Allen you think of New York. He was born in Brooklyn on December 1st, 1935 and most of his earlier funnier films were made in the Big Apple.
Allen has said he loves New York because  he believes it's a city with it's own rhythm. "It has to do with  nerves, with the blood that runs through the city. It's dangerous, noisy. It's not peaceful or easy and because of it you feel more alive. It's more in keeping with what human beings are meant to feel about the world. In a way its more Darwinian. There's more conflict than anywhere else. You have to struggle to survive." But when Allen decided to make a comedy making fun out of his favorite Russian novels he had no choice but to travel to Europe.

The blurb on the back of my "Love & Death" video box says this:


"Cowardly Boris Grushenko has the hots for his beautiful cousin Sonja but cold feet for the Napoleonic Wars. Devastated by the news of Sonja's plans to wed a foul-smelling herring merchant, Boris enlists in the army – only to return home a hero... after an accidental act of bravery. Finally agreeing to marry him, Sonja settles down with the poor, but kind Boris, to a rich life of philosophy, celibacy and meals... of snow. But when the French troops invade Russia and Sonja hatches a zany scheme to assassinate Napoleon, Boris learns – in a hilarious but fatal coup attempt – that God is an underachiever, there are no girls in the afterlife... and that the angel of death can't be trusted."

If you're a fan of Woody Allen's films (and if you're not, why not?) "Love and Death" acts as a brilliant bridge between Woody's prodies of different film genres (e.g. jailbreak film in "Take The Money And Run", science fiction in "Sleeper", and James Bond in "Casino Royal") and more philosophical works such as "Another Woman", "Purple Rose of Cairo" and "Husbands and Wives".

Harry Pye, Rowland Smith. Love and Death.
Acrylic, canvas, 2010.

In "Love & Death" Woody has great fun making little references to Russian films by directors such as  Sergei Eisenstein and masterpieces of Russian literature. It's a film written by a man who loves both Bob Hope and Fyodor Dostoyevski.

Here are some of my favorite lines from Love & Death. Hope they make you laugh.

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But, then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love, to be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy, therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness – I hope you're getting this down.

• The important thing, I think, is not to be bitter... if it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he is evil. I think that the worst thing you could say is that he is, basically, an under-achiever.

• Regarding love... what can you say? It's not the quantity of your sexual relations that counts. It's the quality. On the other hand if the quantity drops below once every eight months, I would definitely look into it.

• Sonja: "Violence is justified in the service of mankind!"
• Boris: Who said that?
• Sonja: Attila the Hun!
• Boris: You're quoting a Hun to me?
• Sonja: Sex without love is an empty experience!
• Boris: Yes, but as empty experiences go, it's one of the best!
• Countess: You are a great lover!
• Boris: I practice a lot when I'm alone.
• Sonja: Boris, Let me show you how absurd your position is. Let's say there is no God, and each man is free to do exactly as he chooses. What prevents you from murdering somebody?
• Boris: Murder's immoral.
• Sonja: Immorality is subjective.
• Boris: Yes, but subjectivity is objective.
• Sonja: Not in a rational scheme of perception.
• Boris: Perception is irrational. It implies immanence.
• Sonja: But judgment of any system or a priori relation of phenomena exists in any rational or metaphysical or at least epistemological contradiction to an abstracted empirical concept such as being or to be or to occur in the thing itself or of the thing itself.
• Boris: Yeah, I've said that many times.
• Him: Come to my quarters tomorrow at three.
• Sonja: I can't.

• Him: Please!
• Sonja: It's immoral. What time?
• Him: Who is to say what is moral?
• Sonja: Morality is subjective.
• Him: Subjectivity is objective.
• Sonja: Moral notions imply attributes to substances which exist only in relational duality.
• Him: Not as an essential extension of ontological existence.
• Sonja: Can we not talk about sex so much?
• Sgt: Next week, we leave for the front. The object will be to kill as many Frenchmen as possible. Naturally, they are going to try and kill as many Russians as possible. If we kill more Frenchmen, we win. If they kill more Russians, they win.
• Boris: What do we win?

• Boris: Nothingness. Non-existence. Black emptiness.
• Sonja: What did you say?
• Boris: Oh, I was just planning my future.
• Boris: (a) Socrates is a man. (b) All men are mortal. (c) All men are Socrates. That means all men are homosexuals. I'm not a homosexual. Once, some Cossacks whistled at me. I happen to have the kind of body that excites both persuasions.
• Boris: Then there is a God. Incredible. Moses was right. [a ray of light shines over Boris] He that abideth in truth will have frankincense and myrrh smeared on his gums in abundance, and he shall dwell in the house of the Lord for six months with an option to buy. But the wicked man shall have all kinds of problems. His tongue shall cleave to the roof of his upper palate. And he shall speak like a woman, if you watch him closely. And he shall... The wicked man shall be delivered into the hands of his enemy, whether they can pay the delivery charge or not. And... [ray of light turns off] Wait, I have more about the wicked man. [turns on again] I shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death... In fact, now that I think of it, I shall run through the valley of the shadow of death, cos' you get out of the valley quicker that way. And he that has clean hands and a pure heart is OK in my book. But he that fools around with barnyard animals has got to be watched.
Boris: I was walking through the woods, thinking about Christ. If he was a carpenter, I wondered what he charged for bookshelves.

Harry Pye
is a writer, curator and painter who lives and works in London. See also his postcards from London, Sao Paulo and Leeds in previous issues of Epifanio.