Friday, 23 November 2012

An artist's perspectives

November 2012

    Shankill smile

  NOTES IN PASSING: Hamilton in perspectives
  Poems of Place (12)
   CORRESPONDENCE: Media Comment
  Ned Baslow: Yours truly...
Richard Hamilton: Late Works at the National Gallery London
Each generation of artists absorbs and reflects the art of the past. Hamilton’s late works hint at the frequent visits he made to the gallery. In particular there’s the fascination with perspective which, with a contemporary twist, revisits the work of generations of artists reaching as far back as the first great master of perspective, Piero della Francesca.

Hamilton’s stark interiors are as impersonal as Piero’s yet as full of meaningful detail, suggesting that the modern artist wandered the Ducal Palace in Urbino (location of Piero’s Allegory of the Flagellation) as well as heading for the Dutch, German, French and Italian collections in Trafalgar Square.

Brothers on a horse
The tools of perspective are walls, tiled floors, pillars, roofs, pavements, while mirrors turn perspective in to puzzles that don’t quite constitute mystery. The stress is on the ambiguities of perspective. For the most part, there is an absence of any hint at narrative. Here Hamilton departs from even the modest storytelling of one of his inspirers, Pieter Saenredam. This 17th century Dutch artist is primarily interested in recreating the space of the Interior of the Buurkerk in Utrecht. We have male figures, a couple of dogs, a basket, offering us no surprises and no narrative. Yet on a wall to our right as we view the picture, there is an illustration – of the four sons of Aymen of Dordogne escaping on a magic horse after one of the brothers has killed Charlemagne’s nephew. This detail humanises Saenredam’s picture, takes the edge off the austerity of the church interior so subject to the regulation of perspective.

Enter the nudes
Hamilton is not averse to doing something similar. He does it with photo-paintings of nude women. Do they humanise the austere mis en scène into which they are placed? Most notably Hamilton gives us a version of a Fra Angelico Annunciation with a very modern-looking nude announcing the news to another very modern-looking nude Mary in The passage of the angel to the virgin. Uneasy presence The device is not offensive or in bad taste, but it is unenhancing and borders on cliché. However, Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu paintings based upon Velasquez’ Toilet of Venus (facing us rather than with her back to us as in the original) with Titian, Poussin and Courbet looking on, suggests a tale and not a little wit.

What Hamilton does here is leave us with impressions and expectations as we head off into the galleries, perspectives-stalking for the most part. Drawn in by perspective We examine the old in the light of the new. There are reminders of Hamilton in the pillars in Murillo’s Christ Healing the Paralytic, the arch in Jordaen’s Portrait of Govaert van Surple, in the tiled floors of De Hooch’s Interior of a House in Delft. Equally we are offered reminders of what we have seen in the Hamilton show of his stark photo-realism in van der Heyden’s View of Westerkerk, Amsterdam or Gerrit Berckheyd’s Market Place, Haarlam. Returning to Hamilton after a galleries tour with his images in mind you realise that one of the figures standing in the all-white, perspective-conscious surround of the exhibition space itself – is you. All it needs to make the exhibition complete is a dog, a basket and the four sons of Aymen of Dordogne on a magic horse.

The Hamilton exhibition is on at the National Gallery till 13 January, admission free.


It was four-thirty in the morning
 Real time. The shark-fin of Roseberry
Was long passed, and the dark Clevelands
Stood in moonlit contour, two-dimensional
As flat as blue-black steel.

We stopped. They’d said,
It does not look like a star.
To us it was a torch, its beam
Stretching as far as your arm, human size.

Yet Hale-Bopp is comet-size,
Its bronze legacy millions of miles in length;
Its story the history of mankind –
Arm’s length, that is, against the span of time.

When last the comet passed this way
The Egyptians were erecting pyramids
And by the next visit people might have learnt
To live at peace with one another.

A few moments later as we sped south
Feeling awed, even a little religious,
A hare panicked into our comet beams.
My swerve was too slow, too late
And Hale-Bopp was how it sounded
As dawn for this timid beast
Would ever be an arm’s length away.

The following poem was rediscovered from Verse & Prose (1958) an independent publication featuring student writers at the University of Nottingham, edited by Howard Erskine-Hill ‘for private circulation only’. We feel ‘a poem of place’ by Josephine Brocklesby warrants inclusion in this series. If you’re still in the land of the living, Josie, please get in touch and send us some more of your poems.

