Thursday, January 15, 2009

A jolly night out

Back from London, where I was at the launch of Alex Keegan's short story collection, Ballistics (see post below). A very enjoyable evening indeed, with AK reading from his work (plus assistance from his daughter and her friend). But probably more than anything it was a great opportunity to meet some old colleagues from Boot Camp. Some I've met before - Dan, Ralph, Caroline, Lexie - but others have always just been names in the ether - Margot, Cally, Nancy - so it was great to put faces to the names, after all this time. Good food, good chat. And a few wines and beers were downed...

Earlier, taking advantage of the day out in London, I went over to Tate Modern for the Rothko exhibition. (En passant, what's with all this jogging in London at the moment? There's always been a fair bit of it, but it's bloody near impossible to walk down the South Bank without being mowed down by fat, middle aged men sweating out last night's Pinot Grigio and shambling along without lifting their feet off the ground. Is it this season's must-do activity?)

Anyway, Rothko. Hmmm. I do like to think I connect with modern art and can appreciate even the most esoteric, but with Rothko I have to admit I'm struggling. Sure, they're impressive, and, as always, it's much better seeing them in the flesh than in reproductions. There's definitely more depth to them - both literally and metaphorically, and with some of the black ones in particular there's something almost mesmerising in the way the density of the blackness seems to shift the more you look at it, so that at first the painted border seems darker than the main body of the painting, and then vice versa, and then the main bdoy itself seems to change.

But, in the end, they still feel like big blocks of repetitive colour, and I struggle to take anything from them. Yes, the moodiness of the atmosphere in the main room with the red and maroons is good, the dark lighting adding something to the effect, but I still got the feeling it was a large, dark room full of red pictures. I'm not usually so philistine, but these just didn't do it for me.

I guess I like some form of narrative. I'm not talking purely figurative art. I don't mind abstraction, not in the least, because I have a vivid imagination and even through abstraction I can usually start to conjure up some sort of meaning. With Rothko it didn't happen.

Later, however, wandering round the main galleries, I came across a painting and a painter I've never encountered before, Meredith Frampton, and I was blown away. This painting, Portrait of a young woman, from 1935, is simply gorgeous. It definitely says something. The woman has such a strong face, and there is such an enigma about her expression. This woman demands - positively demands - to have a story written about her, and so she shall have one.

Today was rounded off by the Renaissance Faces exhibition at the National. Good stuff, though it felt a bit familiar, because half of the paintings are from the National's own collection, so I've seen them lots of times before. But worth a wander anyway, and I discovered another elegant, enigmatic woman, this time by Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of a woman inspired by Lucretia. Again, there is such strength in her expression, and so much unsaid which would be truly fascinating to uncover. This painting is also in the National's collection, I understand, but I've never spotted it before. It'll be a favourite from now on.

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