Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Red Mannheim and the green fuse

I met my dear old pal Mark Alexander today to look at a couple of things. Firstly, his work 'The Red Mannheim' currently showing at Haunch of Venison. It's four metres high and quite unlike anything I've seen before - outside of Mark's work, that is (bottom - but a photo at this scale is unable to convey anything more than description).

It's composed of panelled screen-prints of the Mannheim altarpiece, a ruined and fragmentary rococo work. The surviving bottom corner pictures a weeping, cherubic Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden. The red is extraordinary, moving from a morbid stateliness to what one experiences as a sort of redemptive vibrancy. I found it beautiful, sad and inspiring. It's there until the end of the month, I think - if you go to see it I'd be interested to know your thoughts.

We also went to the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy. Stunning, of course. At one point, I wondered why images of cypresses, olive trees and mountains were so moving. For me, it's because the things pictured are so alive, so profuse it's as if they're collapsing in on themselves. It's like a green shoot that grows so furiously it can't support its new-grown weight and so curls and falls back. A sort of desperation for growth, to live, to be transformed that almost becomes self-defeating. And just as I was struggling to elucidate further a poem sprang to mind that entirely captures what I was trying to express: Dylan Thomas's 'The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives the Flower':
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Strange that these verses also happen to express something of what I felt on seeing 'The Red Mannheim'.


Gadjo Dilo said...

Mmm, Dylan at his best there. Not sure if I'd like the Mannheim so much, but then I also think Van Gogh is a little bit over-rated, so maybe I'm just a plonker. I envy you though that you can get to see this sort of stuff. :-)

Gaw said...

Now I've got more time on my hands I'm really making the most of London. It really does contain some artistic wonders.