"THE METHOD" LEGACY: Foundations; Phantom Day-Lewis & BOVTS - Part I by Laurence Fuller

The key to all this lies in the Verto of words.


Last Sunday after the ceremony, sitting in the Roosevelt after party sipping a gin cocktail after the show, where the first Oscars were held, I contemplated on the proceedings and the history of acting in film which has led us here. It seemed inappropriate to write or publish this in anticipation of the Oscars, because I didn't think he would win this year, he didn't think he would win this year "it's been great just to sit back and watch Gary collect his dues", I felt as many did it would be Gary for Darkest Hour. So this piece is something of a reflection of what we have lost, and the mantle now left to young leading men, like Timothée Chalamet, or those unknowns challenging the guard with independent films as Day-Lewis once did with My Beautiful Launderette or My Left Foot.


The ceremony itself was a good one, a great message and well navigated by Jimmy Kimmel. My own personal bent is usually focused on the Best Actor category; brilliant to see Gary Oldman up there after all these years of coming so close and it was not just a long overdue award he was well and truly the best performance last year. Though the other nominees Timothy Chalamet’s vulnerability and honesty in Call Me By Your Name, Daniel Kaluuya representing a new and exciting wave in Hollywood with Get Out, Denzel with an astonishing performance in Roman J Israel, Esq. It was a really strong year for this category, and it made me want to write a piece in the aftermath, a bit about the performances, but mostly about the legacy of “Method Acting” in the wake of Daniel Day-Lewis’ last performance. He’s always been a hero of mine and until now have followed in many of his footsteps, often unintentionally. Now that he has left the footlights, I wanted to look at his journey, what mysteries can we now uncover in his absence?


Cecil Day-Lewis was a radical poet in 1930s England. His son became “the greatest actor” of all time, whose mysterious and contentious approach to the craft first made headlines around the world when he ran off stage at the National Theatre’s performance of Hamlet, haunted by the ghost of his father and unable to continue. This is event is often brought up when discussing the actor’s career, but not enough considered, often it precedes comments about what a mental case he is, instead of discovering the psychological motivations of possibly the most fascinating figure in the history of acting. The key to this story lies in Oedipus and the Verto of words.

Cecil was a dedicated literary man, often steeped in books, combining Romanticism with early and 1930s strict British Marxism, before the fall of Socialism in England. This form of literary dogmatism. The expression of all his father’s thought and feeling went into and came out in the form of words on a piece of paper. Words took his attention and philosophy his commitment.


All this broiling tension lead to the fundamentals of the rise of an artistic rebel. Day-Lewis' first defiance taking shape in a different craft to that of his father's, putting down the pen to take up the chisel with carpentry, the fine arts and crafts. But the theatre called, Method acting can be said to be the one form of philosophy which is subversive to language, and also the reason Daniel Day-Lewis was an outcast amongst the British establishment of the time. At its core Method Acting honors the instincts, the memories, the mind, the human being, that is the actor, it is compassionate to their spirit and the spirit of the audience. Allowing a living breathing human to exist on the stage or in front of the camera and for other human beings to perceive it, as appose to a page to be read or a concept to be reproduced.  If I ever got too in my intellectual about a scene, my mentor in LA Ivana Chubbuck would say to me "Laurence, words are 2D, life is 3D”.


“Irreverence simply means honoring your real feelings and impulses rather than servicing the material conceptually. If in a scene you know that the emotional obligation is to feel a certain way but at that moment in the rehearsal your choice is affecting you differently, then you must express that which is real rather than that which isn’t, even though you know that what is real at the moment does not fulfill the requirement of the material… Irreverence simply means honoring your real feelings and impulses rather than servicing the material conceptually. If in a scene you know that the emotional obligation is to feel a certain way but at that moment in the rehearsal your choice is affecting you differently, then you must express that which is real rather than that which isn’t, even though you know that what is real at the moment does not fulfill the requirement of the material.” - Eric Morris


If it is a Method at all, it is a method to break to rules, a way out of stagnant thinking and rigid ways of being, into a lucidity, a more natural state. I’ve never felt more at peace than when inside of a character, never more at home than within a story, it exists as a sort of protection where I can be truly myself, and it is only Method Acting which I have found allows me this freedom. And it was Daniel Day-Lewis who first showed me this was possible through his performances. 

I was 14 when Gangs Of New York came out, people have different opinions about the film as a whole, but what Day-Lewis did with Bill The Butcher, changed the course of my entire life. After I came out the cinema I immediately started reading the myths and stories about this man, remaining in character the shoot of the film and this illusive philosophy called The Method, which serious actors took on wholly and seemingly was only accessible to the greatest actors. I read every book I could find on the subject starting with Stanislavski's My Life In Art, finding a rich history of the craft which had preceeded me.

 Strasberg at the Actors Studio

Strasberg at the Actors Studio

Ironically I don’t think there’s more that can be said about Daniel Day-Lewis’ performances that can be read in the books of Stanislavsky, Strasberg, Adler or Sigmund Freud. But that his commitment to these ideals is a full one, which is really the rare thing, and that is an easy idea to put down in writing but the personal experience that he must inevitably go through over the course of a year in time, looks completely different than it does when it comes out in print. 

There are two factors that play into this, one is the complete Mystification of what it means to be a "Method Actor". The other is that words can only take us so far in the discovery of a character, experience and experimentation are the real chariots which gallop us through the craft, which imagination can only design for us.


