Sunday, July 24, 2011

Touching the depths, illuminating the surfaces



Every death is significant: a particular life, actually loved and known, slips beyond the threshold. But this weekend appears, paradoxically, pregnant with death.

In Norway, an apparently lone ideologue (though egged on by a supportive atmosphere) wreaks blistering sadness onto the random passers by of government buildings and at the youth camp of the ruling party (one presumed wholly inoffensive until now).

A young famous and  troubled singer dies at twenty seven, losing out to a thread of addictions that undermined her, as they simultaneously appeared to sustain her. The strange exchange of creativity with peril.

And Lucien Freud an artist hailed as one of the most significant painters of the second half of the past century.

A friend, posting to facebook, puzzled over his own perception of an exceptionally gifted artist of the surface of things being hailed as an artist of deep psychological penetration. I suggested he hold his original perception. There is no doubt that our age assumes you can see with realism, that seeing must be best without sentiment, that only the objective, penetrating gaze will do. This is the illusion of our age.

In truth, you see truly only with love.

I am struck by the difference between Stanley Spencer's haunting nudes of himself and Patricia Preece - freed into their utter honesty by a seeing love - and Freud's that are earnest, intense, brilliantly executed and hauntingly superficial.

Meanwhile, it was another artist that occupied my weekend: Sir William Nicholson. He will, I expect, slowly come to occupy a place as one of England's finest artists of the first half of the last century,  a place shared with Spencer - artists in a radically different mode yet sharing a loved vision of things, resting in joy.

I stayed with a friend on Friday who regularly visits his daughter whose ninetieth birthday it was that day. In mentioning her visit, I was reminded of the art: beautiful in its accomplished stillness, allowing things to stand forth in their innate poetry, as actually loved and thus known. Nicholson knew that you can paint surfaces only if you see through the object with love, that the surfaces can only live if you caress the depths.

It is the lesson that violence never learns.



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