Friday, 8 March 2013

Mississippi Dreaming

Few things make me feel as alive, or as inspired, as going to an art exhibition that leaves me wanting more.  I can't necessarily predict which exhibitions are going to thrill me before I go - for instance, yesterday I went to the Man Ray at the National Portrait Gallery, which I thought wonderful, but which I knew I would as I am so familiar with his work.  And ultimately, it wasn't the Man Ray that I was most excited by, but a chance meander into the American Indian exhibition.  There I found a collection of over fifty portraits by the Pennsylvanian-born artist George Catlin, which, quite simply, blew me away. This is the first time that they've been seen, all together, outside of the United States in over fifty years, and it's an incredibly powerful exhibition, and deeply evocative of an era about which I know very little.

I think sometimes one's experience of an exhibition or a piece of art can be heightened by what could really only be termed coincidence.  In this instance, I came to the works having literally just finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, one of the most gripping novels I've read in a long time (even Priya Tanna, the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue India and mother of a very small child - i.e. she has somewhat finite time resources - admits to not having been able to put it down, and to having finished it in two sittings).  The bulk of the book is set in Missouri, and the Mississippi plays a large part - rather as it does in many of the paintings in the exhibition.  Suddenly I find myself struck by a desire to sail down that wonderfully-named river, re-reading Mark Twain in between taking the time to learn the difference between the various American Indian tribes (beyond being able to spot a Navajo-inspired jacket on the catwalk, or identifying the vague influence behind the fabric I covered Sholto's tent in, that is . . . )

In the mean time, I can not recommend the George Catlin: American Indian Portraits highly enough.  It's on until the 23rd June, and free.  I will definitely be going back.