“In spite of myself, it must be true in a way that I retain some of the British tradition, I’m not sure. But really whats more significant to me in a conscious way, Stanislavsky and the Method has always made more sense, because it begins with the interior. And all the work, all the principal work that needs to be done is on the interior life of the character, both in terms of emotion and in thought. I just find that more interesting. The British tradition of starting from the outside and working your way in just never really made sense to me and most work that comes from that tradition has little interest for me.” - Daniel Day-Lewis

Day-Lewis does nothing to aid the confusion, as he so rarely speaks with any literal explanation of what he does in public. It seems he doesn’t consider it within the job description to expound on the craft of acting, or to detail an approach, and I think he’s right about that. He’s not an acting coach, he’s a leading man, would knowing the exact thoughts passing his mind in every frame of the film enhance your viewing of it? Probably not. The cinema after all is a projection of man’s dreams. Day-Lewis considers his audience after the fact, but in his devotion to the part, he considers them infinitely more than the actor who winks to his audience. He wishes to be subjective in the creation of the performance and then compassionate to his audience receiving that story. I understand his choice for ambiguity, I’m sure he’s also disappointed to see what is often a year of his life in preparation for a character reduced to a sentence or two in a tabloid headline. “Daniel Day-Lewis weaves 10,000 dresses in preparation for his latest film”. I've also found it to be troublesome to develop the necessary language, as so much is a preverbal.

The problems with talking about Method Acting within a cultural context objectifies something which is not or should not be a statement, but a utility. Why Method Acting differs from other philosophies, such as aesthetics (though I do believe aesthetics can be very helpful and an untapped resource within the medium, but taken as a part of it), or politics which although have a utility are mostly about things outside of ourselves. Acting has an (athletic) component which is rooted in the directness of performance. There is nothing theoretical about acting, or the (act of acting) because it is a constant (re-establishing or reenforcing) of the present moment, and all that presence it enforces. 


One distinct problem that comes about is that preparation must be for the most part isolated, however guided by the director. Some directors who are greener, may not understand this and try to interfere too much, we just have to pick and choose what to take from what they're giving us. 


 Rudi Shelly

Rudi Shelly

“I was at a drama school, a wonderful school, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. The teacher who had the most influence on me was a man called Rudi Shelley who has since passed away, his teaching was all Stanislavsky based, and Stanislavsky made sense to me. All these systems and things, are really just guidelines, because anyone who learns under any system, finally distills what they’ve learned to something that’s entirely personal and that would apply to the method as well. Stanislavsky was a philosopher of the theatre, pre-theatre, so The Method in a way, was a natural descendant.” - Daniel Day-Lewis

Last September I received a grant to go back to England to undertake some research for the screenplay I'm writing about my late father, the art critic Peter Fuller. While I was there I couldn't resist the temptation to see what has happened to the old oak tree in the front garden, the dance studio, embarrassingly surrounded in glass walls, or the sage like teachers who pushed me through the first true challenges in my craft. 


Pulling into the parking lot I immediately recognized Jonathan Howell the movement teacher, jutting out to see what unexpected visitor had arrived. This time he was sans rapier and sword, which I was so used to seeing him wield at unsuspecting students with "Deep Joy", a phrase every actor carries with them after graduating his class. As I walked into the main entrance of Bristol Old Vic, it was completely different, which at another other institution you’d expect such renovations after ten years, but this place had been preserved since its Victorian design since its 1946 inception, as one of the world’s oldest drama schools. I remember them raising funds for the refurbishments they planned to build while I was there and attending the 60th Anniversary Gala. A blue bridge like room connected the once two separate Victorian buildings. Glass doors welcomed the students to a new kind of temple where their imaginations, hopes, values and artistic skills were placed in front of the alter of classical theatre and left to its ghosts to preside.

Jonathan greeted me with a beaming smile, almost as if he were expecting my visit, I felt at home suddenly, as we spent the next hour recounting the adventures and people we'd encountered nearly ten years before. I was lead into the faculty room where Pam Rudge my former signing teacher leapt from her seat shouting "Laurence" and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

I sat next to the new head of what was my course, the "Overseas Course", though I was born in England, having grown up in Australia I was considered an international student. I was on the international course with the view that I was eventually US bound. Being half British and half Australian, though born in the UK, I was still considered an Australian by the Brits and a Brit by the Australians, so America was my only choice. This foreign entity within me gave me trouble throughout my time applying for drama schools and in the industry in the UK. But I was America bound in the end anyway so it wasn't going to get in my way, I was headed for independent film to find the next Scorsese, and I let my intentions be known amongst my teachers. In particular the then head of the Overseas course at the time Bonnie Hurren.


The first day that I met Bonnie I was several hours early for the audition day, I'd lost the letter with the details on it and thought I should go in first thing in the morning just in case, I was waiting in the lobby of the old Victorian building that would be the home for my course that year, she walked down the creek wooden stairs completely in her own world thinking of time passed, relationships never fulfilled, desires misaligned, a fellow course member would later say to me she thought that Bonnie spent a lot of her time crying in private, I never knew why he thought this, there was a shrill exuberance to her and an unshakable grace, that I suppose in reflection masked a deep unrequitedness. In my eyes she was a strong figure that knew the secrets to it all if only she would reveal them to me. She was a very tall and slender woman her movements were always graceful and completely synched up with the rest of her mind and voice. Not unlike Lesley Manville portrayal of Cyril in Phantom Thread. Bonnie was used to a very tidy routine when it came to the running of her course, we were there to learn excellence in our craft, nothing else would be tolerated. As she walked down the stairs I interrupted her thoughts with a confident introduction, impelled purely by the same determination which has seen me through to this point. She was startled, yet I could tell happily so, she told me I was too early and that I should go over the road across the park to get some hot chocolate at her favorite cafe, I did and it was delicious.

