Thursday, January 23, 2020

Lady's Slippers - the Magic of Orchids...

The odds of any green plant or cut bloom surviving the special gardening attentions and flower arranging skills of my two cats are rather slim so if a pot or vase cannot be suspended from - or perched on – some high place, it is systematically relegated to the balcony.

Unfortunately, the voracious vine weavils have put paid to many a plant –  regardless as to whether these were intended for indoor or outdoor life. All my favourite forms of foliage tend to be targeted by the evil weavils. Leaves of ivy, buddleia, passionflower and honeysuckle are chewed to tatters whilst the roots below the soil are gnawed to shreds.

As disheartening as all this can be, however, I have come to resign myself to the idea that the balcony should simply be left to accommodate plants that will not whet the appetite of these marauders. I, meanwhile, can feast my eyes (and nose) on the plants at the garden centre and take photos of the most beautiful specimens to prolong the pleasure and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

This tactic has worked out quite well, and especially at the present time as the balcony has had to be stripped entirely due to renovation work. Last weekend I made my usual addict’s dash to the garden centre in order to get my regular ‘floral fix’ and was not left wanting.

The greenhouse was awash with a flood of pale purple and pink, elegantly borne on stems rising from rich green leaves. Once synonymous with the exotic and rare, we now find orchids on sale everywhere – from supermarkets at knock-down prices to petrol station forecourts as a last-minute gift. Indeed they often seem to have become a little too commonplace and vulgar even – sprayed in gaudy colours, glitter-coated and decorated with naff ribbons! The ones here, however, were breath-taking.

I always found the word ‘orchid’ to sound beautiful and remote; other-wordly, in fact. And yet its origin is a little more earthy… derived from the Greek word (orchis) for testicle, due to the supposed ressemblance of certain root tubers to the male genitalia! Latin names were used for the specimens displayed at the centre, although the familiar names were just as magical ; Moth Orchids, Lady’s Slipper and Venus Slipper.

Whichever the genus, the petals of each orchid seemed artificial, made up from some kind of luxurious, waxy synthetic material, delicately painted in rich colours. The Phalaenopsis –  from the Greek phalaina ‘a kind of moth’ with the suffix -opsis meaning ‘having the appearance of’ is probably the best-known commercial orchid. Flat flowers, with strangely formed parts, are arranged on long, arching stems, while long, ‘leggy’ roots trail below. Native to a number of Asian countries and Australia too, the Moth Orchid is now a staple in florist’s shops and garden nurseries in climates far less hot and humid.

Cypripedioideae is an orchid subfamily commonly referred to as Lady's Slipper. These are recognized by the flower’s slipper-shaped pouches (modified labella). Its intriguing beauty, wields the same power over passing insects that are irresistably drawn down into the pouch, thus fertilizing the flower.

Paphiopedilum, often named the Venus Slipper, is a genus of the Lady Slipper Orchid. The name is derived from Paphos in Cyprus (the mythical birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite) and the Greek word pedilon for ‘slipper’. It is native to a list of countries that sound as if they are drawn from a children’s book of adventure and exploration from a bygone era; Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, southern China, New Guinea and the Solomon and Bismarck Islands… This genus is largely cultivated by seed, as opposed to tissue culture, which means that each plant is unique.

Zygopetalum is a scented variety of the orchid family, with a name that refers to the yoke-like form of the flower’s lip (from the Greek ‘zygon’). The fragrance and petal marking attract the insects that will then act as pollinators. Unlike the other orchids on display, with origins scattered over the eastern hemisphere of the globe, the Zygopetalum is ‘merely’ a native of certain areas of South America. Of course, all orchids that are hybridized and cultivated for mass-market sales today will never have seen their natural habitat as production now is international in scope. So, maybe not so remote and other-worldly after all, but just as mesmerizing. And the best aspect about getting horticultural fixes for free? The variety of ‘drugs’ is never-ending – changing with the seasons and the latest hybrid breakthrough so that I rarely know what I will come across. That really is magical !

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Greenery in the Black Country - St Martin's Church Birmingham...

I fell ill while travelling back to England on New Year’s Eve, so when I finally arrived at destination I was feeling green and more than a little sorry for myself. I slowly trundled my over-sized suitcase out of the coach station and headed off towards the main streets of the city centre. As I braved the hill gradient of the road and wheeled my unruly luggage up the slopes, I saw the now familiar, yet ever-surreal vision that greets all visitors to Birmingham and native Brummies alike.

