Tag Archives: Royal Academy of Art

On Ray Lewis, Jasper Johns and London…the last one 100/100

davSo here it is. The 100th post. I thought this project would take 2 years.  It has taken almost 3. But, as John Lennon is credited with saying, “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” And wow is that true. For better and for worse. The world is quite a different place than it was 3 years ago. Terror, Trump, Brexit, Corbyn, North Korea, to name but a few. But no need reiterating the obvious, let’s get to 100.  But how? What could possibly be the topic of the final scribbling? This is London, so the possibilities are endless…but it has to be right. A clear finish, a final wrap up.  The universe, who keeps me on a short leash, got tired of listening to all this self-indulgent angst and said:  “OK.  You want a final post, well hold on tight. I will give you a weekend so full of experiences and thoughts and connections, there will be a cats cradle of interwoven threads when it is done.” And so it was. And here it is.


Several weeks ago the Cathedral asked if I would be the guide for some VIPs when the professional American football team, the Baltimore Ravens, came to town. Would I ever! Not because I follow celebrities, I am pretty clueless about most. And not because I know anything about American football, because I don’t. But because I love, feel it my raison d’etre, to show the Cathedral off to fellow Americans. Sure, I am delighted to show round any and all nationalities, but I especially enjoy the Americans. Because only the best of my country come to the Cathedral. The best of the best. It makes me proud. I have met amazing Americans. Of all ages, regions, ethnic backgrounds, interests and lifestyle cofchoices.  They are people whose existence I want to be reminded of as often as possible, particularly of late, when so much of not-our-best seems to be on permanent display. The one thing all these visitors have in common is curiosity. Intellectual curiosity. A dying virtue. So, on Friday, there I was. No surprise, the Ravens’ VIPs were terrific. Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, Hall  of Fame players both. I took these lovely gentlemen and their sizable entourage on a tour of the American Chapel and the Quire, which they seemed to enjoy very much. But upon leaving the Quire, Bill Viola’s video art installation Mary caught Ray Lewis’s eye….and despite the efforts of the handlers, I had to speak. It had stopped him in his tracks, after all.  It is piece that I feel passionately about. The essence of human life, in cofsome ways.  As I gushed away about why this work is so relevant for us today, I could actually see the instant (it didn’t take long) when Mr. Lewis got it. I mean he really “got it.” That beautiful moment when you are talking about art and you see the spark in the other person. Not only was he charming, interested and curious, he got the Bill Viola. Honestly, I have the best job in the world. I floated out of the Cathedral.

And onto more art. Not ready to go home,  I popped into the RA for a preview peek of the Jasper Johns retrospective. Another American. And one who is without question one of the best of the best. At the first glimpse of his Target, I almost wept. It was the perfect carry on from the morning. Concrete, or rather paper and paint and objects, proof that not all is broken in my native land. That there is still greatness. And Johns is great. One of the greatest.  So much of his work is about seeing and, a rather loaded word these days, perceiving. How we perceive the world matters. Johns is a master at asking us to look at the familiar with fresh eyes. cofHis art invites us to look again, “let go of habits of perception and see things in a new way.” In today’s ever polarized society, these are almost fighting words. Oh yeah…and Johns is perhaps most famous for his American flags. A symbol, once again, mired in controversy. But that is Sunday….

As if Friday hadn’t been full enough I had one more engagement. Theatre. The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth. I have a  complicated relationship with Mr. Butterworth’s work, but this is a play about the cycle of  violence of the IRA (though they certainly don’t have the monopoly on this most damaging of issues.) The acting was excellent, despite someone walking off stage due to illness in the 3rd act and the understudy having a broken hand. Add a real but unhappy goose, a pocketed bunny, and an unusually placid baby into the mix and I admit I did wonder if health and safety had had a chance to look round. But the message of the play was clear. This world is a disaster thanks to our own doing. Ever thus. And on to the next.

davHaving just turned 49 I have given myself the challenge of running 50 races or running events before turning 50. Almost immediately I realised this was a challenge of dedication and logistics rather than athleticism.  Or so I thought. The first 5 races were rather fabulous. The 6th, Sunday morning, 10k in Hyde Park. The weather was glorious. One of those perfect, warm London autumn days. The location could not have been more beautiful. Hyde Park, in the sunshine. And the race, sponsored by a Crohn’s Disease charity, was well organised.  But my legs weren’t in it. They were tired and tight and every step hurt. Every very slow step. It is true that there is no run you regret. But there are runs that disappoint. This was one.  Alas.  Life often disappoints.