Though my audition piece to gain acceptance in BOVTS was not as you would have imagined up until this point, To Be Or Not To Be, it was Now Is The Winter Of Our Discontent from the opening monologue of Richard III. A choice which Bonnie later berated me for, but at the time seemed intrigued enough to talk me out of my placement I had received at the Oxford School Of Drama. There was some connection we'd formed that morning which only intensified the following year, and began the seed of a deep Method rebellion within me that has never died.


Often during that time I would sit on the steps of the building and imagine what Day-Lewis' time here must have been like, the teachers often talked about him, about performances he gave which foreshadowed the greatness to come. The intensity he had about everything, he'd often stop by on his motor cycle to visit them. I tried to imagine what he had learned from his time there.

Day Lewis said in a recent interview for Phantom Thread that his attraction to the Method really came about because it was about from constructing the interior of the character and all things coming from that. His first teacher in this way of working was Rudi Shelly, who decades after his passing was still talked about daily through the halls of the BOVTS. His other former students including Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Irons. Constructed a point of view which combined the British tradition in theatre with the more contemporary Stanislavsky based way of working, a legacy which has been lasting in those Victorian rehearsal rooms. 

The American way and the British way are often put in opposition to each other, but in recent years I've discovered how deeply Romantic Method Acting truly is. Lee Strasberg the founder of American Method Acting was first inspired in his search by the leading drama critics of his day. In the preface to Strasberg's autobiography "A Dream Of Passion" Evangeline Morphos says Strasberg is in line with the great Romantics. This has to do with the Proustian notions of the senses and of memories. Strasberg’s most famous exercise of course being “Sense Memory”.

 Lee Strasberg

Lee Strasberg

“In spite of myself, it must be true in a way that I retain some of the British tradition, I’m not sure. But really whats more significant to me in a conscious way, Stanislavsky and the Method has always made more sense, because it begins with the interior. And all the work, all the principal work that needs to be done is on the interior life of the character, both in terms of emotion and in thought. I just find that more interesting. The British tradition of starting from the outside and working your way in just never really made sense to me and most work that comes from that tradition has little interest for me.” - Daniel Day-Lewis

What I was to find most at BOVTS was a place of fine tuning the instrument and of skills acquisitions, which had foremost to do with delivery, fines of physical and vocal skills needed for transformation and for discipline. Though that magic mysterious word "Method" was so contentiously danced around, as if it's very mention would erupt in a frenzy of confusion, emotional breakdowns, walkouts and fist fights. Inevitably it did come up.

The key to all this lies in the Verto of words.

Part II coming next week.

ELYSIUM VERTO by Laurence Fuller

The epochal and transforming convulsions in the shape of our world is causing ruptures in civilization. The ice flows are breaking up, the earths plates are shifting and clutching together to form something new. But what is happening to us? History is being re-written.

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Marcelle Hanselaar Open Letter by Laurence Fuller

I bought my first Marcelle Hanselaar at 16 years old, it was of a small girl wearing a mask tickling the chin of a standing dog also wearing a mask. The characters conjured up a dark fairytale, a twisted adventure into the inner depths of the psyche. 

The temptation of our primal selves, the human animal at strange odds with the even stranger world we inhabit. 

A series of etchings aptly named Le Petite Mort explore the relationship between sex and death, a link the French readily accept in this phrase to describe the human orgasm. That we die a little bit each time. We are not so different to the swarms of salmon swimming up streams like triumphant passages to reproduce and die. So to Humanity tumbles upstream, slipping over one another in a tangled scramble towards an inevitable loss of our own lives and out of it bearing all creation. 




The second painting I bought is called Lot's Wife, I bought it from a catalogue that arrived at my mother's gallery in Canberra aged 16. And I first met Marcelle when I went over to pick it up from her studio a couple years later. Lot’s looking out, his holding the mirror reflecting onto the floor, the mask peering into the given world of reality, I see not Lot but Marcelle looking out to me, her eyes behind the old man, striking, knowing. Lot’s Wife’s seduction, grasping for his affections with a brutal Narcissistic kind of attention, his books, his learning, his creations just an obstacle between them, as is the child bound in silence. She desires his adoration more than anything, he cannot resist her, and it destroys them both. 

Both paintings have been with me in my highschool bedroom in Canberra, my bedroom at drama school, my first apartment in London and my second, and both apartments in Los Angeles to the present. I have lived with them over time and they have seen much of me as I of them. 

I last visited Marcelle at her studio in January on my research trip for the Peter Fuller project, the visit brought back so many memories, I asked Marcelle to join me in an open letter correspondence. 



Dear Marcelle
I want to kick off a series of Open Letter correspondences with writers, artists, actors, as a form of sharing rough ideas, poems, sketches, whatever is something that you're just working through as content for my blog and a different kind of journaling. Would you be up for it? If so I've kicked something off for us below:
I feel about your work, that you are engaged in a healthy relationship with your demons, you control them and they bend to your will as the puppet master of the whole affair.
Do you feel connected to your unconscious? Not in the Freudian sense but in the emotional sense, do you feel these pictures come from inside you, beyond just your imagination or picture making. I don't just mean the quirky dark stuff but the portraits, the silence of your subjects when they are alone in thought, I feel there are speaking a lot in their silence, perhaps in the Lucian Freudian sense.
Stylistically, in tone and color you've much more in common with Francis Bacon and the German Expressionists, though you are still a non-conformist in your creation of your own ouvre and I see you tend to withdraw slightly when being compared to other artists?
Speak Soon



Dear Laurence
good to hear from you and like the sound of your latest project.
i like conversations and dialogues and although it will be an exchange of 2 monologues the fact that we are tuned into each other makes it more fluid.

