All that is essential

Portrait, by Käthe Kollwitz (1934)


All that is essential

If there is a love in your life
           but it is not essential
cut it out
           if there is music
and if it flows through you
           as a recurring fugue flows
but it is not essential
           cut it out
if there is dance
           but the steps grow weary
and the legs long to rest
           then it is not essential
so cut it out

the universe has stars
            that gleam in the blackness
diamond stars fated for all time
            and under those stars
there is a lesson to be learnt
            that art is enduring
and capable of outlasting
           a burning star
that is doomed to extinction
           that music will endure forever
beyond the silence
           of the most distant stars :
if above all things
           there is a love in your life
but it’s not essential
            and it’s not what counts
in your day to day
            however much it pains you
cut it out
           and find another

John Lyons

To read Muriel Rukeyser’s poem dedicated to Kollwitz, click here.


Another thought on Tancredi

Another thought on Tancredi

It’s burlesque
           a light show
everything you want to see
           before your very eyes
but hidden behind the flourish
           of coloured fans
painting is about nudity
the laying bare
           of physical perception
its beauty lies in its truth
           how the light unravels
as the knots of the spectrum
           are untied and the gown
of discretion slips
           to the floor

painters pore
           over their canvases
drooling fingertips delighting
           in the rough textures
and smooth lines—
           it turns them on :
beneath the pigments
            the breasts buttocks thighs
and a desire to penetrate
           to have knowledge
of the flesh and blood
           Tancredi’s composition
is an enticing tease
           that no retina can resist

John Lyons

For the picture. . . Or scroll down to 21 February. . . .


Recomposing Tancredi

Composizione, Tancredi (1955)

Recomposing Tancredi

Geometry of chaos
           oil and tempera on canvas
also universe / dated 1955
           as was Tancredi’s eye
when he captured the rich spectrum
           of spectral cosmic light
Loud yellows and blues and blacks
           fiery reds and soothing titanium white
: all shapes are here all moods 
           and texts and textures
nothing dead nothing silent
           nothing inert

a composition to evolve
           through and beyond time
here is love rhythm dance music
           so that the eye never rests
as it feeds on this feast
           of reckless colour
admires the abandon
           behind every gushing stroke

Look and ye shall find all things
           deep below the surface
the building blocks
           of drifting dreams of flesh and blood
unfettered town and country imagination
           and necessary quantum explosion
of boundless units of energy :
           here lies my life love alive
and kicking
           her lips eyes hair breasts
her resplendent joie de vivre
           so entrancingly rendered

John Lyons

Painting observed on 10 February 2017 during a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Untitled Willem De Kooning

De Kooning.jpg
Untitled, Willem de Kooning (1958)

Untitled Willem de Kooning

Do you see what I see
           notes for a landscape
a shore and a beach
           and a river and a sky
a path to enlightenment
           a horizon viewed
from a cliff top
           waves perceptible
in the brushstrokes
           mimicking the tensions
in the earth’s crust
           and in all our relationships
abstract cartography
           of the soul

it took a human body
           to paint this
to select the colours
           and to control the brush
it took human energy
           to express this to execute this
rather than accept
           the docility of a pacified
environment in which nature
           sits tamely on a canvas

I came here scriptless
           Willem and I searched high
and low for love
           I am an accident of birth
whatever is concealed
           in this composition
will be revealed in due course
           at its heart is the illumination
of sunlight and a brightness
           that never fades
the joy we associate
           with the loving application
of human vitality
           everywhere apparent
the long sinews
           of genitive muscle

it could be a walk
           on a Sunday afternoon
or a three-penny opera
           in which we all appear
and notice a perfectly positioned
           pinmark in each of the corners
no abstract could ever be
           so inexhaustibly
calculated which is why
           I am not a painter

John Lyons

Painting observed on 10 February 2017 during a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Click here for an appraisal of this work.

Chagall – early impression


Chagall – early impression

Chagall’s blue
         sea of aching origin
         of genes
across Europe
         across continents
flight of all things
         in constant flux

Swirl of blue vortex
from which all life
fiery cadmium placenta
         a canvas dripping
with minerals
          Mother and child
in the hills above Nice
          a brush with destiny
instrumental colour
         the hands from which
melody flows
         Pegasus dashing
across the seasky
          repeated layers of love
tenderly applied
         the groomed bride
floating within her sex
          circles of satisfaction
zones of curved comfort
         joy inviolate
against the terror
         of time’s crude cross

John Lyons


Frank Auerbach – a sketch

Frank Auerbach
Frank Auerbach – self-portrait

Frank Auerbach – a sketch

An artist sees
          and listens
and listening sees
          the unseen
and vision becomes speech
          and speech becomes
lines and strokes and swathes 
           of chalk and charcoal
delicately smudged
          with the tip of the finger
turning the darkness into light
          and listening all the time
to what is seen and
          seeing all the time
what is heard
          applying the alphabets
of sound and shape
          dividing the darkness
with fragments of light
          seizing the energies
of expression and posture
          driven by the instinctive
desire to uncover the truthness
          the emotional hardcore truth
that lies behind the mask
          of careless inattention
or superficial appraisal :
          more than in dialogue
with the subject
          the artist teases identity
out into the open
          with gentle interrogations
striving constantly to achieve
          an ultimate rendering
not an essence
          not a resumé
not a replica
          neither a duplicate
simply a completeness
          of visual presence
that stands and speaks
          for itself

John Lyons

The Frank Auerbach Exhibition at Tate Britain in Pimlico, runs until 13 March 2016. Unmissable.


Champagne at the Saatchi Gallery


Ljubica, by Jelena Bulajic, mixed media on canvas (2012)

So on Sunday, before the rain and wind sets in, Jonah heads up to the King’s Road, to the Saatchi Gallery, located in part of the barracks where the Grand Old Duke of York kept his ten thousand men. The sound of marching has long faded, and all is quiet but for the gentle footfall of Londoners and tourists on gravel as they make their way in to see Champagne Life, the latest exhibition, which runs until 9 March. And believe me, this presentation of artwork by female artists from around the world is well worth seeing. There are a couple of inspired exhibits by Alice Anderson whom we visited at the end of last year in the Wellcome Foundation up in Euston. Equally, the refreshingly intriguing canvases by Florida-born Suzanne McClelland, are not to be missed.

Then there is the Serbian artist, Jelena Bulajic. Born in Vrbas, Serbia, in 1990, Bulajic lives between London and Serbia. The selection of her portraits in mixed media on canvas are truly mesmerising. According to the gallery blurb:

The human face, with all its softness, contortions, wrinkles and sags, is the subject matter of Jelena Bulajics’ minutely accurate paintings. Each canvas is filled with the faces of people she spots in the street, or encounters in daily life, whose character, look, or empathy catch her interest.

What is staggering about Bujalic’s work is its gigantic scale. The portrait illustrated, for example, measures 2.7 x 2 metres, and yet the detail is absolutely minute and meticulous. Saatchi’s policy of not roping off exhibits or placing them under glass allows visitors to get really close to paintings and appreciate the beauty of the artists’ techniques, which in the case of Bulajic, is of a standard of execution that Titian might have envied. Sensational.