Blackpaint 706 – Emin, Locke and Avery and Me

September 20, 2022

A long, long time since last blog, during which time I’ve felt unable to write anything of interest. It may be that I’m right to feel that way, but I’m going to give it another go – what’s the harm? Consequently, the shows I mention have been on for some time, so you may well have seen them already. So – sorry! and thanks for reading, if you do.

RA Summer Show – it finished in August, sorry

I breezed through this weeks ago – it was so rammed with people I was unable to take much note of the pieces. My favourites among those I did notice were these two

Flowery People (didn’t get artist unfortunately)

Reminder of Jeff Koons’ giant flowery cat outside the Guggenheim Bilbao and perhaps more closely of those Thames Day events Ken Livingstone used to put on on the South Bank some years (decades?) ago. There was always a presence or two like this prancing around…..

Tracey Emin

Despite the scorn Tracey seems to engender in the life drawing customers at Putney School of Art and no doubt in other similar classes, I really like her ongoing series of blood drenched, crawling, writhing female figures, done in those broken, scrawly lines. Remind me a bit of Roy Oxlade, stylistically.

Hew Locke at Tate Britain

Locke’s dark carnival parade is a stupendous achievement, when you consider the range of skills required to put it all together; carpentry, tailoring, sculpture (notably cardboard) , costumery – couldn’t have done it all himself, surely. But even if he “just” conceived and designed it and had a bunch of assistants to do the specialised work – it’s still pretty good. I think there’s a video in the display which explains all. I didn’t watch it so I don’t know. Very bad for a blogger, I agree – go and see for yourselves, before 16th October, when it comes down.

Milton Avery – American Colourist, at the RA until 16th October 2022

The paper leaflet that accompanies the exhibition points to Avery’s friendship with Abstract Expressionists, notably Mark Rothko, Gottlieb and Barnett Newman. It says “Through his association with key exponents of Abstract Expressionism, Avery’s early paintings played an influential role in how the movement developed and unfolded.”

This seems to me to be a very large claim, for which there is little evidence in this exhibition. A couple of beach scenes, simplified into lines of colour vaguely suggest Rothko; the brownish (rather depressing) reds he sometimes uses find echoes in Barnett Newman’s Zips – but beyond that, I can’t see a connection.

The bright red hat on the maroon background and the way the figures are grouped vaguely suggest Sickert, a little – maybe?

Cartoon-y girl; love the way her foot’s tucked awkwardly underneath her – and her little head and brown face.

Surely that’s Max Beckmann at the head of the table – looks like him to me anyway…

Self portrait with red ears (obviously).


Oystercatcher – maybe American ones are slightly different.

I like this one – it reminds me very strongly of similar paintings by Malevich at a particular point in his work.

Another cartoonish one – the cone shaped figure, the black sea, red/brown sand – striking.

Cartoon from Private Eye some weeks ago

Sums it up – see the Hogarth exhibition reviewed a couple of blogs ago.

Figure Studies

To finish, some works I sold at my last exhibition “Figure Studies”, at the Sprout Gallery Furzedown , South London. I sold better than ever before – and, as always, felt sort of flat and empty afterwards.

Eco Worrier

Ghost of Autumn

The World Turned Upside Down 1

Red Recliner


20th September 2022

Blackpaint 705 – More Sickert, Surrealism at TM and Heroes of Democracy

June 23, 2022

More Sickert

Two things to add to last blog on Sickert: first, his great “end of the pier” painting of 1915 (below). For my money, the best in show, even if familiar from Tate walls already, Surely, the makers of “Oh What a Lovely War” must have been familiar with it. Melancholy, bitter sweet, elegiac – add your own cliches.

The second painting I want to draw attention to is this one of the conductor Goossens in action. It’s from the last section – last wall, I think – where the paintings are based on press photographs of celebrities. Despite the muted colours, I find it very striking for reasons that I can’t fully explain. Which of course it always should be with art.

Surrealism Beyond Borders, Tate Modern until 29th August

Good exhibition, some of it – well, a lot of it – familiar stuff; lobster telephone, Magritte train emerging from fireplace, Roland Penrose’s torso in a hoop. There are a number of pictures from South America, Mexico and Cuba which are less familiar, however, and which do nothing to elucidate the term itself.

What are the strands of “surrealism”? Well, there are the incongruities, visual jokes often, of Magritte and Dali and Delvaux and others, the biomorphism of Tanguy, Lam, Brauner, Andre Masson’s automatic drawings, the monstrous dreamscapes of Tanning, Ernst – and others (giant insects, bird’s heads, old mansions, huge flowers)…. and much else that I can’t think of now, but which require a thorough analysis to make sense of. So let’s not bother with that because, once again, analysis never gets the essence and often undermines the impact of the image.

Miro, of course – great painting, but is it surrealism?

