On Valentine’s Day, we like to do something a bit different from the norm – a bit special. Last year we spent a (freezing) day in Bridgnorth. We swapped our gifts, and walked through the winding streets, stopping to browse the numerous gift, antique and boho shops. And we took the cliff railway to the highest point of the town, admiring the misty winter views. Brilliant. This year we wanted, again, to do something a little different. We fought our always instinctive desire to go to London for the weekend. We didn’t need to go the Tate Modern, or to the Palladio exhibition, or to Oxford Street and Camden Market … no, Manchester is just as good. Just as much to do there. We’ll go to the Subversive Spaces exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery instead.
We didn’t actually make the exhibition, as we were far too tempted to explore what Manchester city centre has to offer, having spent little time there before. We weren’t disappointed. Easily accessible by train (and much more affordable than the average return journey to London) we spent a leisurely day strolling around the city. Not being particularly familiar with Manchester, we ambled around the Victorian Town Hall building, through streets of chic boutique stores, around more seamy backstreets of record and book shops, body piercing and tattoo parlours. We happened upon the Art Gallery, and were lucky enough to catch the first day of two exhibitions: a new Paul Morrison and ten Leonardo da Vinci sketches.
We were alerted to the exhibition of ten drawings by Leonardo by a comment at this very blog. Preceded by a room dominated by a wall painting by Paul Morrison, in which contrasts piled upon contrasts to create a sort hyper-real landscape with an apocolyptic bent. The Leonardo drawings are in and of themselves at first small things, enclosed within thick frames and separated by large expanses of wall. But they reward close inspection: the eloquent evocation of movement and exertion in the tiny lines of muscle on the naked forms of arsenal workers, or the imaginative playfulness in the smooth outlines of a dragon costume.
It is a commonplace that Leonardo was a polymath, and this collection seems deliberately chosen to reflect that breadth of subject matter, with a map here and a cross-section of skull there. But what unifies this otherwise disparate hodgepodge is Leonardo’s sense of inquiry, the extent to which, even in the smallest drawing, he is paying heed to the details. Perhaps especially in unadorned drawings, his honesty is constantly evident: the humour and tenderness in his portrait of two elderly grotesques, or the delicate care of an otherwise simple study of a few unassuming reeds.
The final drawing in the sequence threaded back to that Morrison, a furious deluge in which roughly sketched houses are inveloped in a heavily worked, forceful fusion of air and sea, cascading in dark smudges across the page. In the Morrison, the nascent end of the world seems to proceed almost unnoticed, by degrees and even quite prettily; Leonardo’s armageddon is sudden and terrifyingly violent. But both are alive to the detail, the lines in a wooden shack or the crashing roll of a wave. Each of the sketches, miraculously preserved and satisfyingly immediate, maintain this laudably clear-eyed veracity.
After such an artistic day, we had built up something of an appetite, and felt we had earned our right to a good supper! We discovered that there are a good many restaurants to choose from in Manchester. We’re fans of simple fare really! So we chose to have an early evening meal in Zizzi, before the hoards of Valentine’s Day diners descended. The atmosphere was bright and airy, and our dishes fresh and hot. We had a lovely bread basket too, which Dan managed to scoff all on his own! Nice and full, we visited the Arndale shopping centre, a bustling shopper’s paradise – not as vast or quite as exciting as London, granted – but impressive. Anna brought an orange leather bag (which does not look like a crab) and Dan considered a brown tie.
After our day in Manchester, we felt we must go back. Next time to visit that Surrealist installation, and to explore Manchester even further: the Northern District and the music venues perhaps. So close but inexplicably unexplored, it’s a city for which we’ve just found a new love…