Blackpaint 693 – Hogarth, Racism and Sexism and all that…

November 23, 2021

Exhibition at Tate Britain, “Hogarth and Europe”, until 20th March 2022

The officer has to choose between Virtue and Pleasure, according to the wall plaque – V and P are represented by the two ladies, but it doesn’t say which lady represents which quality. I guess the pregnant one is Virtue. I was going to say that she is also the more attractive of the two, but for an old white man to express such an opinion is probably “sexist” in itself.

This is Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the Hellfire Club, the well- known libertine; the lord is at his devotions. The wall plaque says that the picture is full of phallic symbols – I’m afraid I can find only two or three. What are they? I’m guessing the bum – shaped fruit(?) spilling from the plate; the phallic branch pointing up towards the little naked woman; and, by extension, the beads and crucifix penetrated by the branch. Probably the mask too. The much- maligned Dashwood should also be remembered for his charitable works: I was born in a house on the Dashwood Foundation estate in Balham, London, an estate set up for the housing of war disabled veterans and their families – but that might have been a later Dashwood. No local branch of the Hellfire Club there, in my time, unfortunately.

I’m not sure if this is a Hogarth; there are many pictures by his contemporaries in Europe, Troost, Chardin, Lancret etc. The black boy dressed in red is playing a trumpet; a little way behind, a dog, also dressed in red, but as a nobleman, walks on his hind legs. The commentator sees this as “racist”, presumably seeing an intended correlation between the dog and the boy. Assuming that the commentator is correct, is the problem only the staging of the event itself, or its depiction as well? Is the painter being racist in faithfully depicting a racist event? I would say no, but sometimes the distinction is blurred. Detail below, unfortunately also rather blurred.

Enough for now of “racism”, “sexism” and all the other slippery terminology of modern orthodoxy – a couple of lovely pictures of domestic calm by Chardin, who for some reason (maybe only because he is contemporary with Hogarth) is included in this exhibition.

And here’s another. Actually, I’m not sure that this is a Chardin, but it’s certainly a nice clean tablecloth, despite the overturned glass. Thank goodness though, that we no longer have to paint this sort of non-committed rubbish and can get on with art about refugees, asylum seekers, racial and sexual identity, discrimination, climate change, vaccine inequality and so on.

Actually, having indulged in such heavy sarcasm, I now have to go back to sexual politics, or behaviours, as depicted by Hogarth. There is a pair of paintings called “Before” and “After”. In the first, a typical toxic rake lays hands on a woman, who shows every sign of wanting to escape. She’s pulling away from him in desperation, and pushing – the caption says clawing – at his face.

In the second picture, “After”, the couple – for so they now are – appear reconciled and loving. Implication is crystal clear, so as always, I’ll explain: she didn’t know her own mind, she really wanted “it”, now she’s had it, she realises and is content.

Unlike the earlier, less clear points about racism, this carries an unmistakable message for which the painter alone is responsible; however, this is an attitude which is still around in our cultures. I’m thinking of such films as Straw Dogs, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (OK, they’re from the 70s and both Peckinpah films) – but there’s High Rise, Nymphomaniac, the TV series The Fall,,,

I’ll be going again to this, so more later.

National Gallery

Got to the NG today for the first time in a year or so, and picked some paintings that I’d never seen, or noticed, before:

Gerard David ?

Not sure I’ve got the attribution right – but what a fabulous picture! look at the tenderness of the caress by the woman of his head; yes, her arm’s a bit short, but the faces are just great. The woman at his feet, in the green dress,,,

Again, didn’t bother to find out who did this – Gainsborough, Reynolds? I’m a sucker for these pictures which are not completed, with areas of blank canvas next to other bits which are highly finished.

Adoration of the Magi, Pieter Breughel

I know this is an old favourite, but I had to include it; what a sinister bunch his three kings are. And what is the boy whispering into his ear?

Sorolla, Drunk Fishermen (?)

I’m sure of the painter, but not the title. This is a new one on me. A wonderful image of “toxic masculinity”, long may it last.

? Didn’t get the painter here, but as my son pointed out, the man on the right is clearly Vladimir Putin – so toxic masculinity again…

YouTube

This is what you should watch at the first opportunity:

Emmylou Harris in concert on the Old Grey Whistle Test, 1977. Her band includes Albert Lee on lead guitar.

Simon and Garfunkel, Central Park, 1981 – especially “America”, “American Tune” and “Late in the Evening”. The band and the drummer on “Evening” are special.

Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Mark O’Connor, Bela Fleck and that amazing dobro player doing Freeborn Man, 9 Pound Hammer and Molly and Tenbrooks. The contrast between Rice’s stillness and Sam Bush’s Donegan-like demented thrashing is interesting…

A couple of my own paintings to finish with:

New Giant Fiery Hand

New Snail Crab Dance

That’s all for now

Blackpaint

23.11.21

Blackpaint 692 – Angel of Anarchy – Eileen Agar at the Whitechapel

September 3, 2021

I’m interested to know the source of this title; it doesn’t appear in the notes. Was Agar the Angel, or did she perhaps follow the Angel of Anarchy? It sounds like a quotation or a book title – maybe her autobiography?

Anyway, it seems a misnomer to me; I see nothing in her works to suggest anarchy; as the notes suggest, her work, remarkably varied, rich and colourful as it is, seems based on an amalgam, or rather, an intermingling of Cubism and surrealism, with a streak of abstraction. Picasso, not surprisingly, seems to be an obvious influence; in this respect, and in its variety, it reminds me of the recent Dora Maar exhibition at the Tate.

Anarchy, of course, is arguably inherent in surrealism – the apparent anarchy of dream remnants, the juxtaposition of incongruous objects together in a picture frame, soft watches, furry telephones, horses stepping through bicycle wheels… so fair enough, her work has a touch (but not much) of this. I think maybe it’s more to do with her lack of inhibition than her art…dancing naked with Lee Miller in car headlights for example, before Herbert Read at Lambe Creek in Cornwall, 1937 and “not sleeping with everyone who asked me”. Interesting to know where the emphasis was in this sentence; was it on “sleeping” or “everyone”? Caroline Maclean, in her great book “Circles and Squares”, makes this country break sound something of a shagfest.

Enough of this – here are some of the pictures. I think the exhibition makes a great compare and contrast with the Paula Rego at the Tate; there’s even a symmetry in the names, Rego/Agar…..

I think the pictures are more or less chronological, as I took them going round the specified route; may be a few anomalies, but who cares.

I love the unblended patches of colour on the face and hand.

History of an Embryo

She seems to have used this compartmental mode several times.

Patches of colour again. I like the way it bends; like Wyndham Lewis… a bit.

Self portrait

That profile style will come up again.

Voracious snakes, fishes and veiled statues – an antiquarian feel here. And the compartments again.

Figure like a vase, shrouded in bright colour – lovely painting I think

And here is Agar herself in striking and very practical headgear – that’s my reflection, providing the background.

Rather Picasso – like, this one.

There’s a face at the top centre and maybe insects or crayfish down the bottom -but this is the most crowded and artfully “disorganised” work in the exhibition, I think. Also the most abstract.

This work, and even more, the one below, remind me of the pictures of the “Two Roberts”, Colquhoun and MacBryde. But they were later, of course,,,

Actually, they weren’t later – Agar lived until 1991, well past both the Roberts.

That deep, rich colour again, and the Picasso-like profile – from the “Three Dancers”, isn’t it?

This series rather reminiscent of the paintings and photos of Paul Nash (with whom Agar had an intense affair – see again Caroline Maclean, “Circles and Squares”)

Had to include these two, not just to demonstrate variety. But they are great, aren’t they?

And one of mine to finish;

New Road to Mandalay

Blackpaint

03/09/21

Blackpaint 691 – Paula Rego; a Damned Good Thrashing in my Party Dress

August 19, 2021

The Paula Rego that we have become familiar with, she of the stumpy, intense young girl, waltzing with other couples on the turf at night, polishing father’s high boots with one arm thrust all the way inside, rubbing herself suggestively against Daddy’s crotch while mother distracts him by pulling a cloth over his face – this is just the latest stylistic approach of an astonishingly versatile painter with a febrile imagination. The current show at Tate Britain, whilst a little biased towards this phase, does show us something of earlier tropes, as I hope this blog will demonstrate.

Under Milk Wood

Shades of John Bellany, references to Velasquez (the fried eggs)… Maybe something of early Prunella Clough too?

Touch of David Bomberg here?

Salazar Vomiting on Democracy

Reminiscent of Asger Jorn, I think. Looks like a giant papaya in the middle. That’s the Portuguese dictator Salazar bent over like a pin-headed Humpty Dumpty, with a thin gush of greenish puke curling out of his mouth.

