Saturday, 25 October 2014

Sinister Tranquillity

I lead a quiet life, (I live in Brussels - there is no alternative, plus I come from Canberra, say no more, [I even miss it]). Thus my big outing to the Frieze Art Fair and - for me the infinitely preferable - Frieze Masters in London last weekend was an unaccustomed excitement which has left me full of thoughts and impressions even five days later.

One of the booths I looked around at Frieze Masters was run by a rather terrifying New Yorker who styled himself Jack Kilgore. The name itself is faintly alarming but he also had a challenging kind of manner, a way of looking you full in the face, not necessarily with a friendly expression, as if daring you to admit you couldn't afford his paintings.

Of course, it was probably mostly bravado. A booth at the fair must cost rather a lot of money and Jack would surely have been as worried as all the other dealers who didn't appear to be making many sales. It was odd how one or two seemed to be doing all the business and the others remained red-dotless, their eyes sweeping the passers-by ever more fitfully as they riffled through their mental account sheets and tried not to let the horror make itself visible, except for the odd twitch of a cheek muscle and the intermittent mopping of brows.

One thing that impressed me about Kilgore's approach to business was that he provided plenty of interesting information about each of the works on sale. I told him this and he stopped prowling for a moment to look me up and down.  'Well, thank you', he said and then resumed his prowling. His tone implied that he deserved nothing less but on the other hand he wished this dreary middle-aged woman would shove off. He glanced wistfully at the Russian babe who was tottering blindly past, the heels on her thigh length leather boots so high she required the support of an elderly but eager looking man.

I could have told Jack that Russian babes prefer baubles to masterworks, but instead I told him I liked this painting and asked him if he'd ever seen White Ribbon by Michael Haneke, because the painting reminded me of it. "No, I haven't", he told me, with complete lack of interest. Then, as if suddenly remembering his manners - or possibly remembering that money doesn't always come in shiny packages, he asked if it was a film set somewhere full of sun and light. I said, 'No.'.
In case you're interested, (for some reason, since the Duchess of Devonshire died, every time I hear the words 'interested' or 'interesting', I remember her story about overhearing Nancy Astor at dinner say to someone, 'Well that's very interestin', but I'm not interested'), the painting is called Mainlandschaft: Landscape with a Horseman on the Main River. It is by Hans Thoma who, according to Jack's wall-tag, was a major personality in German painting at the end of the 19th century. He studied in Karlsruhe and then Dusseldorf, where he worked with Otto Scholderer, (never heard of him either). Through Scholderer he met Courbet, whose paintings had a profund influence on him. His portraiture was also influenced by Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna and Lucas Cranach. His career developed between Munich, Dusseldorf and Florence and he can be counted among the "Romans from Germany" who drew from the Italian Renaissance to create a style that would form the origins of symbolism.

That's quite an education good old Jack Kilgore gave me, (actually he could be a character in a Fitzgerald novel, now I come to think of it - yes, he'd fit in perfectly on the beach at Antibes in Tender is the Night). Jack's wall-tag went on to talk about the quality of light in the painting and its serenity. In an interesting case of having one's view of things coloured by another work of art, I couldn't see any of that. For me, the little village you can see in the field across the river seems to be crouching silently, just as picturesque as the one in White Ribbon, clutching just as dreadful secrets and hidden cruelties to itself.

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