From street art to serious art

Now for a start I have to confess that I’ve never really been an art lover – most well known paintings do nothing for me at all – but 15 years ago I went to the Sistine Chapel as part of a visit to Rome during an Italian holiday. To be honest I wasn’t terribly impressed – it was dark, it was crowded, photography was banned, and I felt distinctly underwhelmed by Michelangelo’s works, in fact I thought the colourful paintings which covered the curved ceiling of the nearby long map gallery were much nicer.
Michelangelo was first and foremost a sculptor and in 1505 was commissioned to design a tomb for Pope Julius ll, but a year later the Pope asked him to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. With no experience at all of working with frescoes he felt his talents as a sculptor would be wasted on painting a ceiling but eventually he agreed to take on the commission and started the work in 1508. Contrary to popular belief he didn’t paint the ceiling lying down; a freestanding scaffold was built to his own specification which enabled him to work while standing upright, though he frequently complained to his friends about the physical discomfort he endured from craning his neck to look up at his work and having paint constantly dripping onto his face.
Although Michelangelo’s original commission had been simply to paint the twelve apostles in the corners of the chapel ceiling he was far from happy at being taken away from his preferred sculpture work so he demanded from the Pope complete artistic control over the work on the ceiling, enabling him to design the series of paintings which went far beyond his initial brief. The finished work was revealed on October 31st 1512 and shown to the public the following day, after which, at the age of only 37, he became recognized as the greatest artist of his time. It was a recognition which lasted the rest of his long life, with his Sistine Chapel ceiling always being counted among the ‘supreme masterpieces of pictorial art’
It was only a week ago that I found out about a recently opened exhibition of the Sistine Chapel paintings at Manchester’s Trafford Centre Event City so last Saturday I got my culture head on and went to see if these digital reproductions of Michelangelo’s work looked any better than the originals. Entry to the exhibition was in half-hourly time slots of limited numbers but even though I’d pre-booked for only the second time slot at 10.30am, hoping it wouldn’t be too busy, there were still enough people there to prevent me from getting an uninterrupted shot of the full exhibition so I’ve had to pinch one from the internet, though all the other photos are my own.
The 34 frescoes, reproduced from licensed high definition photos, are displayed on 16ft panels throughout the exhibition and have been brought to life using a special printing technique which brings out the look and feel of the original paintings, showing every detail, brushstroke, and colour of the artist’s work. The only work not replicated in its true size is The Last Judgement as the original, which completely covers the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, is a towering 41 feet high.
Photo credit – Manchester Evening News
The Sistine Chapel ceiling
The exhibition starts with The Creation of Adam, the most famous of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling frescoes, with the point of focus being the implied but incomplete contact between God and his greatest creation, mankind. The Creation of Eve is the central painting on the chapel’s arched ceiling and depicts Adam in an absent minded sleep while Eve reaches out to her creator.
The Creation of Adam
The Creation of Eve
The panels along the exhibition’s side walls reflect the layout of the frescoes around the edge of the chapel ceiling, with the biblical prophets alternating with the Ancestors of Christ and the sibyls, although the sibyls themselves are not from the Bible. They originate from classical mythology and even though the women were pagan icons Michelangelo included them because they were said to have foretold the birth of a saviour.
The Prophet Joel
The Ancestors of Christ – Josiah
The Delphic Sibyl
The Ancestors of Christ – Zerubbabel
The Erithraean Sibyl
The Ancestors of Christ – Uzziah
The Prophet Ezekiel
The Ancestors of Christ – Rehoboam
The Persian Sibyl
The title of the next painting refers not to a fish but to a king descending from the House of David, with his name meaning “spark”. As Michelangelo depicted all the Ancestors in everyday scenes the focus of this painting is on the figure of the mother who is cutting fabric with a pair of scissors.
The Ancestors of Christ – Salmon
The Prophet Jeremiah, known as ‘the weeping prophet’
The Ancestors of Christ – Ezechias
The Prophet Zachariah
The Ancestors of Christ – Asa
The Prophet Daniel
The Ancestors of Christ – Jesse
The Libyan Sibyl
The Prophet Jonah
The Cumaean Sibyl
The Prophet Isaiah
Judith and Holofernes
David and Goliath
The central frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling seem to be in reverse order when viewed from the entrance, beginning with the flood and ending in the creation of the world but it’s assumed that they were designed to be viewed from the altar, meaning that they do fall into the correct sequence, although the exhibition’s overhead panels seemed to have been arranged more randomly.
The central overhead panels
The First Day of Creation
God separates water from the heavens
The Original Sin and Banishment from the Garden of Eden
The Drunkenness of Noah
Sacrifice of Noah
The Great Flood
The Last Judgement
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Although, for me personally, the exhibition had a couple of unavoidable niggles – other people sometimes standing right in my line of shot and the position of some of the lighting meaning my camera flash didn’t always work – on the whole I was very impressed with what I saw. It was good to be able to wander round and take as many photos as I wanted, and seeing the artwork close-up and in detail was so much better than seeing the real thing. I may never become a true art lover and I have no wish to ever return to the Sistine Chapel in Rome but I really enjoyed this exhibition and I’m glad I went.
The exhibition is at the Trafford Centre Event City until Sunday March 27th, open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am with the last entry at 6pm, and it’s fully wheelchair accessible. Ticket prices start at £8.80 for children and £9.70 for seniors, students and NHS workers; each image has its own informative sign and optional audio guides are available to enhance the experience.