Don’t recall title of this one; called it “Confusion” in my notes. Graphic, rather collage-y, objects half-realised or morphing in a dreamlike fashion; there’s a young person in a coat, a penknife, a pennant, a fish or turtle head, insects(?), a leaf spray….

Is she shaving the dog or cutting its throat? The former , I think, From the next picture, I guess there is a Jungian sexual meaning here. I’m not sure – did Jung do sex too or was that only Freud? The booklet mentions Rego’s interest in Jung, so I’ll go with him.

Girl showing her sex to a dog – who looks pretty unimpressed. Is the dog a male figure, maybe Father? Easy to interpret it this way, given some of her other output. Or maybe it’s Victor Willing, her artist husband…

Hey Diddle Diddle – she did a series of illustrations to nursery rhymes as etchings; here’s an example.

An illustration of an incident in a short story by Joyce Carol Oates; note the brilliant rendition of the satin party dress (or is it a confirmation dress? Don’t know the story); Rego is great on fabrics. I would be interested to read a feminist critique of Rego – there must be loads, surely. The booklet. I think, plays it safe, mentioning the anti-fascist, anti-patriarchal stance; I’m more interested, as a man would be no doubt, in the ambiguity towards men, particularly authority figures, her work displays. I feel there’s a touch of Sylvia Plath in there, that poem to her daddy came to me when I was looking at the one where she’s (I guess it’s Rego herself) polishing the boots with one arm plunged in up to the armpit… What do I know? But then, what do you make of a feminist who paints a woman, being beaten on her bare bottom with sticks by two little girls?

Hogarthian – The similarities to The Rake’s Progress are very obvious. What’s going on in the back room – is that a woman bending over or a man in women’s underwear? Elsewhere in this exhibition, men dress in women’s clothes… There’s that party/confirmation dress again – and the indifferent dog, positioned conveniently for another view, but not interested…

There’s a whole room of reclining women in various postures, that come under the general title of Abortion. I think this is one of them. There is also a room on the theme of FGM. Those powerful arms and legs….

I’m not going to attempt a comment on this painting or the next; no doubt the more courageous would have plenty to say on colonialism, female sexuality, soft toys and the bearing of crosses – I will confine myself to pointing out the excellent rendition of the velvet cloak.

And the satin backcloth here. Looks like a brothel scene, doesn’t it? Superficially , I mean, the way the women are sitting bored, resigned, fondling their soft black dolls.

Rather from the sublime to the ridiculous, I’m going to put in one of my own new pictures here, just because it’s my blog and I can.

Orinoco, Blackpaint

Blackpaint 19/08/2021

Blackpaint 690 – Marion Elma Jones

August 13, 2021

I haven’t posted for over a month, the reason being that my lovely wife and partner of 47 years, Marion, died in St George’s Hospital Tooting on 5th July, after more than three years battling multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow). I use the word “battling” in full knowledge that it is now unfashionable to portray illness as a battle, as it “discriminates” against those who wish to come to terms – in her case it is the only accurate word to use. In the end, it was an opportunistic infection that killed her; sepsis, resulting from a failing immune system.

Consequently, this edition of Blackpaint’s Blog is devoted to the work of Marion Jones, a fabulous painter of fabulous abstracts, an inspiring art teacher and all-round beautiful human being. She was 68 years old.

Marion’s work bench, as she left it.

Last work on the easel.

Marion thought her work should speak for itself so I’ll offer no attempt at explication or analysis, beyond it’s about layers, the rough with the smooth, strong images and strong colour. I sometimes described her work geometrical and she’d go incandescent. “It is NOT geometric!!” “But there’s lots of triangles and squares and straight lines…” “It has nothing to DO with geometry, for god’s sake…” and so on. I’m a slow learner.

ANYhow, I want to publish, finally. Sorry that some images are blurred, but they’re enlargements of old photos. Goodbye my love.

Blackpaint 689 – Back to the Tate and Shouty

June 14, 2021

Haven’t written for a long time; hours in hospitals waiting for my partner to get her bloods and platelets and chemo doesn’t allow for much in the way of art appreciation. Having said that, we did encounter a real prime piece of modern abstract art in the basement of the Macmillan Centre in Huntley Street; A big Gillian Ayres behind a glass screen, with a bunch of red plastic chairs in front of it. As soon as the chairs were all empty, I took photos of it. The staff regarded me quizzically as I did so.