The Victorian edifice of St Martin’s church is surrounded by the futuristic blobitecture of the Selfridges Building... So it is that the ‘Mother Church of Birmingham’ stands next to this millennial cathedral to consumerism. The church spire and spiky forms of its Neo-Gothic architecture is virtually dwarfed by the height and sheer volume of this bulging magma of modernity - albeit already a little dated since its inauguration in 2003. Both are set in the Bullring, near the old market area that has accommodated traders and their wares since the Middle Ages.

Whilst the aluminum discs of this metallic amoeba shone out like hundreds of compound flies’ eyes, it was actually the shock of bright green algae on the masonry of the church that caught my eye on a sunlit start to the year 2020. The intense colour was so magical that I resolved to come back and investigate. Unfortunately I continued to feel bad throughout my entire stay – even greener and colder than the old stonework – and so the final photos were rather flat and I didn’t even manage to take shots of the obvious views, even less explore! There is no picture of the Selfridges Building!

The history of St Martin’s reflects that of the city itself; a continual adaptation to the social, cultural and commercial sea changes brought about and bolstered by developments in technology, communication and consumerism. The face and form of Birmingham’s city centre have been the focus of several sizeable transformations since the Industrial Revolution, but above all and most radically, in the aftermath of the Second World War and now again from the early 2000s.

Ambitious new visions for the second city of England have resulted in a series of extensive urban reconstruction projects that have radically altered the landscape and even the role of Brum itself, just as canals did with the industrialisation of the 18th century and the expanding train networks later on. Indeed, the waterways and railways that were carved into and around the city acted as veins and arteries, circulating goods and supplies to the vital organs of the Black Country. Birmingham was the pulsing heart of the Industrial Revolution, and the network of canals was both the cause and consequence of its growth. Fast-forward some 300 years, to the 1960s, and pro-car urban planning likewise sought to give a dynamic boost to a city that was finally ready to rise from the shadows of post-war restrictions. This resulted in the ‘concrete collar’ of thoroughways that ploughed through Birmingham’s centre - the Inner Ring Road – leading the way to an exciting new future…

At its heart was the revamped Bull Ring market area which emerged as the Bull Ring Shopping Centre – a shining example of commercial mall-inspired modernism - clad in the boxy, grey concrete attire of Brutalist architecture. Other such buildings appeared from the late 50s onwards, all dashing in their inspired vision, but dismal to behold - for me, at least. Whilst campaigners have called for their conservation - the Brutiful Birmingham Action Group being one – many of these monoliths have been demolished to make room for the new ‘new’. With bright hope for yet another brave, brand-new world, these vertical visions of 60’s dynamism are now being floored in their turn, just like the sprawling patchworks of dirty Victorian back-to-backs that had been demolished to make way for them.

The reality of living and working in and around these high-rise horizons soon hit as hard and cold as the bold, unforgiving materials they were constructed from. Spaghetti junctions and tower blocks rising high above ground, pedestrian subways below, and interminable roads between were no longer futuristic emblems of promise but pointed to a rat-race destiny for those caught in this concrete maze. Discontent that was voiced over post-war redevelopment has led to an ongoing overhaul of the centre of Birmingham that continues to this very day, but by its very nature, this can only be problematic. What do you preserve ? What should go ? According to Sir Herbert Manzoni, City Engineer and Surveyor from 1935 to 1963, "there is little of real worth in our architecture" and with that withering assessment, vast plots of land were wiped clean of their architectural past, to be built over with imposing concrete constructions of limited life span, yet life-long notoreity. It has even been remarked that at least the Luftwaffe ‘merely’ left rubble behind in their trail of devastation….

Urban renewal is, of course, nothing new. Each successive major civic project is largely built on, or alongside, the site of its predecessors. One man’s meat is indeed another man’s poison. Augustus Pugin – architect pionnier of the Gothic Revival movement referred to the city  as "that most detestable of detestable places - Birmingham, where Greek buildings and smoking chimneys, Radicals and Dissenters are blended together". The Arts and Crafts Movement, born of the Birmingham Set (including William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones) would reject the art and architecture of heavily-industrialized Victorian England and finally give way to Edwardian and inter-war styles, ultimately leading to Modernism.

