You never know where your next surprise is going to come from. With window rattling winds and torrential rain, cycling around London is not a particularly pleasing prospect. After a couple of days huddling in my car and playing parking-Russian-roulette, I decided to brave the seasonal elements and head off. My brother in law was in the Gurkhas as young man and spent many a night lying on the beach at night waiting for illegal immigrants to land around Hong Kong. He said it was often very wet and miserable lying on the shell beaches. But he learnt, and subsequently told me, that it actually rarely rains continually, even on a really rainy day, it comes in fits and starts. This was my optimistic approach as I headed out into a gap in the seemingly endless squall. The tepid but bright winter sun peaked out from behind the apocalyptic black clouds and I pushed off. After 20 minutes, I had arrived at the office nearly dry. I had sped down to Vauxhall, over Lambeth Bridge, round Smith Square, up by Green Park and then the last push up the hill of St James' and I was chaining up my bike. The rain had held off, and as I threaded my way through these beautiful parts of London, I felt once again the joy and the delight of being free, roaming in our wonderful city. However, there was one fly in the ointment. I had chosen to ride my Leader 725, which is lightweight, fast and responsive, as I imagine a fine horse would be. The down-side of this fine steed is that it has no mudguards. Given the amount of water on the road, and the Cumbrian lakes of puddles that punctuate the streets, I got very precisely wet from my bottom up to my neck in a straight line of spray up my spine. My front and sides were warm, almost toasty from my energies, but I had this exquisite line of freezing cold and dripping wet. Never mind.
I went to a pub in Masbro Road in Hammersmith called the Havelock Tavern to meet with my assistant and my accountant. It has big windows and is on a corner so it makes a great winter location when we are keen for any light. It has made a speciality of simple, carefully made, robust food. As we discussed my chaos and half-baked plans, we consumed salmon, beef and chicken, all of which were good enough to distract us from our conversation without inspiring us to rave or take pictures. It is funny the way meals can be like that; good, worthy, nourishing meals that nonetheless are neither bad nor good, just 'fine'. It sounds as if I am being a trifle dismissive here but actually this sort of nourishment gives great comfort. You feel cosseted without having to pay much attention to what you are actually eating. My ex-boss at Mallett once called our in-house cook into the Mallett dining room. He was not a great foodie but he had enjoyed his lunch greatly. "Catherine", he said, "that was delicious, it didn't taste of anything!" Naturally, she was quite crestfallen thinking he had called her in to carry out some sort of cruel practical joke. But, truthfully, he had tried to compliment. He meant that the food was 'fine' and that it had all been delicious and nothing had tasted 'too' anything. The perfect culinary harmony she had achieved had rendered it invisible, which in the context of a working lunch is altogether good. This was the case at the Havelock, but I did not repeat his compliment.
I drove down to Dorset to visit the artist Simon Gudgeon. He has created an amazing aquatic sculpture park. Some years ago he bought a struggling fish farm and has redeveloped it into a wonderful and surprising walk of figurative and abstract sculpture. Many works play with reflections and are nuanced and moved by changes in light and wind. Simon and his wife are both gardeners and dog lovers in probably equal measure. Their house and gardens are immaculate and each piece is beautifully located and planted around. There is a strong Japanese aesthetic at work, visible in the detail, the finishes, the surfaces and even in the broader arrangements. Simon is a precise man with a determined and ambitious drive that makes him the success he is, but also seems to encourage him to be brave and creative too. He seems to be coming up with new ideas and concepts for work on a daily basis. I was particularly struck by the remote control helicopter he had built in order to take aerial pictures of his park and works. Around the property his dogs roamed in confident disorder, each an interesting breed, glossily healthy and cheerful.
He is keen to do something with us at Masterpiece and the challenge is to find a way of incorporating his work into our show in a way that is both beneficial and appropriate to both parties. We will need to think hard, as the work is outside our normal style but he is full of creativity and drive. In addition to his lakes, the local countryside is awash, temporary lakes abound and the pub at which we ate lunch was practically afloat. As we ate our fishcakes and crab tarts, washed down with fizzy water, I could practically hear Simon's mind crackling with energy as he discussed his plans for the next few months. As I drove away, I felt very enthused by this artist who has made this private park but looks out via the internet and connections to the whole world.
Every time I walk along the Quai Voltaire I pass the shop of Guy Ladrière. I have never been in, embarrassingly. I stare at the window and I presume, as I press my nose to the glass, that I won't be able to afford anything. For 10 years Benjamin Proust was residing on the other side of the glass, but he is now an independent sculpture dealer and has a showroom in Bond St almost opposite where Mallett were for many years. I never knew there was a gallery there. As I look back on my 25 Mallett years, I increasingly conclude that I worked in a sort of bubble, strangely unaware of the world beyond our showrooms and suppliers. Benjamin has been in the business for 20 years and I have really hardly met him. We met once, at the Christies box at Chelsea football club, but that is all. Here is someone, highly respected and with long experience, that I have only just got to know, and I so easily could have done so before, both in Paris and in London.
He is one of those vertical people. Tall and incredibly skinny with that trendy beard which is a cross between being unshaven and an actual beard, 'manly stubble'. He has very much the current fashionable look. But he is infectiously friendly and enthusiastic. His art is sculpture and he buys eclectically and shows his work in a creative and clean, modern way. He is not pretentious but the look is very cool. I asked him whether he was a relative of Marcel Proust, the author. He answers that it is possible, but not definite, but he does say that he has a relative called Madeleine Proust, which is perfect! She became so by marrying into the family, consequently it is a total accident that she is named after the inspiration for the great author's fictionalised memoire.
In Dorset I was struck by the bright sun shining on the water everywhere, the trees and bushes are leafless and everything seems very dead and wintery. But I stopped and looked a bit closer and those dead looking branches are full of buds. Life is lurking, building up strength to burst out again come a clement moment. I know this is a fact known to most, but I am an ardent habitual town dweller and this dormant life is a discovery. I found it most inspiring and thought perhaps the New Year is a good time to make resolutions after all, ones that need to build up strength before they burst onto the scene in the Spring.
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