Culture Heroes #3 Caravaggio

A moment in the dark with light as a blade. That’s how I’d sum up the painting of Caravaggio.

In the Renaissance appear the rather wonderful terms sfumato (that sm0ky blended quality demonstrated by Leonardo da Vinci) and chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is that riveting light and dark effect, and Caravaggio (the other Michelangelo of the Renaissance) was its arch exponent.

This light and dark is not limited to his art –  Caravaggio was the prototypical art rock star, living fast, dying young.  There were art world quarrels, the scandalous circulation of filthy poems, threats directed at a fellow artist for ‘stealing his style’, skirmishes and difficulties with swordsmen and whores, and even killing someone in a gang fight – it was an almost ridiculously dramatic life. Simon Schama’s wonderful Power of Art series features an episode on Caravaggio’s life and there is also a compelling and florid Derek Jarman movie Caravaggio starring Dexter Fletcher, Sean Bean and Tilda Swinton.

His art was just as scandalous at the time – his realism and use of real people as models as striking today as in the 1600s. The paintings have an immediate impact – they look you right in the eye, and grab you by the scruff of the neck. No doubt the man would’ve done the same.

My Culture Heroes #2 – Nick Cave

I am not built for Goth-dom, but Nick Cave is my man. Australia’s coolest export has just published his second novel The Death of Bunny Munro (which even has a tres cool web site – sign up and you can win a bunny suit!). He also recently rocked at Glastonbury, and in keeping with his contrary cool offered a shout out to Farrah Fawcett instead of MJ.

Why Nick? Like my previous pick Stephen Fry he has layers and layers to his genius – having written novels, a play, movie script ( the brutal Aussie Western The Proposition) and soundtracks, and a poetic sensibility so potent his lyrics have been published in book form.

Cave is intrigued and fascinated by the muse, and the creative process, giving a series of talks on The Secret Life of the Love Song. He has been through the junkie tormented artist stage, and now treats the creative process more like  going to the  office (a recent exhibition in Melbourne explored this ‘work’ element).

He’s a storyteller with a distinctive vein of Southern Gothic – deep, dark, bloody, biblical – but peppered with a dry wit and laconic romance that is endlessly appealing. He’s been making music for more than 30 years, but his creativity is undimmed – his latest musical venture Grinderman is ballsily bluesily good.

He’s collaborated with Kylie Minogue,  he’s been a cheerleader for Leonard Cohen, he’s rocked an awesome Zapata style moustache. Nick rules.

My Culture heroes #1 Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry

With the aforementioned Jeeves and Wooster watching, I feel it’s time to salute one of my heroes Mr Stephen Fry. He’s a Renaissance man and a mighty fine writer. Plus he’s anything but a Luddite, check out his web site Stephen Fry to get a flavour of the many strings to his bow.

I think my first encounter with this strangely alluring gent was his role in Blackadder as the unctuous Lord Melchett. Or was it him as Oscar Wilde with young Jude Law as Bosie (what admirable casting on both counts)? Or Fry and Laurie? I’m not sure, but he made an impression.

Here’s a few choice Fry selections from his back catalogue:
Making History – what if you could go back in time and stop Adolf Hitler even being born? That’s the pretext of this supersmart novel. I’ve read a heck of a lot of time travel novels, and this is one of the best.

Stephen Fry in America
Stephen Fry in America

Moab is my washpot – Stephen’s autobiography. It’s a toe curlingly honest depiction of his youth, naughty public school days and thereafter.

QI – hosted by Stephen – gave rise to The Book of General Ignorance,  a great tool to bash foolish facts and beliefs.

Coming soon: Stephen Fry in America.

And of course there’s plenty more Stephen Fry stuff at the library.