The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
This deeply moving story for children and adults by Paolo Ventura is narrated through a series of engrossing colour plates, accompanied by a laconic text of a few hundred words.
It takes place in 1940s fascist Italy, where an old Jewish watchmaker ekes out a living in the dilapidated, bleak and deserted ghetto of Venice.
An antipodal world to that of Canaletto's paintings, it's enveloped in a menacing fog that blurs every contour and deadens all colour.
To relieve his solitude the old man builds himself a human0-shaped robotic companion - the eponymous automaton - which he adorns with a jester's face and a permanent jolly grin.
Over the following months he forms, much like Ovid's Pygmalion, a one-sided but profound emotional bond with his creation.
There is a sense of resignation and fatalism in the watchmaker's patient wait and it culminates with the Italian fascist military clearing the ghetto of its remaining inhabitants.
The automaton, unable to reason, very nearly gives away their hiding place.
The ending is a liberating though melancholic affirmation of humanity, warts and all. That's perhaps not surprising as the book is dedicated to Primo Levi.
What also fascinates is Ventura's complex creative process.
He builds elaborate models and miniature figurines, places them in diminutive and exquisitely rendered film-like sets and then simply photographs these tableaux.
It is hard to believe The Automaton is simply a photographic narrative from beginning to end.
The painterly textures and breathtaking composition seduce time and again in this moving reflection on the human predicament.