'our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamaties is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.'
Guru Stotram

Friday, 3 October 2008

I don’t mind Carnival that much actually. I don’t particularly mind that if I go out in my car on Sunday I won’t be able to park in my street, or for about 2 miles around, until Tuesday. Neither do I that much mind finding the motor covered in unidentifiable brown goo and, more surprisingly perhaps, talcum powder. I don’t mind lying in bed at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning, nursing a slightly delicate head after Viksie’s wedding on the Saturday, with full on 40 foot speakers driving past not 20 yards from my headboard. I don’t mind my entire flat vibrating alarmingly for the greater part of two days, or police helicopters constantly flapping about overhead. I can even accept that in a congregation of revellers that large it’s almost inevitable that somebody will have one rum and coke too many and end up glassing their best mate or whatever. It’s not my cup of tea, but I can happily accept that some people dig this stuff. Each to their own and all that. I don’t even mind hoards of twenty stone women parading up and down my street in spangly leotards. I quite like that even.

But what I do object to, is fried chicken. Fried chicken glued to every conceivable surface of Ladbroke Grove for days afterwards. What is it with fried chicken? Why must fried chicken contaminate an otherwise perfectly jolly bank holiday week-end? It’s beyond the pale actually. It’s just not right. If they could have carnival without the fried chicken I’d be all for it. But the fried chicken is too much.

So I went instead to the Royal Academy, where I was delighted to escape from the fried chicken, if not the horror.

I slightly suspect, were he English and alive in the early part of the twenty first century, Vilhelm Hammershoi would be the sort of person to use the word toilet. Actually, that’s going a bit easy on it. He’s clearly an obsessive-compulsive control freak with major intimacy issues… and probably uses the word toilet to boot.

In the half million or so paintings of his own flat he treats us to, quite a number include the solitary figure of his wife. Only two of these share with us a view of her face as opposed to the back of her head, and in both of these she is looking distinctly a) green and b) suicidal. The man clearly couldn’t communicate with other human beings. Not even, or perhaps especially not, his own wife.

People compare him to Vermeer. OK, so they’re domestic interiors. And apart from that? I just don’t see it. I rather think it’s only from Hammershoi’s own borrowings that we receive the impression of any commonality with Vermeer. Vermeer gives us warmth, generosity, narrative and human interconnectedness. He does not give us Armageddon – the Aftermath, death by loneliness, and profound disconnection from self and other. Neither does he give us clouds that look more like an invasion of UFOs (Tuesday’s Wood, 1893).

Whistler’s another one. I can’t have it I’m afraid. Whistler’s palette is beautiful beyond words and incredibly subtle. Hammershoi’s is incredibly drab. The thing that’s missing from Hammershoi’s work is any sign of life. Of energy, enquiry, passion, faith, trust, love for God’s sake. There’s no love in these paintings. How can something be described as meditative that is so devoid of these vital signs?

Would it be a cheap joke to suggest he might as well have painted the toilet and been done with it?

Oh dear. It’s been a long week-end.

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