Blackpaint 616 – Peevish Charles, Resentful Leavers and the Platypus

February 21, 2018

RA- Charles I Exhibition

Obviously the Holbeins and Van Dycks are the stars of this show – that Van Dyck family portrait with the kids and dog and baby  is noticeably informal, compared to earlier group portraits.  The hunting portrait of Charles, borrowed from the Louvre, is great; I think it’s the satin-clad elbow poking out at you.  On TV, some pundit said the horse in the picture “stole the show”; I say the elbow does.  The triple portrait of Charles on the poster captures a sort of querulous obstinacy; weak-eyed, peevish but with clear indications of an inflexible wilfulness.

Fantastic Mantegna series of the Roman Triumph; tapestries based on Raphael cartoons, especially The Miraculous Draft of Fishes; I’m not keen on that Titian of the man in furs with the big dog jumping up at him.

Leavers and Remainers  (Trauma, Requiem)

Maybe because I’ve just read David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere, I keep seeing the two sides in the Brexit vote represented in TV drama.  The John Sims character in “Trauma”, bitter, obsessive, smouldering with self-righteous anger at the doctor who failed to save the life of Sims’ son after he was stabbed.  He’s the Brexiter, of course, hating and pursuing Adrian Lester’s smooth, rich, elite surgeon.

There is also “Requiem”, with the Remainers being the young cellist and her devoted accompanist, the Brexiters being the hostile, defensive Welsh villagers, burning with resentment towards these invaders from London with their nosy questions.  More to both these series of course; probably just my obsession.

The Post, dir. Spielberg (2017)

Very old-fashioned Spielberg film – stirring music at strategic moments, Hanks and Streep doing the Right Thing in defiance of the US government, an admiring group of young women gazing up at Streep as she leaves the courtroom…   I did reflect, though, that the Washington Post’s publishing of the Pentagon Papers would never have happened in the UK, with the various restrictions on the media that can be brought into play here and, indeed, the willingness of the British media to cave in to the government.

Loveless, dir, Zvyagintsev (2017)

The poster said “mesmerising” and “riveting”; can be code for very, very slow…  But, happily, the film is both (mesmerising and riveting, that is).  After “Leviathan”, Zvyagintsev has shifted his focus from politics and the new gangster elites in Russia to the personal; furious, bitter fighting between his divorcing parents lead a Russian teenager to go missing in a forest near Moscow.  Much of the film concerns the campaign by a volunteer group to trace the youngster, setting about the search in a determined and disciplined way, going to considerable lengths to do what the police might be expected to do, or at least, attempt.

Brett Whiteley

I’ve been looking at Whiteley’s work again, and I have to say, he takes collage to stunning lengths; among the objects affixed to various works are the following: teeth, brain (actually a slice on a slide, by the looks of it in the photo), eggs, birds – and a platypus.

To Yirrawalla (1972)


Little Van Gogh

I’ve got some pictures with this group, which rents paintings out to offices, moving them around every few months.  Examples below – they’re all mine.






Blackpaint 615 – London Art Fair, Saatchi and Angelopoulos

January 30, 2018

London Art Fair

This was a couple of weekends ago, but I thought I might put up some of my favourites:


Chloe Lamb

Great little corner of abstracts.  One of her big ones is a little Lanyon-ish (didn’t see any Lanyons this year) but the colours are very strong, I think.


Dorothy Mead

Terrific drawing by the Bomberg acolyte.  I actually prefer her stuff to the Master.


William Brooker

I put up a photo of a Brooker painting at the fair last year; it was a beautiful table assemblage in that precise Coldstream/Uglow style (see below).  This one of the nude in bed reminds me more  of Sickert, however.


Patrick Proctor

Huge, screen-like painting – actually, they ARE screens in the picture, aren’t they?  Great painter, often similar to Hockney.


Duncan Grant

Typical Grant piece, maybe a little conventional, but I like it.


Iconoclasts – Art Out of the Mainstream, Saatchi Gallery

The Ice Cream Seller, Danny Fox

That blue cheered me up on a cold, dismal morning in the week.

The Professor, Josh Faught

Faught does loose textile pieces hung with bits and pieces, joke cards, badges, a spilt coffee cup, most of which relates to the gay scene in the US.  They are colourful and funny and sad.  I love that spilt coffee disc, made out of resin; had to touch it when the attendant wasn’t attending..


Corvid, Kate MccGwire

The external skin of this giant intertwining black sausage is composed of crow feathers – hence the title.


