100 Works of Art: (Visual) Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef, Francis Bacon

For an explanation as to what my purpose is with this series, please see the first post.

8. Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (Study After Velázquez), Francis Bacon (1954)

My views on Bacon are coloured both positively and negatively by sources other than his art: positively in that I watched Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon when I was still living at home, and found that the future James Bond smacking Cadfael in the butt with a belt was pretty good, and negatively in that I found out some time later that Francis Bacon is Britain’s most popular painter or something and therefore that if I wish to retain some sort of mythical hipster cred I cannot possibly like him.

The tipping point external to his actual art was seeing recreations of his studio and discovering that there was someone even less tidy than I was who was perfectly capable of producing wonderful paintings (and that therefore my art teacher could go fuck herself when it came to complaining about my workspace).

Head Surrounded With Sides of Beef (Study after Velazquez), Francis Bacon
Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (Study after Velázquez) by Francis Bacon

It is interesting, incidentally, that this portrait is titled in part “after Velázquez” as one of the paintings I am still considering including as part of this series is Christ after the flagellation, contemplated by the Christian Soul by … Diego Velázquez.

The appeal of Bacon’s work in general for me is the feeling of underlying violence. The blurred, smeared streaks and twisted forms characteristic of his work, set against block backgrounds, speak of private tortures enacted in sterile rooms. Often there is, to my mind, the suggestion of screaming in the indistinct faces, of dislocation from each other and intense loneliness.

In this and the other studies after Velázquez, Bacon’s work becomes a very literal interpretation of a term I’ve used to delineate some of my preferences in both visual and written art before, which is “abattoir chic”. It is both the partner to and the flip of the passion for anatomical textbook illustration art; the latter, as described while I was discussing the memento mori qualities of X-Ray by Matthew Woodson, is a clinical reminder of mortality while the former has it fingers in Black Virtue. Despite the presence of a potential Pope and the black background inducing deathlike claustrophobia, even in spite of the deathshead face of the sitter and the funereal colour scheme, Head Surrounded… squarely positions itself in carnality with the sides of beef.

They rise like indistinct, gruesome wings to frame the unnamed sitter’s head. Despite the suggestive rather than explicit nature of Bacon’s paintings, they are clearly defined in bars of white ribs and deep red flesh. It is the flesh – already dead, parted almost obscenely and almost certainly in a conscious imitation of parted legs – that rescues the image from almost acute darkness. It is the flesh, the physical evidence of life (and life’s ending), that keeps out the shadows from blocking all evidence of life still living.

This, too, is memento mori. The scream on the face of the sitter defines it and defies it: his mouth is open either in agony or to eat. The one is the horror of the knowledge of mortality, the other is the defiance of it, to take death into one’s own body in order to remain alive. Either way, the curt, brutal style and the unavoidable discomfort of the image make it a favourite of mine.

100 Works of Art: (Visual) X-Ray, Matthew Woodson

For an explanation of what I’m trying to do with this series of posts, please read the first post in the series.

7. X-Ray, Matthew Woodson (2008)

I am alas in the dark as to how I came to the work of Matthew Woodson: I know it was at the passing recommendation of a friend online, but my mind throws up both Sherry and Jinah as possibilities and both may be untrue. Either way, my gratitude goes to the person who suggested him to me as his clean, fluctuating lines, muted colours, and minimal/abrupt shading appeal to me a great deal.

I chose “X-Ray” (the picture itself is actually untitled on his website) for this series above his other work for the simple reason that I loved it enough to purchase a print of it a couple of years ago, and it is hanging directly opposite me as I type.

X-Ray, Matthew Woodson
X-Ray by Matthew Woodson

In terms of art style I have a number of conflicting preferences, but among them are stark, comic-book art – I grew up on Hergé and Uderzo (and Quentin Blake and Thelwell and so on but more on that later) – and a clear division of colours. As I mentioned when talking about Ortolano, bright colours catch my eye and hold my attention, but they must be distinct from each other, and well-used. The almost greyscale hue of X-Ray works with the subject matter to evoke the idea of a living ghost, and the clean, sharp divisions between light and shadow bring to mind, at least for me, reportage. It seems like the accompaniment to a news article, trying to represent in image form the ailing health of a society in the shape of a single body. I’m sure Plato would approve, although I’ll be buggered if I approve of Plato.

