Catastrophe

Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent…..Plato

With Britain as the new Atlantis, contriving its own liquidation through the hubris of Brexit and Conservative Government, where can a girl go in pursuit of freedom and happiness?

Our European neighbours who we have so rudely shunned are already showing us what we will be missing in their civilized world.

Spain has given vindication to anyone who’s been harassed by manspreading on a train or a bus, or in a theatre or cinema. It’s the beginning of reclaiming personal space, the rebirth of the rights of woman and man, the recognition that arseholes can’t have it all their own way anymore.

It’s the only news to have cheered me up on a scary Election Day, tired out by the cat that’s not mine but won’t leave my house and keeps me awake all night.

In one leap she burst through the barely open bedroom window and the rolled down blind, directly on to the landing pad of our bed. We could only see her outline in the dark, no more than a sinuous body and bushy tail, and from our experience of another cat trying to break in a week ago, we knew that it’s impossible to verify feline identification without electric light.

A nano-moment after our besotted “hello, darling” cooings, my husband said, “Are you a fox?” Knowing by now that the worst usually happens, I screamed and hid under the bedclothes.

At 7am, after the cat had eaten breakfast and gone out again, there was another kerfuffle as something struggled through the letterbox. Was it her? we wondered – but, no, it was the sound of the poor Lib Dems leafleting at dawn.

I voted for them, nevertheless – because they are the only party to have been consistent over Europe. I don’t understand why Labour and the Liberal Democrats are being so snotty to the rational, valiant Greens about a progressive alliance.

I don’t understand anything, I haven’t slept for weeks, and while I stutter and splutter over the keyboard, the beautiful, free-loading, conscience-free cat burglar is sleeping peacefully in her bed behind the sofa.

cat occupier

Conquest Cat Portrait by Martin Hübscher Photography

I did one of those voter-party match-making tests yesterday and the big shock for me was that my views are closer to UKIP than the modern Tory party, whose social policies really must have strayed right of Attila the Hun.

Wake up, Britons! Avert this catastrophe! Don’t you hear Drake’s drum? There’s time to finish the game and beat the Spaniards too – reputed to have been said while he played bowls at Plymouth Hoe, it turns out he never said it, and it’s a soundbite invented over a century later. Our national myths had charm, once, before poetic inspiration for doing the right thing deviated into knee-jerk nationalistic slogans.

Now, the threat to the precious stone set in a silver sea is not from a foreign Armada, it’s from ourselves.

We’ve lost the blessed plot. We’re no longer the envy of less happy lands; we’re the butt of the rest of the world’s bemusement and pity.

And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension

Brexit is the poison that will taint a nation, a fungus that grew in the ideological rifts of the Conservative party and infected purer minds.

J’accuse: the right-wing Brexit conspiracy, in which the public has colluded, is an act of vandalism, defacing our country’s history and laying waste to its future.

Nothing that was true is true any more, nothing makes sense, not in my catatonic state. One thing is certain: all cats are grey in the dark. The inconstant cat’s not ours. She must have at least one other home. The stupid human beings in their different dwellings think she’s dependent on them alone, and she’s playing all of us.

Sounding like a Millwall fan chanting “Noone likes us, we don’t care”, I don’t like blogging, I don’t like Brexit, I don’t care if you don’t Like me, and all it takes to go to hell nowadays is pressing Publish, or drawing X on a ballot paper.

…..and the island of Atlantis …. disappeared in the depths of the sea. Plato

Everything I love

is either dead or under attack


Gainsborough’s The Morning Walk (1785)

DAMAGED on 18 March, 2017

We congratulate ourselves on feeling so deeply about art that we must be good people or, at least, better than we thought we were a moment ago

Don’t Leave, Tiffany

Tiffany told everyone she was too good to be there….

awakening conscience

William Holman Hunt The Awakening Conscience 1853. Tate Gallery. Image: WGA

and stormed out….

