77 Million Paintings (Brian Eno)

During the five years I lived in Wallsend I was looking for this, but could never find it. I finally found it after moving to Norton in July this year following my retirement. What is it, you ask?

Brian Eno is one of my heroes. He’s a creative, a musician, a thinker, an innovator, an artist, a music producer – someone with a finger in many pies, who always comes up with something new and meaningful.

What I was looking for was 77 Million Paintings (released in 2006) – a book, a digital art computer program and a DVD. It was an evolutionary work in Brian Eno’s exploration into light as an artist’s medium and the aesthetic possibilities of generative software. This piece utilises the computer’s unique capacity as a generating processor to produce original visual compounds out of a large quantity of hand-painted elements, along with similarly produced music. I’m pleased I finally found it.

The release consists of two discs, one containing the software that creates the randomised music and images that emulate a single screen of one of Eno’s video installation pieces. The other is a DVD containing interviews with the artist. The title is derived from the possible number of combinations of video and music which can be generated by the software, effectively ensuring that the same image/soundscape is never played twice. Wikipedia.

Aeolian Motion (Phil Johnson)

This morning I took Freddy with me to do some jobs in Stockton-on-Tees town centre, but we also had some fun and did some sightseeing. Freddy got soaking wet in the fountains and had to walk back to the car in wet shorts and bare feet, fortunately there were some spare clothes in the car. You can see the photos here.

We also had a walk along the riverside, passing a striking piece of constantly moving public art entitled Aeolian Motion (Phil Johnson). It was erected in March 2001 as part of a regeneration plan for the area and was inspired by the endless flow of the river and its rich history (see plaque below).

Remembering Ian Curtis

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Forty years ago (18 May 1980) Joy Division lyricist and singer Ian Curtis took his own life, a tortured star whose influence both at the time and since has been immense. Actor Sam Riley brilliantly portrays Curtis in Control, Anton Corbijn‘s 2007 film of the Joy Division singer’s life and suicide.

Although there have been those who have sought to glamorise his death as a rock and roll suicide, in reality it was a consequence of his lack of control over many aspects of his personal life. The debilitating effects of epilepsy, the deception of having an affair, the almost inevitable breakdown of his marriage, and the prospect of separation from his year-old baby daughter. As he sang, “All the failures of the modern man”.

The classic and influential album Unknown Pleasures (released in 1979) revealed a profoundly dark poet and a starkly grim realist, a very different voice in music at the time, one who added deep insight and intelligence to the post-punk movement.

The clues were there though. In the track Shadowplay, Ian Curtis sings, “In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more…” and in New Dawn Fades, there’s one in the very title as well as the words, “The strain is too much, can’t take much more”.

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Once the truly shocking news broke that Ian Curtis had taken his own life, there came the full realisation that his writhing and twisted dancing on stage wasn’t simply performance art, he was genuinely wrestling with his emotional and physical demons, as well as reflecting how hopeless, meaningless and inhuman he felt our world had become.

Tragic as any death is, we’re often drawn to those in public life who take their own lives, and there are many examples. Listening to the album Closer (released soon after his death) was uncanny and slightly unnerving, a feeling that persists even now.

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So this is permanence, love’s shattered pride
What once was innocence turned on it’s side
A cloud hangs over me, marks every move
Deep in the memory of what once was love

Oh, how I realized I wanted time
Put into perspective, tried so hard to find
Just for one moment I thought I’d got my way
Destiny unfolded, watched it slip away

Excessive flash points beyond all reach
Solitary demands for all I’d like to keep
Let’s take a ride out, see what we can find
Valueless collection of hopes and past desires

I never realized the lengths I’d have to go
All the darkest corners of a sense I didn’t know
Just for one moment, hearing someone call
Looked beyond the day in hand, there’s nothing there at all

Now that I’ve realized how it’s all gone wrong
Got to find some therapy, treatment takes too long
Deep in the heart of where sympathy held sway
Got to find my destiny before it gets too late

Twenty Four Hours (from Closer)

I remember a survey from a few years back revealing that more people take their own lives in May than in any other month. Apparently, “the juxtaposition between a literally blooming world and the barren inner life of the clinically depressed is often too much for them to bear”.

We remember Ian Curtis because of his musical influence and legacy, but there’s also many thousands of young men who take their own lives each year, and I particularly remember one whose funeral I conducted a few years ago. A reminder to do all we can to reduce the stigma of mental illness in society, and to support those who are suffering. On this tragic anniversary, a fitting way to remember Ian Curtis.

