Radio: And we all know what rhymes with Pollock
Sunday 07 June 1998
It's risible, and so was this feature. Pollock, who was killed in 1956 when driving drunkenly home, was, of course, the American artist who splashed industrial paints on to huge canvases on the floor. According to Pollock scholars, this technique "has to do with an exquisite calligraphic degree of control". He wanted to release the liquidity (or it might have been the quiddity) of the paint, to "become an infinite presence in the infinite that he conjures up".
Well OK, it's difficult to talk about abstract art. But Tim Marlow, the pilgrim/narrator of this feature, rapidly adopted the vernacular. He described a picture called One as "a vast environment into which the viewer is pulled and then spat out ... pulsating most powerfully at its centre which, as Yeats might have said, cannot hold". He said this, and a good deal more, very fast.
Then he went right into seventh heaven, and the artist's studio. Pausing in what he reverently called "the ante-chamber", he remembered feeling a similar excitement before entering the Sistine Chapel (though there he had to look up, not down). When he reached the sacred floor, it was messy - sorry - richly encrusted with old paint: you wear soft slippers to walk on it, and you can recognise colours from many a famous canvas. Marlow could "feel Pollock with his toes" and it was an incredibly profound experience.
There was a lot more of this kind of thing. Because he was born in Wyoming, Pollock fancied himself as a cowboy. But another pillock said that he was an Indian really, like Van Gogh and Braque (he really lost me there). Once, the great man tipped his glass over a well-wisher at a party, and his victim thereafter saw himself as a drip-painting (Marlow giggled at this). Then, gloriously, we met a couple of his old friends. As ice clunked in their martinis, they said that when he was drunk he was hell. And one of them remembered Pollock telling her that as a child out west he had watched his father piss on a flat rock and the burning ambition to do likewise had been born. Astonishing. From that one simple human outpouring grew the modern American Renaissance. Today, galleries all over the world vie with each other to acquire a precious hoard of old Pollocks.
Jack the Dripper was extremely good fun and, in spite of everything, increased my interest in his work. Good radio features make the best of all listening and there was another this week. Colin Grant's A Fountain of Tears (WS) began with an arresting sentence: "On 19th August 1936 I murdered a genius: may God have mercy on my soul." The genius was the 38-year-old Federico Garcia Lorca, shot in a Granada cemetery by Fascist guards at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Lorca was the most celebrated writer in Andalusia, if not the whole of Spain. This programme explained precisely why. Partly dramatised, partly narrated, it drew on the knowledge of Ian Gibson, Lorca's biographer, to define his extraordinary gifts. As a child, he watched the plough turn up a Roman mosaic and forever afterwards his poetry reflected the simple, authentic details of the real Spain - not the naff, folkloric culture beloved of the tourist, but the ancient, primitive land in which dreams exist "like angels, like cancer, like money".
In this country, we know him best as a playwright. Nuria Espert, an actress - like Eleonora Duse, in her time - whose talents transcend nationality, spoke of the powerful women he created and the suffering, rebellion and frustration that characterised them. His influence was so strong that for decades it was dangerous even to speak his name. His death, she said, "made Spain smaller. He left Spain like ... like an amputated arm."
Now, back once again to the new Radio 4 and the regular 6.30pm comedy slot. A new serial started on Friday, billed rather depressingly as a "comedy thriller". Mark Tavener's In the Chair was much better than the name suggests. Its plot is neurotically complicated - it concerns a serial killer of dentists, the appointment of a new Director-General of the BBC and the waning popularity of a New Labour government. And it contained the wittiest writing to have been aired for ages.
Michael Williams stars as an ancient crime reporter who refuses to be sacked, and Hugh Laurie is superb as a guitar-playing Prime Minister - "Call me Kenny" - desperate to be loved. His deputy is full of northern emotion and rambling syntax: "When I were a lad in Derbyshire, the kids were so poor they had no shoes and walking to school was a feat with regard to this, and they couldn't afford to go to Boot's because it were a chemist not a shoe shop." Don't miss it.
Finally, a big hooray: Goodness Gracious Me (R4) has survived an excursion to television and is back on Thursdays, as funny as ever. This week, Indian tourists visited south-east Essex, the "deep south" of England. The reason trains are so unreliable, we heard, is that in England the tree is sacred. If just one leaf falls on the line ...
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