Archive for January, 2010

Blackpaint 54

January 31, 2010

Chris Ofili

Got to this yesterday at the Tate Britain.  I liked  the surfaces of the older ones; the resins, swirling patterns, little black blobs, the pastel-y colours, the map pins, and the shiny balls of elephant dung.  they get to be a bit much en masse, though; sometimes I was reminded of the stuff little girls decorate their purses with.  The titles, the Captain Shits and Bitches provide a bit of vinegar and I was pleased to see the Virgin Mary, with her single elephant dung breast, was surrounded by little pictures of backsides and vulvas (? not sure, my eyesight not too good) some with hands pulling the “curtains” apart like Kilpeck gargoyles.  A woman next to me, with her child, suddenly marched her away, when the kid pointed out what was in the little pictures.

The Last Supper

Through the dark tunnel to the “Last Supper” monkeys, glowing in the dark like a zoo aquarium.  Tried to pick out Judas, like Andrew Graham-Dixon, but couldn’t see anything – its usually a pouch of money, or a hand on table or facing the wrong way.

The Hanged Man

Up to new paintings, the Trinidad ones, and I have to say to Adrian Searles, sorry, you’re absolutely right; it is hard not to think of some “colonial atrocity” when you make out the hanged man in the blue gloom.  I liked the brilliant yellows, reds and mauves against the dense blacks and blues but not the thinness and dryness of the surfaces.  The painting I liked most was “the Raising of Lazarus”, bright thick yellow and orange brown, the shapes reminiscent of Art Nouveau as they are in the painting to the left of the blue green woman with the cocktail glass.

One thing I did notice which is very mundane and probably of no significance; all the paintings in a given set are exactly the same size – in the case of the earlier ones, 243.8 cms * 182.8 cms.  Michael Caine impersonators would have a cliche to fit that fact – as an avoider of cliches, I couldn’t possibly comment.

My Painting

My last two looked sort of like colours seen through shattered glass (see below); now, I’ve mixed some flesh tones up and trying that out “under” a similar fractured surface.

Listening to Mahler 9  (the “Abide with me” one)


Don’t know the date.

Blackpaint 53

January 30, 2010

Is Modern Art  Rubbish

Yesterday, I was moaning about people who go on about proper pictures that look like something real.  This mood was brought on by a TV news report which started by asking the question posed above; it was, of course, an intro to a piece on Michael Landy’s Art Bin project, so  it would be optimistic to expect a more sophisticated approach. 

Apparently, that is true also of the Guardian; today’s article on Landy by Charlotte Higgins uses the same phrase.  It’s an interesting project and “raises questions about” quality in art – but using the old cliches of dismissal is a mistake, I think.  Having said that, I’ve just done it myself, so what do I know?



Blackpaint 52

January 28, 2010

Leonardo and Michelangelo Drawings

Some time ago, Blackpaint 16 it was, I posted some stuff about the shading techniques employed by the above, and other artists.  it was pretty thin, to do with the directions their shading lines took and no doubt you could contradict my findings by using different examples.  Nevertheless, it’s seen much more traffic that any of the other topics I’ve tagged up (not saying much, I know) and I suppose that’s some indicator of relative levels of public interest in figurative and abstract or conceptual art, which is what I blog about most of the time.  There don’t seem to be search engines patrolling for references to Abstract Expressionism, or De Stijl, or St.Ives, pitching the unsuspecting trawler up on my sandbank – even if it immediately sails away.

Gestural Painting

Once you start this stuff, it becomes difficult to stop.  Everything I turn out now seems to be wild and smeared and rough and splotchy and scraped and very BLACK – all of which is OK sometimes – but  I think it’s time to stop now and do something proper, as my friends call it; something which looks like something, a landscape or portrait, maybe of a dog or cat, something with lots of detail in it that looks as if it was quite difficult to do, or even looks like a photograph… Nah, fuck it.  Back tomorrow, in a better mood possibly.

Listening to “Jack Shit George” by Ian Dury.

“What did you learn in school today?  Jack Shit.

Soon as the teacher turns away – that’s it.”