Afflecks, Manchester – all things weird and wonderful

During one of my many visits to Manchester’s Northern Quarter last year I finally went to have a look round Afflecks indoor market and emporium on the corner of Church Street and Tib Street; it was something I’d been meaning to do for quite a while but somehow never got round to it.
Back in the 1860s Affleck & Brown was started as a drapery business, with the original premises being in Oldham Street. Over the years the business gained a good reputation as a credit draper and was well known for its excellent range of cloth for home dressmaking. Eventually the store grew to occupy the whole block between Oldham Street and Tib Street, finally becoming a fully fledged department store and one of Manchester’s best.
After WW2 the business went into a gradual decline as shopping trends moved away from Oldham Street. In the 1950s Debenhams, who already owned Pauldens, another city centre department store situated near Piccadilly Gardens, took over the Affleck & Brown store but the continued decline of the Oldham Street area eventually led to its closure in 1973. In 1982 the store was re-opened as Affleck’s Palace, with separate units and stalls which could be rented at reasonable rates by entrepreneurs and small businesses on a week-by-week basis, and the atmosphere and colourful maze-like layout led to the building becoming a mecca for alternative culture.
During the 1990s, when local bands such as the Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets were at the height of their popularity, Affleck’s Palace was the ‘go to’ place to get oversized flared jeans, tie-dyed t-shirts and all the latest underground dance tunes of the time. On March 31st 2008 the market and emporium ceased trading when its 25-year lease came to an end but it re-opened just one day later under new management and simply called Afflecks. With an eclectic mix of 73 small shops, independent stalls, boutiques and a cafe the emporium’s popularity continues to this day and it can attract an average of 24,000 shoppers per week.
It was quite by chance that just a few days ago I learned that this month the emporium celebrates 40 years of trading so I think now is as good a time as any to write this long-overdue post and feature some of the amazing amount of artworks which adorn the walls, doors, and staircases of the building’s four floors.
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George the Lion made his home in Afflecks after the 2016 Art Zoo exhibition of life-size zoo animal sculptures dotted around Sale, the home town of Chester Zoo’s founder George Mottershead. The exhibition not only showcased the work of local artists but also celebrated George Mottershead’s early 20th century achievements in creating a ‘zoo without bars’. Local schoolchildren were invited to contribute to the design of each sculpture and George the Lion was decorated by Dave Draws, a local artist and supporter of Afflecks.
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Up on the top floor was the cafe with its ceiling decorated in the style of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. I’d been hoping to get a coffee and a snack but unfortunately the cafe was closed, with a barrier formed from plastic chains fastened between strategically placed chairs. It was impossible to photograph the ceiling from outside the barrier but there was no-one else up there just then so I moved a chair to gain access, got my shots then put the chair back afterwards.
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Tucked in a corner on the floor below was a Japanese style anime-themed bar selling various flavoured iced teas and not much else – not my type of thing and no chance of getting a coffee and a snack there but at least I did manage to snatch a couple of photos while the young woman behind the counter wasn’t looking, then my last two shots were of one of the stairwells hung with many colourful decorations and streamers.
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Afflecks is an absolute rabbit warren of shops, stalls, staircases and corridors and I could easily have spent a lot longer in there than I actually did. The amount of artwork in various places throughout the building is incredible, it’s everywhere, and there’s no way I could possibly put everything I photographed in one post. I could quite easily have missed a few things too so as this visit was made last summer it won’t be too long before I’m going back to see what else I can find.