Philip Pearlstein, Saatchi Gallery until 25th March

Eight of Pearlstein’s intricate, crowded pictures of pallid, pensive nude women, sort of interacting with various props, mostly by being draped around them.  Sometimes, the toys, animals, dinosaurs and duck lures seem to be eyeing them.

Models and Blimp (1991)

Apparently, they are done from life, although the angles and proportions sometimes suggest photographs.

Theo Angelopoulos

I’ve just completed viewing another box set of this fantastic director’s films.  They are often “stately paced” and solemn; sometimes he lectures you on history through the mouths of the characters; but they are operatic, visually arresting, the ever- present music is plaintive and beautiful.  The Greek and Balkan landscapes are rough and mountainous; it’s often snowing, raining, flooding.  Groups or pairs of weary individuals lug dusty suitcases along empty streets to deserted railway stations, drink in shabby, bare cafes; suited men and women in 40s dresses dance to guitar, sax and accordion jazz in bare dance halls or on promenades, until Fascists. or police, or soldiers show up and everyone scatters; occasional outbreaks of violence, hangings, rapes, shootings – and the slow unrolling of history.  Often, he uses major international actors; Marcello Mastroianni, Harvey Keitel, Irene Jacob, Bruno Ganz, William Dafoe.

Ulysses’ Gaze (1995)

A giant, disassembled statue of Lenin floats down a Greek (or Romanian?) river to a new home.


The Weeping Meadow (2004)

Carcases of slaughtered sheep festoon a tree outside the village big house, to signify the neighbours’ disgust at the occupants’ actions.


The Dust of Time (2009)

Prisoners of the gulag climb and descend an open stairway in a snowbound Soviet landscape.




Flame Landscapes




Blackpaint 614 – Heavy Metal, Carnal Pots, Wenders and Peakies

January 19, 2018

Hauser and Wirth – Monica Sosnowska (until 10 Feb, 2018)

Polish artist, heavy duty sculptures made from metal and stone/concrete.  One, an L shaped girder, bent as if by a giant hand, with a neat fold; a white cylinder of metal, cut and rolled out – it took me a while to realise how it had been done – and a large concrete mushroom, studded with wrought metal rods.  See photos below.


H and W – Jakub Julian Ziolkowski; “Ian Moon” (until 10 Feb, 2018)

Round the corner at the other H and W gallery, Ziolkowsky’s crowded cartoon images, reminiscent of Raqib Shaw (if not as accomplished), forming large. colourful, writhing masses on the walls.  Like Shaw’s work, a multiplicity of sexual organs are very present; you don’t have to look hard to find them.

There are also a number of painted pots in a similar style. rather like large chamber pots.  “Ian Moon” is Ziolkowsky’s alter ego, I believe.



Photographers’ Gallery – Wim Wender’s Polaroids; Instant Stories (until 11 Feb, 2018)

Annoyingly small (well, they ARE polaroids), hundreds of images, mainly of America, many relating to his films.  I particularly remember a couple of twilight skyscraper – scapes, New York I think, with spear-like negative spaces in deep blue and a series of shots taken from planes.  Dennis Hopper in a cowboy hat is in there too.


Photographers’ Gallery – 4 Saints in 3 Acts – A Snapshot of the American Avant-Garde (until 11 Feb, 2018)

Photos of the all-black cast of Four Saints in Three Acts, a modernist opera, libretto by the (white) Gertrude Stein, music by the (white) Virgil Thomson.  Opened on Broadway in 1934.   Predictably, the usual exoticism is present, as can be seen from the pictures below; faint shades of Josephine Baker.  That’s not to disparage the intentions of the Stein and Thomson, or the quality of the music, neither of which are known to me.  In typical old white male style, I forgot to take note of the names of the black cast leaders, thinking the names would be in the info on the leaflet – they’re not.  For the record, they are: Edward Matthews (St. Ignatius); Beatrice Robinson-Wayne (St. Theresa 1); Bruce Howard (St. Theresa 2); Embry Bonner (St. Chavez).  This was the first time that Christian saints were portrayed by Afro-Americans in the USA.

Photos by Lee Miller and Carl Van Vechten are included in the exhibition.