Nothing remains constant, and nor should it, but what we consider to have become obsolete by the criteria of our time, should surely not be obliterated and in so doing annihilating the past. Many rows of grand red-brick Victorian buildings have long been replaced by other forms of otherness and this process is still very much ‘work in progress’. More recently, the concrete ziggurat of Birmingham Central Library was replaced by another version of newness for our multi-tasking, multimedia era. Other parts of the city are due to be rejuvenated ; the expanse of the Custard Factory Complex, just beyond Digbeth Coach Station is now being measured up. Of the original 70s Bull Ring area, the iconic cyclindrical Rotunda has survived although its towering sci-fi office space now provides high-rise accommodation. The Bull Ring Shopping Centre, freed of the Inner Ring road, has morphed itself into the blob-like Bullring, linked to the Grand Central around New Street Station and is hub to serious Shopping (capital S). I can't help but wonder how long it will stand there, in its current state and style. My remaining blurred memories of the late 60’s-to-70’s city centre are no longer valid – I recognise very little - and these simply go to underline the notion that "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

The church of St Martin has stood its ground throughout all of this extensive reconstruction activity, and has been witness to the waves of change that have visited its urban surroundings. Although itself victim to the blitz bombing in the war years, its spirit and architectural structure has remained largely intact so that it is still a landmark in a city that has, in parts, changed beyond recognition. And perhaps no part of the city has changed as much as the Bull Ring market area.

Until the 17th century, St. Martin’s was the only church in Birmingham. This was a Mediaval village centred on the retail and wholesale markets of the Bull Ring, a name referring to the blood sport of bull-baiting. Towards the end of the 13th century, a red sandstone church was founded by the de Bermingham family, thus replacing an earlier edifice which had been a simple place of worship, thought to date back to Saxon times. Burials took place in St Martin’s up until the construction of St Philip’s church in the early 18th century, in order to meet the spiritual needs of the congregation and their dead. This Baroque edifice stood outside the historic centre of Birmingham, although today we naturally assume this to be the oldest quarter since there appear to be fewer modern buildings in the vicinity - for the moment at least. St Philip’s was built of brick faced with stone, enabling it to resist over time, unlike St Martin’s whose sandstone weathered so poorly that by the end of the 17th century ‘serious deterioration’ required drastic measures to be taken to preserve the church. In an attempt to save the edifice, it was entirely flanked in a thick protective red-brick casing. This may have ‘done the trick’, but resulted in an aesthetically displeasing whole -  of Neo-Classical design. Of the original Medieval church, only the spire was visible for the next 200 years.

By the 19th century, criticism of this "hideous pile of brick and whitewash" was rife and the poor taste of interfering churchwardens was blamed. Not only was the original form obscured - "buried in its ugly tomb, literally bricked up" - but other features had also been added. It was later remarked that the interior surpassed the exterior in "unsightliness". Indeed, over the course of the 18th century tall round-headed windows with cast-iron frames were added – later pointed out as being more appropriate to factory buildings; certain aisles had been extended; a vestry constructed; low, flat Georgian ceilings set in place and medieval wall paintings whitewashed and plastered over. Furthermore, the erosion of the masonry had continued regardless of the alterations and represented a serious threat to the building. All in all, the church was seen to be a disgrace to the status of Birmingham.

Despite appeals, lack of funds meant that only the tower and spire could be restored. Finally, however, money started to be raised from the 1870s in order to carry out a complete rebuilding of St Martin’s. The resulting Grade II listed church, designed by Alfred Chatwin, is an example of gothic Victorian architecture. The whole church, with the exception of the recently restored tower and spire, was taken down and rebuilt in an accurate 14th century style, enabling the architect to study all remaining original forms and features. Indeed, in order to retain the aspect and spirit of the former Gothic edifice, the new choir stalls were carved from its surviving medieval roof timbers. Trained under Charles Barry, Chatwin had worked on the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament alongside both him and Pugin. It is therefore highly likely that the open-timber roof was inspired by the great ‘hammer-beam’ roof of Westminster Hall. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, there had been a boom in the population and thus a considerable growth in the number of  parishes. Birmingham officially became a city in 1889, and St Philip’s church assumed the status of cathedral at the turn of the century. St Martin’s continued to fulfil its role, administering to its parishoners and opening its doors to those passing through.

Although Birmingham was a prime target for enemy offensives in the Great War due to the importance of its munitions works, Zeppelin attacks caused no damage to the city thanks to extensive black-out measures and anti air-craft surveillance. The same cannot be said of the Second World War, when Birmingham bore the brunt of Luftwaffe attacks. After London and Merseyside, Brum received a greater tonnage of high explosives than any other region. In the air-raids that wreaked havoc on the city centre, the Bull Ring received many direct hits and St Martin’s was not spared the hostilities. The church did survive the attack of April 1941, even though almost all of the Victorian stained glass was destroyed, with the exception of one work of Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne-Jones. His transept window had been removed and stored safely just prior to the bombing.

