tree lights were twinkling and the skaters were already skating at Somerset House when Gillian and I arrived to take a look at the surreal, intricate
canvases created by Stanley Spencer for Sandham
Memorial Chapel to honour the
Sandham Memorial Chapel
Inspired by his experience on the Salonica Front and here as a hospital worker caring for the wounded in an asylum used as a hospital, the paintings chart Spencer’s inner and an outer journey mapping the experience of soldiers under fire and in the asylum where the wounded may make their journey of recovery.
I recommend to you the Somerset House Website which gives a good account of this exhibition.
As for me I tried to make sense of the profound experience of Spencer’s indosyncratic vision as I sat drinking coffe and underlining phrases that jumped out at me from the modest clearly written introduction to the exhibition.
Putting these phrases together now I seem to have a ‘found poem’ which more clearly expresses my impression of the exhibition than some immodest critique.
In the exhibition, entitled The Heaven and Hell of War, Spencer’s paintings treat us to images from the Macedonian Front and a home-front camp and Asylum where the wounded and the mentally ill live separately but side by side. This seems to me to be a tidy comment on the confusion and pain of war. The underlying meaning of the paintings can apply equally to the soldiers and the insane.
Tweseldown, the camp near Farnham
The hospital serve a dual purpose during this war
A bus forces its way through rhododendron bushes and
a newly arrived convoy of soldiers settles in a bleak courtyard
The keys connect the painting to its location
Soldiers struggle to flatten out blankets. They live
repetitive insular lives. This one obsessively scrubs the floor,
sorting through blankets and spotted red handkerchiefs
dreaming of respite from unwelcome chores
painting Iodine onto a wound and
painting different materials and surfaces
The lives of mental patients -
they were all padlocked
|Young Stanley. Self Portrait|
A small figure - someone filling
urns with tea for one of the asylum wards -
in two different worlds.
A scene on the Macedonian front:
‘Stand to Order!’ The officer is camouflaged
with fern fronds. Piles of barbed wired appear
like black thunder clouds,
The resurrection of the soldiers -
each cross serving as an object of devotion
In a mesh of white crosses,
a soldier emerges from a grave
a cross serving to frame
his bewildered face