I am not sure if i have a healthy realationship with my demons, sounds a bit too civilised [pat], but i feel passionately that if we do not acknowledge our dark side then that darkness will rule and constrict us.
Patriarchal thinking and religion have told us that we need to fight or restrain that part of us, and i am certainly not advocating to let it run loose, we all can see what that happens when it does, but to get acquanted with it, to allow it its place as a source of great energy with the possibility of transformation into greater wisdom and compassion. But before we jump to that elevated kind of stance we can tap inthat energy as a source of creativity, of vivid imagination and a world of the collective.
I find it difficult to do without the medium of image making but give me a brush or a etching needle or pencil and the doors open and surprise me with images and tableau’s I did not know existed in me.

I left europe when I was about 20 years old and lived all the rest as a foreigner. That slight outsider status is important to me, its makes me bold and free but obviously I have been culturally conditioned by NW European art, especially the Dutch, Flemish, German who engage with paint as no other and know how to add a slight ‘off’ , the askew, the uneasy as tension to the image.
think Brecht in theatre. 
That does not mean i don’t love other masters but this is my first affinity.

Philisophically and musicallyI lean much more towards Asia and Arab cultures although their surreal kind of paintig delights me, I am in love with oil painting above all.

I don’t mind to be compared with other artists aslong as they are artists I feel affinity with. So if you compare my graphic work to Dix or Goya or the Chapman bros. for instance I am totally fine with that.
And for painting the same, aside Beckmann I really like Alice Neel for instance but feel great affinity with Louise Bourgeois, Kikki Smith early sculptures, the avant garde feminist like Renate Bertlmann, Frances Woodman, they are artist who work in a totally different medium as I but their vision is what clicks with me.

ok this is enough babbling, i hope i ansered somethings you threw up, to be continued
love M



Dear M

You’re letter brought back memories of long chats in your studio discussing at depths our own subjective philosophies.

I feel in the battling of your demons, the beautiful for you is secondary to a kind of social dynamic that has to do with commitment, desire, passion, seeking fulfillment in the other. There is an incompleteness to your characters, made whole in the dynamic of each other. Though there is that aspect to art itself, that without a human eye to perceive it, what is it really, David Hockney said ‘really the subject is you [the viewer] in space’. I feel you are willing to sacrifice some  beauty in order to get to something emotionally direct. Though it is all within the framework of an essentially beautiful image.

When I arrived in Los Angeles six years ago, I gravitated almost inevitably towards your acting equivalent in Ivana Chubbuck. She taught me how to harness my demons in my work directly. Working with her, those demons found a place to dance in comfort, in a great catharthis which I was oddly rewarded for with opportunity, acting in that way was to my demons, what martial arts is to my tensions.

The other day I walked down to Ivana's studio which is about a mile walk from where I live in Hollywood, on Melrose Avenue which is littered with youth and fashion, it’s like Rodeo Drive in its teen and twenties. Though less than half of the actors in Ivana’s classes are under thirty. Partly because it takes most of them many years to get to her Masterclass, first they have to learn the fundamentals from one or several of her sub teachers, from Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and then Ivana's Masterclass. As you might expect from this it is treated with a reverence. Not entirely unduly as Ivana’s technique has overwhelming transformative effects on actor’s process and lives, Ivana will admit this herself that the results are not intended to make a happier person, but a deeper and more complex one, more ripe for visceral screen acting.

The other day Ivana was traveling so it was that rare occasion when Eriq La Salle took over the Masterclass, Eriq was an actor for many years, most people would recognize him from ER, now he is a TV Director. His overall approach that is somewhat separate though complimentary to Ivana’s is to push actor’s into deeper and more direct versions of themselves, removing theatrical gesture and stripping the flourish to get down to the true human animal. The true self. That authenticity can’t be replicated by one better, it can’t be a lesser version of a former master, it is totally unique and indispensable because of this fact. 

For instance though you are a mix of those artists or similarities and influences can be traced, you are not only a mix of those artists, there is something definitively you that cannot be extracted. Do you know it’s location? What part of your work cannot be referenced to another?

As I look past my desk to the two pictures of yours hanging in my living room, I’m reminded of the first time I lost my virginity, I was newly pubescent and hadn’t even kissed a girl yet, I had met her that same day standing in a group of friends, she was short wearing overalls covered in paint, laughing, she was loud and brightly colored. Beautiful and strange, with a big smile. She came from the public school, they were artsy outsiders to my private school conservative, uniformed and devoid of true human suffering that a made a person interesting, at least that’s what I believed. Perhaps I’d just suffered more than my classmates at that time, seen too much too young, when they’d been trapped in the confines of a small government town. As a group we hiked up to a National park, throwing rocks into a ravine, though we'd barely said a word to each other she buried me beneath a pile of them. White chalky rocks, which left white marks on my blue baggy jeans. 

I was too young to understand what was happening, but I knew I wanted her. I invited the group to come back with me to my property by the river to camp out in the field just above the shore. All the fellas passed on the opportunity, but she put up her hand and said ‘me I want to come’, she was the last person I had expected to volunteer. 

We stole a bottle of cheap champagne from our parents friend and pitched up the tent. We drank the fizzy sweet liquid and made awkward jokes, told each other made up stories that we built in each others minds looking out over the Australian landscape it began to twitter with the cheeping of crickets, frogs, and night creatures. But I was used to camping at that point, used to the land. She had experience with the desire and pleasure of another, which for me until that point had just been a concept, but she taught me that night, what it was manifest.

