Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Suffolk dreaming

Intimate friends and acquaintances may well be surprised to learn that last Sunday I traveled the 220 miles from Central London to Orford Ness and back riding pillion on an extremely glamorous BMW GS 1200 motorcycle. It was Heaven. Getting out of London other than by rail is always tedious, but on a motorcycle it is rather less so. Once free of the metropolis, however, the ride through Epping Forest with its ancient trees, so gnarled, so reminiscent of Shoreham-period Samuel Palmer, then onward through rural Essex, past Chelmsford, Colchester, and through the gentle countryside of Suffolk past Ipswich to the sea was simply marvelous, made more so by the benign warm spring sunshine, the rush of fresh air, and the smooth zippiness of the bike. I had previously been concerned lest every muscle in my body end up in spasm as a result of holding on, but a little more than forty-eight hours later I am feeling no ill effect whatsoever. In fact, my comparatively elevated position and unobstructed view gave rise to a number of those unforgettable experiences of the English landscape when you go round a corner and feel as if, all of a sudden, you have entered almost physically into the margin or past the frame of a familiar view of some almost identical spot by (in this instance) John Constable, and that nothing much could separate your experience of it from his, aside from the fact that 200 years later you are traveling at 70 miles per hour, so it is admittedly rather more fleeting. All of which obviously makes regular and unrestricted access to his superb and unpretentious painting, now that I am back here in New Haven, Conn., a luxury even greater than the precision engineering afforded by the firm of BMW.


  1. driving a truck gives you a similar experience of landscape, albeit from a greater elevation

    i've often wanted to photograph the marvellous views but many turn out to be impossible from a standing viewpoint and memory plays a kind of cubist trick by organising itself into succesive fleeting perspectives formed of multiple viewpoints

    1. Site visits are always interesting because they can tell you as much about pictorial adjustments made by artists in the studio as they reveal certain truths about the principal topographical features of the place. In Constable's case, those adjustments are often about scale. His Suffolk world remains a miniature one, consisting of little meadows, small villages, tiny churches, and evidently the task he often set himself was to turn these into parts of something far bigger, more monumental and enduring.