Peaky Blinders DVD

I avoided watching this when it came out; I didn’t think the trailers looked like Birmingham in the 20s – more like Deadwood, with the smoke and the mud and the Chinese quarter.  I thought the accents were dodgy, especially Sam Neill’s Protestant Northern Irishman; I disliked the modern rock theme by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; didn’t fit with the period.  And I find Cillian Murphy’s pale-eyed, sinister/appealing stare annoying.  And the detachable collars and big, floppy cloth caps with razor blade accessories.  As well as Deadwood, I thought of Les Miserables and even Game of Thrones.

I was given the first three series  on DVD for Christmas, however, and having watched the first, I now think it’s brilliant – as long as you forget Birmingham, the 20s and history.  The violence is operatic, the stories tight, the acting full-blooded, you could say; it’s in a world of its own.  Game of Thrones, even.

I haven’t done much painting over Christmas and New Year, so three so-so lifers to finish with:

Dominic 1,2 and 3




Blackpaint 613- Degas, Soutine, Orwell, Proust and Brexit

January 2, 2018

Soutine again

Revisited this great exhibition at the Courtauld ; waiters, bellboys, patrons (the french kind), with those dipping shoulders, bending faces, pouting lips, supercilious sneers, rich blue and blood red backgrounds.  You can see the influence he had on de Kooning, and maybe Bacon.  That big, long red one reminds me of Beckmann.

Degas et al at the National Gallery

The Degas is free; it’s on the ground floor, in a room after a collection of beautiful small landscapes, of which more in a moment.  Most of the Degas pictures are pastels but there are at least two in oils that look like pastels.  Some lovely sturdy ballerinas, that big brown/orange one of the maid combing out the woman’s hair (usually on display in the first Impressionism room to the right of the main entrance) and a great one of racehorses with jockeys up, in a downpour; a whirl of Russian women dancers.



As for the landscapes, I thought the most striking was by Lord Leighton, a jutting outcrop against green, from an unusual angle.

Also, a couple of great Boudins, distant families on the beach, Trouville I think.  He’s a “red spot” man.

Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

Just re-read this essay, written near the end of WW2, but staggeringly relevant today (relevance is something you find pretty much every time you pick up an Orwell book).  I recognised my own mindset immediately, with regard to the Brexit “debate” and resolved to think of Orwell every time I read the Guardian.  Doesn’t work though, unfortunately; still teeth grinding and swearing.  Orwell is often spectacularly wrong; for example, he thought in the early days of the war and maybe later, that Britain was bound to lose unless the war became a revolutionary war, with the Home Guard maybe playing the role of a People’s Militia.  But there is always reason and clarity in his writing and he draws attention to his own errors willingly.


I’m still ploughing through the books; on the fourth one now (title?).  It strikes me that the Dreyfus case, which keeps popping up in the salons of St. Germain and elsewhere, divided France in much the same way as the Brexit issue has divided Britain, perhaps not yet with the same degree of venom – but give it time…

Best exhibitions last year

Rauschenberg (Tate Modern)

Jasper Johns (Royal Academy)

Soutine (Courtauld)

Kabakovs (Tate Modern)

Holbein, Da Vinci, the Caraccis et al (National Portrait Gallery)

Best Films 2017

Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)

Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Best books 2017

The Dream Colony, Walter Hopps and Deborah Triesman

Road to Somewhere, David Goodhart

Caravaggio (Taschen)

Best TV 2017

Howards End

League of Gentlemen

Babylon Berlin

Best DVDs I’ve seen in 2017

Il Topo (Jodorowsky, 1970)

Caravaggio (Derek Jarman, 1986)

Blade Runner – the final cut (Ridley Scott, 2007)

Mahler (Ken Russell)

Mauve Nude


Black and White



Happy New Year.



Blackpaint 612 – Murder, Suicide, Sex and Some Art

December 12, 2017

Modigliani, Tate Modern

Enormous exhibition, rammed to the gills when I went, a couple of weeks ago when it had just opened.  Best or most interesting ones are Nudo Dolente (1908), very rough, upward looking; the breastless nude girl on the reverse canvas in the first room; the Gaston Modot portrait with the long, thick neck (maybe because it’s the fabulous Modot, the mad-eyed hero of l’Age d’Or and the violent gamekeeper of Regle de Jour);



The portraits of Cendrars, Cocteau and Brancusi, on the reverse of the Cellist.

Blaise Cendrars

There is a corner of beautiful nudes at the end of the exhibition; these, I think, are marred a little by the come hither or demure expressions worn.

