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Art and Photographic History Art Exhibition Reviews politics Uncategorized

Today’s Crisis of Brilliance in Ukraine

During this peculiar August weather, I have been reading David Boyd Hancock’s remarkable account of young British Artists and the Great War. Firstly, the account has introduced me to the Slade Artists whose work I was fortunate to see a few year’s ago in the Dulwich Art Gallery. So I have become acquainted with the critical instructor Henry Tonks whose sarcasm of student’s drawing was interlaced with great conviction about fostering the development of fine talents. I have learned much about the deep courage of Stanley Spencer, the lyrical regard of Paul Nash and his brother for the countryside, and of how Nevinson subverted Futurism to convey the mechanical dreadfulness of modern warfare.

Secondly, Boyd Haycock is excellent on the personal relationships affecting the development and interaction between the painters. The upbringing of Mark Gertler and his passion for the wayward and difficult Dora Carrington, I found fascinating as the figures of Bloomsbury enter the scene: Strachey, Fry and of course, Ottoline Morrell. Rupert Brooke and D.H.Lawrence are included too and the various links with art dealers, sponsors and critics completely convey the vivid and sometimes lurid time.

Thirdly, the response of these sensitive souls to the destruction so suddenly released in 1914 is powerfully conveyed. Minds as well as bodies are for ever traumatised and the pictures generated under fire have enormous power. Reading about the stalemate which ensued and the trench warfare, the horrors suffered under artillery bombardment and perhaps especially, the unnatural distortion of countryside inevitably bring contemporary issues to mind.

One interesting exhibition which has displayed the artwork in relation to the Ukrainian conflict has taken place in Brussels and is the subject of an engaging article from The Guardian- Making sense of the senseless: Ukrainian war-art exhibition arrives in Brussels and may be viewed at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jul/31/ukrainian-war-art-exhibition-arrives-brussels-captured-house

Another which well repays viewing and includes outstanding sketches by George Butler may be seen on this BBC website and shows extensive video clips with further artists at

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/entertainment-arts-61347805

Finally, there is this academic discussion relating Ukranian artist’s work with issues of Russian colonialism from Columbia University. It also includes Music and Film.

Categories
Literature Poetry Psychoanalysis

“Autumn Journal” revisited this Spring

For here and now the new valkyries ride

The Spanish constellations

As over the Plaza Cataluña

Orion lolls on his side;

Droning over from Majorca

To maim or blind or kill

The bearers of the living will,

The stubborn heirs of freedom

Whose matter-of-fact faith and courage shame

Our niggling equivocations-

We who play for safety,

A safety only in name.

Whereas these people contain truth, whatever

Their nominal façade.

Listen: a whirr, a challenge, an aubade-

It is the cock crowing in Barcelona.

Sleep, my body, sleep, my ghost,

Sleep, my parents and grand-parents,

And all those I have loved most:

One man’s coffin is another’s cradle.

Sleep, my past and all my sins,

In distant snow or dried roses

Under the moon for night’s cocoon will open

When day begins.

These lines from MacNeice’s poem written in 1938 sadly seem apposite today. The lines refer to the bombing of Barcelona when fascists killed some 1300 people. They also refer to his response which is to seek solace in sleep. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Barcelona

For a fascinating discussion of MacNeice’s work take a listen to https://www.lrb.co.uk/podcasts-and-videos/podcasts/close-readings/on-louis-macneice

Now, of course the Spanish Civil War was a totally different situation from the current situation from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the melancholy tone of Autumn Journal resonates with my personal feelings about current events. Firstly, weapons have become vastly more destructive and in a few days the casualties and destruction have become enormous and sadly mch more about to be revealed. In both conflicts, ethnic and religous belief would appear to be active. Although mercenaries and International Brigades are involved the ideological factors such as a belief in Marxism are radically different in form.

The cock which crowed in respect to Barcelona is an Easter image relating to betrayal. Just as with Covid the current response by politicians to the current crisis is totally underwhelming and indicates too how domestic and isolationist narratives have obscured a wider view as to how to resolve or even contain this conflict.

So this melancholia pervades from 80 or more years ago-

Our niggling equivocations

We who play for safety,

A safety only in name