Happy Christmas with the Holy Family

Merry Christmas. Here are the Holy Family, looking happy:

leopoldine-unterberger-the-holy-family

I love the sweetness and unselfconsciousness of Joseph’s love here. He looks at his wife and child in delight. Mary has a small smile as if she has not a care in the world.

jose-de-madrazo-the-holy-family

The contrast here is not just the darkness of the background but the intensity of the look. Here are highly intelligent people, knowing and self-conscious. Initially I thought it a man, on the left, despite the head-covering. It is a strong-looking woman.

edvard-munch-madonna

Munch is always so disturbing. When is the picture, precisely? Mary is in ecstasy, possibly sexual, and the foetal Christ has anger or even resentment.

elizabeth-siddal-the-holy-family

At last, a baby, wrapped as he would be, in a Mediterranean winter. Joseph has a halo, but not the others.

Merry Christmas with the Holy Family

Merry Christmas. May God bless you and keep you;
May God make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May God lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Here are some pictures of the Holy Family.

jose-monray-aguilera-the-holy-family

Aguilera makes the baby look more like a baby than most- a happy baby, with a smile like a drunkard’s. This baby knows what babies know. His mother’s happiness is fragile, like a woman who knows everything that can go wrong; but it is alright, just for the moment. Joseph, of whom we know little from the Gospels, is barely visible in the darkness, a look of love at the child.

charles-soubre-the-holy-family

Soubre by contrast has the baby like a miniature adult. The only baby-like thing here is the arms outstretched for a hug. Mary is a saint. She knows God’s Plan is going ahead well. Joseph is a huge, strong protective presence, a contrast before which the mother and child shine more brightly.

joseph-paelinck-the-holy-family

In Luke’s gospel we hear the baby was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem- pretty dangerous, if the Wise Men were right and Herod wanted to kill all babies. There was a prophet, Anna, aged 84, who came praising God. Yet another woman who is the prophet of Christ. And Simeon, a righteous man, could die happy after seeing Jesus, and sang:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation;
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

rafael-flores-the-holy-family

Rafael Flores shows an older Jesus, prefiguring the Cross. Mary may have been scared, but her face is watchful, still loving, not showing fear or resistance to what must be; and no denial, either.

Hope IV

Eliminate false hope- yet hope has value. Here she is.

pierre-cecile-puvis-de-chavannes-hope

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, who discovered his particule in adult life, painted her the year after the Franco-Prussian War. She sits on the ground- a burial mound, I read- in front of ruins. Yet new growth comes already, in the oak sapling before her sheet. She is calm, open, receptive. The catastrophe has not crushed her. Christophe André, in whose book I found her, calls her visage “triumphant”, though I do not think that is quite it, merely confident. Would that I could enlarge the face, but that is the largest net reproduction I can find.

Most net reproductions are of the alternative.

pierre-cecile-puvis-de-chavannes-hope-ii

I loathe this. The burial mound becomes a wall, the sheet a dress: bowdlerisation is boring, but the nudity was not particularly erotic. Those who would demand she be clothed would not have understood “erotic” in art, only be applying rules. Her bare toes are peeking out- “looked on as something shocking,” but not breaking the rules. I find her face revolting. She is a lady, her face composed to receive visitors, her hair done. She is putting on an act. Her right wrist seems much stronger than the other’s, for she is striking a pose. The other has, in the moment, found the olive branch, peace, and holds it up for us to see. She is present in the moment, unselfconscious, ready.

Though it could be fashion. The ruins are less impressionistic, and I know impressionism is better.

Hope is openness to all that is good, all that is possible. Hope is false if delusion. The first message of Christ that I find in his own words is, face reality. Accept reality. There is so much more, but that is the urgency of it. Even “Love one another” comes from Reality.

Here’s a study for the painting. Of course she was intended to be nude.

pierre-cecile-puvis-de-chavannes-study-for-hope

Gauguin loved the painting.

gauguin-still-life-with-hope

I note she turns away. We see her profile- perhaps if we saw her face, her face would be all his painting. And the plants are emphasised- perhaps his flowers are that hope, full grown.

Allies III

Oh, those poor LGBT! They have such a hard time, you know.

Well, we do, I suppose. I am left handed, and things are often designed for right-handed use. People assume Straightness, even I do, and many feel uncomfortable with queers. Yet, basically, Brexit that. Let us enjoy our triumphs, not dwell on difficulties.