Fortunately, just as many other churches and spiritual centres, St Martins’ is still anchored in city life today, adapting itself to its environment. There was a photography exhibition on show when I visited, but apparently it is even used as a venue for music concerts too! It has always assumed several roles as an active pivot and focal point in the heart of the Bull Ring ; working for and with the congregation, the community, culture and even commerce via social enterprise. I am not at all religious myself, but I love to see the historic and the ‘meaningful’ (for the lack of a better term) alive in the present, able to be observed in context and with hindsight; unapologetic at a time when everything has to be justified, labelled, sterilized and reduced to bite-size, safe doses for convenience.

Living in a connected, supposedly globalised society, we want everything to be slick, rapidly and easily accessible, geared to the individual yet attached to a network when it suits our personal needs and desires. Everything appears to be a commodity, to be swiped, consumed, shared and liked, or clicked away without a trace. History seems to be an anti-dote to all of that. The frenzy of acquiring stuff, this cult of consumption of things and now Experiences (with a capital E) have taken on such huge proportions that they have become some kind of juggernaut that will crush and devore anything that stands in their path. This seems to be a road to ruin, and one on which we will lose ourselves. How can you understand life and find meaning in a land without lasting traces, a horizon devoid of visible historic landmarks?

We do not even notice what is happening to our urban landscapes anymore. Much of the heritage of a city – mainly, but not exclusively architecture – is being deleted without a backward glance. We often no longer recall what was there in the recent past and worse still perhaps, we do not even care. By the time we realise the fate of a building or any plot of land, the planning permission has already been granted, and we are powerless to act, should we wish to do so. Nothing seems secure anymore and that makes me all the more grateful for edifices like St Martin’s, when few historic buildings can be assured a future. As lifestyles evolve, aspirations and expectations in life are modified in line with changing patterns and means of consumption. Our previously-treasured high streets are undergoing a shift that guarantees nothing but assured incertitude. This could be just as positive as negative in outcome, but we need some kind of constancy in these quick-sand times. The impressive historic buildings that are still standing in Birmingham’s city centre are, generally speaking, no longer home to the old, powerful institutions.

Beautiful, high-set porticos, majestic doorways, vaulted ceilings, vast Georgian rooms with classical fittings, late Victorian brick and terracotta façades, coloured faïence brickwork now all serve as backcloths to lounge 'living and chilling' spaces; wine bars, eateries, cafés and the like. The banks, insurance companies, lofty firms and prestigious retail stores seem to have moved out – online, overseas or out of town. A former children’s hospital has even become a casino – well, why not ? Better that than left as empty, boarded up and/or derelict buildings. However, I fear that once revenues decline, these short-term occupants –albeit all instantly-recognizable big brands - will follow suit. This will leave multiple premises – the city’s heritage - in a poor state of repair, having been modified out of recognition to meet fleeting modern requirements. These edifices risk falling easy prey to property developers with their wrecking ball or sneaky current practice of gutting historic buildings to preserve a veneer-thin frontage ('Facadism') as a nod to the past. This would appear to be more a two-fingered salute to our history... and our very selves.

The Bull Ring and parish church of St Martin, Birmingham, 1880s, unknown photographer

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Live Life Now and Act With Love...

Over the past few years, I have encountered the art and persona of Grayson Perry in several different settings and circumstances, albeit never in person, I should add. The first I heard of the individual now often referred to as a ‘national British treasure’ was during a Radio 4 interview, some time ago.

His distinctive voice, exporing and giving expression to fundamental ideas on art and existence in the most infectious manner, devoid of all affectation and pretention, intrigued and won me over just as it has countless others since then.

Grayson Perry gained widespread artisitic recognition in the early 2000s on winning and then memorably accepting the Turner Prize for his ceramic artwork, dressed in a Little Bo Peep-themed dress. However, it is perhaps his television programmes and radio broadcasts on aesthetics, taste, class and masculinity that have ensured that Grayson Perry has become a household name in the UK.

His thoughtful reflections on the intertwining roles of identity, culture, craft and art and the creative process in general are all-inclusive – opening out to the different strata of society and the fauna that comprise and occupy these tribal territories.

