March 1, 2019

8.30 am: Off to London for a cultural binge. It’s important to feed oneself. Without the nourishment that other artists, writers, and musicians give me, I’d have little food to pass on to those under my tutelage. I also need the challenge of experiencing the finest art has to offer. This is the plumb-line against which I measure my own best efforts. I put my mind to consider the introduction to the Rivers of Gold event, which would be held on Monday. It was completed well before the end of the journey.

1.15 am: I arrived at Euston, and took train and bus to a Premier Inn beyond Lavender Hill (of the mob fame). This was only the second time that I’d been to the hotel; but it felt like home. The familiarity of the decor and the consistency of the experience is always reassuring. From there, I took a bus to Vauxhall, a further bus (in the wrong direction half way back to where I’d come from), and yet another in order to return to Vauxhall, and then, finally, travel to Waterloo, at a snail’s-pace in the rush-hour traffic, and the Hayward Gallery:

I’ve attended the venue since it opened in the 1970s. The space has never worked particularly well, in my opinion. It always appears under-lit, and a little dowdy and over-serious. I’d come to see Diane [pronounced ‘Dee-ann’] Arbus: In the Beginning. The installation was well-conceived on the whole. Some of the photographs suffered from a shadow line at the top of the image, caused by the lighting catching the deep-recess of the window mount’s bevel. (Come on Hayward! It’s not difficult to obviate the problem.)

I’d been introduced to her work by my tutor – the conceptualist photographer, Keith Arnatt – when I was studying for my undergraduate degree. The art school incorporated David Hurn’s ‘Doc Phot’ department; which meant that our library possessed an excellent photographic collection. I’d pour over her work, and that of other photographers, during my lunch hours.

Arbus’ early works are all small gelatin silver prints. I don’t think that I’ve ever before encountered a body of photographs that rendered the sense of a specific time and place so intensely. There were moments when I felt as though I was back there, then, standing where she stood, encountering the subjects alongside her. You can’t make great works of art without being great oneself, in respect to some aspect to your psyche. She had a magnanimous and insightful curiosity about people. I wish I possessed as humane an understanding.

Her portraits are always sympathetic; never judgemental. I was reminded of Georges Rouault’s paintings of prostitutes. I know of no other photographer who has been able to nail a sense of the subject’s lostness, bemusement, and idiosyncratic oddity so acutely. They stare back at us, as though to ask: ‘What on earth is going on, and where does this all lead? They are so like us in that respect.

6.10 pm: I arrived late at the chapel in the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Field, Trafalgar Square, for a short service of evening prayer. In the midst of the brashness and noise of the city this was a welcome respite, and an opportunity to connect with a reality that is infinitely larger and greater than myself. Afterwards, I consumed a cup of thick, molten, dark chocolate at Paul’s patisserie.

7.30 pm: I met my elder son for dinner at a Chinese restaurant on Romilly Road. We were both tired by work and London. Our homeward route took-in Chinatown.

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