Blackpaint 703 – Whitechapel Gallery

May 5, 2022

I just want to get a blog posted as quickly as possible today, aware as I am that I haven’t posted recently and I saw this ages ago (same day as the Barbican show); so lots of pics and few, if any, inane comments.

Bacon’s Studio




Not sure who this is – like it though.

Know this one though – its Schwitters

Duncan Grant of course

I think this screen is Grant too.

Again sorry, didn’t get the name – really big and impressive though.

The great Grace Hartigan by one of her paintings.

The more acute reader or viewer will have noticed that only a few of these pics show artists’ studios, despite the title of the show. I too am perplexed by this but I don’t really care that much, as the paintings are good, and that’s what we go to see – isn’t it?

Actually, the best thing in the show is a video of William Kentridge in a dialogue with himself, that is to say two images of him, one asking the other questions and the other failing to answer. If you go, be sure to watch.

Here’s a couple of my latest figure efforts to finish. Back to normal service next blog.

Back Pain

Crying Over Spilt Milk


5th May

Blackpaint 702 – Postwar Modern, a Saint and Imogen’s Back

March 29, 2022

Jock McFadyen at the RA

Sorry Jock! Managed to spell your name wrongly in last blog, as well as making some facetious and incorrect observations in my attempt to compare and contrast you with Whistler. I’ve managed to find my little booklet of your paintings from 1986, was it? I was pleased to see I’d got the Harry Diamond ref right and the tough blokes with the dog. Spelling now corrected.

Men with Dog

Girls Waiting for Cortina

Harry Diamond Jazz Dancing

Edwin Drood – A Correction

Before we go any further, I have another egregious error to confess; recently, wrote about a Kindle accident in which I strayed from The Mystery of Edwin Drood to another Dickens work, a novella set largely in the Alps which he co-authored with Wilkie Collins, without realising I’d switched books. I referred to the spontaneous combustion scene in Drood, saying I’d missed it. Small wonder, because the spontaneous combustion is in Bleak House, a book I’ve read twice, but still managed to entertain the error.

Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945 – 1965

At the Barbican Centre until 26th June 2022

This is one of two excellent shows on in London simultaneously; there’s this at the Barbican and there’s “Artists in their Studios” at the Whitechapel Gallery, just a tube stop or two away, at Aldgate East. I did them both on the same day, in a couple of hours. I’m doing the Whitechapel next blog.

John Latham

Not sure who this is – I think its Prunella Clough

Magda Cordell – reminiscent of those carcasses of Soutine’s – and of Rembrandt, of course

Fabulous complex triptych by Alan Davie

Franciszka Themerson – Polish artist, totally new to me

One of three, I think, by Aubrey Williams

Portrait of John Bratby, by Jean Cooke

Rather superb, I think, making a great pair of that one of Bratby in his dressing gown (remember wearing those when I was a kid, about 60 years ago)…

John returns the compliment; she gets to avoid the dressing gown however, and sit comfortably naked in the no doubt nicely heated kitchen, with the contents of the scullery cupboards set out before her.

Sylvia Sleigh, another new one on me, Lawrence Alloway. No, Sleigh is the painter; the portrait is of her husband Lawrence Alloway, the art critic. He’s holding a rose.

Eduardo Paolozzi – but doesn’t it remind you of the famous Richard Hamilton picture, “Just What is it…”

Mary Martin – had to include this, Marion would never have let me omit it…

Victor Pasmore – but this is more my cup of tea.

Roger Mayne, I think – but could be wrong… too good a photo to leave out because my notes were inadequate.

Eva Frankfurther, West Indian Waitresses

The great Gillian Ayres

Patrick Heron – uncharacteristically sombre tones

The aforementioned dressing gown – and with the striped pyjamas too, by a coal fire, surely.. ah, nostalgia! Well, no, not really. Some of the photos are rather dark unfortunately, but then so is the Barbican.

It’s now midnight, so I want to finish as always with a couple of mine…


St. Nazaire – sold at last.

Imogen’s Back


March 29th 2022

Blackpaint 701 – Whistler and Mac: Compare and Contrast

March 20, 2022

Another pathetic joke to start with: very difficult to find my customary strange affinities between these two – but you never know, some spurious links might occur to me as we go along.

First, Whistler – or rather Whistler and other contemporaneous or nearly so White Lady merchants. It’s not just me then, the RA does it too. Compares and contrasts, I mean.

This White Lady is by Karpeles

The attentive viewer will notice that she differs from the other white ladies in at least one respect – she’s smiling, cocquettishly, as it used to be described by old misogynistic commentators. Her neckline is somewhat lower than the others too…

I’m afraid I’ve lost the booklet and can’t remember the name of the artist here; it’s not Whistler, anyway. Nor can I identify what she’s holding.

The interest for me here is that the booklet refers to the background as “abstract” – which it clearly isn’t. There’s a chair and a curtain and a doorway. This “abstract” background apparently caused some excitement and comment at the time – why? I’ll try to answer this in a moment.