This has been an arty week. I saw Francis Bacon on Tuesday and was irritated by the phrase “anxiety and hopelessness”, and then on Friday I saw the Bhupen Khakhar exhibition, whose paintings are beautiful, and loathed the patronising git who wrote on the wall, When Khakhar developed cataracts in the early 1990s he adopted a looser, blurry style of brushwork which allowed him to depict suggestive scenes of same-sex encounters. Well, gay lovemaking remains a crime in India, yet Khakhar’s oeuvre expresses his sexuality from the beginning. Here is “Man Leaving” from 1970. It looks like a wedding, no?

bhupen-khakhar-man-leaving

Possibly those who hate queers would not consider that possibility, so think the title “Going abroad” indicated a parting; but perhaps they would be hyper-sensitised to suggestions of gayness, so be wound up by it.

Here the many colours on the apron suggest oil paints, and how could that hose be anything but a penis?

bhupen-khakhar-the-window-cleaner

It’s just funny. I love the smile on his face.

And finally Yayati from 1987, from a myth in which a young man gave his youthful vigour to his father, but the father wandered the world and found no need for youth. I love the colour, and the fire of the wings.

bhupen-khakhar-yayati

I sit before this, entranced. I also loved “At the end of the day iron ingots came out”, where Khakhar depicts himself on the lavatory during his cancer, and the ingots look like a continuation of his depicted bowel. It is agonising. It hangs behind a picture of him having an enema, and the result in me is a powerful sympathy and love of his humanity. I feel some of his pain. It is raw, honest, truthful, which is what I strive for here.

And there is no apology for sexuality. He may be exploring just how much he can portray, but the portrayal is clear. Surely the curator can see that! Surely the curator needs sympathy with the artist! What?

I wanted a post-card of it, so asked a delightfully camp young man at the shop. There is to be an LGBT artists’ exhibition next year, their first. I look forward to that. He loves the window cleaner too, and the beauty of the colours. That green is so cool and restful. I agree it is such a joyous exhibition. And yes. That is definitely a penis.

I want his sexuality to be seen as completely normal, and that means allowing people to see it or not, as they can, in his paintings. “Ooh, look, that’s a gay bit” is not supportive, really, it maintains us as the exotic other. If someone is expressing derision or disrespect for the quality of gayness please do correct them, but don’t-

oh, I don’t know. Work it out for yourself. What would you want?

That’s it. Don’t look after us. We don’t need looking after generally, just defending occasionally. It’s like benevolent sexism- you mean well, but you hold us down.

Switch House

From the roof of the Turbine Hall, accessed from the members’ room, here is The Switch House. The sun did all I could wish in that moment.

the-switch-house-from-the-roof-of-the-boiler-house

An art snob complained that because the viewing gallery is free, the lifts are clogged with people going up for the view who do not bother with the art. I hope that some of them might descend by the stairs, and be fascinated by the exhibits. I have been up there: if it is a less sophisticated pleasure than the content of the galleries, it is still a real one.

the-switch-house-viewing-platform-watchers-watched

Francis Bacon

Bacon needs a queer curator. I am enraged reading on the wall, as if Clear Fact, the isolated male figure, which has been read as Bacon’s lover Peter Lacy, communicates a sense of anxiety and hopelessness, which has been read in relation to the continuing illegality of homosexuality. They are from 1954, before the Wolfenden Report, yet I see no anxiety and hopelessness here. In the paintings I see exuberance, joy, and the need to seize the moment. The trouble with anxiety and hopelessness would be that at the time some might read it as hopelessness that Bacon suffered from the terrible scourge of homosexuality, and feared he might never love a woman.

I look at man in blue IV, and it depends where the body is. If this besuited man is leaning forward on a desk, that is one thing, but he could easily be lying on his tummy, propped up on his elbows.

man-in-blue-iv

He could be kicking his heels up behind. If that’s a desk, he would need to be in a hole in it, or lying semi-prone. I often see playfulness- there is a sense of humour in these paintings far more often than that caption-writer might see- and self-assuredness. I am not sure about the man in cap, which could be a Nazi haranguing an audience, mouth wide and shouting. It seems possible to me that Bacon is the voice of monsters, portraying us unashamed, just doing our thing.

