On Spiders, Weathervanes and Physiognomies

 

Bluebells. Nettlebed, Oxfordshire. April 2022

What was once a weekly blog has, fortunately or otherwise, become somewhat more irregular, but   circumstances have changed.  I last posted here almost three weeks ago and I feel that I am losing it somewhat.  Anyway, we’ll see how this one develops as I sit here and arrange the photographs and try to make a story out of them.  So, here goes.

The first piece of information I proffer to those who choose to read this blog is that the dreaded Passover festival has passed and I am absolved from eating this form of unpalatable yet edible cardboard for another year.  This stuff, commonly referred to as matzah, is fine for the first couple of days after which it takes command of one’s digestive system and controls one’s ability to perform certain bodily functions in what I would consider to be a normal manner.   It’s a form of self-purgatory with which many Jews afflict themselves annually in the Spring.

This year, I was joined by Shuli and Tami and their daughters, Gali and Lily, prior to the Passover onset/onslaught.  They stayed with me in my small flat in London for the first half of the festival, the first day of which they sought to recover from three days of walking and climbing with my son and his tribe in the Brecon Beacons, a mountain range in South Wales.

Sharing a restricted living space with four females was quite a formidable task and given the restrictions that it involved, I think we came out of it not too badly indeed.  I bunged them all into the bedroom and I occupied the spare room while the living room was the common meeting place and somehow, we managed.

All of this was preceded by the Passover Seder with Dov & Keren, which more or less  stuck to the “rules” and as Passover is often referred to as the Festival of Freedom, Dov had done his homework and spoke about the concept of freedom, in addition reading some of the traditional extracts from the Haggadah, a text that sets forth the order of the Seder and the reading of which is a fulfilment of the commandment that each Jewish person should tell their children the story from the Book of Exodus about God bringing the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery.  Quite!

And Keren’s Seder meal (with contributions from other family members) was a work of art in itself (and very delicious, too).

The four Waterman women managed to get around London during their stay here, which included shopping with a visit to Hamley’s toy store, a show, lots of walking and, for the younger ones, visiting a Starbucks for the first time (no coffee served!!!) and taking advantage of the parks in NW London, and generally jumping around.

Lily Waterman jumping for joy at experiencing some spring sunshine. Belsize Park, NW3

Then there was also a family get-together in The Regent’s Park, which included frisbee throwing — but prior to that, some practice was in order …

… before the elder of the family joined the act.

And as this occurred during the intermediate days of the Passover holiday, there was always something of interest walking through the park to attract the eyes and cameras of the tourists.

Passover over and family returned to Tel Aviv, and all of a sudden the flat somehow became silent.

Nevertheless, it was time to take a break — so of we went to North Oxfordshire, in the Cotswolds …

… in a small cottage that was on loan for four days.  The colour of the Jurassic oolitic limestone in this part of the world was just so calming and to wake up in the morning to the sound of birds rather than the wailing of ambulance and police sirens made it seem like being in a different country entirely.

The shades of brown from which the buildings are constructed contrasted with the vivid yellows of the fields of rapeseed that are dotted throughout the countryside.

A trip to the Cotswolds went beyond walking around a small village and included the customary pilgrimages to such places with names as vivid and wondrous as Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Moreton in Marsh.  However, having visited these three small country towns, I declined the suggestion that we also visit The Slaughters (not Ukraine but the villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter), which have a combined population go around 500.  I’m sure they are extremely pretty (quaint? twee?) but the three towns had already provided me with enough material for thoughts and smiles.

The first town of the threesome provided me here, in the Cotswolds, with a reminder of what is going on in that faraway place to the southeast of Poland and south of Belarus.

And in the same country town in Gloucestershire, there are markets that cater to local residents at bargain prices …

… but turn around through 180 degrees and you realise that in addition to the local population who speak with a lovely soft burr in their voices, there are later arrivals who also have to have their needs provided for …

… the sort of people who might use another facility advertised in window, where you walk in as one person and emerge as another unrecognisable being — perhaps because one’s skin has been “rejuvinated”, whatever that may mean.

