I do love the feel of old country houses yet I am a proletarian from the servant classes. (My mother went into “domestic service” as a scullery maid at the age of 12). I do love the notion of angels, yet I am an atheist educated at a church school. Yesterday, the poet’s loyal and loving mate Jill ordered me to a grand estate to view an exhibition of angels. The venue was Mottisfont Abbey which is owned by the National Trust. The grounds are beautiful, blessed with the River Test and pure clear chalk streams darted with trout and fished by herons. The house itself dates back to medieval times and the Augustinian monks. In those days pilgrims flocked to see the forefinger of John the Baptist. In the 1930’s it was a centre for sparkling entertainment, wit, philosophy and power when Mr and Mrs Gilbert Russell hosted artists and even the Churchills.
OK – enough of the guide book stuff. The exhibition of angels drew me there and I was not disappointed. The theme was inspired by a rather famous mosaic on the front wall of the house. It was created by a guy called Boris Anrep who seems to have been larger than about 100 lives. He was a poet, soldier, ambassador, Wimbledon tennis star and scandalously, lover of Mrs Maud Russell. Now you know never to invite a poet round for a drink. It was 65 years ago that he created his angel mosaic bearing the face of his lover. He is best known for his mosaics at the National Gallery in London, one of which again depicts her features in a representation of “Folly”. Oh dear – all those lives, slipped away now, all those moments of sun streaming in through curtains at dawn with a day of love ahead when love, let alone life, could never end.
A total of eight angels were displayed and I have dotted a few pictures around the country of my blog estate to show you. I really do not know why I chose an angel back view. I guess I wanted to capture the idea of the angel flying away from me – always out of reach. I felt a real spirit of joy and transcendence in this work by Andrew and Michelle Rawlings and entitled “Tarja the light bearer”.
The most striking form for me was by the sculptor Ed Elliot and entitled “Greer”. Again I chose a back view since it seemed to ground the figure in muscularity and a human imperative. The “angel’s” view was of the back of the grand house. This is a beautiful piece of work and if I’d had £7,500 in my pocket I would have paid the asking price. Perhaps I’ll sell my pedal cycle and all my poetry publication rights! And that leaves one angel to add which is not in this exhibition. In fact “The Angel of the North” stands near to the main A1 route at Gateshead in the North East of England. At one time this area was famous for shipbuilding and coal. Hints of this history find their way into my own poem “Angel One” which appears in the collection “I threw a Stone” Controversy will never cease about this work. I guess it’s a love it or hate it. I have seen it many times since I used to drive trucks loaded with money out of a nearby printing works. I see Gormley’s work as representing steel and heritage with a kind of awkward fixedness reflecting the grounding and mechanisation of our souls. The image I have chosen reflects the huge scale of this piece. To me its true angelic purpose is to remind anyone trying to create anything that both adoration and bile may be poured upon you at any moment and that neither matter. And that we are mortal.
The exhibition was set in the most beautiful landscape and being a poet I found myself wandering here and there, looking under the rattling stones of the river bed and the jumbled contents of my own consciousness for that key capable of opening the experience to my inner self. In my mind I ran a piece of prose, written in a blog “A fragile thread” by the American poet Jo VonBargen. She too had been wandering and engaging in a deconstruction of such times which illuminated this mental process so agonising and exquisite to poets. “In the silence, mysteries yield. They almost tell their deepest secrets. You wonder if this is a flaw in nature, a sort of missing link that might randomly connect truth with questions.”
Yup! That’s how it is.