42 - Artistic merit? - Scratch and sniff
The Royal Academy Summer Show, where marks carefully made by emerging artists can rub shoulders with effortless offerings from those who’ve made their mark, not necessarily merely in the world of visual art. Several years ago, I remember how impressed I was to see that the late, inimitable and multi-talented Una Stubbs had dipped her index finger in a pot of ink and applied that dirty digit to paper three times, making two round fingerprints, and one horizontal smear underneath them. The resulting portrait she had called Benedict. We didn’t need to be told the subject’s surname. So expressive was the twinkle in those two curranty fingerblobs, that there could be no doubting which Benedict had sat so patiently before the artist’s scrutinous gaze. That portrait was a work of pure genius.
It was the poster image of a work of much greater technical sophistication by Kathleen Ryan that drew me to the Royal Academy Summer Show last year – a very lifelike sculpture of a rotten lemon, fashioned convincingly in aventurine, serpentine, agate, quartz, Ching Hai jade, red malachite, hematite, jasper, rose quartz, carnelian, onyx, mother of pearl, freshwater pearl, bone, acrylic, glass, and steel pins on coated polystyrene. There was just one thing missing – the smell!
For the Christmas before, I had received a genuine rotten lemon in the post, all wrapped up and ready for the big day, accompanied by a bottle of tequila. The friend who had sent me this rotten lemon, a perfectionist in every respect, had thought of everything, except, perhaps, the festive procrastinations of Royal Mail.
While the bottle of tequila sat in the cupboard, visited and revisited only in moderation, the giddy scent of that potent lemon dust will haunt my craving nostrils and taunt my palette forever. I have to admit that consumption of its memory has formed something of a habit. Even as I opened that parcel, globules of oleaginous citrus odour burst forth, bouncing up to fill the room with a fragrance more intoxicating than any exotic diffuser oil, borne aloft in a miasma of penicillin spores, softest green powder-puff fluff, ripples of Tiffany blue streaming upwards as beautiful long white filaments flowed like hair from the waxy bright yellow follicles of firm lemon skin, still visible in patches. A physiognomy of such beauty. And that smell was divine.
My nostrils quiver, as I dither. Will I see the Royal Academy Summer Show again this year, I wonder? I’ve had an invite. Can I say no? What will I remember from the illustrious works that process before my eyes if I do go? And why?