Max Ernst, Two Children Threatened by a Nightingale – classic surrealism, dream situation, incongruous – and beautiful, haunting image.

Leonora Carrington – Self Portrait. All the epithets I used for Ernst, except beautiful and haunting. I still find it very hard to distinguish her work from much of that by Dorothea Tanning. Is it the similar names. the shared connection with Ernst or sexism on my part?

Pierre Alechinsky

I like this painting, but fail to see why it is deemed to be surrealist.

Arshile Gorky, Waterfall

Similarly, with Gorky’s great image. Why is it surrealism? Much closer to Abstract Expressionism, I would have thought – although I can see why some other Gorky pictures, with their biomorphic shapes and fantastic titles, might suggest surrealism: “The Liver is the Cock’s Comb”, for example.

Navalny (Sky Documentary)

Amazing. What makes someone put themselves in the lion’s den with pretty much no hope of success, more, the certainty of long and brutal incarceration and a good chance of being murdered? Alexei Navalny, the Russian oppositionist, has already survived one poisoning attempt, goodness knows how; he went back (!) to Russia and of course, landed immediately in prison, serving an ever-expanding sentence – fifteen years, was it, at the last count?

He at least knows that his ordeal is being followed in the free world; no such comfort for his incredibly courageous supporters (many of them appear to be “respectable” middle-age, middle-class women) attacked, beaten, dragged away to jail by thugs in police uniforms. What happens to them? Astonishing that there IS an opposition in Putin’s proto-fascist state.

And yet, Navalny appears so – relaxed throughout. Tall, good looking, athletic, casual and friendly and good-humoured in his manner, it’s hard to imagine anyone more the opposite of Tsar Vladimir. the documentary revolves around a “sting” carried out by Navalny and his supporters, which turns up the story of the attempted murder from one of the conspirators. It’s pretty light on N’s politics, beyond democracy, human rights and an end to corruption – but that’s enough to be going on with, surely.

Z (1970, dir. Costa – Gavras)

I followed Navalny with the DVD of Z, which seemed appropriate; the hero – tall, good looking, athletic, friendly and good humoured, not quite as casual as Navalny – comes to Athens to address a left-wing, anti-nuclear rally, in a city seething with right-wing thugs, mostly employed by the security services to break up rallies and beat students with clubs. It’s based on the murder of Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. The protagonist is played by Yves Montand, who is not as “lucky” as Navalny.

It also stars one of my favourite assassins, Marcel Bozzuffi – you’ll recognise him from the French Connection – and Jean-Louis Trintignant as the incorruptible magistrate.

One or two of my old ones to end with as usual:

Bad Old Science

Burning in the Green

Both sold back in the good old days…

Blackpaint June 23rd 2022

Blackpaint 704 – Sickert and Singer Sargent

June 5, 2022

Alliterative exhibitions currently on at Tate Britain, not to be missed. I’ve got more to say on Sickert than can be confined to one blog, so I’ll be revisiting him in future blogs. Sickert is on until 18th September.

Walter Sickert

The earliest ones were done whilst he was working as an assistant (etching) to Whistler, on whose RA exhibition I posted recently. They seem intent in pursuing each other further and further into the gloom. I took few photos of this period: they’re too dark (literally – I’m not referring to Sickert’s later career as a Jack the Ripper suspect).

This is the sort of thing I mean, but much darker, without the figures in white or the red splash. Usually in mean streets too, rather than beach scenes. Sickert seems to have anticipated Auerbach somewhat here – starting dark and almost impenetrable, then adding blobs and patches of brilliant colour here and there. Sickert’s were usually shop or station signs, doors or window blinds. You’ll see them as you go round.

Sickert likes this sort of angle for seaside pictures; very high, or even no horizon, looking down as if from a promenade above the beach.

These early pictures are so similar to Whistler’s own that it is hard to separate them from those of his boss – hope I’ve got it right here and this IS Sickert, not Whistler….

Here’s another beach scene; photographic feel, despite the ridiculously ornate frame, no horizon, looking down from the prom, Lots of his pictures have that snapshot feel (the later ones were copied from photographs), but as the exhibition shows there are affinities to Degas and Bonnard, both of whom used angles and cropping that sometimes resemble photographs.

Having mentioned Degas, there is a parallel to his obsession with ballerinas in Sickert’s repeated depictions of music hall scenes. The poster for the show is of Dot Hetherington performing “The Boy I Love is up in the Gallery” and pointing to same. I’ve no images to hand of the music hall ones – I’ll add some next blog. Similarly with the nudes.

There is , of course, one group of nudes which are famous, those which are named after the Camden Town Murder. In 1907, a young artist, Robert Wood, was tried for the murder of a sex worker, Phyllis Dimmock, in her Camden Town flat. He was defended by the famous Marshall Hall, and was acquitted, to great excitement. The killer was never found. Sickert did several pictures referring to this crime.