“The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion” (Edmund Burke) and one big delusion, Brexit, is already being ridiculed internationally by political satirists. It is the Ship of State run aground by its captain’s folly, a misled charge for glory and independence through the wrong exit, leaving everyone standing awkwardly in the backyard among the garbage containers, too embarrassed to go back in.

rochesterLord Rochester with Monkey by Huysmans, 1670s, an allegory of human pretentiousness and folly.
“….I’d be a dog, a monkey or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal
Who is so proud of being rational.”
(Satire Against Reason and Mankind)
Rochester, when he wasn’t drinking and whoring himself to death or writing
obscene satires and plaintive love lyrics, was a critic of the government’s unwise decisions and duplicity.

Brexit has given teen slang a new word, according to clever and twinkly US chat show host Seth Meyers.

The definition of brexit (verb): to leave a party without thinking of the ramifications of your decisions.

“Tiffany told everyone she was too good to be there and stormed out without realizing she had no money for a taxi, her phone was dead, and she was 3 miles from the nearest subway #Brexit”

apollo_d

DON’T LEAVE, TIFFANY: Apollo and Daphne, marble sculpture 1622 -25 by Bernini. Image: WGA

“Ourselves with noise of reason do we please
In vain: humanity’s our worst disease”.
Tunbridge Wells, John Wilmot, Lord Rochester

The fate of this blog

girl withcagerippl

Rippl-Rónai, Girl with Cage 1892 Oil on canvas Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest.
Image: WGA

This is Beetley Pete‘s fault. Before that, it was Sarah of FND‘s fault. She handed me the bird in the gilded cage. I don’t even know if I want a blog, and I sure as hell don’t know where I should be going with it. I’ve carried it around in my head for three years, and now I don’t know where to put it.

Supposing the bird has fled or died, and I’m just lugging an empty cage? I really don’t have anything to say. I try to have the Last Word, and Beetley Pete squeezes another one out of me.

The moment a blog starts singing about itself, is the moment the blanket should be put over it.

But the painting is fascinating. That’s the saving grace of scavenging the web for a shiny image to illustrate a dull thought: serendipity. Like Vermeer, József Rippl-Rónai describes the deep spaces in corners we feel but cannot see.

They make you hear eternal whisperings (Keats’ words, not mine, of course) in the most ordinary looking rooms, only the sound in Rónai’s interiors is so much louder, building to a roar. His intense background offers no comfort to the human figure, at odds with her environment in a recognizably modern way. Where are we going?

So here she is, as my way of saying thank you to the great bloggers and readers out there – the ghostly Girl with Cage.

Nothing, or the Magic Pin Board

Part ten of Nothing

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.” Shakespeare (Hamlet)

The most personal of Gijsbrechts’ deceptions casually pins down all art, and individual identity, as a coat of arms on a plain wooden board. A musical instrument, the tools of his own craft of painting, even himself, in a miniature self-portrait, are stuck there, a declaration of THIS IS ME, all in vain, until somebody three and a half centuries later looks at them.

GijsbrechtsTrompe_l'oeilviolin art

Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’oeil with violin, painters implements and self-portrait, oil on canvas, 1675,
Royal Castle, Warsaw. Image: Wikipedia

We should be so lucky, to create anything so well-made that it lasts beyond a moment on the web. Most of it is worthless, read or not. Words, words, words as a fictional Danish prince said in around 1602.

There is nothing deep here, on this blog, only a brazen attempt to create the illusion. I don’t know much about Nihilism and Existentialism, and can seldom untangle a metaphysical conceit, but, as I like the sound of the words, I’m content to use them as labels for states of mind, alluding to concepts without fully understanding them, just like a monkey would, and now with WP technology I can tag them, separating them with commas, meaninglessly. “Words are wise men’s counters….but they are the money of fools” (Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651).

