Broad canvas

Nikolai Astrup, A Clear Night in June, 1905-1907, Oil on canvas, 148 x 152 cm, The Savings Bank Foundation DNB/The Astrup Collection/KODE Art Museums of Bergen. Photo © Dag Fosse/KODE

Nikolai Astrup, A Clear Night in June, 1905-1907. Photo © Dag Fosse/KODE

In late Victorian times a painting called The Light of the World
was taken around the Empire to be viewed like an Anglican icon.
Thousands queued and many wept over a romantic-religious work
by Holman Hunt the Pre-Raphaelite.
This rare exposure to original art clearly moved them.

Today we are art-full, and I am satiated, driven to abstraction
following the masters.

First there was a funny man in Venice (seen on TV)
interpreting a Giorgione, involving a lightning bolt, a youth
and a nude woman giving breast to a babe in a landscape:
from which the critic drew an ancient moral tale.

In Malta once there were scary holy men called Knights
who needed artists to further enrich their Baroque churches.
What luck when Caravaggio turned up seeking sanctuary.
He paid for this with two late, great altarpieces: one a tender
St. Jerome, modelled they say by a Knight Grand Master.

No sooner home, I’m called to troll-land in 20th century Norway
by way of Nikolai Astrup’s expressionist landscapes come to
south London.
A pagan past in mountain and forest challenges a
Protestant morality less firmly rooted.

Art and religion – such enigmatic bedfellows. Just check it
with Sister Wendy Beckett.

So date-wise I’m near my destination: the segmentation
of reality by Picasso and followers in the restless jazz-age.
Directed by my teacher I’m already seeking abstraction.

– – –

‘My mind was filled with recent art encounters of which the Astrups were the latest. So I attempted poetic storytelling, ranging over time and place, with a running pun – driven to distraction/abstraction – which was in reality my art class homework.’

‘This isn’t the first time I’ve managed collisions between art and poetry, with examples in my book Songs in the City (2014).’


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