Thursday, 26 July 2012

All Gas & Gaiters

25th July 2012
Maisie my cat is outside all day, she doesn't put her nose outside the door unless it's at least 30 degrees. I stay in, near a large fan as much as I can. But today I braved the horrible heat, why oh why didn’t I ask for “aircon” in my car, for the coffee morning at the vicarage in Ealing. We sat in the garden for the first time this summer and that wasn’t the only surprise. We were visited by an Archbishop of   Malawi,  apparently they have several, and his wife.
He seemed a sweet, gentle man but I was surprised by the wife in her bright blue robes with big frill round the bust. Gladys, a Nigerian lady who celebrated her 80th birthday on Sunday produced some chocolates. She gave them to me to hand round. Archbishop’s wife grabbed them, took three out of the box, handed them to him then made no attempt to pass them on. Then came my biscuits and another cake from Gladys’s birthday party. The wife seemed to have been struck dumb as she made no attempt at conversation, did not introduce herself, make eye contact or smile, just grabbed everything I handed out, without a word of thanks.
Eventually, offering her another piece of cake I said, “thank you” pointedly. She smiled at me faintly and murmured it like a good child.
Our vicar, Bill,  asked the bishop to say a few words. At first he was silent. I thought he might have dropped off in the heat, but then he launched into a  peroration, beginning with the subject of greed. I couldn’t help thinking  that was pertinent as I glanced at his fat wife’s swanky Swiss bracelet watch.
I was determined to do him the courtesy of listening intently. Some of it was quite interesting; he  said he came from a very poor area of peasant farmers, talked about the “slaughter” of Christians by Muslims in Africa, particularly in Nigeria. The indifference  of foreign governments including UK and USA. Then he added that he’d heard that Obama’s govt was supporting the Muslim rebels in northern Nigeria.
 I was aware that some people's attention was slipping, they were cutting more cake,  fiddling about and great monolith wife was looking at her mobile. Now and then he would stop talking and seemed to be praying but it was hard to say.
When it was fairly clear he had finished I leaned forward to ask him  whether our Archbishop of Canterbury is interested in the  plight of Christians in Nigeria. His eyes remained shut and he did not answer. I didn’t know if he’d heard. The stone faced wife gave him a nudge, he opened his eyes and his mouth to speak, but at that moment Father Bill  insisted we all turned round to have photos taken.
I retreated to the shade  and sat staring at someone’s long, uncut, desiccated toe nail. At the table in the sun, the wife went on sitting silently beside her husband, and I wondered how she could come  from such a poor area and sit there with expensive watch, grabbing cake.
On the way out I told Fr. Bill that I thought they were a disappointing couple. He shook his head.
 “There are problems with African clergy” he said wearily. “It’s extremely  hierarchical. She is used to a very high status."
 "You can’t fight that at a coffee morning in Ealing”he snapped.
I wasn't trying. It was far too hot. He also said very sadly that the bishop was “In the grip of American evangelists in Texas, who are very generous.”
 That explained the mixture of prayer and speech, the constant closed eyes, and  the strange implication that  the Obama gov’t is supporting Al Qaeda backed murderers in Nigeria.
I had a vision of this somehow very innocent African couple touring Europe and America picked up hither and thither by well meaning  groups vying to support them for a whole variety of reasons, some worthy others  utterly misguided.
They  were on their way to Hastings next where their son is due to get married. If the bride is anything like the mother I think it will be a case of marry in Hastings repent at leisure.        Image of Fr. Bill worrying that I might write something libellous.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Snooping and prying

Sometimes I think I lead a rather odd life. Today 11th July 2012 I had breakfast consisting of a stale old roll left from some I made last week after  impulsively trying out Kamut, an Egyptian bread flour which it said on the bag, contains lots of selenium.  I also had a piece of Hovis wholemeal toast from a bag of bread I found unopened on the pavement outside my flat.  I also found a beef tomato in good condition on the pavement in Chiswick yesterday and ate that. Perhaps I am turning into one of those people who eats road kill?

Set off for the Titian exhibition at the National Gallery,  in the rain as usual, and the bus driver pointed out that my umbrella was “all broken up.” I told him I  had only used it twice. I  was nurturing the futile desire to  “get some wear out of it,” just like my mother would have done.

