Blackpaint 34


The Sacred and the Real

The show at the National is finishing on the 24th Jan.  It felt a bit like going round the old Chamber of Horrors in Tussauds when I was a kid.  There used to be an exhibit curtained off and labelled “not suitable for children under 13 years”, as I recall.  Behind the curtain, there was a figure hanging a few feet from the ground by a hook through the stomach.  There were also shelf loads of guillotined heads, mouths gaping, blood running down chins.

The lifelike crucifixions, whipped backs, broken and slashed knees, nailed hands and feet, expertly carved in wood but looking like wax, glued -on tears (Loyola) and even a severed head, the Baptist’s, with all the pipes and blood vessels accurate apparently – and the darkness, all recall Tussauds. 

The Magdalene model in her rough, plaited straw mat dress, staring at a crucifix in her hand – that reminded me of Ken Russell’s “The Devils”, the crazed abbess Vanessa Redgrave played, with her crucifix; see it if you haven’t, Redgrave, Oliver Reed and Dudley Sutton and Russell’s restrained and respectful direction – brilliant.

The strangest exhibit to my eyes is the painting of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, kneeling and receiving in his mouth, from a range of about 6 feet, a straight spurt of breast milk from the right(?) breast of a statue of the Virgin Mary; the Miracle of the Lactation, apparently.  It reminded me of the story set in the clinic, the punch line of which is “What? From here?”

There are also the magnificent, brooding, brown paintings of St. Francis in ecstatic trance by Zurbaran and a couple of Velazquezes – is that how you do the plural? – and a lovely painting of St.Luke, the painter’s saint, with his brushes and easel, looking at Christ on the cross.

The Hoerengracht 

Ed Kienholz’ version of Amsterdam’s red light area seems an apt accompaniment; more wax-like models (although less lifelike) more prostitutes, these ones still in business.  They are in characteristic poses in the shop windows, but they have glass boxes like fish tanks on their heads and shiny glue or semen like stuff running down them (I think – maybe they were just badly made).  It seemed to me much tattier than the red light area I remember walking through – with my family – 6 or so years ago.  This seemed tattier, more like a slum street somehow.

After these two shows, we did a quick tour of the early galleries upstairs, and the colours of the Duccio, the Titians, Van Eycks, Holbeins all seemed more vivid and fresh and uplifting after all that dark, exploited and tortured flesh.  Funny really, because these were often beheadings, crucifixions, whippings etc., as well.

Listened to “Tapiola”, Sibelius.

There are no words.

Blackpaint

08.01.10

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