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Saturday, 10 November 2007

Modern, Not Ms., Baroque

Edward Burra was one of the great 30s British modernist painters - but has been mainly airbrushed out of the official record. It is good to see Jane Stevenson setting the record straight - perhaps an ironic way of wording it, since Burra was an eccentric, queer figure. Stevenson has identified a different kind of modernist style, "modern baroque", and describes it in the following way: "inclusive, protean, humorous, unafraid of bad taste, entranced by games with perspective; a modernism that finds Harlem dudes in camel overcoats more interesting than all the log piles in the world."

My study of late-modernism in British poetry of the 30s and 40s suggests that such a baroque style also prevailed there, at times, and has been similarly marginalised. It is time to foreground such a style, especially when critics of "good taste" so often manage to ignore or downgrade some of the most thrilling, enjoyable, and provocative works. Art can also be flamboyant without being flim-flam.
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