In terms of subject matter I have a great fondness for anatomical study and memento mori (I used to be a goth), and this superimposition of bones upon clothes functions as both. The precision of the style does not quite ape the medical textbooks I am used to, where the solidity and curvature of bone must be made explicit with dense hatching and cross-hatching, but rather children’s textbooks on the body. This gives it a nostalgic feel, for me, which adds to the memento mori associations.

Therefore to me, X-Ray says “for now you are young, and healthy, but you are a temporary scaffold for ephemeral thoughts; for now you are strong-boned and solid and clothed in flesh and cloth, but one day you will die, and your bones will be naked”. Perhaps Matthew Woodson did not intend for it to be a blunt reminder about the transient nature of life and a useful nod to mortality; perhaps he (like me) just thinks bones visible through clothes in this manner looks really cool (I am also shallow!), but I think it works that way too.

The headlessness of the subject heightens this: it is impersonal, like death.

100 Works of Art: (Visual) Burn Season, ParkeHarrison

For an explanation of what 100 Works of Art is, please see the first post in the series.

6. Burn Season, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison (2003)

Burn Season is taken from a book by ParkeHarrison, The Architect’s Brother. I received it as an unexpected but entirely wonderful gift from a friend of mine, who has a particular habit of attacks of arbitrary generosity when it comes to items of beauty and inspiration. Because she’s a rotter.

I had difficulty picking an image from this book for this post, and  Garden of Selves and Lowtide were both strong contenders. However, this image stuck in my mind along with a phrase, unlike the other two, and I attracted to words the way sharks are attracted to water (or, in The Raw Shark Texts, to thoughts…)

Burn Season, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison
Burn Season by Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison

Here we see a man covered in hanging bags of water walking slowly into an inferno. He might be conducting an experiment – esoteric “scientific” experiments are a recurring theme in the book – or committing some great personal sacrifice. Either way, the tiny bags of water, reminiscent of funfair goldfish bags, are a futile gesture against his forthcoming immolation.

That pathetic armour, notional at best, struck my imagination and coupled this image forever in my mind with the enigmatic phrase, part of the deal is that he would never know what I did for him.

Sacrifice and futility are two of my favourite themes in any work of art. The lone figure in his sad, ineffectual armour and his slow progression towards certain death stirs up the same emotional response as watching a solitary solider with a battered tin helmet approach a line of the enemy. Here the defiant last stand with inadequate protection is against the forces of nature, against whom he has no hope of a compassionate reprieve: physics doesn’t care about the family you’ll leave behind.

So what is he doing? And who is he doing it for?

This  image also neatly mashes together the four ancient “elements” of earth/air/fire/water with a human (supposed, according to the rather erroneous science of the time, to be made up of all four) at the centre.  Perhaps there’s a sense of him drawing together the elements into himself, or expanding out into them… but to my admittedly biased mind it reads as a sacrifice, and one which – those tiny balloons of water strangely suggest – he does not expect to earn much from.

The nature of all the photographs in The Architect’s Brother is this smoky, past-tinted sepia with hints of the studio poses of Victorian commercial photography, which for me only strengthens the associations of noble self-sacrifice and useless protection:

A man who has nothing to save him but water which will soon boil walks into a fire in his Sunday best. No one knows why. Perhaps no one even knows who he is.

100 Works of Art: (Visual) IS.Akureyri 10.03.05, Adam Jeppesen

For details on what this series involves, please see the first post.

5. IS.Akureyri 10.03.05, Adam Jeppesen

This photograph comes from a rather beautiful book I bought in Magma on Longacre in central London, and which I bought pretty much by accident, or rather on a whim. The 100 Works of Art (Visual) section may give the impression that I tend to find the things I love by falling over them, and this is largely accurate. I do also find things by having them thrown at me by friends shouting “YOU WILL LOVE THIS, DELILAH!”, but Wake, the book which contains this photograph, is one of the beautiful accidents.

