'Cloudy Trophies' exhibition, The Keats-Shelley House, Rome, Sept 2021
In 2021 it is two hundred years since the poet John Keats died, aged twenty-five, from tuberculosis, in a small room — now part of Keats-Shelley House — overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome.
It was only three years since he had composed, in the course of a few intense months, his six 'Odes', some of the most luminous poems of English literature.
Amongst his lively and varied correspondence, he had, in 1817, left his thoughts on what he termed Negative Capability, which has been partly interpreted as the capacity to hold conflicting emotions in beautiful equilibrium, thus suggesting an approach to art which may be seen in contrast to the declarative, prescriptive or instructional; refuting 'resting places and seeming sure points of Reasoning'.
Do these briefly sketched thoughts offer an important strategy for constructing an art form which has the capacity to reflect the true complexity of human emotion, acknowledging that we have responses to the world around us that might pull us in paradoxical directions?
I hope that the paintings made in Rome might explore this complexity; reflecting, through layering and adjacency, both some outward aspects of the modern European city as it comes to terms with the impact of a contemporary pandemic, and the legacy of its classical past, which had been such a reservoir of imaginative imagery for Keats, but which he only experienced briefly, at the end of his life.