oh comely

Oh Comely Book Club

words Liz Ann Bennett

18th July 2014

Oh Comely subscribers old and new can claim a free Penguin Classic! Books will be posted on August 4th and we'll hold a book club online on the week 18th-22nd August. This offer is limited by stock, so get in quick before the Classics go!

Subscribe now! / I am already a subscriber

Here's a little about the titles you can choose from:

Near to the Wild Heart, Clarice Lispector. Lispector’s gripping stream-of-consciousness novel was hailed as a masterpiece on publication in 1943, but has been largely undiscovered outside Brazil until now.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson. If you like your reading with a touch of dark psychology and thrilling claustrophobia, this is for you. 

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Russian classic follows the mental anguish of Rodion Raskolnikov as he plots to kill a pawnbroker.

The Art of Joy, Goliarda Sapienza. A fictional memoir, and a hymn to being alive. The author spent her entire life unsuccessfully seeking to publish the novel.

Liveforever, Andrés Caicedo. A celebration of youth, hedonism and the transforming power of music.

Follow updates using the #OCbookclub tag. Sign-up to the Penguin Classics newsletter here.

Finding Vivian Maier: The Story of America's Secret Photographer

words Linnea Enstrom, photo ©Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

17th July 2014

Vivian Maier never laid eyes on most of her own photography. When her belongings were sold at a Chicago auction after her death they comprised thousands of undeveloped rolls of film. Since then, she has become known around the world for her striking images of 1950s and 60s street life.

Charlie Siskel, co-director of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, was one of the first people to see her work in print. Immersed in an archive of beautiful city scenes, he was confronted with lost moments that perfectly blend the realms of art and reality. Maier’s images tell stories of the people she encountered, of their complexity as individuals and separate roles in the larger framework of modern American society. There are portraits of the poor and disenfranchised, of children playing in the street, of the homeless and drunk, but also of elegantly clad women stepping into parked cars after a night on the town. Whether shooting fashion or violence, Maier brings us a step closer to understanding ourselves and those around us.

But who was she? With no trace of relatives or friends, Charlie turns to the families who once hired her as a nanny for answers. Finding Vivian Maier paints a portrait of an artist who almost slipped between the cracks: Of a woman who made room for herself on the streets and captured the lives of people who, like her, were turned away from spheres of power and influence.

You approach the narrative of Vivian Maier as a mystery or detective story. Is that always how you pictured the film?

At first I thought this was a story of a nanny who happened to take a bunch of great pictures. The more I learnt I realised this was the story of a true artist who happened to be a nanny and who used her job as a kind of camouflage or disguise.

She took hundreds and thousands of images over a lifetime, day after day, working at her craft. Being a nanny was a means to an end, something which allowed her to do that. The mystery at the heart of all of this is not that a nanny was able to take photographs; the artists of the world are not stockbrokers or bankers - they’re among us. But how did this person make all of this great art while leading a double life? And if it wasn’t for the discovery, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Most great art is probably lost and made by people like Vivian and never seen.

Do you think there’s a value in the personal process of making art even though it’s never shared?

Of course. To say that a life of an artist who labours for a lifetime is without value is incredibly crass or insensitive. But it isn’t better to not show your work. It doesn’t make you more pure as an artist.

This is the romantic argument that is sometimes made about Vivian, and that I think gets it wrong. Would we think less of Vivian as an artist if she had had her work shown along the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Helen Levitt? I certainly wouldn’t. I would be fascinated to see what might have changed about her art.

As a filmmaker, what have you learnt from Maier?

She certainly teaches you to follow a good story. Vivian’s photographs tell a story of the relationships between the people involved. There’s one image of what seems to be a mother smoking a cigarette and there’s a boy on his bicycle with tears in his eyes, looking at the camera, and the smoke is right in front of his face. It’s a beautiful picture and it draws you in and asks you to speculate on the relationship between those two. It also says something about Vivian. You wonder what kind of life she had and why she was so interested in children.

