Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Indigenous Australia at the British Museum

One of my abiding childhood memories from the three years we lived in Australia is buying a long tailed lizard from the aborigine boy who whittled and polished it. I have packed and taken it right around the world several times and it sits in my cabinet of curiosities still. I don’t recall on which trip out into the bush this was, or even where, beyond the safety of suburban Adelaide, we were, but I do remember the boy’s rough hands and his toothy smile and thinking how very different his life was to mine.

No surprise then that this newly opened exhibition at the British Museum was a must see for me. It is packed with interest, but not quite as extensive as I would have hoped. I would have liked many more paintings rather than the few representative examples. That said, what is there is, is magnificent, even if I do need the legend for their deciphering. Perhaps it is not so curious that I lack the cultural knowledge to tell digging stick women from the Rainbow Serpent or the tracks of a King Brown.

Beyond the paintings, there is much to learn from the artefacts on display. Things I did not know included the number of different types of boomerang there are, the purpose of a biting bag and the existence of a honey gathering hook. There are cross shaped boomerangs for hunting flying foxes. The biting bag or spirit bag is for male use in mortuary rights and initiation, bitten to access spiritual powers. It contains feathers, plant fibres and other objects. The honey gathering hook is used to collect flowers from grevillea trees. Fascinating and each object very beautifully made for its given purpose.

The exhibition tells the story of the oldest continual communities on earth and of their relationship to country, but is misses crucial things. There is mention of aboriginal populations being decimated, but their being hunted to near extinction for sport by the British in Tasmania is side-stepped. The lost generations of forcibly removed children put up for adoption by white families, a policy which shockingly was still going on into the 1970s, are mentioned, but only briefly, as is the current matter of land rights. I would have expected a great deal more of these narratives to take us beyond objects, or rather, to give them fuller context.

Casting around for the most beautiful things, I was taken by the collection of exquisitely fashioned spearheads made in the 1930s from coloured glass bottles, telegraph pole insulators and stone. So much careful work for one throw of the spear at kangaroo bone. Check it out yourself, but be warned, the rooms are very hot, like the red earth country from which these treasures come.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

From Giotto to Caravaggio - Musee Jacquemart-Andre

Meanwhile back in Paris, this recently opened exhibition of Italian mediaeval and Renaissance paintings. And who doesn't love a good Caravaggio, or two or three?

As I have not visited this museum before, I was delighted to see this. But wouldn't you know it, I was entranced by something other: an exquisite Madonna and child by Masaccio.

Mary's face is so gentle and beautiful, it almost made me weep and the lapis of her robe so bright, it looked unbelievable. The infant Christ on the other hand, like all babies in art of these periods, is singuarly dreadful.

Other paintings I for your attention are the large triptych of saints by de Ribera. Each one a stunning portrait of a real individual.

Whilst the subject matter of most of the works is not really in the top ten to my taste or interest, as many have travelled to Paris from Florence, save yourself a trip to Italy and take a look.

The permanent collection is worth your time also with Botticelli, Canaletto and the like to enjoy along with the sumptuous furnishings of the hotel. There is also a lovely cafe for a refreshment break and staircases to swoop down regally.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy

Richard Diebenkorn illuminates the RA with Californian sunshine, or was it just because I was there last week on the first sunny day we have had all year?

It is a joyful and uplifting survey of his work and reminded me of all the things I miss about the Bay area, notably the colours and light. 

If you like your landscape abstracted, contemplate away, but Diebenkorn was also a gifted portraitist.

It’s a relatively small show, but there is much to enjoy if you take your time and meditate on it awhile - a serene break from the bustle of Piccadilly

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Punk and my writing

The first word that sprang to mind as I was thinking about this piece was nostalgia: not the soft focus hankering for things or days past, but a reminder of where I came from, of formative influence. I can no more forget the importance of punk in my personal and artistic development than I can my ethnic cultural heritage. 

My poetry is rooted in the rhythms and language of Anglo-Welsh, not in a conscious or contrived manner, it's just how I write and what seems most natural to me. These are the patterns of language I learnt as a child. I cannot, and have no desire to, unlearn them.

So I am saddened by people who want to expunge their punk past. Why? It was the most exciting thing to happen to British culture in the Twentieth Century and I say that not just because I was peripherally there. Why would you want to forget it?

Punk informs my writing. I need and ask no permission to write whatever I want: whatever topic, in whatever style, using whatever language I choose. I can swear and be 'offensive' and 'outrageous' if I like, whatever these terms mean, without self-chastisement. I am not using naughty words or excusing my language, subject matter or approach to myself or anyone else. I can break all the rules of poetry if I want and still make work that is pleasing. To do this I have exorcised my internal critic. J'etais toujours Charlie.

And I don't really care what the reader thinks. I am not writing for any particular audience. Poetry by poll or committee can never produce anything of merit. No, I write to please myself and I am gratified that my work touches other people or that I hear the sigh of recognition or a peal of laughter from the crowd at a reading. Even if I was in an audience of one: me, alone, that's all that matters. I am doing it by and for myself. And that's a punk thing.