Magazine article The Spectator

London Recordings

Magazine article The Spectator

London Recordings

Article excerpt

LONDON RECORDINGS by David Sylvester Chatto, £22, pp. 202, ISBN 0701162678

A man who asked the right questions

David Sylvester's first ambition was to be a professional cricketer, and he possessed to the end that almost miraculous masculine capacity for total recall of notable prep-school innings ball by ball. Later he tried to be a painter, and then a jazz saxophonist. Later still, the cinema being another of his great passions, he worked with Stanley Kubrick on Lolita - but by this time he was well established as an art critic. He is perhaps most widely known for his invention of the term 'Kitchen Sink School' and for his interviews with Francis Bacon which became a source of inspiration for a whole generation of artists.

This posthumous collection of interviews made between 1962 and 2001, with three short essays, is largely devoted to artists, but also reflects its author's love and knowledge of cinema, music and sport. There are interviews with Leonide Massine whom Sylvester, as a boy, had seen dancing at Covent Garden; with Ken Adams whose film sets, particularly for Dr Strangelove and the Bond films, he thought should be regarded as serious art; with the composer Harrison Birtwistle, who describes the last years of their friendship as 'a sort of intellectual love-affair'; and with the former England cricket captain and professional psychoanalyst Michael Brearley. The last of these interviews, with Harrison Birtwistle, was made just a few days before David Sylvester's death, and it is strange and moving to see the mind and spirit still so determinedly in action, business as usual, when the body is about to bring down the curtain. It is also a testament to his passionate curiosity about the processes of art and to his equally passionate belief in the importance of his own work, that they should persist when a lesser man might have been distracted by the prospect of imminent extinction.

The earlier interviews in London Recordings, especially the ones with Henry Moore (whose secretary he had been) and William Coldstream - rather a dull painter but a fascinating and delightful interviewee - are the best. This is perhaps partly because the contemporary artists, Gilbert and George, Rachel Whiteread, Douglas Gordon, are more practised at talking about their work than their predecessors (they can seem at times complacent, their very articulateness becoming a barrier), and possibly because Sylvester no longer has the energy to press them as inexorably as he might once have done. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.