Friday, 25 November 2011

Another Day in London

If I was a good girl, I would have stayed at home painting. Alas, I can't just sit there like some sort of ancient form of scholar with no inspiration - no way of putting what I am doing into context - so today was my day in London. There were several exhibitions I wanted to see: Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery, Grayson Perry at the British Museum, the New English Art Club at the Mall Galleries and Miracles and Charms at the Wellcome Trust.

Rather a lot of pack in for one day. I also wanted to get to St. Paul's to see the protesters...

So, the day began with a quick trip to the Mall Galleries. As I walked to them from Embankment, I noticed a very long queue of people. "Ah!" I thought, "must be for Leonardo"... that it was. I have never seen such a large queue... I have to say everyone was very polite. I was hoping to go into Leonardo later on. I knew it would be busy, but my staff card lets me in straight away so I get to bypass the queues. This can be great - a perk of the job, but this morning I just couldn't bring myself to jump the queue when so many others were waiting patiently. In the end I decided to go to Leonardo on a day when I felt more rebellious and bolshy.

The Leonardo Queue

It's the first time I have been to the Mall Galleires and I was a bit disappointed if I am honest. Still it is good for me to have seen it. I was expecting something larger and I didn't see why someone had to pay the admission fee if they just wanted to use the café. Personally it seems to me like they need to re-arrange the galleries so that this can be done.

Then I popped into St. Martin in the Fields whilst waiting for a friend, and in front of Shirazeh Houshiary's east window Zoya Shuhatovich was playing Chopin. "Brilliant" I thought. I had been meaning to go to St. Martin's for ages, and I finally made it by accident, and even managed to time it with a lunchtime concert. Bingo! It was truly beautiful and I recommend these little lunchtime concerts whole heartedly. They ask for a small donation, which is really rather nice of them not to charge. I hope to go to their candle lit evening concerts this winter. I am currently thinking of Handel's Messiah...

Inside St. Martin in the Fields by candle light

After a cup of tea and an apple strudel with my friend Richard, I trekked onwards to the British Museum for Grayson Perry's 'The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman'. Again, my staff pass lets me in... sadly though, the booking system at the British Museum meant that they would not let me in at that current time. Maybe another day Grayson...? I do hope so, as even though I wasn't impressed with the difficulty in getting to the exhibition, I have heard that it is a great show. From what I understand, it's just my sort of thing... an exploration into relationships between the objects in the British Museum collection and those of his own. An exhibition that travels time and space, from culture to culture. Sounds amazing.

The Rosetta Vase, 2011 by Grayson Perry

When it comes to booking for exhibitions, there are some great articles from the Guardian here and 'Are Blockbuster Art Shows Worth Queuing For?'.

A little disappointed, I then walked onwards to the Wellcome Trust, who had an interesting exhibition on show about curiosities and charms, which had been recommended to me by a friend of mine, Morag MacInnes. I was really impressed. I thought the 'Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings' were beautiful. I liked the way that there were lots of them, which gave you that impression of a shrine. These small paintings are usually executed on small plaques and depict the moment of personal humility when an individual asks a saint for help and is delivered from disaster (usually death). Room upon room, there they all were. I have to admit, I could imagine that some people would find it a bit repetitive after seeing twenty, but as a collection I thought they worked really well together. The exhibition explored the reaction of individuals during a time of crisis in which their strength of faith came into play, reminding me of how delicate life is. This, for me, seriously put our own 'environmental-financial crisis' into perspective, but at the same time it seemed rather apt. This exhibition left me with a feeling of hope and I noticed that there was a collective healing experience going on the spaces. An empathetic presence.

I thank our Lord Saint Francis of Assisi for saving us from drowning on 27 October 1962. (Monterrey, Nuevo León).
Oil on tin, 1962. Propiedad del Santuario de San Francisco de Asís de la Diócesis de Matehuala, SLP, México/INAH

The other exhibition at the Wellcome Trust was 'Charmed Life'. This exhibition was curated by Felicity Powell and featured some 400 amulets from Henry Wellcome's vast collection. The amulets, ranging from simple coins to meticulously carved shells, dead animals to elaborately fashioned notes, were amassed by the banker Edward Lovett, who scoured London by night, buying curious objects.

