Am I getting more arty – or is it just an age thing?

22 Jan

I spent half an hour, last week, sitting in front of Il Tagliapanni (The Tailor) at the National Gallery. I was killing time and had persuaded myself to continue my journey of art education and discovery. Whenever I have done this in galleries up and down the land I have tended to forget the brilliant images within a millisecond of sipping the first pint in the pubs round the corner.

Not so with Giovanni Battista Moroni’s brilliant portrait. If the artist’s name and the pasta-giggle of a title wasn’t enough of a draw, the arresting demeanour of the beautiful tailor made you want to sit and stare. And so I did. The heavy tailor’s scissors to the bottom left drew the eye, which, having been drawn moved back to the kind, firm, quizzical face. Why are you interested in me? The tailor seemed to be saying. I  wondered about such an artisan being the subject of a portrait – after all wasn’t it just the toffs of the time could afford a portrait commission? I checked the blurb – it seemed that it was several decades before the Italians comfirmed the painting as that of a tailor. I wondered why. I sat again and saw the chalk lines on the dark velvet cloth being cut – must be for a VIP? But the tailor holds the attention…for ages. Go to the National Gallery site. See for yourself.

I wandered on and bumped into my old buddy Mark White – he an artist and teacher who has tried, sympathetically, to aid my art education. I was gratified that he added to my response to Mr Moroni’s painting, accepting amuch of what  I said with gratifying interest – then filling in some gaps. I wandered round to the National Portrait Gallery and caught The Duchess of Cambridge looking ten years older by the magic of artwork, the Taylor-Wessing exhibition which was…very good photography – and then I moved off to The Ship and Shovel to take stock…and a nice pint of Badger’s. As with so many, I guess, I was thinking through my real response rather than the one expected of someone with a finely-tuned artistic sensibility. You know the sort of thing – those moments when you have to face the undeniable truth that you like Simon and Garfunkel more than Mahler and Any Human Heart more than anything by Yann Martell or Salman Rushdie. Actually I like anything more than Mahler but I’d still go with my luvvie mates to the Albert Hall in the vain attempt to try to ‘get’ what they seem to ‘get’.

The evening held promise. I was heading for the Duke of York’s theatre, dahling, accompnied by a highly attractive woman, to see The Judas Kiss with Rupert Everett and Freddie Fox. The play charts the period from Oscar Wilde’s famous arrest at the Cadogan Hotel to his final parting from Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas). Quite a good deal of male nudity laced each scene but David Hare’s script was a joy. There were no foppish repeats of time-honoured epigrams, rather the sharp, sardonic wit of the tragic figure as he wrestled with his relationships and his life. Black, sad humour there was and Rupert Everett stole every scene, every exchange – our hearts went out to him as we laughed almost embarrassedly. Wow…that was art.

I’ve been on this arty kick for a few weeks. Much as I question the need for musicals, I found Kiss Me Kate at the Old Vic fresh and engaging. I didn’t get bored (this being my benchmark for any judgement of quality) – mind you I have taken to not drinking alcohol just before or during theatre or film. Your head just goes doesn’t it? A couple of beers and 30 minutes into even the most rivetting of plays, your chin hits your chest. A woman a few seat dow from us at the Judas Kiss snored with some volume before her companion gave her a kicking. Not age, just wine.

A dear friend and I caught Martin Crimp’s In the Republic of Happiness at The Royal Court. Stirring intra-family strife. Dirty linen being washed; the baggage of an extended family’s life being opened on stage. It was effective, dramatically and the set change was stunning…but it was gloomy and a bit lopsided. The central part of the play consisted of a ‘Question-time’ style chanting exchange of truths being revealed in this surreal set-up. It worked but went on far too long. Intriguing, though.

Kristin Scott-Tomas, Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams did a great job in the revival of Pinter’s Old Times at the theatre newly named after him.  I could look at Kristin S-T for ages anyway – rather like Il Tagliatanni, actually. The staging here was obvious but good – the love triangle – and triangulate they did, these smart three actors, in every move they made or line delivered. I suppose with Pinter you can’t fail but there was an urelieved gloom which I didn’t go for too much but that’s the territory that Pinter invariably seemed to inhabit.

I finished up my January arty tour de force by slipping into Quartet at the Sutton Empire. I gather this Downton come Tea with Mussolini come Exotic Marigold of a film, improbably directed by Dustin Hoffman has taken a bit of critical stick. Psshhaww! It’s a gentle humorous delight about a bunch of operatic has-beens who end up in a home for musical pensioners. Billy Connelly gets most of the good lines; Maggie Smith delivers the same lines in the same manner; Tom Courtenay is vulnerably stoical and Pauline Collins does her best to imitate that silly woman who used to be on Coronation Street. Sheridan Smith probably advances her career as the doctor in charge of the asylum and a good time is had by all. Take your mum (if over 50) or your grannie or, if you have a bus pass yourself, grab a ride to the nearest flea-pit.

Well after all this activity do I feel more arty? Another page of A Casual Vacancy feels like I’m walking through treacle so perhaps my sights have moved up a notch. But I’m off to Jack Reacher later and I have just started my final sentence with a conjuction…so watch this space.

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