I was interested by the eyes – Modigliani has a habit of blacking or scratching out the pupil of one eye in many of the portraits; I was beginning to think he had problems with aligning the gaze, but then noticed several where the pupils were not effaced and were correctly aligned.  So that remains a puzzle.  I also have to say that the pictures of Jeanne Hebuterne (Modigliani’s lover, who killed herself after his death, by jumping, pregnant, from a window) don’t look at all like her photograph.

Caravaggio, Sebastian Schutze (Taschen)

Ploughing on through the Taschen book, I notice that there is a marked change in the flesh tones and dark backgrounds he used in several paintings done in Sicily in 1608/9; the Burial of St. Lucy, for example, and the Raising of Lazarus both have a dusty golden flesh tone and a warm brown background darkness, contrasting with the starker contrasts and whiter flesh of earlier and later paintings.  Maybe its to do with the light in Sicily; I’m sure the repros are not at fault, as Taschen is pretty reliable.

Happy End (Michael Haneke, 2017)

Saw this at the Ritzy in Brixton and was unable to make sense of the first 20-odd minutes, due, I thought, to some demented soul drumming on the wall of the cinema.  When I could stand it no more, I stormed out to complain and discovered it was flamenco dancing night in the studio upstairs.

I eventually (after the dancing ceased) managed to make sense of the story – mostly – but the difficulty might have been just as much a result of Haneke’s narrative style;  things happen and you find out what’s going on later.  Quite common now and OK, as long as the flamenco dancers keep away…

There are some other typical Haneke tropes; the lack of sentimentality, to put it mildly, and the sudden violence.  I was reminded of the sudden, shocking suicide in Hidden.  It also recalled Festen in places, notably the scene where the son turns up at the engagement dinner, with a reluctant group of African asylum seekers in tow.  Isabelle Huppert is her chilly “self” and Jean-Louis Trintignant is brilliant as a determined, wheelchair-bound, would-be suicide.  It’s a black comedy, apparently…

Walter Hopps, The Dream Colony – A Life in Art (Bloomsbury, 2017)

This cost me £30, which I thought was a lot for a book of 300-odd pages, but I’m so glad that I bought it.  Hopps was the founder of the Ferus Gallery in LA and later, a groundbreaking curator in museums and collections in California.  He was running a gallery, working nights in a mortuary, addicted to speed, living hand to mouth, nurturing wealthy collectors – simultaneously.  He drops into the narrative – it’s “as told” to Deborah Treisman of the New Yorker – surprising asides such as “My mother was dating an actor named Marion Morrison, later better known as John Wayne”, or “at the time I was living with Charles Mingus”…

The story of Ferus, Hopps’ relationship with the smooth Irving Blum and with the macho Ferus artists is also told in the film “The Cool School” and the book has some interesting contrasts with the film, notably in the area of Blum’s marriage to Hopps’ ex- wife, Shirley Neilson and Blum’s re-purchase of the Warhol soup can pictures.  And, of course, there are the  passages on the great Ed Kienholz and the tragic story of the collector Edwin Janss, who threw himself out of a 12th floor hospital window, following an incapacitating stroke.

So, sorry – suicide in Modigliani, Haneke and Hopps; not in Caravaggio, however; he killed Tomassoni in a brawl in Rome and then, maybe, wounded another in a brawl in Malta.

Two new pictures to end with:

Red Plume


Green Plume





Blackpaint 611 – Caravaggio, de Ribera and the Catflap

November 28, 2017

National Gallery – de Ribera, Caravaggio

I got the Taschen Caravaggio for my birthday and I have to say that I’ve revised my whole system of preferences on 16th/17th century art: the stylistic realism (Death of the Virgin, for instance; an actual dead body, no choirs of angels on cloudbanks), the drama and focus of the figures emerging from the gloom and the subtle use of colour (green, blue, red and ochre in The Entombment of Christ) – and those muscular arms, hands and feet (The Crucifixion of St. Peter); fantastic.  Unfortunately, only two Caravaggios currently on display at the NG and none of those I’ve mentioned.  The NG has The Boy Bitten by a Lizard and a Supper at Emmaus; both brilliant but very familiar.

Entombment of Christ

Crucifixion of St. Peter

Akin to Caravaggio in style, born 20 years later  in Spain but moved to Rome, de Ribera is another stunning painter of twisted bodies emerging from a surrounding darkness.  His bodies tend to be white, shading into the murk in a sort of dry sfumato; they are often sprawling across huge canvases, as in the Prado.  Exhibition coming to Dulwich Picture Gallery next year, which will be one not to miss.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Jusepe de Ribera

Again, only two Riberas on show in the NG; this one, and another of some biblical character – Laban? – with a goat.  No chiarascuro (the Spanish followers of the Caravaggio style were called Tenebrists); looks like a completely different painter.