Actually, it doesn’t look like an abstract at all, but rather like a phalanx of fruit-studded phantoms approaching to break through the glass and engulf the seated outpatients awaiting their transfusions and tests. I assume Ayres was commissioned to do this piece for the cancer centre; wonder what the brief was. I love it though.

Turner at Tate Britain

There’s a rather massive Turner exhibition on at TB at the moment; despite having seen several Turner shows and having the Taschen and the Phaeton, there were still several that were new to me. The old familiars are there: Temeraire, Napoleon, the shipwreck, the slave ship, the Gothard Pass, the train chasing the hare in the rain, the storm at the harbour mouth, the funeral ship – and so on. Below are a few that caught my attention;

Think this is a detail of one of his whaling paintings. Who else was painting like this at the time (1840s, I think)?

Another detail – the disembarkation of Louis Philippe. Even more – what’s the word? – indistinct, obscured, shrouded…

Earlier, more conventional (understatement!) looks almost Dutch genre to me. Easy to see how many farriers lost their teeth…

A visitor contemplates a sea battle. Where does that stance come from? You never see younger people stand with their hands behind their backs. Is it military? A way of avoiding putting your hands in your pockets, maybe?

The “Shouty” is what my friends and I call the Regency Cafe, just round the corner from the Tate Britain; I won’t explain why, but it will be obvious to the new customer. It’s where that scene in “Layer Cake” takes place, when the gangster gets a pot of scalding tea tipped on his face. Always full at lunchtime, but somehow you always get a seat, I think because they don’t let you bag a table before you order. I recommend steak and kidney pudding, chips and peas with gravy.

To Be Honest…

This is everywhere, all the time; TV adverts, politicians, footballers, commentators, comedians – I think this phrase, with its variants such as “If I’m honest..”, is chasing “on a daily basis” and “at this moment in time” very hard. Why? The tendency to share, to be transparent, open about your feelings, the idea that it’s somehow good for “mental health” (itself becoming a cliche). And people seem to buy it. As Bob Monkhouse said memorably, “Sincerity is the biggest thing; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Anyway, I’ve rededicated myself to avoiding cliches, from this moment in time going forward. I’m determined to be the best version of myself that I can be.

Here are some of my recent pictures:

Waggle Dance

Ghosts of Autumn

OK that’s it for now – determined to publish tonight. I still haven’t got the hang of the new WordPress tec and probably never will. But I will keep trying, going forward. If I’m honest,,,

Blackpaint

14/06/21

Blackpaint 688 – The Sevens, the Dynamite and the Ghostly Geese

March 26, 2021

This is my first effort at using the new WordPress Editor.  I’m trying to keep to the old format (which I can use) within the new format (which I can’t) so this will probably be a total shit show – but I’m not giving up without trying; please bear with me.

I’m going to kick off by putting up a couple of images of my recent paintings – just to see if I can.  Here goes:

End of Theory

Ok – I think I’ve possibly managed that. Now I need a rest (to be continued)

The Magnificent Seven dir. John Sturges (1960)

The Seven (L to R: Brynner, McQueen, Bucholz, Bronson, Vaughn, Dexte;r, Coburn)

Some critics panned this when it came out, as a rip-off of Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”; not so. The quality of the cast is one pointer, and Sturges as director another; the Mexican farmers are treated with respect ( allowing for the more robust sensibilities of the era) and there are a few interesting differences.

Horst Buchholz’s Chico conflates two characters from “Samurai”, Mifune’s oafish but brave Kikuchiyo and the young would-be Ronin who stays at the end. This makes room for Robert Vaughn’s nerve-shot gunman and thereby adds a little anticipation; will he recover his nerve and come good in the final fight? (of course he will).

There’s a racial element in “Seven” that is absent from “Samurai” – the farmers are Mexican; can they reasonably be protected/rescued by American gunmen? The Americanness is leavened to an extent; Chris (Brynner) is Cajun; Bernardo (Bronson) is half Irish, half Mexican; Chico is Mexican. Still leaves four – however, the farmers, as in “Samurai”, do not remain passive, but take part in the fighting, after “training” from the professionals.

Eli Wallach, as the bandit leader, is a larger presence than the leader in “Samurai”, personalising the struggle more than in Kurosawa’s film.

Lastly, there is a different dynamic to the final fight. In the American version, the pros leave the village temporarily and a traitor tells the bandit leader. The bandits take over the village, surprise Chris and the others and force them to hand over their weapons and go. Foolishly, the bandits return the guns when they think its safe to do so. This means that the Magnificents have to fight a hard and tragically costly battle to defeat the bandits , on their return to the village.

