Archives for posts with tag: art history
An old magazine advertisement for a Williams Typewriter courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

An old magazine advertisement for a Williams Typewriter courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

Sometimes I write material other than poetry. Here is an extract from a recent article I wrote about a young man who served during World War I. He had worked as a graphic designer and was fond of reciting poetry.

“Even his father was surprised when Julian Gould enlisted in 1915. Gould had gone to Art School, spent time in a Paris studio and at the time when war broke out, was engaged as a print designer. His friends and family knew him as a kind and considerate dreamer who studied French and loved poetry. His political sympathies were not overtly aligned to King and country

Like many men who went into battle, he lived by the bullet. Read the full article in the Public Catalogue Foundation’s November newsletter.

I have written other pieces for the newsletter including
an article about the Brontë Parsonage Museum,
The Grand Ol’ Skaters of York, an exploration of a winter scene by painter Jan Griffier I (c. 1645 – 1718), and
103 True Faces of Robert Burns, which considers a joyful, playful pastiche that reworks a well known portrait of the young Burns.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

"Auspicious Cranes," a hand scroll on silk attributed to Song emperor Huizong (1082 - 1135, r. 1101 - 1126). Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAuspicious_Cranes.jpg

“Auspicious Cranes,” a hand scroll on silk attributed to Song emperor Huizong (1082 – 1135, r. 1101 – 1126). Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAuspicious_Cranes.jpg

Within the confines of a silken sheet,

the observers attend upon the temple.

Before it returns to ash and dust,

they light a votive offering.

It is

 

in a portrait

the thumbnail of the painter’s right hand

 

the sparse arm-hairs of a samurai

beset by ghosts

 

the frog at the woman’s feet,

gazing, as we do, as she steps out of her bath

 

21/11/13

Yesterday and today I have had the great pleasure of visiting three temporary exhibitions of glorious visual/material culture. I find visual stimuli a great well for my writing and am delighted that today’s poem gives credit to this recent input.

Freshest in my mind are the Shunga scenes, which I saw at the British Museum this evening.  Shunga (‘spring pictures’) are erotic paintings, prints and illustrations paintings and prints from Japan.

The last two descriptions in the poem above are drawn from two works on show. I searched for links to the images, but unfortunately could not find these particular ones in the British Museum’s online collection. Possibly they are loan items, or I am in error as to my search criteria. I’ll add a note later should I come across them.

The image with the artist’s thumbnail is “Portrait of Shen Zhou at Age Eighty” (Unidentified Artist, 1506, The Palace Museum Collection, Beijing). Shen Zhou (1427–1509) was a notable painter during the Ming dynasty in China. (You can view an image of the work here.) It was at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum’s Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, 700 to 1900, that I saw the original of Shen Zhou’s portrait. I was supremely fortunate to also see the original of “Auspicious Cranes” (possibly Emperor Huizong, about 1112, The Liaoning Provincial Museum Collection). A reproduction of this image had inspired my poem Twenty Auspicious Cranes in July.

As for today’s poem, I ask for some artistic leeway from the post-colonial theorists and rigorous Asian Cultural Studies scholars. They will have noted two misdemeanours. The first, that I group the creative production of two distinct traditions in one list. Secondly, I overlay the poem with a veil of ‘spiritual East’.

Now I spy two further inadvertent creative devices that may tempt critique. I have compounded the ‘spiritual East’ with the ‘historical Orient’.  This imagined benevolent kingdom of the past bequeaths, through its exotic treasures, wisdoms about greater universal truths to the present (read: curious Western scholars or readers). Note the tactility elicited in the poem. We read about silk, ash, dust and light. We imagine the referenced water. Thumbnails, arms and feet are mentioned. Alluded to are the hands as they attend, light offerings and paint. We imagine the form of the woman stepping out of her bath. The poem catalogues wonder through an exploration of sensual (sense) experience and the ‘body Orient’. Here, it is worth cautioning that I am conflating East and Orient at will. Ai me. Edward Said and his followers shudder.

Finally, I suspect not all the images are painted on silk either. Yet, this quintessential fabric of the East sets the canvas.

When I look at the handiwork of other artists, artisans and craftsman across time and cultures, I am frequently drawn in by their attentiveness to those small details like the thumbnail, the arm-hairs and the gazing frog. It mattered enough at some point in time for them to add that observational asterisk to the image. This is what, as an artist, I perceive as a votive offering. I indulgently imagine their bequest of wonder is of a similar sentiment to my poetic attentiveness that declares, Now Here is Something to Marvel At…

P.S. The third exhibition was a marvellous homage to pearls at the V&A. It had my imagination at sea with mermaids, but all that for another post.

P.P.S. I didn’t even mention the samurai.

Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, 700 to 1900 is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum until 19 January 2014. Tickets: £13,50 with concessions available. Advance booking is strongly recommended. For more information see the exhibition website.