I find the intersection of journalism and art interesting. The documentary, for example, can be an extended news piece, a recitation of facts, cold and dispassionate. Or it can be artful and about storytelling. It can say something about the world without just documenting it in a clinical fashion. As filmmakers we take our experiences, the world around us, and try to preserve it in a certain way, but also, what art does, is transform it.

You talk about Vivian like you know her. What’s it like making a film about someone you’ve never met?

I’m indebted to Vivian in so many ways. The story of her life teaches you what it is to be an artist. It’s not glamorous, it’s not romantic - it’s about doing the work. It’s about creating and working with or without validation from others.

Vivian would be a great fictional character, but the fact that she’s a living, breathing human being, complex, and full of contradictions, makes her even more interesting to me. I’ve never met Vivian and I can’t ever know her in that way, but I don’t know if we know one another even when we meet. Human beings misunderstand each other. That’s what it is to be human. It’s to get each other wrong, not to get each other right.

Finding Vivian Maier is out now in UK cinemas.


Five Questions and A Song: Conway

words Linnea Enstrom

11th July 2014

When Kassia Conway was still an unknown musician in LA, finetuning her sharp and sarcastic approach to pop, she often lost patience with people bragging about their creative potential at parties. Instead of joining the conversation, Conway turned her frustration into a hit anthem. Big Talk is the lead single of her debut EP, out now.

We spoke to the American artist about motivational fan letters and swapping bands for independence.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in St Louis, raised in Brooklyn, and am currently expressing myself in LA. I'm probably best described as a professionally crazy person. I make music and videos, and I have a very difficult time relaxing. I love connection and laughter, but spend most of my time making things.

What has been the best moment of your career?

There have been several along the way – the steps of this journey are always of note, good or bad. But one of my favourite moments would be when I received a handwritten letter in pencil from a girl that chased me down the street outside of a show to give me a hug. Her letter started with the words “Holy shit, you are fucking awesome!” And I thought to myself, this is how I used to begin most of my letters.

Where does your urge to make music stem from?

I’m trying to communicate something I can only seem to illustrate with sounds. I always have far too much to say and words alone never seem to be completely accurate to the level of my emotions. For some reason music has always taken me to a magical place of understanding and I desperately want to understand.

At one point you decided against joining a band and instead went solo. Why was that?

I started a lot of bands and loved it. I grew up learning about music by being in bands - not from school. I was ready to push myself towards having more responsibility and becoming a better songwriter. I also wanted the freedom that only comes when you jump out on your own. I was searching for a sound that reflected my specific point of view but that also made me dance involuntarily.

What can you tell us about this song?

Big Talk is a triumphant blast of a song and it’s a true story as well.

Designer Stories: Danny Quanstrom

words Tamara Vos

10th July 2014

A graphic designer, interior designer and set designer, there doesn't seem to be much that Danny Quanstrom doesn't do. We spoke to the fifth designer in our series about his work and inspiration. 

Tell us a little about yourself, and the inspiration behind your work. 

Quanstrom Studio is an amalgamation of everything I do. I work seperately in graphic design, interior design, set design and set builds; there's always aspects of each job that I wish I could couple together and make something great with, and with Quanstrom Studio I get to do just that. 

I love colour, clean lines and mess, sometimes all at once. Viviane Sassens photography is a constant source of colours and shapes, British print maker and artist Edward Bawden is my hero and Spanish artist Javier Mariscals work is really fun and full of life! Names aside, it’s all about collaboration and sharing ideas with people. Hopefully that will be the future of the studio.

Tell us about a piece you've designed with an interesting story. 

I think the first coffee table top I 'accidentally' made was really fun! I had about 3 weeks straight of making props and furniture for shops and shoots from Reebok to Red Wing and when I was done my work table was a crazy array of circular saw cuts, paint, spray, holes, pencil written notes, wood stains and drink spills. I took it off, cut it in half and put legs on it. It had such a nice response from everyone that I started to reign in the design and make them all the time.

The Work-Shop takeover will be loosely themed on gardens; what's your favourite piece for the display?

