Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Long View - reflected

On Tuesday night I was lucky enough to attend a lecture at the Geological Society by Chris Orr, called "The Long View - reflected"

Chris is an artist who specialises in creating turbulent visions of cities, with drawingy / paintingy pictures brimful of details that expose themselves as fascinating tales.

As a Londoner, Chris has very strong views about the importance of the River Thames and, indeed, any river, in the definition of the character and nature of a city.

The work that gives the name to his talk is based on the ancient and famous painting above, The Long View of London from Bankside by Wenceslaus Hollar. Purely by chance, Chris found himself in a venue where the view was very similar to that of Hollar's painting. He attempted to create a modern overlay of today's London on top of Hollar's picture, but it simply didn't work, too much had changed and it was impossible to work out what was going on, so he revisited the work purely as a current representation of the view from that point.

Chris's work spans many styles, from the sleekly natural through bold monochrome "graphic" through Giles-like cartoons to chaotic, almost cubist representations. One of the key aspects of his work is that he prefers to make prints of his paintings and generally sells to people who he either knows or comes to know. His passion for making prints was particularly striking and his description of the difference between making the original painting and making the prints was a bit of a revelation for this uncultured lout, who had always assumed that the business of print-making was about maximising profit.

His talk, focusing on the importance of and history of the Thames in defining London's very existence and nature was unusual in that it didn't focus on individual pictures, but rather tumbled, very much like a river, over an ever changing backdrop of pictures both by himself and by others, of London and of the Thames in London.

His thoughts on how London almost used to be ashamed of the Thames, how it used to be hidden from almost everyone unless you were crossing a bridge; how pollution and smog conspired to make it unattractive; and how, since it had been cleaned up, it has opened up and become an attraction was thought-provoking.

Chris is convinced (and makes a pretty compelling case for his conviction!) that cities with rivers through them tend to be better at making the connections that make cities such important and interesting places and providing a better definition of the city, a more engaging environment for people to live.

Although this appeared to be a one-off talk at this venue, I'm fairly sure the talk, or parts of it, will be repeated and it's well worth the chance to hear Chris speak.

There is a much better discussion of the talk here.

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