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Oh Comely Documentary Film Night II

words Jason Ward

25th July 2014

We're excited to announce the second in our summer series of documentary film nights: a free double bill of Carol Morley's The Alcohol Years and Werner Herzog's The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner.

Both films are utterly compelling, in completely different ways. The Alcohol Years is an unconventional portrait of Morley's libidinous youth in 1980s Manchester, told entirely through the unreliable, contradictory testimony of the people who knew her, while The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner follows the travails of a complicated ski-jumper whose record-breaking jumps – depicted by Herzog in extraordinary slow motion – would put his own life in danger.

The screening will take place at the historic St. Augustine's Tower in Hackney at 19:00 on Thursday, 31st July, and the doors will be open from 18:30. Built in the 13th century, St. Augustine's Tower is the oldest building in Hackney and usually only open to the public once a month.

Tickets are free, and also include a free beer courtesy of Green & Pleasant. Given that the screening is taking place halfway up a 13th century church tower, places are understandably limited, so we'd advise booking early to avoid disappointment. Visit the event page to book your seat. 

What: The Alcohol Years (50 minutes) and The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (45 minutes).

When: Thursday 31st July at 19:00 (doors 18:30).

Where: St Augustine's Tower, Hackney, London.

The Alcohol Years is available on DVD now.

The BFI’s Werner Herzog Collection deluxe Blu-ray & DVD box set is released on 25th August.

Comic Diaries: An Interview with Jacob Louis Beaney

words Hiba Mohamed

25th July 2014

Keeping a diary is not always enough; sometimes all you need is to let it all out.

Next up in our series on graphic journals is Jacob Louis Beaney, author of A History of My Fatness, a tragi-comic autobiographical comic. Jacob’s work touches on history, mythology and contemporary society, but his penchant for telling it like it is gives hard-knock issues a laugh-out-loud factor.  

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I'm an artist based in Nottingham and I'm 30 this year. I suffer from a terrible addiction to fried chicken.

What's the story behind A History of My Fatness?

It's about me being fat, then losing weight, then getting fat again, then getting thin and then becoming grotesquely obese.

Childhood obesity is such a hot topic these days and yet you approach it with wit and humor. Has this take enabled you to reach out to a broader audience?

When I started writing it, I didn't really think that a comic book about me being fat had much appeal, but Britain is the fattest country in Europe so that's a large target audience for the book. Some people have said that they appreciate the honesty of it; I think we all feel a bit better when we realise that someone else has been through something similar.

In your comic, you're depicted as a self-conscious teenager dealing with obesity and bad body image. Has your work helped you to overcome some difficult experiences growing up?

Making autobiographical work has helped me to examine and understand certain areas of my life. As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living," so a certain amount of self-analysis is good (though not to the extent that you're up half the night worrying that you held eye contact too long with the man who works in Co-op). Self-consciousness can be very debilitating and it's definitely something to overcome.

How have family and friends responded to your candidness?

An ex-girlfriend, who was featured in one of my books, threatened legal action against me for 'defamation of character'. I don't let my mum and dad see a lot of what I make; no one’s mum really needs to know that their son has a penchant for strap-ons. I think openness is seen as being a bit un-British, but it's important to talk about the things that affect us.

Your book Modern Moral Subjects takes a satirical look at Britain’s recent economic woes. What interests you about this time?

I think as you get a bit older you start to pay more attention to what's going on around you. Being a current beneficiary of unemployment benefits, I've definitely noticed the change in attitude towards those on state welfare. It's now the mentality of strivers vs. skivers, and the unemployed are being scapegoated and held in the kind of contempt that's normally reserved for people who sneeze without covering their mouth, or those who sexually molest ferrets.

What’s next for you?

I've just finished a new book, Back Home and Broke, which is about being a recent arts graduate living under a philistine conservative government, and having to move back home to and stay with an ex-addict, ex-con, bi-polar uncle.

Read more in this series: An Interview with Brittany LongAn Interview with Sofia Niazi


Creative Clinic at Wilderness

words Rosanna Durham

24th July 2014

This August, the Oh Comely team are travelling to Wilderness festival, the gathering of all that's wild, wonderful and artistic.

Are you going to Wilderness and struck with writer's block; wondering how to market your illustration; want a career in the arts or looking for a new craft hobby?

We'll be hosting Creative Clinic: a relaxed forum for conversation and inquiry, where you can book a 30 minute chat with one of the creatives listed below. It's free, and if you're a designer, writer, artist, freelancer, have an aspiring interest in the creative sector, or just want to say hello, this is for you!

Book your conversation here: Or come and find us at the Bohemian Artist Tent during the festival.

The creatives will be:

Chris Harrison: Designer and co-founder of contemporary illustration magazine Wrap, Chris has a background in graphic design and womenswear fashion. He's designed jewellery collections for top British brands including Matthew Williamson, Agent Provocateur, Liberty of London and Karen Millen. Areas of expertise: Design, Art Direction, Production, Exhibition/Trade shows

Polly Glass: Editor and co-founder of contemporary illustration magazine Wrap, Polly has a background in jewellery design, spending several years working for brands including Cath Kidston and Ted Baker. Areas of expertise: Editorial, Art Direction, Sales / Wholesaling of Products, Small Business Development, Marketing & Social Media

Frances Ambler: Freelance editor and writer with experience in content creation and editorial project management across books, magazines and online. Frances has worked for the likes of the V&A Museum, Thames & Hudson and Rough Guides and currently edits women’s lifestyle blog Domestic Sluttery. Areas of expertise: Editing, writing, books, blogging, museums and galleries, freelancing.

Liz Ann Bennett is editor and founder of Oh Comely. She's superb creative manager and copyeditor, with four years of experience in nurturing talent and a sharp eye for curation. Areas of expertise: Copy editing, writing, publishing, magazines.
Rosanna Durham is deputy editor and co-founder of Oh Comely, with a background in art history and psychoanalysis. Areas of expertise: Creative direction, magazines.
Kirsty Lee, writer and explorer, will be on-hand organising paper crafts during the weekend, so come along to the Bohemian Artist Tent and make a zine!

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.