IS.Akureyri 10.03.05, Adam Jeppesen
IS.Akureyri 10.03.05 by Adam Jeppesen

The rest of the book is also fascinating, with a particularly haunting shot of tire marks on a headlights-lit patch of snow hinting at some terrible accident, and an aerial shot of a car park in Roskilde evoking for me at least (as someone who was involved and interested in alternative musical festivals at the time) the events of the eponymous 2000 festival at which nine people died in a crowd. Especially alarming to me at least as the following summer I nearly ended up joining them in a similar manner (bad crowd management at Reading Festival 2001: oh boy was there ever).

The reason that this photograph of all the strange and haunting shots in this “monograph” struck me is also quite personal, which is what I believe all reactions to art should be in some way.

I grew up in a number of places, but after some fairly mobile early years (Nottingham, Frome, Plymouth, and a smattering of places in Sabarkantha district, Gujarat) we settled in West Devon, and in order to get anywhere usually took a train out of Plymouth, leaving the car there. This meant that on the way back, getting home involved driving away from the meagre city lights of a small city widely regarded as a post-apocalyptic hell-hole by touring comedians and bands, and into the pitch black of unlit moorlands. For various reasons this really never set well with me as a child, and if you’ve ever had an apparently suicidal sheep try to fling itself in front of your eggshell-fragile and freezing-cold Citroen Diane you will understand why streetlights are wonderful and so are fences.

The lights of the city would disappear from the horizon like a great glowing jellyfish on the surface of some dark sea, and I would be swallowed by the moors for a few miles.

Now I live in London, and have done for more than a decade. Few things say “home” to me quite as much as seeing the whole vast configuration of city lights growing ever-larger in the shrinking distance. It is the most welcoming thing I can think of in the glowering dark; even flying into Seattle, a city I had never visited before, after an unconscionably long time travelling in the winter dark, seeing the lights come up below me gave me the most primitive feeling of relief. I am sure it relates somehow to campfires and the safety of the tribe, and that is just fine.

This photograph brings back all those warm, fuzzy feelings of homecoming: it says “you have been on a long and exhausting journey, but the end is in sight. Here is the light, the lights at the end of the seemingly relentless tunnel, and they are the lights of home. You don’t have far to go now”.

A homage to this shot also makes up the cover of Pass the Parcel.

100 Works of Art: (Visual) Portrait of a Young Man, Sandro Botticelli

4. Portrait of a Young Man, Sandro Botticelli (c. 1480-5)

There are a few Botticelli paintings in the National Gallery which I enjoy looking at (in particular the Satyr mourning the dead nymph) but this seemingly nondescript little portrait is the one which really holds my attention.

According to the National, “Most portraits made in Florence and elsewhere in Italy were profile views.” Perhaps it is the unusually direct nature of his stare that comes from this full-face portrait that makes it arresting, but there is something about it which leads me towards invention.

Portrait of a Young Man by Sandro Botticelli
Portrait of a Young Man by Sandro Botticelli

His fur-lined clothes interest me, his eyes interest me, and the set of his mouth which seems slightly sorrowful interests me in the same way that the Mona Lisa’s smile has interested so many people throughout the ages since that portrait was completed.

There’s the question of who he was in relation to Botticelli: he’s young, and terribly handsome, and his clothes suggest that he wasn’t poor, although there’s none of the ornamentation and garnish that one usually expects of wealth. He looks intelligent, and slightly melancholy. Perhaps he was sitting for a portrait at someone else’s behest (a parent, a patron, a lover), perhaps Botticelli merely found him beautiful and wished to practice for depictions of saints and classical or allegorical figures by depicting an exquisite mortal. The historical period from which we have paintings by European artists of their servants is, I think, later, as is the time when tradesmen became wealthy enough to command their own portraits. Perhaps he was a merchant.

