The storm has finally broken. The horror which yesterday rocked my mood in Manchester-bringing with it all manner of ill fortune, and an unrelenting rain from a howling, protesting sky- has now passed.
Today is a new day. The cool, lazy February daylight is bright out, and refracts back across the cafe tables in misshapen shards, as I gaze out through the window onto Cromwell road. Perfectly perched for people watching, I type away happily, enjoying my remote working session in the little London office I have made for myself.
My mind focussed on the task at hand, I sip earl grey tea and occasionally, catch light fluffy clouds just above my line of vision, careering aimlessly, as if yesterday’s brooding sky never existed.
The early evening eventually yawns in, which gives me a chance to finish up, and just about imbibe some culture before closing time. Given my Kensington locality, I am surrounded by museums from every angle, and so I pitch for my favourite, The V&A.
I enter through the main hallway, and gaze up from checkered floor, to the great vaulted dome, where a modern glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly erupts in blues and greens; a great haphazard chandelier of swirling plumes. The piece hangs low, in juxtaposition to its traditional architectural surroundings, like contorted balloon, a chaos of snake-like tubes, and bulbous round pumpkins.
I drift onwards and roam the ground floor breezily, where marble hues and sand coloured walls remind me of a similar expedition I once took through the echoing corridors of the Museum of Cairo. The pieces, of course, aren’t remotely similar, and the alabaster 18th century busts lining the way stare vacantly back at me with pupil-less eyes as I waft by.
I walk on, past maroon walls adorned with glinting mosaics the colour of autumn sunshine, to a temporary exhibition I have been dying to see, the photography of Julia Margaret Cameron.
Julia was an innovative 19th century photographer, renowned for her rule breaking and unconventional portraits. Developed in a wash of sepia, her scenes feature subjects posed as biblical, allegorical, and historical figures.
Only receiving a camera for the first time on her 48th birthday, it was Julia’s tenacity, self-belief and overt proclamations which brought her work to the attention of wider audiences, along with her friendship with founding director of The South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), Henry Cole.
Earning the scorn and disdain of many-a-male critic of the time, her shots which invoke a dreamy renaissance quality, conjure up icons more likely to be found in the work of Danté, Raphael, and Michelangelo.
Her rule breaking and lack of focus seemed crass to some, but it is the tiny movements captured during the long exposures on her camera which truly garner the vitality of her work.
I love how the irregularities and flaws permeating her pieces help to bring the portraits to life; some of her finest and most fearless compositions uniquely signed with honeycomb crackles, and sooty fingerprint smudges.
I’m torn between calling favourite on photos entitled St Agnes, Julia Jackson, and Alice, with piercing eyes looking right through me into my soul, hair falling gracefully in loose angelic waves, and fabric whose draping folds appear drawn on, such is their crisp clarity.
From one Alice to another, I finish up here before hopping back across town for late night opening at The British Library. It’s quiet enough to hear a pin drop, which allows me to experience the temporary exhibition on Alice in Wonderland in perfectly amicable silence.
The exhibition celebrates 150 years of Alice’s story. Eventually published in 1865, it was in 1862 when Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dogson) took a boat trip with the three young daughters of the Dean of his Oxford College, and regaled them with the tale of ‘Alice’s adventures underground’ to keep them entertained.
This planted the seed which grew into the great, sprawling, forest that is the household classic we know and love today.
The exhibition has illustrations etched onto mirrors everywhere, and in true wonderland fashion, sends you round in a complicated maze to see the various displays.
I see everything from the iconic original illustrations of John Tenniel, renowned artist of ‘Punch’ magazine fame, to the blue-clad 1950’s Disney Alice that is instantly familiar.
I am blown away by how many people have taken to illustrating this masterpiece, as well as reimagining the fable. I witness dark and eerie versions, political tomes, psychedelic takes, and those journeys recounted from Alice’s own perspective.
I bounce between original scripts and artwork, and more recent ventures by the likes of Salvador Dalí, all the while marvelling at Alice’s quirky and profound logic.
This collection really shows the prolific impact Alice had, and is a testament to Carroll’s greatness that the narrative still exists in all its original glory.
By the time I leave, my well is overflowing with artistic licence, and I stroll the now-wet streets with a sense of magic and wonder all around me.
This brief creative sojourn has been a glorious upwards shift out of a my previous 24 hour stormy slump. I am inspired, my inquiring mind aflame, and so it is off into the heaving Kings Cross foot-traffic I skip, with a lightness of step only found, I am sure, in the most curious of curious imaginations.