A life of its own

This is not a tirade against a wise and witty, relatively well-known Novelist. It is instead a reflection on the free-wheeling, ever-evolving life of an artwork, experienced one afternoon in the shadows of my own personal interaction with said Novelist…


One day, quite unexpectedly, I found myself standing beside a relatively well-known Novelist. An elongated giant of a man, stretched tall and lean like a runner bean, with a disheveled crop of hair and esoteric mop atop his crown. 

As circumstances dictated, we were in close proximity to a charitable event, at the heart of a well-to-do London suburb with a riotous history. Not one to withhold his opinions, the Novelist swiftly introduced me to his views on the matter of charity, reciting, like a well-rehearsed mantra, the allocutions of Thomas Hobbes.

“Charity exists almost solely to relieve ‘rich men’ of the burden of their compassion”  he said, with both wise solemnity and wide-eyed condemnation. In transferring this golden axiom, it was clear he hoped I might experience, as he has referred to it elsewhere,  a sudden “Damascene conversion” on the matter. 

For days I grumbled and sulked, recounting his comment over and over, feeling particularly affronted due to the fact that I was neither “rich” nor “man.” 

Yet, this is not a tirade against said Novelist.  Because he is indeed a wise and witty (rich) man. Rather, it is a far-flung tangent, in which the independent and ever-evolving life of an artwork was experienced one afternoon, forging meaning in the shadows of my own personal interaction with a relatively well-known Novelist.

For when, weeks later at Liverpool’s Bluecoat gallery, I came face to face with John Latham‘s 1967 sculpture, Firenze, it immediately took on a life of its own. The Novelist’s stem-like figure rose suddenly from its bed of withered, old literature; backlogs of academic theory, congested and congealed with the ashes of long-departed theorists, philosophers and wise sages. Pages and pages of historical referral to humanity as “mankind,” its cultural theories spun along a thin narrative of he, him, himself. The Novelist’s stooped, phallic figure appeared inextricable from the tangled tomes of history, weighted down and heavily burdened by the Canon. In that moment, it might as well have been entitled “A Portrait of the Novelist.”


John Latham, Firenze, 1967


Since Roland Barthes banished the author from his own artwork in 1967, the viewer has been granted a liberating, creative freedom with which to create their own meaning. A meaning based on their own individual, past, lived experiences. Without intending to, I swiftly drew connections between me London encounter with the Novelist and  the visual form before me, made long before his milk teeth had fallen out. 


 I realised suddenly, that the Novelist represented to me a certain kind of old-fashioned creature, bogged down by a pious rapture and fastidious reliance on the words of those who have come before him. Viewing the contemporary world through the lenses of the Canon, restricting thought to a popular, single narrative rather than remaining free to approach the issue from all  angles. For all of charity’s shortcomings (from the passivity of “clicktivism” to the perpetuating of society’s ills), I couldn’t help feeling that all of this quoting and reciting of wise sages does little good in the world. 

To conclude, and for want of a more universal and topical example: upon rounding the corner of the gallery, I was greeted by a glossy pair of lips. Salmon pink and puckered. An uncanny, prescient Trumpian vibe, projected across time from 1978. Entitled, “Nothing can frighten the man who hopes for nothing”

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Marisa Rueda, “Nothing can frighten the man who hopes for nothing,” 1978

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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