Thursday, March 17, 2005

Infernal London

Last night, we saw John Virtue's monochromatic paintings of London at the National Gallery. I had never heard of Virtue before, but I soon discovered that he is a remarkable artist who paints entirely in black and white on giant canvases, one of which stretches across seven metres.

His epic paintings of London are bleak and brooding battles between light and shadow: the darkened buildings of St Paul's, the Gherkin and others slowly emerge from blackened skies and the tumultuous Thames in a manner that recalls the tradition of such European landscape painters as Turner, Constable, Rubens and others.

Tutored by Frank Auerbach at the Slade, Virtue produced abstract explorations of the isolated wilds of Exmoor and the Pennine uplands, prior to moving to London to take up his post as the sixth National Gallery Associate Artist. But he treats London in a similar way: his London cityscapes are void of people and the elemental worlds of water and sky dominate. In fact, it is only when you move closer to the canvas that the outline of the city's buildings reveal themselves in subtle revelations.

"I have no interest in recording a rhetorical history of London," Virtue has said. "Really I'm interested in making exciting abstractions from what I perceive. So in a sense I'm not a Londoner painting London out of any roots or any kind of affection -- I'm an accidental tourist."

Afterwards we went to the excellent Indian version of Wagamama, Masala Zone off Carnaby Street for nimbu pani (spiced, freshly-squeezed lemonade) and Cobra beer (brewed in Poland), plus a delicious lamb thali and a Malabar seafood bowl with rice noodles. Always a great place to eat Indian food.

Related links:

+ "This is London in all its rain-sodden, beery-eyed, nervy exhilaration", Simon Schama on John Virtue in The Guardian

+ It's curry, but not as we know it. "New wave Indian restaurateurs are eschewing the traditional image of chicken tikka, lager and flock wallpaper in favour of stylish interiors and posh cuisine. But one thing never changes - wherever you eat your curry, you can be sure they've got nothing like it in downtown Bombay." The Observer Food Monthly on the "new wave" of Indian cooking in Britain.

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