The darkness of the painting – both the black background and the relatively dim colour of the sitter’s clothing – serve to highlight the young man’s face without draining it. In the manner of the era’s style, which prized paleness (look sometime at the almost corpselike women in some of Botticelli’s other work), he seems relatively healthy – although it’s almost certain that any blemish would have been ignored. His hair frames his face, the positioning of the sitter frames the face, everything about the painting tells you to look into his eyes. Effectively it looks like a very early version of the posters I used to tear out of Sugar magazine when I was 13.

But because I am mad-keen on making up stories about people I know nothing about (I do it on the Tube, in shops, in art galleries, in restaurants), there’s a wealth of fun to be had a with a painting like this. The sitter makes eye contact, and the mind is off, racing through possibilities: who are you, why are you sitting for this painting, how long did you live, what adventure did you find, are you in love, were you ever painted by anyone again, did you really exist or were you a figment of the painter’s imagination – a representation of earthly male loveliness and youth?

There cannot be records of all of these things, now, which say for sure. The mystery – or at least some of it – remains complete.

100 Works of Art: (Visual) Saints Sebastian, Roch & Demitrius, Ortolano

For an explanation of this series & approach, see the first post.

3. St Sebastian with St Roch & Demitrius, Ortolano (Giovanni Battista Benvenuti) c. 1520

This painting is on display in the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and as with Black Virtue I came across it by accident. The National being intimidatingly vast, it’s my habit these days to visit old favourites and then dive into other sections at random in the hopes of ever actually taking the whole thing in without needing to have a note left in my will about my imminent Death By Gallery; some days I just take the opportunity of being in the vicinity of the gallery to come and contemplate this one picture.

Saints Sebastian, Roch, and Demetrius by Ortolano
Saints Sebastian, Roch, and Demetrius by Ortolano

As readers of this blog or even casual casters-around this blog will notice, I am very fond of the iconography of central figure here. I curate the Fuck Yeah, St Sebastian Tumblr blog, and I have a honking great tattoo of St Sebastian (drawn by Rotem Shuval and tattooed by Biko Issah) on my whole left thigh. There are, however, many images of St Sebastian in the National Gallery alone: there are hedgehog pincushion St Sebastians among the medieval icons, there is one particularly fine one in which the saint is almost invisible under the multitude of arrow shafts, in opposition to later paintings by the likes  of Reni and Ribera where the swooning and semi-erotic Sebastian is piercing by a single shaft or a brace of arrows.

The reason this individual representation of St Sebastian caught my attention was in part the clear and clean, faintly reminiscent of Botticelli style. Also the two massive splotches of very vivid colour; earlier St Sebastians tend to have faded somewhat or gone a bit over the top with the gold leaf, and later ones have become muddy and vague in the style of the day. This particular painting is comic book, children’s illustrated bible-bright.

My attention got thus, it remained in part because of the unusual pose: St Sebastian’s position is anything but natural, even for religious icons. The justification of his stance with the utterly illogical tying of his arms is kind of brilliant. The painting is itself pretty well executed, there are none of the anatomical curiosities that leave me giggling inn various other parts of the gallery (you have never actually seen a naked woman, Mr Painter), and while facially he’s not the prettiest of St Sebastians – a contest I am clearly going to have to clear up some day – this fellow is anatomically quite lovely.

There is also the question of symbolism. Not in the saints themselves, although I appreciate there’s plenty going on there and also the way the scarlet scabbard  on the ground draws the eye directly up to Sebastian’s wingwong (technical academic term). It’s the background. There’s a very specific feature which crops up over and over and which is causing me consternation as I can’t pinpoint what it might represent:

Repeatedly both in the near background and in the further distance it’s possible to make out pairs of trees, one a stump as of a felled adult tree, and the other a fresh green sapling “new-sprung” or at the very least in the early years of its life.  Even once this would be a noteworthy pairing, but as it crops up more than ten times in the painting I’m pretty certain it has a meaning.

