The Pool at Bethseda

Arriving back from Israel/Palestine, I went to the Post Office to collect my accumulated uncollected parcels and the highlight was a second-hand copy of the Hayward Gallery's 1985 catalogue of their Edward Burra show.

It is a balm for the soul. He is a strikingly accomplished painter with a unique, instantly recognizable vision.

First that each and every figure in his work is uniquely themselves and a character: personality exudes. He allows the people he sees their voice. He is noticeably a painter of bars, cafes, nightlife beyond the 'respectable' and paints with compassion, engagement, and liking.  He paints people of colour at a time (has it changed) when they were the systematically discriminated against, other in the very places of their marginalization, without any trace of anything other than equality of regard.

Second, and it is connected to the first, he is one of the most compelling twentieth-century painters of Christ (as above). His Christ is one fully engaged in the world struggling after its healing, sharing in its suffering. His is a Christ that fully adopts each person; however, at the margins, and sees them at the centre of the life who he is.

Third he delights in the simple - a casual conversation on the street, a cup of coffee in a cafe as dawn breaks, a plate sitting on a table, tilted. What makes the world is converse, meeting and enjoying the texture of things. In Burra is no ideology beyond the compassionate enjoyment of the world.

A balm because it was the felt antithesis of my working trip in Palestine where others are seen as enemy, where the individuality of each unique person is easily flattened by the mechanics of oppression and the world is not a place of enjoyed pleasures, shared intimacies but to be shaped to ideological purposes serving the impositions of God or the exigencies of man.

Nevermore deeply have I been encouraged to see Jesus option for those at the margins as the place from which you judge your own humanity and Burra as a painter asks you to do precisely this - to see anew people that do not mirror yourself, that are other, and to delight in their uniqueness. He was gay but solitary, endowed with the gift of friendship, and crippled with pain, made an observer, he imparted life in his observations.


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