Tuesday 31 March 2009

The Chantilly Belles are coming to Oxford!

This Friday myself and Rene La Rouge (The Chantilly Belles) are heading off on a mammoth road trip! We start out in North Wales to visit our good friends Scarlet Fever the star of Channel Four's 'Faking It Burlesque Special' and her husband the lovable rogue Tony Fever.

While there we are having a photo shoot with the impeccable Candee Photography on Saturday morning. We are so excitied about this as Candee has snapped some of the most prominent burlesque talent over the last two years including Beatrix Von Bourbon, Immodesty Blaize and Dita Von Teese herself!

Then on the Saturday afternoon we are whizzing off down to Oxford for our headline night at the O2 Academy! We are looking forward to performing down south and can't wait to get on stage to show Oxford our saucy brand of tounge in cheek burlesque!

Venue: O2 Academy 190 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1UE
Date: Saturday 4th April
Time: 10.30pm - 3am
Cost: £4 (NUS) £5

For more information about our burlesque act see: www.myspace.com/thechantillybelles

Artwork will re-commence next week after a much needed relaxing bath : )

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Rack and Ruin

Here's a little example of the process of the first sailor tattoo painting. I am painting this one on artist board, something I've never done before. I think it's really nice to work on and very straight forward: pre primed and nice and slim. I plan to mount and frame this painting then see how I feel, I will probably do a mixture of canvas and artist board in the end..

For some intersting facts on the history of nautical tattooing go to the National Maritime Museum website and check out the 'Skin Deep' exhibition from 2002, an indepth look at the journey tattoos have made around the world and through the ages!

Tuesday 17 March 2009

The Chantilly Belles on the silver screen!

Yesterday The Chantilly Belles were filmed for the new summer exhibition coming soon to The Lowry!
The theme of the exhibition is dance and we are so made up to have been asked to get involved and promote burlesque as an art form!
As we have our own unique take on this subject it's always been important to us to show that there is much more to burlesque than just stripping.

The day began with film maker Hilary Easter Jones and her trusty camera man meeting us at my art studio in Islington Mill where some of the filming took place. After being interviewed we were filmed performing in the Mill's club space. The setting was industrial which gave it a look of shabby chic; and with the stage properlly lit and the smoke machine the finished product looked amazing, something like cabaret meets Dragons Den!
We cannot wait to see the film when it's on show, here's some details about the exhibition:

Express Yourself - A family dance exhibition
Fri 10 April 2009 - Sun 27th 2009

“There are shortcuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.”

Join your family and friends on the dance floor and launch yourself feet first into The Lowry’s first family dance exhibition. Find out about everything from ballet to breakdancing, line dancing to The Lasso, and appreciate the hard work, skill, creativity and dedication of some of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the last 100 years.

Free Entry

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Playboy Nation

This week I have been so busy with things I forgot to take any pictures of how my first image for my new seires of art work (see past posts from 3 feb 2009) is coming along. So I thought I share with you the latest book I read. It's a good one, it's Mr Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream by Steven Watts.

Hugh Marston Hefner has been a figure of fascination for me for many years now. Not only have I admired him for bringing the bunny girl into this world (one of the most iconic images of femininity from the 20th Century) but Mr Hefner or Hef for short has acheived the almost impossible. He has spent most of his 82 years living his dream! Love him or hate him he is definately a man who deserves further investigation.

Steven Watts book combines the story of Hef's life along with the effect that Playboy has had on American culture. He has proven beyond doubt that much of contemporary thinking towards sex and gender roles have much to do with the early influence of Playboy Magazine and the later Playboy empire.

Hugh Hefner is well known for blaming his uptight Puritan upbringing for his severe backlash of sex and girls. But as Steven Watts explains the truth is much more interesting than the legend. Hef's parents were strict with old Victorian morals and ethics. But his mother in particular encouraged free thinking in her sons (Hef has one brother named Keith). It was this open minded attitude which allowed Hef's dreamer quality to take hold. He loved attending the cinema as a child and saw the love stories in the films as blue prints to what life should be like. At school he created numerous comics and horror stories and during high school started an autobiography of his life chronicalling the many adventures he and his gang of guy and girl friends got up to.