A snowdrop promise

Three days ago, on Wednesday, it was the second anniversary of losing my faithful little friend Sophie, almost five weeks on from a stroke she suffered soon after New Year 2020. I’d nursed her almost 24/7 and promised her that when she was feeling better we would go to Lytham Hall to see the snowdrops but sadly it wasn’t to be. She closed her eyes to life and slipped quietly away on February 9th 2020 and I was heartbroken, sad too that she never got to see the snowdrops.
Sophie was buried in a sheltered corner of my garden and I made another promise, a silent one this time, that I would plant some snowdrops in her little patch just as soon as I could. Unfortunately most of that month was extremely wet so it was March when I finally got to Lytham Hall, but by then the snowdrops were almost over and there were none for sale in the small courtyard garden hub either.
Circumstances beyond everyone’s control meant that the Hall and its grounds were closed to the public for the early part of 2021 so I couldn’t do the snowdrop walk that year, but with things now finally getting back to some sort of normality I took myself, Snowy and Poppie to Lytham Hall on Wednesday to see if I could fulfill my silent promise.
After almost three weeks of what seemed like incessant rain and two named storms it was a lovely day – blue sky, sunshine, no wind and not too chilly, perfect for doing the snowdrop walk round the Lytham Hall grounds, however I’d not been there long when the sky clouded over and the sun disappeared. Fortunately it didn’t last too long and once the clouds cleared away again the rest of the day was glorious.
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Dotted around the grounds were several picture frames in strategic locations, placed in such a way that they could be used to frame a shot and get the best photo of a particular view. I hadn’t really bothered with them on my first visit three years ago as it was a weekend and there were too many people around but now mid week the place was quieter and I was able to utilise each frame without feeling rushed.
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Although an ‘official’ route round the grounds was marked out by discreet arrows I preferred to find my own way round and my wanderings took me to the Lily Pond, a small lake in the woodland. I’d been round there two years ago in search of a ruined boat house which could have been quite photogenic, only to find it was more ruined than I expected and seemed to be undergoing some restoration. Unfortunately the intervening two years don’t seem to have produced any work and the boat house now looks in a worse condition than before.

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Next was a walk round the fishing lake known as Curtains Pond, used and maintained by a private angling club. Thought to have been created in the 17th century when earth was excavated to build the high mound known as The Mount it was once used by the Clifton family as a water supply, and it’s reputed that John Talbot Clifton, who lived at the Hall in the late 19th and early 20th century, would often throw things in there in fits of temper. The Mount is the highest point in Lytham and once provided a viewing point to the sea and to the 3-mile gallop in the parkland where the Clifton family raced their horses.

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Separating the woodland from the formal garden and lawns is the Paradise Wall with several buttresses on the garden side. Dating back to the late 17th century it was originally known as the Monks Wall due to the fact that in the Middle Ages there was a Benedictine Priory on the site, but since the 18th century it’s been known as the Paradise Wall.

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The Dovecote was built in the mid 18th century and is now a Grade ll listed building in need of renovation. There are 850 nesting boxes built into the walls and these would have been accessible to the gamekeeper via a revolving ladder suspended from a gallows arm projecting from a central rotating post which in turn pivots on a pad stone. It’s a pity the building isn’t accessible to the public as I’d love to see this thing working.

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Just outside the rear courtyard was a display of garden ornaments and in the courtyard itself a rainbow of colourful flowering plants for sale. And in among them all I found just what I wanted – snowdrops. I didn’t think one pot would be enough so I bought three with plants which have yet to flower then went to get a coffee from the nearby cafe before setting off for home.
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With the sun still shining from a by now almost cloudless blue sky it was a very pleasant journey back and it was even nice enough to drive with the van window down. The snowdrops were planted in Sophie’s little patch of garden yesterday and when they finally come into flower I’ll know then that, even though it’s taken two years to do it, I’ve kept my silent promise to the little dog I loved so much.