There are three paintings on show, Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon, and the Death of Actaeon, all made for Philip II of Spain in about 1551. If you are trying to find anything good about Philip of Spain and his vicious reign, this must be it.
These great paintings are  together again for the first time since the 18th century,  but not for long as two of them are soon off to Scotland on permanent loan, so I for one will never see them again.
I tried to foment some anti-Scottish feeling about this among the old ladies and unemployed gathered in the gallery, it’s a free exhibition,  and they were suitably disgruntled.  
Attached to this show are  some contemporary installations by Chris Ofili who is famous for his elephant dung, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger. Don’t know what they are famous for but it’s bound to be something disturbing.  There are also  three ballets opening at the Royal Opera House called Metamorphosis, tying  in with Titian’s work.  
We had a look at set design, costumes, a film shot very close up and low down of ballet rehearsals, and at the installations and paintings. Very dreary they were apart from an installation by Wallinger consisting of  a locked wooden box containing a  naked woman inside having a wash. Several women change places during the day to do this chilly task.
We were able to spy on her, like Acteon on Diana, through a break in the misted glass and slits in the closed window blinds. These were set so high that my friend and I  couldn’t see anything. We agreed that they were placed at man height. Men were obviously meant to be cast as peeping Toms.
I was a bit annoyed and banged on the door, shouting: “Are you going to be in there all day?”
A good question in the circumstances but from out of the Stygian gloom the prissy  voice of an attendant said :  “They would prefer it if you didn’t  do that.”
At least I wasn’t turned into a stag and torn to bits.
 My friend noticed a  key hole, painted black in the black door. The traditional  and best method of snooping. We had a peer and all I could see was the woman’s bottom filling the expanse of the key hole. Surely a repressed, prurient English perv’s dream come true but it didn’t do anything for me.  Then I got an eye full of unpleasant Scottish looking red pubic hair.
I was glad to have seen something but it was a rather a mundane experience.  Perhaps we should have left it to the men.
After that we went off to room 35, to see two small paintings by Andrea Schiavone,  showing Zeus disguised as Diana seducing Callisto. Now is that is a very odd idea, which assumes that most women at the time were Lesbians. The other shows Arcos shooting his mother Callisto by mistake,  after Diana had turned her into a bear. Well these things happen.
They were in room 10 and took some time to find, but were worth it. Vibrant, beautiful little paintings and I would like to use them in my work and my friend felt the same.  Then we had a conversation about all the cross-dressing men we’d known in the past. One of her friends had been tricked into sleeping with a prostitute in Paris who looked like a lovely girl but turned out to have 5 o’clock shadow. I noticed an elderly man standing near us  covertly listening to what we were saying. Thanks to Titian and his friends it was an afternoon of  prying and snooping.  

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A good impression


To the Clark collection Impressionist show at the Royal Academy.
A beautiful exhibition full of jewel like paintings collected by the grandson of the man who founded the Singer Sewing machine empire, and his wife, who was once a French dancing girl.
They were particularly keen on Renoir and owned thirty of his works. I have never liked him much, his strokes seem too busy and his subjects too similar, those sugary cat faced girls all looking strangely alike. But this included a splendid pile of onions by Renoir and one of his sunsets, which was extraordinarily expressionistic and free. It reminded me of a water-colour by Nolde.
I wish he'd stuck to nature and left the ladies out of it, or perhaps they were considered to be "nature" at the time.
Brian Sewell in the Standard wrote a strange review of the show, sneering at people who like the Impressionists saying that they respond to the famous painter's names like Pavlov's dogs hearing a bell, then saying how wonderful many of these paintings are and well worth a visit.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Nordic Beauty

To  the Munch exhibition at Tate Modern yesterday. It  was a scream, or a "skrik" as the Norwegians apparently say which  sounds like a cross between a scream and a shriek. I think I will call that painting, which was conspicuous by its absence from the show, "The Shriek"  in future.
There was a catalogue of his work on sale, in three volumes, costing over £200. They said you had to buy all three, you couldn't have only one at a time. I had a look in vol one. It was interesting as it contained many early paintings before he became an expressionist, before he managed to paint so loosely, tighter but lovely works that I have never seen before. 
I think they are all dispersed where as all his later work, over a thousand canvasses which were kept in his house, were all bequeathed to Oslo on his death. Apparently he did that to stop the Nazis getting the paintings as they were still in Norway when he died. I can't think that would really have stopped them,  they probably regarded his work with the deepest suspicion "entarte dekunst" as they put it. 
I have seen two exhibitions of his work in London, but this one was rather different, showing  his photographs and his films. The self portraits sometimes in the nude showed Munch in all his handsome glory, what a gorgeous creature he was. I am not surprised that women followed him about obsessively and used fire arms against him. He was operated on for his gunshot wound without an anaesthetic because he said it was important to "live each moment to the full." 
With that attitude he could have had a great sex life but I don't think he ever did, as his upbringing left him with anguish and guilt. I suspect that he gave up on sex quite early as too dangerous and too distracting. 
He was not only a cracker but he cracked "it" becoming world famous with one image, which is want every artist now wants to do. I whispered this to one of  his small, faint photos, congratulating him. 
His films were very hazy and flickering,  most of them long lost. But it was interesting to see how he applied  to painting what he saw through cheap camera  lenses;  faces bang up against the picture plane, legs and road plunging away into the background, foreshortening and cropping. 
Two of Munch's themes I take away from the show and hope to use more strongly in my own painting -
"Thou shall write thy life" and "Death is always nearby." 

It was a lovely day to be out in London, despite the crowds,  and I enjoyed seeing the Olympic rings hanging from Tower Bridge. They cost the same price as my flat.