A View of London
I took this panorama with my smartphone and wanted to share it with you. There is a lane that passes through some fields in one of my favourite (secret of course...) spots in London. The field rises above a housing estate and offers an unbroken view of central London. I find it a very special place but it's hard to put into words why. There is a sense of grounding, like it is possible to feel the past, the people that went before me, while at the same time looking on to the ever changing horizon of the centre, the new skyscrapers and the new landmarks. I simultaneously feel both part of London and an outsider, and that for me is a helpful tool for writing. When you think you know somewhere well, it is hard to imagine what another perspective might be, it is all too easy to get wrapped up in yourself. Being able to breathe in London, to feel space and freedom is a joy and helps me to refocus every single time. Sitting here for twenty minutes or so energises me and I'm ready to get back to typing.
A Rake's Progress
For my artwork selection I am picking the series of paintings and etchings, 'A Rake's Progress' by William Hogarth. I think I may have seen one or two of the series during my degree studies, I can't be sure, and I'm sure the name Hogarth was familiar to me in one of those ways general cultural references are without knowing exactly why, but I do remember the day I saw the whole series. It was on a visit to Sir John Soane's museum (If you are in London you must visit: http://www.soane.org) where the originals are on display. At the end of my visit I went into the shop and picked up a small A4 sized copy of one of the images and after some confusion at the till realised to my very pleasant surprise that the display price was for the whole series, not just individual paintings, so I went home very happy. As someone born in London they have a very strange impact on me. Firstly because they are such beautiful and vivid paintings you can't help but place a romantic gloss over the works, they seem almost comically absurd, over the top and tongue-in-cheek... but of course they are far from it, and the scenes they depict, despite being set in the 18th century, are a timeless portrayal of human greed, ego, narcissism and fallibility. I can walk around these same streets today and that sense of being able to lose everything is as tangible now as then. That perhaps is why I find them irresistible to look at and I stare at my copies every day. As a writer in the making, who is interested in examining contemporary life, societal pressures, class and so on, you are dealing with themes that are as old as human life, no matter how different the settings. Looking at the past, especially in the same city, can feed your inspiration for the present and also be a warning. What makes a story different is you, there may not be much new to write about and certainly there is nothing unique about A Rake's Progress, but that doesn't mean you can't still examine those themes and create something new, a story can be unique due to the writer not the plot. London, and indeed any city or town, can provide immeasurable inspiration and I try not to be overwhelmed by what has already been done or the competition you are up against. What is my London life going to be and where will I end up? Bedlam isn't that far from where I live...
A River Scene with a Castle and Figures
My last end of month selection was Eltham Palace and this month I am choosing a painting that hangs in the dining room at Eltham Palace (unfortunately this isn’t it! I can’t find it online but this is a good example of similar works, look up his Lake Como works if you can). Every time I visit I stand in front of it for a minute or two and get lost in the image. The artist is Richard Wilson and is a famous landscape painter from the 1700s. You can find out more at National Galleries Scotland (for this painting) or in this article: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n18/john-barrell/in-cardiff Of course I cannot go into that sort of detail, I’m not qualified in the slightest as a critic, for me it is very simple – the painting allows me to imagine myself in another time and just like any romantic notion, not in the literal sense. I don’t find myself wondering how freezing cold it must have been sitting atop a cliff edge in a kilt, or how I’d die at young age, how my teeth were probably falling out, how it must have stank from not having a sewer system, etc. Funnily enough those thoughts never pop into my head. No, it’s more about how beautiful the scenery is, how open and free life was, that kind of thing. To be reminded of how life used to be is a pleasure because before film and photography, before moving images there was drawing and painting. Richard Wilson’s paintings are a kind of snapshot of how I would have liked life to have been, not necessarily how I believe it to have been, because I enjoy romanticism and I enjoy putting myself in those places, it is relaxing and evocative of the rural idyll that is laced through so many stories I love. And the reason it is an inspiration is that just like Eltham Palace itself it is an ambition that cannot be achieved, it is simply the enjoyment of the pursuit of that ambition that we can hope for, that makes us feel our lives are worthwhile, and in a way that is how I feel about writing. The romantic notion that I am trying to attempt within my writing is more important than any reward the writing itself can bring, and knowing history, a romantic history, is a wonder in itself because people like Richard Wilson are showing me a personal offering and that is what I want to do with my writing, I want to describe the world I am seeing, whether or not that particular view is shared by any of the 8 million other people I share my city with isn’t important.