I chose the book I bought on Bacon because its third paragraph made me LOL: according to one story, he was sounded out as to whether he would accept the Order of Merit, but replied, No, ducky, give it to someone else, it will give them so much more pleasure. I don’t know if his homosexuality would have prevented him being honoured in 1992 when he died- possibly- but I want the story to be true. How could we know? Why would he feel any need to tell the truth in words, rather than in pictures- to help the stupid keep up?

The most conventionally beautiful thing here is Isabel Rawsthorne’s hair. She stands outside, and the hair is much prettier than in the photograph.

Reading about Bacon’s right wing anti-progressive feelings of pointlessness and cruelty of the world- I remember looking at a dog-shit on the pavement and I suddenly realized, there it is-this is what life is like– I wonder if I am reading into the work my own projections from my own character. I passionately want to see other people as they are, and use his art to aid me in this, confronting myself with his reality. I saw a painting of a seated man and standing child as bleak, with the man ignoring the supplicating child, but bleakness is not my main impression. I doubt Efrat would want people to look at her wheelchair and gush about her “bravery” any more than I like my transition called brave. We play the cards we are dealt. If straights see alienation and despair here, even if they are Allies, they are blinded by feelings of superiority.

Magical London

I haven’t gone a swing in years. I never really mastered it. I needed pushed, and did not know how to work it up by myself other than by kicking the ground. I had not until today realised what good exercise it is, kicking forward and leaning back. I almost but not quite got to look over the top bar.

Strange days in London. I came down on Monday  to see Art. Walking through the church yard at the East end of St Paul’s I look at the trees and am centred. I am here. A woman in a black dress sits looking round herself looking cynical, yet interested and engaged. A woman in a wedding dress poses amid lights and long-lensed cameras.

I want a book, to swot for Francis Bacon tomorrow, and the Turbine Hall bookseller sends me to the Switch House. I cross the hall to The Tanks, and am overwhelmed- these great columns, the curving staircase, the bare, smooth, naturally-coloured concrete change my way of  being in them. They could be oppressive but are liberating: I walk taller. Here are video installations in a dark room with cushions scattered on the floor. The first has confused running and shouting like a demonstration gone wrong. Another room has huge works, possibly musical instruments.

the-tankswoman-reacting-to-the-tanks

In the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition I see a woman in a pink top hat with Steampunk goggles, pink tights, multicoloured top and electric wheelchair. I tell her how beautifully she is dressed, and she compliments me. We get chatting. Efrat, from Israel, has to dash off to get a train to Lancaster for a conference, but fbfnds me. So we stare at our phones for a bit.

Then a brief time with Bhupen Khakar, gay Indian painter reminiscent of the brightness of Henri Rousseau. In the story of Yayati the winged one and the old man embrace tenderly, their erections straining towards each other. It’s beautiful.

I go to the Members’ room for tea,  feeling a bit mind-blown. I chat to the staff member on the door who loves Bhupen Khakar. From there, I see this art work:

man-on-cubeman-on-cube-2 man-on-cube-with-bag

I am dreading going into Bank tube station at 6pm. Indeed, I was pressed against the other people in the Central line coach. But before then, going into Cheapside, I have a thought which becomes a haiku:

In every moment
there is a right way to be.
I choose it. Always.

This is a radical rejection of my habit of judging and second-guessing how I respond, which does no-one any good.

On Tuesday I went to Liverpool with H to the Francis Bacon exhibition, and on Wednesday morning walked with her along Regent’s Canal to work. I am at a loose end in the plaza between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations with an hour before my train. Behind me is a geodesic dome in which the European Lung Foundation is giving free lung tests. In front of me is a tall structure like a bird cage, with a swing in it. A security guard has a go on the swing, while his colleague videos him, and I watch how he kicks forward powerfully to work the swing up. He leaps off, laughing. I am second-guessing what I should have said to Sîan this morning, and how the various options might make me appear. These spiritual growth lessons never just take. They all need practice.

I go for my free lung test but am suspicious. I have to exhale into a machine, and do so as it bleeps, trying to get it to bleep one- last- time… I am suspicious, even though they have not asked for my name or email address. I am “normal”: I want to hear more. I want to be normal for a 30 year old man. I interrogate Kersten who is in charge, and outside recruiting, what happens to the data. It is not scientific, she says, because there is no proper sample selection. They are testing in various parts of London, and could record variations. They are offering a FEV test because most people do not have one until they are concerned and ask their doctor.