The train’s huge sound is suddenly less:
We break from the tunnel’s hollow space;
And abruptly the falling light
Strikes that girl’s wet face.

She weeps.
Though outside the ancient sun
Gleams on the sea Odysseus sailed,
The sea now is a milky haze
Motionless veiled.

I knew that my Italian words
Never could give relief;
Yet surely this stretch of quiet sea
Must break upon her grief.

Who knows but Venus on this shore
Her cool sea-garment shed?
But beauty has not dried those eyes
And Ulysses is dead.

Blogs 33 and 34 published a selection from the Preface of the 8th edition of The Dictionary of Media of Media and Communication Studies (Bloomsbury Academic) by James Watson and Anne Hill. The editor is very pleased to publish the following comments from readers.

New destroying the old?
Dear Ed., The extract from your Preface to the 8th edition of the Dictionary of Media etc. balances good with bad news concerning New Media. In my opinion there’s been too much stress on the new, to the neglect of the old. As a local newspaper reporter I have seen my paper switch from daily to weekly. We have lost 50% of editorial staff and those that are left fear for their jobs. We’re not alone in being at risk as a result of the shift from print to e-text, from traditional to e-shopping, as any stroll down the streets of our towns and cities makes only too clear. You get the feeling that Britain is closing down.

Are we to be left with on-line communities, which are not genuine communities at all? I hope that in the event of my coming across your dictionary (if there are any libraries left to find it) I hope I’ll find entries that further question the ‘good thing’ that the Internet is claimed to be.
Yours etc.

Demotic or demonic?
Dear Ed.,
Instead of referring to the ‘demotic turn’ in the selection from The Dictionary of Media and amp; Communication Studies, why not just go ahead and call it the ‘demonic turn’? What are half the twitters but demons heaping their messages with bitter insults or banal gobbets of pseudo wisdom? I’m hoping to see if your book is in our local library; if so, I’ll be checking whether there is an entry for Twitter and whether you give it the kick in the crutch that tweeting deserves.
Yours really annoyed.
Twitter Hater.

There’s always cash for luxuries
Dear Ed., We’re in the middle of recession. Many kids and their families are going hungry, yet when the latest piece of New Media software is launched there are queues out the door ready to spend hundreds of pounds on what are gimmicks. I would suggest that in offering an overview of contemporary media, whether it be the ‘usual suspects’ – newspapers and TV, the media corporations – or smartphones, attention should be directed a bit more to what used to be called the Third World, now The South.
The gaps between rich and poor can scarcely be said to be narrowing, nationally or globally. The danger is that while we’re all socially networking we forget what’s going on in the ‘real’ world beyond our shores.
Gwen R.

The sound of Twitter?
Dear Ed., My wife and I are just back from a trip to Africa. We couldn’t believe it – the mobile phone is as familiar as it is back home. Electricity and water may be in short supply, but the birds are drowned out by the sounds of twitter!

Correspondence is welcome – on art, books, media, politics and culture generally. Please mail your comments to

Yours truly…the Ned Baslow Letters
Such is the promotional power of the Internet, in this case the interest stirred by Councillor ‘Lord’ Gilbert Stokoe MBE when he announced in Blog 34 news of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven’s proposed Festival of the All-Stars in the summer of 2013, that the task of publicity manager Ned Baslow has got off to a roaring start. No ‘cold calling’ required, for he tells us his postbag is already bursting. To make the point he has given us permission to reproduce his reply to the solicitation from a musician of talent who has fallen on bad times.

Dear W.A.M.
Thanks a lot for your handbill sent to the committee of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Festival of the All-Stars (2013), seeking support for the parlous state of your finances, and offering to write a five minute composition for every £25 subscribed. Normally my wife Betty and I put anonymous appeals of this sort straight in to the bin; and in this case we were very tempted to do so as the message was in German, and Gothic lettering at that.

  Fortunately my Betty has a GCSE Grade C in German and was able to decipher the gist of your message. Naturally we have both heard of you, though we very rarely tune in to BBC Radio Three and have not been to a symphony concert since the Relaxing Classics Festival at Derby Town Hall, where Betty had a coughing fit and thoroughly spoilt the closing minutes from the sound-track of Star Wars.

