The London weekend: time with my son, a former student, artworks, and great music ahead. The cold sun cut across the frosted fields and pulsed through the branches like a strobe light. (I turned away.) A widower I know introduced himself; he was travelling far north to attend one of his children’s wedding anniversary. ‘Our son’. The ‘our’ signified both a presence and an absence.
There was queue of bold font, unread emails in my inbox that required an iPad-enabled response. Thereafter, next week’s tutorial times were distributed; a reference written; a well-wishing email to Mr Fripp and the boys, posted; and my elder son’s first co-authored article, read. (He writes from a different world than I inhabit. I’m very proud of him (of them both).) The train was overcrowded, a condition that was due, the announcement explained, ‘to the short formation of the train’. This was a masterful articulation of the blatantly obvious.
The quart in a pint pot carriages pulled into Birmingham New Street ten minutes late. My jogging readied me for pelt down hill to Birmingham Moor Street station to catch the 10.55 train to Marylebone. (In my mind’s-eye, I saw a Monopoly board.) On arrival, the doors of the train failed to open for ten minutes. I had a vision of the passengers breaking the carriage windows with those little hammers.
At Southwark, I took a long lunch with a former student. We’d met recently at the ‘Visual Theology 1’ symposium. It’s encouraging to hear how this generation of artists who are also Christians are intelligently interrogating both their own and other practitioners’ work critically, theoretically, and, above all, sensibly. We could have talked and talked. I miss this level of conversation.
At Tate Britain, I attended the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition. Perhaps it’s my temperament, but I don’t respond to the works’ purported emotional content. As a painter, I’ve considerable reservations about the execution. He can be dazzling delicate and cack-handed in the same work. The handling of paint is often heavy, and the colour turgid; he appeared to be fighting against, rather than swimming with, the medium. In essence, he was a draughtsman who painted, rather than a painter. Reproductions of his work redeem the gross materiality of the works; they appear more translucent, airy, and able to whisper transcendence.
The portraits from around 1883 were unexpected (for me) – as though Jonesy had discovered Neue Sachlichkeit forty years before time. Atlas Turned to Stone anticipates so many graphic novel illustrations of muscle-bound, Blakeian aliens on remote planets called Alpha Prime. Peter Jackson’s visual aesthetic for the Lord of the Rings trilogy owes a considerable debt to the artists’ rendering of androgynous troops in exotic armour bathed in a green-grey tint. ‘Are these connections made in the catalogue?’, I wondered. ‘Why a B-J exhibition now? What has it to do with the world today?’.
My elder son and I met in the early evening for dinner. Now salaried, he could afford to take his old man out for a meal. We ate in an Italian restaurant with pronto service. Pater Harvey had lasagne, followed by gelati.