I’ve been enjoying Professor Amanda Vickery’s BBC series ‘The Story of Women in Art‘ this week. It’s sobering to see how much important art by women is hung in dusty, unsung corners, or stored in vaults beneath Florence. It makes you see how reputations can have little to do with quality, and everything to do with other agendas.
This is a sculpture of Joseph with Potiphar’s wife by Properzia de’ Rossi, the Italian Renaissance sculptor Vickery brilliantly describes as having ‘damned herself into stone’, by showing too much knowledge of the muscles of the male body.
If you’ve been watching the show and are in London, I’d recommend a lovely exhibition by Annie Kevans called ‘Women in the History of Art’ as an accompaniment. Vickery talks about how few self-portraits of women artists hang in galleries, and these portraits of women such as Sofonisba Anguissola and Gwen John seem to redress the balance and make them visible again – they are oils on paper applied so delicately that they almost look like watercolours, and yet the women have confidence and grace. (I see Kevans has also done an exhibition called ‘Boys’, showing dictators like Mao, Franco and Idi Amin as tiny children, which looks equally brilliant).
I saw this as part of a little crawl round free exhibitions in the centre of town yesterday. So many of the big name shows have got crazily expensive (£18 for Matisse!) but Gruff and I like pottering around looking at pictures. We also went to see our friend Mishka Henner’s amazing show ‘Black Diamonds’ at the Carroll Fletcher, which has photos of oil fields and feedlots taken from above – they look like abstract art, and are a breathtaking display of the way large corporations are literally changing the face of the earth. And then over to the Photographer’s Gallery for the Deutsche Borse Prize and a fascinating exhibition of John Deakin’s photos of boozy Soho in the 1950s. There are plenty of poets there: Elizabeth Smart and George Barker, WS Merwin and Dylan Thomas, his face blankly boyish and ballooning with booze.
It’s Dylan Thomas ‘season’ on the BBC at the moment of course, marking the 100th anniversary of his birth. His reputation seemed to sink in recent years, but someone somewhere seems to have decided he’s Important again. I’m very pleased to be in a documentary about him by Owen Sheers – ‘Dylan Thomas: a Poet’s Guide’ – which will be on BBC4 on June 1st. It’s a very stylish documentary that looks at the poems themselves, and features other poets such as Jo Shapcott, Simon Armitage and Paul Muldoon. Dylan Thomas was a big influence on me as a teenager – all those big, juicy mouthfuls of sound and that angst about Life, Death and bodily fluids – and I’ve really enjoyed re-immersing myself in his work. If his excess has had some mark him down as embarrassing, it’s also what makes a handful of his poems truly great, and the rest at least delightfully daft.
Other poetry updates, while I’m here. I’ve reviewed debuts by Dai George, Amy Key, Malika Booker and Helen Tookey in the Summer Poetry London, and I’m pleased to announce I’ll be on the judging panel for the 2014 Manchester Poetry Prize , with its huge £10,000 prize for a short portfolio of poems. Also, for those of you who are still looking for a summer holiday, may I suggest an Arvon Starting to Write course in Devon this August? I’ll be teaching with Kei Miller and the guest is Warsan Shire.