Blackpaint 51

January 28, 2010

Van Doesberg and Mondrian

The latter apparently fell out with Van Doesberg when he started tilting his squares onto the diagonal.  This meant that the squares (now squat diamonds) were not complete on the canvas but disappeared over the edge “into space”.  This was enough to make Mondrian leave De Stijl, and demonstrates a fanaticism that can only be admired.  “Please rejoin the movement, Mondrian; we need you.”  “I’m sorry-  you know that I can’t, unless you start painting your squares with their base on the horizontal again, so that the WHOLE square appears, and you stop fostering the absurd illusion that the rest of the square overlaps the edge of the canvas and exists somewhere beyond it.”  A principled stand.

Listened to The Old Triangle by Dominic Behan:

“In the women’s prison, there are 50 women,

And I wish it were there that I did dwell;

While the Old Triangle, she goes jingle – jangle,

All along the banks of the Royal Canal”.



Blackpaint 50

January 26, 2010


Just watched this film again after a couple of years and was struck again by the images – I love that when you have to fast forward to the bit where you left off, and you get a succession of stills; a film like this (and Tarkovsky’s) really shows up as a set of composed images.  The washed out landscapes, the bare trees, bridges, cranes, cobblestones, angled shots along the ground or up quayside walls…  The sinister night shots of the woman in her wedding dress on the barge and under the water, the sexual frankness – its highly sexually charged, considering its the 30’s.  Michel Simon is quite – well, I was going to say sinister, or creepy, but neither word is quite right – odd is the best I can do.  The pedlar’s suit with those peaked shoulders reminded me of “Brighton Rock” or Olivier in “The Entertainer”.  There’s a feel of surreal anarchy bubbling under the surface; the faces remind me of L’Age D’or & Chien Andalou – and there is the brawl in the dance hall and the pursuit and attack of the bag snatcher.  And the music is haunting.

Chris Ofili

In Blackpaint 20, I advanced the idea that the works of some artists are prone to particular interpretations that arise from their history; specifically, Polish artists and the Holocaust, Scandinavian artists and Norse mythology.  Adrian Searle’s Guardian review of Ofili’s new exhibition at the Tate Britain provides another example: “..two men making music on a wooden platform…a hanged man dangles naked beside them…Why is he there?  Ofili has told one interviewer that this presence was provoked by the empty space he had left on the right hand side of the painting.  But it is hard not to think of some colonial outrage, its aftermath on a hot night.”  So, Afro- Caribbean connection (Ofili is British, of course, but is now based in Trinidad) equals “colonial oppression” interpretation, despite artist’s assertions to contrary. 

Which is fair enough, of course; once it’s in the public domain, we can take from a work whatever we want and give it whatever meaning we choose – and artists have often misled the public about their work, just for a laugh sometimes I think.  Anyway, the show sounds good and I will definitely go.

Naming a Painting

I’ve had to come up with names for a bunch of my paintings at short notice and it got me thinking about how important titles are for paintings and artworks, and how they add or detract from a picture.  More tomorrow, when I’ve thought it through.

Listening to Don’t Start Me Talking by Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller)

“Goin’ down to Rose’s, stoppin’ Fanny Mae,

Gonna tell Fanny what I heard her boyfriend say,

Well, don’t start me talkin’, I’ll tell everythin’ I know;

Gonna break up this signifyin’,

Somebody got to go”.

I thought for years it was “scene of crime”, not “signifyin'” – then saw the words printed somewhere.  I prefer scene of crime, even though it makes no sense.



Blackpaint 49

January 25, 2010

My Abstract Expressionist binge

Exhausted and feeling sick today, after efforts of last two nights – plus that crash when you think you’ve done something passably good and the scales suddenly fall from your eyes.  I fiddled with AbEx no.2 this morning, to see if I could give it some structure, but not happy with it.  As Pollock said, “..the painting has a life of its own.  I try to let it come through.  It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess.  otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well”.

That’s absolutely right – everything that Pollock says about the act of painting is very clear and straight; he reminds me of Bacon in that respect.  Anyway, I decided I’d fly the results, whether they were crap or just mediocre, so this is it.

