16 September 2014

Lots to see in and round Somerset House

I was in the Aldwych area for an afternoon meeting which meant that I could go to the theatre nearby in the evening and could fill the time in between at Somerset House.

It was London Fashion Week which meant that the courtyard was full of strangely dressed people taking photos of people even more strangely dressed. I was wearing a suit with a Liberty tie (as always) so I felt very comfortable amongst the hipsters and weirdos. I even had my photo while having a coffee and cake in Fernandez & Wells, but that was just by a student so I do not expect to find my face on the cover of Vogue. I would not know if it was.

After the coffee I headed to the southern section of Somerset House, i.e. the bit next to the river, as that is where the small galleries were kept. I had no idea what was on and was very pleasantly surprised to discover three very different exhibitions next to each other.

I would not normally have gone to an exhibition called Time: Tattoo Art Today but I had the time to kill and it was free.

The exhibition was of specially commissioned pieces by tattoo artists on the subject of time. The only rule was that they could use their usual materials, i.e. skin.

I went in expecting to walk around quickly and then straight out again but I was struck by the drama in many of the works and I fell in love with several of them, despite their sometimes bleak character. Having to choose just one photo for the blog I eventually settled on a traditional dragon neatly draped over a shoulder.

The exhibition occupied just a couple of medium-sized rooms and was time very well spent.

I had been to Somerset House many times but had managed to learn nothing of its history before. I fixed that by visiting the exhibition on the lower level. This was so obscure that I had never noticed it before and even now it is hard to find anything about it on the Somerset House website.

It was a long, narrow and space with some posters and artifacts on one side and a boat on the other. The point of Somerset House when it was built was that it had one foot on the Strand and the other in the Thames, thus linking two of London's main thoroughfares. All that changed when the embankment was added and now a hideous main road separates the house from its natural home.

Somerset House is a large and extravagant building today and the exhibition helped to show how much larger and more extravagant it must have seemed when imposed on medieval London in 1547, that's pushing 500 years ago!

Filling one of the many entrance halls was a collection of photographs of Nick Cave.

The exhibition, A Little History: Nick Cave & Cohorts 1981 - 2013, was of photographs by all taken by Bleddyn Butcher.

Clearly the most interesting thing about the photos was the way that Cave's appearance changed over that time and through all those changes his hair remained an entertaining feature.

I was also interested to see that several of the photographs had been taken in fairly modest clubs in London. I have never seen Cave live, despite buying quite a few of his albums, but I assumed that he had always headlined at big venues.

Exiting by Victoria Embankment I walked up the steps at Waterloo Bridge and then crossed it heading towards Southwark and my theatre date.

The view from Waterloo Bridge is one of THE views of London, as evidenced by the number of people who select it as their favourite on the Robert Elms show, and it still enthrals me even though I have crossed that bridge many many times.

There are good views in both directions but in recent years I have tended to look eastwards towards the City simply because there has been so much change there. When I worked in the Nat West Tower in the late 80's it was the only tower there, now it is just one of a growing cluster.

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