I’m increasingly convinced that if my lovely husband accidentally woke up early more often he’d probably conquer the world. Or Warwickshire at the very least.
On Sunday he woke up around the time that Kitty crawled into our bed and started to enact a hitherto unexpressed desire to be a double bass player in a jazz band, using my hair and cheek for her dawn rehearsal, and earned yet more sleepy devotions of eternal gratitude when he took her off downstairs, leaving Elma and I tucked up to lie in until 7, when tiny miss made a most persistent request for some breakfast.
And it seems that in that time, as well as mounting a rather futile campaign to ensure that Kitty consumed more breakfast cereal than luminous playdoh, he had been hatching a plan. An exploring sort of a plan. The sort of plan that finishes “or we could just stay here and have a quiet day…” when you both know that you committed to the expedition ten minutes ago.
In short, we popped the chicken back into the fridge to finish defrosting, packed a small assortment of sun hats, wooly jumpers, suncream and other toddler and baby detritus and got on a train to London. Well, as H said, “why not?!”, and a couple of hours later, there we were:
The slightly more detailed version of the plan was that the Lichtenstein exhibition at the Tate Modern ends this week, so it was time to take a peek. And there are far worse places to be than the South Bank on a hazy Sunday afternoon, there’s the art for starters, but before you even get there, there are the buskers.
I heard The Sugar Sisters on Terry Wogan’s Sunday Radio 2 show a few weeks ago and loved their singing and their style; I’ve been playing their songs to the girls ever since so it made me incredibly happy to recognise both the ladies and their music as we rounded the corner. Elma, their biggest fan, was fast asleep at this point but Kitty’s face lit up and her feet just couldn’t keep from dancing – I don’t blame her.
I was shooting pictures on a continuous shutter to try to capture a high speed Kitty with the bubbles with some interesting results; this last photo is a bubble in the moment just after it was popped by a small finger (you can see another just popped bubble in one of the higher pictures). We always talk about getting the camera to record what the eyes are seeing, and how much more technically advanced the human eye is over even a nice swanky camera, but here it’s the reverse, the camera has recorded something the human eye sees but doesn’t register. I’ve seen hundreds of bubbles pop but I couldn’t have told you that’s what a popped bubble looks like until I’d seen the pictures. So what’s cleverer, my eye or my camera?
I have a feeling it’s a conundrum Lichtenstein might have enjoyed exploring. He seems to have liked to put everyday things under the microscope, albeit with his own touch of absurdity and whimsy; pictures of pictures, a painting of stylised brush strokes painted so carefully that not a stroke is visible or a mountain scene styled to look like an old Chinese master, but painted with his trademark grid dot format.
It’s instantly recognise able art when you see it in the wild, repeated in greetings cards and posters the world over, but as with most art, it’s so much better in the original. For one thing, these pieces are extravagantly huge; getting bigger and bigger as the decades rolled by. And when all the dots aren’t completely bamboozling your eyes you can see the imperfections that a little shrink and print smooth out. Not every circle makes it through the grid crisp and clear, and the consequent roughness adds a texture that might otherwise be lacking in what is really quite flat art.
He painted in a series of evolving themes, taking an idea and running with it until it was completely exhausted, in a method that will be remarkably familiar to anyone who every got hooked on a knitting jag, and the exhibition set the paintings and sculpture out to follow that evolution and a roughly chronological progress through Lichtenstein’s career. My favourites were from the beginning and the end; the black and white explorations of images, especially the Magnifying Glass from 1963, in which he pokes fun at his own dots, and Landscape in Fog from 1996, one in a series of rather successful meldings of old Chinese style silk painted landscapes and those dots, which has come home with me in the ever so slightly smaller postcard form to live on my inspiration board.
To add a little variety to our artistic diet we also headed over the river to the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House. Their main exhibition at the moment is a Picasso special, but although we duly looked at the assembled paintings I still just don’t get the appeal; they don’t resonate in my soul. Happily the standing collection in much more to our taste, the Degas paintings and sculptures are just so wonderfully gracefully; Kitty loved the figures of the dancers, “look Mama, Cinnerella so beautiful dancing!”, although I think she was chiefly impressed with the angels on the ceilings.
H and I could both have spent far longer than we had in a little room full of Seurat’s; another dot painter, although in a completely different style. either we’re more consistent than we realise, or there is just a universal appeal in dots of all shapes and sizes; I vote for the polka dots.
And of course, we couldn’t leave London without heading to the haven of beautiful things, more commonly known as Liberty’s. I love that shop just for its aura; perhaps years of being visited by effortlessly calm and stylish people whose outfits have been chosen for reasons other than being the last top in the drawer not covered in milk or Crayola has impregnated the wood panelling. That or there’s magic in the pink lemonade.
It turns out when H plans our days they turn out pretty perfect – I hereby designate him man in charge of all holiday planning, and who knows where we could end up next.