Francis Alys

This artist is my current hero and this is why (extract from 100 Contemporary Artists, Taschen) : “In 1997, Francis Alys pushed a large block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it was reduced to a puddle of meltwater.  This…illustrated the futility of the sculptural endeavour…but its very absurdity guaranteed its continued existence through word of mouth anecdote” – which I suppose is sort of what I’m doing now.

Can’t write more tonight, but since most visitors to this blog come for Michelangelo, here he is-




Blackpaint 48

January 24, 2010

Abstract Expressionism

Following Friday night’s “automatic” painting session, tried it again last night; predictably, no success.  I remained very conscious of what I was trying to achieve throughout the night and the result was very disappointing.  A bluey-green, grey, white and very black mess of a picture, a sort of childlike imitation of what I got on Friday without the natural feel of it.  I’ll have to work on it in the normal way to try and make a fist of it.

Joycean Novels 

By chance, I’m reading three books at the moment which all claim influence from Joyce: Berlin Alexanderplatz by Doblin, Manhattan Transfer (which the blurb also compares to Berlin Alexanderplatz) by Dos Passos and At Swim-Two-Birds, by Flann O’Brien.  With the first two, so far, the influence seems manifest mostly in the use of portmanteau words and sections of newspapers, official reports and adverts.  O’Brien’s book is the closest to Joyce, the first 30 or so pages containing dialogue and prose style that could have come straight from the “Cyclops” and the “Oxen of the Sun” chapters of Ulysses. 

The Flann O’Brien is also the source of the best sentence I have read today: “Kelly then made a low noise and opened his mouth and covered the small man from shoulder to knee with a coating of unpleasant buff -coloured puke.”

Or I thought this the best, until reading the Observer, I found this, under the sub heading: “overweight Britons resort to liposuction”:  “During the same period the average amount of fat taken out (by liposuction) rose from 687ml in 2000 to 1.05  litres last year.  The 2000 litres of body fat removed in 2009 are the equivalent of what a typical chip shop uses in a year to fry its fish and chips.”

Surely, there’s an opportunity here for an enterprising conceptual artist to explore a new material, perhaps asking questions about body image, norms of beauty and so on.  Someone’s probably already done it.

Tate Britain

Went there this afternoon – some “new” sculpture in the main hall: Richard Deacon, a doughnut shaped bulb of pewter-like steel plates, squashed in, as if sat on by a giant; Rachel Whiteread, a set of what looked like concrete toasters, set up like dominoes; William Tucker, a long pipe twisted into improbable loops; Tony Cragg, a multi-shelved cabinet stocked with sand-blasted white bottles and vases; someone else’s long, thick rope, snaking through a chicane of tall, soft “traffic cones”.  In a side room, a giant rock which from a distance resembled honeycomb or Father Jack’s earwax – but, close up, turned out, (disappointingly) to be knitted wool.

St. Ives  

The Lanyons, Herons, Hiltons, Blow (only one- why?) looked as good as ever; when will the Tate have a big exhibition of St.Ives stuff, giving Sandra Blow and Barnes-Graham etc. their due?

Listening to “El Paso Blues” by Big Joe Williams;

“Didja get the letter I throwed in your backyard?

I’d a come home, baby, but your good man had me barred,

Oh babe, baby don’t you wanta go….”



Blackpaint 47

January 23, 2010


Mentioned him yesterday in relation to drawing ability and Robert Hughes, and behold, he’s on the TV last night, on Sky Arts, I think; putting up massive pictures in a gallery in Italy (or at least, a number of Italians were putting them up, under his orders).  Several commentators and I think Schnabel himself, spoke about his huge self-confidence as his great asset.

Van Doesburg

The preview by Simon Mawer in the Guardian today, of the above artist’s coming exhibition at the Tate Modern, points out his apparently contradictory allegiance to both De Stijl and Dada.  Mawer describes a Dada event in Holland in 1923: “On stage, wearing a monocle and with his face whited up, Van Doesburg would recite from his recent pamphlet Wat is Dada???, while Schwitters, incognito at the back of the auditorium, would interrupt the lecture by barking like a dog.”