I found it really interesting to note that Hef has never been naturally out going. He was a shy teen who found it necessary to literally re-invent himself to get what he wanted out of life. This is a quality that he fell back one sevaral times over his career. At college he became a crooner known as the 'Campus Ballard King' often singing with a swing band at dances. He had a strong interest in sex from an early age and read every article and book on the subject he could get his hands on. He hated the prim morals of the time that villified sex as a bad thing which only held bad consequences and guilt before marriage.

After college and the army he married his high school sweetheart Millie and went onto have two children, a son and daughter. But he was restless with life. He hated working everyday 9 to 5 jobs and ached for a career doing something he actually cared about. He dabbled with cartooning and eventually fell into working at Esquire Magazine. After some time he decided to start his own magazine. A publication which focused on his free thinking attitiude to sex with articles on sophistication, elegant dressing, living and philosophy. Hef and friends pooled all their resources to create the first edition of Playboy in 1953. One of his cleverest moves was to purchase the rights to the infamous nude photo of Marilyn Monroe, that years most exciting and sexy up and coming star! She became the very first Playboy centrefold.

The magazine took hold immediatley. The liberal views that it aired about marriage, sex and politics were a breath of fresh air for a society ready for a new way of thinking after the oppressive times of WWII and the strict Victorian mindset it had held for so long. It also promoted a new consumer way of life in a way which had never been done before, equating materailism with fulfilment. Playboy went on to become the most successful publication of all time in the 1950's.

Steven Watts book then goes on to explore the effect the magazine and its ethos had on the coming decades: The swinging Sixties were Playboy's golden years.... to begin with anyway. With a new open minded attitude to love, sex, fashion and just about everything else, Playboy was a beacon of modern thinking. But when the feminism movement began near the end of the decade, Hef was made into a figure of female oppression a villain out to objectify women and strip them of humanity. Hef was deeply hurt by the outbust towrds him as he and Playboy had always promoted sex for both sexes, encouraging sex before marriage as a liberating thing for men and women. He had also campaigned for abortion rights for women, another form of liberation in his eyes.

During the Seventies Playboy boomed but suffered from connections to drugs, although Hef never took them himself, the legendary parties at his Chicago Playboy Mansion were well known for cocaine and crazy orgies. This did nothing for his reputation, but Playboy's success grew and grew, with a new empire of casinos and hotels bursting up around the world!

Playboy's worst decade was the Eighties. By this time society had become cynical about sex, once more wary of it as AIDS took hold and the magazine was seen as an outdated publication with nothing to offer an already liberated culture. The murder of Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten only served to lessen the glamour of Playboy and once more gave feminists ammunition to hurl at it's editor, blaming the magazine for the the events that ran up to her death (quite wrongly I have to say).

But by the Nineties the magazine had found its feet once more. The decade of romance and family values with a strong interest in consumerism was a perfect backdrop to the original entertainment magazine for men. Falling back in it's formula of sophisticaion sex and politics the magazine moved into a retro glamour and was seen as THE iconic mens magazine.

Over all these years Hef transformed into a living legend personifying the magazine. With a conveyor belt of girlfiends it would be easy to think he used and consumed all of them like the readers comsumed the the magazine, but Hef was and still is a true romantic. With all his relationships he was known to say, that each one was the love of his life, and I think he truely beleived this too! His many amours over the years each kept a good relationship with him after their split.

Yet Hef can't have been the easiest of men to live with. Obsessed with his new magazine and working long unsocialble hours, Hef eventually left his wife and children in the 50's to pursue the life of a real playboy. He went onto purchase the first Playboy Mansion which soon became the epicentre of wild living and parties, attracting Hollywood elite and entertainers alike. Later in the 70's he moved to Los Angeles to the Playboy Mansion West which he still resides in today. Hef, ever the creature of habit lived life to a schedule of film nights, dinner parties and club nights. No girlfriend could alter this, not even his second wife Kimberley whom he married in the 90's (later to separate from as she felt unable to make her mark on his lifestyle and routine). Throughout his countless relations he also has never stayed true to one female (apart from Kimberley), never making a secret of the fact either.