Afterwards we trekked down to the river and watched the bright moonlight bounce on the surface of the water, everything was still then, she told me that she loved me. I kissed her. It was the last kiss we shared and among the last words. The moonlight faded into day, as did the feeling that we really knew each other. The internal image of her grew in my mind with depth and complexity in the passing weeks, but how much of it was all in my mind. We didn’t speak much after that, which has always given me a feeling of nostalgia for provocative women, and quite possibly why I fell in love with your work.


Dear L,
Well that is what this rekindling of conversation is all about isn’t it, a continuation of as the Zen masters say out ‘mingling of eyebrows’. [Those old masters had this really long eyebrows, like old men get sometimes, and leaning towards each other to discuss their insights their eyebrows mingled, a wonderful picture n’est ce pas?]

We need this in life, this spiritual mingling with each other, between strangers or far away people.
We both work in a medium, film and visual art through which this is facilitated. We, as we are, are not needed to be present in that exchange because somehow, through the transformation of our medium we speak more eloquently then we ever do face to face. Well I do actually and I know many others too.
Maybe its partly due that when you create something you are without skin, without protection, shame, consideration for the ‘other’, qualities which kick automatically into being in social and therefore civilized behavior.

On the moment I am working on producing a book on The Crying Game portfolio of prints, this is the first time that I have made a really political work, an outcry against the injustices, our default for violence, I feel I will burst if I don’t do anything against the constant stream of information we receive through the media.


I suppose I have always felt great rebellion and a kind of righteous anger against the patriarchal, feudal, conservative social rules which allow no ungovernable otherness in which the adherents feel vindicated by smothering or destroying those threatening aspects so that nothing can grow.
I am not talking about a bleak utopia like portrayed in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaidens Tale, but the underlying tendency in all of us.


Ok this sounds all a bit preachy perhaps but The Crying Game images are real and the book is meant to lift them out of the confines of the art world and give them a wider, non specific audience.


The book will be launched at Herrick Gallery in Mayfair on the 31rst of October, I will send you a copy of course.


And afterwards the prints will be shown in the German Expressionist collection, amidst Dix and Beckmann in the New Walk Museum in Leicester, how cool but also how appropriate is that?

Of course I made these The Crying Game in response to Otto Dix’s War prints and the museum is very interested to show the present day continuation of artists reaction to violence, which I think is very much to the point. Museum interventions do bring a collection to life, to a contemporary imagining.

That all said, its summertime and I am lazing about, painting and meeting friends and noting small stirrings of lust in the air, ah mmm.
I loved your description of that day you lost your virginity, it made a big impact on me, ironically I cannot remember losing mine, not because it was so long ago or because I was shy and wild at the same time but it just wasn’t memorable. That experience came later.

This is it for now, I enclose a small painting of a scarred back I just did and am very pleased with, when I was in therapy I used to imagine taking an axe to my own back and splitting open my spine to release the unbearability of things.
I don’t do that anymore, I suppose I learned to express myself better and in other ways, but I always remember the release I felt doing that.

Looking forward to hear from you again, sending you love & all best M



Below is an interview/doco I made with Marcelle, aged 18 for a publication I was working on at the time called Art Influence, talking much as we did without the camera:

David Hockney: All the World’s a Stage by Laurence Fuller

In honor of David Hockney's 80th birthday I wanted to share this article All The World's A Stage by my father Peter Fuller, it's one of the last pieces he wrote on Hockney, though they were lifelong friends and he wrote about Hockney's work since the late Sixties. In true Peter Fuller fashion it starts out talking about Hockney's art direction for various theatre productions and spirals into a retrospective of his life and career and the strangeness of subjectivity which always seemed to permeate their discussions. 


by Peter Fuller

 David Hockney's art direction for  Magic Flute

David Hockney's art direction for Magic Flute

'Well, I'm not that interested in the theatre itself,' David Hockney said in 1970. 'I did one play. I designed Ubu Roi. When I was doing that, I suddenly realised that a theatrical device in painting is quite different to a theatrical device in theatre.' He added, 'I'm really not interested in theatre design or anything.'

Four years later, John Cox, a producer, invited Hockney to design a new production of Stravinsky's opera, The Rake's Progress, for Glyndebourne. Predictably, Hockney had profound misgivings, but he loved opera and he was experiencing a deep crisis of confidence about his own painting. The idea of working in a new medium appealed to him. So, too, did the subject matter. Hockney himself had made a 'modern life' version of Hogarth's famous series of prints in the early 1960s. He accepted Cox's offer, and the resulting designs were shown in the exhibition, Hockney Paints the Stage, at the Hayward Gallery in August 1985.

Hockney insisted that the opera should be set in the eighteenth century - as reinterpreted from a twentieth-century viewpoint. Even though the relationship between Igor Stravinsky's work and Hogarth's is tenuous, Hockney decided to make persistent reference not just to the subject matter but also to the pictorial techniques of Hogarth's prints. He made use of dramatic perspectival foreshortenings - especially in the Bedlam scene; and, improbably, turned even cross-hatching into a theatrical device. Intersecting lines covered not only the back-drops, but even the furniture and the costumes, creating the illusion that everything has been 'engraved' in three dimensions. The result proved so original and effective that Hockney was immediately invited to design a Magic Flute which was staged at Glyndebourne in 1978.

During the year he spent working on Mozart's opera, Hockney produced no paintings at all. Again, his sumptuous sets captured the audiences' imagination. In 1981, he went on to complete two triple bills for New York's Metropolitan Opera House. The first of these included Satie's Parade, Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias, and Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortileges; the second, three works by Stravinsky.