The grassy green feet of some of the benches... I think that they kind of look like mini gym horses.

Photos: Danny Quanstrom


Sponsored Post: Paul Smith Porcelain

words Olivia Wilson

8th July 2014

We'll be honest, until now, porcelain figurines were definitely something we considered the preserve of our grandmothers, the collectables locked in cabinets that we could look at but must not touch and weren't even sure we wanted to.

Not anymore. As part of their The Guest collection, contemporary fashion designer Paul Smith has collaborated with classical porcelain producers Lladro, and created two fun figurines we really want to get our hands on.

Available in two sizes, little or large, the cat and dog masked figurines covered in confetti are decidedly cool. What's more, the short promo video is the cutest thing we've seen all day.
Grandmas always do know best. Happy Tuesday ya'll.


Designer Stories: Dorry Spikes

words Tamara Vos

7th July 2014

Dorry Spikes graduated in illustration from Kingston College, and now lives in Ceredigion, Wales, as well as occasionally on a sailing boat. Her work is inspired by her travels and the salty stories she hears along the way. We asked her three questions. 

Tell us a little about yourself, and the inspiration behind your work.

I have always loved books and illustration. My artwork is inspired by my sailing adventures and also by travel stories - books like Bruce Chatwin's 'In Patagonia', Dave Eggers's 'How We Are Hungry' and Tove Jansson's 'The Summer Book'. Visually, I really admire illustrators whose brave and playful spirit shines through in their work. You can see that they're constantly experimenting and evolving; it's difficult to work with such honesty and fearlessness and I hope to get there one day.

Illustrating can be quite a solitary existence and so I like to get out drawing lively street scenes and busy harbours. It can be challenging, and it takes me a while to loosen up and shake off any self-consciousness about drawing in public. Port cities are my favourite places to sit and draw because they feel timeless and graceful in their interaction with the rest of the world. I'll sit there with dusty feet, swapping a drawing for someone's story. The wild west of Wales and its folklore has also had a strong influence on my work. The way that my parents' generation chose to come out here in the seventies and settled in the hills to live the good life reminds me to do what I love for a living.

Tell us about a piece you've designed with an interesting story.

I was commissioned to draw an illustrated map of a researcher’s travels in South America, based on the wonderfully vivid travel journals she wrote when she was out there working on a documentary. I was able to canoe up the Amazon and jump into the inky Ecuadorian surf from my desk in Wales. This is amongst my favourite kinds of commission and one of the reasons I love illustrating: I get to travel vicariously through drawing.

The Work-Shop takeover will be loosely themed on gardens. What's your favourite piece for the display?

The 'Rare Birds' print, because it celebrates the influential women in my life in a big bird-filled tree, from mad aunties, close friends and sisters to the art teachers of my childhood. While drawing it I kept thinking of the exquisite glass case of humming birds that's displayed in the Natural History Museum. It's one of the places I used to make pilgrimages to when out on weekly location drawing trips whilst studying illustration at University. I find that museums are really good for this kind of inspiration and visual research.

'The Owl Service' print I'm displaying at Work-shop is based on Alan Garner's version of the Blodeuwedd story from the Mabinogion. It's a magical story of love going wrong, full of passion. In Blodeuwedd, the princess made of flowers betrays her husband so she gets turned into an owl. The print contains drawings of fragments of china I found whilst digging in the garden. I like to imagine the stories behind the flotsam and jetsam of people's lives.


Designer Stories: Jubilique and Louise

words Tamara Vos

6th July 2014

Next up in our series of designer interviews is Jubilique and Louise, a paper goods and homeware design company founded by art graduate Abbi Cudden. Inspired by collage, vintage prints and illustration, Abbi turned her hobby into a full-time business in 2013. We asked her three questions.  

Tell us a little about yourself, and the philosphy behind your work. 

I run my handmade business Jubilique and Louise from a little studio based in Norwich. I've made things all my life, but I finally turned my craft into a full time business last September. I am inspired by anything quirky and cute, as well as creepy faces, people, nature, and all things old and vintage. I like to ensure that everything I create is truly handmade, hand drawn, hand painted and bespoke. In such a digital, mass-produced world, I really feel the importance of creating items with my own hands, each one different with its own unique personality.

