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Inside by Maurizio Strippoli
For someone who has trawled through the better part of the In Our Time archive, it was a real treat to see Melvyn Bragg IRL at the National aka my second home. Melvyn (yes, I think we’re on first name basis here) is how I imagine the Victorian polymath from the public lecture halls would be. So jam packed with knowledge that it can barely be contained, it spills over in anecdotes, in jokes, in semi-unrelated facts, accompanied by gesticulation so wild, hand written notes flies all over the place.
They are celebrating the anniversary of the King James’s Bible which is the subject of Melvyn’s new book The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible (I went to some of the bible readings as well but I don’t know if it works, you know. I like costume and bit of spectacle when I’m at the theatre, and I don’t fare well with monologues.). A lot of this talk – on the social and cultural importance of the KJ Bible – resonated with the talks on the gospel and social justice that’s been running at St Martin in the Field, where Neil MacGregor did an amazingly good speech on Compassion in Art – or lack thereof.
Now, I can’t show you any Christian art of radical compassion because apparently there isn’t any but I will show you this. Engraved in ONE single circular line, starting at the tip of the nose and moving outwards (click on it, it’s awesome).
Sometimes, like Flaubert, I believe in nothing but art.
Where I’m from a haircut is about a tenner – and you can be sure to get all the town gossip from the past year thrown into the deal as well as well. Here in central London it’s a different story. It’s perfectly alright to charge 100 quid for a simple, straight-forward cut justified by some “senior stylist” title bollocks. I know I have myself to blame for being such a push-over but I find it virtually impossible to walk into a hair salon without being talked into having the most ridiculously priced stuff put into my hair. Your hair needs it. Does it now, really? Because I can never say no, nor have the guts to complain, I have had some pretty wacky – and expensive – hair cuts in the past. That’s why I’ve stayed clear from hairdressers for a good year now. Then yesterday I gathered some strength and went for it. Five hours, four hair colour removal runs, one exceptionally gentle (i.e. exceptionally expensive) hair-colour, three absolutely essential treatments, a cut and a blow-dry later, I could walk out as the red-head (although not quite the shade) I had come for. I didn’t even dare listen to the total cost, I just paid and ran out before they managed to convince me to get the super amazing “Brazilian blow-dry” for the fantastic price of £200. Such bollocks.
I listen to Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren about ten times every day. I have no idea why; I’m not a Buckley fan otherwise. Sometimes This Mortal Coil’s cover will do as well, but never, ever Robert Plant or Brian Ferry (although Ferry’s live performance on Jools Holland was quite acceptable). And for the rest of my waking hours, it plays inside my head, over and over again.
It haunts me to say the least (thought I’d better get it out of my system).
Which, of course, leads me to present these various Ondines / Victorian pin-ups…
The steadfastness of generations of nobility
shows in the curving lines that form the eyebrows.
And the blue eyes still show traces of childhood fears
and of humility here and there, not of a servant’s,
yet of one who serves obediantly, and of a woman.
The mouth formed as a mouth, large and accurate,
not given to long phrases, but to express
persuasively what is right. The forehead without guile
and favoring the shadows of quiet downward gazing.
This, as a coherent whole, only casually observed;
never as yet tried in suffering or succeeding,
held together for an enduring fulfillment,
yet so as if for times to come, out of these scattered things,
something serious and lasting were being planned.
(Self-portrait by Rilke; Arthur Hughes; Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Jean Delville; Steichen; Munch; William Hazlitt; Samuel Palmer; Charles Hazlewood Shannon)
Karen Knorr, I love, I love, I love! This sort of reminds me of the pictures you see from places like Chernobyl, where nature has been so quick to reclaim human territory. That whole world-without-humans hypothesis…civilization is fragile, don’t we know it. What surprises me is how perfectly natural it looks with a badger in your 19th century french boudoir, or a couple of bucks fighting it out underneath the chandeliers. Work like this could easily take on a surrealist tone where dislocation is the main principle. But this looks perfectly natural, don’t you think? Or maybe it is only wishful thinking from my side. I mean, personally I would love to live like this. At least a little peacock…please!
