Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. Photo: Allan Amato
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Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer to guest-edit the New Statesman

The theme of the issue, due out on 28 May, will be "saying the unsayable". 

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman will guest edit an issue of the New Statesman on 28 May, with the theme of “saying the unsayable”.

The guest-edit will be accompanied by an event at the Hackney Empire, which has already sold out.

Palmer is a ground-breaking musician and the author of the bestselling book The Art of Asking, which began as a TED talk which has received 6.8 million views. She discussed some of the issues raised - about the evolving relationship between artists and their fans - in this New Statesman piece from 2013.

Gaiman is an award-winning writer of novels, short stories, comics and television; his books Coraline and Stardust have been turned into films, and he has written two acclaimed episodes of Doctor Who. In 2013, he was interviewed by Laurie Penny for the New Statesman, which you can read here

The issue will address the ideas of censorship, taboos, offence and free speech, and contributors include Art Spiegelman, Michael Sheen, Kazuo Ishiguro and Stoya. 

Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, said: “Together and separately, Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman are two of the most talented, innovative and unpredictable artists in our culture. In the wake of the debates around Charlie Hebdo, 'call-out culture' and hate speech online, and with so many governments around the world repressing their citizens' ability to speak freely, this issue is incredibly timely.” 

Amanda Palmer said: “As a long-time devourer and admirer of the New Statesman, it’s thrilling to be able to curate an issue like this. We’re aiming to make it read like the footnotes to a great dinner party with an eclectic bunch of friends - where politics collide with art and economics collide with human feelings. I hope the New Statesman folks don’t regret giving over the wheel of their respectable vehicle to the artists, as we tend to drive off-road . . . but hopefully we’ll at least crash somewhere interesting. Neil and I have been working together (sometimes side-by-side, sometimes on opposite sides of the planet) to make this a real reflection of who we believe, who we trust, who we’d want over for wine at our place to discuss the state of things.”

Neil Gaiman said: “I persuaded my slightly baffled parents to get me my first subscription to the New Statesman when I was 12. I was willing to put up with the political writing, and the people who wanted to change the world* because I loved reading the competition results in the back: I liked watching people playing with literature. And I liked the points of view. I still love the New Statesman, although I'm slightly more interested in the political writing these days than I was when I was 12.

“Guest editing an issue with Amanda Palmer has been a delightful, strange, occasionally frustrating, never boring process. We have agreed and we have argued and we have carved out our respective territories. Fortunately our interests overlap, along with our desire to curate a conversation about the things people do and do not talk about, the things we can and can't say, the culture of offence vs. the notion of free speech... and then there's rock, literature, refugees and so many other things. We have as many points of view as we have contributors (and a motley and glorious bunch of contributors they are). ” 

Previous guest editors have included Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury; comedian Russell Brand, whose essay on why he was not voting went viral and led to his appearance on Newsnight; Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei; Jemima Khan, who sent Hugh Grant undercover to investigate phone hacking; and Grayson Perry, who coined the influential term “Default Man”.

The issue will go on sale on Thursday, 28 May, and will also be available on iPad and Kindle. You can pre-order a single-issue by emailing sbrasher @ newstatesman co uk

 

 

*a good thing. 

 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

SAMUEL COURTAULD TRUST
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The monochrome set

In Pieter Bruegel’s hands, even black and white paintings can be full of colour.

Grisailles – monochrome images usually painted in shades of grey and white – have a long tradition. Early examples appeared in the 14th century as miniatures or manuscript illuminations and then later on the outside of the folding panels of altarpieces, where they imitated sepulchre statues and offered a stark contrast to the bright colour of the paintings inside. With their minimal palette, grisailles also offered painters a chance both to show off their skill and to add their bit to the age-old artistic debate about paragone: which was superior – sculpture, with its ability to show a figure in three dimensions, or painting, with its powers of illusion? By pretending to be sculpture, grisailles could better it.

The first artist to paint grisailles as independent works for private enjoyment and contemplation was the Netherlander Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1525-69), whose folk scenes of peasants carousing or of hunters in a snowy landscape have long been staples of art’s quotidian, earthy strand. Only about 40 works by him are now known and of those, just three are grisailles (not a term he would have recognised; he referred to the pictures simply as “painted in black and white”). This trio of survivors has been reunited for the first time, at the Courtauld Gallery, with an accompanying selection of copies and engravings – a mere ten pictures in all – for a fascinating one-room exhibition.

The grisailles show a deeper and more intellectual artist than the sometimes slapstick figure who would dress as a peasant in order to gatecrash weddings in the Brabant countryside and record the drunken and playful goings-on in his pictures. They reflect the position of the Low Countries in Bruegel’s time, caught between the Catholicism of their Spanish overlords and the emerging Protestantism that had been sparked by Martin Luther only eight years before Bruegel’s birth. These tensions soon erupted in the Eighty Years War.

Of the three paintings, two show religious subjects – The Death of the Virgin (1562-65) and Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1565) – and one is a scene that would have been familiar in the streets around him, Three Soldiers (1568). This last, lent by the Frick Collection in New York, shows a drummer, a piper and a standard-bearer in the elaborately slashed uniforms of German Landsknechte mercenaries. Such groupings featured often in German prints and Bruegel’s small picture is a clever visual game: painting could imitate not only sculpture, but prints, too. What’s more, the gorgeously coloured uniforms (mercenaries were exempt from the sumptuary laws that restricted clothing to sedate colours) could be shown to be just as arresting even in black and white.

If this is a painting about painting, the ­religious works have, it seems, added layers of meaning – although it is always difficult with Bruegel to work out what that meaning is and how personal it might be. The Courtauld’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery shows Jesus stooping in front of the Pharisees and saving the accused woman from stoning by writing in the dust, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” That he spells out the words in Dutch rather than Hebrew, which was more usual in other images of the scene (and which he uses on the tunic of one of the learned men observing the mute play), suggests that this picture – a plea for clemency – was intended to serve as a call for religious tolerance amid mounting sectarian antagonism. While the gaping faces of the onlookers recall those of Hieronymus Bosch, the flickering calligraphic touches and passages of great delicacy are all his own.

The picture stayed with Bruegel until his death, so it had a personal meaning for him; more than 20 copies were subsequently made. Included in the exhibition are the copies painted by his sons, Jan and Pieter the Younger (a coloured version), as well as the earliest known print after it, from 1579, by Pieter Perret, which shows some of the detail in the crowd around the central figures that has been lost in the discoloured panel.

If the sombre tones of grisaille are suited to the pared-down faith advocated by Luther, the death of the Virgin was a familiar topic in Catholic and Orthodox iconography. Bruegel’s picture, from Upton House in Warwickshire, depicts an episode that doesn’t actually appear in the Bible. A group of Apostles and mourners has gathered around the Virgin’s bed, the scene lit by the heavenly light emanating from the dying woman and the five flames from the candles and the hearth that correspond to the five wounds suffered by her son on the cross. Domestic items litter the room – a slice of orange, slippers, a dozing cat – and there is a sleeping attendant, unaware of the miracle of Assumption that will shortly unfold. Here is a moving nocturne in which the mysteries of religion emerge from and disappear back into the shadows.

While Bruegel’s peasant works display a delight in physical pleasure, these three bravura works, painted for humanist connoisseurs and for himself, portray the sober, spiritual concerns that come to the fore once the last drop has been drunk. 

The exhibition runs until 8 May. For more details, go to: courtauld.ac.uk

Michael Prodger is an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman. He is an art historian, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham, and a former literary editor.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle