Monday, 28 March 2011



When I saw 
Alex Cave's painting, my first thought was of Robert Delaunay’s exquisite Tour Eiffel  painted a hundred years earlier. It was in the Royal Academy's 2002 exhibition PARIS CAPITAL OF THE ARTS 1900-1968. Delaunay showed the viewer the Eiffel as no one had ever seen it before.  Like Leger and the Futurists, he wanted to express the dynamism of the machine age and honour a building which some saw as its most illustrious symbol.

Cave too is looking afresh at a familiar scene. Just as the rigid motif of the Eiffel tower – reproduced in millions of paperweights and key rings - is shattered and planes merge with the forms of the surrounding buildings, here we glimpse what’s going on when Kings Cross, St Pancras (with which it shares an underground station) and  Euston join the party a hundred years later.

The viewer is plunged knee deep into clutter and excitement. Nothing and no one is content with where they are at the present moment. Anything is possible - Paris, Lille, Brussels, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Mornington Crescent... Two large clocks ratchet up the anxiety,  reminding travellers that their time is not their own. And it’s not only people who are on the move, the very bricks and stones join in. The buildings themselves seem to lean forward so as not to miss one minute of the technicolour circus below. 

The text accompanying the exhibition says that Cave is developing what he describes as ‘‘combinatorics art’, inspired by his fascination with technologcal and mathematical concepts. I’m out of my depth here. What I do know is that these abstract figurative/landscape works are arresting. There's an eerie third dimension he manages to get us to see. A stolid Kings Cross station, which next year celebrates its 160th birthday, looks almost fragile, unstable. It’s as if you could stretch out your hand and pluck a building from the picture. Or walk round and see what’s behind a barrier or a person. There’s a paradox in this. It’s so real – and so fantastical.  The colours are a surprise too: beautiful, romantic, lucid, like a fairy tale or a children’s picture book. Except that they’re not. This picture is not sweet. Like a still life, there’s also change and fragmentation. But it is energising, optimistic, innovative.

While I was writing this blog, two things happened
  •  St Pancras held a Spring event: 12 hours  of live art and cultural performance
  • And it was reliably reported in the  newspaper that a tame ferret alighted on a Scottish platform having caught the train at Kings Cross. No wonder paintings of railway stations need to be revisited with combinatorics art...

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