Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Special day slightly later

The 244th RA Varnishing Day starts with a service for artists at St. James Church.
 I didn’t think many artists would be interested in going to church, but there was a queue along the pavement and the church was packed.  Perhaps the RA attracts the Anglican chapter of painters, but I stood next to a young Canadian called Joel Penkman who told me she had a painting  on show, the image of a tin of treacle in egg tempera. As there were no pews left we  had to go up stairs where it is hard to see anything going on below, and to hear properly thanks to Sir Christopher Wren’s acoustics.

There was a happy feeling rising up towards me with the heat, but  I don’t think many there were as happy and grateful as I was. All my anxiety of earlier on melted away and I was so happy that I sang with gusto, particularly Come Down, O Love Divine, by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

It was a good service, quite rigorous with good prayers for people in Afghanistan, Syria, and Congo. We heard a poem by New England poet, Mary Oliver called, “When Death Comes.”

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

The Revd Mark Oakley took up this theme of struggle and making a mark and the difficulty of being  an artist and a “person of faith.”
Apparently if you try being both you will be accused of being mentally deficient or an emotional wreck. I happily admit to both and so did he, I suppose on the basis that if you lay down your arms no one can attack you. 
He said most people think the search for God and the search for Art are a shocking waste of time.  
Back inside the Summer Show at last, I made my way slowly round the great rooms where the light pours in through the high windows, looking for  my painting of Maisie. I was  also looking desperately for the tiny tables they put in a few rooms, where you could put down your glass, catalogue, vegetarian chillie,  strawberries and cream.
 They have abandoned the usual room once kept for small paintings, which is always so popular and spread the small works throughout the gallery. Maisie looked surprisingly good sitting there among much bigger works, across the room from a large Ken Howard, and Olwyn Bowery’s usual green house  paintings.
My painting is on sale for £600, but there was a young woman from Hungary with a work next to mine on sale for £15,000.  She was standing there balanced on killer heels, tossing her long blonde locks,  chatting to men who seemed enchanted with her. When I went back an hour later she was still there by  her work, chatting up mainly elderly men. They looked so pleased and flattered and she was certainly businesslike.
By 1pm there was a very large crowd, “arty types” you might say of all sorts from savage looking retro punks, to very smart women in designer dresses to frail, bookish elderly men. And of course the single women  artists like me, who tend to look slightly battered and crazed. 
I don’t remember so many people there before, twelve years ago. Then we sat at tables with our strawberries and cream. But it’s a bit hazy. I walked around half cut with the Champagne enjoying the sense that I didn’t have to look at anything too hard, I was just there for the pleasure, and all was well. 

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