At some time during the 1930s the poet Ezra Pound, we are told, was on a visit to an ancient church in Italy and was descending the steps from the nave to the crypt when he chanced to see on the base of one of the great arcaded columns the Latinised name of the mason from Germany who had built it, carved by his own hand.
No doubt thousands of churchgoers over the last twelve centuries had seen the name and thought little of it. But Pound was dumbstruck, felled by what he called one of his 'moments of illumination'. In that instant, for him, the centuries vanished and mankind's ancient and universal longing to define a meaning to his existence beyond the imperatives of everyday survival was made manifest. Why else do lovers carve their names on trees?
To poets, artists and composers, these moments of sudden revelation, these 'epiphanies' as James Joyce called them, come more frequently than to the rest of us. Not only do they startle by their arrival, but the beneficiary is gripped by the urge to have us join him or her in the experience. So they tell it as a novelist, declaim it as a dramatist, chant it as a poet, transcribe it as a musician, carve it as a sculptor or depict it as an artist. Stanley Spencer was one such.
But these artists, in their urge to have us join them in their experience, face a challenge. At the moment of revelation, each finds himself in two worlds, two modes if one prefers. For an instant he/she is a split personality, existing in both the present and the timeless, while we groundlings remain firmly in the present. The interesting question then is how does the artist reconcile the two worlds in the telling or the showing of the experience?
This website sets out to explain some of the ways in which Stanley Spencer managed the reconciliation. It is predicated on the credo that to best understand his imaginative paintings it is important to try to know the whole man, and that what he said or wrote about his paintings is usually more illuminating than deductions to be drawn from their imagery alone.
Kenneth Pople (1917-2009)wrote the
acclaimed centenary biography, Stanley Spencer, published by
Collins in 1991. It
was nominated for the Whitbread Prize and went on to two paperback
editions before going out of print in 1997. Copies still circulate. This website is an updated supplement.