A traveling exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery shows us what it would be like to get lost on John Keats’s journey through the belly of “The Dream”: Something that’s rarely imagined. Peering through the now-desolate basket of dried rice and spinach, perfumed with blood and burning with the taste of smoke, Timeto Reach shows us what it’s like to be a slave farmer—or a landless, subsidized tenant farmer.
Sometimes its work is psychological: the sculptures of submerged vineyards in which patients lie helplessly immobile, and reflections of Prince William, caught in the branches of the hawser, deadly reflected in the window of the room’s first-floor gallery. They sit uneasily next to a piece of framed text. “Are they prophets?” it asks. “Is this the case?” It turns out to be a question from Keats’s own book, The Dream of Gerusalemme.
The neighboring artist Patrick Sullivans is fascinated by the ocean: “That blurred white line,” he says, “that’s the beginning of travel.” This is his first show at the gallery, but his style has deep roots. In 2002 he worked as an apprentice to the British cartoonist Arthur Ransome for a year in rural Bedfordshire, where he met a Gippsland plantation owner. “The way you travel in Jamaica,” he explains, “is through the mountains and streams.” His depictions of underdevelopment are more imagined than real: “You can’t get around on wheels like that. It’s just big, beautiful land that’s gone to crap. It’s just like the landscape of The Dream.”
You can expect to see more Keats at the gallery this summer. The Waterwheel, John Keats’s undiscovered home, opens on April 13. Through the National Portrait Gallery’s special Keats screen, we’ll also see more of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s work, which the poet loved to paint; and more Keatsiana.