What that meaning is so far eludes me. The best offer so far as been that it’s either representative of the crowning of a new king or swearing-in of a new Pope (I don’t know enough about early 16th Century Italian history to tender my own opinion on that), or that it’s “something to do with religion”, a note which leaves me wondering if surrounding myself with my fellow-atheists is always entirely helpful.

There is one other thing I rather like about this painting, which is the observable weather condition. The red low sun glowering out from clouds pregnant and slate-grey with unshed rain is a situation with which I am well-familiar, and for some reason the identifiability of it works like a link to the past in my mind.

100 Works of Art: (Visual) Narcissus by Caravaggio

2. Narcissus, by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio), c. 1597-1599.

Before I talk about the painting: I am pretty fascinated by Caravaggio the man, which is unusual for me as most artists tend to annoy or bore me (ref. my father is a [not terribly successful] artist) or at best their tribulations just sound like an episode of Eastenders. Caravaggio is interesting because he was an astronomical dickhead. He wasn’t just a dickhead from the perspective of the modern observer, the way so many historical figures are, to be mincingly redeemed with the non-excuse of “well it was normal for the time” for people to invest in the slave trade, beat prostitutes, abandon their wives, vomit on the poor, etc.; no, Michelangelo Merisi was also a prime twat by the standards of the time. He was an oath-breaker, a fraud, a disloyal friend, a reneger on contracts, a murderer, a relentless shagger, a vengeful tit, an arrogant swaggering fucktard, and a bully. He was precisely the kind of person you would cross the street and possibly the city to avoid.

To me that is part of his allure: he wasn’t “a bad boy” in the romantic sense, he was a fucking tool. And he produced these exceptionally beautiful paintings full of vivacity and drama and gore and ugliness and beauty. He modelled the Holy Virgin on a dead whore. He mingled the sacred and the profane and delineated it all in pools of stark light and shadow, and while it would be wrong to paint him as a revolutionary maverick (his style was after all influenced by others), he was certainly eye-catching.

I am fond of many of his works, and forever sad that if he produced a St Sebastian it never survived, but I’ve chosen Narcissus to talk about because of how it handles the subject matter.

Narcissus by Caravaggio, c. 1597-1599

I am uncommonly fond of the myth of Narcissus anyway: one of my university final projects was a post-modern reworking of the story (displayed, appropriately enough, on a large mirror) which got me into trouble with the admin department at the time because apparently not everyone saw the joke in covering a work of literature in pictures of masturbating men. I also have a tattoo of Narcissus’s reflection rising from the waters to kiss him, as drawn by the exceptional Gillian Blekkenhorst & tattooed by Owen Williams at Living Image.

To me this painting embodies the absolute essence of the story of Narcissus, the inward-facing, world-denying self-obsession which leads to him – depending on your version of the story – either wasting away gazing tenderly at his own reflection or, in more pro-active stories with less patience, trying to embrace his own reflected body and drowning. Unlike many other depictions of Narcissus, this studio-posed painting does not show off an artistic ability to include the idyllic forest clearing in which Narcissus fell in love (apart from anything else Caravaggio was often criticised for being apparently unable to use his imagination that much). It instead focuses, as Narcissus focuses, on the only relevant part of the image: the beautiful boy staring into the water.

There is enough solid earth to delineate the edge of the water and to give Narcissus a place to rest his lovesick body, and that is all. His fingertips almost kiss the still surface of the waters; he is leaning forward to peer at this vision of divine loveliness that is himself, utterly entranced and totally absorbed. There is no rest of the world in the painting because there is no rest of the world in the mind of Narcissus: there is only himself, and the image of himself.

The starkness with which he stands out of the darkness, alone, encapsulates perfectly the monomania of love, and I think was more a happy side-effect of Caravaggio’s vain “I am too brilliant to need to paint puny backgrounds give me my damn money I deserve better than this I am a genius I tell you” appalling attitude than necessarily any great allegorical or metaphorical intent, but it is a wonderful accident or coincidence nonetheless.