In Holofernes’ Tent, Johann Liss

I had to include this; Caravaggio did the same subject, setting it a few seconds earlier, when Judith was sawing the head off.  This one though has the most remarkable rendering of the folds and billows of Judith’s white chemise.  The detail hasn’t come out so well in the photo – it needs to be seen on the wall.

London Group Open Exhibition, The Cello Factory, Cornwall Road – last day Friday, 1st December

Great little gallery in the streets behind the South Bank opposite the ITV tower.  London Group venerable, founded by Camden Town and Vorticist painters (Gilman, Gore, Wyndham Lewis et al).  There is a Frank Bowling – you can see it below, pink, grey and yellow in the middle, end wall on right – at £48,000, but the others are more reasonably priced;  my partner’s diptych, “Catflap” (below) , for example.


Catflap (diptych) Marion Jones

It’s a very eclectic collection; the one thing I noticed was that there were a lot of windows in the paintings.

Monochrome, National Gallery

If the London Group was “diverse”, this outstrips it by a mile; Mantegna, Van Eyck, Bruegel, Memling, Moreau – to Stella, Malevich, Ellsworth Kelly, Picasso, Marlene Dumas.  It ends with a room suffused with orange light, by Eliasson.  It goes from grisaille and drypoint to the black square, Stella’s thin white geometric lines, a Las Meninas sketch by Picasso.  Some great works but a little colourless….




My latest to finish with-









Blackpaint 610 – French migrants, Polish exiles and the Hole in the Ceiling

November 20, 2017

The Impressionists in London (Tate Britain, until May 2018)

Strange exhibition, since a lot of these pictures – I’m not sure about the sculptures – don’t seem to be Impressionist at all.  The idea behind it is to showcase the French artists in exile in England after the fall of the Paris Commune and the massacres and oppression that followed it.  The booklet points out that there were no restrictions placed on these migrants and no quibbles over refugee or economic migrant status; apparently, there were no restrictions or limits on migration to Britain at the time – anyone could come.

There are a lot of pictures that are rather familiar from the Tate’s permanent collection; most of the Tissots and some Pissaros (Norwood, Sydenham) I’m sure have been moved downstairs.  The Tissots, for my money, are the most enjoyable but they are surely not “impressionist”, if that means passing effects of light and shade and all that; they look more like Millais, doing Singer Sargent subject matter.  The Whistler bridges and Monet’s series of Parliament in the last room, I think, are actually badly served by being all lumped together; great on their own, all together – too much.


Also of interest, the Fantin-Latour double portrait; again, not impressionistic, more like Clausen or maybe Repin.  There is  social realist picture by an Italian (didn’t get the name) of loafers on a bridge under an orange sky – and the roomful of Derains at the end is great.


Melancholia, a Sebald Variation (Inigo Rooms, Somerset House until 10th December)

The main piece in this exhibition is a 54 minute film by a Dutch artist, Guido Van der Werve.  It interweaves three elements: the first is the artist swimming, cycling and running the equivalent of three triathlons, being the distance between Chopin’s heart (in Poland) and the rest of him (in Paris).   he kicks off playing the piano in a Polish church, wearing a wet suit, while a choir sings a rather beautiful, melancholic piece.  Off he goes, into the river, and some rather beautiful but surely speeded-up film of him swimming.  He continues, at intervals, switching to bike and then running, leaving his wet suit and then bike with a waiting woman…

But I’m telling the story!  Enough.  The other elements are 1. Sites relating to Alexander the Great’s career, and 2. More musical interludes, in which orchestras are revealed playing in a house and by a canal.  Dada-ish things happen; a man walks past on fire and dives into the canal  and glass smashes, explosions happen…  It’s about exile (Chopin, Alexander) it seems; “a melancholy meditation on the theme of not being able to return home”, the booklet says.

The Dada stuff threw me for a while, since humour is not something I readily associate with WG Sebald.  And indeed, there is none elsewhere in the exhibition, which contains work by Durer (of course), George Shaw, Tess Jaray, Dexter Dalwood, Anselm Kiefer and others, as well as Sebald’s own darkened, enigmatic photograph collection.  The theme is melancholy and whether it is an “unproductive form of mourning” or a spur to creativity.

