I was back in London today, this time for my aunt's lunchtime cello concert. A couple of trips ago it took so long to get out of Colchester's north station car park that, hemmed in by vast SUVs on all sides, I lost track of how far round the roundabout I'd gone and in the dark turned off earlier than I meant to, so last time I tried going from Wivenhoe. There is only one London train per hour after the rush hour, with the 10.23 being the earliest service I can use my Network card on. The 11.23 would have been cutting it rather fine for a 1.05 concert, even one in the City, so the 10.23 it was.
The concert was in St Mary-at-Hill off Eastcheap, and looking at the map to see what else was around there I'd spotted Saint Margaret Pattens in nearby Rood Lane. I always enjoy nosing around churches, and I'd never visited St Margaret Pattens. Rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire and pretty much undamaged by the Blitz, I read that it had the only conventional spire of any church by Wren and the interior included some seventeenth century canopied pews. Those had to be worth half an hour of anybody's time.
I didn't take much notice of the other visitors as I pondered the painting over the altar and wondered where the stairs led to, until one tall, thin figure wavering between two pews caught my attention and I realised it was my uncle. His eyesight is not up to much nowadays, and it took him a moment to realise that it was me. I discovered that somehow, as my aunt wrestled to get her cello case, stool, music and other paraphernalia through the barriers on the tube, he had become separated from her. And that, having been taking his lead from her up to that point, he was not sure precisely which church the concert was happening in. St Mary-at-Hill is only just across Eastcheap and around the corner from Saint Margaret Pattens, so I led him there, thankful that Eastcheap didn't have more traffic as it took him a while to cross the road, partly because by now he can't see where he is putting his feet. My aunt was mightily relieved at his appearance, explaining that she had lost him. I explained that I had found him again. It was really very odd and I wouldn't have believed it as a plot device in a film.
The programme was Beethoven and Rubbra. I think it was the same Beethoven sonata that Sebastian Comberti played at Boxford, but am not utterly sure since I don't have a great memory for classical music unless I've got a recording and have listened to it a lot. The Rubbra I didn't know at all, though I think I could get into it with sufficient listening. My uncle is jolly keen on Rubbra who was his tutor at Oxford.
St Mary-at-Hill is enormous inside, much bigger than you would expect from the size of Lovat Lane. It too made it almost intact through the Blitz before being allowed to partially burn down in 1988, so the handsome domed ceiling is actually a late twentieth century reconstruction. A gigantic organ takes up a large part of the west wall. The pews have all been stripped out and replaced with orange chairs, which makes the space multi-functional but according to my aunt gives a similar acoustic to playing in a railway station.
After the Rubbra and once my aunt had packed up her kit and I had managed to shoehorn a box of eggs into the bag with her music stand and her mat, we went for a coffee with a friend of theirs who was some sort of many times removed cousin of my aunt, and then I went to the Tate to see their exhibition of Wilfredo Lam. Wilfredo Lam was a Cuban surrealist (or at least a Cuban artist. The jury is out as to whether he was really a surrealist). I had never heard of him until the Tate released details of this year's exhibitions, but if you asked most people to name any Cuban artists, Surrealist or otherwise, you would end up with a pretty short list.
His father was Chinese, his mother of African and Spanish descent, and they were both supportive of his ambition to be an artist, so he was able to study in Spain for several years and then moved to Paris where he was taken under the wing of Picasso. He married but his wife and first child both died young. He was caught up in Vichy France and spent months waiting to get a boat out. He returned to Cuba, then in the 1950s returned to Europe, considering himself a citizen of the world. There are photographs of him scattered through the exhibition, and a five minute short film about him at the end that interposes archive film with interviews with his son, and he seems to have been a popular figure in the art world, tall, good looking and energetic.
The gallery notes say that as a young artist he greatly admired Goya, and started off wanting to be a portrait painter. The earliest works are highly figurative, skillfully done. A still life of fruit and flowers on a table and a brown tinted view of houses on a hillside to me showed the influence of Cezanne. Then he fell under the spell of Matisse. That is not my opinion but the considered view of the Tate curator. I liked his Matisse blue view from a window, which was a pretty convincing Matisse apart from the fact that it was the work of a Cuban Chinese-Spanish-African. Then he fell under the spell of Picasso, and never really got out from under it. He had a brief and perfectly credible stint as an Abstract Expressionist, but returned to the strange, angular, horse-headed, hoof-footed, multi-breasted dream creatures of his post-Guernica Picasso stage, though Wilfredo Lam's dream creatures are curiously nonthreatening, with added shades of Miro. In fact, I am not sure what they are saying, except that life is strange and amusing and not dangerous.
I liked all of it. He was good at what he did. The single thing I liked the most was actually a tiny drawing, more of a comic sketch, of an elaborate dog with a small cat standing on its back, the cat's back drawn up into an arch. And next to it the elaborate doodle of a turtle with a series of smaller creatures stacked on top of it, the smallest and topmost one of which is brandishing a cocktail glass if you look closely. Alas, the shop didn't have postcards of them, just as they never have reproductions of the picture you liked the best. The only trouble was that it felt as I went round that the things he was doing well had already been done, by and large.
The exhibition was not very crowded. Most people don't seem to want to go and see a Cuban Surrealist they have not heard of. Come to that, none of the three friends I tried the idea on wanted to come with me, even with the lure of free entry using the Tate member plus guest card. It is on until the 8th of January, if you want to go and see for yourself.