100 Works of Art: (Visual) Black Virtue, Matta

A quick introduction to the concept of the 100 Blog Things can be found at the link. I’m going to use this exercise to talk about how different works of art have affected me and why I like them; don’t look to this for in-depth information or analysis (*ptooey!*) of any of the art I’m likely to discuss, as I am the polar opposite of an expert in anything and will like as not be wrong.

I am dividing up the list of 100 into four sections: Visual art, Audio art, Literary art, and Cinematic art, which should all be self-explanatory categories.

1. Black Virtueby Matta (Roberto Matta Echaurren), 1943.

Black Virtue
Black Virtue by Matta, 1943

This piece is on display in the Tate Modern, in the Surrealism rooms among the work of Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, and Man Ray, all of whom I also rather like (in contrast I have a profound to the point of irrationality utter hatred of Mark Rothko and will spit nails when asked about his work). It was in the Tate Modern that I first became aware of it, and was so ridiculously affected by it that I froze on the spot for a while and then ran off and wrote a poem about it (called Black Rivet Symphony because I am a pretentious arse).

Incidentally one of the best decisions taken by a modern UK Government was to make national museums and art galleries free to enter; it’s given me the opportunity to keep going back to them and work my way slowly through various collections or to just revisit old favourites on a whim (and to use their nice clean bathrooms).

According to the Tate Modern’s (as ever inadequate) caption, on Black Virtue:

Matta joined the French Surrealist group in 1937 before moving to New York two years later. His paintings appear abstract but are based on drawings of erotic and violent scenes. In the two side panels of this triptych the imagery has a mechanistic, science fiction quality. But in the centre the forms are organic, suggesting references to sexual parts. Matta was concerned with capturing the inner world of the mind. Black Virtue evokes a fluid mental landscape in an extreme combination of eroticism and violence.

I’d disagree with the “science fiction” quality and shoot with “industrial” in general, which seems most likely, and the far right panel to me evokes the jumbled landscape of an imposing city as seen by someone who is pretty damn freaked out to be in the city. It is however primarily the panel on the left which interests me.

The description of the picture as being “organic” in the centre and “mechanistic” on the outskirts doesn’t work for me. The centre may have, at a stretch, yonic or whatever the word is for buttholes-ish imagery, but it’s entirely inorganic and slightly threatening, in the fashion of Giger. The left panel is, to my mind, the one with more anatomical implications.

The thick black areas seem like a shell or a veil through which the thing on the other side is bursting. It is swaddled in some sort of membrane, perhaps skin, against which some outlined mess of bones and red flesh is struggling. It is sexual in the sense that it is sensuous and fleshy, and sickening all at once. There is something both wrong and attractive about it, and the idea of something unformed trying to burst out of itself came across very strongly for me that first time I saw it.

Even on repeat viewings I find that it’s a sort of perverse pleasure that the painting, and specifically the left panel, evokes in me. As a whole the painting gives off a “vibe”, if you will, of something monstrous and unborn, claustrophobically caged: in the first panel it is caged within the body; in the second it is the ghost in the machine; in the third it is the monster trapped in the city of men.

A little update about nothing in particular

Hello, I’m not posting very much at the moment because I’m trying to force myself to edit; this is resulting in a lot of tantrum-throwing on Twitter and one-sided arguments with myself which sadly cannot be won by shouting “you’re not my real dad” and slamming a door. The process of editing is not being helped by the weather being blindingly nice and making me long to go and sit in a park and drink wine and not edit; by Word Starter on my netbook being held together with glue and stupidity and therefore crashing every few minutes; and by my own self-sabotaging need to start trying to draw bad cartoons of Loki from The Avengers crying on the floor at 1am with a copy of Photoshop 7.0 which only works after you’ve opened it and closed it three times (while drinking and watching 90s movies, because I am a cool cat).

I do have plans for partaking of the 100 Blog Things challenge on the subject of the Arts, but every day that I think “I shall write my first blog post on this challenge” is a day when I reach 1am and still haven’t finished editing whichever chapter I’m working on.

