The art of very bad verse and worse…
3 weeks ago, 17:09
When the Prince of Wales, son and heir of Queen Victoria, lay desperately ill, it fell to the then English Poet Laureate Alfred Austin to record the event.
He did not fail us:
Across the wires the electric message came:
He is no better: He is much the same.
Thankfully the prince survived both illness and poetry to become the dissolute and entertaining King Edward VII.
When asked to rally the public with a poem about the Boer War, once again Austin did not disappoint:
They rode across the veldt
As fast as they could pelt…
Just a dozen years after Austin had penned his immortal couplets, music lovers across the Atlantic were by turns astonished, horrified and finally amused by the hilariously bad singing of Florence Foster Jenkins.
An immensely wealthy socialite and amateur soprano, from 1912 to the 1940s she hired some of America’s most prestigious opera houses to perform her tone-deaf renderings of famous arias.
What both Austin and Jenkins had in plenty was self-confidence… a trait to be seen aplenty on the East African arts scene.
Of course, artists need self-belief to produce anything — professional art is relentless hard work, after all — and if that sometimes leads to a touch of arrogance, well that’s OK. Whatever gets them through the night and gives them the courage to face a blank canvas the following day.
But occasionally confidence can spill over into a reckless conviction that whatever they produce is superb and ready to show to an admiring public. Or not.
There are many painful examples of this in any arts community anywhere — people who draw so badly it becomes comical, people whose colour combinations would embarrass a pizza, people with the compositional subtlety of a train crash, those who copy other artists instead of producing original work, and those who believe an idea is sufficient and that no care need be taken in realising it. And that is just the start of it.
An example of enthusiasm in danger of overtaking ability can be seen currently at the Banana Hill Art Gallery to the west of Nairobi, where Zanzibar artist Yahya Zola is holding a solo show of 20 oil paintings until the end of this month.
It includes many portraits of famous people and the catalogue tells us who they are: President Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, Jimi Hendrix, Fidel Castro and Leonardo DiCaprio, among others.
There are portraits too of women known to the artist but not yet to the wider world; perky of posture, wide of eye and white of teeth.
Then there are landscapes that certainly capture the orange flare of an Indian Ocean sunset and the billowing triangular sales of the inevitable dhow.
What might have been the artist’s piece de resistance, his homage to the Mona Lisa, shows us La Giaconda with the thoughtful expression of someone who has just realised she is sitting in a puddle.
Zola, a full-time artist for some 15 years, says his style is called Spontaneous Realism, and without doubt spontaneity is there to be seen in these big, bold and colourful works.
Category: magazine news