See also: Transmission (Joy Division)

Supper at Emmaus (Caravaggio)

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I’ve recently posted about the National Gallery in London and described some of the paintings there as old friends. Here’s another favourite, one that’s appropriate for the days just after Easter. The Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio.

Painting Description: On the third day after the Crucifixion, two of Jesus’s disciples were walking to Emmaus when they met the resurrected Christ. They failed to recognise him, but that evening at supper he ‘… took bread, and blessed it, and brake and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight’. Luke 24:30-31

Painted at the height of Caravaggio’s fame, this is among his most impressive domestic religious pictures. He brilliantly captures the dramatic climax of the story, the moment when the disciples suddenly see what has been in front of them all along. Their actions convey their astonishment: one is about to leap out of his chair while the other throws out his arms in a gesture of disbelief. The stark lighting underlines the dramatic intensity of the scene.

Typically for Caravaggio, he has shown the disciples as ordinary working men, with bearded, lined faces and ragged clothes, in contrast to the youthful beardless Christ, who seems to have come from a different world.

Don’t give up (Helen Austin)

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My online friend Helen Austin (who has previously contributed a guest post) wrote this three years ago. I share it here (with permission). Artwork by another online friend Adam Howie, a piece he chose especially for Helen’s words.

Don’t give up on people.
People are complicated.
Complex.
Don’t give up on them.

We are complicated and complex.
Don’t give up on us.

We are all broken.
Broken people.
But there is hope.
Life doesn’t have to stay broken.
It can heal.
Move forwards.
Be different.

It will never be the same again. As it was before we broke.
But it can be beautiful again.
It really can.
Beautiful in its brokenness.

Don’t give up. On people. On us.
On you.
Don’t give up on yourself.
You belong here.
You are loved.
You are being thought of right now.

Don’t give up.

The Fighting Temeraire (Turner)

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It’s not often I travel to London these days, and I can’t actually remember the last time I visited. One of my favourite places in London is the National Gallery, where many of the paintings on display feel like old friends. The Fighting Temeraire by Joseph Mallord William Turner is one of those old friends, a familiar point of reference amongst the myriad of paintings.

Turner’s painting shows the final journey of the Temeraire, as the ship is towed from Sheerness in Kent along the river Thames to Rotherhithe in south-east London, where it was to be scrapped. The veteran warship had played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, but by 1838 was over 40 years old and had been sold off by the Admiralty.

Not only am I currently separated from London by distance and circumstances, the gallery is also closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, it’s still possible to view the collection online, read detailed descriptions of the paintings, watch informative videos and have a virtual tour.

See also: Supper at Emmaus (Caravaggio)

Transfiguration (Malcolm Guite)

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In worship this morning at Wallsend Salvation Army we considered the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-9. I used an audio daily devotional from Our Daily Bread entitled Live Wire and the following poem by Malcolm Guite.

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.

There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face

And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.

Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

I discovered the poetry and prose of Malcolm Guite a few years ago and I turn to these regularly for private devotions and public worship. Click on the painting by Lewis Bowman for more information.

Slaying Imaginary Dragons

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It seems to me there’s an element in the English psyche that needs an enemy to fight, a dragon for St George (a foreigner by the way) to slay; an element that harks back to the Second World War and an imagined golden age. In the absence of a current aggressor, that role has been taken for many years by the European Union, which the United Kingdom voted to leave in 2016 by a narrow majority in a divisive referendum.

The benefits of EU membership have never really been promoted, and often lies about the EU have been perpetuated that have established themselves in our national identity. For decades politicians have also been content to blame their failures on the EU because it’s been politically expedient for them to do so.

We dubiously lift ourselves up by putting others down, insulting the Germans (for example), and hating others rather than working together for the common good, even if we hurt ourselves in the process. The latter is especially so in the possible no-deal Brexit scenario, as this would have catastrophic consequences for the UK.

For some who voted Brexit, the ‘enemy’ is now those who voted to remain in the EU, often referred to as ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies of the people’. This attitude is unhelpful and dangerous as it opens the way for far-right extremists to gain influence and power, history reminding us this never ends well.

Somehow, our nation needs to unite and find the best way forward, but I’m not sure how this can happen, and I’m concerned about the country I love.