Friday, 14 June 2013

Smoke and mist and Judith Rooze

This comes from Glyn Maxwell's recent (and excellent) On Poetry (London: Oberon Books, 2012)

There are poems of mist and poems of smoke.

By mist I mean something natural; that thins or parts or deepens further, something through which a shifting truth is glimpsed with joy, understanding - or spotted with fear. Mist: breathable, water going  by in a cloak.

By smoke I mean man-made smoke, complex molecules conjured for reasons obscure, yet emanating from single, explicable source. Clever to make, not clever to breathe. When you've blown it all away you're looking at a shell. By the time you get what it is you can't use it any more.

Roam the wide savannahs of the Tate Modern, breathe what's mist, smell what's smoke.

That's good, isn't it? Mist and smoke. The last-minute digression into modern art is unexpected but usefully implies that the smoke/mist analogy can and should extend beyond poetry to all arts. I think he's right, and have been mentally allocating writers and artists to each category.

Damien Hirst's work - to settle on a lazy example - seems to me to be not just smoke but a choking smog. His art (which was at one time excitingly zeitgeisty) has degenerated into humdrum production-line tat - devoid of wit, skill, invention or interest - and functions as nothing more than an investment opportunity for ugly oligarchs. Such works may have a high value (although even that seems to have peaked) but little or no worth.

On the other hand, a young artist I bumped into at the Slade MA graduate show last week struck me as the real deal and (this is no exaggeration) a Hockney-in-waiting - a painter who knows how to paint, who has confidence and skill and colour-sense and an expanding, generous, quick-witted imagination. She's making discoveries and (I hope) lots of mistakes. Her work has the qualities of mist cited by Glyn Maxwell, and it's refreshingly breathable - images of cyclists and heads of Zeus, shagpile coats, blinged-up Doric columns and a spectral hand groping a big bum (below). She comes from Ghent, her name is Judith Rooze and she is, I think, a talent to watch.

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