Apparently, this sort of thing sometimes led to riots and violence.  I remember at my school in 1960, prefects performing a similar routine with piano and assorted farmyard noises; they were imitating the Goon Show.  No riot ensued.

Abstract Expressionism

Last night, painting, I found I had produced  a tame looking, pseudo-surrealist painting, utterly lifeless, with a sort of dusky reddy, yellowy brown background – I was overcome with nausea. 

A darkness descended on me and I can only surmise that I worked through out the night in an unconscious frenzy to destroy the monstrosity I had created.  As the sky lightened and the birds began to sing, I calmed down and surveyed the result – a genuine abstract expressionist painting, representing accurately my intense emotions at the time.



Blackpaint 46

January 22, 2010

Life Drawing

My class today, and as usual quick poses – 1 minute, 2 minute and so on up to 6.  Then small sketches of pose and a long drawing – 90 mins.  As usual, I reached a point where I started to mess up, so stopped and started a new one.  Ended up with two reasonable, but not spectacular drawings that stayed at the school for future critiquing, and I brought the quick poses home (see below).

I started life drawing because, if I’m honest, I think it’s “proper”, in some way.  It’s craft.  If you can do life drawing, you’re somehow entitled to do abstract stuff.  Total bollocks of course, but it echoes Robert Hughes’ assertions about Basquiat and Schnabel in particular, and US art schools in the 80s in general, that they had turned out a generation at least who couldn’t draw properly – and that, somehow, that meant they couldn’t do “proper” abstract art.  This notion has recently popped up in William Boyd’s article on Rothko in the Guardian (see Blackpaint 13); he extends it to Rothko, Pollock and Kline. 

Anyway, having started it, it has become a pleasure in itself, sort of separate from the stuff I paint and exhibit – but it has probably rubbed off, maybe in the use of charcoal or the sort of forms which emerge (that word again) in my canvases – although, to be sure, not the latest ones.

Listening to Mahler’s 5th, the “Death in Venice” bit, where Aschenbach has found an excuse not to leave Venice and is heading joyfully back to his hotel in a gondola.



Blackpaint 45

January 21, 2010


I’ve rung some changes in my paintings over the last couple of weeks;  I’m doing them landscape instead of portrait – big change for me – and I’ve been using more big slashes and masses of black paint.  i’m wondering if it’s because of the name I’m using for this blog.  Anyway, there is a sort of device or pattern which keeps coming through, in thr form of something like car side mirrors attached to great curved, or slightly curving, black supports or arms.  I’ve got four of these around me in the room now.  Two of them are basically black, red, white and blue-grey, two are  black, yellow, yellow ochre and blue grey.  Two are relatively cleanly painted and drawn – the other two much rougher, edges blurred, backgrounds sort of scraped and fuzzed.

Reading back over this, I see I’ve referred to a “sort of device or pattern which keeps coming through”.  That’s a real “Expressionist” way of looking at painting, as if the painter were some kind of medium, brushing and splatting and scrubbing away at a surface until gradually some pre-existing organic form emerges.  This is bollocks of course – there is no Platonic form floating around out there in the ether that chooses an artist and allows him/her to  fix it on canvas or paper, like a brass rubbing. 

Maybe, though, there are patterns which emerge during the process of painting that are determined by subconscious mental and physical attributes of the artist – the arc of a curve, say, or a preference to leave a section of the canvas unoccupied.

Or maybe you do something you like and copy it over and over, convincing yourself it’s different each time.

Hans Hoffmann

Just been reading about the above in Taschen “Abstract Expressionism”;  one thing that I liked –  he squeezed the paint directly from the tube to onto the canvas, thus (according to Greenberg) inventing the “heavy surface” in abstract art.  I tend to chuck it on from pots and then mix and work it in situ too.  I can only wish, as with so many others, my results were as good as his.

Listening to Chicago Bound by Jimmy Rodgers:

“I didn’t need no steam heat by my bed,

Little girl I loved kept me cherry red,

But I left that town,

Yeah I left that town,

When I left St.Louis, well, you know I was Chicago bound”.