Bessie, by Walker

I’ve included this because it’s a beautiful painting of a beautiful girl with the same name as my granddaughter. She holds a lily and is sitting on a dead polar bear. If it wasn’t for the white dress, you might think she was in mourning (the lily, the pensive, melancholy expression); but why are the lily, the bearskin and the grey backdrop – surely a screen, like old photographers used in their studios – not abstract, when a chair, a curtain and a doorway are? The bear skin and the lily are by way of hommage to Whistler’s first White Lady, painted earlier, I learned from a wall plaque that I bothered to read on a later visit.

Woman in White, by James Whistler

This first of Whistler’s portraits of Judith Hiffernan, his model and lover, was rejected by the Paris Salon because – yes, it was too “abstract”! It appears that the problem was the lack of narrative. It’s just a portrait of a woman in a white dress – she’s standing on a patterned carpet with a brocade curtain or drape behind her, but that’s not enough story (actually, she too is on a bear skin, and carrying a small flower, so my point about the Bessie picture below isn’t valid. Bessie is later, however, so maybe the narrative thing less of an issue by then). Karpeles’ woman might have come from her lover’s bed or be on the way there; the smile and the exposed breast direct the viewer’s imagination, they provide narrative. So, maybe, do the lily and the bear in the Walker picture – and actually, Bessie looks to me to be in some Victorian undergarment, rather than a white dress – aren’t they bloomers? This narrative stuff is probably old news to those who have studied art history formally – I’d never grasped before how shocking it might have been for a culture trained to read a painting like a story. Props, that was what were needed.

Woman in White, Whistler

And plenty of props here – the mirror to gaze into, the Japanese (?) pot, the fan, the fireplace – make up your own story.

Whistler again

They’re bored, it’s Sunday afternoon, dressed up for visitors but not looking forward to them….

What’s going on here? Whistler is ignoring his elegant female companions – they’re having a dangling conversation – “Can analysis be worthwhile?” “Is the theater really dead?” Sorry, slipped a couple of decades or so there, into Prufrock land (actually, slippage much further, into the 60s, for these lyrics are borrowed from Simon and Garfunkel – hence the US spelling of theatre – although Simon was clearly channeling TS Eliot). And Whistler looks to be channeling Velasquez in Las Meninas, to me, anyway. Another point that was made on a wall plaque I didn’t read on first visit….

And here is Courbet’s portrait, the best one of three versions in the show, of Hiffernan, making the most of the luxurious red hair that the artists were mad for. She actually looks like a totally different woman to the one in Whistler’s pictures – apart from the hair.

It’s a good exhibition, if you like beautiful, pensive, elegant women in swishing white dresses, admiring themselves in mirrors, surrounded by examples of Whistler’s collection of Japanese pots with tasteful backgrounds of silver, grey and pink…

None of this explains, however, why the presenters of “Portrait/Landscape Artist of the Year will keep referring to the slightest departure from photographic realism as “almost abstract”! Arm’s a bit too long, say, or sea’s got some orange in it that isn’t a sunset reflection, and you get “Yes, I like the way she’s gone almost abstract here…” No, she hasn’t….

Jock Mcfadyen at the RA

I know some of Mcfadyen’s work from a booklet of his pictures that I can no longer locate (must do a spot of clearing up); but I do remember the sort of pictures in it. Dark back streets, cartoonish, bald thugs with bull terriers, graffiti, drinking, East End pleasure palaces, dereliction, and – one very specific picture – Harry Diamond the photographer, jazz dancing on his own in the front room of a flat or prefab. Diamond was the man in a raincoat painted by Lucian Freud, standing on a landing next to a big pot plant, that may or may not have been an aspidistra. That is to say Diamond, not Freud, was on the landing… Why do I remember this? Because I once spent an afternoon with Harry and Bob Glass, drinking in a Wetherspoon’s on Balham High Road. He spoke really quietly, and I had to keep saying “Sorry, Harry?” – very embarrassing.

Anyway, this is all irrelevant. The point is to find links and contrasts with Whistler’s work. In the first picture below, I’m guessing we are in a nightclub; the lady in blue appears to be addressing the drinking man – he seems indifferent to her. There we are – parallels to the dangling conversation picture above; Whistler ignores his female guests – the anonymous drinker (who closely resembles Whistler) ignores the blonde with the Eraserhead cut. Contrast? In Whistler’s picture the women also ignore the artist. Not the case in the Mcfadyen picture.

We appear to be in the same nightclub. I have no explanation for the stony faced gargoyle in close up, but one of the two women far down the receding bar could well be the same woman as in the picture above.

A couple of great old musicals on TV recently:

Easter Parade (1948, Charles Waters)

Fred Astaire stars with an obviously much younger Judy Garland in this picture from date? and falls in love with him, which is a bit – incongruous. But it includes a brilliant drum sequence in a toy shop (above), in which Astaire does a leap onto a table, during a dance of course, that is really impressive in its execution. The songs, by Irving Berlin, I don’t find equally impressive – perhaps with the exception of “We’re a Couple of Swells” and the great “Steppin’ Out”. Another song is “The Fella with the Umbrella”, which is about as good as my “standing on a landing” (see Harry Diamond, above).

Calamity Jane (1953, David Butler)

Full of brilliant songs – “Whip crack away”, “Just Blew in from the Windy City”, “Take me back to the Black Hills” – and Doris Day’s energetic – no, wrong word, “explosive” is more like it -performance. And she looks great in those buckskins and the cavalry cap. Not greatly historically accurate; Calamity Jane did not marry Wild Bill Hickok,+ who did not kill as many as twenty – seven men – and was she really referred to as “Calam” by the Deadwood residents?

