the signal house
Portrait of Monty, 2021
September 7, 2021
contributing artists - Gill Roth, STANDAMID
This week, the four editors of The Signal House Edition came together in central London for the first time. This journal was founded at the outset of the pandemic, and now has physical offspring, in the form of our Works on Paper division. You may have only experienced us on your screen, but we are real, flesh and blood and words, and now paper.
Some nights later, two editors arrived at London's Barbican Centre for an outdoor screening of David Lean's 1955 film, Summertime. In the fairy-lit sculpture courtyard, elevated above the City of London district, a few hundred people gathered, with glowing blue headsets, to watch a middle-aged Katharine Hepburn wander Venice in search of, and then attempting to resist, love (in the dashing form of Rossano Brazzi). In a key turning point in the movie, Brazzi confronts Hepburn, who is in turns hot and cold towards the Venetian (she fights an inner battle with her desires and her morals). He holds Hepburn tightly with his arms:
"You are like a hungry child who is given ravioli to eat. 'No' you say, 'I want beefsteak!' My dear girl, you are hungry. Eat the ravioli."
This dialogue is, uncharacteristically, cringy and starchy (elsewhere the movie has silky one-liners and throwaway gems) but wrapped up in that parcel of pasta is 2021's wellness-craze reflection: live in the moment; the reality not the dream. Don't let life go by because you are waiting for the perfect moment, or life as you expected it to be.
There were all kinds of humanity in Lean's lovely and lonesome movie, and so too in the Barbican. Friends came together, and imperfect strangers, laughing, cringing, and pining, as community—a physical community—wrapt and wrapped-up in the moment, under the stars. "To hear a song together is a beginning" (we paraphrase from memory) Brazzi tells Hepburn at one point. And it is a beautiful sentiment.
The pandemic is one tragedy in a long list of tragedies that form part of the human story. "One woe doth tread upon another's heel, so fast they follow" Hamlet's mother said. As the world watches the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and again rising COVID-19 case numbers across the world, we have to ask, how can we protect our humanity going forward, knowing that tragedy is part of it? What can we do to find space in our days to escape paralysis and fear? Eating the ravioli seems the smallest of our tasks at times.
"I am not a child, but I don't understand," Hepburn tells Brazzi at another point in Summertime. The jarring simplicity of this statement captures so well the helplessness of being human. But the sentence need not be a closed statement, it can also be an open invitation.
It is hard to be human and understand anything alone. Unlike Kate Hepburn's Jane, we don't all get a handsome Italian to shake us into wakefulness with pasta metaphors, but we can at least be vulnerable and say, "I don't understand". That admission, too, can be a beginning.
- The Editors
CHRISTOPHER GEE (b.1987) is a British artist from Portsmouth, England. He lives and works on the Thames Estuary, Essex. His small scale works on paper explore stillness and isolated scenes. His paintings are informed by historic houses and landmarks, often forgotten or overlooked sites of familiarity and intrigue. Walking and collecting are key to his practice. His graphic yet naïve-looking paintings, conjure places both historical and imagined, taking us on a fragmented journey through forested landscapes, vernacular architecture, and archaic towers. The intimacy and execution of these paintings convey themes of silence and solitude. His influences include Northern Renaissance painting, Folk Art, the Romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich and the paintings of Alfred Wallis. He also takes inspiration from the novels of Hermann Hesse and W.G. Sebald.
Gee has sold his work to clients such as Paul Smith and Liberty London as well as showing at Paris fashion week in 2019 in collaboration with menswear brand UNIFORME-Paris. His work is also held in private collections around the world. WEBSITE, INSTAGRAM.
(Image credit: Portrait of Monty, acrylic on paper, 2021, by kind permission of the artist.)