But a slow run is really not something to fuss about. I went home via Marble Arch, for a little trip down memory lane. Because it was here, just off Marble Arch that I lived for 3 months in the Winter of 1989 while attending LSE.  Art and theatre, theatre and art is davhow I spent most of my time. What had always been an ember burst into flame over those months. I was hooked. No wonder many, many years later, for reasons that have nothing to do with me at all except for exceptionally good taste in a husband, I was back. Art, theatre and everything that London has to offer. While revelling in nostalgia I noticed the new  sculpture, Celebration of Life, by Bushra Fakhoury. Dancing with naked, masked abandon. Yup, that is it. But I couldn’t linger for long as I had promised to take the kids to the Colourscape on Clapham Common.

Colourscape, an annual music festival “of unusual instruments and sound,” since 1989, the same year I first lived in London.  The wait was so long I sent my children to find conkers. Conkers aren’t just so English, they aren’t just beautiful symbols of Autumn, they keep moths at bay. I need them. Stephen and Katherine returned with two bulging mdesacks. Very pleased. But while alone in the slow moving queue, social media started to implode. Ray Lewis had dropped to his knees during the American national anthem at Wembley Stadium.  And people on both sides of the issue went wild. Insane. Out of their minds. With hate. So much hate. He seemed to have suddenly become the most reviled person in the world. No small feat these days. Everybody, from all sides, was baying for blood. Yikes. And the language being used, again, from all sides of the argument was unacceptable. Utterly unacceptable. Ugly, ugly ugly stuff. I was mulling over how much I would not like to be famous when we finally made it to the top of the queue. And those thoughts were put on hold.  We stepped into  Colourscape and time evaporated. We were literally cocooned in colour and sound. Strolling musicians at every rounded turn. So peaceful and beautiful. Yet the shifting colours made me feel unsteady. The experience, as lovely as it was, was unsettling, disorienting. Such is life, isn’t it. Unsteady even at the best of times. When I got home I switched on the television to watch the opening ceremony of the Invictus 10631274_949261878433867_4232479405504663826_o (2)Games, the Olympic-style games for wounded service people, an event close to my heart.  (see post #96.)  The overriding message, or series of messages, of the long weekend fell into place.  No one, Prince Harry reminded the audience, would have wished to be eligible for these games. Yet here they are.  The keynote speaker before him,  a man who had been attacked with an axe by the Taliban, said that no one thinks it is going to be them, until it is. And the competitors all spoke, after they crossed the finish line, of having made a choice, a choice, sometimes against all odds, to keep going. To keep going when life if horrifically, cruelly or even just irritatingly, interrupted. Real life happens as you’re busy making other plans.

davMy gorgeous, fabulous, wonderful sister in law, who I have known since we were teenagers, has breast cancer. The devastating recent hurricanes and floods and earthquakes. The seemingly unbreakable cycles of violence. The idolization of symbols and causes and slogans over the simple act of caring for one another. The hate. It is enough to set the Black Dog howling. And here I come with my tiny little banner of hope. Call me naive or even stupid, though I prefer the epitaph that a lovely elderly Indian visitor to the Cathedral gave me, “most excellently cheerful.” Perhaps that is why I was brought back to London. Because in this greatest of all cities I will never ever be lacking in things to inspire, to be curious about, to fill me with crazy, passionate joy. Not just the big stuff, and lucky me, I have plenty of big stuff, but the little moments too. Sharing a great piece of art with someone who gets it. Running, slowly, past a Henry Moore sculpture. An uncrowded art gallery. Conkers. A bassoon player appearing round a colourful corner. Theatre with friends and yeah, being followed round by photographers at St Paul’s cathedral is pretty great too. I love them all.

