tomb of the unknown craftsman, the final days
Yesterday I went to see the Grayson Perry show at the British Museum. FINALLY!!! I’ve been trying to go to this show for months, and I’ve tried many times, but it’s like there’s been an invisible force field around it, and everytime I tried to go, something would conspire against me. Even this time, the tickets had sold out. I stood there looking dejected at the desk, knowing the show was only running for two more days, and if I didn’t see it then, I probably wouldn’t. The ticket man said, ‘Well, you could get British Museum membership… members don’t need tickets to enter…’ So I did it. I paid £44 whoppin’ pounds of hard-earned money to see the Grayson Perry show, because I knew it would be worth it.
I have a huge admiration for Perry’s work, I see him almost as a bit of a role model, even though I don’t know much about him personally and we work in different fields. We have a similar love of the kind of heavy lines and quirky expressions and patterning details that you find in old woodcut prints and folk art paintings. And I like how the guy thinks, he rides around on a wildly kitted out pink motorcycle with his teddy bear in a little shrine in the back because, let’s face it, pottery doesn’t usually get a lot of attention. But Perry’s does, and it stands up to the scrutiny, because he’s a genuine craftsman who has put a lot of time and care into making his work so good. It’s not just bare-bones conceptual stuff that can be thrown together without much skill, the guy really knows how to draw and just as much, he’s spent a lot of time looking at and studying and making studies of older artwork.
Many pieces in the show were things he’d selected from the British Museum’s collection, such as these carved pipes. I made a couple little sketches; the guy in the top centre, with the moustache, made me laugh. I love his expression, and why is he sitting on the other guy’s bum?
Here’s a snapshot of the originals. They come from a place not far from where I grew up.
Here’s a huge tapestry showing lots of modern-day places of pilgrimage, everywhere from Jerusalem to Hollywood to Westfield shopping centre. One of the things I like about Perry’s work is how he takes traditional techniques and lets them illustrate things in modern-day society. I had a huge revelation about this about ten years ago when I first saw Maithil paintings by women in Nepal, who took traditional, very flat styles to illustrate things like people riding on buses and bicycles. Their pictures, with their strange lack of perspective, looked so odd, but so beautiful. Illustrator David McKee (Mr Benn, Elmer the Elephant) plays around with stuff like this in children’s picture books.
Something cool happened while I was in the exhibition. I started looking at this elderly lady, in her lovely red coat and fabulous glasses, and thought, gosh, I wish I could look like that when I’m old. She’s beautiful. And then I read the wall caption over her shoulder and, gosh, she could have been paid to sit there as part of the exhibition. Gave me goosebumps!
While I was walking from Charing Cross station to the British Museum, I snapped this photo of Longacre in the sunshine:
And my excuse for running away early from my desk yesterday was because it was Stuart’s birthday! Here’s the card he woke up to. He is frighteningly cheerful in the mornings, not like me at all. And my dad gave him that nick-name, a variation on the name of a certain cartoon dog, and it’s kind of stuck in our family. (Isn’t that embarrassing?)
Stuart really wanted to go to the opera, so ages ago, I booked tickets for us to go see Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera. The tickets cost a bomb, but the seats were still up in the gods. We used to go to the opera all the time when we were dating in Moscow, it only cost two or three pounds a ticket, and they were very good. We used to go to the Coliseum quite regularly to see the English National Opera, but we hit a run of about four we didn’t like, and decided we’d spend more money but go less frequently to the Royal Opera. But recently the ENO blew my mind with their amazing production of Two Boys (blog post here). And I loved the music of this version of Don Giovanni but I found the production a bit underwhelming.
I’m pretty low-brow about the opera, I love a good aria, but when I go to the opera, I really want to see a big spectacle: fabulous sets, great costumes, awe-inspiring lighting effects. And this one started out pretty well, but it’s all about this guy who’s going around seducing women like mad, and you know that it’s all working up to the big final scene when the ghosts of the murdered father of one of the ladies he’s seduced comes back; He’s an imposing living statue from the graveyard, and he appears at Don Giovanni’s dinner table, after Giovanni’s flippantly invited him, and in a gloriously horrible scene, sweeps the philanderer off to hell.
Well, the ghost statue, the Commendatore, wasn’t scary at all. He was just some dude who showed up on stage, looking a lot like he did before he was murdered. (‘Great to see you, Dad, you haven’t changed a bit!’) He sang well, but he didn’t have any help at all from his costume or lighting effects. There were some bursts of flame, and this big, weirdly steampunk-ish hand came down from the ceiling and swept once across the stage, which we could barely see from our nosebleed seats. But it didn’t do it for me at all. This dark visitor from the grave is not supposed to be ‘a dude’. He’s supposed to be THE DUDE.
You can see how it’s done in the 1984 film Amadeus:
Not bad! The Dude is BIG. He has a great hat. He knocks down walls, and it gets better as the demons start appearing, and then the whole set comes crashing down. BRAVO!!!
Here’s another version I just found, also with THE DUDE. Come on, up your game, Royal Opera. I got the feeling maybe the designers had an impossible deadline or a sudden budget cut. Well done with the music, but I want to come back and see The Dude done properly! If I get time, I’d like to have a go at drawing a stage set for it, just to see how I’d do it. I bet Grayson Perry could do an awesome Don Giovanni set, I would so love to see that.
Edit: Just thought I’d tag this one, a lovely duet from Don Giovanni as it appears in one of my favourite films, Babette’s Feast. (I’m afraid you’ll have to overlook the shocking English dubbing over the Danish.)