It's May and I'm a few weeks from finishing my degree. The final project (about the whole of Southampton's history) should be chiefest among my efforts... but here's how to keep yourself distracted, like I am.
Today is the two-hundredth birthday of Edward Lear. His poems and songs were a part of my childhood and his work is still a delightful escape into British whimsy. While Dickens and Browning reach the same age this year, it's Lear's work that lends itself to "an illustrated tribute by 40 artists" in Happy Birthday Edward Lear (Poetry Café, Betterton Street, London, 7th May to 8th June), featuring a number of my tutors and other leading lights from the illustration world.
Lear's joyful drawings that accompanied his poems are just as strong an influence as his words, but the mysterious, playful imagery of the poems encourages very different interpretations. Over all, you can see the affection that is still felt for all areas of Lear's work, from limericks to nonsense recipes, via the poems and surreal stories.
Some of the artists gave readings at last night's private view - with and without beards - and, best of all, little pies of "mince and slices of quince" were passed around.
There's only one more day to see an exhibition of Mark Hearld's illustrations for "A First Book of Nature" (Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London, 1st to 13th May), but it's worth seeking out this book by Nicola Davies. Mark Hearld's images fill the pages with strong colour, pieced together from print blocks, paint, found patterns, monoprints, lithographs and hand-drawn text. Walker Books have a strong tradition of lavish and beautiful productions, and the innovatively-crafted pictures, along with the nature theme, should make this a book to treasure.
Salvatore Rubbino's A Day In London , is another Walker production. You could call it an update of Sasek's classic "This Is London" and has the same liveliness and the wonder of a child's persepective on a trip to London, seeing not just the big sights but the atmosphere of the city in between. It's raining nearly all the way through. The book is in the shops in time for the Olympic tourist influx.
For the same reason, the galleries of London are beefing up the Britishness, and "British Design 1948-2012: Innovation In The Modern Age" (V&A, South Kensington, 31st March to 12th August) does its bit to show Britain at the forefront of design, fashion, music and technology, between the two years of London Olympics. The forefront often means the background and everyone will recognise some objects from schools and aunties' houses. Their inclusion celebrates the marriage of reliability and visual appeal - although there's a fair representation of Surprising Architecture and Innovative Videos.
Paul Bommer's "Umbra Sumus" exhibition, which I mentioned in a recent post, deserves exposure somewhere near the Games, but would clearly give East London too much character. The Delftware-style tiles are a catalogue of centuries of East London detail and folklore.
I've just heard Anish Kapoor on the radio talking about the Orbit, giddy at having put something on the London skyline and hoping for history to afford it the acceptance that the Eiffel Tower won. The criticism, gushed the reviewer, is mistakenly aimed at the view of the Orbit from a distance, which is not the point - it's "experiential", simultaneously "protecting and unsettling" - "it will take us year to get our minds around it and maybe we never will" - it will be "the talking point of not only this year but of many years ahead". It didn't happen for Skylon - perhaps we'll get to wonder at the Orbit in a V&A exhibition in another sixty years' time.
Is there nothing happening in Southampton? Well, I can't go without mentioning the Titanic. The artists of Red Hot Press have work on show in Lost Star (Southampton Solent University, 12th April to 22nd May). It's a printmaker's angle, examining the familiar story and making the most of the atmospheric potential of printmaking. It will go on to The Link Gallery, in Winchester, later in the year. On the same theme, I have yet to claim my free entry to the Sea City museum - maybe today!