So, having reached 100, writing about my adventures has come to an end. What have I learned? I am very American, in all the best ways. I love London, really, really love London. I am the luckiest person alive. And having adventures, every day that I can, with enthusiasm and joy and passion, that is what I do.  My London Passion. Thanks for sharing it with me.



Kissing Kapoor and other gifts…28/100

12003315_10153640090638377_2827318649114283287_nMy love for London is not the wise, compassionate, made sensible by experience kind of love. But the passionate, impulsive, reckless, all-encompassing love of the utterly smitten. The totally besotted. The completely infatuated. A love that convinces itself it is requited, because to believe otherwise is not possible. So when something lovely happens to me in London, and lots and lots and lots of lovely things happen to me in London, it isn’t because I am seeing magic in the ordinary, or that I am just in the right place at the right time, or that a series of actions has a logical result, rather I believe it is a thoughtful gift from my equally enamoured lover. London. A city that is so of the moment its gender is fluid. Sometimes definitely female. Other times dizzingly male. And all for me, me, me, me.

2015-09-17 09.46.55The start of the academic year always makes me feel a bit low, back to school blues. So I was delighted when a friend told me that Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor were going to be walking, a stroll “as they take every day,” explained Kapoor, from the Royal Academy on Piccadilly through the streets of London to Olympic Park. Certainly not a protest, as that would get Weiwei in trouble, but a small, everyday experience as an act of solidarity with refugees worldwide. And the public was welcome to join. I didn’t need to be asked twice. What a thing to be near two men for whom I have such respect and admiration, and in the case of Anish Kapoor, a serious crush. On such a beautiful, sunny day as well, following what felt like weeks of pouring rain. Obviously I didn’t think any of this was simply coincidence or even the power of social media, but yet another offering of love from London

Like many others, I first became aware of Ai Weiwei when he did the incredible Sunflower Seeds installation at the Tate Modern. Millions of handmade, hand painted ceramic sunflower seeds spilled out over the Turbine Hall. I took my children to see it many times. Sadly, the Tate decided against allowing people to walk through the seeds, citing something silly about health and safety. More likely they were afraid we would fill our pockets and leave the floor bare all too quickly. I later read that thousands of extras were made for exactly this scenario, yet we were still kept behind a rope. Nevertheless it was an extraordinary sight. And a fantastic visual for the explanation of a totalitarian regime and the people that live under such a government. Weiwei’s subsequent detention and increased political outspokenness have made him as famous an activist, if not more so, than artist. A true inspiration.

With Anish Kapoor it is much less intellectual and more tactile, visceral. From the first moment of experiencing his work I was hooked. I went to his 2009 show at the RA many, many times. All that red wax made me week at the knees. I went out of the way to visit his Sky Mirror in the City, in 2011. My husband convinced me to travel to Chicago for a weekend, 3 years ago, on the basis that I could spend time with Kapoor’s Cloud Gate. I can spot his work at impossible distances. I might even be able to sense when his work is nearby, such is my fondness for it. And while I would happily travel distances to see his art, I never once considered that I could meet him. Let alone kiss him…ooh London…

I was certainly not alone is my wish to walk with these two great men, and so a gaggle of the interested and the curious, along with an unfortunate crowd of paparazzi set off. For the first part of the walk I was joined by my up for an anything friend Lucy. She left me at Spitalfields for the circus (not kidding) and Sara my art mad friend joined. Sharing adventures with people of passion make things doubly fun. And doubly funny. The sky was blue, everyone was friendly and talkative, London glistened and twinkled in the sunshine and on and on we walked, not necessarily in a straightforward way. Through Westminster and the City. Along Brick Lane and Victoria Park and finally into the Queen Elizabeth Park, site of the 2012 Olympics, and finishing under the Kapoor Orbit, a structure in which I have done yoga and visited so many times I have an annual pass (not kidding). 2015-09-26 20.46.02-2 2015-09-17 13.44.36And it was here that I saw Anish Kapoor standing on his own and I launched myself at him. First gushing about how much I loved his work and how much of it I had seen and how I follow what he does….you know, typical overly enthusiastic fan stuff. And then, emboldened by the fact that he seemed pleased to hear all of this, I asked if I could have my picture taken with him. He agreed and the kissing began. Back and forth and back and forth and then Sara joined, why wouldn’t she, and he said “I have never been kissed so much before,” which made us all laugh and laugh and start again. One long, glorious, lovey-dovey, adrenaline rush. With photographs. Obviously.

