Homage to Michael Spens


The painting above is the late great John Bellany’s ‘Homage to Michael Spens’. An architect, writer, editor, soldier and Finnish Knight, Michael Spens was also one of the kindest gentlemen I have ever met. He sadly passed away, after a long illness, at the end of last month. His daughter Christiana has written a fitting tribute to a man who seemed to have lived the lives of a dozen people in one and had the impeccable manners and humility to never draw attention to it. He had immense charm, intelligence and generosity and wore his talents and experience lightly. In a world of self-publicists, he was one of the rare quiet giants. The first time I met him, having heard I’d (clumsily) written poetry, he kindly gave me a first edition of the poems of Robert Lowell. I’d given up on ever writing poetry again but it, and he, reawakened my interest. The last time I met him, he insisted on rising from his sickbed to shake my hand and wish me the best of luck as I left. In between, we spoke all too briefly about mutual loves; the books of W.G. Sebald, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the music of Sibelius and the culture of Finland. I had foolishly assumed there would always be time to have a whiskey and talk about other shared interests such as Graham Greene, Archigram, Robert Louis Stevenson and Modernism, and consult him about the cities project I’m working on (on which he was an authority) but sadly those will not be. What’s left to contemplate in a mist-shrouded, melancholic time and place is the extraordinary work he created, the lives he enriched, the wonderful family he produced (with his wife, the artist and writer Janet McKenzie-Spens) and, personally speaking, the thanks I owe him, a gratitude that John Bellany expressed in that remarkable poetic and enigmatic painting. Rest In Peace sir.

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