So it is that Grayson Perry is able to engage with hoodies from tough estates; the rather bland beings from the aspirational middle classes and finally the higher echelons of society - with the landed gentry and City traders.

Although he has broached subjects that could raise tension and ignite hostility, Grayson Perry appears to be perceived as a genial, disarmingly affable anthropologist. Indeed, he gauges the norms, values and rites of the societies cohabiting the UK today, rather like a social David Attenborough, with a wickedly raucious laugh.

He has broadened the immediate arts audience and opened out the world of art and creativity to the greater public - observing this, us and himself from numerous angles. He offers ideas and theories whilst the beauty of his work, in all its forms, leads onto further questions, ones that he turns from himself and his art to us all, leading the way forward in this unique, never-ending creative process.

Who and what are we ? What of the art that we appreciate ? Is identity our greatest artistic creation and conversely is art the most significant expression and validation of our identity ? Grayson Perry works in various classic media ; ceramic work, bronze, print-making and tapestry. However, he employs a unique approach to traditional forms - namely in the signature pots which led to his initial Establishment recognition.

 His works combines the norms of convention with the innovative and highly unconventional, frequently supported by art-of-state (digital) technology. Just as his art goes beyond formal limits, seemingly merging technique and medium, to create an aesthetic patchwork, likewise his themes weave in and out of the content of his creative work, threading through the different pieces to produce a vast complex unity, with the artist acting as social commentator.

His artistic production taken as a whole seems to be an organic, multi-facetted tapestry, borrowing stylistic and thematic references from past and present, growing as a two-way mirror reflecting, and finding its own reflection in the ever-shifting layers of contemporary society.

I first saw some of Grayson Perry’s art ‘in the flesh’ at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury in 2016, with the exhibition of his vast tapestries – The Vanity of Small Differences. With the six pieces, the human desire to seek individuality and personal ascension is set out in a panoramic work inspired by Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress and Freud’s theory of narcissism, in an era defined by consumer culture. This fresco of life and identity lay out the cultural badges which give shape and meaning to the class categories stretched out before us in this anti-hero’s story as the fictive Tim Rakewell progresses in this social and cultural game of snakes and ladders.

We may well gleefully pick out the social/cultural markers in this allegorical tale, but how far can we actually decode our own lives and the objects, activities and attitudes that act as a binding backbone to our identity ?

The Vanity of Small Differences was created parallel to Grayson Perry’s BAFTA award-winning Channel 4 series, All in the Best Possible Taste ; all fascinating, with scenes that are at once cringe-worthy, touching, emotional and all ultimately offer a humane view of the human condition. Shortly after the exhibition, I read the book, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl by Wendy Jones.which proved to be accessible, eye-opening and thought-provoking.

Therefore I was thrilled to learn that as head- coordinator of the 2018 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Acadmey Grayson Perry had, with his committee of fellow artists, selected a painting by my aunt!

 I duly visited the RA, when London was sweltering under a relentless 37°degree heat-wave in July, and soon noticed that the crushing temperature outside this great bastion of the arts was matched by little sparks of electric tension within the exhibit rooms – with a pinch of superiority and preciousness radiating from and bouncing off some of the visitors.

We are, of course, all guilty of dismissing creations that do not meet the standard set by our inbuilt criteria. This behaviour is, after all, one of Grayson Perry’s themes in his study of taste as part of our social fabric, part of the uniform in our cultural clans. My aunt experienced this at first hand, as she went incognito to relish her moment of personal pride and bask in artistic glory in the bright yellow room all at the age of 88!

 As she looked at her painting, hung up next to numerous other exhibits, she was accosted by some pretentious art-gallery bat, pondering on who could have painted such an awful piece and what kind of dog could possibly have such an expression… Too embarrassed to say anything, my aunt offered some non-committal response, without daring to admit that she was the offending artist. Grayson Perry himself puzzles over the elusive notion of ‘art of quality’, which is supposedly squarely rooted in the eye or mind of the beholder.

Our need to assess, categorise, applaud or dismiss reminds me of a scene in Big Eyes, Tim Burton’s 2014 film about the American artist, Margaret Keane. When the portraits of the doe-eyed waifs – the artist’s ‘children’ - are casually trashed by hard-nosed critics, the questions of what good art is and how you could define it are played out. The cutesy Big-Eye kids are certainly not my cup of tea aesthetically-speaking, but surely artistic ‘worth’ also resides in the creative instinct of the artist.

