Congratulations to Watlington Artweeks for a fabulous 2021 event. How lucky the town is to have such a festival of art. The sheer amount of effort and organisation is remarkable. The skill and craft levels of the art are exceptional; there was imagination and decorative ideas wherever you looked. A starry, starry portrait in the High Street was perhaps a high point for me. The event took place throughout the town. St Leonard’s parish church was one focus. Was there anything missing? Well, we live in eventful times. I did miss a sense of enquiry and comment. I look at local children being shown round, many of whom will be priced out of living here when they grow up. I thought of various concerns: the town’s thundering lorry traffic, that rattles everyone’s back teeth. The destruction of the green belt. The 1% pay raise for nurses. The potholes, down which several artists are still missing. The rural over-development. 3000 new homes on the Oxford plain. The ‘concrete councillors’ getting their way. The pandemic. Ye olde brexit, that is now so ‘done’ it no longer warrants a capital letter. The vaccine delivery triumph. Is this - are these - not the stuff of art, as well as vases of petunias? Where is the unease for our current plight? Adjacent to the church, on the nearby green, the ride-on mower scythes through the buttercups, skin-heading the grass to within an inch of its life. If gentle wildflowers can’t flourish by a churchyard, what does that say about us? For the Artweeks Team then, a spectacular success. For 2022, more of the same, please. And, from the artists, even more effort with perhaps with some added muscularity.
Walk across Trafalgar Square in the spring sunshine of 17 April 2021. Pass by Heather Phillipson’s eye-catching giant sculpture, The End, a delicious swirl of whipped cream, cherry, fly and drone, and on to the RBA annual exhibition. In those few hundred yards you experience the full spectrum of contemporary British artistic endeavour, from ‘4th-plinth-ism’ to the equally finely crafted ‘framed’ work in the Mall Galleries. Behind the excellent portraits, landscapes, and still life paintings, the influences can be detected - or imagined - Lucian Freud, Stanley Spencer, the Dutch masters. Great credit to the RBA for promoting such skill and dedication. One quibble, and not the RBA’s fault. Uniformly, the prices are too low. This quality of work deserves more. Artists, you devalue yourselves.
Author, author, I hear you cry. Well, here goes. I come from haunts of coot and hern, I make a sudden sally… Hang on that’s not me, that’s Tennyson. Oops! Wrong copy, sorree. I’m James Kelso – and, actually, do you know what, I feel a tad awkward writing this sort of self-puffery. So, if it’s okay with you, can we leave it there? Thank you. I knew you’d understand. Browse on, McDuff.