Spurious connection; I’m reading “Chaos” by Tom O’Neill, a book that purports to find a CIA connection to the Manson murders (unconvincingly, I have to say) and to undermine the standard account by the prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, “Helter Skelter”. On the journey, O’Neill records his feeling that Terry Melcher was much more familiar with Manson and his “Family” than he admitted – and that Bugliosi was aware of this and concealed it. Who is Terry Melcher, apart from a successful record producer? Doris Day’s son.

OK, even more full of irrelevancies and outlandish comparisons than usual, here’s a new one of mine to finish. The title is that of an old jazz standard…

Ghost of a Chance



Blackpaint 700 – Bacon and the Eggs

March 9, 2022

Francis Bacon – Man and Beast, at the RA until 17th April 2022

So much has been written about Bacon’s life and painting; there are the Peppiatt books, Daniel Farson (The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon) and now a huge breeze block of a biography by Mark Stevens and Annelise Swan; picked it up in Foyle’s today and nearly sprained my wrist. Only £20.00 though, so I’ll probably end up getting it. They did a reasonable if rather pedestrian job on de Kooning some years ago.

Anyhow, what I meant to say was that, with so much info out there already, I’ll confine myself to the pictures and the odd comment where there’s something new to me.

I have to say that, even though most of the pictures are familiar to me, they had a real impact when I saw them all together. Initially, you see the often gorgeous colours of the backgrounds; then the beautifully handled paint, sometimes applied smoothly, sometimes dragged, thin and drying, as in the pope’s skirts (see below) and sometimes in a tangle – say, between Henrietta Moraes’ legs (again, see below). I’ve left out some of the usual suspects (Peter Lacy, sitting sprawled, naked, with a faintly rendered but definite erection; Muybridge boy on all fours, dog on a circle). I’ve been twice and I still think there is more to take in.

Ape on a box, lovely raspberry background.

Is that an egg in the frame underneath the bird thing? I love the raised, curved spine; another great back for my collection (see Kitaj, Ginger et al in earlier blogs).

George Dyer in a what? Jacuzzi possibly? And that looks very much like an egg at the bottom…

Never noticed the little figures and cars passing in background to this screaming crucifixion before – and I think the punter sets it off well.

Possibly my favourite for the clarity and colour… Sort of foam coming from the bull’s nostrils, maybe…

Here’s a close up of it – it’s foam. And the white streak – several of the paintings have similar marks; spatters of semen (painted, I mean, obviously), perhaps. An unlikely suggestion regarding anyone else’s work, except Dali and maybe that Italian who canned his own shit.

One of the Muybridge inspired pieces. The thing on the perch was apparently based on a cormorant.

Two simian men struggling in the grass arena.

This was the only picture (I think) with a complete foot painted. The discus thrower in the painting above has feet that melt before the toes – others have legs that fade at the calves…

I love this huddled, solid body, groping in the grass.

What’s that thing like a black speed skater circling the patch of landscape?

Henrietta Moraes – looks like an abortion scene… I wonder if the carefully detailed door has any significance – and the umbrella hat?

Owls – a friend pointed out they could easily be vultures. Never would have guessed this was by Bacon.

Isabel Rawsthorne – compare to a photograph; it is a likeness of sorts…

I love the ornate frame, totally appropriate for a tender love scene like this.

Floating pope – Innocent III I think; like something out of early Doctor Who. I like the way he’s done the white skirts with a single drag per pleat; close up below.

Next blog, more RA; Whistler and others and Jock Macfadyean.

Some of mine to finish with, as always: the first two from a cropping exercise at Putney:

Susie, side view

Susie cropped (obviously)

These two my latest sales:

Blood – Red River



March 9th, 2022

Blackpaint 699 – Lifeys and Detox at Tate Britain

February 23, 2022

Phil – one minute

My correspondent Laurie sent an interesting comment about life drawing on my last blog post, so I’m going to try to answer it here. It also gives me the opportunity to post a load of my “lifeys” which, given the variable quality, might otherwise be seen as self – indulgence (which it is, of course).

Laurie was particularly concerned at the tendency, on “Portrait Artist of the Year”, for example – a British TV programme – for many competitors to draw or paint from an image on screen or tablet, rather than from the model. He feels this is a “corrupting way of condensing the long look into a frozen snapshot”, and asks for my views.

Phil – portrait on old cardboard

As can be seen from the above effort, portraiture is not a forte of mine. It was done from a live model, however, so any corruption is my responsibility. I made a cursory and wholly unsuccessful stab at getting a good likeness, but that really wasn’t what I was after. What was I trying for? An arresting, colourful, interesting image that would hold the interest for more than a few seconds and which a viewer might return to and make new discoveries.

In other words, a good picture. That pretty much covers any effort of mine, representational, abstract, portrait, landscape, combination of any of these. “Corruption” is exactly the right word, I think, for what I do to the human body in my pictures, sometimes by intention, often by accident.

