Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A visit to England

I've just returned from a trip to England and Berlin with my partner, Deborah Klein, and what a fantastic time we had. It's always a thrill and a privilege to visit the great museums of England and Europe. Whenever we visit London, we stay with  Barbara and Sue in Hampstead, about a five minute walk to the heath, and sometimes with Bev and Roger.

Since a visit to London means seeing many things, I thought I would highlight just a few of them to give you a taste of what awaits those who are interested in art.

One of my favourite Turner paintings (top) was inspired by the light at Petworth Park where he often visited. This hangs in Tate Britain in the section devoted to the work of Turner. It's an interesting part of the gallery because there are a few unfinished abstract paintings there and they are hypnotic to see. It's tempting to say that he practiced Abstract Expressionism before 20th Century American artists did.

John Constable is one of my favourite artists. I've included one of his cloud studies (second from top) as an example of some of his work I saw. To catch fresh air and natural light in paint is a great achievement  and it's one quality I admire in a painting. Whenever I visit London I always go to Constable's grave (above) in the churchyard of St. John's in Hampstead. Across the road, there is also the grave of Anton Wallbrook, one of the great Hollywood actors who starred in films like The Red Shoes, Gaslight and The Queen of Spades.

There was an interesting exhibition of the work of Gerhard Richter at Tate Modern. I've never been a fan of his until I saw the work in the flesh. Whenever his paintings are reproduced in books, the sense of paint is missing, but this exhibition dispelled all my negative opinions about him. There was a room of all grey abstract pictures, very thickly painted and yet elegant in there realization. I was also impressed with the thoughts behind all the works and the variety of his oeuvre.

Another exhibition I saw was on John Martin, an artist who painted pictures of biblical apocalypses, invading armies and utopian landscapes - a Cecil B. Demille of the early to mid 19th Century. Amazing technique but I don't think I could live with many of his works, the theatrics can be a bit much. He travelled the world with some of his pictures, including Australia, exhibited them in special lighting conditions and charged an admittance fee. Tate Britain set some of these up, just like Martin would have, in a dark room and highlighted sections of them, all very dramatic. But the curators made a big mistake when they decided to overlap the paintings with moving light projections of their own design. This is saying that Martin failed to achieve the drama he aimed for in his work and therefore needed the enhancement of technology to make it better - what complete nonsense and how disrespectful to the artist. It just goes to show how technology has hypnotized the brains of so many people. 

Continuing on with the critical line, I also thought that the light in the museums was too dull. One of the most important characteristics of paintings is their inner light, and this is never allowed out if they hang in a twilight. I understand this from a conservation point of view, but lighting conditions vary a great deal in museums all over the world, so if some can create a good exhibition light then why not all museums.  

One of the highlights of my England trip was a visit to Cambridge University to see the fan-vaulted ceiling of King's College Chapel. Two pictures above will give you an idea of its majesty. It would have to be one of the greatest things ever made by human hands, an awesome sight to behold. For me, that's what art should be - to look at something in wonder and experience a magic that is beyond explanation.

London has so many great and inspiring cultural institutions to explore and you really need many visits or long stays to become familiar with their treasures. The Courtauld Institute of Art (bottom picture with me looking at Manet's Bar at the Folies Begere), the Wallace Collection, Kenwood House, the V&A Museum, The V&A Museum for Childhood, The Imperial War Museum, The British Library, The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge University and many more. Of course that's not all. London theatre, cocktails at the Savoy, snacks at The Crypt, a visit to Gordon's Wine Bar, a trip to the country and catching up with friends, all this makes for a great overseas trip.