Blackpaint 13

Prussian Blue

So, to continue with my latest effort,  what I did was to paint great blocks of Prussian blue around my cyclist and drill, as well as resorting to charcoal and smearing and smudging to make the surface more interesting.  Now, it looks highly coloured and has a sort of shape and structure – but the colours have a dry, dull feel, a bit like that livid quality of the Germans, say Kippenburger.  I’ll leave it a few days to see if it grows on me; but I think I know now that it won’t.

Tonight I started a new canvas; a vertical ladder of colours up the right hand side, roughly painted with narrow gaps of white canvas here and there between the colours; pinky-orange at the bottom, grey in the middle, black at the top.  A bit Sean Scully, so far.


Whilst mentioning the climax of the faun yesterday, I meant to comment on those beautiful costumes designed by Leon Bakst, not only for the faun but for the Rite of Spring, etc., and the dance steps clearly inspired, at least partly, by Egyptian wall paintings.

William Boyd on Rothko

I’m jumping about a lot, I’m afraid, but had to comment on the above in today’s Guardian Review.  in it, he makes the rather sweeping statement that many of the Abstract Expressionists were famous artists “who couldn’t really draw: Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Franz Kline and, the most graphically inept of all, Jackson Pollock.”  He goes on to say that these artists “sought refuge in abstraction” where their weakness in drawing wouldn’t be an “impediment”.  The implication of this is that, had they been able to draw they would not have required “refuge”, and presumably, Abstract Impressionism would not have emerged as a movement.

I’ve seen some of Pollock’s early figurative stuff, and it’s not great; has Boyd really seen figurative drawings by all the others he mentions; does he know for sure they couldn’t draw, or is he just repeating hearsay?  It seems to me implausible to suggest that such a movement could have gained the supremacy it did for a time in the Western  world as a result of the inability of its top practitioners to “really draw” (and the efforts of a dogmatic and determined critic-supporter in the shape of Clement Greenberg).

So maybe Ab Ex was on its way anyway, historical forces and all that, and this collection of bad draftsmen saw the “refuge” and jumped on as the train passed by?  But, if you add de Kooning and some of the neglected women, Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, you have most of the main figures associated with the movement.  Perhaps they painted abstract not because they couldn’t do figurative but because they didn’t want to do figurative; didn’t perhaps see any point in it?

Boyd seems split on the question himself.  later in the article, he describes Rothko’s paintings as a “palpable delight on a visceral, unconscious level”.  he remembers being “profoundly affected by abstract art for the first time – both rapt and obscurely moved”.  This is the result of looking at the work of a painter who is doing this stuff because he can’t do “real” drawing.

The Boyd article does raise another question; does painting make you happy?  “The move was canny and acclaimed – these abstract artists achieved great renown and concomitant wealth.  But did it bring aesthetic satisfaction – or, to put it more prosaically: did it make them happy?”  Note the “canny”: this is a conscious, cynical sell-out; they know they are crap, they hide it from themselves by drinking hard, fast living, suicidal driving – suicide.  What about the drug epidemic amongst jazz musicians of the 50s and 60s – were they hiding their guilt at their inadequacies?  Are artists of any generation particularly known for long, happy lives, moderately lived – even the ones who could “really draw”?

Listening to: Sonny Rollins, You Don’t Know What Love Is, and the House I Live In.



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