The last week of every month I pick something outside of the normal book/film/music category and this month I am choosing to share with you one of my favourite places, and one of my biggest inspirations, Eltham Palace. At school I didn’t take a huge interest in history and I don’t think I would have thought much of the palace back then but as I’ve aged there are so many aspects to the palace that simply amaze me it’s one of those strange markers that show you how different you really are to your younger self. There is too much to describe in this short paragraph but there are two key things to explain why it is an inspiration. Firstly, the thought that Henry VIII wandered around here as a child is incredible; for so long just an abstract idea when discussing history, to actually see the very place, the very real place, that he would have known, and so close to the everyday normal suburban town Eltham has become is spellbinding. Secondly, the construction of the art deco house, which is now the main attraction if you ever visit, is jaw-dropping in its style and beauty. To think that a real family lived here (so often in museums you see objects within a designed environment, whereas here, the house itself is the object) and the sheer opulence of the way they must have lived, leaving behind wonderful gardens and a legacy that few would realise is tucked away just a few minutes from a busy High Street. The mix of the old and the new, the medieval and the modern, the contrast of rich and poor and all the elements that come with that is all bound up in one site. Every time I go there (at least weekly) it makes me want to find out more, to write more, to aim for me… it’s hard to express exactly but it’s a fantasy story come alive; I am so grateful that this managed to survive the ages. Take a look around above and find out more on the link below:
Twin Kingdom Valley
I was so useless at this game! I never managed to get anywhere. That didn’t stop me from playing it for hours though. I think that is why it always sticks in my mind, that sense of hope that I would find a way if only I tried long enough. On reflection, perhaps I didn’t realise how much I enjoyed it because of the interface? Maybe I was intrigued at how language could solve puzzles rather than the shoot ‘em ups or action games I also played. I remember it not being a ‘cool’ game because it was slow, not much happened, you went round in circles, you saw the same image countless times (due to going round in circles) and it was not one of the games I would play with friends. However, it intrigued me and I never wanted to give up. I think it is an inspiration because it is the classic isolating experience. Whereas now I am old enough to wander the streets and parks and woods on my own and explore to my hearts content (walking is my number one favourite activity) as a child you could only explore other worlds through third parties, and in my case, I read a lot of books, but here was a chance to combine language and exploration. Playing games was one thing and that sense of exploration was why I enjoyed games such as Saboteur and Elvira, (basically you are on your own and have to find your own way) but with Twin Kingdom Valley you had to type your way around, it was so fascinating! Anyway, I don’t want to think too hard about it because as I have already said, I was useless and having now watched the walkthrough I realise I would never in a million bloody years have completed it… I hope that wasn’t a prophetic for my writing today!
Numa Numa Guy
Things don’t have to be an inspiration because they are amazing works of art, sometimes they can just be a guy sitting in his room recording himself having a sing a long. This is one of the most famous YouTube videos and years old now but it never fails to make me smile and laugh. I watch it more often than I should admit, but it just makes me so happy! So this is an inspiration for another reason, to remember how you can enjoy the simpler things in life, before so many complications, and how these innocent fun moments can go on to mean so much to people (I watched how he led his football team’s marching band and the whole crowd was doing the song and dance, how great is that! It’s on YouTube too, check it out).
Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
Casper David Friedrich
This is an image I often recall (I do a lot of walking and love high up views albeit they are not quite as common in south east London). It fits my mind set very well. As much as I do fall for romantic symbolism and allegory I do like realist elements and I guess that sums up my aims in writing. Whether it is a self portrait or not I enjoy the feeling of being up high looking at the world ahead and don't feel the need to associate myself with who the man really is. We could be following him or we could be stealing a glimpse of his mindset but either way the difficult terrain and obscured view is of course easy to interpret as the struggle we face in pursuing what we want in life. At this moment we may be above the fog but there is no escaping it if we want to continue, it suggests the peaks we congratulate ourselves on reaching at stages of our life are only temporary... that we can't stop there... we must progress and that means making it to the next peak, where again, we can stop, relax and take it all in before once again we must set off. I love the simplicity of the image (and how we can put so much complexity into an explanation - like the painting we enjoy getting purposefully lost don't we?) as to me it simply reminds me you have to travel dangerous and difficult paths in order to get the best views.
Image courtesy of WikiArt: http://www.wikiart.org/en/hugo-simberg/death-liste...
I came across Hugo Simberg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Simberg) around ten years ago or so and immediately found his work compelling. I have visited Finland a few times and possibly I stumbled across him while I was looking for a gift for someone but also as I worked in an art college, possibly it was connected to an exhibition or material I was looking into. I can’t really remember but either way, he made an impact on me. I enjoy lots of different styles of painting and I enjoy all art forms and mediums so it is not because I am particularly attracted to symbolist painting over other kinds, but there was something about the simple nature of the work but the fascinating style and topic, that seemed to seep into my consciousness. I find it disturbing and sad but in the way that looking at ‘inevitability’ always makes you sad even if you are happy, content and full of joy-at-existing at the same time. I think it is an inspiration because it reminds me stories can be told simply but effectively. His work is quite famous and several other paintings by him especially so, but this one is the one that sticks in my mind. I like to think that a person can absorb any medium and use it for their own work so in my case, I like the use of allegory, symbolism and techniques that layer more into a story than at first meets the eye, while still allowing someone to take their own individual feeling from it rather than being dictated to. I hope to do this in my writing and I like the way a classical representation of reality can be used with a symbolist approach, I don’t know if I am capable of such a feat but it is what I am aiming for.