I sit, and finish off the book Accidental Saints. A woman holds her tiny child on her lap as she swings gently, another pushes her older daughter. A young man swings, all the while taking selfies. So I go to swing. I have been watching, tempted, all this time. I love it, it is exhilarating. After, Kersten asks me how I enjoyed it, and we get chatting. (I am looking round, in case her job requires her; someone else hands out the questionnaires.) It is beautiful. It is a lovely connection. I tell her my haiku, and she says “Of course”. And we second-guess and judge. I tell her there was a young man swinging, but when I say he was taking selfies she comes out with the standard judgment of screen-obsession. Where are you from? I tell her of the beauties of Swanston, including the extension on Bewiched and she imagines the building would be spoiled, though she is delighted when I tell her how lovely it is.

It is a beautiful connection, and she is a lovely positive person, and we are still judging and second-guessing. The adjectives I have for the concrete in the tanks imply ugliness or incompleteness, yet they are as they are intended to be and are beautiful.

Mona Hatoum

I have rarely seen a work of art that could kill me. Rather than a knee-high wire, there is a proper barrier, of wire taut across the room at intervals of a few inches, up to about eight feet. I imagine alarms will go off if anyone tries to put an arm through, as bodies draped over it would not look good.

The noise of it echoes through the gallery as far as the entrance. It is a deep electric hum, sometimes off, sometimes very loud, sometimes with hints of harmonics.

It is a living space. There is a table with kitchen tools such as a mincer; a smaller dining table with chairs around it; a bed, a pink cot with a chamber-pot underneath- not a potty to sit on, an old bowl with vertical edges- and a large cage for a pet, perhaps a gerbil. All of it is wired up. Bulbs placed at various places glow, then go out. There is nothing soft: no mattress on the bed or cot, hard chairs, no cushion. It is a living space, that is deadly; not a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, but of threat.

Before, there is a cheese-grater blown up to slightly above head height- a symbol of a barrier that could hurt, rather than one which could, actually- and some burned toilet paper, framed. This beside paper called Skin, hair, nails and urine and on which one can see nails and hair, oh that bit’s skin, that stain might be urine. The works are small, and I go up close, to be confronted with the idea of me, studying someone’s excretions.

This is us, physical, vulnerable.

There is a cube, about 5’6″, covered in magnets then iron filings which form sinuous tubes around it. It is beautiful. There is a video projected onto the floor inside a cylinder with two doors: the camera was inserted into the body. When I came with H, it was the mouth and stomach glistening, I saw the uvula, but today it is the anus and perhaps the vagina, identified by perineal hair. The noise was heartbeat, with the electric hum in the background.

Then there are bunks, five high, again no mattresses, nothing to climb on, the edges of the metal would cut into your foot.

And then there is the video of Mona Hatoum walking through Brixton, barefoot, DM boots tied to her ankles by their laces. Sometimes the video is of her shins and calves, sometimes of all of her, walking slowly, one pace to a second, looking down. She is big boned, not a catwalk model but beautiful, solid and squishy, animal human.

And then the cube impenetrable. It is 3m cubed, of vertical hanging black barbed wire about 10cm apart. The wire is black, the barbs sharp, and it shimmers as you walk round it, as you can see horizontally or diagonally through it. Beautiful, and another work that would hurt if not kill. Us and the world. There is no barrier, but a guard in here all the time.

Mona Hatoum impermeable

How are you?

My first painting since school was compared to Kandinsky.

How cool is That!!

So I am emboldened to share it with you:

how are you

The exercise was to take poster paint, brushes and an A2 size piece of paper, and without words answer the question “How are you?” I felt I could not do anything representational, but someone painted hills, blue sky and a glorious, fiery Sun- so this was possibly untrue; but attempting representation would have been constraining.

It’s fun. What shapes can this brush make? Having no idea, I try something and see what happens. It need not be admirable, just to exist, as something is better than nothing.

There’s also a touch of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time here- his items of food must not touch, and my paint should not, though blue stayed on the brush and mixed with the glitterpaint. The glitterpaint came out mostly black or dull grey, which disappoints- but already, effects without conscious intention may speak to me. That glitter is supposed to be a path through, but it resembles a claw grabbing, or even a mouth, at one of the patches of brighter colour with a smaller brush- dots of clarity, bracketed for protection, but with gaps in the brackets to come out. I started with blue question marks. It would not be the same, said someone, without that red disc to anchor it; “Like Impression- Sunrise?” I suggested, but that was going too far.

Um. Maybe not that much like Wassily Kandinsky:

Kandinsky, Impression V, Park