To be truthful, it was my son Benjie who rescued your leaflet, his quick eye spotting a reference to Eine Kleine Nacht Music, a piece that he practises with his piano teacher, Mr. Eccles, who, Benjie says, believes that you are the greatest composer of all time – after Ludwig van Beethoven, that is. Personally, given the chance to cast my vote, I would go for Arthur Sullivan (as in Gilbert & Sullivan) on account of the pleasure he’s given me and my family over the years, his Pirates of Penzance being my particular favourite.

On the other hand, since she’s started an Open University course, my Betty has been driving me out of the house and into the pub by playing CDs of somebody called John Gage, or Cage. This ‘composer’ knows six notes (if that) and keeps repeating them over and over again. My Betty calls it ‘mesmerising’; me and Pongo Eccles have another word for it!

Your story of penury and neglect upset Betty and me, bearing in mind your undoubted genius. Neither of us believes that you’ve hit hard times simply because your Emperor was heard to say, after sitting through one of your operas, ‘too many notes’. As it happens, we may be able to help you. We are planning to mark the 25th anniversary of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Pantomime & Light Opera Society with a festival that we’re confident will be reported the length and breadth of Britain. To this end we are inviting artistes of distinction to participate.

We are planning a grand opera based on Cervantes’ story of Don Quixote (starring our President, Lord Gilbert with me as his sidekick, Sancho Panzer), plus concerts (including Lord Gilbert’s Songs from the Shows), talent contests, poetry readings and a range of tableaus re-enacting great scenes in world history. The venue for many of our alfresco events will be the meadow and paddock of the Stokoe Estate.

You will find you have much in common with Lord Gilbert who has for the past 30 years sung in the choir of St. Olaf’s, being soloist on all occasions that anyone can remember. He is also famous throughout the county for his starring roles in The Desert Song, White Horse Inn and Salad Days. To proceed to the opportunity we have in mind for you: Ernie Shaw who usually arranges our panto music has gone to Tasmania to stay with his pregnant daughter Phyllis (incidentally a fine soloist, well known for her impersonation of Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow).

This leaves us short of an arranger; better still, a composer; someone to do justice to Cervantes’ great story. Which brings me to cost: £25, or the equivalent in Euros, does present difficulties if all we get is five minutes’ music. What we need is an overture long enough to get everybody settled and in the mood and half a dozen catchy arias as you call them, so long as Lord Gilbert as the chivalric knight doesn’t have to tackle notes much higher than middle C. We are making progress in negotiating rights with Señor Cervantes, but we do have difficulties with the author’s insistence on communicating with us in Spanish, and his rather stubborn resistance to sponsorship by SpexSavers, arguing that Quixote’s attack on windmills has nothing to do with shortsightedness.

However, Wolfie (may I?) that is our problem, not yours. We cannot, of course, at this stage guarantee fees in advance of completion but as Lord Gilbert believes, ‘Every down-and-out deserves a second chance’. In short, if you wow us with a decent tune or two the euros will roll (though our preference would be to pay in sterling). We look forward to hearing from you; in the meantime, Betty is sending you a cheque for five pounds to tide you over in these difficult days. Believe me, we are all suffering under this wretched government.
 Sincerely and in admiration of your fine operettas so far,
Ned Baslow Etc.

Thanks, Ned. Let’s hope Wolfie gets on his bike. We have a feeling that this Festival will excite the same national passions as this year’s Olympics and the Rolling Stones’ concert at O2.

James Watson books. Five originally paper-print novels are available from Amazon Kindle: THE FREEDOM TREE (£1.03), set during the Spanish Civil War, reaching its climax with the bombing of Guernica.
TALKING IN WHISPERS (£2.01). Chile during the tyrannical rule of the generals.
TICKET TO PRAGUE (£1.63). Tale of a friendship between Amy, a teenage rebel, and Josef, an elderly Czech poet who had lost the will to write; until she reads him The Good Soldier Sveck. JUSTICE OF THE DAGGER (£2.03). Earthmovers, the Yellow Giants, advance on the rainforest of East Timor. The people have only arrows and courage to resist them.
FAIR GAME: THE STEPS OF ODESSA (£5.15). Uneven playing fields in Ukraine: with the ball at her feet Natasha shows talent, resolution and the will to win. Her quest is to discover whether these qualities translate into life.

THANKS FOR READING THIS. As usual, contributions are always welcome. Mail to