The Creation of the World
Performing a task as difficult as the original miracle (at what point in the seven-day or split-second cataclysm do you click the visual or verbal shutter?) our first event is imagined in dramatic detail by Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson, Hopkins, Kipling, the Kalevala, D H Lawrence, Hughes; Bosch, Michelangelo, Raphael, Burne-Jones, J Brueghel, Courbet, and John Martin.
Light and Darkness
God divided the one from the other, and if he didn’t, something did. The marriage, co-existence, and separation of light and dark thoroughly captivated (as they do us) Donne, Byron, Heaney, Longfellow, Dostoyevsky, Baudelaire, Frost, Dylan Thomas, Anne Sexton; Van Gogh, Holman Hunt, Chirico, Whistler, Caravaggio, van Honthorst, Turner, Rembrandt, Magritte, El Greco, Goya.
Sea and Sky
Their kindred blues and greys make us yearn towards the mirage of their meeting, often hidden by cloud, storm, the towering swell. Elgar’s Sea Pictures poems; Coleridge, Masefield, Hardy, Tolstoy, Whitman, Blake, Katherine Mansfield, Edna St Vincent Millay, C S Lewis, Keats, Clare; Friedrich, Burne-Jones, Watts, Monet, di Cosimo, Raphael, Courbet, Landseer, Hopper, Renoir, Dali, Seurat, Rubens, van Ruisdael, Turner, Constable, Church, van Gogh, Tiepolo, Gauguin, Hiroshige, Titian, O’Keefe.
Four Seasons, Festivals, Fertility
Persuaded as our senses’ appetites are activated all at once by word and image, we willingly plunge into a different season’s sensual ritual of colour and celebration. Frost, Lawrence, E B Browning, Alice Oswald, Pushkin, Laurie Lee, Emily Brontë, Thomson, Neruda; Pieter Brueghel, Millet, van Gogh, Zurbaran, Cézanne, Constable, Dürer, Burne-Jones, Alma-Tadema, Poussin, Hockney.
Summits share with birds the gift of reaching almost to heaven. So we fear, worship, climb to them. Distance vies with closeness, access with impossibility, in Wordsworth, Wang Wei, Conan Doyle, Petrarch, Marlowe, Shelley, Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Chekhov, Horace, Verne, George Eliot, Mann; Friedrich, Turner, Ruskin, Brett, Chinese painters, David, Hokusai, Bierstadt
Rivers and Lakes
Inspirers of legend, their speed, depth, stirred surface and beauty imitate aliveness whose source is unknowable. Forget maps. Their flow is the more momentously traced by Hopkins, Arnold, Hughes, Coleridge, E B Browning, Rimbaud, Auden, Oswald, Wordsworth, Ashbery, Amichai; Tintoretto, Constable, Monet, Delacroix, Ricci, David Roberts, Tissot, O’Keefe, Corot, Cézanne, Seurat.
Birds and Beasts
They feel like kin, luring us to a life we can only aspire to. We envy their freedom, breathe easy that our survival is less precarious. Hardy, Hopkins, Edward Thomas, Smart, Blake, Gray, Burns, Dickinson, Neruda, Tennyson, Clare, Baudelaire, Coleridge, Yeats; Rubens, Poussin, Géricault, Titian, Correggio, Veronese, Tintoretto; cave paintings from Spain, France, South Africa; Middle Eastern frescoes; Rothko, Holman Hunt, Burne-Jones, Snyders, Jan Brueghel, Brancusi, Rousseau, Flanagan.
Fire, Air, Earth, Water
The power of life and death they have had over us from the beginning infuses any great attempt in word or image to capture the formidable forces of the four elements. We marvel at how they collaborate, recoil when they clash. Shakespeare, Wallace Stevens, T S Eliot, Woolf, Hughes, Bishop, Kavanagh; Beuckelaer, Turner, Bierstadt, Cole, Rembrandt, Klee, Tiepolo, the plein air painters.
No better proof can be had of Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is a man!” than in man’s form and figure, action and passion; running, poised, in repose, the muscle of male nature is found poetic. Yeats, Rimbaud, Machado, Herbert, Lawrence, Chaucer, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Dickens, Austen; Rembrandt, Giacometti, Klee, Leighton, Burne-Jones, Raphael, Titian, van Eyck, Manet.
Unconstrained by Oscar Wilde’s “Women are made to be loved, not understood”, artists and writers create women they feel both for. Grace, beauty, strength, and the spectrum from pose to naturalness are tackled head-on by Mansfield, Farjeon, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Ovid, Byron, Joyce, Duffy, Forster, Tolstoy, Neruda, Heaney, Murasaki; Picasso, Praxiteles, Titian, Kandinsky, Millais, Watts, Vermeer, Romney, Dubuffet, Mary Cassatt, Renoir, Bonnard, Gauguin, and ancient artists.
Man and Woman
Life in, and after, Eden is the elephant in the room of their encounter. Body language and the double portrait are manna to the creative appetite. Borges, Day Lewis, cummings, Muir, Shakespeare, Lawrence, John Betjeman, Shelley, Chaucer, Fitzgerald; Klimt, Holman Hunt, Rembrandt, Poussin, Martin, Bouguereau, Hamilton, Moore, Courbet, Mayan art, Matisse, Chagall, Renoir.
Seen and heard through the silence of page and canvas, the child is always who we were, and the hare of memory is set running at once. Innocence confronts vulnerability and makes conflict heart-rending and vital. Coleridge, Kipling, Eliot, Greta Stoddart, Szymborska, Thomas, Dickens, Gaskell, Hardy, Jackie Kay, Stevenson, Emerson, Longfellow, Hughes, Merwin; Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes, Moore, Millais, Moran, Rembrandt, Ernst, Sargent, Monet, Renoir, Mucha.
Settling and Journeying
Ever since we stopped hunting and gathering, there have been settlements – by lakes, in deep country, villages, towns, cities – and dwellings set apart. But the restless spirit longs wondrously for Elsewhere. Eliot, Ibsen, Basho, Marquez, Woolf, Yeats, Chaucer, de la Mare, Humboldt, Heaney; Castiglione, Raphael, Tissot, il Grechetto, Cole, Chagall, Repin, Vermeer, Gauguin, Watteau.
The canvas and the page capture events, as they happen or happened, in a breath: war and peace, diplomacy and stand-off, the rituals of coronation and revolution, building and destruction, and their images, whether eye-witness or fantastic, all read like real history. Byron, Shakespeare, Longfellow, Virgil, Chaucer, E B Browning, Amichai, Camoens, Flaubert; Goya, David, Canaletto, Picasso, Delacroix, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Brueghel, Masaccio, Leonardo, Caravaggio, Velasquez, Uccello
Men and women are creators of what they write, paint and give form to. But so often their art is about creation itself: it visibly meditates on the act of imitating the original Creator or moment of coming into being, feels towards art as a whole new world. Woolf, Longfellow, Horace, Duffy, Gunn, Eliot, Auden, E Brontë, Ginsberg, Hopkins, Lawrence, Hughes, Dante; Rublyov, Martin, Constable, Raphael, Gustavo Olmedo, Watts, Hope, John Shelley, Reynolds, Piranesi, Dürer, Bosch, Guercino