I blog profitlessly, in every sense.  I shouldn’t be here at all; I should be out, trying to earn a living, not flirting with dead men and downloading old pictures. “Vanity of vanities! all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, King James Bible version, 1611).

wood

wood by Martin Hübscher Photography  © August 2014

Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts began his adventure in still-life and trompe l’oeil in Antwerp, then found customers in the German cities of Regensburg and Hamburg, before he was appointed court painter in Copenhagen where he decorated the King’s Kunstkammer, one of the greatest of all European cabinets of curiosities, with his illusions of illusions; no job or position ever lasted, he always moved on, itinerant artist in search of the same theme, first to Stockholm, and then back to Germany, to Breslau, now the Polish city of Wroclaw, and then, almost full circle, he returned to Flanders, ending up in Bruges. On the way, he broke the fourth wall.

kms3076

Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’Oeil. A Cabinet of Curiosities with an Ivory Tankard, 1670
Image: SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Gijsbrechts painted a series of representations of cabinets of curiosities, with closed or half open doors revealing the eclectic objects inside, for the Perspective Chamber of the real cabinet of curiosities of the Danish kings, a sort of site-specific art installation, except none of the objects were real.

Visitors to the Chamber were unwittingly entering a stage-set. In one of the paintings, they were given a glimpse back-stage. The door opens on to nothing, Lord Rochester’s “Great Negative”, the beginning and end of everything, into which all our words and illusions must “undistinguished fall”, where the cosmos itself started and will end.

That is the rational end, but for most of us it is not the end of illusion. We are unable or unwilling to grasp finality in our minds. When we look at the picture, we are tempted to jump into the grey empty space on another adventure of the imagination, through a portal to another world.

Gijsbrechts’ tricks with our eyes were intended to entertain, no more, but few things, let alone people, turn out exactly as intended. Some of us spending too much time looking at his painted half open-doors, might find, like Keats looking at the Grecian Urn, an art form “dost tease us out of thought”. Is it something, or nothing?

Unable to encompass the magnitude, or the littleness, of what art and history is telling me, bemused by all their illusions, this blogger is like one of those people described by Hobbes in Leviathan as “birds that entering by the chimney, and finding themselves enclosed in a chamber, flutter at the false light of a glass window, for want of wit to consider which way they came in.”

It’s been a long train of thought that’s led me here, and, look, guess what, at the last post, all those words, all those pictures of dead princes and poets, their monkeys and dogs, all those letter racks and skulls and fruit pieces, they’ve all been in vain, and I’ve blogged my way to dusty

NOTHING

the back of the picture

Part nine of Nothing

Gijsbrechts was deliberately more frugal in his imagery than most Vanitas painters, so though he produced the staple props of floral, fruity sumptuousness, lobsters and lemons, dead ducks and game, melodramatic skulls and overwrought tankards, in deceptively three-dimensional form, he preferred to concentrate on his bits of paper stuffed into strapped letter boards. A diversion for the spectator merges into metaphysical reflection.

KMS3059Gijsbrechts, Board Partition with Letter Rack and Music Book, 1668. Image: SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. The seal of the artist’s patron, King Frederik III of Denmark, dangles above the music book on the left.

It became a popular theme for other trompe l’oeil artists in northern Europe, most notably the Dutch born and trained Edward Collier who had a successful career in London from 1693 – 1706. Sometimes topical political messages were included amongst the letters, pamphlets and royal proclamations.

Collier commemorated the accession of Queen Anne in 1702, not with a portrait of the woman, but with a collage of documents associated with the event and the Stuart line of succession, symbolized by the seal of her grandfather, Charles I, instantly recognizable in profile by his beard, who had been executed over 50 years earlier. Anne was the last of her family to reign. Dynasties are as transient as everything else.

collierEdward Collier, Trompe l’oeil with writing materials, ca. 1702, oil on canvas. Victoria and Albert Museum.
Image: Wikipedia

Like some photo-journalism today, particularly at Election time, Collier’s patriotic letter rack is more interesting for its omissions than inclusions. The legitimacy of Anne’s right to succeed is implied by her descent from her grandfather, not her father, also a crowned king with absolutist ambitions, who had been kicked off the throne and out of the country in a coup d’etat fourteen years earlier which saved England, but not Scotland and Ireland, from renewed civil war. To please his patrons of the new political Establishment, Collier erased James II and his son from history.

