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Recently I read with interest Peter Schjeldahl’s piece on Renoir in The NewYorker, (“Skin Deep”, Aug. 26, 2019) and discovered with relief that I was not alone in finding Renoir’s nudes to be puzzling. Those skin surfaces, as smooth and featureless as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade inflatable, had always troubled me. The article prompted me to think again about those huge thighs and buttocks (were his models really that large?) matched with the tiny facial features scrunched up in one corner of the face, framed with luxurious tresses – it all seemed bizarre to me.

It seems that even Renoir's models were surprised at the images he produced, and were puzzled at how little they resembled the sitters.

After reading Schjeldahl’s comments it occurred to me that these chocolate-box colors, this cheesecake presentation, were enmeshed with the exaggerated size of the hips and groin. The effect is to emphasize the genital area – the very area that soft porn wishes to draw our attention to. Renoir, surely, delivers a version of soft porn, but by exaggerating the areas of sexual interest he also subverts the male gaze, asking, as it were, “Is this what you want?  Really?” It’s a balancing act of superb perception.

Perhaps that is his true genius.


Getting older, I tend to notice that the face I encounter each day in the mirror is looking more and more like my father's. I see this with amusement - since I spent quite large portions of my youth saying I would never, ever be anything remotely like my parents. Yet here I am. Their DNA is now mine, suitably mixed, and I even have some of their mannerisms. So, if that's the case, who am I as an individual? Am I an individual at all? If I look like my parents then what's to stop me thinking like them, being like them, despite the surface differences I cling to?

Our age is obsessed with the idea that we're all unique - and so we are - but we are also very clearly linked to those who came before us. How would it be if we stopped trying to be people who aren't like the rest, and started accepting that we're not as special as we think? How would it be if we stopped saying, "How can I make my mark on the world?" and started saying, "How can I continue the good work that generations before me have done?"

That might be a game changer.

Memoir and motorcycles

There's much more to travel than simply arriving - although with our air-conditioned cars and our earbuds we tend to block out the physicality of moving from place to place. That can be a sad loss in our awareness and in our ability to communicate about who we are.


Travelling on the Tube I noticed a woman with a tailored shirt/smock that had paint splashes on it. Looking more closely I discovered that this was in fact a manufactured series of identical ‘splashes’ designed to make her look as if she were a fine artist who could look stylish even when she’d just stepped out of her studio.

I know artists and painters. I know where the paint collects and splashes, how it smudges up around the wrists and then around the rib area when the paint on the (usually right) hand brushes past the fabric. I know the real thing.

This was ersatz, designer paint splash.  Like distressed leather jackets and ripped jeans, it was all about posturing. 

Perhaps it means that people are finally starting to admire the artists of the world, to want to be like them. Possibly they’ll even start to do some art themselves – and revive their souls in the process. 

Travel Notes

Sitting in a rather tidy little breakfast restaurant on the King’s Road I realized the man to my left was reading his poetry from a notebook to an older man, who was listening as well as he could over the general noise that always accompanies restaurant serving.  The waitress, a swift footed Diana of the Diners, bustled past, plates of Full English Breakfast (with extra chips) stacked on her forearms.

The young man was seeking an opinion of his work from the older man.

My first thought was, “Why try to read poetry in this noise?”

So of course I listened in as well as I could.

The younger man was desperate to be ‘found’, to be published, to be heard, he explained. Yet he hadn’t sent out any of his work, and he needed the approval of the older man. The older man, with infinite tact, asked him why the approval of others mattered so much. The younger man could not answer, except for saying he needed something to show for his writing efforts.

The conversation went on for some time. Diana of the Diners collected their almost untouched mugs of tea and bustled away. At no point had the young man said there was something inside he wanted to express, and that this was what had driven him forwards. At no point had he talked about the content of his poetry.

For a moment I felt sad that this person was so desperate for recognition. He’d even missed out noticing Diana’s loveliness. Then I turned my attention back to the sausage, eggs, ham and chips before me and knew he was on his own learning path, and that it was perfect for him.