Sunday, April 27, 2014


I neglected one Sunday's blogging but this past week has been very generous with gifts that I can share here. 

I decided to give my working hand a rest - it had been screaming RSI (repetitive strain injury) at me -  and what could be more therapeutic and relevant to me than Matisse's cut-outs? On my way to Tate Modern via the tube, I noticed a shoulder bag on an empty seat. Other passengers noticed it too but nobody did anything about it and a man absorbed in reading his newspaper almost sat on the bag, not bothering to move it. I had resolved to hand it in to Underground staff and when an empty seat next to it came up, I quickly put the bag on my lap, simultaneously saying loud and clear: "Somebody left this behind and it should be handed in." I must admit I was curious to know its contents and since nobody was paying any attention to me, I unzipped some of the bag's pockets. In one there was a handful of coasters from a pub and in the main compartment, a sophisticated video camera with various state-of-the art attachments. Did temptation whisper "Finders keepers"? Yes, it most certainly did, but since I already have a camcorder (though nothing like as posh) it took me less than twenty seconds to opt in favour of honesty. When I got off at Blackfriars station, I immediately gave the bag to an inspector standing by the turnstiles and the thoroughness of his questions suddenly made me aware that this wasn't just lost property but, possibly, a dangerous, even lethal object. It says something about our sense of security that I hadn't considered this before and neither, apparently, did any of my fellow passengers.

Feeling virtuous and relieved, off I went to my rendez-vous with Matisse via the Millenium Bridge. I hate the egocentric protuberances (especially the Shard, not shown in this photo) aggressively pushing themselves above the old London skyline but under a sky like this, I temporarily forgave them.

Below: looking back towards St.Paul while crossing the bridge towards Tate Modern on the opposite bank.

This recently opened exhibition is one I've been looking forward to. I love Matisse, not so much for his paintings but for his line drawings and cut-outs, especially JAZZ, a chef d'oeuvre in the livre d'artiste genre and very well represented in this beautifully designed show. Brief film clips are included: Matisse wielding big tailor's scissors into the yielding, fragile body of hand-coloured paper, showing him at his most child-like yet confidently masterful, having found what he called his "second life" in old age despite serious illness. Those who assert that creative innovation only happens to the young haven't looked at Matisse's end-of-life cut-outs: proof of the agelessness of creativity, if proof is needed.

My translation of this page and the next one (not shown):
To arrive = Prison, and the artist must never be prisoner. Prisoner? An artist must never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of a success, etc. Didn't the Goncourts write that Japanese artists of the great period used to change their names several times during their lives. I like this: they wanted to safeguard their liberty.

Whilst looking at the pages of Matisse's hand-written text which accompanies the cut-outs in JAZZ I quickly snapped the photo below.The shadow of my own hand makes me feel that we are somehow communicating.

Last week gifted me with another experience of harmonious communication. Tom Kempton, the man behind the blog Gwynt - an uncompromisingly honest and consistent personal search for profound spiritual truth - was briefly in London and came to visit me. Tom is married to Lucy, of the brilliant Box Elder, but one of them has to stay home in Brittany to look after ailing Molly, their beloved dog, so I'm hoping to meet the real life Lucy on another occasion.

People who can talk about their inner life without being either egotistical or boring, and who can also listen attentively, are few and far between, at least in my experience. Tom is one of those rare people and so the time passed very quickly in meaningful conversation. 


Rouchswalwe said...

Oh! Here's to "harmonious communication" and wonderful people ... Prost!

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Rouchswalve, many thanks for the toast and for visiting me here in my online home -you are very welcome!

Catalyst said...

You are to be commended for getting a photo of the reclusive Tom. Nice guy. Nice photo. You too.

marja-leena said...

Natalie, I'm so thrilled to revisit the views of the Tate and St. Paul's and especially your home! And to see Tom there!

Hope your hand is recovering well.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Bruce, yes, I wanted to capture proof that the reclusive Tom exists in the real world, as well as in Gwynt, and that he actually was in my own real/unreal home.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Marja-Leena, thanks - my hand is improving but I have to try and avoid a specific tiny movement between thumb and index which provokes the RSI.
I think I also have a photo of you sitting at my table with the books behind you...when was that?

Tom said...

This post (and the accompanying comments) are so lovely.

marja-leena said...

Natalie, our wondrous and memorable UK trip was in 2009. I remember clearly our time together in your apartment, looking at your work and your studio, and meeting other blogger friends in the pub around the corner.

Beth said...

As I just wrote to Tom, I'm so happy that you two met up and don't doubt for a moment that it was an afternoon full of communion, even more than communication, and therefore something one touches gently with words, if at all. How fortunate we are to have made these connections! (And I really like your photos too.) Now to Matisse: I saw a big retrospective of his work at MoMa back in the late 80s or early 90s. It was chronological, and I went from room to room, moved and inspired and delighted. But when I got to the final room, a large airy space filled with his cut-outs, I actually burst into tears, it was so full of joy and liberation.

Beth said...

p.s. I hope your hand feels better soon!

Roderick Robinson said...

The Kemptons work in relays. A week or so previously Lucy had flitted over to the UK for Joe Hyam's funeral and we'd met her there in Tunbridge Wells. She returns to Brittany and Tom hops over to London to meet you. Mol remains.

