Beauty sits in imagined places

Ledbury Angel by Andrea McLean

The painter, David Jones, used to be invited by his patron, Helen Sutherland, to visit her in Cumbria. Her house was in a prominent but wild place as greatly removed from the passages of human history and story as it might be possible to imagine in England. He found it a difficult place in which to paint because of this absence of human history touched by myth, and both woven into the fabric of a nature shared.

I am reminded of this each time I see one of Andrea McLean's beautiful, luminous paintings, so intricately are they woven of the givenness of a place - that is both of a natural patterning and a place of human dreaming and story. They are imaginative maps and both of those terms are essential. Imagination as a seeing through the threshold of nature into another world which is, as yet, enfolded in this one, and a map because anchored in the particularities of a place. As here, an angel hovers embracingly over a place, Ledbury, that is not just any place or a no place, but is a particular town in Herefordshire, England.

Like her beloved Blake, vision does not take you out of your place but transforms it so you see it aright. Angels sit in the trees of Peckham Rye.

Sometimes I am led (and occasionally go myself) into the hallways of 'contemporary art' and usually emerge dispirited given that there are only so many one dimensional, clever concepts that I can absorb  - though I confess I can absorb Robert Ryan's white canvases with undiluted pleasure - or of video installations - only one of which, I can confess, to ever being able to remember - elderly naked women in a Hungarian Turkish bath their bodies inscripted with the burdens of age, hauntingly beautiful. But this, I realise, is not the whole story - art making of beauty and compelling meaning continues to be made (Andrea is a great example) but somehow passes the 'mainstream' assumption of what 'matters'.

The problem here appears often to be about the troublesome word 'beauty' banished as an evaluative category, not even perhaps belonging to the beholder's eye, wholly orphaned and yet, of course, it is the cornerstone rejected.

Beauty does indeed belong in the eye of the beholder, so we better get to work ensuring that our eyes see, that the doors of our perception are cleansed, and that beauty, rather than orphaned, becomes the recognisable starting point for appreciation. It would, if nothing else, allow our minds to relax and our souls to see.

A Memory of Mexico by Andrea McLean


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