Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Made In China

'Made In China' . . . the inscription crops up everywhere, on our desks, in our cupboards, on our shelves.  But, I wonder if you've heard of a surprising aspect of this success story?

Did you know that the Chinese have turned their talents to producing replicas of famous paintings?

The village of Dafen, in Southern China, is home to countless art workshops where industrious artists produce over five million canvases a year.  They are copying Old Masters to satisfy an accelerating demand.

Have any of these fake paintings travelled to the UK?  Most definitely.  What's more, you can see one for yourself . . . although, in all probability, you'll have difficulty knowing which it is.

At Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London, a fake from China, purchased for £80 (including postage), now hangs on the wall alongside its priceless companions.
The identity of this fake painting will be revealed on April 26th.  On July 26th  the genuine Old Master will be returned to its original position.

The reason for this subterfuge?
It's the brainchild of the American conceptual artist, Doug Fishbone.  A project which he hopes will bring an additional nuance to the experience of visiting the Gallery.

Yes, it's a trick . . . a trick that might be frowned upon by dedicated art-lovers.
However, people are hurrying to Dulwich, eager to see if they can spot the fake.

But is that all there is to the experiment?
Amongst other things, there's the question of value.  What if the two pictures are well-nigh identical . . . one that is priceless, the other costing a mere £80?
Does the value of the original now lie in more than the merely visual . . . does it rest in culture, in tradition, and in availability?
And how does that tally with the fact that it was the visible alone that brought it recognition in the first place?

There again, when you study a painting in the knowledge that it could be a fake, surely you look at it with different eyes?
You are no longer reverential, instead you are questioning.
You are no longer assuming that you are gazing at sublime artistry, instead you are studying the brushwork with a critical eye.

It looks like a familiar Old Master . . . but is it genuine?
Could it be new . . . ?  And what do we mean by genuine . . . ?
Can we, perhaps, recognise the genuine through the intuitive heart rather than the analytical brain?
In short, when we study the picture we're looking, rather than merely seeing . . . and is that such a bad thing?

Thinking about this, it struck me that I prejudge all too often.  Perhaps you do too.

I find myself looking at people, objects and ideas not for what's there, but for what I'm expecting to see . . .  accepting or discarding them in accordance with my own past conclusions, or what I've been told.
What a fine film, I'll say to myself . . . how lucky I read the reviews.

No-one can have failed to notice the General Election looming on the horizon.  But could this, I wonder, be an opportunity to put the Dulwich experiment into action?

Each candidate will be housed in an authentic 'frame', but the question still remains:  is he or she little more than a copy 'made in China', or are we fortunate in having the genuine article?

Rather like those visitors to the Gallery, we're all in search of authenticity.
The nation needs it . . . let's make sure we find it!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Trees outside the window . . .

I wonder, have you any trees outside your window?

It was the trees that sold me this flat.
I hadn't wanted a third-floor flat.  On the contrary, I'd been searching for one at ground floor level, a flat with easy outside access for my cat.
Then, somehow, don't ask me how, I was persuaded to come and give this one a look.

The estate agent led me through the hall and into the empty living room.
But it wasn't the room that caught my attention, it was the trees directly outside the window . . . not something you'd expect to encounter in central London.

Level with the window-ledge were the upper branches of a chestnut and a plane tree . . . trees who reached up from the communal garden below.

Anyone looking out of the window had, for a moment,  the fanciful illusion that they were living in some floating wonderland above the tree-tops.
I hardly looked at the flat, there was no need . . . I bought it for the trees.

Over the years they've flourished and grown and are now in their maturity.  Trees that were here before I was born, trees that will still be here when I've gone.

As representatives of the Earth's largest living organism, they've now passed my window and stretch their upmost branches way beyond the roof.
I live alongside the trees . . . overlooked by the trees . . . they enrich my life.

What's more, like all living things they are constantly evolving.

In spring, as the leaves slowly unfurl, the branches reach out and each tree's individual territory broadens accordingly.

In summer, when the foliage is dense, this green barrier filters out the intensity of the sun and keeps my living-room pleasurably cool.

In autumn the deepening colours delight the eye, first on the branches, then, if I look down, on the ground beneath.

In winter I look out of my window and marvel.  With the departure of the leaves, the trees' intricate  structures are laid bare, and the complexity of their skeletal beauty fully revealed.

But there's even more to it than that.
Each tree is a world unto itself, home to a limitless number of life forms.

Each one harbours a myriad insects, flies and beetles who scuttle about their business under and over the bark.
Each tree plays host to many birds . . . magpies, blackbirds, robins, pigeons, great-tits, blue-tits, wrens and a wide variety of other species, all of whom fly past my window before disappearing into the thick foliage.

And who could overlook the family of highly active squirrels who, in addition to promoting their own welfare, provide teasing  entertainment for my cat!

But let me tell you of the latest gift from these generous trees.
It came when I pulled back the curtains this morning.
 The sun was rising in the south-east and, against the dramatic background of a deep pink sky, the trees' bare branches traced a dramatic picture of delicate lattice-work.

A breath-taking moment . . . a moment, that needs to be shared . . . which is why I'm sitting here, sharing it with you.

But there was more to it than that.
Mid-winter it may have been but, looking closely at the bare branches, it was clear that whereas the plane trees were still trapped in hibernation, the chestnut buds were swelling with the promise of spring.

What matter that the news on the radio was grim, that the headlines on the paper were no better.
 A dramatic winter sunrise, the promise of spring foliage . . .  who could ask for a finer gift to raise the spirits and brighten a February morning?

Do you see why I recommend trees outside the window?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Mystery

I marvel at the potent mystery
That way above me, shining in the skies
And clearly visible to modern eyes,
Are stars that died far back in history.
I see what is not there  And, what is more.
What is not there irradiates the mind.
Unless, like Nelson, I put up my blind
Eye to the heavens and withhold my awe.
The Christmas star is dead.  The baby died
Two thousand years ago in Palestine.
Yet blankets of denial cannot hide
The rays of goodness, truth and love that shine
Through Darkest night to some still point inside
Where, at their source, they mingle into mine.