In “Seven Samurai”, under Kambei’s leadership, the Samurai have been pursuing a winning strategy: the bandits attack, the Samurai and villagers let a few in, cut them off and slaughter them. This happens several times, and the bandits are losing men heavily. Why do they not continue until they’ve killed the lot, or enough to make the survivors give up and go away? Instead, there seems to be an acceptance that there must be a final mass showdown. There is – the bandits are massacred; but we end up with four samurai swords sticking up from four mounds, above the village.

It’s a long film; maybe Kurosawa thought, time to bring it to an end. Maybe its to do with the samurai code of honour or something in – dodgy, this – Japanese military culture (Banzai charges, kamikaze pilots)?

Both films brilliant; haven’t seen the Magnificent remake, on principal.

Close of a Long Day

A Fistful of Dynamite (Duck You Sucker!) dir. Sergio Leone (1971)

I give the alternative title above – or a version of it, anyway. The reason I mention this film is the contrast it provides to the strong moral fibre of the two “Seven” films. It is set in Mexico (with flashbacks to Ireland) but instead of the laconic heroism of the Japanese and American Samurai – most of them, anyway – Rod Steiger plays a bandit and rapist who is conned by the “Irish” James Coburn (that accent!) into revolutionary “heroism” – he thinks he’s robbing a bank, but the money’s long gone. He’s actually freeing prisoners of the military regime, which is using the bank as a jail.

The violence in the film is breathtaking – there is the rape in the mud, but worse, the constant executions and the sickening massacre in the pits next to the railroad line (historically accurate, I’d guess, from what I’ve heard of the Mexican revolution. In a scene straight out of the “Wild Bunch”, Coburn and Steiger ambush and slaughter virtually a whole group (company? regiment?) of soldiers with machine guns and dynamite. Most of the horses seem to escape, improbably.

But then there is the score – Ennio Morricone of course. As Coburn and Steiger peer through the gunsmoke at the corpses of the soldiers and the blown-up bridge, the elegiac theme plays; melancholy, nostalgic, sweet, serene, music to run to in slow motion through trees, behind a playfully fleeing lover, in soft focus. Reminded me of Nino Rota, who scored many Fellini films – and, of course, “The Godfather”.

Leone’s films are always referred to as operatic – the music, but also the scale and set pieces – and in this and the eternal possibility (sorry, certainty) of violence, they resemble the films of Angelopoulos, without the stern Marxist framework of the latter. At the same time, they are cartoon-ish. But the music haunts you, and there is Romolo Valli; another great (The Leopard, Death in Venice) in my pantheon, to go with Mastroianni, Fernando Rey, Mifune and some others I can’t think of now…..

OK finishing now, with a couple of paintings; I hope my incompetence with the new WordPress set up hasn’t detracted too much.

Ghost Geese Fly West
Figure Study Swim

Blackpaint

26.03.21

Blackpaint 687 – Ersters, Hooks, Samurai and a Cockroach

March 14, 2021

The Last Canvas, 100 x 100cm

Blackpaint

To start with, some films I have seen recently – though they are hardly recent:

Cover Girl dir Charles Vidor, 1944

Great musical with Rita Hayward, Gene Kelly and the brilliant Phil Silvers, later justly famous as Sergeant Ernie Bilko, but in this, one of the dancers.  The main one really, nicknamed The Genius.  Well, he’s a pretty good dancer – who knew? as irritating people now say…  Pretty standard story ; Kelly runs a dance troupe and is carrying on a romance with Hayworth.  She wins a cover girl contest for a major magazine – will she leave Kelly for the big time and fall for the rich suitor?  That’s the bare bones, it’s more complex – but not much more.

Stand -out dance routine is where Kelly dances with his reflection in shop windows.

There’s also a number involving all three, Hayworth, Kelly and Silvers, during which they run into a policeman and saunter away sheepishly – just as Kelly does years later in “Singin’ in the Rain”, when he’s jumping in puddles and the law shows up.

One other thing ; slightly older readers might know a song – I think it’s Astaire and Rogers in “Shall We Dance?”, the roller skate routine – titled  “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”.  It’s about how you pronounce words differently and there’s a line that goes “I  order “oysters” and you order “ersters”…  I’ve always wondered about that – whoever said “ersters”??  Well, the man who runs the oyster bar in “Cover Girl” does – he says Joysey for Jersey and ersters for oysters.  So is that where its from?  No – because Astaire and Rogers were singing in 1937.  turns out to be New York accent, probably disappeared now.  Possible connection between the two is Ira Gershwin, who wrote the song lyrics and who also wrote the songs for “Cover Girl”, with Jerome Kern.  Stand – out song from “Cover Girl is “Long Ago and Far Away”.