Vanitas painting, like much of 17th century literature and philosophy, is veined with the dread of civil war, the condition Hobbes decried as having “no place for industry”, no agriculture, no trade imports, no communication with the rest of the world “no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death…” (Leviathan).

This is why Vanitas celebrates the prosaic commodities of peace; people with memories or imagination knew their value. Neither the objects nor their owners last, but the impulse to have them is carried on through generations.

Nothing is what it seems – or Nothing is not what it seems.

The trompe l’oeil artist was meeting a demand to both reassure and beguile his patrons, to trick their eyes without disturbing their minds. He could have chosen glamorous symbols of wealth. He chose everyday, random clutter, and transformed the ordinary into a permanent monument to ephemera.

paperwork

Martin Hübscher, Paperwork, photograph by Martin Hübscher Photography © September 2014.
A random street scene observed, not posed, by a contemporary German-born photographer from Hamburg living in England.

Gijsbrechts experimented with modern graphic minimalism. He explored the liminal space between reality and illusion which preoccupies many artists today. He went behind the picture, beyond conventional religious morality to the other dominant philosophy of the late Baroque, nihilism, and beyond 17th century Vanitas to 20th century Existentialism, to the back of a framed canvas, a picture in search of a painter.

Trompel'oeil

Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’oeil, Reverse of a Framed Painting, 1668 -72, oil on canvas Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. Image: Wikipedia

the front of the picture

Part eight of Nothing

KMS5

Is this a photograph of an easel and canvasses arranged for a trendy shop window display? Or you might see it on the cover of one of those aspirational free lifestyle mags published by estate agents, showing off the latest interior design features to fill those awkward corners of a penthouse with river view.

We know it’s staged – no real painter’s easel ever looks like that – but it is a reproduction of a real three-dimensional, isn’t it?

It is the three-hundred and forty year old optical illusion proving that human life is transient and meaningless, but art is not:

Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts Cut-Out Trompe l’Oeil Easel with Fruit Piece oil on canvas 1670-1672.
Image: SMK – Statens Museum, Copenhagen..

Is this why all of us, even if we can’t draw or paint or write much more than a list of tags, are so desperate to leave our mark? Because we can’t bear being meaningless?  Even if we can’t find a market for it? Even if we’re vanity publishing?

Posting on our online pin boards is another opiate for existential angst, supplying illusions ad infinitum. We think it keeps us sane, even while we drive everyone else mad. All is vanity.

Our response to the portrait of Lord Rochester holding a laurel crown over a monkey is dictated by the subject matter, because the charisma of the wild glamour boy poet, and the daring symbolism, which was the patron’s idea, not the artist’s, are more striking than Huysman’s execution, gorgeous though the baroque reds and ochres are.

Most Vanitas painting, of everyday objects, just stuff lying around, succeeded in glorifying itself as much as the customer’s lifestyle choices.

It was bravura advertizing of the painter’s technique and ingenuity, especially in conveying perspective, and of the power of art, in which the painting triumphed over the concept, the artist over the patron, however rich or royal; as an exercise in humility it defeated its own object. It is utterly vain. It’s not even transient.

The strict moral message is usually, thank God, almost completely submerged in wonderfully extravagant decorative effects, like theatre design.

The seventeenth century was as fluent in theatrical metaphor as we are in digital media and the manipulated image. Vanitas, which at first glance is the least dramatic of historic painting, with none of the stories to tell of landscape and portraits, is all about theatrical illusion.

Gijsbrechts created his delectable fruit-piece for the Danish king’s cabinet of curiosities. It was plainly described in the inventory from 1674 as: “A stand with painter’s paraphernalia painted on perspective.” (SMK website, which is superb.)

Even without tricks of perspective, the most mundane looking Baroque still life is set-dressing of a drama or satirical comedy, an illustration to a Shakespearean soliloquy about the futility of life, in which the cloud capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, all our invented consolations dissolve; or it simply looks good enough to eat.

dessert

Photo: Martin Hübscher Photography © 2014

And there is more vanity to come, in yet another post….