Yesterday we travelled to London to the watercolour exhibition at the Tate. I always have a great feeling of freedom when I get on a train. My mobile phone is safely off in my pocket so no one can get to me and ask me to do "something", I have a good book in my bag to read on the way and there are the dual pleasures of people watching, and flying in the minds eye over the landscape that is constantly flowing past the window. On our way there a strange rather sad figure got on muttering to himself - "praise the Lord .. praise the Lord .. in Jesus' name .. in Jesus' name ....." Crossing himself and looking slightly frantic, with a vague grin/grimace and a tie liberally patterned with crosses, I wondered what demons were haunting him that he needed to take such constant and fervid precautions. Once settled he quietened down for the journey, offered a blessing to the refreshments trolley attendant - "you're a Christian aren't you? ... you are a Christian .. bless you ... bless you", then when leaving the train proffered his hand to someone else getting off, and marched off looking for ways to help other passengers with their day.
Once arrived, we stopped for coffee and cake at Victoria Station, then strode off down Vauxhall Bridge Road, dodging fat raindrops, to find the Tate in its usual place.
Our entry was free, thanks to a very thoughtful present at Christmas from Neil's daughter, a year's membership. So we immersed ourselves for a while in the beauty that humans have created out of our spirit and ingenuity over the centuries.
Of the pictures that were there, several gave me deep delight and one brought tears to my eyes. The early watercolours, maps and coloured "aerial" plans of past estates showed what was important to record in those long gone days; botanical illustrations were a marvel of detail and the exotic; there were displays about the evolution of watercolour technique and the changing nature of the tools used, some wonderful miniatures of the great and good of their day and great sheets of experiment and expression from the likes of Andy Goldsworthy and Anish Kapoor.
My eye was caught in particular by several images. There was a painting by Edmund Dulac, whose illustrations to so many books are full of mystery and magic. We had a Rubiyyat of Omar Khayyam illustrated by him many moons ago, but I think it has gone in the muddle of one of my several house moves over the years. This one was called The Entomologists Dream.
Blue Night Venice, by Arthur Melville with its deep evening light and soft focus embodies that sense of twilit exoticism that is so special to Venice with its Byzantine heritage. We have been there once, and I will never forget my growing excitement as we came upon St Mark's from a side street, like a shining fantasy gradually appearing at the end of the crowded narrow way.
Eric Taylor's Human Wreckage at Belsen Concentration Camp 1945, depicting the horror with that delicacy which is part of watercolour's range of expression, was an image to stand by and weep. It shows what painting can do, which photography strains to do. The brush, in its passage over the paper encourages a reflection and concentration on the subject that photography, with its immediacy and sense of reportage, misses. Your mind moves with the hand of the artist in a way that is both tactile and meditative, you feel him asking the paper to reveal the awful pathos of these tumbled bodies. After a while of looking, and absorbing I had to turn away. It captured the distortions and degradation of human life thrown away with such truth that each stroke of the brush seemed a tender touch on the poor huddled forms, once people full of life and love.
So, a day of colour, imagery and reflection, a good way to start a week off work. A reminder to me also of the pleasures of paintings and an inspiration to go and search for my own watercolours, brushes and paper, put somewhere "safe" after our move.