Hellraiser, dir and writer Clive Barker, 1987

 

I think this is the most gruesome and wince-inducing film I’ve ever seen, and there’s some very enthusiastic sex in it, inextricably entwined with the constant horrible violence.  I enjoyed it greatly.  Claire Higgins conceives an irresistible longing for her husband’s brother, leading her to daydream of being attended by him as she lies on her wedding dress.  The problem is that he has no skin, it having been ripped off by hooks at the hands of the Cenobites, demons (or angels) of sado-masochistic extremity.  Only fresh blood can restore his body.

You’d think she’d be put off on discovering this – but no.  She picks up men to bring back to him, and assists in killing them.  Anyway, that’s enough plot – the most memorable scene (apart from the sex) is near the end; “Jesus Wept”, remarks Frank, newly recaptured by the Cenobites and in the process of losing his skin to the hooks for the second time.  Double bill with “Cover Girl”, possibly?

 Seven Samurai, dir Akiro Kurosawa, 1954

From the ridiculous (but enjoyable) to the sublime.  Long film, and I remembered it as great, but thought I might be put off by the constant guttural shouting involved, always at close range and into faces – but no.  It’s deeply moving and Toshiro Mifune is spellbinding as the loud, irascible, oafish farmer’s son, who wants to be a samurai.  He grunts and shouts and ridicules and bullies the farmers, but comes good when the fighting starts, even though he lacks the discipline of the “real” samurai.  For me, he’s up there with Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s films (although it’s hard to think of two actors with less in common).

The star samurai has to be Kyuzo (below).  Did you see him move?  No – well, why is that man dead?

Back to painting, to finish with:

The Way That Light Works

Two photos of one of my paintings, called “Leaving the Stage”.  One was taken under artificial light at midnight, the other in the garden on a chilly mid afternoon.  Look how different they are!

Midnight Inside

Afternoon outside

I know which one I prefer…

 

La Cucuracha

Yes, I know it looks more like a cockerel than a cockroach (and not much like either) – but I like the name.

Blackpaint

14th March 2021

Blackpaint 686 – Audrey, Grace, Louis, Bing, Frankie and Fred

February 19, 2021

Burning in the Green

Blackpaint ( oil on canvas 100X100cms)

New policy of putting up a painting at the start, so that even those who navigate away immediately can’t avoid glimpsing one.  Additionally, someone is annoyed that I don’t do materials and dimensions, so from now on, I will.

Funny Face (1957) dir Stanley Donen 

Musical starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn.  In my view, Fred and Ginger are the apex dance predators; people who know about dance go on about Cyd Charisse. Astaire’s partner in The Bandwagon – but I found her ungainly compared to Ginger; maybe the legs were just too long.  Audrey Hepburn turns in some class dances in this and a good performance of a great song – “How Long Has This Been Going On?” written by the Gershwins in 1928, but unused until this film.  I only had jazz instrumentals of this  so I’d assumed it was about someone discovering their partner was “broadening horizons” – but no.  The earnest, bookish, cerebral Hepburn has been kissed mischievously by Astaire, in one of those 50s musical moments – a sexual assault it would be now, as it no doubt was in the 50s, but nobody knew it then.  it was called “stealing a kiss”.  The kiss has made her realise that there is more to life than the philosophy of “Emphaticalism”.  Astaire, or fashion photographer”Dick Avery” as he is in this, is 30 years older than Hepburn, and looks it – but this is a musical, so suspension of belief – and Fred is as great as ever on the dance floor, proven by his unbelievable solo with the umbrella.  He should have dispensed with the big white raincoat though.  Actually, on second thoughts, he needed it for the matador bits.

High Society (1956) dir Charles Waters – and the songs by Cole Porter

Wealthy hipster Crosby brings Louis Armstrong and his band to Newport for the jazz festival he’s fronting – or is he planning to disrupt the pending wedding of his ex- wife (Grace Kelly) to a rich stuffed shirt, as they were once called?  Sinatra is there as a society reporter.