Kabakovs again (Tate Modern until 28th Jan 2018)


It occurs to me that there is a similarity between Sebald’s use of photographs etc. in his books and the Ilya Kabakov exhibit “Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album” in the current show at TM.  You walk through a series of dimly-lit rooms, with pages of a scrapbook pasted to the walls; blurry photos of pastoral scenes with memoirs of his mother in Russian and English.  At first, you try to read them but you soon give up – the light’s too dim.  It’s all about the nostalgia of the photos and the atmosphere.

Incidentally, the first time I visited this exhibition, I looked at “The Man who Flew into Space from his Apartment” and completely missed the catapult and the hole in the ceiling.  It was pretty crowded in there, but still…


Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi

I’ve more to say, but will save it for next time.  But I think that Leonardo is a Luini (as it was originally though to be).  It’s just not good enough for Leo.  Then again, great painters often do crap Christs; Veronese, for instance.  Maybe it’s some sort of cosmic dread, or maybe the Church stopped them being too human with Christ’s face.

Next time, Soviet posters, October (Eisenstein) and Walter Hopps.





Blackpaint 609 – Soutine, Kabakovs, Green Penis Man and Giant Cloth Moths

November 7, 2017

Soutine at the Courtauld: Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys (until 21st January)

A great exhibition of Soutine’s colourful, wonky portraits that are so individual I’m hard-pressed to do my usual spurious comparisons.  Although maybe one or two remind me a little of Max Beckmann… and the ghost of Bacon is hovering about here and there.  I like that shoulder disparity below and, of course, the sticking-out ears, echoing the fall of the chef’s hat.  The sumptious blue of the background in the first portrait is worth mentioning too – Soutine uses it a lot.  He was a favourite of de Kooning; maybe some similarities there?



Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at Tate Modern: Not Everyone will be Taken into the Future (until 28th Jan)

Also one to see.  Ten rooms of the most varied works:  paintings, wooden model “theatres” that you peer into through little windows, full-size, re-constructed rooms full of artifacts, a winding, half-lit corridor, along which you walk trying to read the captions to the old photographs, led on by the voice of Ilya K himself, humming and crooning old Russian songs from somewhere ahead (Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album), 1990) – and the rear end of a train (the exhibition title piece, 2001).  The exhibition requires you to read the brief captions by the pieces to make sense of some; I don’t normally like doing that, preferring the visuals to do the work, but it’s worth doing here, to get the context of the Soviet setting.

The main tone is set by memory, nostalgia and fairly gentle satire; see the painting below, with its layer of torn, floating fragments, as well as the “Labyrinth” corridor.

My favourite piece is the model “Where is Our Place?” (2002 – 2017);  I missed the giant legs and feet completely until I read the caption.  Some of the paintings have a slightly Peter Doig feel to them (probably the “Snow” ones in Room 7) and the attachment of a severed arm to one item – I forget the reason given – recalled the current Jasper Johns show at the RA; very superficial connection,  I admit.

Ilya Kabakov was never imprisoned or persecuted under the Soviet regime, but showed only to “a close circle of artists and intellectuals”.  He married Emilia in 1992, after emigrating to the States.  It is not clear to me what Emilia’s contribution is – most of the pieces appear to be Ilya’s.

Venice Biennale (on until 26th November)

This year, the theme of the Biennale is “Viva Arte Viva”, a suitably Fellini-esque title for the often staggeringly pretentious pieces on show at the various sites.  This year’s theme is “The Journey”.  I quote from the Short Guide: “Along the journey of the Exhibition’s itinerary, the artists encounter each other; they draw near to, or distance themselves from one another, according to the affinities manifested in the impulses and stimuli which move them, in the challenges they must face, or in the practices they have chosen to follow”.  As far as I can make out, this means that some are like each other and some are not.  To give an idea of some of the pieces on display, I reproduce a few of the notes I jotted down as we went round the Giardini:

  • Huge fat blonde disco video (Divine?)
  • Eskimo paintings (Pootoobok)
  • Snow monkey video
  • Green penis man (Uriburu)
  • Trainer plant lattice
  • Hexagonal quartz pillars
  • Giant cloth moths

Plenty of variety, with the usual dubious connections made in the blurb(s):  migration, refugees, threatened ethnicity, climate change…  Below, three of the best from the national pavilions:

Frank Walter, Antigua and Barbuda Pavilion

“Outsider” painter (brilliant) and sculptor (not so good); lived latter part of his life in an isolated shack/studio, no power or running water, churning out the most vivid and exciting pieces on discarded and improvised supports, like old boxes of photographic equipment.  A couple of examples below – his colours are really piercing.