Soon after, Martin Friedman, director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, invited Hockney to make the exhibition, Hockney Paints the Stage. Friedman was concerned about the best way of displaying the sets in an art gallery. Sarastro's marvellous utopian kingdom in The Magic Flute, peopled with strangely costumed beasts, was one thing on an opera house stage, but it might be killed stone dead if it was presented simply as a stuffed menagerie against a static back-drop.

For a long time, Hockney appeared indifferent to these difficulties. He was deeply, even obsessively, immersed in his experiments with photography. He argued that the conventional photograph lacked time and therefore life. To overcome this, he started collaging together whole series of exposures and re-integrating them into single images which, he insisted, evaded the fatal photographic flaw.

At the eleventh hour, he managed to tear himself away from his Polaroids and decided to re-create seven stage sets especially for the Minneapolis exhibition. Working at extraordinary speed, on a gigantic scale, he produced what were, in effect, seven autonomous new works. He not only re-painted the props and back-drops himself, but fabricated his first sculptures to represent various characters from the operas and ballets. His esoteric researches into the photographic image exerted a powerful influence on what he produced. Tamino, the flute player in the Mozart opera, became, in Friedman's words, 'a picaresque abstraction of multi-coloured planes'. Hockney himself explained, 'a walking lizard might have twenty feet, leaving a trail behind him to tell us where he has been'. He added that the lizard could have 'three heads in different positions and, as in the photographs, you believe it's one'.

Despite originally denying any interest in theatre design, Hockney's mastery of the medium was hardly surprising. Even when he worked in only two dimensions his principal means of expression had been the playful manipulation of depictive surface and spatial illusion. Behind all the wit and whimsy lay pressing psychological and aesthetic preoccupations.

As every art student knows, David Hockney was born in Bradford in 1937. At his local College of Art he learned to draw, and to paint after the manner of Sickert. He went to the Royal College of Art in 1959 and felt uncertain about what to do there. At first, he spent a lot of time making two painstaking drawings of a skeleton. From this time on, in times of doubt or confusion, he has often fallen back on the apparent certainties of naturalism.

  We Two Boys Clinging Together , David Hockney

We Two Boys Clinging Together, David Hockney

Those were heady days in the College. Hockney's art soon reflected his espousal of homosexuality, pacifism, Cliff Richard and vegetarianism. His manner of painting now recalled the self-conscious infantilism of Dubuffet, or, closer to home, Roger Hilton. But there was always a sense of deliberate distancing in Hockney. Even at his most 'painterly' - as in We Two Boys Together Clinging - Hockney always held back, like a knowing child, and offered a kind of painted parody of his experience, replete with jokes and ironic references.

Although a gulf divided their sensibilities, Hockney also greatly admired Francis Bacon. Yet where Bacon seemed almost murderously intent upon exposing the post-operative entrails of his subjects, Hockney preferred to dress them up. Many of his early paintings, especially A Grand Procession of Dignitaries in the Semi-Egyptian Style, reveal his interest in the paradoxes of stagey space, performances, tassels and role-playing.

Hockney left the Royal College in 1962 with a gold medal and a ready-made success. He had his first one-man show at Kasmin's the following year. During the 1960s the nature of his concerns became increasingly clear. He showed little interest in the expressive manipulation of his materials, nor did he want to use colour as a means of conveying intense emotion. Although he worked constantly with the male figure, he rarely showed much inclination to reveal character through attention to physiognomy or anatomical gesture. He showed no signs of wanting to involve himself with, say, the way in which natural light fell upon objects, nuanced and revealed them. For a while, at least, artifice was all.

   Play Within A Play , David Hockney

 Play Within A Play, David Hockney

At this time he became fascinated by a picture in the National Gallery by Domenichino, Apollo Killing Cyclops, in which the action is depicted through a painting of a tapestry made from a painting. The edge of the tapestry is carefully rendered; in the bottom right-hand corner it is folded back, revealing a 'real' painted dwarf. This picture inspired Hockney's painting, Play Within a Play, which shows his dealer, John Kasmin, with his nose pressed against a real sheet of glass laid across the picture surface. Kasmin stands in a shallow pictorial space behind which hangs the painted version of an illusionistic tapestry.

Soon after making this picture Hockney spent much of his time in California, where he was drawn to the imagery of showers, pools and jets of water. Curtains appear again and again in his work. 'They are always about to hide something or reveal something,' he said. There are also references to the reflective paradoxes the painter encounters when he seeks to represent water. These years, the early 1960s, were a period of high and confident conceit, when Hockney seemed content to remain trapped within a painted world in which illusion opened out onto illusion, revealing no ultimate reality.

  Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices, David Hockney

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices, David Hockney

The first hints of change came about in an awkward attempt to do a 'naturalistic' drawing of his father, associated with the painting, Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices. Here, a 'realistic' painted father sits beside a stuck-on heap of cubistic cylinders. Two years later, when working on The Room, Tarzana - a portrait of his boy-friend, Peter Schlesinger, laid out like Boucher's pink-bottomed Mademoiselle O'Murphy - Hockney suddenly realised, 'This is the first time I'm taking any notice of shadows and light.'


He then plunged into a series of portraits and set-pieces, including the well-known double portraits of couples failing to relate, which showed a new reliance on the sort of appearances revealed by photography. Indeed, photography was coming to play an increasing part in Hockney's working methods. But this naturalism, too, he soon found cloying. In the early 1970s, he made a number of landscapes, effectively transcribed from photographs which had the dead and unappealing appearance of works by the American Photo-Realist school.

