Saturday, 28 May 2016

London: Two exhibitions and one play

To a warm and sunny London Thursday to see a play and catch a couple of exhibitions.  And a lovely day I had of it.
First to the Royal Academy and 'The Age of Giorgione' exhibition of Venetian High Renaissance art. The names are familiar: Bellini, Titian, del Piombo, Lotto. I think I may have said before that this sort of art doesn't usually do much for me - just another point on the slide down to the Baroque and 18th century Academic - all that chiaroscuro and rivers of brown varnish.  However this exhibition, in the intimate Seckler Gallery of the RA was something of a revelation, having only really seen the majority of pictures on display in reproduction.  The colours were vibrant and rich - in particular the blues and pinks.  Often rather painterly too, that in a couple of works pointed towards the work of El Greco.  There is in all a distinct sensuality to this Venetian art - which in this exhibition has been divided into four categories (one to a room): portraiture, landscape, devotional works and finally allegorical portraits.  Each section is an exploration of that distinctiveness of Venetian art and how the artists of the city evolved a new language of depiction within the tradition - the difference between between Bellini's 'Portrait of a man' of 1505 and Giorgione's 'Terris portrait' of 1506.  A distinctiveness of composition too, that in some of the work on display can seem awkward, even forced.  All a long way from the art of Florence and Rome, which is perhaps more cerebral. I'm never quite sure as to how centrally the art of Venice is placed by critics. I think on the whole it is seen as provincial except for the artist included here. There are a couple of Durer's on view too to help give context; indeed there is a distinct 'Northerness' to a lot of the art on display.  The long preceding tradition of 'Byzantine' culture in Venice was much less easy to detect. Any influence from further east, which is often now 'bigged up' (overly so in my opinion) in the context of Venice, negligible. The highlights; the tiny pen and watercolour drawing of a watermill by Durer - just exquisite; the two mythological paintings of the myth of Adonis (Though Adonis depicted is no Adonis!) Quite visionary almost like a Blake or Palmer. Also Giorgione's 'La Vecchia' - a piece of sublime portraiture and the 'Terris Portrait' of 1506. A treat too to see Titian's 'Jacopo Peasaro Being Presented by Pope Alexander VI to St Peter' 1508-11.
Then to the National Gallery and George Shaw's exhibition 'My Back to Nature' where there was plenty of 'north' and landscape on display. The forest to be precise.  Shaw, born 1966, is the current associate artist at the National Gallery and this exhibition represents his response to the collection - the culmination of a two residency.  As a teenager he became interested in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, at art college he became a conceptual artist before eventually returning to that deep, detailed painting style that characterized the early work of the Brotherhood in which he utilizes Humbrol enamel paint as his medium.  He uses that technique to explore suburban Britain and here, the fragmented, liminal fringes of the City where countryside and suburban blend uneasily.  Unease often characterizes his work, the best work has a sort of transient radiance. Shaw's forest floor bears the dint of man, scattered with the detritus of the illicit, and Shaw, in the excellent short film that accompanies the exhibition, links that to the debris scattered about the ground in some of the pictures in the permanent collection. I really wasn't sure what to make of this.  I'm not entirely convinced that an analogy can be made between the two like that. Neither am I quite sure of the point he makes about the dicotomy, as I understand it, between nature and the gallery/created object. Having said that some of the work is very  - well, perhaps not beautiful - but haunting, atmospheric and evocative.  And perhaps a little more painterly? However I cannot help but feel that the exhibition space didn't help Shaw's argument.  It's a rather awkward, unlovely space that's also in part a communicating space between grander galleries.  Neither, I think, did the hanging.  The sketches in the first room could have been better presented - framed?  It all seemed a little makeshift.
And then, finally to 'How the Other Half Love, at His Majesty's Theatre in The Haymarket - the real reason I had come up to town for the day. Incidentally the outside was designed by Nash as part of the Strand- Regent Street improvements post-Waterloo.  The contrasting French Baroque/Rococco interior, I suspect, was the work of that doyen of Edwardian theatre designers Frank Matcham.  Lots of plasterwork, gilding and scagliola.  The play, written by Alan Ayckbourn was published in 1971.  It is a play about adultery and the effects of badly planned deception - a nudge and a wink at the Permissive Society.  The play is a six-hander: Nicholas Le Prevost, Jenny Seagrove; Jason Merrell, Tamsin Outhwaite; Matthew Cottle and Gillian Wright. Familiar names, then.  I hope the latter two won't be insulted if I say that when they made their first entrance I was reminded of' 'Inspector Blakey' and 'Olive Rudge' from the 1960s/70s British sitcom 'On the buses'.  There really was something down-at-heel, if not downright seedy, about the Matthew Cottle character in particular what with all his fears and pomposity, and who seemed to have been trapped in the Late 1940s - a world that was both High Minded and mean.  But I wonder were all the characters in some way the same - all in various degrees suffering from some sort of delusion?  Nicholas Le Prevost, for instance, going around in some sort of daze all the time and quite unable to figure out that it was his wife that was digressive.  Perhaps the most clear-sighted was Teresa (Tamsin Outhwaite).  A knockabout farce in many ways and very funny.  It was very well acted indeed - the second act when there are two dinner parties going on simultaneously was an absolute tour du force of both writing and acting.

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