Phil one minute

I see what Laurie is driving at – you can get a greater sense of immediacy by attempting to capture a living, breathing pose than from a “frozen” one in a photo; but that is also to do with the imposition of a short time limit. It gives you a freedom of expression. The longer you’ve got, the more of that freedom drains away. Plus, of course, the more opportunity you’ve got to screw it up.

Phil with a bit of shading

Laurie was writing about portraiture though – if your intention, or main intention, is to produce a good likeness, I can see, perhaps, why a photograph might help; you can switch your gaze from one to the other, check your accuracy – what if you’ve got an inexperienced model who moves too much? You’re working against the clock, maybe?

There is another consideration with portraiture, which I think Francis Bacon once touched on – he was talking about his own pictures, but it could apply to others. He worked from photographs rather than models because (he said) he didn’t like them to see what he was doing to them.

Isabel Rawsthorne, Francis Bacon

Yes, it is recognisable as Rawsthorne. Yes, Bacon is an extreme example, but there is a pressure exerted by the presence of a model. I find extreme beauty in a model of either sex is a problem because you want to reproduce the beauty (whatever “beauty ” is – but the reader will know what I mean). If you read this Phil, or Francoise, I did say “extreme” beauty.

Phil, bending, cropped

Something I’ve done frequently is odd cropping. It seems to be highly regarded in many circles, since I’m sometimes complimented on it. The reason is simple – I can’t draw “small”, or not well, anyway. Whatever the size of paper I use, there’s never enough to get the whole image in. This image is not cropped – well, not more than a couple of centimetres – I just ran out of paper at the edges. Bad planning, really.

Francoise, bending down

Look how long those legs are! That’s a distortion of reality, of course, but I think it makes for a better picture. I’m not sure, of course – plotters, like Coldstream and Uglow wouldn’t agree; then again, I’ve seen some pretty long legs on Uglow paintings….

I’ve just realised how this reads – I’m not remotely comparing my poor effort to either of these distinguished painters; it’s the principle I’m writing about. I love the sheer solidity in Uglow’s work (a solidity that is illusory, but all the more admirable for that); but with the solidity goes a certain stasis.

Phil two minutes

“Toxic” Hogarth and Contemporaries

I’m not sure if the Hogarth is still on at Tate Britain, but I wanted to add a few pictures to those i posted a few weeks ago when I blogged on the show. I remarked that the captions were mostly concerned with the depiction of a racist, misogynistic, imperialist society and were somewhat ambivalent – not always clear whether it was the artist at fault or the society depicted – or both. Below is an example of the sort of caption I’m writing about:

So there we are – we are safe to look at these paintings, because possible wrong interpretations have been “detoxified” by the “Museum Detox Interpretation Group”. I’m interested to know whose idea this was and if it will become a regular feature of future exhibitions of “toxic” art – and maybe a condition of such art being shown at all.

Pietro Longhi, the Venetian master, I believe. I love those masked figures; wish I knew what was going on. Should have read what the Detox Group had to say….

Beautiful little painting (the woman is demeaning herself, unfortunately) – but isn’t that leg wrong? It’s coming from the wrong place, surely…

I meant to do Bacon at the RA today, but too much to show and say, so I’ll finish with my last painting (the last one I’ve done, not – I hope – my last ever):

Light in a Black Sea


Feb 23rd 2022

Blackpaint 698 – Salt on the Saveloy; Lubaina Himid

February 5, 2022

I try to read a bit of the bible every day and have been doing so for years. The proper bible that is; the Authorised King James version with the proper poetry, not that homogenised stuff they use in churches now and have been since the late 50s or early 60s or whenever it was. I’m probably on my third circuit now – my paperback edition has Old and New Testament and the Old, but not the New Apocrypha.

I’m not a believer, far from it, but I love the prose and the poetry, the nostalgia and the great stories. I’ve just finished Esther, with its story of how she and Mordecai turned the tables on Hammam and had him and his ten sons hanged (and 75,000 other enemies massacred), for plotting the massacre of the Jews. That’s Hamman ,hanging, in Michelangelo’s version above. None of that New Testament stuff about forgiving enemies or turning the other cheek… although I love that different fanaticism too, portrayed best in Pasolini’s “Gospel According to Matthew” and maybe Emmanuel Carrere’s “The Kingdom”, dealing with the Acts and the Epistles of Paul.

But currently, I’m on Job and savouring the poetry there and I find two verses which have an immediate resonance for me: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” (Job, 5,7) – and “Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? And is there any taste in the white of an egg?” (Job 6,6).

The first of these is so arresting, visual and economical. The second is more personal; it was my darts night last night, as always involving quite heavy drinking; on my way home, I stopped at the chip shop as always, for my saveloy and chips. The lady put loads of salt and vinegar on the chips as I requested but added the saveloy (and a sausage) after – hence no salt on them. I discovered that “that which is unsavoury” can be eaten without salt – but your mouth is really dry afterwards and the disappointment is huge. And no, without salt, there is no taste in the white of an egg.

Lubaina Himid – Tate Modern until 3rd July 2022

Big, clean, colourful, static assemblages of black people in somewhat mystifying scenarios like the one above, make up most of this exhibition. There are also sound exhibits by Himid and Magda Stawarska – Beavan and long linear wall sculptures, mostly of wood but interspersed with objects, of which musical instruments – I spotted a banjo – were a frequent element.

