My Dad and I took another trip to London recently to explore a couple of exhibitions – the Royal Academy Summer Open Exhibition, and the Rodin exhibition at the British Museum.
Inspired by Rodin’s famous sculpture, here is my own thinker. Not a portrait I am particularly happy with, I failed to be either realistic or expressive. I was keen to do something that included a hand though, so that I could give that a try, and I think hands can say a great deal about a person as well as a face.
Still, I’m happy I attempted it. I painted the shape of the face first in blue, and my favourite bits in the finished piece are where this continues to peep through.
In terms of the exhibitions, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition was just brilliant. An overwhelming bonkers array of art, some spectacular, some sublime, and some downright terrible. You are first greeted, as you enter the courtyard of Burlington House – the home of the Academy – by a monumental red disc raised over a pile of ruined stones, Anish Kapoor’s lastest work.
Behind it, obscured, is the statue of founder Joshua Reynolds permanently frozen in the act of composing some great masterwork. When we visited it was London Pride, and the good man had donned a rainbow garland to join in the celebrations.
Grayson Perry, who led the curation of the summer exhibition, has been rightly commended for creating a display full of colour, life and energy, with an equal spread of the garish, the absurd, the beautiful and the political.
Among my favourite pieces were two sculptures of children made out of broken porcelain crockery by the sculptor Cathy Lewis which managed to capture the shape, stance and expression of the children perfectly.
The exhibition was notable, I felt, for its lack of figurative work, or at least of naturalistic-ish figurative work. There were a couple of lovely portraits by the late Bernard Dunstan RA and a few other stunning pieces, including a really distinctive comic-style portrait (self-portrait?) by Lale Karayaka.
The architecture space was also magnificent, like the design of a madman for an impossible city of the future. Here’s my Dad enjoying it.
As for the Rodin, it was an equally magnificent experience, in a quieter, more stately way, but the work itself transcended anything at the RA. There were some extraordinary pieces of classical statuary that carried a patina of the centuries that gave them a power and a weight. My difficulty with the exhibition was that they paled in comparison to Rodin’s work. Power and weight seem to flow right out of the man and into his sculptures.
The Kiss and the Thinker, two of his most famous works, were on display in various forms. The musculature and tension in them, despite their stillness, is astounding. It’s so real, and yet not at all real. No muscles are really like that, no hand genuinely looks like the contorted hand on display, and yet like all great art, I suspect, it connects us to a reality that is far deeper and more emotional – the world we feel is more real to us than the world we see. ‘It is the artist who is truthful and it is photography which lies, for in reality time does not stop’, as he said.
He also said, ‘…the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation’.