Wednesday, 11 March 2015

London and its art

I enjoy art. I don’t know what I’m looking at half the time, but I appreciate effort and talent. Even if I do occasionally think, I’m pretty sure I could do that

But ultimately art is a wonderful, hedonistic pleasure.

As a result of the grey and grizzly weather, I’ve been driven indoors in my tourist pursuits and have thus visited a number of London’s galleries of the last few weeks.


National Gallery
Once I was dressed and ready, I googled the Gallery and was confronted with a notice on the website. Parts of the Gallery were to be closed due to Union strike action. Oh well, it seems that most of it will still be open, I thought to myself.

I arrived in Trafalgar Square, and allowed myself to be a tourist for a moment, photographing the square and the impressive Gallery frontage. Once inside, I discovered that the wings closed were the interesting wings. Naturally. The Monet’s and the Rembrants. If I had been a proper tourist, I would have been rather annoyed by this. No matter, I’m a Londoner now, I’ll go back another time.

This left me with the 1260-1510’s and the some of 1510-1600’s. 

I spent the next few hours walking systematically through each of the rooms, not wanting to miss any painting of importance but also not spending a lot of time with any one painting. I found a small, darkened room that housed a Da Vinci that took my fancy. It was drawn on paper, and the dark room serves to preserve the 500 year old artwork. What I particularly loved about this drawing was the incredible attention to detail sketched for the faces, the upper bodies, the incredibly soft folds of fabric. Then ones eye is draw towards the feet; crudely drawn outlines, unfinished. Like he got bored and over it by that point. Too many people were taking selfies in this little room, so I didn’t get a lot of time to spend peering at the uncomfortable toes.

The da Vinci with the unfinished feet

I found other centuries old artwork which were adorned with jewels, many religious works and many by Botticelli. Botticelli’s works were of interest to me, as I instantly recognised the name as Marius’ lover and artist muse from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Interesting how one things inspires another.

Emerging again at the entrance, and peering through the darkened doorways into the closed rooms, it was time for me to leave. I was out and about now and not ready to go home. As I walked towards the station, I realised I was passing the National Portrait Gallery. Why not? And thus I continued my artistic indulgence.

These pretty ladies, dipping their toe sensuously
out of the frame, took my fancy.


National Portrait Gallery
I entered through the gift shop and felt like I had gotten off to the wrong start with the Portrait Gallery. Being already weary and sore, and not sure where the main entrance was supposed to be, I’m quite certain I missed about 50% of what the Gallery had to offer. This is one I shall go back to armed with caffeine and map. First of all, it was packed. I missed a few of the smaller rooms as I was unwilling to jostle or wait in line to see - being only of short stature, if I cannot elbow my way to the front, there’s no point me being there.

I enjoyed spotted faces I knew, but seemed to get stuck in the ancient or political sections of which I had little to no interest. The famous portrait of Shakespeare’s stood out as did an interesting telescopic picture that, when you stood to the left and peered through a little hole, looked as it should. I rushed through the modern portraits, and felt like I could have spent a lot more time with these. Perhaps when I return to view the rest of the National Gallery, I’ll pop back in here and acquaint myself with a few other faces of old.


Royal Academy of Arts: Rubens and His Legacy
One night before a show, Tamara turned to me and asked if I would be interested in seeing an exhibition by Rubens. Sure! I said, not knowing very much about Rubens but always willing to learn. I went home and did some googling. Rubens, painting in the early 1600’s, has been classed as the “prince of painters”* due to his influential style across the centuries. The exhibition contained his own works, works by more contemporary artists (and by contemporary I mean 17-1800’s), workshop sketches and works in progress as well as very modern pieces that were claiming to be influenced by him.

Rubens certainly could paint everything - he was not a one stop show. The exhibition was arranged by topic; Propaganda, Violence, Lust. He was famous for big, fleshy nudes as well as grotesque detailed hunting scenes.

I had donned my glasses for the exhibition to avoid squinting at the little plaques and at first was feeling very knowledgable and intellectual. By about mid way, however, our facade dissolved a little, as Tamara and I giggled at the ladies reclining with dress down and breasts exposed; clearly that’s how all ladies regularly lounge.

Our final stop was the modern art influenced by Rubens. Some artwork of note was a pole, perhaps 10 foot or more tall that looked like a dripping candle wax, with one enormous breast jutting out of the centre. Or perhaps the table, with two fried eggs and a kebab. We weren’t sure either, and so we wandered back through the gallery a bit so that we didn’t have these as the final images seared into our minds eye.

If you enjoy your art, I do recommend heading along to see the collection. It is £15 entry which is a little steep but worth it for these magnificent, often enormous, works of art. 

In addition, the Royal Academy of Arts building is impressive. Hidden behind a stone wall, the building emerges from a square with a wonderful wooden-and-metal juxtapositioned sculpture in the centre.

I always like a good juxtaposition.

*Reference: Royal Academy of Arts 


Tate Britain
My most recent gallery experience was the Tate Britain at Millbank. I joined a Meetup called London For Less Than a Tenner (highly recommend), where we visited the Tate followed by “networking” (read: drinking) in the nearby pub. Perfect combination! I arrived at the designated meeting place to, Sasha? You must be Sasha - which left me thinking that I must look a fraction like my profile picture - and soon we were split into two groups.

Group 1 was to have a tour by a Tate Britain qualified guide, while Group 2 was given time to explore or be led by with Antony, the Meetup organiser, as tour guide. After an hour, we were to swap. I was in Group 1 and set off to learn about the pieces in the Tate.

I’d never had a tour in a gallery before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The lady appeared to be whizzing us through rooms and I was feeling a bit put out. But I wanted to look at that! It wasn’t long before I realised that she was picking out particular pieces that could be, if loosely, linked and spending some time telling us about the work. Not just who did it and what materials it was made from/painted with, but about the artist, their psyche, the influences of the time, what perhaps the original artwork was or was meant to be and how it transitioned into the piece we were looking at today. While most of the sculptures and paintings were possibly not to my taste, I was transfixed (and discovered I was able to parrot back facts when asked. There’s me being smug again).

Early one morning by Sir Anthony Caro
Why Early one morning? Because he worked on it
all night at it was finished in the morning. 
Triptych - August 1972 by Francis Bacon.
Painted after his lover committed suicide, for which he felt
partially responsible.

Before long, the tour was over and we found ourselves back at the meeting point. We were now to have some free time, or if we wanted to stay as a group, would work through the rooms with Antony. Little did we know that this was to be a race to see which group could get through as many decades as possible. We stood, talking wanky in front of paintings, trying to decipher what we felt about them. Whether she was making eyes at us or not. Whether the darkness or the light was more prevalent. Why he wasn’t wearing any pants.

The Tate Britain was a fascinating gallery and another one I would like to spend some time in. Two truncated hours was not enough. The Tate Modern will get a little look in first though, I think and then I can compare experiences, what art I connected with better and what caught my fancy.

By the way, Group 1 were the winners: we made it all the way from 1540 through to the 1970’s.

N.B: I feel like a twat taking photos of paintings...


Looking like I know what I'm doing.
Photo taken from London For Less Than a Tenner Meetup group.