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Transcript of podcast by Graham Crowley on 'Special Relativity' by Julian Brain

Interviewer: Graham Crowley was previously professor of painting at the Royal College of Art. Here he talks about the prizewinning painting, 'Special Relativity' by Julian Brain.

Graham Crowley: Well what drew my attention to it was the, should I say the familiarity, the conventions of sort of the parochial, the familiar, the domestic made unfamiliar, the use of the fireplace. The hearth, in a lot of Magritte pictures, has become almost iconic and associated historically in most people's minds with surrealism. But this painting somehow plays with those expectations. Yes, I found it absolutely fascinating when I saw it. Not only is it beautifully executed, I mean there's a kind of precision and a logic to the way that it's painted that is impeccable and at the same time mystifying for the simple reason that the convention within historical models is that there is a mirror above the fireplace, yes? And Magritte always played with mirrors. Now that is not a mirror above the fireplace! [interviewer laughs]

Graham Crowley: That is another image within a frame very similar if not exactly the same as the frame in which the picture we're actually looking at. Inside that picture is of course another picture which I've been looking at quite carefully, I mean (laughs) I had to use my glasses! And the composition of that third framed image, the first being the one in our reality in our space, the second being above the mantelpiece depicted and then within the other depiction within that painting, that composition is not dissimilar to the one which we're confronted with in the first order.

Everything about it has a 1920s, 30s middle-class sort of feel to it, the China ornaments, those sort of, what are they, King Charles Spaniels with their curious chains around their necks as almost bookends, the letter rack in that funny 1920s, 30s [style]. I always think it's an early version of plywood or something and the clock, which is both substantial in a bourgeois sort of sense. So all the objects are, I should say, old-fashioned for want of a better term. Even down to the extraordinary cross-stitching in the depiction of the spire on the church in some sort of generic idyll, rural idyll.

But the counterpoint to that is; in exactly the same frame and to the right of the composition is a blank piece of paper or what appears to be a blank image, a very (laughs) a very, very blank image which actually has a window mount on it. Now the convention of the window mount works brilliantly with the cross-stitch piece, but of course it becomes enigmatic.

The other thing that's absolutely fascinating about this picture is that all the elements, i.e. the stuff of the picture, the subject matter; the chairs, the standard lamp, the letter rack, the ornaments and the clock. These are reconfigured or reordered in the second image, which in a sense spatially, the one depicted above the fireplace is the most orthodox and the most familiar space that the one that we're first introduced to scale, has become somehow played with, toyed with, tampered with.

It's a fascinating little picture, it doesn't actually have any particular tricks to it, there's something very thoughtful about the painting. I think it's thoroughly beguiling and for me the idea of sort of roaming around a picture, inhabiting it imaginatively is ninety percent of the pleasure.

Interviewer: Thank you.