This drive for imaginative creativity and narration is what sets us apart from less sophisticated life forms, after all.The motivation behind each work – the currents and forces that led to its creation need to be considered and their full significance recognised. We need to eke out the integral meaning of the art on display, and not just follow our knee-jerk response to an aesthetic approach that has surely been conditioned by our cultural milieu.

Meanwhile, as Grayson Perry remarks, artists themselves must ‘make meaning’ from Life, laying out existence to give a narrative form to their art, when in fact existence is generally meaningless, once allegiance to religious beliefs and social ties is stripped away.

The same process of giving meaning and identity goes beyond art alone, as we see in Grayson Perry’sobservations on masculinity, honour and status, All Man. The men from northern England (Hard Man) who lost their jobs and the fabric of their daily existence on the demise of the heavy industries have fought to maintain their identity, through ritualized activities that become ‘vessels of meaning’, just like Grayson Perry’s ceramic vases and pots. 

In autumn 2018, a big multi-media exhibition was put on in La Monnaie de Paris Vanity, Identity and Sexuality. Here on show were the ceramics and clothing that had initially drawn Grayson Perry into the limelight and guaranteed his succès de scandale.

Odd, incongrous couplings are the keynote of the artist and his art. Quaint, frilly frocks worn by this rather burly bloke as ‘Claire’ strike a similar tone as the elegant forms of classic, decorative vases and urns, adorned with in-yer-face sexual scenes.

All of what we consider to be familiar to us – our cultural, social and mercantile landmarks are slightly or wholly off-kilter so we must question the essence of identity, authenticity and worth. Just as we are unable to connect with the iconic brands that have been stripped of their instantly recognizable logos and writing fonts, we are unsettled by the traditional forms that do not deliver reassuring readability.

Pots that appear pretty and innocent at a distance reveal themselves to have a quirky, dark side when seen up close. All of this troubles and fascinates the viewer, capturing our attention with a ‘stealth tactic’ in a similar manner to the sexually-charged prints of Aubrey Beardsley, all executed with the most delicate draughtsmanship. Flowers are given the names of war...

And yet the notion of communication is key here in Grayson Perry’s work – with scraps of text and photo transfers included in most of the art forms to reinforce ideas explored in the artwork but ultimately leading us back to question and redefine meaning and identity.

References to art of every conceivable period abound as themes and styles are copied or ‘borrowed’ to create a layered texture, a cultural collage or quilting of the old to produce something new.

Here is work that does not slavishly seek originality but ultimately manages to create something unique each time.

 Everything in Grayson Perry’s work appears to be a vast ethnographic exercise in which we must take part as fellow observers and social players.

Spatial, temporal and psychological mapping is laid out in vast mappae mundi which trace out fluid or overlapping unities and boundaries just as the Medieval maps presented history, geography and destiny of humanity in the late 13th century.

Throughout most of Grayson Perry’s life and present in various shapes, forms and media is the guru, saint or God-like figure of 'Alan Measles', the childhood teddy bear who is the object of quasi-religious veneration.

Shrines are also of great significance, with their layers of symbols and talismans, rather like the cluttered possessions and paraphernalia that bear down on the figures of the two pilgrims statues (Our Father, Our Mother).

All in all, I love Grayson Perry’s art for its generous, all-encomposing quality that has consideration for everything, but does not take a haughty, stilted view on anything. He takes his role(s) seriously, but seems to take a healthily playful attitude towards himself and his art too, which is characteristically signed with a hallmark image of an anchor, preceded by a capital W!

This relative light-heartedness might be partly down to a strategy to avoid the self-questioning that he believes to cripple adult artists as they lose their youthful ‘unselfconscious joy of creativity’. Art cannot always be radical or even cutting-edge and as he points out, even the original punks are pensioners now, but it should not be cool or smoothed out to become flat, bland and meaningless.

The reactions to Grayson Perry, art and person, have provided as much food for thought as his work itself. The most curious of these was from an established artist acquaintance who disparagingly remarked that everything ‘brand GP’ was devoid of all meaning.

That seemed not only totally inaccurate to the point of irony, it also seemed somewhat mean-spirited, not to mention smacking of sour-grapes! All of which ultimately led me back to my aunt’s experience. Fortunately she has continued to paint, whilst her dog still strikes the most amazing poses…. This reminds me of some lines from one of Grayson Perry's works: Live Life Now and Act With Love...

                                                        A peaceful end to 2019!