Tell us about a piece you've designed with an interesting story. 

I was in the early stages of designing some new hand-drawn signs, but hadn’t finalised the materials I was going to use. That same day, my Dad popped over to the studio for a cuppa with a big bag of beautiful bits of wood that had been washed ashore on the beach, just after the terrible storms we had last year. I immediately laid them all out on the patio to dry, excitedly planning what I would do with each piece. It was lovely to have my dad involved in this small way, as he has been so supportive and encouraging throughout every step of building my business.

The Work-Shop takeover will be loosely themed on gardens. What was your childhood garden like? 

I am lucky enough to have my studio located in an outhouse building at the back of my mum's house, so I get to be in my childhood garden every day. It’s a fairly small garden, and despite being close to a busy road and having a tower block looming over it, it’s always been very peaceful and full of colour. It has pretty much remained the same since I was a child and still holds lots of happy memories of long summer days, making friends with the neighbours, paddling pools and first pets.


An Interview with Liu Bei

words Tamara Vos

5th July 2014

Born from a hunger to start afresh, London-based Liu Bei started as a collaborative project amongst friends with an eye to embark on something new. The shimmering single 'Infatuation' is their first offering, a cinematic soundscape that haunts with reverberating vocals and escalating rhythm. An honest and epic ballad on the devastating effects of love, Liu Bei's debut single sets an exciting forecast for what's to come. 

We spoke to frontman Richard Walters about falling into a new band and writing without perimeters. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Richard. I sing and play guitar in a band from London called Liu Bei.

You've had a very fruitful career in music; tell us about your past, and how you got to where you are now. 

I've been making music for a few years, mostly by myself. Creative solitude is a great thing to a point, and then you really need some company and other brains to connect with. I released three albums and toured almost constantly without a gang. I just reached my limit with that way of working, and luckily met the others in Liu Bei right on the verge of giving up. It brought me back.

You've also written music for tv; how do you find the experience of writing commercial music in comparison to writing music for yourself? 

Being given a brief and strict boundaries to work within is the best thing in the world some days - you can just sit down and switch on. But it is work, not pure expression. If you're fighting against the perimeters you've been set it can be absolute hell. It works the other way round too - sometimes there's too much going on in your head and your life to turn into a song, you occasionally need that roped off area in your brain to get things out.

Tell us about Liu Bei.

I moved to London last year and told myself that it was the right time to find a new way of making music. New home, new project. I wanted to do something that was purely for the love of music with no commercial agenda. I was lucky to meet the others in the band just as I was feeling a little hopeless about what I was creating, and the pleasure of writing and playing with other people was immense. We've not stopped since.

Is there a story behind the band's name?

It came to us via the radio, as all good things should. There was a documentary on Radio 4 about Chinese folklore and they discussed this incredible, kind hearted and gigantic (8ft tall, apparently) warlord called Liu Bei. Nothing else would do after that. There's a sick part of me that really gets a kick from people being a bit lost about how to say it. For the record, it's 'Loo Bay'.

Where do you turn to for inspiration?

I find that reading books and listening to records that leave me a little envious tends to push me to write, as though I've got to justify my existence in the light of such brilliance. Getting out and walking round London is also good. Late nights and hangovers tend to get things ticking too, which is weird but quite common I think. Maybe your brain shutting down a little allows a few more honest ideas to come through.

Introduce us to Infatuation.

This is a song about the sanity-wrecking power of love and obsession. I've seen the clearest-headed people in my life turn into absolute wrecks over the end of a relationship, but they always come out the other end wondering what they said or did, because you're just utterly lost in it sometimes. The strangest thing is that as much as it hurts and tears you up, there's always part of you that doesn't want it to end; there's something right about feeling utterly overwhelmed by your own head and heart.

Infatuation is released on 7th July through ParadYse/Transgressive Records.