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Thursday, June 27, 2013

ARTING About...? The National Gallery, London, England: ART is: Charing Cross, Michael Landy and Earl Grey!!!

Image of Rose Bell looking quiet spectacularRose Bell: 

June 25, 2013

From Kilburn to Sainthood – Exploring London’s creative side                  

A persistent shade of blue is tearing apart London’s notoriously grey skies and beckoning me out. A native Californian, even in London I never go out without sunglasses. This garners me a welcome collection of smiles from curious unshaded onlookers. A friendly “that’s all right dear,” from a friendly passerby as I click photos of my neighborhood, a Britishism applicable most anytime, forces me to respond with my own charmed smile. And leads me to reflect on one of the reasons I love England so.
Everyone, from the twenty-year-old thug, the well adorned matron, tube attendant and construction worker at a neighborhood pub included will call you dear, love, and a whole host of other charming epithets without a trace of perversion or insinuation. It’s like everyone is your favorite Aunt Dottie…giving you a false sense of being appreciated and looked after.
Image of Neighborhood Plaque announcing the name of the area

 Neighborhood Plaque, the photograph that gets me a smile and a friendly epithet. 25 June 2013

Continuing in my journey to the underground I am struck by the architectural beauty of my neighborhood tube stop, built in 1915, it is one of the more lovely stations in my humble opinion. Glazed in a deep merlot tile elegantly adorning an art nouveau structure, it is my portal to London’s delights.

Image of Kilburn Park Underground Station

Kilburn Park Underground Station, 25 June 2013.

Plunging into the depths of London’s underground my blonde tresses swirl riotously as if a shampoo commercial were on location, and in this golden haze my train arrives to whisk me away to Central London.
Image of Underground train tracks and tunnel with no train in sightImage of the underground train tracks and tunnel with a train in sightImage of the underground train tracks with a train speeding into the station

Bakerloo Line train arriving at Kilburn Park Southbound platform, 25 June 2013

Alighting from the train at Charing Cross I am faced with London’s love of art and culture. Papering the walls of the station are a collection of artworks, Shakespearean quotes and portraits of luminaries in England’s art world. I can feel Britain’s enthusiasm for art and culture seeping through the very walls of its transport network.

Image of mural on Charing Cross wall

Murals on Bakerloo platform in Charing Cross underground station. 25 June 2013

As I emerge at Charing Cross the heavens have won their battle against London’s grey fog and a bright blue sky greets me at Trafalgar Square. Struck by the contrast of iron work against the bright atmosphere I draw my camera and kneel upon the tube steps, the closest I've ever allowed myself to the filthy well traveled stairway, but I’m rewarded with a stunning burst of blue light.
Image of the iron work as you walk up the stairs out of the tube

Blue Skies warming the ironwork of Charing Cross entrance at Trafalgar Square. 25 June 2013

Unsurprisingly I’m not the only Londoner, or tourist, drawn out by the promise of warmth. The crowds of every persuasion litter the square surrounding the National Gallery, an imminent museum whose foreboding façade protects some of England’s greatest treasures, centuries of spectacular artwork free and accessible to all. In an exceptional move to democratize art England began funding a whole host of its major museums nationwide resulting in a public attending with little more than an interest and a bit of free time. This jewel of England’s crown has lured me in many times, but today I’m drawn by a particular exhibit I’ve been waiting to see.

Image of the program to the exhibit at the National Gallery

Program handout for Michael Landy “Saints Alive” exhibit at the National Gallery

In a break from the traditional the National Gallery has invited artist Michael Landy to populate a gallery with his incredibly unique convergence of saints, collage and kinetics in a special exhibit titled “Saints Alive.” Abstracting these saints from their faded histories and exploding them in a new cultural consciousness, Landy reveals a new way to remember and interact with these relics of history. Gone are the miniatures, the gold leaf, the illumination. Hushed whispers have no space in a room echoing from the boom of Landy’s kinetic sculpture depicting St Thomas’s finger crashing into Christ’s scarred chest.

Image of Saint Apollonia with image of National Gallery in background

Print of Michael Landy’s work, “Saint Apollonia (de-faced)” backed by the massive National Gallery.

The exhibition is divided spatially, beginning with Landy’s evocative collage art, blending printed body parts of the Gallery’s expansive saint collection with a complex symmetry of gears, cogs and wheels merging the disfigured saints into cohesive, abstract bodies. The eye is soothed from a Bosch-esque mutiny of color with the simplicity of a solid white background. Likewise the surrealist re-imagined portraiture is absent the fluidity of Dali by its stark edges, popping violent yet lonely from the negative space.  It leaves me transfixed, and strangely lonely yet creatively invigorated.

Image of artist rendition sketch from a postcard

 “Multi-Saint, 2” sketch from postcard. 25 June 2013

Once my eyes have consumed as much detail, connection, emotion and meaning as I can glean from Landry’s one-dimensional collages I find my way into the kinetic gallery. I am instantly drawn from my museum induced reverie by the booming thump of St Thomas’s index finger returning to scrape away at Christ’s chest as a young tourist erupts in a fit of giggles after compressing the sculpture’s mechanical pedal with her TOMs clad toe. Her giggle, and surprise at the violent kinetic surrealism, is infectious, dissolving any quiet cultured airs visitors may have as they join in with a collective guffaw. I can’t but think Mr. Landy would be pleased. To surprise, provoke, share, tease from the crowds a sense of unity is an art of its own. These massive fiberglass sculptures, melding gears and wheels, old tricycles and rusting springs with the larger than life features of self effacing saints engaging visitors with concepts of sainthood and encourages each of us to seek out the original inspirations found throughout the museum. I wonder at its reception, its chaotic and almost violent defacing of saints to reimagine them and recontextualize their martyrdom. I am moved, almost emotionally shattered, by the imagery. And yet I struggle to understand what I find so touching in Landy’s art. Perhaps simply my own aesthetic preference for collage or contraption, but also a deep appreciation for an artist’s willingness to subvert staid tradition to offer new ways to think of the world around, and behind, us.

Image of a sketch representing Saint Thomas pointing at Christ's torso

Sketch of Saint Thomas pointing at Christ’s torso, from exhibit program. Actual sculpture is easily 7-ft tall.

Leaving Mr. Landy’s world behind, juggling my residual emotional inner dialogue, I re-emerge into the humid blue of London’s summer. Wading through eager crowds I am rewarded with a classic view of Charing Cross, British flag flying and a row of iconic red phone booths lined up like attentive soldiers.

Image of a line of red phone booths famous world wide

Charing Cross sprawling in Central London. 25 June 2013

Turning my compass towards Covent Garden for a spot of tea, some ideal people watching, and continued reflection on the joys of London’s free and accessible artworks, I find solace from the masses with the most classic of English pastimes. A pot of tea, Earl Grey, one sugar and a splash of milk. Perfection!

Image of a hot pot of Earl Grey tea at Cafe Nero, Covent Garden

Pot of Earl Grey tea at Café Nero, Covent Garden. 25 June 2013.

Have a gallery, museum or neighborhood in London you love, or would love to see? Comment below with your thoughts and perhaps I’ll choose your suggestion for my next outing and future blog post. You can also tweet your suggestions to @Rose_M_Bell and @FilmRobin.

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Please visit: Twitter: @FilmRobin for up-to-date info on where I am travelling for ART. LinkedIn: for complete resume & work history. and look for Dr. Robin Scott Peters Ebooks now available. YouTube: for all my video work.