A mixed bag from different series:
Things we have discussed most frequently this week at the office (except for work itself of course): Champagne, student fees, diets, self-development strategies, Tamara de Lempicka, food, Flashdance and Christmas (food and diets being our constant topics). Tamara de Lempicka is an interesting subject because we use her as a style inspiration for brand development. I adore her, whilst others…not so much. I can’t explain why, I clearly have no consistency in taste.
… my goal was: Do not copy. Create a new style, … colors light and bright, return to elegance in my models – Tamara de Lempicka
I’m not a big fan of the Penguin’s editions of Ayn Rand with Lempicka covers as it is so blatantly obvious to link them together, although it works well enough I guess because of similarity in artistic vision between the two. I readily admit I have a certain weakness for Rand’s aesthetic theory (even though it may fall on its own accord) and Roark’s praise of Stephen Mallory in The Fountainhead could perhaps be used to explain my love for Lempicka: I think you are the best sculptor we have. I think it because your figures are not what men are, but what men could be – and should be. Because you’ve gone beyond the probable and made us see what is possible, but possible only trough you. Because your figures are more devoid of contempt for humanity than any work I’ve ever seen. Because you have a magnificent respect for the human being. Because your figures are the heroic in man.
Inspired by Lempicka…
God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.
All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.
I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?
If I could once lay down myself,
And start self-purged upon the race
That all must run ! Death runs apace.
If I could set aside myself,
And start with lightened heart upon
The road by all men overgone!
God harden me against myself,
This coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for ease and rest and joys
Myself, arch-traitor to myself ;
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.
Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling load from me
Break off the yoke and set me free.
“Who Shall Deliver Me?” by Christina Rossetti (Mellery The Stairway; Khnopff I Lock the Door Upon Myself; Khnopff Who Shall Deliver Me; Rossetti Beata Beatrix)
It is the most exciting thing when artworks from private collections briefly enters the public domain of the auction rooms. If I had unlimited funds it is very likely I would spend a small fortune on the 5 o’clock tea antiquity type of art that is so (although little favoured by art critics) popular among collectors. My dream, someone else’s reality: Alma-Tadema’s “The Finding of Moses” sold for a whopping $35,922,500 the other day at Sotheby’s.
And at the same auction, “Portrait of Giovinetta Errazuriz”, Boldini’s lovely little Lolita, went for $6,578,500. If I could choose any artist, living or dead, to paint my portrait it would be Boldini. Or possibly a post-1900 Singer Sargent. Fluid and dazzling. I would love to paint myself actually. Were I an artist I would do a great deal of bleak self-portraits, I imagine.
I had a meeting on High Street Ken this morning and spent the rest of the day wandering around that which is, without a doubt, the best part of town. At the V&A I found a Rossetti I haven’t seen before, watched adorable little school children sketch William Morris patterns (I know this sounds like suspicious behavior… I can assure you children hold no special place in my heart – to put it mildly – but I love watching kids and art.) and discovered that the tapestry room is a most calm and meditative place. I then went to check out these mirror installations by Anish Kapoor in Kensington Gardens.
I found it largely unimpressive, almost a bit ugly and not all as good as his other work. But then, to be fair, the weather was not doing anyone any favours today. They are due to stay until next year so I will try to swing by on a bright, sunshiny day and search for that wonder, felt last year at his RA show. I also went to see Klara Lidén’s stuff at the Serpentine Gallery. I don’t get it. At all. But hey ho, so it goes. Jean Nouvel’s pavilion is amazing though, I wish I had made the effort to go to see it in the summer, in all its glory.
Red, red, red. Anish Kapoor feels strongly about red. Matisse did too, and Kokoschka. Gauguin adored red. Not to talk about Rothko. Red protects itself. No colour is as territorial. It stakes a claim, is on the alert against the spectrum said Derek Jarman but he felt very strongly about that whole spectrum I believe. I have lost his little book on colours I realize now and I miss it. Well, cheerio!