A wet walk in the city

I must have been mad. Totally, absolutely, stark raving bonkers. Walking round Manchester in the wind and rain just to get some photos of something I thought could be interesting, but this time it wasn’t street art.
The city’s Chinese New Year celebrations started on Tuesday last week. Several streets were decorated with red lanterns, there was a funfair, food stalls and various events in Chinatown, and a huge tiger sculpture in St. Ann’s Square; if I was going to photograph anything it had to be yesterday as the celebrations ended that evening.
Unfortunately the day didn’t get off to the best of starts. The rail line between here and Manchester was closed for maintenance work, with replacement buses running between stations (which, unlike my attempt to get to Blackburn last summer, I was aware of) and though I assumed that the bus would pick up from my nearest local station at the same time as I would normally get the train that just didn’t happen. I got there ten minutes ahead of schedule and though I waited for twenty minutes there was no bus – it had either gone very early or didn’t turn up at all so all I could do was get the next local bus to the main station in town then get the next available replacement bus to Manchester from there, finally arriving nearly two hours after I would normally have got there.
Dodging the brief rain showers my first stop was St. Ann’s Square to see the tiger sculpture. Commissioned by Manchester BID and created by Decordia Events the tiger was made from wood and recycled plastic and was supposed to give the illusion of being made of paper. It was very cleverly constructed and I liked it but to me it looked just like what it was, a model made of wood.
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Unfortunately the bit of sunshine and blue sky which appeared while I was walking round the square was all too brief and within six minutes the sky had clouded over again and the rain was back – and this time it didn’t stop. Heading up to Chinatown my umbrella blew inside out more than once and I had to keep the camera well tucked into my bag to stop it getting wet.
The programme of events in Chinatown started at 11am and under normal circumstances I would have been able to get the photos I wanted well before the place started to get busy but my late arrival meant that things were well under way when I got there. The place was absolutely packed and the only way I could get any reasonable shots of the ornate Chinese arch across the street was to stand on a bench at the edge of the car park.
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A constant drum beat was coming from the stage at the far side of the car park and people were holding up phones and photographing something I hadn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of seeing so I managed to weave my way through the crowd to get near the side of the stage. I still couldn’t really see anything as a bank of large speakers was obstructing the view but every so often a couple of dragons would appear above the heads of the crowd in front so with the camera in continuous shooting mode and standing on the bottom of a barrier I was able to get a couple of reasonable shots.
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Fortunately for the camera the rain had stopped briefly but it soon started again and with too many people around for me to use my umbrella I decided to cut my losses and head back to Victoria Station for the next available replacement bus. I had fifty minutes to wait though so to keep out of the wind and rain I found a nearby cafe and whiled away some time over a mug of coffee.
With no reason to stop at the two intermediate stations between Manchester and here the bus journey was actually quite pleasant and didn’t take much longer than the normal train journey would have done. Just a couple of minutes wait for the local bus from town and I was back home seven-and-a-half hours after I first set out, and vowing that the next time it’s raining when I want to go to Manchester I’m staying in bed instead!

Oklahoma – a kaleidoscope of colour

My frequent photography wanderings round Manchester’s Northern Quarter over the last couple of years have often taken me past a shop with a very colourful window display but being early on Sunday mornings it’s always been closed, however on my last visit to the city centre the penguin on the pavement caught my attention and I realised the shop was open so I went to take a look. As soon as I walked through the door I felt as though I should be wearing sunglasses – the whole place was predominantly yellow and orange and it was the most colourful shop I’ve ever been in.
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Established in 1997 Oklahoma  is Manchester’s biggest independent gift shop, packed with colourful and often unusual items from around the world, sourced from both individual designers and makers and more established producers, with an emphasis on handmade/decorated, fair trade and ethical goods. From greetings cards and stationery, quirky novelties and handmade jewellery, kitchenware and homeware through to lighting, furniture and things hanging everywhere, the shop was an absolute Aladdin’s cave of colour and creativity.
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Browsing round the attractive and well set out displays I began to wish I had an endless bank account and a half empty house in need of brightening up – had that been the case I think I would have bought half the things in the shop. I especially liked the brightly decorated items of truck art and thought the floral designs looked very similar to the traditional folk art found on narrowboats and their associated canalware.
Truck art is a popular form of regional decoration in South Asia, with many Pakistani trucks and buses being highly customized and decorated by their owners. The art is a mode of expression for truck drivers and individual decoration will include elaborate floral patterns and calligraphy. Poetic verses and depictions of historical scenes are common, also features which remind drivers of home as they may be away for months at a time. External truck decoration can cost the equivalent of thousands of pounds and outfitting is often completed at a coach workshop.
Truck art has gradually extended beyond the decoration of trucks and buses and though in South Asia cars aren’t traditionally decorated there are some examples of vehicles embellished in a truck art style, while in the Indian city of Mumbai some drivers decorate their taxis. The bright colours of Pakistani trucks have also inspired some fashion designers, with the Italian company Dolce & Gabbana using truck art-based displays in a 2015 campaign, and though used more often in women’s fashion some men’s clothing has also been inspired by South Asian truck art. The pots, jugs, storage trunks and other items on display were right up my street and if I’d had a truck or a narrowboat I would most certainly have been raiding the shop.
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The quirky and colourful items and displays provided many opportunities for photos and I could have spent a lot longer in this unique shop than I actually did but I had a train to catch, however now I’ve discovered the place I’ll probably make more than one return visit during my future wanderings round the Northern Quarter.