Feature: ArtScene

ArtScene: The Importance of Seeing, South Asian Art, Toulouse-Lautrec

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Brijesh Upadhyay's After the Bomb Blast

London. May I have my bike back, please? Pretty please? Okay. Here’s the biggest ask: In the saddle bag, there’s a photograph of my 14 year-old, one-eyed, limping deaf Springer Spaniel, Bella. You can keep the bike. But the picture is special. So will the person who stole my bike while I was in the surgery picking up a prescription for an increasingly lost gentleman who frankly, can’t handle macular degeneration, send back Bella’s photograph? Please.

Now the whole thing has me thinking. Supposing I could never again see a treasured image? Supposing I couldn’t see the truly astounding collections of paintings in our European and American galleries? Supposing I couldn’t see enough to paint. Do I have enough images in my mind? Answer: No way (as I tell the kids not to say).

Each painting and each photograph gives out something new every time we look at them. Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking as I don the least smelly trainers and foot it through London with a single thought: supposing this was the last day you could see.

We’re not necessarily talking national collections and masters. Take the Yusuf Gallery - contemporary Asian art that started appearing in a furniture store in London’s Edgware Road about ten months ago. High class stuff.

A Jehangir Sabavala serigraph fetched close on $400,000 last year. This is talent that doesn’t get the big mentions that it should: Usha Pathak's very western portraits, Brijesh Upadhyay's sometimes disturbing acrylics, especially the surviving mother and tiniest of children - After the Bomb. Sumitava Maity’s Return to Innocence, which isn’t that at all.


Saffronart’s on-line auction of Asian art from Mumbai grossed $6.7million. That’s big rupees in any currency.

Then to something completely different. Of course it’s raining. Of course I’m squelching. The bovine at the archway into The Courtauld asks how long I’ve been in the river. He laughs for both of us. Richie, who is now fourth horn in one of Simon’s non-Berlin bands, removes his sweater and towels my head. "Oh! It’s you professor," says Bovine as I come up for air.  He laughs for all three.


Inside, we’re into the final three weeks of Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: at the Moulin Rouge. I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful this exhibition is.  Is that Jane in the corner?  Is it La Melinite? No. Mind you… just could be.  That’s because I want it to be.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec could never paint the ordinary. Why? Because he knew nothing was ordinary.  Every flicker of an eye was imagination on the move. Every step of the dancer was for the first time. Every sniff from the grande dame was a judgement.  All so memorable. 

One the memory can easily store? No. Wait a moment. La grande dame. The hat.  This is Paris, the 1890s. The three feathers or whatever.  Mais qui. A late nineteenth century Parisian fascinator!

Go see for yourself. (Take no notice of Bovine and take a towel for London). Until 18 September.

I’m off to teach in Florence in ten days time, so back into the studio in the morning - hopefully to finish the final Antigua canvas.  Twelve months work. Every colour of the Caribbean, but none can be imagined. My gentleman - just 46, will never really see it.

Remember: always something to see while we have eyes and not simply memory.  See anything you like while you can.

So Mr Bike Snatcher. Please may I have one-eyed Bella’s picture back? Bayford Studios, Beckley, East Sussex will reach me.

ArtScene Quote: I have to do what is true.  Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments areā€¦

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