Well. it’s Friday now but there was no time on Thursday to write the blog for the day. I collapsed last night, surfeited, and not only with culture, art, ideas, creation, but also too much food and stimulus (ideas, talk and wine).
A long time ago, we had a basset hound named Joey –
(a sturdy hunting dog of a breed with a long body, short legs, and big ears) - also a very talented nose. My son John was the official owner of the dog and he enjoyed testing that nose. John would take a biscuit, not even a very pungent piece of food, and run it over the grass in a complicated pattern before letting the dog out. Joey would pick up the scent and follow it immediately, swerving only if the trail came too close to the one he was on when he would switch over. I used to think what a marvellous experience it would be to have that nose and pick up on sharper sensual experiences than I could imagine. I think that artists, visual artists, must have the equivalent of a Basset’s nose in their brains/physiology that enables them to see the world in different dimensions and patterns than we ordinary humans can see in our drab perception of the world.
I have long agreed with the opinion that playwrights rank among the most conservative of artists. Even with all the innovative ways- and not all of them by the playwrights - that have been devised to present a play, the stories and ideas are still essentially linear. We depend on explosions of colour and noise rather than on words to break into that lizard brain in the audience for any breakthroughs we might hope for.
Sorry, but yesterday my lizard brain was running round like our old basset hound, trying to follow the ideas/notions/visions of two modern artists who were on our agenda for the day. We began early with a comforting view of the past: Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a hugely popular London resort for almost two centuries, the Disney World of Europe, that finally closed in July, 1859. The entire area that encompassed the Gardens is undergoing a vast revival, with gigantic new housing and the building of three Embassies (U.S., Dutch, and I forget), as well as new art galleries, including the Newport Street Galley, our first stop once we hit the bus.
The wealthy, successful artist, Damien Hirst, has opened space for art from his own collection, not his own creation, and this first exhibition is devoted to John Hoyland. The space is well suited to the work, titled Power Stations, and displays to incredible advantage the sharp angles of the enormous paintings matching the angles of the ceilings of the vast white rooms. We had some preparation for this huge sensual onslaught from the Power Points illustrations given to us by our presenter, curator [NAME?], but all the Power Points in the world could not reconcile me to the work of Frank Auerbach, our second artist of the day, encountered at Tate Britain, after lunch at Brunswick House. Pause here.
Do you remember the movie UP? A tiny little house is surrounded by behemoths of skyscrapers dwarfing it and the old widower who owns it and refuses to sell out. That’s Brunswick House, a wrecked and reclaimed Georgian mansion, protected now as a heritage site, and a South London landmark, a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, meeting and party place and antique shop. Like Honest Ed’s restaurant in Toronto, everything in the place is for sale (very pricey). It’s like a live Antiques Road Show. One of our Group bought a copper engraving to take home.
We had a very large lunch (dinner!): roast lamb, roasted new potatoes, and spinach salad, following a big appetizer plate, concluding with apple crumble, accompanied by red or white wine. The others preferred white wine so I had a bottle of Merlot all to myself. Surfeit. I didn't drink it all, but enough.
That did me in, that, plus Auerbach. His work includes “some of the most vibrant, alive and inventive paintings of recent times”. My lizard brain was very sluggish and it wasn’t just the wine. I “got” this passionate and exciting (not my words), artist better at arm’s length in the Power Point pix than in the actual paintings I saw in front of me.
Surfeit, and the day wasn’t over. The coach dropped us back at the hotel after 5, and I rested – no dinner required – until time for it to take us to the Old Vic theatre to see Ralph Fiennes in The Master Builder: exciting, and I got it.
And now I am just in time to attend the last discussion of this packed week: a critical round-up of the London theatre scene with one of London’s leading critics, Michael Billington of the Guardian.