So as a show of faith or an “I ain’tnt dead”, here’s a brief run-down of Things What I Have Been Doing:

  • A visit to the Natural History Museum to see the inside-out animals; plastinated animal bodies showing their capillaries (which looks astonishing and very artistic, like someone has grown a duck or a rabbit out of some delicate, vibrant red fern) or musculature and ligaments, the crowning glory of which are a pair: a running giraffe and a kind of three-dimensional exploded diagram of a female Asiatic elephant, which is made all the more exciting for being an actual elephant. My main criticism of this other than “not enough exhibition” which I would have said even if it had been the length of the Bayeux Tapestry (which I have seen and been enormously bored by), is that as with so many museum exhibitions, the level of information provided was decidedly entry-level. As remarked by my companion for the day, scientist-and-comedian-and-designer-and-general-polymath Holly Yagoda, if you know anything about biology it’s assumed that you don’t want to learn any more by coming to a museum.
  • That same day out also included a walk through Hyde Park and a walk through St James Park, the latter of which involved an encounter with some wildfowl that I was unable to identity. Roughly the sound of a small goose/large duck, with a ruddy patch in the middle of a white breast, a very narrow black bar across a white area of the wing, dark head, and a cry like a car that won’t start. Any ideas?
  • I’ve been reading The Persian Boy by Mary Renault. Another of Mary Renault’s books, The Charioteer, is one of my absolute favourites, and so I went into this with high expectations. As someone overly invested in the relationship between Alexander of Macedon and Hephaestion I find I’m irritated by the attitude of the narrator (shut up, Bagoas), but it seems very realistic of the character to behave and think that way considering the kind of person he is and life he has led. I have no criticisms to level at the author for this historical fiction, but my God I want to slap the narrator a lot.
  • Continuing the theme of science, last night I accompanied a couple of people to see Robin Ince’s current stand up show, Happiness Through Science. I have seen several of his various tours and rank him close to the top of my favourite comedians list, if not the number one slot. I’d describe his style as “manic”, peppered with impressions and tangents and excitement and cynicism. A self-styled curmudgeon, he actually comes across as being extremely warm and enthusiastic (as many self-styled curmudgeons tend to), brimming with knowledge he wants to share, and of course appropriately self-effacing (we are after all British). It is always pleasant to spend an evening being talked to as an intelligent adult rather than a fool or a child, and more so when explanations for things one might not already know are presented as “things I didn’t know, I don’t know if you know them, you probably already do”. Stand out moments included Robin interrupting himself to wail “I wish this was a fucking character!” of his own babbling and self-distraction, and a member of the audience towards the end standing up to offer an evidence-based heckle about the correct order of amino acids in a genome. That is the kind of audience one can expect at a Robin Ince gig.
  • Aside from being a consumer of entertainment and enjoyer of this sudden burst of sunshine, I have also been patiently trying to rein in my propensity for feeling guilty about reading things I enjoy “because I ought to be doing something else”. So far it’s not going very well.

Art post: Hyacinth and Apollo

I work very, very slowly, and so it’s taken a rather long time to get this to a stage where I believe it is “finished” (or more accurately “I am never going to work on it again”).

This is Hyacinthus and Apollo, as described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (which I read on the way too and from work during an alarmingly hot summer which also featured the Tube exploding), and part of an intended five-part series of mythological figures in art. So far I have Bacchus, Narcissus, Ganymedes, and now Hyacinthus and Apollo: the remaining picture is Icarus.

Hyacinthus and Apollo
Prints available

Pretty much as soon as I started this I knew choosing a woodland glen as a setting rather than the nice clean countryside of the other pictures was going to be a mistake – even the grassy meadow Bacchus is frolicking through isn’t as much as a royal pain to render as the leaf-litter. To compensate for this, the Icarus painting takes place mostly against the sky, although I still have the feathers to paint which I’m sure won’t be at all annoying…

It is worth pointing out that my father is a painter of reasonable skill (if you like landscapes in oil); it’s also worth pointing out that if talent is hereditary it clearly skips a generation.