Wednesday, January 4, 2012

John Luke - The Eternal Now And Otherwise

John Luke, Artist, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Many works of the Belfast artist John Luke (1906-1975) such as The Old Callan Bridge and The Lock At Edenderry are said to capture "the eternal now". According to Rory Fitzpatrick's God's Frontiersmen which accompanied the Channel Four series of the same name "it is always Sunday in Luke's work, families walking their dogs through the green, drumlin country in the warm afternoon, or evening after work as a father comes home to a white Ulster farmhouse set in formal idyllic landscape."

Similar themes regarding the timelessness of the Ulster countryside were captured in both the 1972 BBC Northern Ireland documentary Loughsiders - with the poet Seamus Heaney exploring the County Fermanagh waterways and visiting the Janus figure on Boa Island as "the first god of the first people" - and of course several Van Morrison songs such as And It Stoned Me, On Hyndford Street, Take Me Back and in particular Country Fair from the 1974 Veedon Fleece album.

During the Christmas break I was reading some moving recollections of old Belfast on the main internet forum from various expats around the world and what they missed from a long lost time and place:

I miss the smell of freshly baked bread when I walk past the sites of the old Kennedy's and Hughes' bakeries. I miss the days when neighbours could leave their front doors open without the fear of being robbed. I miss the sound of the horn at Mackies that you could set your clocks or watches by. I miss the old Smithfield and Variety markets that could have a child's senses buzzing. I miss the lovely inexpensive fresh fish sold from handcarts. But most of all I miss members of my family and my friends who have passed on who walked the streets of Belfast with me...

In the 60s when we were kids we used to go into town on a Friday night and stare endlessly into S S Moores sport shop window in Arthur street, dreaming of one day being able to afford a new football strip. Walking around town on a Friday night there was always the sound of music coming from the `Boom Boom Rooms` or some other dance venue. We would then go round to the Queens bridge and watch the cross channel steamers sailing from Belfast. The Glasgow boat left at 8-30pm, the Liverpool boat at 9-30pm and the Heysham boat at 9-40pm, then it was time to go home. On a Saturday morning it was the Stadium picture house for the kids morning matinee and then in the afternoon it was a dander down the Shankill to Smithfield market. Smithfield was fascinating for a young lad as it contained almost everything you could ever dream of. Unfortunately Smithfield has gone and so have the boats, but I guess nothings for ever. If only one could turn the clock back and relive those days...

I miss the old department stores with the grand stair cases and lots of nooks and crannys for different departments. I miss watching the birds gathering on the electric wires in the winter in donegal place when you were waiting for the bus. I miss the old double deckers with the big silver knobs on the end of the seats. I miss the brilliant santa experience in robbs going on a trip on santas sleigh before you ever saw him, it actually felt like you were moving. I miss the old buildings that are daily disappearing. I miss knowing who your next door neighbor is, the milkman coming and waking you up in the morning, the bread van coming round the streets. I miss so much sometimes it feels like it never really existed...

The last sentiment is something so many British people can relate to in light of the uncharted waters we now find ourselves in as a society - the shock of the new encompassing unparalleled financial stagnation, demographic shifts of historic scale and consequence, rampant criminality, insidious manipulation of the mass media, the obliteration of our job market by industrial internship abuse and a tide of cultural marxism which has reached the point where literally unbroadcastable "millie"-style Northern Irish female voices can be heard on our national state radio.

In respect of our beleaguered capital I also took some time over Christmas to look at the magnificent portraits in Philip Davies' Panoramas of Lost London: Work, Wealth, Poverty and Change 1870-1945 volume. In such a brief period of time has the magnetism and glory of London entirely dissipated to leave a metropolis where one is fundamentally disassociated from its historic reach, national character or even a genuine capital city experience itself.

The provisional quotation from Virgil to be used at the Ground Zero memorial in New York City is No day shall erase you from the memory of time. That accepted, the British cities and the very streets we loved now seem to be fading into shadows of memory within a span of mere months as opposed to years or decades.