  A Bigger Splash,  David Hockney

A Bigger Splash, David Hockney

Neither the elaborate devices of Post-Cubism, nor an apparently straightforward naturalism, seemed sufficient to carry Hockney beyond that shimmering pool of narcissistic illusion and self-reflection in which he had imprisoned himself. Following the break-up of his relationship with Schlesinger, Hockney's picture- making entered a period of profound crisis, captured superficially in Jack Hazan's film, A Bigger Splash. He developed a new interest in Van Gogh, whom he regarded as an artist who had been able to deal directly with experience without being either aesthetically innovative or conventionally naturalistic. But Hockney could find no equivalent for Van Gogh's solution in his own painting. Perhaps he came closest to what he was looking for in the fine drawings he made of Celia, his only close woman friend. These possess an intimacy and a sense of otherness, conspicuously absent from so many of his male images.

The invitation to produce the designs for A Rake's Progress came in the middle of this crisis in his picturing. It provided him with an immediate solution: the chance to construct his artifices in real space, to make three-dimensional pictures which had an undeniable existence in a world beyond himself. The culmination of The Rake's Progress work was a painting based on an image by Hogarth, which Hockney called Kerby [see jacket of book]. In this piece, all the devices which should lead to a naturalistic image are reversed or inverted, and yet the picture remains legible.

  A Rake's Progress,  David Hockney

A Rake's Progress, David Hockney

Hockney tried to combine these discoveries with a replenished naturalism in the portraits of his parents that he produced in the mid-1970s. I remember visiting him at this time in his London studio. He told me, 'When you paint your parents, you paint an idea of them as well. They exist in your mind, even though they are not in front of you. And the problem is, is that part of reality?'

One cannot escape the observation that Mrs Hockney has the face of an ageing Celia, and Celia the look of a young Mrs Hockney. Perhaps he was no nearer an escape from narcissism? In any event, despite going through two versions, the double portrait of his parents was not a success. Hockney abandoned it and subsumed himself in the designs for The Magic Flute.

In the early 1980s he plunged into his critique of the photographic image. Though the 'cameraworks' are not, in themselves, an aesthetic success, they represent another stage in his struggle against being imprisoned within mere illusions of appearances. Once again, Hockney found it easiest to find his 'solutions' by transferring the problem into the third dimension - by making the exuberant, colourful and convincing set-pieces for Hockney Paints the Stage.

With Hockne), the shifting of levels is incessant and compulsive. Many years ago, when he had finished his complex picture of Kasmin trapped behind a sheet of glass, he added irony to irony by having a tapestry made of the image. Then a painter friend visited him and, to Hockney's delight, offered to make a painting from the tapestry.

 Peter Fuller & David Hockney

Peter Fuller & David Hockney

At the same time as Hockney Paints the Stage, he also held an exhibition of pictures at Kasmin's Knoedler Gallery in Cork Street, called Wider Perspectives are Needed Now. In this show Hockney re-incorporated lessons he learned from his theatre work into enormous paintings which were like depicted images of those fanciful illusions which he had previously found he cou’d only create in three dimensions on the stage.

There are those for whom all of Hockney's work will amount to no more than a kind of illustrational game-playing. Douglas Cooper was not alone in his view that Hockney was an overrated minor artist. But this is to ignore both his manifest skills and his consistent capacity to entertain. I do not intend this word in any derogatory sense. Most art produced today lacks such a capacity to suspend our disbelief, to hold and engage us. At the very least, Hockney's achievement is comparable to John Fowles's in literature, or Hitchcock's in the cinema. He beguiles his viewers into a world of uncertainty and delightful paradox, but behind the fagade, one senses the most serious intent.

Like his erstwhile hero, Francis Bacon, Hockney sees men and women as somehow trapped within their subjectivity. Perhaps this is where the vicissitudes of the homosexual imagination can appeal to a more general existential condition. For Hockney, as for Bacon, we are like caged animals: the jungle we see is just an illusion, painted on the concrete wall of our enclosure. Bacon's perception of this situation led him to claw his way through the skin into the splayed intestine. Hockney invites us to break through the wall - to confront another illusion, another depicted jungle, on the boundary beyond.

In some ways, Hockney may be a lesser artist than Bacon, and yet I have every sympathy with those who prefer the consolations of Hockney's mirroring artifices, his plays within plays within plays, to Bacon's dubious 'realism'. Bacon can only offer the ultimate presence of death, while Hockney invites us to celebrate the illusion of life.


HOWARD HODGKIN & Robert Natkin by Peter Fuller by Laurence Fuller

Howard Hodgkin died earlier this year, he was perhaps the most prominent abstract artist to come out of Britain. The American painter Robert Natkin, a lesser known abstract expressionist and the one American painter my father Peter Fuller chose to champion. Studying Abstract Expressionism at the moment for the development of a new film project, though I never naturally gravitated to abstraction in my own aesthetic. I find it strange Natkin is often left out of the dialogue as his paintings are so beautiful. This article, first published in Modern Painters in 1988, remains a tribute to all three men. At this time Peter was exploring spiritual and transcendental ideas, establishing a new religious order out of art. Abstraction usually pushed reimagining of the natural world too far out even for Peter's line of thinking, but he accepted the challenge when it came to these two men, Natkin in particular.

