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April 13, 2014

The Lure of Soho

Indulge in the Heyday of London's Salacious Square Mile with Photographer John Deakin and Artist Neal Fox

Newsstands and drag artists sit alongside Soho’s inner circle in this nostalgic black-and-white series. Known for his links to the artists and writers who frequented the area throughout the 60s and 70s, John Deakin photographed its notorious watering holes, from the now-closed Colony Room to the French House. The latter supported such artist regulars Francis Bacon and playwright J P Donleavy by showcasing their works. Here illustrator Neal Fox, co-founder of the punkish Le Gun art collective, whose works depicting the French House’s debauched past made it into French House landlady Leslie Lewis’ cutthroat selection, takes a trip into the heart of Soho past and present.

When I was growing up I used to hear stories about my granddad drinking in Soho. There was a photo of him and my gran on the wall, him in a black hat and trench coat drinking a whiskey in the French pub. It became a kind of mythical place in the back of my mind and gradually I started drawing pictures about my granddad. He was a writer and publisher and ex bomber pilot called John Watson. When I was at the Royal College of Arts I did a show where I had his old desk covered in my drawings and a recording of his voice.
 
In a way it’s like a village but in the middle of London, a dysfunctional village of maniacs. You can drop in there and you will bump into people you know, a lot of whom are a bit outside of the norm, imaginative hedonists, the drinking class.
 
The French is one of the few really unique places left to drink in London now that everything is becoming a homogenised Starbucks shit parade. When I went in there that first day I met Carla Borel who was working behind the bar and she asked me to do a show in the pub with all these drawings I was doing about my granddad. So I did that and then the gallerist Daniel Blau came in by chance and asked me if I wanted to do a show at his gallery in Munich. I felt like my granddad was helping me out, looking over my shoulder.

I like Trisha's on Greek street: it’s a basement place full of pictures of the rat pack. Tony Soprano used to drink there and there's a nice man in there who talks to an imaginary dog. The Groucho is fun too for bumping into people and seeing Harry Styles sitting on Damien Hirst's knee. Some people call it the Celebrity Death Camp.

The best place in Soho was the Colony Room, which is no longer with us. Going up there was a bit like being transported into a debauched Verona green Narnia of booze. I've still got the carpet from there in my mum’s shed. I was given it for my final show at college and the security guards made me leave it outside for three days for health and safety reasons. It's covered in a hundred thousand fag burns and John Hurt's jism and almost seems alive and full of energy like some kind of Soho demon.

Under the Influence: John Deakin, Photography and the Lure of Soho is published by Art/Books and available now. The accompanying exhibition runs at the The Photographer’s Gallery April 11 through July 13 2014.

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The Sea Close By

Model and Actress Clara Paget's Beach Reading Marks the Centenary of Master of the Absurd Albert Camus

The contrasting shoreline of Bournemouth on the English South Coast lends an evocative backdrop to Clara Paget’s reading of a passage from philosopher Albert Camus’ essay The Sea Close By, published by Penguin Classics in August. Shot by director and photographer Tom Beard, this visual interpretation of Camus’ text is part of the centenary celebrations of the Nobel Prize-winning writer’s birth. “I always had an image in my head of a chapter from A Happy Death by Camus,” explains Beard, who recently shot music videos for both FKA Twigs and Florence and the Machine. “It’s a sunny, rich portrait of his life growing up in Algiers—the heat, the sea, good weather; he paints an amazing picture. I wanted to try to do this in a very English way and create a sense of being transported through this extract.” Beard turned to rising starlet Clara Paget to narrate Camus’ dense, lyrical text in her husky, cut-glass British tones. “I am very fond of his blunt and honest style of writing,” says Paget, currently involved in the Michael Bay-produced TV drama Black Sails, set for 2014. “I was familiar with Camus’ novels such as The Outsider and The Fall and the smaller essays inspired me to delve further in.”

To celebrate Camus’ centenary, NOWNESS and Penguin Classics are giving away original signed artwork and a set of the author’s works through a competition. Enter the competition here.

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Spotlight

The Last Boxcar

Chasing Levi’s and Doug Aitken’s Runaway Project Station to Station

The aspirational evolution of American mythology is documented in director Simon Cahn’s vivid film, The Last Boxcar. Captured on board Doug Aitken’s cross-country train ride and public art project with Levi’s, Station to Station: A Nomadic Happening, Cahn’s story celebrates the ambitious artists involved, including dreamy drone rockers No Age and creative technologist Aaron Koblin, who seek to deconstruct the myth of the American West. “Doug’s idea to bring all these people together to collaborate and share their talents was inspiring,” says French filmmaker Cahn, who has previously worked with Spike Jonze and Lady Gaga. “As a foreigner with a very specific idea of what America represents to me, it was important to mix archival footage with a very current depiction of life in the USA.” Propelled by discussions of pop ephemera and the USA’s changing face, the short finds a spark at the intersection between nostalgia of days gone by and the boundless potential of the digital world. “Aaron’s comments about technology being the new Wild West were really insightful and unexpected. They definitely helped me view the future of American art in a very different way.”

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