Now as he heads towards his 83rd year Hef is more a man of intrigue and contradictions than ever. An octogenarian with a bevy of blonde 20 something girlfriends. A true romantic with an inability to stay true to one girl. A visionary who wanted to create a better the world with his liberal ideas but caused a huge morality backlash, and has undoubtedly influenced the feminist movement on both ends of the scale. Hated for degrading women in some peoples eyes but hailed for promoting women's freedom to enjoy sex and advocating ecomonic opportunity and equal rights for women also.
But I think one of the most profound effects his ideas have had according to Steven Watts, has to be his belief in the fantasy of free love, material abundance and instant gratification. He thought these things could only benifit society and encourage happiness, but ultimately we now live in a world where it is difficult to see beyond ourselves and people tend to be less inclined to maintain commitments beyond immediate needs, we tend towards the restless and cynical.

I can't help but like him though. There were definately parts of this excellantly written and facsinating book which made me wince, like Hef's throwaway comments about gender roles during the 50's, but there where more parts that had me nodding along in agreement and even cheering him along! In all I found my values and beliefs backed up by most of what Playboy stands for, and see it only as harmful or corrupting as people want it to be, if anything it was definately an education.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

A trip to the'Pool

Yesterday I visited the maritime city of Liverpool. After reading the books, watching the films and studying the artwork I wanted to get a one on one feel of the nautical scene for my new seires of work based on vintage pin-up sailor tattoos.

Liverpool has a rich history of maritime connections having once been one of Europe's busiest and most successful cargo-handling ports. The city is dominated by the River Mersey and you can see the strong sea faring influence in the architecture and details all over the city centre. Check out the dolphins wound around the lamposts as you arrive from the train station:

There are also Neptunes and mermaids scattered throughout the area if you look for them. They give a glimpse into the glory and success of Liverpool's ports during the Victorian era as they hold aloft a horn of plenty:

The main reason for my visit was to see the Merseyside Maritime Museum. I really wanted to get a feel for the sailors and shipmen who might have had the tattoos I've been looking into. To get there you first have to walk into the dock area with its great view of the Mersey and various small scooners and yatchs moored up. But the piece de resisitance for me was the enormous anchor situated right by the entrance!

Just look at the size of it!

Once inside the exhibits begin with huge models of ships including the famous Titanic, Lusitainia and The Empress of Ireland. This was a really moving part of the museum and focused on their tragic sinkings and the heroic dealings of some of their crew and passengers. There was some great irish jigs being played in this section too, which lifted the atmosphere a bit.

Moving on, we went on to explore the 'Battle of the Atlantic' and then the part most helpful to me, 'Life at Sea'.
In this section you are able to see what everyday life was like for merchant sea farers and saliors over the last three centuries. There are mock ups of sleeping quarters complete with hammocks and examples of tools used aboard ship like this wax pot used to stamp food that had passed the quality check:

It might not seem like much but it's small details like these that help fill in the gaps between the popular image we have of sailors and the real gritty elements of their working life. I like the shape of this pot and it's functional form.

I also really enjoyed this small section about 'Sailortown', the sleazy districts near the ports where sailors usually ended up in the hope of having a good time. The allure of drink, the company of the opposite sex and gambling was usually a powerful draw, despite the fact that these areas could also be extemely violent and dangerous. This was probably a similar place to where Sailor Jerry set up shop as a tattooist in Honolulu and perfectly illustrates his famous 'Screwed, stewed and tattooed' moto. My favorite part in this section is the piece written about the red cap you can see on the right;

'Sailor Trophy 1950's'
'This headband was worn by a waitress at the Moulin Rouge Club at the port of Recife in Brazil. These were much favoured trophies amongst seafarers visiting the club'

It's similar to a tattoo to mark the occasion or remember a lost love, or maybe just a memento to take home and brag about! Probably the last is most likely. While at the museum I also picked up this fab book, specifically about naval slang and it's use in everyday life. Perfect for my nautical tattoo pin-up series illustrating this very theme!

After visiting the Maritime Museum we took a quick walk around the Albert Docks. There lots of small scooners moored up and I liked the fact you could see all the paraphanlia neatly placed upon most of the decks. It was good to see the anchors and the chains and ropes that work them.

In all, Liverpool gave a fantastic insight into the maritime way of life and a deep sense of history. I definately got some ideas about how to refine my designs for the pin-up sailor tattoos I've been working on and feel in a better place to move ahead with them now.