Art and about

Poems inspired by looking at art in London.

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Art and about

Perino del Vaga: Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist
Perino del Vaga: Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist
Unfinished… Works from the Courtauld Gallery, Summer 2015

Unfinished, but delight enough in these:
the captured pause, the dissolving outline,
the delicate suggestion of process.

I have a partiality, it seems, for the partial
image, the summary (misread as summery)
evocation of a scene, a face, a figure.

Isn’t this how it is in life – the quiet click
as a roaming eye hovers and finds its focus
in something less than the whole picture?

The contour of her cheek, the shadows between
his small fingers, the meeting of two surfaces.
Incomplete is enough for me.

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Art and about

Sonia Delaunay: Bal Bullier, 1913 (detail)
Sonia Delaunay: Bal Bullier, 1913 (detail)

At the Bal Bullier figures tango with abstraction shape and colour move in time as well as space – the spinning depth the opening in form and light that Sonia Delaunay captured. Long loved for as long as I’ve loved looking at paintings well loved since long before that well remembered time so long ago it seems no time at all. Simultané (simultaneous) is the word she used. Nineteen eighty-three? four? A survey of Post-Impressionism was it? I mostly remember the three of us – me and you and the women you were with now. I wore a red tee-shirt to hide the blood seeping from my heart. Remember our dance around one another around the paintings among the colours: the blood red the jealous green the wide blue skies of our comparative youth. Colour is the skin of the world she said. Swirling colours and our swirling three-step towards and away and away. We three were a luridly coloured eternal triangle with wavering edges and sharp points but we talked only in twos. With you the happiness of looking at painted light an exhilaration we’d long shared and could still share but would not be sharing ever again. And with her the immediately shared outcry: why was Sonia less famous than her husband? Why when those energetic joyful rhythms…? Light and colour she said are confounded. And when her multi-colours coalesced in concentric circles did the repeated colour wheels catherine wheels swirl and spark into a suggestion of violence? Target practice. My red tee-shirt hid the blood after I cornered her in the Ladies and stuck her with my sharp point. Did I even notice then the fragility of her lines which I now find as startling as the force of her colours and rhythms? Some perceptions change some don’t the driving rhythms forward movement memories moved on. Today for Sonia I’m wearing not red but black. Le Serpent noir is a late work. Long life long love slips around me like a silk scarf the black snake dances to the music of time.

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Art and about

Agnes Martin's last work

The retrospective is room after room of encompassing light and depth that draw you into Agnes Martin’s long journey. Here. Now. Over and over. These big, pale, calm abstractions, and moving among them the pale hologram of a lone, determined woman. Colour. Lines. Straight lines. And one small drawing that is different: a single, sure, if quivering, line that curves back and forth as it describes the contours of a potted plant.

her last work
at ninety-two
still life

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Art and about

photo of birches by Jean Morris

Outside the gallery
drawn up in close formation
a battalion of birches

straight from a forest
in a melancholy Russian novel
or one of those eerily pretty
paintings by Gustav Klimt

bright as morning air
their shadows charcoal strokes
on dusty ground

sculpted and framed by the eyes
of arriving aficionados
these modestly exuberant white wands
are also art.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Art and about

Dulwich Picture Gallery

1.

This beauty’s not for everyone
blind windows like a prison
said a friend indifferent
to Soane’s genius
but I exult in it.

The honey-coloured bricks
and the harmonious outline
are earth and air.

It’s here that I come
to be grounded in a space
where sorrow and regret
can be felt but can’t annihilate
where hope can briefly soar.

The new Dulwich Picture Gallery in bright sunlight

2.

The sheer heft lovely lines
unchanging serenity
are what I love
so the old photo was a shock.

Many bombs fell on south-east London
You can see the places still
where a modern house interrupts
a Victorian terrace.

Around Dulwich small plaques
give the date the names
and ages of the dead

and in July 44 the gallery took a hit
that reduced its heart to rubble.

In this picture no sweet geometry
The honey drips
a waterfall of chaos
a radical artwork depicting
the horror of war.

Today’s fine structure
bears few traces
but once seen never forgotten
The rebuilt harmonies become a hymn
to resilience and repair.

black-and-white photo of Dulwich Picture Gallery reduced to rubble in Word War II

3.

On the corner by the pub car-park is a new mural
after van Dyck’s Venetia Lady Digby on her Deathbed.
Let me count the ways this work based on a portrait
of a dead woman fills me with paradoxical happiness.

Huge and bright and apart from the rose mostly blue,
it’s by the German artist MadC – C is for Claudia,
a woman of bold vision and talent and about the age
Venetia Digby was when she died in her sleep in 1633.

The painting was the muralist’s choice: a clever project,
these “old master murals” by street artists talking back
to their chosen works in the gallery have flashed up
on blank walls and gable ends all over Dulwich, but

none has taken my breath, none makes me stop and
smile and ponder each time I see it the way this does –
a mistressful meeting of past and present, private and
public art, death and unrestrained but not unthinking life.

MadC's Dulwich mural


Links:

Dulwich Picture Gallery
John Soane, the architect
World War 2 bombs in Dulwich
Venetia Lady Digby on her Deathbed by Anthony van Dyck
MadC (Claudia Walde), the muralist
and her Dulwich mural