Sunday, 18 March 2018

Blake in Sussex

Image credit V&A Museum
The, hopefully, last blast of snow from the east did not put me off heading out of town to Petworth House in West Sussex to see a small aubergine painted room in the servants quarters packed full of Blakes.

For three years Blake lived twenty miles distant at Felpham in a small cottage. It was the only time in his life when he left the capital to do crazy things like pretending be Adam and sit in his garden naked. But it was a very productive period for him, patronised as he was by the Duke of Egremont, to whom he wrote some really good letters of praise. My jaded 21st C eyes can't help reading these with a healthy dose of sarcasm. His wife Catherine was pretty good at it too. Necessities of survival one imagines. If you are a radical poet and artist, you need to make yourself amenable.

On show are works created during Blake's sojourn in Sussex including panels of Spencer and Milton, parades of characters from the Canterbury Tales and the Faerie Queen, and a host of religious watercolours and prints. My absolute favourite was Satan arousing the rebel angels, the light in which is positively divine. That Satan always gets the best lines is as true of Blake's vision as it is Milton's poetry. This watercolour and the shining Blake portrait on loan from the National Portrait Gallery kept me more than happy. Everything else was pure bonus.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

All Too Human - Tate Britain

Acres of flesh and, curiously, London landscapes are on offer in this mixed show that celebrates British painting, or painters who worked in the city in the last hundred years.

Great stuff from the familiar Bacon, Spencer, Freud and Auerbach. Less familiar, but no less worthy are Souza and Rego. The final room, there are eleven in all, was one of my favourites with Jenny Saville and others. And there are plenty of others.

Paint is applied finely or laid on thick to explore the fleshiness of our bodies. This show is all about the human form. Most exquisite of all is Freud's portrait of his mother. It's small, perfect, and available to be oggled over all summer. No postcard though.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Hidden London - London Wetlands Centre - Barnes

Acres of wetland habitat in London? Indeed, and full of migratory and native birds, and pretty endangered things from all over the world.

If you like your choice of lakeside hides and spending a winter's morning twitching, hithee. I am not a bird expert by any means. I know the names of most, not all, and I am pretty useless at spotting birds in trees and reeds.

This is where experts with industrial grade telescopes come in handy as your new best friends, spotting and sharing the rare Bittern, or telling you that that grey blob in the tree above you and out of reach of your tiny weeny binos is in fact a Green Finch.

Extras aside, there are plenty of fancy fowl to delight you. Do get there as it opens and before all the small people and buggies arrive to spoil the silence, well, sort of silence, if you can block out the planes making their approach to Heathrow.

Ashamed I have never been there until now. Rather happy that I have.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Rachel Whiteread, Tate Britain

Seen a little while ago, but I failed to write about it, sorry, this major retrospective is essential if you are in any way a fan of the not so Y now, YBAs.

As they are all about my age, I feel woefully inadequate when faced with a body of work as impressive as Whiteread's. Although her famous House is not extant, having been torn down in what might be judged as the worst planning mistake a council ever made, there is more than enough here to show why she was the first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993.

She's all about space, the nothing places and things that we don't notice, like the undersides of the hundred chairs cast in coloured resin in the main hall. And the things that will never be, like the books not written by Holocaust victims in her memorial to them in Vienna, which I have also seen. Here there are similar book shelves with books placed spine in.

Of all her castings, doors, mattresses, staircases, my favourites were the tiny and domestic. Her hot water bottles in various media are some of her earlier pieces, and there is a whole case of them to rekindle my interest. But this is also work of scale and wonder. Just how did she do that?

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Impressionists in London, Tate Britain

The quietest times of the year to visit a gallery is just before Christmas and between Christmas and New Year, when everyone is elsewhere doing other things. Hurrah for that. December 23rd at Tate Britain was calm, almost empty, and we had the place to ourselves. Perfect conditions for viewing the Impressionists.

I'm not a massive fan of this period really, but there is much to admire here from Monet, Pissaro, Tissot and all the others who fled the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune for the safety of London, preferring to paint our suburbs and sporting events over the brutal realities of home.

Monet's series on the Palace of Westminster capturing the fog are worth your while alone. But sit in that room for several minutes, adjust your eyes to the lighting to get the most out of them, in the same manner as one had to with the Rothkos in their special room in days of yore.

Quite by accident, I drove passed spot where Pissaro lived in West Norwood the week before. Seven days later I find myself studying his painting of the same street in snow. Funny, these life co-incidences.

Pop along if you can afford to pay nearly £18 for the privilege. At this price, and why are exhibitions so very expensive?, it's making my membership look like a total bargain.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Merry whatever

Season's Greetings to everyone who takes the time to read this roll of cultural and other ramblings. It's been a busy year for me, moving jobs, moving country, and finally feeling at home. Here's a new poem for your festive reading.

Good news from Oslo, batteries included

sorry we haven't
wrapped it, again this
year, but, you know, after
70 we didn't think you'd mind.
It's a bit
big, awkward with
those needles, graduated
branches, and we didn't want
to risk you putting it upside down
in the hidden stand. The guards aren't
keen these
days either. If we
spruced it up, they couldn't
keep an eye, and a 20 metre green
Viking at customs might look like a
missile, too soon chipped, composted, mulched
by the bomb squad. Anyway, we know you prefer it
in words.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Hidden London - The Mithraeum

A month or so ago Bloomberg opened its new billion pound building in the City. It has been carefully built over the remains of a rare piece of Roman London, a temple to Mithraeus. An experience has been created, but this is not a cheesy affair in the slightest.

Some of the 600 finds are artfully displayed. The rest, including the key find - the bust of Mithras -  are in the Museum of London. Ipads are on hand to describe to the exhibits. These are well worth lingering over, especially the wooden tablets, one with first time Londinium was written, and another being the oldest piece of Roman writing in Britain, and funnily enough an IOU between two freemen.

Downstairs there is an interactive display voiced by Joanna Lumley.

Downstairs again, at timed intervals, hence the need to book a ticket, is the temple itself. You enter in the dark. Its slowly revealed clever lighting and subtle smoke effects, along with the soundtrack of voices and chanting, attempts to create something of the cult experience.

It's mysterious and slightly shivery, and was just the perfect thing to explore on a freezing day.

The location specific irony of the men only Mithraeus cult, based as it seems to have been on rather a lot of feasting, should not be lost on anyone.

To get your glimpse, book a litter to Walbrook. No denari required.