I remember this one is called “The Pulley” (see the upper part of the picture)

The booklet that goes with the exhibition, and the various wall plaques, explain that Himid is interested in the architecture, in a big sense, of our surroundings – not only buildings, but rooms, furniture , decor, appliances, clothes – the implication being that there is a mismatch, an ill fitting between the people and their manufactured surroundings, in every sense of the word. I guess the implication is that this is perhaps more true for African and Afro – Caribbean people, but wouldn’t wish to pursue this into deep waters. The mismatch is explicit as far as women are concerned, though – as the booklet says: “What kind of buildings do women want to live and work in? Has anyone ever asked us?”

Frequently, it is an ocean that appears through the windows of these sparse rooms full of faintly bewildered, uncertain groups. The bird – headed woman in the above painting calls attention to the strong surrealist streak in these works; I’m reminded a little of Paul Delvaux (although no nudity, I think) and de Chirico. A bit fanciful this, but maybe even Della Francesca (the statue-like poses, the stillness, the way they tend to look out or away from each other.

I like this one; should be titled “The Blancmange”, but it’s not. Now there’s a madeleine moment for me – does anyone still make such things? My mother had a blancmange mould in the shape of a rabbit and we had it for afters frequently – until Instant Whip was invented. However, back to art….

Does anyone else get Picasso from this one? Those blimpish female figures running along a Mediterranean beach?

I had to include this – court scene? Historical drawing room? It’s a tableau of life-size cut outs, like a giant magic puppet theatre.

So that’s an introduction, and probably a poor and superficial one, to this exhibition. It was better than I expected, but then I have rather a strong aversion to Himid, after what I thought was a graceless speech when she won the Turner prize a couple of years back – the bit where she said it had been a long time coming – the implication (maybe she stated it openly, can’t remember) being that she should have got it long before but being a woman, and a black woman, had prevented that. Don’t know if that’s true, but it’s not for her to say, in my opinion.

Only one new picture to put up of mine:

Phil Twice, on rough old wet cardboard

Blackpaint, February 5th 2021

Blackpaint 697 – The House of Usher

January 30, 2022

I’m just going to use some of my recent stuff to break up the blocks of type. They’re not illustrations of the text, just markers.

Since Marion died, things are falling apart. Without a discernible reason, thick layers of grey dust and lint appear where none did before; hairline cracks in plaster are widening; appliances are dying at various paces. The dishwasher leaks occasionally, enough to have swollen and distorted the composition floorboards, and it no longer gets things properly clean. I now have to wash plates and cutlery before I put them in the machine: thoroughly, I mean, not just a rinse. Light bulbs are dimming, flickering and dying after years of faithful service – but they didn’t when she was here, My Ipod no longer charges up.

I can’t work out why all this is – I did all the hoovering for years, the cooking mostly, washing up and general cleaning so no reason why all this should be happening. It’s as if the house has lost heart, as if the fact of her being here alive cast a clean spell and kept things going. Has anyone else experienced anything similar?

Vanessa in Studio

The Mystery of Edwin Drood – Dickens’ and my unfinished novel

I took a break after the last section to put dishes in the washer – it overspilled again, so clearly it knows what I’ve written about it and is taking its revenge:my guess is that the computer informed on me as I wrote.

As a last example (for now) of tech failure – or, more likely, intentional sabotage – I was reading Edwin Drood on my Kindle. I came to a place where new characters were introduced, with a complex back story, outlined at length by Dickens. A new love interest was introduced, a young Swiss girl and Obenreiser, her overbearing and sinister guardian. The scene shifted to the Swiss Alps; I read on, waiting patiently for Dickens to tie these new characters in with the earlier story. It didn’t happen – I finished the book and discovered that I’d been reading “No Thoroughfare”, a short book written in instalments by Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Somehow, I’d skipped out of the world of Drood into the Swiss Alps. I know Edwin Drood is unfinished, but the one thing I do know about the content is that it has a spontaneous combustion scene, which I was keen to read and I’m sure it didn’t go past without me noticing. I blame the Kindle. Trouble is, the Dickens is one of those collected works without a “page” you can go to with the novels listed, so very difficult to navigate and find your place. I fear I’ll never get to read the combustion scene now.

Peach Orchard Mama

The Alpinist (Sky Documentaries)

This channel is constantly showing really excellent and varied material and this is one of the best docs I’ve seen since “Positive”, the three parter on the history of HIV/AIDS in Britain (for which my son got a producer’s credit, but that didn’t affect my judgement in the slightest).

Marc – Andre Leclerc, a young Canadian climber from Squamish, British Columbia is the subject. He climbs vertical faces of alternate rock and ice, changing his shoes when necessary while clinging by his fingers or hanging from one of the two ice axes he uses (he sometimes hangs one from his shoulder). He doesn’t use ropes; sometimes he climbs without detailed route planning – just finds his way as he goes. He hates to be filmed or watched climbing and disappears without telling the documentary team where he’s going; they chase him over half the world, following rumours.

In one sequence, he is on a huge curved sheet of ice, trying things out, hacking in with his axe, pulling on it to see will it stick? The camera pulls back too, a little- and we can see that the ice sheet is separated from the wall of rock by a couple of feet, maybe more. Toe curling (mine, not his) literally.