Gradually, even those who take an austere view about exposing themselves as blog images tend to crack. What had at first seemed like vanity becomes a natural progression; publishing a selfie is only one step on from revealing one's name and providing a profile. When I decided to go the whole hog and incorporate my face in Tone Deaf's home-page I chose a photo where an open mouth ensured a sackless expression. Nobody, I told myself, could accuse me of vanity looking like that. The fact is, no one cares.

But there is another benefit to such portraits and it is manifest in this post. Since I have already seen photographs of both of you (I've actually met Tom in person) there is something extra to be gained from seeing you together. The juxtaposition is not casual since you are both established in a theoretical way through what you write. The two-up photo realises the potential of any known person meeting any other known person. Briefly propinquity turns two people into more than the sum of two parts. X knows Y, X has spoken to Y - those statements seem to mean more than X and Y standing apart and alone.

A painter can achieve this without X and Y meeting; someone equipped with Photoshop can do it with far less skill. The end-product is, of course, a fiction but it may not end there. For some it may seem like the truth; at the very least it may seem like a truth that might happen.

I apologise for this piggy-back ride. But who knows; the photo was taken perhaps as a memento. But even mementos have a rationale.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Beth, my friend, meeting someone first through deeply personal reflections expressed via a public medium like a blog and then - maybe after a long time of interacting via this medium - meeting them in real life, on one's own ground, is a whole new form of communication and relationship which the internet has made possible. Such real-life meetings could be disappointing, disillusioning, so I'm very grateful for the few deep and lasting friendships which entered my life in this way, like you and Jonathan.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, that mirror and my camera have recorded a few other instances of meeting some individuals previously known only via the blogging life - my face and theirs framed for a moment in the same space and time. I agree that there is something special about such juxtaposition. For me it's both memento and evidence, although something as intangible as real communication can't be pinned down by a photograph.

As for your face on Tone Deaf, why not alternate it with others of you, current or past? I don't think it's vain to let others see how what we say fits with how we look. The decision to blog is already an agreement to go public so 'selfies' (whether taken by self or others) are part of the process.

Ellena said...

I read your post and now that I have also read all the comments, I don't know what else to say but
to let you know that I never doubted that you Natalie or Tom were real and I am very happy that you have met and enjoyed each other's company, you fortunate 'chosen' ones.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hello Ellena, I'm very glad you are real and it's always a pleasure to see you here. Maybe one day you'll be in London too and can join me in the mirror?

Adam said...

Hi Natalie, I was thrilled by your little adventure on the Tube, very envious of your walk among all these grand buildings and of course very envious indeed of your Matisse experience. Funnily enough, I have just started re-reading his biography.

Your meeting with Tom sounds lovely.

Very best wishes to you.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hi Adam, good to see you here again. I was tempted to buy Mantel's voluminous Matisse biography but decided against it - I'm sure it's fascinating but I prefer to see him only through his work. In a way, an artist is like an actor and the work we create as painters or writers etc. is like playing a role - or many different roles. So the facts of our "real" day-to-day life are not necessarily relevant to the work itself, even if they feed into it.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

Hello Natalie. I've been a stranger to your blog for too long. Life takes us on some unexpected journeys, and mine over the past year have have required a lot of concentration to negotiate safely. I've just about managed to keep my own blog going, and my own work, but I haven't been the visitor to the blogs of friends that I once was. Last year I was on the move so much, with The Soldier's Tale and then The Mare's Tale, and the things that happened thereafter… a complete breakdown in the relationship with the person I'd been working closely with for a year being the most significant and damaging… made me not want to express what was going on in my private life on a public platform. I nearly quit the Artlog, but then thought that I'd regret it later if I allowed someone else's negativity to eat into every aspect of my world, and so I continued. But it felt like a double-life, dealing with bad things on the one hand, while keeping up appearances on the other.

Anyway, all that stuff has just about been resolved, and here I am, bobbing back up at your site to say hello again. Great to see your new work, and to know that in a changing world you are as committed and indefatigable as ever. The book is looking magnificent. Loved the story of the bag left on the seat, and wondered whether there would be any feedback from that story by way of an appreciative owner. One might hope so. And the Matisse exhibition… well, that hit all the rich spots for me, as you might imagine. Peter and I get away to see so little these days, since he has been working in Cardiff and spends weekdays there. Getting used to the new job and having to catch up at weekends has made time for trips away something that we struggle to find. So it was wonderful to get a little virtual trip to the Tate to catch a glimpse of the Matisse, and it made me resolve to try and get there, even if it's just for a day. (Difficult from our corner of West Wales.)

I'm in danger of rambling, so I'll stop. But it's good to have dropped by and to have seen life through your eyes for a while. You are always an inspirational blog-read!

Very best
C x

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Clive, thanks so much for coming over and you're not rambling at all - I welcome your presence here. I do keep up regularly with what's happening on your Artlog but haven't been commenting - just too taken up with work on the book.

Sorry you've had difficult times to deal with in the past year but your creativity and strong, positive spirit seem able to cope eventually with anything fate throws at you. Still, it's not easy and I sympathise.

No, I never heard anything from the person whose bag I handed in, even Underground employee.Oh well, good deed still good deed.

Looking forward to hearing more from you.