Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Category: World of Interiors

St EOM and Pasaquan


Photograph: Rinne Allen

There are still plenty of people in Buena Vista, Georgia, who remember St EOM, as Eddie Owens Martin called himself following a feverish epiphany in 1935 that led to his rebirth as the emissary of a future race of spiritually advanced, possibly extraterrestrial beings. Until his suicide in 1986 at the age of 77, he lived alone on a mysterious and outlandish property called Pasaquan, hidden by tall bamboo and pine trees a few miles outside of town. Read the rest of this entry »

The Kibbo Kift Kindred

Angus McBean. Kinsman on rock, Switzerland, 1930.

In 1929, the Whitechapel Gallery mounted an exhibition of painted tents, carved ceremonial totems, shields, banners, costumes, archery equipment, embroidery and weaving looms. These objects, all of them crafted by hand, were not the work of some remote island tribe, nor even medieval European artefacts, but the regalia of an idiosyncratic group of men, women and children, predominantly English and active during the 1920s, who called themselves the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift. This autumn, the Whitechapel Gallery has put many of those same materials back on display in a show co-curated by Annabella Pollen, the author of a meticulous new history of the group. Read the rest of this entry »

Joseph Cornell

joseph cornell 2
Collage, it could quite reasonably be argued, was the most influential cultural innovation of the 20th Century. When Georges Braques and Pablo Picasso first affixed bits of patterned paper and oil cloth to their paintings, they changed Western ideas about artistry and authorship forever. They opened a door in aesthetics to appropriation – what would also come to be called sampling. Without collage, there would be no Grandmaster Flash, no Public Enemy. Probably no Lady Gaga. There would be no Frank Gehry or Rem Koolhaas, no Vivienne Westwood or Karl Lagerfeld. The Las Vegas Strip and the Dubai skyline would look very different. Read the rest of this entry »

Malicious Damage

The Defaced Library Books of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton

by Ilsa Colsell


At first, the staff of the Islington Public Library rather looked forward to the discovery of another book, turned in by a confused patron who had realised, too late, that something was terribly wrong with its cover or flyleaf blurb. On the front of The Great Tudors, Henry VIII’s face had been mysteriously replaced by that of a chimpanzee. The plot synopsis inside the jacket of Dorothy L. Sayers’ potboiler Clouds of Witness concludes by suggesting that the reader “have a good shit”. When, in late 1961, complaints began to increase in frequency and fervour, the chief librarian decided that something must be done. Read the rest of this entry »

Alvin Baltrop / Gordon Matta-Clark


New York, in 1975, was on the verge of bankruptcy. When President Gerald Ford refused a federal bailout, the Daily News ran the headline ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’. Parts of Manhattan seemed already to be dying. In the Meatpacking District, the piers on the Hudson River that had once hummed with commercial and industrial enterprise now stood rusting and silent. Read the rest of this entry »

Richard Greaves

Richard Greaves2

Photo: Mario del Curto

Richard Greaves turned his back on the city in 1984. In Montreal he had studied hotel management, graphic design and then theology. Unfulfilled, he packed his bags and settled on a mile-long strip of land in the Quebec backwoods that he had purchased some years before with a group of friends as a weekend getaway. The plot, when they bought it, was untouched save for two modest houses at one end, beside an unpaved track. Greaves began to build. Read the rest of this entry »

William Klein

You might know William Klein for the striking black and white photographs he took for Vogue in the 1950s and 60s, showing couture models cutting through the hubbub of New York and Rome. These, and his documentary street photographs – full of movement and danger and noise – are the subject of a forthcoming exhibition at Tate Modern, shared with the Japanese photographer Daido Moryama. Or perhaps you know him for Mr Freedom, his 1969 political satire about a feckless American superhero in France, or his send up of the fashion industry, Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?, released three years previously. You might even, if you’re a boxing fan, know his documentary Muhammad Ali: The Greatest 1964-74. Read the rest of this entry »


A Century of Art by Self-Taught and Outsider Artists

by Charles Russell; Prestel, New York

Some call it outsider art; others prefer self-taught. Still others insist on distinguishing between folk art and naïve art, or the less pejorative terms vernacular art and visionary art. Then there’s Art Brut, Neuve Invention and art therapy. Confusion and disagreement have come to reign over this fervently debated world. Charles Russell’s authoritative new survey attempts to clear up some of the muddle. Read the rest of this entry »

Peter Shire

Photograph: Tim Street Porter

Mid-Century Modified


‘The famous photograph’, as Peter Shire calls it, hangs over the dining table in his Los Angeles home. It shows the moment that his parents, Henry and Barbara, first met. The story is almost too good to be true: she was working for the San Francisco longshoremen’s union, he for IATSE – the union for technicians working in the theatre and entertainment industries. At a longshoremen’s fundraiser, a photographer snapped Henry delivering magazines to Barbara’s table. This being 1946, the early days of McCarthyism and Communist paranoia, the photographer sent one copy of his picture to Peter’s parents and one to the FBI. Peter, an artist famous for his work with the 1980s’ design collective Memphis, was born about nine months later.

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