Couldn’t be made now.  Why?  the portrayal of black artists in an arguably subordinate role; only acceptable now  for the purpose of highlighting the subordination.  However, Armstrong and his fellow musicians are treated as equals at least by Crosby’s character and I don’t remember any particular embarrassments in the script; but they do perform to entertain Crosby’s house party of rich white guests.  Then again, Crosby performs with them, and he’s a superb singer, so its not a case of star black musicians having to back some white mediocrity. And Crosby introduces all the members of the band by name: Armstrong on cornet, Edmond Hall on clarinet, Trummy Young (trombone), Billy Kyle (piano),  Arvell Shaw (bass), Barrett Deems (drums).  “Now You Has Jazz” – great song, brilliant lyrics, dazzling performance by Crosby, Armstrong and the band.

Another snag might be Crosby singing “Little One” to Kelly’s young sister, the words of which play along with the girl’s fantasy of marrying Crosby.  Obviously innocent and reflecting more innocent times, I can’t see it making it into the film in our era, when “Baby it’s cold outside” is attacked for portraying sexual harrassment.

And the fantastic Sinatra-Crosby duet “Well did you evah?” – problem here might be the constant drinking before, during, and after the song, which makes alcohol look desirable and fun.  It had me dying for a drink after 5 seconds.  And smoking – Crosby sings “Samantha”, as he gets ready for the evening; he fills his cigarette case from a dispenser on the table – another nostalgic moment for me.

Crosby upfront, Louis Armstrong behind his left arm, Edmond Hall on clarinet behind his right and Trummy Young (trombone) just visible on the far left of picture.

OK, that’s the end of my obsession with PC and Cancel Culture for today – more next time, no doubt.  A few more paintings from the lockdown:

High Wire, oil and charcoal on canvas 100x100cm

Years Too Late, materials and dimensions as for High Wire

 

Down the Stumpy Path, materials and dimensions as for High Wire.

Blackpaint

19/02/21

 

Blackpaint 685 – Alchemy, Paint, Excrement and Locusts

February 12, 2021

Hot Moonlight

Blackpaint 2020

I’m reverting to the idea I had a few years ago, of putting one of my paintings in at the start of a blog: that way, you get to see at least one of my efforts, even if you’ve landed here by chance and head off again immediately…  The title is stolen from the Highwaymen track, “Born and Raised in Black and White” – “Welcome Home! said the hot moonlight, We were born and raised in black and white…”

“What Painting is” by James Elkins (Routledge, NY and London, 2019)

Originally published in 1999, this book is the most idiosyncratic and fascinating book on painting I’ve ever come across,  I was astonished to find it so, because the author is “Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago” (back cover of the book).  I thought, therefore, it would be another discussion of the finished product in its various forms, historical probably, or philosophical, or both, like “What is Painting?” by Julian Bell, which I also got for Christmas.

How wrong I was.  This is about painting, not paintings – the actual process.  Elkins compares painting to alchemy, which he treats not as a pathetic and laughable attempt to “do” science before the proper subject was invented, but as a dedicated, almost heroic pursuit of the knowledge of things and properties and states – before we knew what the elements were.

It’s not wholly successful – too much alchemical detail.  But what he says about paint and painting (he painted before becoming an academic, but felt he had to give it up) rang bells for me.  Consider the following:

“…some paint is like the refuse of the studio, and some is like human waste.  In the studio, it can feel as if paint is not just reminiscent of shit, but it is shit.  The alchemists realised that excrement cannot be denied, that it has to be used.”  Hmm, yes, been there…  Or this, occasioned by a section of a painting by Francis Bacon: “A fixed element in a work, such as a dried passage where a painting is effectively finished, can be a cornerstone around which the work is constructed..”  [This can become a nuisance as the painting develops and “gathers” around it, however : ]”…The paint gathers around the one fixed spot like the nacre of a pearl around a piece of grit….The painting swirls around the fixed spot, protecting and enclosing it like a bandage.  But thought rubs against it , and it aches.”

My partner often says to me that you have to paint out the “best” bits in a painting, because they can hold you back, or force you to make the rest of the painting “fit” round them.  I suppose this is the same idea as hers.  This book is turning out to be something of a revelation to me.