I won’t tell you how it ends.

Adrian in Studio

I haven’t been to an exhibition or done much painting since last blog, but hoping to rectify that in the coming weeks, so that I can write about more interesting things – unless of course the house does a full Edgar Allan Poe; collapses and swallows me in a pile of broken bricks.

Francoise on wet, tatty cardboard

Blackpaint 696 – Get Back, Gone Fishing on Knot Island

January 6, 2022

OK, I’m having difficulties obtaining illustrations for my magnificent prose today (no doubt due to climate change or Brexit) so I’m just going to bung in some of my old pictures, purely gratuitously, to break up the chunks of text.

Get Back, Peter Jackson 1969, Disney

Three episodes, each feature length, of the Beatles filmed in the studio, rehearsing, composing, bickering, clowning – but above all, smoking – in an attempt to write, learn, rehearse and record an album AND put on a live show to package it. Yoko Ono is a constant watchful presence, occasionally screeching unbearably for minutes at a time, as the vocalist in a sort of improvised freak out. Paul, generously bearded and authoritative in a huge tweed overcoat, tries to keep things focused, but often succumbs to the collective urge to jam old rock songs – Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, Elvis – which seems to serve the function of relaxing them and “getting the juices flowing” (cliche, sorry).

John comes across as a total arsehole; he sneers, fools around, calls Glyn the sound engineer “Glynis”, sabotages attempts to get things done, is clearly involved in an undeclared power struggle with Paul and shows off to the cameras of the film maker, Michael Lindsay Hogg and to Yoko. Linda and Paul’s children show up a couple of times, but unlike Yoko, Linda shows no signs here of thinking she has a role in the band’s strategies.

There comes a point where George just declares that he’s leaving the band and walks out. It’s pretty clear his grievances are related not only to the plans of their management team to stage the show at a huge ruin in Libya (!) but also to the general wrangling in the band; Paul and John and Yoko.

The last episode is the best – things to watch for:

The arrival of old Hamburg mate Billy Preston, just visiting. The band is delighted and all the wrangling stops – for a while (how did they pay him? Equal shares, I hope).

John’s awe of Allan Kline; “He’s incredible – he knows everything!”

The amazing tolerance they all show of Yoko’s awful howling during the daily freakouts.

George Martin’s astounding good temper throughout.

The change in Lennon when the rooftop concert begins. Suddenly he’s all about business, and it turns out he knows every song perfectly; that’s him, not George, playing the solo on “Get Back”.

The police. They are great, all of them, authoritative and yet completely powerless in the face of friendly and apparently cooperative non – cooperation.

Gone Fishing, Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer

I’ve been transfixed in a very gentle way (is that possible? Not really, is it?) by this pair’s wanderings, bickering and surprisingly successful angling adventures over Christmas. They are very funny and the humour appears to be natural and effortless; the frequent pathos is always undercut by irony (Bob’s account of his father’s death in a crash with a lorry-load of tinned peaches, for example).

Trouble is, at some stage, they must have sat down and pitched this thing to TV executives. You want it to be really real – maybe a TV crew just happened to see them fishing one day, followed them unobtrusively filming from a distance…. It must have been difficult and expensive to get access to all these rivers – I thought angling clubs pretty much had British rivers parcelled out and locked down to members. Great series, whatever.

One last thing on this series – I’m usually really irritated when I find I’ve recorded a version of a programme with a signer in the right hand corner. Possibly opening myself to a hate speech accusation, but it’s a distraction, for me anyway. But the episode on South Uist was it? where they were after sea trout was graced by a lovely woman signer, who was obviously enjoying the programme as much as I was. She was a joy to watch.

Knot Island

I thought I’d put up the three stages of my latest painting – after all, de Kooning did it with one of his “Woman”s, and there’s a series of 10 or 12 different stages of “Guernica” – so why not me? It’s my blog, after all….

Knot Island (original- 10 years old)

Knot Island (well, maybe….)

Knot Island (final) – yes, inverted, but also some extra charcoal and green paint…

OK – Fed up wrestling with this thing tonight, so I’m going to stop now. Hopefully, atmospheric conditions will allow me to be more connected up next time….


12th Night, 2022

Blackpaint 695 – Exploding Toilets, Fred and Ginger, Simon and Garfunkel

December 24, 2021

I got a lovely comment the other day from reader Laurie, which has prompted me to do a bit more on films: couldn’t call what I do critique really, more like cursory idle chatter. As long-suffering readers will know, my thing is to take two (or more) films, paintings, artists, books, whatever and find comparisons and similarities between them, regardless of cultural differences, period, tone, language – or anything else. Tonight, I thought I’d start with toilets. Why? Because I want to seem “edgy” and unsentimental, before wallowing in the perfection of Astaire and Rogers.

Trainspotting (1996, Danny Boyle)

I’d never seen it before in its entirety when it showed up on TV recently; the “worst toilet in Scotland” scene was familiar from clips, however. If there is anyone reading who hasn’t seen it, the character Renton, addicted like all his mates except the psychopathic Begbie, has the runs and is forced to use this utterly filthy, shit-encrusted, semi-flooded public toilet. And yes, he drops his pills – drugs, that is – into the bowl. And goes down after them, diving into the filth and miraculously emerging into a sort of cistern of clean water in which he locates his pills and swims back up into and through the filth, to emerge from the bowl, spitting out brown water.

