Thursday morning's startlingly vivid Canberra rainbow (my wife, walking our dog at 7am noticed how the rainbow perturbed him, alarmed as sensitive dogs are by the unfamiliar) coincides with my discovery online of a ripper picture essay about rainbows in art.
The piece Rainbows In Art, popping up on the Public Domain Review website, shows us great depictions of the rainbow in art across 800 years. I gave serial gasps of "Gosh!" as I toured this online gallery.
In one from a 14th-century manuscript a very busy God on the fifth day of Creation is up to his Almighty thighs in a rainbow, standing admiring His handiwork (for He has just made a monkey, a deer, a bear, and a lion).
In another, Adriaen Pietersz's Fishing For Souls (1614), a huge but subtle rainbow (it is mostly pale blue and ivory with just a hint of lilac) straddles a mighty river in which teeming Protestants gathered on one bank and teeming Catholics gathered on the other "fish" competitively in the river for lost souls to recruit to the Truth. The Protestants seem to be winning, thank goodness.
In another work in this rainbow gallery, Caspar David Friedrich's Mountain Landscape with Rainbow (1809-10), a lone human figure in the foreground is dwarfed and made to seem of ant-like significance by the grandeur of the mountains and the (to me) menacing grandeur of a gaunt, slender, steely-looking rainbow. It is a hair-raising rainbow, or, for a dog, a hackle-raising one.
I'm very glad I'm not gay because the presumption that, being homosexual, I like to be represented by gaudy rainbow colours would cause me a lot of angst. At heart I am a beige bombshell.
Friedrich's painted rainbow, like so many in this gallery, is far more subtle in its hues than the average, lurid, vulgar, Luna Park, Hawaiian-shirt, tabloid, shock-jock actual rainbows that one sees in the skies.
I dare say that as true aesthetes great painters feel, as this sensitive columnist does, that most raw and natural rainbows (like so many revolting Canberra sunrises and sunsets) are shockingly tasteless and cry out for some improvements by art to make them more nuanced and mysterious. Give me rainbows in 50 shades of beige.
I'm very glad I'm not gay because the presumption that, being homosexual, I like to be represented by gaudy rainbow colours (for example see the famous rainbow roundabout in Braddon) would cause me a lot of angst. At heart I am a beige bombshell.
And in the unlikely event of there being a God and a Heaven one worries, given the glimpse we get of God's aesthetic sense in His brazen rainbows and His kitsch sunsets what the decor and furnishing of His decorated Heaven will be like. What if (horror!) it is like Donald Trump's famous Manhattan penthouse, all mock-Louis XIV ostentation, all gilt and gold and marble glamour?
Renewed debate about Canberra's public art
The story in The Canberra Times, "Keeping Canberra's art beating", and the debate it triggered coincides with the semi-public display (free, at the National Gallery of Australia) of Urs Fischer's waxwork figure Francesco.
Fischer's poignant candlewax statue of a giant man, Francesco, continues what the Gallery calls its "staged burning". Francesco is in effect a giant candle, its melting (expected to take five months) meant to say something to us about the ephemerality of Life. Haunted by it, I have just been to see it yet again.
We are so used to the idea of a human's "meltdown" as a passing spasm of rage (it is Nick Kyrgios, road ragers, dummy-spitting babies, crazed NIMBYs resisting the underclass that have meltdowns) that Francesco's literal, five-month "staged burning" meltdown challenges the fancies. The idea of a gradual meltdown seems oxymoronic, like the notion of a slow torrent, a sluggish avalanche, a meditative rampage.
On my last visit to Francesco a party of firm-fleshed Anglican schoolchildren was having a good chortle at the ever-softening state of Francesco.
But for this decomposing poet, 73, discreetly exhibited nearby, there was a shudder-making sense that Francesco, like all of us brief candles, is going the way of all wax. There is only two thirds of him left now. His head fell off its hot and floppy neck several weeks ago and is on the floor, like a pomegranate shrub's last, dropped pomegranate of Autumn.
I'm not sure that schoolchildren should be seeing all this rotting, all this gore. Surely Francesco should be somewhere behind a door, with proof of age required for access to the spectacle of his tragedy. It seems to me he is living his life like a candle in the wind. Or perhaps he is a cake (made from a recipe we'll never have again) left out in the rain, all its sweet green icing flowing down.
And yet because there is something so poignant about a statue of a decomposing man (somehow one is reminded not only of man's mortality but of public careers, perhaps like Barnaby Joyce's and Bill Shorten's, melting away because of hot personal indiscretions or hot unpopularity) that I am wondering if, somehow, reinvigorated public art in Canberra might see the commissioning of figurative statues carved from ice.
It is so very cold in Canberra in winter that ice Scott Morrisons and Donald Trumps, carved and put on their plinths in early June, might take until early August to slowly reduce to puddles. Their meltings would lift the spirits of those of us who in these vile times need reminding that awful people and their awful governments are perishable and will not last for ever.