This trip also allowed me to indulge in my photographing of weathervanes, each one of which seems to be ever so slightly different to the others.

Weathervane atop St. Stephen’s (decommissioned) Church, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead.

The rest are from the Cotswolds!

After four days in North Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire, it was back to London where the trees and the tree trunks provided material for more photographs.

Nettlebed, Oxfordshire.

Walking along the street on which I live, I came across these two (of a set of four) on which I was able to observe faces that gaze down on the pedestrians from above.

 

But faces can be seen everywhere, as here on the South Bank, exiting the Hayward Gallery.

We went to the Hayward Gallery to view an exhibition of work by Louise Bourgeois. whose large metal spiders I first saw many years ago at the Tate Modern (the picture below is of a later version at the same place) …

… or a slightly miniature version on the inside at Tel Aviv Museum a couple of years ago …

… or this gigantic metal spider, which forms part of the permanent exhibition outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

However, the current exhibition at the Hayward was something entirely different. Entitled “The Woven Child”, it’s a spectacle of her late work from the last two decades of her life, exhibited over three floors of the gallery and is an exhibition mostly of soft fabrics, fragile emotions and various feelings of hurt and regret. It includes sculptures, busts, tapestries, that are witness to an emotional journey through the artist’s life, and the varying parts she played as daughter, mother and lover.  She began to incorporate clothes from all stages of her life (which she kept from her youth onward) into her art, which developed into a varied body of work – that included her monumental installations, figurative sculptures and abstract collages – incorporating such textiles as bed linen, handkerchiefs, tapestry, and needlepoint.

Initially, I thought that the whole thing was weird, to say the least, but as we worked our way around the exhibition, we found that it was stunning — simply astonishing to think that a person in her mid-90s could both imagine and then construct these fabulous works of art.

And again, there were faces!

 

 

Two days later, we were back on the South Bank to view a different kind of exhibition, for in The Courtauld Gallery, there was an breathtaking collection that occupied just two rooms on the third floor — 16 self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh, about half of the 35 or so that he made in the last four years of his life.

Many of these self-portraits are familiar to us — from seeing some of them at the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Courtauld Gallery itself, the Musée d’Orsay and so on — but to see so many in such an confined space was truly amazing.

 

However, one such painting, which was circulated around the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to encourage us to smile, didn’t make it into the Courtauld exhibition!  And there’s little wonder why not!

My final foray into art last week occurred a couple of days later with a visit to an exhibition at the Barbican Gallery, entitled Postwar Modern — New Art in Britain 1945-1965.  This show explores art produced in Britain in the wake of the cataclysm that was World War II. Confidence had vanished and aftershocks continued, but there was also hope for better times, producing conditions that provided us with a barely credible richness of imagery, forms and materials in the following years. The show features 48 artists and around 200 works— of paintings, sculptures, photography, collages and installations, that explore those topic that most concerned artists — the body, the post-atomic condition, the blitzed streetscape, private relationships and envisioned future horizons. The exhibition includes works of well-known artists but also gives a prominent place to refugees from Nazism who had arrived in Britain  in the1930s and to migrants from a disintegrating empire—as well as to female artists who tended to have been overlooked.

One piece in particular caught my eye — Willesden Junction, Early Morning, 1962 — a piece of oil on board by Leon Kossoff, who had moved to Willesden a year earlier and whose studio was next to the rail junction.  Already in decline by this period due to social and technological changes, Kossoff managed to evoke the hurtling energy of the a train and the seeming terminus with his sweeping furrows of very thick layers of paint.

Then, finally, on my way home and emerging from the Underground at Finchley Road Station, this is what greeted me as I walked to the bus stop to take the C11 bus back to Belsize Park!

 

And I was back in the real world again!

 

 

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