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"That day we met at the front door of the house and he said, 'I'm writing art criticism for a magazine', and I replied, 'You can write on me. I've a show'. Although he was living in a room on the floor below my studio looking out on the same view so that he would be familiar with the subject, I could not have expected anything to come of it. He was just down from Cambridge. The year was 1968. When I had a retrospective in Rochdale, he took the trouble to see it, and to get that organ of the new puritanism Art Monthly eventually to publish his review. I have been able to attribute the opposition of all other critics to his support. While I was a first of sorts for him, he was a one and only." - Adrian Berg

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Omens II by Laurence Fuller

The search for beauty is so often underpinned by a rugged brutality, stringent, uncompromising quest to prevail, exclusivity, a climb, a struggle, a ruthless clawing at the flimsy veins of the existence which pretend and shelter. One begins to claw, because of a feeling of not knowing, or of knowledge that there must be more. 

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Omens I by Laurence Fuller

In many ways this story begins last September, at the San Diego International Film Festival where the rag tag bunch of renegades that are the Road To The Well crew, scrambled through the streets of San Diego from our screenings of obscure indie dramas to the Oscar hopefuls in Lion,  and a special preview of Hidden Figures. It was a handful of studio backed mega dramas versus the new wave of young penniless independent filmmakers trying to complete against the majors with empty pockets, David & Goliath.

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The Journey - My Father In His Own Words by Laurence Fuller

As it happens, I agree with Gilbert, one of the contributors to Oscar Wilde's famous dialogue, The Critic as Artist, who argues that higher criticism is 'the record of one's own soul'. He goes on to describe it as 'the only civilized form of autobiography, as it deals not with the events, but with the thoughts of one's life; not with life's physical accidents of deed or circumstance, but with the spiritual moods and imaginative passions of the mind'.

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The Spiritual In Our Time & The Ruskin Lecture by Laurence Fuller

It seems we are faced with increasing divisions in the West, that in one sense allow for greater individuality then ever before and yet what we give up is any sense of unity. In researching a film about my father this last two years, I looked back at the revolutionary 60s and how far away from that united utopia they envisioned we now find ourselves. It could be said that this idea of connectedness is just an illusion and what politicians are all fighting for is a feeling that rests beneath all their rhetoric.

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Road To The Well wins at Long Beach Indie & the Q&A by Laurence Fuller

Watching DeNiro's brutally vulnerable monster staggering with understanding and determined to pursue his creator to the ends of the earth, I received a text from the director Jon Cvack with the brilliant news the Road To The Well won the top prize of Best Of The Fest at the Long Beach Indie Film Festival. This film has gone from strength to strength on the festival circuit since it's premier at Dances With Films, since it has been accepted into a number of major film festivals and up for awards competition in all of them including San Diego Film Festival coming up. All this was not without the blood and sweat of all involved, stitched together by the unlikely leadership of Jon Cvack. It was brilliant to get the five of us Jon, Micah, Marshall, Tim and I all in the same room for the Q&A at Long Beach for fifteen minutes or so we had the floor and the stories of forging this dark little monster began to spill out of our respective laboratories of memory.

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Long Beach Indie Film Festival: ROAD TO THE WELL by Laurence Fuller

The last time I was in Long Beach I was on route to Catalina to join my mother as she searched for inspiration for her latest series of paintings amongst the coastal life of Catalina. Perspective is a very important part of her work so we went up in helicopter to search for whales and then underneath the surface in a submarine to see the fishes, then out on a boat to search for sea lions. Painting as with acting begins with a stimulus which grows into its manifested form with time and cultivation. Though that stimulus is qualitative and its cultivation must be considered to produce a great work of art.

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LONDONS CALLING: Freudian Dreams by Laurence Fuller

"To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself" if this old adage of John Berger's from Ways Of Seeing is true, then Lucian Freud's subjects are certainly Naked. And all that space that exists with the naked form before a dissecting eye, masterfully encouraged where in all that grotesque interchange does beauty exist. There is an undercurrent of danger and spontaneity when a person is naked in the presence of another.

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Why do we find sexuality a taboo subject in our culture? It is what creates life and yet can be a destructive force for many, a primordial unity for others and for all there is an element of sacrifice. The French call it La Petite Mort (The Little Death), Marcelle Hanselaar's series of etchings by this name have been were an early influence on me. I feel much of life comes down to this tiny demise, figurative painting by the London School in particular Bacon and Freud capture this so well. 

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London Calling at The Getty Museum: Introduction by Laurence Fuller

London Calling at the The Getty Museum feels not only like a significant moment in my life but in the cultural life of this city, everything I've loved about art since I was a boy crossing the pond from London to Los Angeles, perhaps I'm in the right city after all. This exhibition not only marks a legacy of masterpieces painted within our time but for me it sheds light on the growing ecosystem of brilliant artists working in Los Angeles emerging just below the mainstream, who uphold this legacy for the next generation.

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Hollywood North Film Festival & Unreasonable Passions by Laurence Fuller

Having had incredibly passionate beliefs of my own, that at the time of my having them felt overwhelmingly real, especially when in the grips of a character. It’s like my entire world gets reframed, but I love that feeling, I’ve become addicted to it over time. A kind of violent self destruction of my own identity that’s I’ve come to love. But I don't know that growing up and accepting the way things are is a kind of inevitably, because I don't think everyone comes to the same conclusions.

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Dances With Films: Death, Pleasure & Friendship by Laurence Fuller

This is much the same problem that Hamlet wrestles with, just before this clip I was talking about the comparisons between Classical theatre and American cinema. Apparently soon after this I was also talking about whether or not to commit suicide, "To Be or not To Be" made sense at the time. My meaning was the existential/nihilistic questions being posed in the characters journey, discussions between myself and the director Jon Cvack were focused on the way that Satre or Camus would take on such problems. Camus believed the only real philosophical question worth asking was wether or not to commit suicide.

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