Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Liverpool Cityscape

I've been in Liverpool this week and managed to squeeze in a trip to the Walker Art Gallery.  I think my favourite painting in their collection is Simone Martini's Christ Discovered in the Temple (reminiscent of the attitude my son assumes when he's done something wrong), but there are some great landscape paintings too.  In Poussin's Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion (1648), for example, with its contrast between the serene classical architecture and the wild rock formation towering above, you can almost hear the wind blowing menacingly through the trees.  Much wilder still is John Martin's The Last Man, a rendering of Thomas Campbell's apocalyptic poem, and there is a dramatic view of The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel (c. 1824) by Louis Daguerre, painter of dioramas, inventor of the daguerrotype.  However, for me the most striking landscape painting in the museum (and you really have to see it rather than peer at a jpeg) is this:

J.M.W. Turner, Landscape, c1845

Leaving the permanent collection, I came to an exhibition celebrating the John Moores Painting Prize.  In 2006 this was awarded to Martin Greenland for Before Vermeer's Clouds.  The painting uses the sky from Vermeer's A View of Delft and according to the artist's statement, it was originally to be titled 'A Vision of Heaven', designed to have 'the same appearance of stability and unhurried peace as Vermeer’s, and incorporate as many elements of the stable or perpetual as could be organised.'  It's quite a risky strategy, as the borrowed sky and 'perpetual' landscape elements could seem nothing more than dull pastiche.  You can see other examples of Greenland's imagined landscapes on his website.

Last year, during Liverpool's turn as European City of Culture, the artist Ben Johnson was in residence at the Walker completing his Liverpool Cityscape.  Seeing it up close this week, I thought it quite strange to be described as a "celebration" of Liverpool (as in the video clip below), because it shows an lifeless city, emptied of people and traffic.  The background is painted with the naturalistic realism you would expect in a panorama, but the foreground buildings resemble a computer generated architectural model with their dimensions oddly distorted.  Everything is pristine and well lit and the dominant colour is the dead beige of recent urban regeneration.  Still, according to the Liverpool Echo, 'Ben Johnson's painstaking and wondrous Liverpool cityscape – the distillation of team work referencing 3,000 photographs and occupying 24,000 man hours – is the definitive visual statement of our 2008 renaissance.'

No comments: