Moore, Miro and Bowling

It’s been an odd last few weeks. Blissfully indulgent on the one hand; a weird, sort of phantasmic nether zone on the other. It’s the first time in well over a decade – since I was on school holidays, really – that I have had so much uninterrupted time at one stretch. And it’s a bit odd getting used to being master of my time, to not having each day defined by the strictly ordered schedule of the office day.

I’m trying to take full advantage of this luxurious space, despite the almost unbearably high anticipation, my ever ponderous belly and, consequently, slowing movements. I realise that soon enough I shall be looking longingly back to these schedule free days; soon enough my life will be ordered and defined by the baby’s patterns, needs, moves. It’s a great big, exciting, unknown.

So, in the spirit of making the most of maternity leave, I have been trawling round looking at art.

First, to Hatfield House, whose stunning grounds currently house 15 of Henry Moore’s bronze sculptures. It is truly, as the website describes, a monumental exhibition. Sitting amongst the exquisitely manicured gardens and the more wild, woodsy land surrounding the House, Moore’s works are resplendent. The smooth, flowing, full pieces simultaneously blend in with, complement and stand out amongst the natural setting. We had to really restrain ourselves from reaching out and running our hands along the smooth contours – they cried out to be touched.

My mum and I went on a gorgeous hot September day last week, the first warm day we’ve had all summer. Perhaps the most exciting discovery was that of a deadly mushroom in the woods. It would, if eaten, ‘liquidate your liver in 10 minutes’ said a knowledgeable woman, with botanist parents, who we had first noticed crouching down taking a photo of something on the forest floor. She told us this was the mushroom used way back when to kill people instantly by poisoning. A quick google search brings up the ‘Amanita phalloides‘ or ‘death cap’ mushroom, which I suspect it was (apparently it only lives for a few days). The alarms and warnings of imminent danger of course made me want to reach out and touch it, but I steered clear.

Back to London, trading natural toxins for vehicle fumes and hordes of people, and to the grand and gilded rooms of The Royal Academy. Nothing much took my fancy there (sadly, I’d missed the wonderfully shambolic Summer Exhibition and was too early for the Degas) apart from a small exhibition of Frank Bowling. One of his paintings had caught my eye on the website. I’d never heard of Bowling before, but in this one room show, I learned quite a lot, thanks to a good selection of his recent works and a documentary film showing on a small tv screen.

Bowling’s works are bright, thick splodges of paint that sit high on the canvas and exude vibrancy and motion. Mainly abstract, apart from some portraits he has done, it was fun to see if I could decipher or discern the shapes on the canvas from the work’s title. The works currently being shown at the RA are his most recent and on a much smaller scale than many of the paintings he has done in the past. I believe he did the ones shown while recovering from an illness. I was glad I’d gone and been introduced to this interesting, Guyanan (by birth) artist.

Finally, today, to the Tate Modern to catch the Joan Miro exhibition before it closes on Sunday. I had heard of Miro, had a vague image in my head of his style of painting, but nothing clear and I realised when I got there I didn’t really know a thing about him. It is a brilliant show, an extensive retrospective of his work over a lifetime. He worked right up until his 80s – a true, dedicated professional artist, who was committed to painting as a conduit to make a statement, to speak for people, to make a difference. World War I & II and Franco’s Spain was the backdrop to much of Miro’s work.

His very first works were realist but he quickly moves into the surreal style that not only made him famous but that he helped define as a movement. It was fascinating to follow Miro’s transformation as a painter, to see the way he responded to political situations and to see how his settings affected his works (he lived in exile in France for many years, as well as a brief spell in America). I particularly loved his wall size triptychs; alas, they were not available on the postcards in the shop. I quickly appreciated Miro’s skill as a painter and, by the end, truly admired his dedication to art and to making an impact. I shall end with the statement which most struck me most (handily captured in Tate’s little exhibition book).

‘In accepting an honorary degree from the University of Barcelona in 1979, at the age of 86, he spoke of the artist’s social responsibility:

I understand that an artist is someone who, in the midst of others’ silence, uses his own voice to say something and who makes sure that what he says is not useless, but something that is useful to mankind.’

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