2015-09-17 13.44.43 HDRWe also had a moment with Weiwei. Being the social media king that he is, he took Sara’s phone and said simply “I take photo,” which he did. And then disappeared. A most wonderful day indeed! 12043147_10153640090663377_1959867548887899261_n

Only on reflection on the Tube home did I understand what London had really given me that day. It wasn’t the chance to be near these two men or even the opportunity to have moments, albeit it a pretty fantastic several moments, with them. Instead London allowed me to meet two heroes. Always a dangerous thing. But they didn’t disappoint. Quite the opposite. Ai Weiwei was stoic and kind. Anish Kapoor divine. Simply, totally and utterly divine. No wonder his art is so sexy. I didn’t come down off my high for days. And days and days.

At times like this, even I don’t believe I get to live this life. Thank you, thank you my passionate, beautiful London.

Twitter: @mylondonpassion

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On Typing about art and the magnificent Royal Academy 9/100

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 10.42.33 AMI spent far too long yesterday typing and typing away on my love for the Royal Academy (RA), that grand building on Piccadilly. But in the end all I had to show was typing. Bland, mediocre, uninteresting and certainly NOT passionate typing. The RA is magnificent and deserves better. So I conceded defeat and closed the computer. Some days are like that. But clearly the universe wasn’t finished with my feeble attempt. Not long after, I logged onto Facebook to see that a friend had spent the day at the RA enjoying both the Allen Jones and the Moroni exhibits. Lots of her friends commented, sharing their love of other exhibits there or simply time spent in the stunning seventeenth century mansion. As the thread grew longer, and I was reminded of just how much I get out of my membership there, I decided to start again.

My original “take” was that we, as a species, have always needed to create and enjoy art. (I have fun archeological facts to back this up), and obviously London is the best place to feed this primordial drive. I hoped to prove this by highlighting those shows at the RA that have shook me to my human core the most. Then I faltered. I wasn’t able to properly capture the sensuous joy I felt at the Anish Kapoor (all that red wax). And how I was overcome with misplaced nostalgia and longing at David Hockney’s trees and forests of his hometown in Yorkshire. And then the Anselm Keifer and his monumental works on monumental subjects; primarily questions as to the role of history and our duty to, relationship with, rejection or reinvention of…..oh I thought my little brain would burst with all the thinking…..

DSCN4519Which made me think of all the other pieces from all the other shows I can’t forget: the bronzes from Africa, the maltesers in the dime bags, the Van Goghs!!!, the Byzantine crosses, the tunnel built by children out of long, colourful plastic straws….the list goes on and on, each reawakened memory tapping the shoulder of the next.

And not just the art. The lunches with dear friends I have had in the restaurant. The gift shop that offers perfect gifts for those who have everything. The transformation of the previously charmless IMG-20140505-00553member’s room into a suite of beautiful spaces to eat and drink and talk. The courtyard with its changing sculptures and, if the weather is right, dancing fountains.

Then I remembered my original thesis; that art is something we need as part of our human experience. To experience. Not write about, but see, touch (if allowed), engage with, sneer at, dislike, love, learn from and most of all react to.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 10.21.02 AMSo this remains a typing exercise. But one with a bossy admonition at the end. Go to the RA immediately, (don’t worry, I will in time get to them all, my wallet is heavy with the membership cards) and do what we have been doing since prehistoric time. Art.