Friday, 22 November 2013

Scouse and about

And so, another busy week passes by. It all kicked off with a Sunday lecture at Conway Hall in London, home of the Ethical Society, followed by a swift trip to Leicester and back on Tuesday to do the same 'Skeptical Bobby' talk.

Wednesday saw me hanging out with renowned photographer and long-time chum Mark Page and nosing around his new Black Swan Studios premises before jumping on a train to Liverpool on Thursday to do my talk for the third time in a week for the Merseyside Skeptics. Three lovely gigs, three fantastic audiences.

And, as I was staying over in Liverpool for a night, I did have the opportunity to explore a little the next morning. I decided, therefore, to visit the Walker Art Gallery in St Johns. It's one of the few galleries, museums and places of interest that I've not visited in the city. I wasn't disappointed.

The exhibitions are a pleasant pot-pourri of styles, art movements and eras with 17th century paintings and sculptures rubbing shoulders with Pop Art, Pre-Raphaelite and Modern. There was also a very nice exhibition of early works by David Hockney . But it was the more recent stuff that really floated my boat. Like this piece of fabulousness - Harmony in Green by Dan Hays:

Yes, it's a hamster cage. But it's a hamster cage painted in oils and it's about six feet high. And when you look closely at the painting and you see all of the different colours - particularly greens - that make up the chrome bars and the spaces between the chrome bars it becomes quite abstract and quite beautiful.

One thing I LOVED about the Walker is that you can get really close to the artworks and look at them in detail. Some, like Fritz Spiegl's whimsical Loophonium (also known as the Harpichord) are even interactive - you press buttons and it plays music. Handel's Water Closet Music maybe?

Other pieces I liked included Sam Walsh's Three Figures in a Warm Climate and The Dinner Party:


Anish Kapoor's Red in the Centre:

... and Ivor Abrahams' Head of the Stairs:

There are so many others I could have mentioned by the likes of Terry Frost, Richard Slee, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Jacob Epstein, Steve Howlett, Gillian Ayres, Lucien Freud, L S Lowry, Stephen Farthing, Alexis Harding and so many more but this blogpost would become unwieldy. Just go and look for yourselves!
I will, however, mention my favourite painting in the gallery. It's this one - The Exiled Forever Coming In To Land by Ged Quinn. 

It's an epic-sized painting in a classical style with lovely touches of surrealism.

Isn't it great?

Lastly, I must mention the gallery's collection of more classical art. It boasts work by Rubens, Poussin, Rembrandt, Turner, Stubbs, Rossetti, Millais, Degas, Monet ... but, being a Modern Art kind of a guy, I won't go into them too much. However, I will pay homage by mentioning this classic work by William Frederick Yeames: And When Did You Last See Your Father?

It's a powerful piece isn't it? We see the little boy being interrogated by Cromwell's Roundheads regarding the whereabouts of his royalist Cavalier father. It's an innocent child being asked to give up his parent, in all likelihood having no idea that this will mean certain execution for dad. Is the young girl behind his sister? Is she crying because, being older, she understands the implications of his answers? As I said, powerful. And, once again, I have to stress what a joy it is to get so close to the artwork and see the individual brush strokes and the use of colour.

A lovely morning spent among lovely things. What makes the Walker Collection so interesting is the mix of old and new, classical and modern. There are touches of humour and whimsy too, such as the Loophonium and this marvellous unlabelled bust with the pixelated face. Just pull your face back from the screen a little. Brilliant isn't it?

That kind of sums up Liverpool's aesthetic; a strong artistic heritage, a celebration of history while moving forward, and all coupled together with a robust sense of humour. Wherever you go, you see street art, street theatre and performance. Even as I waited for my train back home, Lime Street Station was hosting Suitcase, a series of platform-based promenade performances that tell the story of the 1938 exodus of Jewish children - the Kindertransport - from mainland Europe to the UK. The stories were simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking and performed beautifully.

A splendid send off from a splendid city. I will go back again soon.

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