I went up to London a couple of days ago with the intention of seeing the Hockney exhibition. There was a queue about 50 yards long and when I enquired how long it would take was told “Two and a half hours.” My respect for art is great but not to the extent of giving myself varicose veins while I shuffle forwards at a rate of 20 yards an hour. I turned immediately and returned to the street. Now just across from the Academy where the Hockney exhibition is/was (for this is its last week) there is the building housing that great emporium of food Fortnum and Mason’s and this was a thing I had never seen before (and it was a matter of some delight) probably because I tend to walk on the other side of the road, but the facade of the building is covered with heraldic animals in vivid colours -unicorns and lions, dragons and I don’t know what – and they have been let loose for the day from their dreary existence decorating heraldic signs and they are prancing and jumping in an ecstacy of play up the front of the building. This alone was certainly worth a Hockney. Then not many minutes later as I started to get lost in Soho (always a pleasant thing to do) I saw this blue plaque: http://thestateofthenationuk.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/jacob-von-hogflume.html
There! That too added to the joy of the day. And then, later, I was admitted to the Lucian Freud exhibition with little fuss. 30 seconds to buy the ticket, 80 minutes of loitering in central London before I could make my allotted entry. Time to saunter around Blackwell’s and buy the book, a book that probably would not have come to my attention if I hadn’t gone to Blackwell’s (this is what I do when I go up to London). In this case it was Best European Stories 2012 – or something like that. As always it goes on to a pile with the other books I fully intend reading and waits…and waits…and waits.
But back to Lucian Freud. There was lots of what I came to refer (to myself) as ‘slabs of flesh’ – incredibly well done, incredibly uninteresting. There were all these incredibly ugly sexual parts – so that I worried about the two or three children who were there hoping they wouldn’t be put off for life. But I did admire the feet, the crumpled linen, the floorboards.
And, yes, of course, there were one or two exciting moments. There was a self-portrait that was quite extraordinary, seeming to grow out of the seething frothing waves of the wall behind him. There was another self-portrait that had the smudged nose that seemed to honor Francis Bacon, and in that gesture an admittance of who was the greater painter. Bacon is big and Freud is small. I speak of their vision. And there amongst everything else a photograph of Freud painting the queen. No, not Hockney, though that was there too. I should of course have written the Queen. There she was seated, smiling, alert, attractive and there was Freud painting a miniature painting (For Chrissakes man! is this an intricate insult?) of the Queen with an almost bestial muscularity about the face. Quite bizarre.
And now I am a long way behind. I have books lined up to be discussed: Forster on the novel; Kundera on the novel; Conrad’s Nigger of the Narcissus (discovered today and bought because again there is that linkage that seems to be bedevilling this enterprise (but which I am enjoying – enjoying both the enterprise and the linkings) along with eight or so books that I have bought for less than a tenner.) and a Stephen Fry and the Oxford book of … We’ll get to them soon enough