After telling her I felt a bit uncomfortable reviewing the Gauguin exhibition, a friend asked me the other day if I remembered "a moment when an artist's work took your breath away and was imprinted on your mind forever?" This is an attempt to answer that question.


The Wrestlers by Hughie O'Donoghue: saw this in Belfast and it really did take my breath away. So many feelings/thoughts/passions shout out from this: it's prosaic and spiritual, political and personal, symbolic and incredibly literal. I knew nothing about O'Donoghue or this magnificent triptych at the time but seeing it was one of those transcendent moments when something punches you and kisses you simultaneously.

Monet's Water-Lilies: it's become a cliche, of course, but the piece at the Tate Modern is another that stopped me in my tracks. I'd seen so many representations of it but the real thing was so stunningly immersive/immersed, its size and subtlety and depth astonishing- and made more so by its apparent incongruity, surrounded as it was by the clever, the arch, the post-modern. There's a meditative element to standing in front of this: time and thought slow to nothing.

Mona Lisa: another cultural cliche that made me feel tearful when I first saw it, just as the Taj Mahal did. On both occasions, I was tired and feeling pretty alienated and lost: each of these different masterpieces felt like some kind of exquisite gift. To be honest, I have to say the beauty and tragedy of the Taj Mahal is still with me, part of me, though I'm not sure I actually even like the Mona Lisa per se - it was more that particular moment in time, that collision of self and art and colour and subject and object that was so profound.

A Turner I don't know the name of (!): it was some kind of mythical Greco/Roman re-imagining of London and it was absolutely hypnotic in its intricacy and its reach across time and cultures. I remember trying to draw it myself(!) but I lost the drawing and I've never been able to find/track down the painting again. Maybe I imagined it?

A Turner I do know the name of, The Fighting Temeraire: like a lot of English families of their generation, my grandparents had a fading copy of this up in their living-room. I went to see it at the National a while back - I'd never seen it in real life - and it was far more textured and redolent of that heartbreaking, grand shift from old to new in Victorian Britain than I'd ever realised. It's hard to separate the painting from me and what was going on for me at the time and it's one of many things (art, music, places) it'll probably take ages to find the courage to get round to spending time with again, but it's tattoo'd itself onto me.

Francis Bacon: there was a Bacon exhibition at the Tate last year and I was overwhelmed by the depth of his dark, bitter, angry attempts to communicate pain and desire. All those twists and turns and grotesque bodies and souls and hatreds and lusts and purples and reds and browns and blacks. The 1972 Triptych was ecstatic and disembowelling.

Martin Creed's Edinburgh Fruitmarket Exhibition. I'd loved his Turner Prize installation 'Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off,' though it did seem to upset the Daily Mail, distressingly. This was equally funny, unpretentious but thought-provoking - saw it with my daughter during the Edinburgh Fringe and we both laughed more than we had at a lot of the stand-ups.

Simon Starling's Shedboatshed: I just couldn't stop smiling as I stood inside this absurd thing at the Turner exhibition a few years ago and phoned a friend of mine. I've absolutely no idea why I loved it, though there's a little boy somewhere who does.

Gormley's Event Horizonthose statues/humans peering haughtily and knowingly at us all from on high were staggering - death-serious and clown-whimsical simultaneously. Part of me misses them still whenever I'm at the South Bank; part of me still sees them.

Caravaggio's Beheading of St John: saw this in Valetta and it was the first Caravaggio I'd ever seen. It's huge, dark, seductive, frightening, sad, monstrous, compassionate and utterly modern. It scared the shit out of me.


Thanks to Christine for the inspiration- and for letting me plagiarise my own e-mail.