I drove out this morning, hood down, glorious sun drenched countryside, milkers grazing under pear trees whitening with blossom, a rural idyll but Samuel Palmer it was not. My radio decided it was an appropriate moment to inform me that the French death toll had topped 4500, so more bubonic than buccolic then. Empty roads and an empty village, you could have been motoring into a fine Sickert townscape until the police road block hove into view and then the picturesque is tainted with the pestilence. Window down, I produce my permission to travel to the masked gendarme and get waved on, the baguette is in the bag so to speak. With my toes on the red tape, I stretch for the cluster of pain traditionnel and my charming boulanger gingerly accepts payment in her gloved hand and delicately rinses my change in fluid charged saucer on the counter, what times are these! Driving back, it's hard to relinquish Palmer, uplifting as he may be, but he is being elbowed over by the likes of Kiefer, not at all what is required!
Put it aside and get back to ploughing your own furrow, and then on your return and resumption you realise the virus has been 'plagueing' your doodles for months!
The virus has brought us isolation, for me, living as I do and where I do it's a fairly natural state of being. I do have family in England, France and the Netherlands with young children and all are coping well with being cooped but I am aware for many families four, five weeks of being cooped is hard work. Small spaces and small children is a big ask. One of the painters who summons up the hardship of small spaces and families is Jack Smith. His concerns were wider, and the work reflects a miriad of social issues, but the images seem so apt particularly if the predicted great recession follows on the heels of this pestilence.
Four artists, Smith, Greaves, Bratby and Middleditch made up a group known as the Beaux Arts Quartet and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1954. They were sourly labelled ' The Kitchen Sink ' painters by David Sylvester but were championed and lauded by the writer and critic John Berger. British social realism passed me by, but given the way the world is turning I think we should get it all out, dust it off and hang it around the walls of Westminster. Smith's painting of the mid sixties however did leave a lasting impression on me, I felt that he was attempting to get a whole new conversation going.
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AGED AND AWKWARD