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The portrait gallery

Vincent Van Gogh 1853–1890

A Velasquez-grey day. Rain.
         Thrown out of the chapel
I rock like the Greek oracle
         on its tripod, prophesying
a cure for uncleanliness
         through total immersion
in the working girl’s juices.

I’ve leant too long
         against the vestry wall.
It’s cold. Clergy condemn
         My camel-hair brush:
their pride requires
         a carpenter’s pencil
and hard-edged light.

Tremulous, mist transfigures
         the landmark into a
departure. I am nearly
         there. Sunflowers spr
out from the peasant’s boots:
         my fingers encircle
a postman’s world. Personal.

*

Edvard Munch 1863–1944

Every canvas is a woman who weeps in the ward
for venereal disease. I infected her….

When view and mood are fused
the deepest recess is a shared experience.

But exhibitions! They’re public executions
dignitaries attend with hats in hands

no painter chooses to shake.

*

Hans Van Meegeren 1889–1947

My brush caresses an Old Master.
But it’s not good enough!
A Paganini cadenza instead of Schubert:
an afternoon on the river
when I want to cross oceans….

Modernism? I refuse to come
under the influence: to stagger
through the beer booth of an October fair
where there is no vision, only
a display that dismays.

This non-sense of ‘conceptual embodiment’ –
it’s desperate as fair-weather
friendship when winter sets the jaw,
a sitter’s stare hardens
into the varnished masterpiece.

*

Egon Schiele 1890–1918

Vienna. The heresiarch’s denied
a prayer candle, matches
         to light it.

I wear my godfather’s hand-me-downs,
circumnavigate the civilised world
         with a soulful waltz….

Egon, get your shit together!
Star-struck cesspools are an artist’s
         glittering prizes:

his conspiratorial face flickers up
from their surfaces, ‘You corrupted
         a minor, right?’

Two uniformed demons appear:
‘These studies are indecent –
         you’re under arrest.’

I dip my fingers in spit,
sketch seascapes (Trieste, Venice)
         – they fade

into this jail’s plaster. The Adriatic
swells in the folds of my coat.
         I map the coast.

Every line shows an intimacy
never previously
         realised.

*

Mark Gertler 1891–1939

Prayer candles keep
irregular hours:
Jewish children dribble
over the butcher’s display.

ADOPT FOREIGN FASHIONS
COLLECT REFUSE
daubs the wall
before Shevzik’s Steam Baths.

‘Very fetching’
hats nod to one another;
blue eyes refuse
to meet. I’m white

as a sheet of Michelet paper.

*

Mark Rothko 1903–1970

The candle cremates
its paper lantern.

*

Philip Clairmont 1949–1984

         The face of God –
a forty-watt light-bulb
that fractures surfaces.
         Wallpaper weeps,
revealing snail-slime white
plaster smoothed by who knows
         who knows when: you

         don’t want a name
or date: detail needs grace,
longevity order.
         You catch dust-motes
in hands with veins that dry
like brushstrokes on the lost,
         the locked away

         painting.

1976, Marshland Road, Christchurch, 15.5.1984, Clifton Terrace, Wellington

 


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