The Day of the Locust, dir. John Schlesinger (1975)

 

I finally got round to seeing this, after a friend of mine spent an hour or so out  of the last forty years (not all at once, but in several bits), telling me how good it is.  I should have taken more notice.  It starts as a portrait of several “types” of struggling characters on the fringes of the Hollywood cinema industry in the 30s – and turns gradually into a surreal disaster film, almost a horror story.  It reminded me a little of Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished “The last Tycoon” – probably because that too had a Hollywood lot disaster (a flood).  I haven’t read the Nathanael West novel, but my friend says the film is pretty close to the book,  Karen Black, Donald Sutherland (whose character is called Homer Simpson) and William Atherton are all great.  Burgess Meredith is maybe a little exaggerated – but maybe not.  Artwork, some scenes from Goya, some hint of Marlene Dumas (but she’s later, of course, and might even have seen this) striking – but who did it?  Art Direction is by Richard Macdonald, but I guess he’s not the artist.  And I wonder why it’s called “Day of the Locust”.

I was going to write some more, but I want to publish and I’m well over my 500 words so I’ll leave it for now, with a few more of the old pictures I’ve been “revising” over the last few weeks:

Caught the Wave

 

Embero

 

Eco – Worrier

 

Greenhorn

Until the next time.

Blackpaint

12/02/21

Blackpaint 684 – Psychopaths, Severed Ears, Alchemists – and Art

January 21, 2021

Ice Lines, Blackpaint

 

Crazy, not Insane – Sky Documentary (dir. Alex Gibney)

Ted Bundy and Arthur Shawcross

Staggering programme about Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a psychiatrist who has interviewed and analysed a number of America’s worst serial killers – are there any that are not all that bad? – including Arthur Shawcross and Theodore “Ted” Bundy.  She seems prone to finding that these persons are often in the grip of “multiple personality disorder”; that is, when they kill, it is some malign other personality that takes them over (and is therefore responsible for the crimes).  The doc contains film of her with Shawcross, who is “taken over” during the interview; it appears to me that Lewis must be one of the most gullible people on the planet, to be fooled by Shawcross’s pathetic charade.  Reminds me of James Randi, the conjuror and illusionist, who died recently ;he said repeatedly that he loved doing his stunts before scientists because they were the easiest people to fool.

Journey into Darkness – John Douglas

Read this book as an antidote to the above.  Douglas,  one of the founders of criminal profiling, and author of “Mindhunter” has unequaled experience of these types of murderers – Kemper, Manson, Bundy, Wayne Williams, dozens more – and demolishes the “multiple personality” nonsense roundly (in the case of multiple killers who develop these traits AFTER arrest and sometimes trial, that is)..  He makes an unanswerable case for the reform of the US legal system to render justice to the victims’ families, specifically in the area of multiple and/or specious appeals against executions.

Blue Velvet  (David Lynch, 1986) 

I finally got round to seeing this;  I expected a dream-like atmosphere and some difficulty in comprehending the plot – and yes, both expectations fulfilled –  but not TOO baffling.   The violence – Isabella Rosselini gets hit by Dennis Hopper’s psychopath, Frank Booth, several times – is nasty, but nowhere near as horrifying as that in, say, “The Killer Inside Me”.  The dream thing is exemplified for me in the exchange between Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) and Laura Dern’s policeman father, when Jeffrey shows him what he has found in the meadows; “Why yes,” says the policeman, “you’re right – it IS a human ear”… as if it were an interesting fungus species.

Great ending shot of a clearly mechanical bird with a large (mechanical?) insect in its bill, against the saturated colours of a suburban American garden.

I was going to write, the only Lynch film I understood all the way through was “Eraserhead” – although that’s wrong, because he did “the Elephant Man” and “The Straight Story ” too.  And “Wild at Heart”…

What Painting Is, James Elkins (Routledge 2019)

Back to art.  I was bought two art books for Christmas with these pleasingly symmetrical titles:  “What is Painting?” by Julian Bell and “What Painting Is”, by James Elkins.  The first is a fascinating, but reasonably conventional work on art history – more next time.  The second, by a professor of art history from Chicago, is a real surprise, to say the least.  It gets right down into the paint on the canvas, the marks, the pigments, the process.  The comparison is with alchemy and he goes into the subject in great detail.  I thought “Oh no, this is going to be tedious” – but I was wrong.  Elkins loves to be down in the sludge with the alchemists, trying to extract and separate; but then he’s there with Jackson Pollock, with the domestic enamels, hairs, cigarette ends, describing Pollock’s characteristic marks in detail.  Highly recommended.

New Paintings (and one collage)

Finally, I’ve got round to doing some work again – mostly re-working old pictures, with oil over acrylic.  Some examples below and at the top:

 

Catch the Wave

 

Swe Dea (Collage)

Happy New Year – no irony intended

Blackpaint

21st January 2021