Parasite (2020, Bong Joon Ho)

A week or so later, this South Korean film also turned up on TV. It was more familiar in that I’d seen it at the cinema a while back on its release. There ‘s a scene in it where the criminal family who have fraudulently installed themselves in a variety of jobs (housekeeper, tutor, chauffeur) in a rich couple’s ultra modern building, are force to return to their own slummy semi-basement in the midst of a colossal storm. The basement is flooded, the daughter climbs on to the raised toilet bowl (see below), lights a cigarette somehow – and a moment later, the toilet appears to explode, spraying lumps of ordure all over her and everything else.

Well, so this is disgusting but up to now the film has been, like Trainspotting, basically a comedy. Soon, however, it descends into horror (or maybe ascends -value judgement), when a series of bloody killings takes place at a garden party. And then I thought back to Trainspotting and realised there is a similar shock change of tone at one point. Nothing to do with Begbie’s outbursts, which are signalled very clearly: no, this is the death of the baby, which we have seen crawling about on the floor unheeded, in the midst of the cast of addicts who are shooting up all around it, The death is introduced by the screaming of the mother, which starts as an unidentified noise in the brain of the unconscious Renton, and slowly becomes recognisable as screaming.

So there we are, a cross-cultural and cross- temporal? historical? link – or links, actually, between Scotland and South Korea, between two centuries. Nothing if not inclusive here.

Fred and Ginger

OK, from the disgusting to the sublime. Reeling from the above, and my usual late night fare of serial killers on Quest Red etc., I went back to basics on YouTube, to feast on Fred and Ginger, having seen The Gay Divorcee and the Parkinson interview with Fred on Talking Pictures (also on YouTube). First, Parkinson: he showed a clip of Fred doing “Putting on the Ritz” from “Blue Skies” – stunning. The stick rapping, the timing,,, unbelievable. Actually, change that to brilliant, simply because it’s pretty much all unbelievable in the nearness to perfection of the routines and the execution. Count the number of times reporters, interviewees, everybody say “incredibly” in an average evening on TV, you’ll see what I mean.

This is what she’s taught me

This one is “Pick Yourself Up” from “Swing Time” (1936). The pair breeze through it as if for the first time. Note the way they stride towards us palms outward as if to say “here we are!”, then stop and break into tap. And the effortless way Fred swings her over the rail and passes over it himself; smooth and dangerous looking.

Fantastic Tap

This is Fred dancing with Eleanor Powell, to “Begin the Beguine”. Not as elegant as his set pieces with Ginger, perhaps, but this must be close to the best tap there is, from both of them.

That Beautiful Back

Back to “Swing time”, for the last dance with Ginger, introduced by Fred singing “Never Gonna Dance”, wistfully, because she’s going off to marry someone else. They start by simply pacing around together dolefully, then break into dance, she’s leaning that beautiful back into him, shoulders raised… and she breaks away. He moves towards her, grabs her arm, spins her around, she looks at him shocked. He mimes pleading with her and suddenly they are dancing again. The orchestra (superb, as in all their films) reprises the big numbers, “The Way You Look Tonight”, “Waltz in Swing Time” – they dance up the black staircase, he spins her again at speed – and she exits, leaving him to follow seconds later, slowly, looking crushed.

I could write all night about their routines, and Ginger’s warm, sceptical smile, eyes slightly veiled, at Fred’s breezy importuning -but I’ll be returning for sure. Just mention one other routine, which is obviously “Let’s Face the Music” from “Follow the Fleet”. Its the exit – their exits are always perfect. The orchestra has piled on the drama and just done that bit where they run up and down the scale, and the dancers, as they pass out of our sight, suddenly throw their heads back and high step in unison – a perfect Art Deco image.

Simon and Garfunkel, the concert in Central Park (1981)

Whilst on YouTube, check this out – its one of the best live concerts I’ve seen, up there with Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band in 1975 on the Old Grey Whistle Test (the one with Albert Lee on guitar). For me, the standout songs – we’re back to Simon and Garfunkel, by the way – are “America” (counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike); “Late in the Evening” (just watch the drummer, the brass section and most of all, the audience); and “American Tune” (based on that beautiful hymn from the Matthew Passion). Also Slip Sliding Away, The Boxer and 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover; I’ve watched the whole thing four times and the standouts maybe ten.

My latest paintings to finish with – Scottish toilet or Fred and Ginger? You decide…

Mr. Whippy


Frogleg on the wall, with a friend


Christmas Eve 2021

Blackpaint 694 – Life Between Islands.. Don’t You Remember?

December 10, 2021

Life Between Islands, Caribbean British Art, 1950s – Now

Tate Britain until 3rd April 2022

Against my expectations (I’d anticipated a selection based on political correctness , emphasising the evilness of British imperialism and racism in Britain, in line with the current trend in metropolitan art galleries), this is a really enjoyable exhibition. No doubt I, as an old white middle-class man, should have experienced guilt and embarrassment, and hung my head in shame, as the various commentaries accompanying the neighbouring Hogarth show seek to induce – but I didn’t. There’s plenty of politics, anti – racism and hostility towards the police in the photos and in some of the film and paintings too – but it’s good photography and good art, and there’s plenty of sardonic humour too.

