Shani Rhys James’s current touring exhibition (The Rivalry of Flowers) pulls the visitor in at least two directions. One is towards a feeling of dread, and the other towards a celebration of absolutely gorgeous interiors. It’s like wandering onto the set of a horror movie designed by Laurence Llewelyn Bowen.
Let’s go with the horror first. This is Jean Rhys territory – floral wallpaper, menacing chandeliers, existential loneliness. These are rooms for women with no place in the world. They are both a refuge from the cold streets, and prison cells. ‘There was a table covered with a red cloth in the middle, and a sofa, and flowered wall-paper’, wrote Rhys in Voyage in the Dark.
In the tradition of the Realist novel as practised by 19th-century French writers such as Balzac and Zola, Wiliam Owen Roberts presents a chronicle of the years 1925 to 1933 that uses random individuals and events in order to illustrate general historical developments, in this case the battle between Communism and Fascism. The historically accurate yet totally fabricated characters in Paris – the type that George Lukács admired in Balzac – are familiar to Roberts’s readers since this is the middle book of a planned trilogy of novels, the first being Petrograd (2008).
‘We grow up in belief and we grow old in belief. Somewhere in the middle, sometimes, facts press doubt upon us.’
Thus begins Relationships with Pictures, a page turner that kept me fascinated through-out. It has the qualities of a good detective novel. The author gradually unfolds and reveals the life history of his chosen pictorial images through a process that involves chasing clues, uncovering the secret life of artists and discovering the links that make sense of obscure corners of artistic practice. Peter Lord is a charismatic but quite private person. He has become a wellknown figure for people in Wales who are interested in the history of the visual arts.
Why do we spend so much time working? In recent decades, leisure time – previously enjoying a steady rise – has stalled, even as the developed world drowns in wealth and technology. Last December, Britain’s Chancellor raised the retirement age. We are to spend even more of our lives in work.
Meanwhile, ecologists, psychologists and economists sound urgent warnings about our growing wealth. Rich countries have become no happier as they have grown richer: beyond a certain point, relative income matters more than absolute income, distribution more than wealth. Economic growth is often harmful, in fact: ever-expanding, our economy destroys the natural world and destabilises the climate, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
And many many more reviews...
...read more in the latest issue - click here to buy