On Sunday, I had an art-date with myself at the National Portrait Gallery, specifically the Lucian Freud exhibit. I set out early on the path specified by the London Transport website which was, I'm sure, as accurate as it could be. Still, by the time I was making my way to the bus stop, I was a little confused about which side of the street to stand on. It was a brilliant clear day which made it hard for me to read the signs and the street was empty. Suddenly, out of the shadows, stepped an older man dressed in blue. His gray hair was long and smoothed down around his ears in what seemed like an old-fashioned debonair style. His eyes were blue and very kind. "May I help?"
He got me oriented; turns out he was waiting for the same bus. To make conversation, I said, "It's a beautiful day."
"Yes," he said, pursing his lips, "but it's just wrong. It shouldn't be like this at this time of the year. It's completely off."
I agreed, thinking of global warming, etc.
"All anyone thinks of is that it's a nice day," he continued. "I'm a gardener. I can read it in the gardens. The daffodils came up and withered under all this sun. In the right weather for this time of year, you can have a month or more of daffodils. No. In Augusta, for the Masters, they had no azaleas! They tried wrapping them and refrigerating them. No. They always have azaleas then. No." He shook his head grimly.
"And the water! Even with all the rains, we don't have enough."
"The earth can't soak it up?" I ventured.
"That's it. When the ground is dry the worms all go down to where the water is. You can tell there's enough water when the badgers start digging to get to the worms. And of course it's terrible for the birds too who are trying to raise their young and can't get any worms to feed them." He tsked.
I felt that this man loved the earth and was as connected to it as anyone I've ever known. Our bus arrived.
"So you like art?" he asked because I told him I was going to the National Portrait Gallery. He pointed out a small gallery as we passed it, then said, "Lucian Freud used to live right over there. Terrible gambler. Terrible. Used to see his brother Stephen down to the pub but not so much anymore.."
A brief pause as passengers boarded.
"Course he had the money to gamble, didn't he? He sold his paintings for millions. Now it's the footballers make all the money. No one needs all that money."
We approached his stop and he gave me a sly look. "I prefer the art in nature," he smiled.
Well, on that day, I preferred the art of Lucian Freud--a special exhibit at The National Portrait Gallery. Previously, all I knew was that he was a grandson of Sigmund Freud and that he made portraits. That's putting it mildly---his portraits are both incredibly realistic and deeply psychological. In some the paint is layered so thickly that the art approaches sculpture. In all, the variations of skin tone are acutely observed. They say he painted 7 days a week with several paintings going at once to accommodate the various sitters. He'd work on 'day' pictures in the morning and afternoon and then work on 'night' pictures after dark. The night pictures were illuminated by bright electric lights which made for dramatic shadows.
Many of the portraits are head and shoulders, but he also made many very large nudes, including one of an obese woman sleeping. That one holds the record for the highest price paid for a piece of art by a living artist. He was still working right up to his death at the age of 88 last year. The exhibit concluded with a nearly finished portrait of his assistant and dog.
Although he worked relentlessly, he somehow found time for 2 marriages followed by many, many affairs. He is said to have fathered up to 40 children although I think only 10 or so are acknowledged.
On the next evening, I accompanied Tracey Logan to her recital with the London Philharmonic Choir. I've been in a few choirs, including one large one at Michigan State which performed Handel's Messiah. This was MUCH MUCH more!
The rehearsal was with a guest conductor for the upcoming performance of Carmina Burana. If you know the piece, you know that there are some very dramatic choral surges. Amazing. And what was more amazing is that the group could pinpoint a spot in the score from a cold start and 3,2.1: LA! right on beat and in tune. Then flip forward 5 or more pages, pinpoint, 3,2,1: lo.... As I was the only 'audience' member, I felt the full force of it coming at me. Wow.
When I introduced myself to the music director, I mentioned that my great grandfather was Carl Nielsen, a famous Danish composer. Well---murmur, murmur, murmur---this news made its way around and I felt that I was suddenly afforded a level of respect certainly beyond what I deserve. Carl's youngest twin sons, Ivan and Thorvald, came to the U.S. sometime in the 30's. Thorvald is my father's father, but my father was adopted so I can't claim a real 'blood' relation although I was very proud of my name!
I'm feeling artistically nourished to my roots--just enough water and sun for this gal.