I feel incredibly honoured and delighted to have been appointed Writer in Residence at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham. The Barber has been described as one of the finest small galleries in Europe and, living in south Birmingham, I’m particularly fortunate to know it well. It houses works of a quality to match those in the National Gallery (where there is currently an exhibition of works acquired by the Barber in its early years) but on a scale which is much more human than in larger galleries. You can go close enough to examine the brush strokes and look portraits in the eye.
At the moment, the Barber is exhibiting, interspersed with its own paintings, portraits by, amongst others, Rembrandt and Goya, lent by the National Gallery. I think the intimacy of the Barber is absolutely the best mood in which to view these. I’ve never really got Rembrandt before, but the experience of looking into his mistress Hendrickje’s eyes is pure emotion; at first sight the portrait became one of my favourite paintings ever.
In the Lady Barber Gallery is an exhibition, called Defining Faces, of 20th century portrait drawings from the Barber and the National Portrait Gallery. I went to Undefined Faces, an event to celebrate this exhibition at which Roz Goddard read her wonderful poem inspired by Wyndham Lewis’s drawing of his wife Froanna, and Tom Jones drew elegant and accurate sketches of the audience. Tom’s drawing of me will become my image of myself for the residency.
I was fascinated by the huge variety of lines in the drawings and I tried to find words to describe them, which led to the poem below.
HER LINE HIS LINE
Doused in water, tentative, fretted, spreading from point to shadow, mechanical, dynamic, meshed, blue, stubby as a thumb, segmented, terracotta, fly by night, a boundary, unmodulated, line, industrial, approximate, sanguine, chalky, laid on thick, preliminary, exact, exaggerated, tight, humble, phantom, sartorial, furtive, flourishing
(Defining Faces 13/06/13)