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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


When the new, pretty striking, portrait of King Charles was unveiled, I was kept entertained for some time by searching and reading popular reaction to it.

Portrait of King Charles 3rd
KING CHARLES 111, by Jonathan Yeo (2024)

There were, of course, the predictable 'is it unfinished?-type' remarks. I've been there, Mr Yeo. I feel your pain.

Then there were the outlandishly diverse interpretations of the butterfly motif, and of course the memes, some of which substituted photoshopped sausages for the King's well-documented swollen digits.

Jonathan Yeo is a superb artist. In my opinion, his portrait of the King does not represent his finest hour, but I absolutely love it that the portrait breaks a few boundaries and smashes several preconceptions as to what a portrait of a 'royal' should be. Mr Yeo is in good company. Lucian Freud's rendering of Queen Elizabeth caused a bit of a stir, Justin Mortimer offered us a brilliant decapitated Queen, and Andy Warhol did her too (Ooh lala)!

Amusingly, straight off the bat came the conspiracy-theory-fuelled 'dark' interpretations of Jonathan Yeo's picture.

For instance: Some imaginative dude decided that the painting reminded him of “that insanely scarily demonic painting in Ghostbusters 2”. Never mind that Charles stands with his hands passively overlaid in front of him and is painted in red, and the Ghostbusters painting has arms akimbo in a yellow hue; but so it went on, from one hilarious lurch of fancy to the next.

Other people took the Charles painting and reversed it, mirrored it, turned it upside-down, made negative images out of it and ran it through a washing-machine cycle (in respect to HM, eco-setting of course) and discovered all kinds of hidden devils, demons, goats and scary heads by subjecting the by now abused painting to a ludicrous over-scrutiny devoid of all nuance and intuition.

Now, I am not a royalist and I am not a Christian, so I do not recognise the supposed 'divine right of kingship'; thus the subject matter of this poor, already battle-torn painting of is not of especial interest to me (although Charles talks to plants and I like that). I do, however, enjoy an internet scrap as much as the next person, and I 'may' even have seen the potential, in some of what I read, for a blog post therein! Ah, bless you, TikTok art critics and gaming-chair pundits with your vacuous flailings.

There are those among us who claim existential or divine revelations by what they see in the clouds - very often Jesus, it must be said. This is probably a little like sitting in front of a log fire after one brandy too many, and seeing pictures in the embers.

In a certain frame of mind, we may 'see things' in almost anything in our orbit. There is nothing wrong with that if it gives us comfort, but we need to be careful when applying such a route as an approach to art. Art deserves a purer, more accepting and less nervous inroad.

It really is fine just to find a painting beautiful in its own right.

I have written often on this subject – here, for instance - and I will remind my readers once again that, with abstract art, we need to lay ourselves open to absorption, to receiving the intrinsic beauty of a painting without following tangible suggestions towards it. As one of my readers wrote, in response to the article linked above, such an exploration is a very 'freeing' one.

I walked out of the gym today through the beautiful park in the town where I live contemplating an apparent desire in some people, to discover representational (and ultimately finite) meaning in philosophically flowing, abstract, evanescent and metaphysical things. 'In the mood', I decided to gaze into the lush avenue of lime trees above me, convinced that, as soon as I did so, I would see a sign, a symbol!

How right I was! Directly above me, the pleached glory of the fecund spring boughs had arranged themselves into a perfect, leafy love-heart above my head. This surely meant that Summer 2024 would be the summer of love for me!

Summer of Love
Ah...How I would love to have been a part of this!

Only joking about what I saw in the trees!

If you know me even only superficially, you will know me much better than that; you will know that I am fine with such a scenario not being so!

There was the 'sign' though, clear and resplendent – how puzzling!

I trust that the preceding irony is not lost on my readers. Mightily relieved, two steps later I saw that the blinding revelation had evaporated and, reinforced, I could focus once more on the intrinsic majesty of the soft, young, arching leaves.

I needed no more. I never need more.

As in nature, so it is in art. The lapping, verdant branches of a noble, ancient tree above us hold no meaning apart from their natural grandeur; and that meaning is immense, limitless.

Schubert's final, miraculous piano sonata is a glory of human creation in itself. We can look at the hardship of Schubert's life and his premature death and contemplate its possible, even probable, impact on the music; but really all we need is the music alone, a creation that ranks as one of the most supreme that we know.

I once heard Jeremy Siepmann describe a historically anachronistic but artistically sublime performance of a Scarlatti Sonata by the great pianist Emil Gilels as demonstrating “musical truth”, despite its disregard for period veracity. How right he was, and how absolutely I believe we need to look at all art in a similar way. Surely, Truth is what we seek.

In Rolf Peter Kahl's 2016 film BEDWAYS (don't watch it if you are easily offended, and don't say I told you to!) the actress booked to perform in the 'film-within-a-film' asks “what is all this about?”

The answer offered by the director of the film-within-a-film is “I don't know yet. That's what we're trying to discover.”

I know this article has travelled a little distance beyond King Charles' sausage-fingers and whether or not the Illuminati are at play in his recent portrait but, ultimately, I merely wanted to highlight some of the dangers of 'reading things into things'.

“When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left to find the way”. (Ancient Japanese proverb).


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