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.