 

Victoria and Albert Museum details:

Tel.: 020 7942 2000

Address: Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL

Opening times:

10:00 – 17:45 daily

10:00 – 22:00 Fridays

Website: http://www.vam.ac.uk/

 

Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art is on at the British Museum until 5 January 2014. Kindly be advised, the exhibition will be closed all day on Saturday 14 December and until 12.00 on Sunday 15 December. Tickets: £7, Members free. Parental guidance advised. For more information see the exhibition website.

British Museum details:

Tel. for ticket booking: 020 7323 8181

Address: Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

Opening times:

10:00 – 17:30 daily

10:00 – 20.30 Fridays

Website: http://www.britishmuseum.org/

You’re invited to take a peek at my book of selected poems, Shining in Brightness.

I tweet about art, writing and London life as @BeadedQuill. Please follow me.

The Gullies (Covent Garden, London)

I have a personal Thursday pleasure and it is to choose my PCF picture of the week over a strong black coffee. The ten I have chosen to date are a visual log of the last two months of my London journey. “The Gullies (Covent Garden, London)” is my picture from 19 July 2012.

The public send in comments via an online option called Art Detective and it is my duty to log these comment. As I do so, I click over to the image referenced in the message. Each week I enter a parallel world of a people’s art and social history. The Your Paintings archive has brought together the outer world of the UK’s paintings and the inner worlds of artists, institutions and lived lives, and put them in front of me on a screen.

I came across “The Gullies (Covent Garden, London)” by Peter Snow after logging an email about another of his works, “The Passing World” (1985).  Snow’s image caught my attention because the Public Catalogue Foundation’s offices are in Covent Garden, on Maiden Lane. The kitchenette windows look out onto similar rooftops and the back windows of rented office spaces. On a grey day, a wintery day, I can imagine that this is how these rooftops are shaded in similar dull shades, murky greens and weary browns.

My view from the computer is of arched windows across the road with three neat, potted round-headed topiaries on a sill. The colouring on this side is different, too: white, those green, topiary balls and bricks of a softer, warmer, baked biscuit hue. Heard though unseen, below bustles a street of restaurants and bars; in the morning string-armed delivery men unpack crates of alcohol, at lunch business commences. I think of as green and yellow/ gold as the colours of below. Firstly because the awnings of London’s oldest restaurant, Rules, are themed in these shades and the door to the PCF offices is green. Secondly, because the South African shop is down the street; the combination of ‘green and gold’ calls on an embedded memory of school-lesson patriotism.

“The Gullies” took me back to my high school art history classes in the early 1990s, in Cape Town. In those days Mr Cain still lit up the theory room wall with images from a slide projector. Those slides opened up the worlds for me. When I saw these Covent Garden gullies I remembered Piet Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie – Woogie” (1942-43, oil on canvas, 50- 50 cm, New York, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)). One of Mondrian’s last paintings, it captures his bird’s eye view, we were told, of the hustle-bustle and jazz-fuelled streets of 1940s New York. He was in a great city, but far from home. He looked down on his new urban landscape, as a voyeur of the urban maze.

Gan Gan was my London Granny, she was born in 1917 and raised in the city between the two World Wars. “My Fair Lady” was her favourite musical. In one of my last memories of her more lucid, we are sitting on the edge of my parents’ bed watching it. She was in her 80s; I about 12. This was 17 years before I came to London, when England was still as once upon a time as Eliza Doolittle, Dick Whittington, the bluebells and nostalgia in Gan Gan’s quarterly copies of This England magazine. England was a place of purple, blue, grey and rain. It was “The Cries of London” on decorative plates along her staircase wall. It smelled like Eau de Cologne 4711, tasted like milky tea with honey and Tennis Biscuits. (Coconutty Tennis Biscuits are not quintessentially English, but in Gan Gan’s kitchen at tea time they become so.) London’s song was “Knees up Mother Brown” and the pop of a large biscuit tin opening.

In July I was not so well, but remained hopeful and “The Gullies” maps out a grisly, possibly-paved-with-gold London for me. I love “The Gullies (Covent Garden, London)” for the free-running it gives my imaginary London and my recent real experience. There’s something very rich in it, and it sparks a leaping of parkour proportions in my creative brain. Not unlike the crazy time I have spent in this remarkable city.

2012

My first volume of poetry, SHINING IN BRIGHTNESS is available for preview and purchase at blurb.co.uk

Follow my London adventures, North-South musings and hunt for good biscuits on Twitter. I’m @BeadedQuill

In respect of copyright, I have not reproduced Peter Snow’s lovely images with this piece. If you click on the painting titles above, you will be taken to the Your Painting’s website where these images are archived. “Your Paintings is a website which aims to show the entire UK national collection of oil paintings, the stories behind the paintings, and where to see them for real. It is made up of paintings from thousands of museums and other public institutions around the country.”