In this picture, a fully dressed man – the killer? – stands looking down at the naked woman on the bed. She could be the dead Phyllis Dimmock, which the title “The Camden Town Murder” suggests – well, asserts – but Sickert apparenly gave it an alternative title; “What Shall We Do for the Rent?”, which more than hints at sex work as we call it now and shows Sickert’s opportunism; violent death and sex, never fails to sell. There is no blood in this or the other “murder” pictures, so maybe Sickert wanted to keep his options open.

So they are distasteful and exploitative maybe, but not as horrific to my mind as the drawings and paintings done much later by the Australian artist Brett Whiteley, of the murders at 10 Rillington Place, These were “abstractified” to an extent, but I think that increases their impact, strangely.

I was impressed by all of his portraits but one (I’ll discuss that next blog). Maybe the best is Aubrey Beardsley, who must have been a dream to draw or paint, with his tall, ungainly frame and long limbs.

Economical, apparently simple mark making, the hunch of the shoulders, the way his feet disappear into raw canvas – or maybe wood? – and the way the narrow format enhances the cadaverous body. I can see both Whistler and Degas in this, or at least, I think I can.

This is Harold Gilman, another excellent Camden Town Group painter; he did a great interior of a pie and mash shop and a famous one of his cleaning woman – can’t remember her name – Tilly or Dolly? Anyway, this sort of stippled or broken, dabbing brushwork is something Sickert used several times to interesting effect, Sometimes, it looks as if the picture is breaking down, pixillating, like a TV when the satellite dish is affected (like mine, at the moment. The Sky man is coming on Wednesday). there is one portrait of a fat bearded man, whose trouser leg appears to be on fire, Or consider the leg of the lady in the next picture:

I don’t really know what to make of her left leg, which appears to be swathed in a narrow bandage – has she still got a stocking on, which is reflecting the light? Again, there’s that effect of a picture dissolving or disintegrating, where the top of her thigh reaches the sofa. This sounds sniffy, but I like it…

This is getting too long, so I’m going to finish with Sickert for now, with a great little portrait, but which also tells a story, like “Ennui” and “Off to the Pub”, which I’ll look at next time:

This is titled “In Her New Home”, or something similar. There she sits, with her flat hat crammed down on her head, looking totally lost and dejected against the wallpaper, under the mantelpiece. Strange wallpaper, strange mantelpiece. Reminds me of one of those Victorian tear jerker paintings, you know, partings forever, arrivals too late at the deathbed. Sickert’s is different; she’s not glamourised or , exaggerated, displaying woe – just ordinary, and rather pissed off, in a way that gets your sympathy.

End of Sickert Part One, to be continued.

Singer Sargent, the Wertheimer paintings

These beautiful paintings, nine or ten of them, were done over the years by Singer Sargent at the behest of Asher Wertheimer, a wealthy Jewish entrepreneur.

Here is the patriarch of the family, cigar in hand as befits a tycoon, with his dog at his side. And here –

-are his daughters, Ena and Betty, resplendent in their silk and velvet, beaming at us as if caught by a photographer’s call – “Ladies, over here! Look! That’s it, thanks. Got that great jar in, too…”

Once you have taken in the sumptious fabrics, the bounding presence of these beautiful and beautifully painted people, the character Sargent reveals here (which one of the women is the dominant personality?), additional interestis provided by the commentary, which reveals the way the pictures were reviewed at the time, notably by the Spectator magazine. The reviews don’t criticise Sargent, but rather the subject matter. In doing so, they unfairly implicate him in their sneering take. The worst is of a painting of children of the family: the reviewer is affected by the overpowering smell of scent (read artificiality, heady stuffiness, foreigness). There is the odour of “burnt pastilles” about the picture, by which he (?) means incense. You can imagine – “ugh! Open a window, for God’s sake, and let some fresh English air in! That’s better! Manliness, rugger, rowing, cricket, boxing – that’s what’s needed here!”

It’s anti-semitism. Hannah Arendt. in “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1950) touches on similar attitudes to Jewish members of salons in the Faubourg St. Germain in Paris some decades earlier – although there, the “odour” was attractive, exotic, exciting – until the Dreyfus case came along.

Enough for now. I’ll finish with some life drawing efforts of mine – still no proper painting done; I’ve been concentrating on getting an exhibition of Marion’s paintings on at Brixton Tate Library, starting Tuesday. Actually, it’s being curated by my niece, Katherine Jones RA and my friend Charlotte Wyn Parry, who are doing all the real work.

So please come and see, if you can.

Now mine:

Omar’s Back

Omar’s side

Sonia’s Back, on flattened cardboard Wotsits box

That’s it, goodbye for now

Blackpaint, 5th June 2022

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