Sunday, 11 March 2012

Abyssinian Association

Yesterday I was a little curt with you, dear readers, for which I apologize. My time was short, since I had agreed to accompany Vera and Hannibal to an exhibition up north in Santiago de Compostela. Santiago? Distant Santiago? The cathedral town all the way at the end of The Way? Is there no art any closer to where you live, Alfred? Well there is, of course, but not this art, dear reader, the kind which fits the personality of my two friends like a glove.

As my keener and more loyal readers must have grasped by now, the Velikov family is no run-of-the-mill affair. Vera is White Russian, Igor Ukrainian-born from a Jewish family, their daughter Ivana saw the light in Nazaré before they were naturalised, and young Hannibal is… Ethiopian! Once settled in their new motherland, Igor and Vera decided to give thanks for the many blessings received by adopting the charming little toddler from an Addis Ababa orphanage. Hence also the uncommon first name (to put it mildly). Thinking that the original Selassie Bekele might be a little too tongue-twisting for Portuguese schoolmates, teachers and civil servants, they renamed the boy after Alexander Pushkin’s great-grandfather, General Abram Gannibal, who was kidnapped from Ethiopia as a boy, given to the Tsar of Russia as a present, and then launched by His Imperial Majesty upon a splendid military career which took him straight to the very top (Ah, you didn’t know the great Pushkin was part black, did you now, dear reader? Guess what? Alexandre Dumas – yeah: the one of Monte Cristo and the Musketeers - is another one! And so, incidentally, is President Obama!) Because ‘Gannibal’ was really asking for sick jokes in the schoolyard, the Russian G was dropped for the Latin H, and consequently, my dear godson now goes through life as Hannibal Selassie Igorevich Velikov, a much easier moniker to dictate to Portuguese civil servants when applying for a driver’s licence or a tax refund…

The Velikovs with fellow adopters in 2007
Hannibal is the 6th child from the left; Vera right behind; 
Ivana refused to pose; Igor made the picture.

You are probably at a perfect loss by now what all this has to do with the Pictures of Any Bleeding Exhibition. So allow me to explain. The other day, I received notice of a show - in the halls of the Great Hospital Real of Santiago - of works by one the very few modern painters I can possibly stand or tolerate: an Irish fellow, now living in Norfolk, called Brian Whelan. Whelan is as much of a bungler as any other painter after Constable, but he has some redeeming qualities. One of which is that he does not fear to be religious or traditional (which makes him an outright rebel in these idiotic days of topsy turvy morality where non-conformism has become the norm!) Another that he has done his utmost to drink at the most distant sources (in more ways than one, incidentally… you surely are familiar with Irish thirst?) One such distant place of immense artistic richness is Ethiopia, which he travelled, and you can immediately see the influence in paintings like his Nativity, where we find not only a black King Balthazar (as is common in Spain), and a Black Madonna (an occasional thing there), but also a Black Baby Christ (unheard of anywhere in this honky world). And that’s not even mentioning the most Ethiopian naked light-bulb by way of halo…

Brian Whelan: Nativity

Ah, what a marvellous breath of fresh air from the everyday diarrhoea of pop art and conceptual paint-slinging in Greenwich Village! So I figured there would be nothing wrong with taking my Ethiopian-born godson on an educational excursion, to whip up that esthetical potentiality and stimulate some awareness of his roots. Since I had settled that little matter of the Sutra Waterbed ‘out of court’, so to speak (you buy a waterbed, you slip the sales attendant 20 Euros and he changes the name of the model on the bill to the desired terminology… Everybody happy!) the little PlayStation-addicted brat could not possibly refuse to come along. His mama Vera, who is Orthodox and devout, offered to drive us, and so into her 12 year old Space Star we hopped at noon, to negotiate the roughly 100 miles of the Way to Compostela.

And it was certainly worth the effort, dear reader. How much so, I will tell you tomorrow, sympathetically yet without mercy, when I’ve had time to check up on my Vasari, my Burckhardt, and my Gombrich.

1 comment:

  1. Not forgetting the Three Wise Men...!image/325300657.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_490/325300657.jpg