March 20, 2018

9.30 am: I walked passed the ‘Pollock shop’, as I call it, to drop off a suitcase at my son’s flat. 10.30 am: Following an abortive attempt to see a photography exhibition at the Hayward Gallery (which is closed on Tuesdays, surprisingly), I headed for the National Gallery to reacquaint myself with some old ‘friends’ and, as yesterday, to encourage my sensibility to extend beyond the domain of its established predilections. (Beware of the ‘safe-zone’!):

In particular, I wanted to attend Tacita Dean’s curated show, Still Life. She had situated her own work in this genre alongside examples drawn from the Gallery’s collection. No textual explanations for her choices were given. Words sometimes get in the way, as the exhibition board explained. True. Words can also supply the want of a persuasive or sufficiently evident curatorial rationale, on occasion. Dean’s decisions were, however, decisive, convincing, and enigmatic in equal measure. She trusted in the power of visuality to defend its own cause. I was drawn to a beguiling simple arrangement of mushrooms on a plate by William Nicholson. (Ben’s dad.) I began to think about food. (‘The depths of your superficiality know no bounds, John!’)

12.30 pm: Respite, and lunch at yet another Japanese restaurant close by. A bowl of chicken Ramen on this occasion. As is the case with much Japanese food, the enjoyment was as much in the looking as in the eating. Meal as still life:

1.15 pm: On, then, to the National Portrait Gallery. Portraiture has never been ‘my thing’. Which is why I visited, in part. Since I was an undergraduate art student, I’ve been fascinated by the occasional series of self-portraits that Rembrandt painted at various intervals throughout his life, beginning in his early 2os. His last work was completed in the year that he died, at the age of 64.  It’s to the later paintings that I tend to look, these days.  Perhaps, as artists, we ought to represent ourselves to ourselves at significant intervals over the course of maturation. For him, the works were self-reflections: both in an mirror and internally. The bravura and openness of brush work evident in the late paintings never fails to astonish me. In those violent and assured movements of the brush (he was rightly angry at this time of his life), Rembrandt laid the foundations for Turner, Abstract Expressionism, and varieties of painterly mode up to the present day. I’m in the habit of saying ‘Thank you for daring to open a window’ to him, under my breath, when I’m in their presence.

2.00 pm: There was an exhibition entitled Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound, held as part of British Library’s ‘Season of Sound’. I knew a good deal about the subject from my own studies. But is was heartening to see that the Library was, for the first time, making a noise (quite literally) about it’s extensive sound archive and – as we’re already doing in Wales at the National Library and with the Royal Commission – putting on performances of contemporary sound practice. There was, also, this glorious wonder: a Nagra SN miniature tape recorder (1970).  What precision craftsmanship! ‘I’m in love’:

4.53 pm: The journey home from Euston:

I caught up on my diary and reflected, internally, on the patterns, lessons, blessings, and implications of the past few days.




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