Last night, after attempting to visit Francis Alÿs at Tate Modern (we only got as far as to Agnes Martin when the insight into our human imperfections and inadequacies quenched our determination and made the pub a more tempting option), we were sat on Bankside, rosé in hand and with a view overlooking St Paul’s in front of us (which prompted a most depraved conversation of which I shall spare you the details). It is the first time in many years I have seen St Paul’s without any scaffolding and it is such a pretty sight. This is the year it has all been leading up to: the 300th anniversary of its completion. It is rather comforting to look upon something which looks exactly the same now as then, with the rest of London so much changed. My infatuation with lavish Baroque has (temporarily) cooled down, and I never thought I would say this, but I am actually quite happy some restraints were put on Sir Wren’s building plans. Pieter Jansz Saenredam might have something to do with it.
Such depth and breadth and height! I love these Dutch Gothic church interiors with their ashen walls and supple, curved shapes creating grandeur in all their austerity. Far from the spectacle of Catholic adoration, in Saenredam’s paintings, light flows through empty Protestant churches, bare and whitewashed in the Calvinist Reformation. They speak the visual language of architecture, concerned with surfaces and structure rather than people and symbols. Roland Barthes writes that never has nothingness been so confident. Saenredam’s sugary, stubborn surfaces calmly rejects the Italian overpopulation of statues, as well as the horror vacui professed by other Dutch painters. Saenredam is in effect a painter of the absurd; he has achieved a private state of the subject, more insidious than the dislocations of our contemporaries. To paint so lovingly these meaningless surfaces, and to paint nothing else – that is already a “modern” esthetic of silence. Indulging in these white spaces, with acute precision, Saenredam escapes what Barthes and Robbe-Grillet 300 years later would call ‘the tyranny of signification’: the dawn of modernism in the 17th century.
Frederick Cayley Robinson (1962-1927) has been dug up from the dark abyss of forgotten artists in the National Gallery’s exhibition Acts of Mercy where the main attraction is four large-scale panels, originally commissioned by the Middlesex Hospital and now owned by the Wellcome Trust, of which BBC has made a neat little Audio Slideshow. But what really caught my attention was this:
“Pastoral” usually resides at Tate (although I have never seen it there on display) and trust me; it is a thousand times more beautiful and radiant in real life. That moonshine, shining like mercury, shoots through the air like a bright flash of light. It is wonderfully subtle and loud at the same time and strikes a chord with me in very much the same way as this other National Gallery painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.
What I like here is that double focus of realism and symbolism…that slightly intangible shift into figurative modernism, still anchored in heroic symbolism (Gallen-Kallela is best known for his illustrations of the Finish national epic Kalevala). But aesthetic merits aside, I think it’s mostly got to do with the water. I’m not a sea person you see. I’ll happily visit the seaside every once in a while and like maritime art very much indeed (especially stormy seascapes). But I am, devotedly and entirely, a lake person. Yes, the sea, the sea brings into our minds ‘the turbid ebb and flow of human misery’ etc. etc. But the lake is serene, mysterious and poetic. It records the changing of seasons in the mirror of its surface, soft like velvet in the summer and hard like the earth in the winter. It hoards memories and silence, regrets and desires: a keeper of secrets.
In 1847, two Botticelli paintings depicting Venus were acquired by the National Gallery. The authenticity of the picture now called ‘An Allegory’ (which was bought at a considerably larger sum than the other) was eventually brought into question by critics and curators. The subject bear close resemblance to both ‘Venus and Mars’ and ‘Venus and Three Putti’ (now in the Louvre), the later generally attributed to the workshop of Botticelli, but is stylistically and technically different, placing the painting outside of the Botticelli realm. While fears have arisen that the piece might be a masterly done fake, recent technological investigation has proven the painting to be a genuine late 15th or early 16th century painting.
While losing the high status of a Botticelli, and being downgraded to an unknown nobody, in the National Gallery’s exhibition “Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries” it has been brought out into the limelight once again.
Unknown Italian, ‘An Allegory’, about 1500
Nothing beats a bit of mystery or myth surrounding a piece of art, whether it be the artists himself or the artwork and its owners. ‘Close Examination’ is an absolutely wonderful exhibition that looks at art forgery, imitations, alterations and restorations within the Gallery’s collection. Using human expertise and high-tech scientific examination, it uncovers the hidden truths (or lies) underneath those layers of paint.
Botticelli, ‘Venus and Mars’, about 1485