There are days that even the worst abuses of pain cannot spoil. Today is one of them. Beyond the charms of a strong September sun doing its best to pretend summer is not dead and the company of Tim Dedopulos, remarkable blessings flicker around me.
Time is spent gazing at Charles Robert Cockerell’s A Tribute To Christopher Wren. An assemblage of all the buildings once thought to have been designed by Wren. The imaginary skyline of the painting shimmers with light bouncing of the soft silver hue of Portland stone, giving it the quality of being a glimpse of an elseword. Even its foreground buildings of usually solid red brick and white stone seem to be gently phasing in from another reality. I lose myself in it, feel as if I am walking within its fictional streets. Feel as if I have become part of a dream the city is dreaming of itself.
Along the galleries and passages of the V&A, I float from Cockerell induced reverie to mind-expanding words of curator Charles Hind. His passionate scholarship walks me through an original architectural model of Easton Neston. He turns the purposeful lines of nearly 300 year-old plans into a greater appreciation of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s playing with gothic adaptation and distorted classical themes. Better understand what his sometimes imposing, bullying stone dramas were trying to achieve.
My fingers turn the pages of one of Hawksmoor’s early original sketchbooks. Attempts from the early 1680s to capture the topography of English towns, castles and churches. The seventeenth century paper is crisp but firm, the sharp confident lines of his labels at contrasting with a hesitation in the drawings that comes from someone still learning the skill of perspective. As I flick through the book, it changes from relic to temporal transport. Through its pages I glimpse not just Nottingham or Oxford as Hawksmoor saw them, but Hawksmoor himself. An ink ghost telling stories in line and hatching
Later, we meet Iain Sinclair at Christ Church, Spitalfields. He graciously signs my copy of Orbital, comments on how the book records this building as one of his gates into and out of the imaginary city. I am long beyond the age of having heroes, but that does not stop me being in absolute awe at Sinclair’s talent. He is not only my favourite writer, but the possibly the greatest living user of the English language. No-one creates more perfect and powerful sentences than him.
He talks to us of the barbarism of Thatcherite Britain. Of how the detonation of its brute logic in the City of London resulted in an explosive front radiating out, obliterating the old symbolic landscape that had surrounded the church. The disruption of London’s ancient patterns and the excavation of plague energies.
He talks of memories, the ghost buildings of Cheshire Street and tangible psychic boundaries marked by Hare Marsh. The fear of fire wardens stationed on the highest point of Christchurch during the Blitz. Abandoned temples of primitive Christians, the visual echoes between this building and Truman Brewery in Brick Lane where he used to work. Patterns seemingly encoded in the ether by Hawksmoor.
He talks of Hawksmoor’s buildings being plural in time. Of the dense codes of complex mysticism embodied within the structure of his elegant churches. Of the architect’s towers linking the forces of earthy commerce to the higher realms of the imagination. The church as a movement from Malkuth to Kether.
Sinclair talks of the inspiration of his own early works when he was a council gardener in the shadow of Christ Church. I ask him if the kabbalistic drama of the building and the energies spread throughout the surrounding landscape of the area had almost ridden him Vodou-style, kicked his arse and forced him to start writing. Surprisingly he agrees. Speaking of Moon card dreams and power of place to possess a writer.
The day ends in the last of Hawksmoor’s London churches. We arrive at St. George’s, Bloomsbury as the last burst of afternoon sun paints the interior columns with all the colours of the stained glass. The essential magic of the building is not in keystone carved with the Tetragrammaton, the alchemical pelican nor the echoing of Baalbek. It is in the shaping of space, reclaiming and revealing a glimpse of some sacred mystery despite the boiling rush of the city beyond its walls.