An Arcadian Diversion

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I had a day off today, so went and met my friend Patrick in London, from where we wandered a bit before heading down to the leafy suburbs of Dulwich to see an exhibition that combines the work of the seventeenth century painter Nicolas Poussin with the work of the American Abstract Expressionist Cy Twombly, who died just a few days ago aged 83. I have admired the work of both of this painters for a good few years, but didn’t really connect them together, as from a purely visual aesthetic perspective they seem to hold very little in common- Poussin a master of figures against a landscape, Twombly purely abstract, combining calligraphic flourishes and a uniquely wonderful sense of composition. However both painters took up residence in Rome, and both took many of their inspirations from Greek mythology, with Twombly actually often using Poussin’s work as a starting point for his own paintings, even including a reproduction of one of the French painter’s pieces within a series paintings/collages of his own, of which one, Bacchanalia was on display at the show today.

Its a recent trick seen often in modern gallery shows to juxtapose work from different eras, centuries even to find links, similarities between them. This approach has become a little tiresome to me, but here, at this show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, a nice old place that I hadn’t been to before, the combination of the two artist’s paintings worked really well. While the style, form and impact of the two painters, three hundred years apart contrasted completely, it was great to read more and discover the links between paintings, follow the patterns, and above all enjoy the work of both painters. I must say though, the Twombly’s were the most impressive items in the show, with some of the bigger works really awe inspiring. Perhaps his recent death magnified the impact of these paintings somewhat, I’m not sure, but sitting in front of a few of them for a little while, looking deep into them, trying to follow their processes, decode their scrawled messages, marvel over the wonderful use of space and controlled composition- the little flicks of paint dropped into unsuspecting places, words scribbled over words over washes of paint. The creative mind that produced these images was a great one that will be sadly missed as of this week.

Patrick, in his own inimitable way, wrote the following words about the exhibition, on the train away from london this evening, nice to be able to share this here;

Myth transcends narrative, light evades words light, colours light, in absence light words predominance of light in colour, everything in light and in not light.

Seeing behind hearing phenomena of reference and palimpsest. Lay hearing child smiles of nothing in particular not yet named, was as is now not looking association, not what if is you are finding self looking at. Absence of presence, mouth does not open, lines of a lip carved as mouth does not open.

Reflected familiar in the small and of the vast, shimmering neither or what is heard palpable to both and hears reflection every point of every once all boundaries. No thing inert crossing travelling one way another.

Listening continually a state abandoned awareness, one by one the vegetable world strips a way of panic excites. Hearing seen all around wishes not, seeing front wishes not, hear sight so blind of weight in ears. Not sense not answer not understand not learn. Silence should be full, diminished to continue, living on occasion until mute drops, voiced separateness. Words can not touch, of saying a fragment perceived now gone. All and everywhere roaming.

2 Comments

  • Alastair July 8, 2011 - 11:07 am

    Dulwich (and its picture gallery) were/are very close to where I lived in London. Lovely place. Could never afford to live there.

    Was Poussin’s “A Dance To The Music Of Time” in the exhibition?

  • Richard Pinnell July 8, 2011 - 8:17 pm

    No, that painting wasn’t in the show Al, though it does get written about in the (excellent) catalogue.

    I realised we were close to your end of the world when I spotted the Crystal Palace mast not far away. I had to convince Patrick that it wasn’t Alexandra Palace…..

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