Grey Rainbow

I went to Saltaire a few weeks back, to learn about the philanthropist mill owner Titus Salt, who built houses and parks and recreation facilities for his workers, a dangerous and socialist idea. Parts of the mill are now given over to a tea-room, and a bookshop, and a gallery filled with works by David Hockney; his i-Pad pictures showing the changing landscape of Yorkshire over the course of a year. The digital prints are finished in some incredibly lurid colours, totally unlike traditional oils.
Perhaps Hockney doesn’t want us to focus on his pictures, but instead to look again at the real world out there. In the States or Japan, he notes, people would drive hundreds of miles to enjoy scenery as lovely as that of Bradford; but we have it on our doorstep, and take it for granted.

Today I shall visit the Art Gallery in Leeds to see the special exhibition of paintings by Terry Frost, including his ‘Terre Verte and White Figure’. Years ago I was thinking about the John Updike novel which includes an artist who drops an aspirin in the bath and is then inspired to create a gallery of white pictures, which made me want to learn more about the play ‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza, and as I was searching online for information about this script I stumbled on a household decoration consisting of a plastic frame into which one could slot one’s favourite LP cover. The advertisement for this item showed a woman fitting her copy of ‘Let it Bleed’ into the frame, and on the radio at that moment I heard Zoe Ball playing ‘Gimme Shelter’.

Perhaps, over time, the Terry painting will fade and simultaneously darken, so that the entire canvas becomes a watery grey wash. Which makes me think of a job advert I spotted recently on ‘Linkedin’, where a recruitment agency was looking for a development chemist. The advert was a collection of vague, bland approximately general aphorisms, giving no information about the actual duties of the job or the professional skills required in any applicants. I have decided to steal the text of this advertisement and present it as a neo-modern post-ironic art work entitled ‘Oblique Cadenza no.3’. Meanwhile, the real art is the real world, where David Hockney inspired me to see for the first time how beautiful a plant in a window could really be…
window plant

Lunch with Mabel

It’s not often that you hear someone in the pub say ‘Well, it turns out my Father is suffering from nappy rash…’
Yesterday I went to a rather grand pub called The Palace for lunch with Mabel; he was breaking his journey back to Coventry, and we chatted about the old times while drinking dandelion and burdock ale. Earlier I had been to the Art Gallery to look at the new exhibition of old works by Terry Frost, one of which was called ‘Terre Verte and White Figure’. Indeed, it showed a vaguely white rectangle which might have been the rear side of a postage stamp, or one of the blossoms from a Handkerchief Plant growing at the lost gardens, or a section cut from the Shroud of Turin. In real life, the terre was indeed green, a dull moss colour; but when I looked in the glossy catalogue for some notes about this work (painted in 1959, apparently), the accompanying photograph showed a white rectangle on a background which was a light beige colour.

Now, you may ask, does it really matter if the printed small-scale reproduction of an abstract painting is faithful to the original? After all, very few people will be able to hold (as I did) the printed copy next to the painting in order to compare them. And, suppose the painting had been entitled ‘Oblique Cadenza No. 6’? or ‘Third Derivative’ or ‘Melancholy’ instead, with no reference to any colour…would we then know if the reproduction was in any way different from the original?

One of my projects at work involves looking at the application problems of a batch of paint, and to check this, we have obtained batches of different material from two different suppliers, and sprayed these side-by-side over a bleak and miserable grey epoxy primer. Although both suppliers have declared that their paint is actually British Standard D825-K6(a) moss green, the two colours are distinctly unlike. And we have no way of knowing which of them is the ‘correct’ shade. And if the client has been happily buying this stuff for the past eight years, with no complaints, how can we then announce that their approved shade is a wrong match and that they must henceforth start using something cleaner or duller or less delta-bee-star?

Mabel and I started discussing a few of the news items in the paper, and we got onto the subject of the BBC, whose funding structure is due for review by the government. I protested that the BBC funding protocol enabled it to carry out tasks which were beyond the scope of any other media organisation. Mabel was scornful; the only things suitable for family viewing now are repeats of ‘Dad’s Army’ and ‘Morecambe and Wise’.

But do you remember, said I, that time I came to stay at The Antelope (the Antelope was a pub in Warwick, next to the racecourse)? When Mabel was the manager of this venue I and some friends would occasionally stay overnight and have champagne for breakfast.

In those days I lived in a bedsit in Derby, with no television, and when I arrived in any hotel or stayed with friends, I would be mesmerised by the haunted fishtank in the corner. And I recall staying at the pub in Warwick, and watching TV while lying in bed. The programmes were two Open University lessons, one about Manchester Town Hall, and the other about the physics of rainbow formation. Only the BBC could broadcast programmes like this, I said, because it didn’t have to justify everything to shareholders and advertisers; the BBC has managed to educate millions of people (perhaps slight exaggeration) by making this kind of programme available.

I had no idea that just four years later I would actually find myself living in Manchester and admiring the wonderful building designed by Waterhouse, looking at the fake-medieval knights and the bees and the jewellery exhibition organised by end-of-year students. According to Pevsner, the two-coloured pattern on the Town Hall roof is no longer visible. I wonder if the effect of atmospheric pollution will darken the white and fade the green in Frost’s painting, so that the two items are impossible to distinguish.