The Soul of the Soulless City

It stopped me in my tracks, that image, with a gasp
(I turned to see if anyone had noticed).
It had reached out from the wall and grabbed me.
Like a snake in the grass – really, not a metaphor,
but a primitive reaction.
As I passed, the picture had crept un-noticed through the corner of my eye, into my brain, and hit a trigger – KAZAM and spinning round, amazed,
I recognised the view —
the exact view from my earliest childhood, or so it seemed —
though I’ve never been to New York.

Soul of the Soulless City by CRW Nevinson ()

Soul of the Soulless City-CRW Nevinson

Creative Commons Licence

Wide-eyed and gripped by New York in 1920 and never so moved before by art, I was perplexed.

Even more so when I found this!

Roofs of New York CRW Nevinson in my grandparent's flat circa 1955

My Mum and Dad with the Roofs of New York by
CRW Nevinson, in my grandparent’s flat circa 1955

You see — it’s not the same image at all — just an essence, the blowing steam, the style, and I was a child when I last saw that picture. But still I spun round when I saw through the same eyes, sixty years later — the eyes of CRW Nevinson.  What does this tell us about art?

Here I am looking the other way!

Essentially unchanged

Essentially unchanged

P.S  The artist renamed the picture which is now on show at the Tate Britain when he fell out with American critics years later, it had been New York — an abstraction, it became The Soul of a Soulless City.   This explains the disparity between the positivity of the image and the negativity of the title, I don’t believe he thought the city soulless when he painted it!

My grand-parents picture was sold many years ago — perhaps to a conciliatory American.

Architecture, Art, Humour

Excited about Architecture

‘It’s the building with the huge golden knob on the top,’ said the handsome soldier recruiting in Victoria Square.  He had real leadership potential — I found it immediately — the Library of Birmingham.

He could have said, ‘the three tier cake with squiggly icing, or ‘the Spirograph Building,’ that would have found it too.


You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover and neither can you judge a library from the outside.  Judge the inside for yourself–

And at the very top, the golden knob illuminates the whole — the hole in the bibliographic doughnut.


Next to this enormous roof-light is the Shakespeare Memorial Library, remember we are near to the birthplace of the bard.  This has travelled through time and space and been given new life on the roof of this iconic building, designed by Francine Houben of Mecanoo Architecten and opened in 2013.

Nothing is perfect though: the glass lift was out of order, to the great relief of my lift-phobic friend, and the route to the top was through a warren of corridors, the ceiling of which I could easily touch — two meters perhaps.

‘Why so low?’ asked friend (her son is 6’8” tall).

‘Mistake!’ said I (having run out of head-room in our barn conversion), ‘Still, at least there are no beams!’