Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Last of the Sabbatical Vine

Edinburgh in the spring is for lovers .. and lovers of all things cultural ..

Edinburgh is a city of fantasy and creativity, but it never forgets itself – it is built on solid foundations; a history of artists and pioneers, writers and warriors, architects and financiers who brought life to the Scottish dream; a vision of hope rising in the surreal depictions of past revelations of mystical charm and a self-imposed identity of strict determination ..

There are literally dozens of galleries both large and small scattered throughout this picturesque city .. On nearly every corner and down every alley there are renovations taking place to reinvigorate the old world charm of Edinburgh city centre, making fashionable the archaic crumbling facades, providing a focal point for the energy and enthusiasm of an influx of new artists amongst the often surprising and sweeping vistas ..

The National Gallery Complex houses a collection of Scottish masterpieces by the likes of Raeburn and Wilkie, as well as a vast archive of work from artists such as: Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Monet and Van Gogh .. The international exhibition currently showing is a comprehensive selection of work from JMW Turner’s Italian paintings ..

Designed as several buildings in Grecian style with Doric and Corinthian columns rising above a severe modernist promenade of restaurants and boutiques, the museums are set against a backdrop of parkland at the base of the ancient stone walls of Edinburgh Castle ..

Traversing The Royal Mile, it’s practically impossible to avoid the melodic wail of bagpipes seemingly spaced at regular intervals .. the high-pitched harmonics pierce the ears along every bustling avenue, pipers squeezing out an identical repertoire of ‘Scotland the Brave’ and ‘A Scottish Soldier’ to the massed tourists who clamber for photos of the men in traditional kilted Highland dress .. No, I didn’t ask what he was wearing under it!

I made my way through the crowded thoroughfare of Princes Street, past hordes of ice cream lovers licking scoops of tutti frutti in the sweltering sunshine, and found an oasis of calm meandering the peaceful scenic river walk toward the Dean Gallery and their outstanding collection of Dada and Surrealist works ..

After a perusal of paintings by 4 post-war Scottish artists, including John Bellany and Wilhemena Barns-Graham, I wandered the grounds and surveyed the sculptures of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi .. Here’s me with my old friend, his bronze Master of the Universe ..

Across the street is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; another magnificent Greek-columned portico temple of art .. Although there was a terrific exhibition of work by Vija Celmins, Andy Warhol and others, I specifically made this journey to view the extensive display of works by Damien Hirst, and was not disappointed ..

The butterfly paintings were awe-inspiring; the dead insects captured in glorious colour against backgrounds of glossy black and flat white .. the pharmaceutical signage of pills and potions printed on back-lit plexiglass, one of his large circular paintings, called a 'tonto', created by dripping paint onto the canvas while it rotated on a spinning wheel – much like a child’s plaything, and of course Away From the Flock, one of the early “animals in formaldehyde” pieces which helped establish Hirst’s reputation as a revolutionary and radical artist whose themes deal with death and the imagination of God ..

It isn’t difficult to imagine that the great creator had a hand in building this fine city, and although the modern street plan was laid out hundreds of years ago there are many dynamic and contemporaneous features that continue to add vibrancy and a sense of growth to this marvellous metropolis ..

Stopping into the Carlton Ritz I quaffed a cocktail and headed out into the gloaming for an evening of musical mayhem at The Jazz Bar – one of my favourite regular haunts in this city of spirits .. or should that be, this spirited city? ..

The sun hasn’t yet set on this empire of imagination .. it still resonates in the theatres and galleries, from the romantic settings shared by loving couples beneath the towering Scott Monument to forceful orators in the halls of the Scottish Assembly, from jugglers and tricksters tempting laughter and remarkable feats of derring-do on the labyrinthine streets to the earthy wooden-floored pubs and chic cosmopolitan shopping arcades ..

In my own time I will return again to this eternal city, knowing that Edinburgh will continue to hold a special sense of wonder for me and its many visitors from all corners of the globe.