Ghent thoughts part 1
Ghent (16:47 Wednesday 11 May) via
Kirkwall (23:45 Monday 9 May);
Aberdeen (07:00 Tuesday 10 May);
Edinburgh (11:38 Tuesday 10 May);
Peterborough (15:48 Tuesday 10 May);
Cambridge (17:09 Tuesday 10 May);
London (10:06 Wednesday 11 May) and
Brussels (14:05 Wednesday 11 May).
We are staying in the family home of Maurice Maeterlinck, Flemish playwright, poet and essayist, who wrote in French and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911. Well, we are staying in a large, spacious apartment (one of three) in half the house. 23 Onderstraat, just a stones throw away from Sint-Baafskathedraal. It’s full of contemporary art, strange architectural features, huge windows, the oddest sunken bath/shower I’ve seen since the really bizarre regal monstrosity in the Mandawa Palace Hotel in Jaipur in 1993, and we have propped open the enormous window with a book on Klimt, like you do.
I have described this trip as a pilgrimage of sorts. Not in the religious sense, or at least not because of religious beliefs, as I have none. But as something that simply has to be done, and sadly wasn’t done before Rik died in 2018.
Since 1989 Rik and I talked about visiting Ghent to see the Van Eyck altarpiece. Rik was pretty obsessed with the Northern Renaissance when we were students at Falmouth, he shared that passion with me (I shared mine for abstract expressionism with him). He made work based on the altarpiece’s symbolism, it’s dimensions, he was mesmerised by 15th century religious painting and fascinated that a belief he did not share could produce such wonders. I think it had a lot to do with Dennis Creffield, his series of work on English Cathedrals (https://denniscreffield.org/viewing-room/2-english-cathedrals/) and Rik’s Foundation tutor Rod Harman (https://theblackshedgallery.org.uk/rod-harman).
”We must go one day” became our mantra.
We didn’t, and it is a genuine regret, probably the only regret I have.
Rik’s focus on the Northern Renaissance, church buildings, the strangeness of religious belief and the symbolism of religion stayed with him all his life, alongside his interest in archaeology, landscape and the purity and simplicity of mark making.
And so I find myself in Ghent, in May 2022, with the dregs of a bout of Covid attempting (but failing) to keep me down, with one goal and one goal only - to simply be in the same space as the altarpiece. To soak it up, to very carefully and consciously take in as much as possible, to let Rik see it through my eyes, and to fulfil more than 30 years of “we must do that thing”.
1-4 Clare Gee 18 May 2022 Huis Maeterlinck, 23 Onderstraat, Gent.
5 Rik with two of his paintings in the gallery at Falmouth School of Art, 1991. The right hand (smaller) “dead bird “ painting uses the same dimensions as the mystic lamb centre bottom panel of the Sint-baafskathedraal altarpiece.
6 Rik Hammond
St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
Charcoal and graphite on Arches
4 October 2011
7 Clare Gee 19 May 2022 Sint-Baafskathedraal, Gent. Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. Around 1420 to 1432.