Sunday 29 March 2009

Marching band

A few messages for the G-20.

We used to do this a lot when I was young. It's all achingly familiar, as very little any longer is familiar. As I pause to let much of the march pass me and photograph the proudly brandished slogans, a wave of emotion... just for a moment I feel as if a nightmare is over and I'm being allowed to go home. Has this any meaning? Surely the huge marches against war in Iraq were the apotheosis, and the ultimate failure, of peaceful street protest in this country? But, oh well, I'm still glad some of us care enough to come out and say so.

Sunday 8 March 2009

Dark clarity

Sickert in Venice at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Unexpectedly wonderful, these paintings are the closest representations I've seen to the pictures of Venice I hold in my mind. Sickert's substantial, gentle, subtle, mostly dark pictures, a mixture of portraits and architectural views, painted between 1895 and 1905, surprised and moved me. Walking through the long, narrow exhibition galleries was like reading a long, lyrical, studiedly vernacular poem.

Many of these paintings demonstrate the intense, contained power of a limited palette. My thoughts flew to a film I saw recently, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys, suffused with a similar power by a similarly limited palette, now achieved by digital film technology. "I increased the contrast and desaturated the colours and then selected one colour, generally red, and pushed it a bit after desaturation", Ceylan, who is also an outstanding still photographer, said in a recent interview. This precisely describes many of Sickert's paintings. The interviewer asks if his films are expressionist. Some seem to think so, Ceylan responds, but he'd say more impressionist. This also seems pertinent.
My perception of the paintings, I suppose, was somewhat heightened. I'm pushing myself to work on this challenging translation project, regular hours several days a week on top of the usual busy day job. This work of translating scholarly French prose is at the very limits of my mental capacities. It's hard, rewarding... and confusing. The intense intellectual exercise arouses my thought process, fills my mind with new life, no doubt about it, but not my emotions - thinking harder doesn't make me less sad and lonely. It's a kind of rebirth, but a partial one. And, oh, I'm dead tired, shivering and nauseous some mornings with it.

Perhaps at another time I'd find these paintings too dark. Just now, they are very compelling.