Geta Bratescu, Romanian Pavilion

This woman, now in her 90s, we knew from an exhibition at Tate Liverpool a couple of years ago – but there, the artworks were nearly all cloth pieces.  This time, her very varied graphic styles (she has at least three) are on display, ranging from the fiendishly detailed and accurate hands and mouth below to animated cartoon style.




Mark Bradford, US Pavilion

Interesting American artist who works on a giant scale, layering and tearing, scraping and sanding at his multi-coloured placards of paintings.  This huge downward bulge of a work requires you (or me, anyway) to stoop low as you enter the pavilion.

This giant head, if that’s what it is, reminds me a little of a Guston made out of Weetabix, or maybe shown on a giant TV with the reception breaking up.  Fizzing with energy.

Nothing completed by me recently, so best I can do is this work in “progress”.

Work in Progress



Blackpaint 608 – Blade Runner, Blue Lamp, Johns, Dali and Duchamp

October 20, 2017

Jasper Johns 2 (RA)

Second selection from the Johns show at the Royal Academy.  It’s nearly as good as the Rauschenberg at Tate Modern a while ago; the Rausch had the edge for inventiveness and variety, but only just.  I love the splashy colours, the encaustic (waxy surfaces) and the combinations, like Rauschenberg’s – see below:

Johns, Field Painting, 1963-4

Neon light at the top – reminds me of Martial Raysse at the Pompidou a couple of years ago.   I wonder who did it first – probably came up with it independently and simultaneously.


Johns, Watchman, 1964

For a while, he liked sticking limbs on paintings; see the spotty arms below.  I think the chair raises “Watchman” aesthetically, though.


Johns, Perilous Night, 1982


Johns, Green Angel, 1990

Beginning to resemble Sigmar Polke a bit, in this one – but then, Polke was always really hard to categorize too.


Dali/ Duchamp (RA)

This is also on at the RA and so is Matisse in the Studio still – so a pretty good selection at the moment.  Dali/Duchamp, however, is thin and tendentious; what’s the connection?  As far as I can see, it is that they were close friends for a long time.  The fact that they are so different as artists is put forward as a further justification for a joint show – very different, but so friendly, there must be something interesting there…

Anyway, the R.Mutt urinal is there, as is the lobster telephone, the moustachio’d Mona Lisa and other old friends; also, the usual contrived “surreal” Dali paintings, like the one below.  I think Orwell got him about right in his essay “Benefit of Clergy”, back in the 40s.


Dali, Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach (1938)


Duchamp, The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes (1912)


The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, even.

(Duchamp 1915 – 23, reconstructed by Richard Hamilton)


Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)

Since I am in a dismissive mood, I might as well do this, as it has been roundly praised by all the critics I’ve read.  Not a patch on the original; it lacks the kinetic energy and whirling colour of Scott’s film and I found myself checking my watch about 40 minutes in.  There’s a crap Bond-type blind villain trying to create the perfect cross-over android (I think – attention strayed at this point)  There’s an entertaining blitzing battle in a scrapyard – but I’m sure I’ve seen something similar in a “Star Wars” somewhere or other.  There is dust and gloom and red haze (like last week here in London on Ophelia day – dust from the Sahara and smoke from Portuguese forest fires, apparently).

Strangely, towards the end, I felt the director thought it was taking too long to resolve; we were suddenly in small fighting rocket ships shooting at each other, just like the original Star Wars and then in a hand-to-hand fight to the death in a craft filling with water – so that was the reason for those earlier spectacular shots of the dam…  What is true of the film is that it is truly Dick-like in the ramifications of the story; much more coherent than Dick, in fact.  I’ve said elsewhere in this blog that Dick has great ideas and writes brilliant short stories, but his novels are all over the place.

