November 14, 2017

5.45 am: An early start in readiness for the 7.30 am train for Birmingham and, then, London. The streets glistened; the rain diffused; the town awoke, baker by baker. (Ah! The smell of freshly-baked bread.) At the station (I arrived too early, as ever), seagulls hollered and dived overhead. Professor Grattan was taking the same train, as he embarked upon one of his ambassadorial tours of far flung places on behalf of the university. I really don’t envy him. On board, I plugged in my iPad and settled to write correspondence and draft ideas for more substantial things. That unnerving sense of having forgotten something was beginning to recede. I tried to nap for a while en route. Too restless for that. So, I awaited the trolley with the unconscionably expensive tea to arrive. [‘John, you’re pathetic!’]:

A grey tarpaulin covered the route once the sun, which had threatened to burn off the morning mist earlier, had lost its battle. Beyond Shrewsbury, the red brick remains of a once prosperous midlands manufacturing industry became more conspicuous. I’m always struck by how much green pasture there remains between the great industrial cities of Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Canals, corrugation, parking lots for unsold cars, and out-of-town supermarkets pretending to be castles:

I arrived at Euston shortly after noon. Oyster Card topped up, I headed for Leicester Square and walked from there to Piccadilly and the Royal Academy. My pre-booked, time-booked ticket didn’t arrive on my phone last night, so I bought again. I was about to see the Jasper Johns and Duchamp/Dali exhibitions. This was a lot to take in. Johns first:

A great painter of greys. Temperate greys over saturated chromatic. Works that are conceptual but also sensual. He held onto an idea and motif far longer than most artists can. A man of conviction. Memory tracings. He was not enslaved to his past or the expectations of others. Reworked past imagery: his own and of other artworks. Interest in classical mythology. Great artists are invariably well read. ‘The Seasons’ reminds me of John Selway’s work from the late 1970s. ‘Perilous Night’ (I know this title from somewhere else [?]). ‘Watchman’ – made with so few moves. (Painting as a well conceived game of chess.) At his best, he was Rauschenberg’s equal. But R was more consistently good throughout his career. JJ: intelligence and aesthetics in unison. Great wit. He makes me smile. ‘Painting Bitten by a Man’ – I laughed, audibly (‘The Black Notebook’ (November 14, 2017) 276–7).

My estimation of Dali grew considerably today. In the context of Duchamp’s work, the exhibition highlighted the intellectual roots of the former’s imagery and, too, of his technique.

Mid afternoon I returned to Leicester Square and made my pilgrimage to Denmark Street. One day all these great guitar shops will be gone, and with them a significant chapter in British music history. Some genuinely important guitarists and guitars have been walked out of their doors. I’ve an ambition to buy one from this street one day. I took refuge in a coffee house (where I drank tea) in order to catch up on mail and other correspondence. I’ve eaten light throughout the day; now I was getting peckish. (Bring on the self discipline.)

4.55 pm: I met my younger son at Euston and, from there, we travelled to Barbican and a local restaurant, where my elder son met us. A Harvey Boys’ night on the town. Always a treat. Pensive selfie:

7.30 pm: A concert by the jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and his band. Hancock began his career, like so many other colossi of that generation, in the stable of Miles Davis back in the 60s and 70s. Davis’ stamp was still evident in Hancock’s fascination with electronic tonalities and boundary pushing. It was a tight set. The drummer played punishingly (there were evocations of Billy Cobham) without respite for a good two hours. The boys should do this more:

 

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