Monday, 20 April 2009

Poets, Emperors & Apple Fools

The Blake exhibition at Tate Britain opened today. His pictures convey his strange inner world & his watercolours still have a great freshness today. His first show two centuries ago, was mostly ignored & comprehensively trashed in its only review. He painted his dreams, giving his images a psychotropic quality that was utterly different from his contemporaries; like a Yes album cover turning up in postcard rack.
[above Jacob's Ladder, below Ghost of a Flea]

While walking through the exhibition, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend recently. We were comparing gallows notes about our depressive natures and how our nights at the time were being attacked by nameless fears, and worse, named ones. My friend forwarded me a poem that he finds helpful & I in return, decided to send him A Poison Tree by Blake.
Written out on a scrap of paper, for years it has been pinned to a board above my desk. If depression is anger turned inward, then this poem draws a picture of the internal damage brought of slow-roasting a resentment, especially the last line:

I was angry with my friend
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe.
I told it not my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears
Night & morning with my tears.
And I sunned it with my smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day & night
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine
And he knew that it was mine.

Rather than transcribe into an email, I thought I’d paste it from a poetry website, and there I found to my surprise that I had been a verse short all this time. The last verse changes the meaning entirely:

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Well hang on a tick - far from being about the dangers of poisoning oneself with bitter thoughts, it turns out to be a poem about revenge & an enemy brought down by his own cupidity.
For the past six years I have had the great good luck to work in a wonderful, converted warehouse [soon to be demolished] that houses over a hundred artists. At ground level are sculptors and stonecutters. On the
upper floors are painters, cabinetmakers, photographers, jewelers, graphic artists, plus a recording studio, a potter, an architect, a hatter and a fetishmaker. The nicest thing about working there is the way it is run with an ethos devoid of greed - not just a rarity, but a freakish anomaly in West London.

Twice a year we have Open Studios, when we invite the public in. If you make things in isolation, it is a necessary discipline to push them out into the world; it is also a bi-annual opportunity to give the floor a wash. Mess gets tidied away, flowers are bought & pictures are hung out in the passages.

One time, one the cabinetmakers hung up an old cutting board outside his studio. It was a thick piece of cheap hardboard criss-crossed with a lattice of saw cuts from its job as an extra buffer between his worktable and his cutting tools. In a sarcastic poke at the current state of the art world, he had labeled it 'Metropolis Cantata III'. It hung outside his studio for months; a small joke, gathering dust.
During the course of the Open Studios weekend I was approached by a wealthy acquaintance who wanted help with his art teacher -training at a local school. It seemed unlikely that someone with so much money - more of an art collector than educator - would have the patience to be confined to terms and timetables, but he was giving it a try.
My input started as advice on the layout of the portfolio he was planning to use, but soon turned into me creating some of the pages. Every time he came to collect, he would commission further pages, until it was my portfolio in all but name. Somewhere towards the end he let slip that this portfolio was not for his work experience, but for his finals. I felt compromised and angry to have been sucked into a fraud, but I told him not – so my wrath did grow.

I finished the last pages, which he asked me to drop off at his flat. I trudged round
there wondering if I would raise the subject of being used as an accomplice. I was still rehearsing what I might say as I pressed the bell. As an avid art buyer, the hallway of his flat was cluttered with new pictures awaiting hanging. His latest acquisition was so big I could to barely pass.
‘Sorry about the squeeze, it only arrived this morning. I’m very excited, let me show it to you.’ & he slid it into sitting room, stripped off the wrapping and swung it round with a flourish.
I was thinking either over the Martin Creed in my study, or instead of the Rachel Whiteread in the dining room’ he said.
‘How much did you pay for it?’ I asked.
He mentioned a ridiculous sum – any sum would have
been ridiculous.
It was Metropolis Cantata III.
I nodded, pretended to study this visual atrocity and then took my
leave. There was no need to say anything. My wrath was still not told, but now it fizzled in the face of such marvelous silliness.
Fate, had presented me a foe stretched out beneath the tree.
[Martin Creed's crumpled paper]

In Boston they have started a Museum of Bad Art. It has been described as ‘a monument to creative ecstasy that has resulted in glorious failure…freeing the art-loving community to point and laugh at art everywhere.’ It’s about time someone started one here. I would like to be called the Yeraven Olaf Collection.
Metropolis Cantata III could be loaned for the inaugural show, along with crumpled paper balls, mass-produced circlets of house paint and the entire gruesome oeuvre of Tracey Eminem…

As a postscript...
let us marvel at the gentle rise of a counter-balancing art form: rural rather than urban, egoless, rather than the prevailing
personality cults. Let us say thank you to the generosity of those who meticulously plan & anonymously create arresting & beautiful images for all to see, but none to buy. Wave your night vision goggles in the air & shout Hosanna for crop circles.

[above, Moses dreams of a gigantic crop circle in the promised land]