The Blue Lamp (Basil Dearden, 1950)

This popped up on TV the other night and for the first time, I stayed with it, and was glad that I did.  First, it was a beautiful, clear, clean print, sharp and sparkling, as if made yesterday.  The story was tight and mostly credible and there was a great car chase around Ladbroke Grove, police bells ringing, schoolgirls crossing the road as the police car screams round the corner.  It was out of a past that felt very distant; the villains, the sweaty Bogarde and his mate spud (Patric Doonan) use a music hall appearance by Tessie O’Shea as an alibi for the robbery and shooting of PC Dixon; scruffy, dirty kids in long shorts and hand me downs play in the streets and by a canal.  Everyone  (adult) smokes, there are horses pulling various vehicles, there are real bomb sites.  Bogarde (Tom Riley, the shooter) looks like a desperado from an Italian neo-realist picture, with his mop of unruly hair and shabby sweater.

I wrote “mostly credible”; it went into fantasy a little way in the White City dog stadium sequence.  When the petty villains and tic-tac men (google it) join with the police in the search for Riley and signal his whereabouts in the stadium, I was reminded of Fritz Lang’s “M”, in which the hapless (and also sweaty) child killer Peter Lorre is hunted down and put on trial by the underworld; at least, I think that’s what happens – it’s hard to see through the cigarette smoke.

Did you notice the rhyming title?  Slick, eh?  Oh well, please yourselves…







Blackpaint 607 – Dream Homebase, Queer Tate

October 2, 2017

Jasper Johns, RA

Unsurprisingly, the best art show in town (apart from the magical Holbeins at the NPG).  It doesn’t quite have the impact and variety of the recent Rauschenberg at TM, but maybe it suffers a bit by coming after.  I’ll be going again, probably several times, so below are just a few of the delights on display. They are mostly of one type, the splashy, multi coloured early ones.  In addition, there are (of course) the flags and targets; the metal beer cans, torches, paintbrushes, spectacles; the combinations (broom, severed, spotted arm, piece of wire); the several-panelled pieces combining paint and silkscreen, again, like Rauschenberg.  Anyway, I shall return…



Painting with Two Balls, 1960


No (I think); note the wire structure attached, hard to see in this photo, reminiscent of Rauschenberg.


Rachel Whiteread, Tate Britain

This is like a visit in a dream to Homebase; or no, more a building supplies warehouse, Jewsons maybe?  Doors and windows and little model houses made of mauve, orange or green resins; fireplaces and bathtubs and mattresses made of moulded concrete or plaster or plastics; a little group of moulded hot water bottles in pastel-shaded plaster; great piles of shuttering, is it? in white concrete; also in white concrete, a central block of upside-down stairs.  There is a block of resin in the exact shade of those cider ice lollies you used to get, that lost their colour as you sucked on them and some intriguing dark grey moulded (actually, pretty much everything is moulded) plaques made from papier-machee, “spattered” with primary colour.  A selection of her rather delicate drawings and plans down at the far end of the warehouse.


Queer Tate Britain

The Queer Art exhibition is still on at TB; I notice that there are now a series of toilet options, a development perhaps related to the show .  The old male and female (though indicated by picture, I think, rather than the somewhat brutal categorising terms I have used) and two “Non-gendered” options.  These last also have pictures of wheelchairs, so it may be that they have always been there and I never noticed them; I am sure the non-gender descriptions are new, though.

Also, there is a sketchbook on sale, entitled “Erotic Fantasies” or some such, by the great Keith Vaughan.  These are not stylised, Tom of Finland-type cartoons, but naturalistic depictions of  various sex acts between males.  I would say “realistic”, but the equipment on display in the drawings is rather small…  Good to see that TB isn’t afraid to sell gay porn; maybe they think the quality of the drawings is justification (maybe it is).

Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre Room

This is a brilliant, quiet bit of the museum, top of the stairs and through the darkened jewellery room; videos, miniature stage sets, posters, costumes – Fred Astaire must have been really short, judging by the tails he wore in “Shall We Dance?” – puppets, memorabilia.  Some images below, including my favourite poster for “Bartholomew Fair” and the poster that provided title and characters for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, from the Sergeant Pepper album.



While there, see the fantastic tapestries next door, and the Turner and Constable oil sketches in another adjacent room – much better than many of their more elaborate “worked-up” paintings in ornate gold-leaf frames.




Sluice Biennial

This art fair is taking place at various venues (a container block tower, underneath arches) around Hackney Central.  It ends tomorrow.  I was struck by those paintings which were representational in some way – they looked to be strongly influenced by one or more of the following: George Condo, Luc Tuymans and William Sasnal.  Maybe a little bit of Ryan Mosley too.  This seems to be a common matrix of influences these days; at the Saatchi Gallery, for example.

Two new ones of mine, to finish with:



Green Split