Hazelnut with copper mount and wire link at the top for attaching to a chain or similar.
Courtesy Pitt Rivers Museum [1985.51.195]

"I do not know of any object which for its size enjoys such a reputation as the acorn. I do not allude so much to the natural object, which when ripe falls from the cup and thus loses its character. I refer to the acorn design, which is so widely met with and made in so many different materials." Edward Lovett, 'Magic in Modern London', p. 63
Carved horn acorn in two pieces, containing a bell. Used as an amulet against lightning.
Courtesy Pitt Rivers Museum [1985.51.269]

I thought this exhibition was thoughtfully presented - sympathetic to the objects themselves. Such a marvellous array of odd things, which were screaming at me to be held, touched, and kept close, as they were many years ago. What I loved was that although each amulet on display had long been separated from its wearer, collectively they still formed a repository for anxieties, reassurances and superstitions. Alongside Lovett's amulets was a series Powell's intricate wax miniatures. I thought these were wonderfully delicate - they had that ethereal quality like the charms close by. The wax had been touched and moulded lovingly with Powell's digits (link to video). This quote sums up the wax work very well: 'Like Lovett's amulets, they seem to be more than themselves, hinting at a hidden magic at work, as they dip between real and imagined worlds'.

Detail from one of Felicity Powells wax artworks

Feeling rather uplifted from that exhibition, I decided to call it a day. I went to Intaglio's to get some printing ink, and then homeward bound. I am really gutted that I didn't get to St. Paul's. I have already been to the camp site and there is such a great collective vibe there (now they have a new library). I guess the Wellcome Collection filled the void that needed filling for me that day.

 The Alleyway were you can find 'Intaglio's': 
9 Playhouse Court off Southwark Bridge Road

Inside Intaglio Printmaker's, my favourite printing shop

Work tomorrow... and some sketchbook work.

Many thanks London for a great day!


  1. WOW! Jess what a super busy day and a super blog page!I read all of this in bed last night from my phone and i thought what good reading! You thought my blog was interesting; well yours is way more interesting than mine:) Love it! You had a very educational day fro sure and you were a good girl feeding your mind with all this information! I would love to do the galleries; it's finding the energy and someone that understands that i have to stop from time to time to rest! Like i mentioned on my blog; one day maybe and you would be a great companion and then we can skip the queues! Hehehe...I also would love to see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition :)Now i must get back to my diploma work! Have a nice creative day Jess :) xox

  2. Sounds like you had a really terrific day Jessica. I will be heading to London myself to see some of these shows. Avoiding Leonardo though as it's fully booked and I can't be bothered with the queue. Grayson for me then and perhaps a lunchtime concert!

  3. Glad you enjoyed this post. It is a bit wordy, but I tried to keep it interesting! I really wanted to get across how much I enjoyed the Wellcome Trust. I highly recommend it.

    Julie - I would love to do a bit of London with you. aye after Christmas we can meet up and just do one exhibition and have a cuppa somewhere.this it isn't too draining. I have to admit I was EXHAUSTED after Friday.

    there is the David Hockney at the RA that I would like to see. Lots of Landscapes. This is fro January 2012 to April.

    There is also a great exhibition on Quentin Blake's work at the house of illustration - could be cool.

    Beatrix Potter's Botanical Illustrations are also on show in the V&A until December 11th:


  4. Hi Sketchbook Squirrel (love that name)

    Glad you liked the post. I don't blame you about Leonardo. I'd rather seem them in situ anyway. There were some lovely Leonardo's in David Attenborough's exhibition in 2007 'Rare Amazing Things' did you see that? Was a great how with lots of illustration.

  5. Thanks for the 'heads up' on the V&A, I love the quirkiness of the place and would love to see some of Beatrix Potter's work. Hockney's work is always a must for me, (luckily my Uncle is a lecturer at the RA so gets me in for free!!). I would love to see Blake's work. Julie has the right idea, you would be a superb guide to all the best bits.

  6. For sure Jess :) It's a date; thank you for the invite :) x