I particularly remember the stilt walker, dressed as some Caribbean or African deity, stalking round the magnificent grounds of a stately home in Yorkshire, built I think by Henry Lascelles. a slave owner. I don’t know why, but I found it funny. I hope I was supposed to.

Also. there was the police dog, attacking the costumed carnival goer in the painting below. But we’ll come to that in good time.

For starters, there is a room of abstract paintings by Aubrey Williams. The first of these is from the Tate’s perma-collection, which caused me to groan (inwardly), fearing the frequent tactic of borrowing a couple of paintings and then bulking up to exhibition size with selections from the basement or even from the current display; luckily though, mostly new stuff to me anyway.

Williams’ paintings remind me a little of Alan Davie and (the one below, for instance) of Wifredo Lam.

After Williams, more abstraction: several paintings by Frank Bowling. An example of one of his “poured” paintings below. They are called that because he put them at a downhill angle and poured pigment on so that it would run down. Sorry, that’s obvious, isn’t it….

This next painter is John Lyons, born in Trinidad in 1933, works in UK. I find him really intriguing because his work to me resembles that of German Expressionism, in particular, the second, blue one looks rather like Kokoschka to me.

OK, time for the dog attack. Detail first.

The painter’s called Tam Joseph, born 1947 in Dominica, but now UK. It’s from 1982, and is called the Spirit of the Carnival (the carnival being Notting Hill). Dog reminds me of Gnasher, who was famously the “pet” of Dennis the Menace.

This is the whole picture. You can see the masquerader in the midst of the throng of cartoon coppers behind their fence of riot shields.

These red and blue ones are by Lisa Brice; I find that colour combination really effective – but I’ve seen the one on the left before, in a sort of mini exhibition here not so long ago – just before COVID I think (but my grasp on dates not so sure lately; the pandemic years have sort of telescoped together, because I was shielding the whole time.

Also by Lisa Brice I believe is a film of the most staggering display of street dancing at a Barbadian festival; some vigorous and improbable body contortions performed at high speed.

This figure is by Zak Ove, I’m guessing the son of Horace Ove but I’ve no evidence for that.

It’s a female figure – she has breasts which you can’t see in my photograph – the legs are of dry, bleached wood and she is festooned with the sort of ropes and netting you might find – no doubt, was found – on the white sand of a Caribbean or African beach.

These beautiful and elaborately encrusted busts are the work of Hew Locke.

These last two paintings are by Hurvin Anderson, who works and displays in the UK. One of them, I’m no sure which, is titled Hawksbill Bay, a Jamaican area; I thought his painting, that is the application of paint and colouring, is reminiscent of that of Michael Arnmitage.

So, definitely an exhibition to take in. In addition to the paintings mentioned and shown here, I’ll put in my diary entry listing some of the other stuff on display:

“Also, numerous films and photos of Brixton and Handsworth demos and riots, sound systems, fashions, black celebs (Baldwin. Darcus Howe, Michael X et al), some full-blown Afros.,,,,A great film (Julien?) of glittering blue waters, a young black man in a dinner jacket wading out into it, lying face down on the surface and staring at the sea bed. A silver painted football bobs out to sea…

And there’s a living room – or as it’s rather smart, maybe a front room as we used to call it, I’d put it as early 60’s. I was in there at the same time as a New Zealand couple of my vintage, give or take, and we were going “We had that!” (the dial telephone) and “We had that too!” (the ornate white circular mirror) “And that!” (the radiogram – although a different make). So not all agitprop, by any means.

Positive (Sky Docs)

I watched all three episodes of this documentary series on the trot – and then a few days later, watched them all again. Once or twice, I must admit I grew a little misty-eyed… The first thing my sister asked me when I mentioned it to her was “Does it explain where it comes from?” And I said, well, no – but it pretty much covers everything else. The interviewees were an engaging lot. Jonathan Blake (“L1”, the first diagnosed HIV positive “case” in the UK – although he was infected – “met my virus”, as he put it – in the bath house scene in San Francisco) courageously offered himself as a poster boy in one of the publicity drives. Richard Coles described how he realises with dismay that he started courting friendships with heterosexual couples – because they were less likely to die. The woman also called Coles or Cole, who was infected when a condom broke during sex with her boyfriend. She also offered herself as an interviewee in a documentary – and has been shunned by her mother ever since.

The stories and images are affecting , and the commentaries compelling; the story of the failure of the Concord AZT trial reminded me of the particular anguish that the dashed hopes of unsuccessful drug trials can bring. And there’s that brilliant hookline of Blake’s used in the ad for the series: “We lived through HIV…. Don’t you remember?” It ought to win a BAFTA or three.

I should say that I have an interest, in that the sharp-eyed will notice that on the poster above, a producer credit goes to one Nicky Lessware, who might possibly be a close relative of mine…. But it’s still brilliant.

As always, a few of my own paintings to finish:

Mr. Whippy (left) and Bilgames on the wall

(Sofa by IKEA)


Blackpaint December 9th 2021