Archive for February, 2010

Blackpaint 78

February 27, 2010

Fra Angelico

I’m thinking of this picture that he did on the walls of that monk’s cell in Florence.  It’s San Marco, cell 7, and its the “Mocking of Christ”.  The most strange picture for the time – there’s a disembodied head with a Robin Hood hat blowing on Christ, a couple of disembodied hands, presumably slapping him, and another disembodied hand holding a stick, forcing down the Crown of Thorns on his head.  And Jesus has a white mask painted over his eyes!  The background is a beautiful pastel green.  That’s like a wall painting, with two figures sitting in front of it: Virgin Mary on left and St Dominic, enjoying a good book (prob. THE good book) on the right.

It’s just beautiful and very weird, and the colours are mouth-watering.  Also see “St Nicholas addressing an Imperial Emissary and saving a Ship at Sea” – who or what is that in the sky, behind the ship’s sails? Yes, must be St. Nick.   sorry, can’t find a picture on the net – it’s in that Taschen by the Hagens, “Fifteenth Century Paintings”.

Henry Moore

Can’t believe the concerted slagging I’ve just heard on the Review Show (BBC2) for the Henry Moore exhibition at Tate Britain – they all weighed into him as if he was the most boring (laughably so) artist in British history.  The price of success, I suppose.  His work is only a cliche because he had a strong and consistent vision, thoroughly realised time and time again.  Another example of how the ever-growing need for extreme opinions and controversy is warping all comment on TV.  Anyway, going to see it tomorrow – no doubt I’ll change my mind and agree with them as usual.


Yes there’s no doubt, always best to paint when you are drunk.  Results might be crap but great fun, and you get a sense of integrity, which lasts all the way until the hangover next morning.


Friday night,  telly broken.

Blackpaint 77

February 25, 2010

Courtauld Gallery

As promised yesterday, breakdown of the stuff in this brilliant gallery at the entrance to Somerset House on the Strand.

After Michelangelo, there was a room of Kandinskys, ranging from a “fluffy edged” one to sharp, geometric shapes.

Fauves – Derain, Dufy, Vlaminck, a  nude wife from Van Dongen, some boring Matisses.  A lovely, Matisse-like Ivon Hitchens in an uncharacteristic, square-ish shape.  Sketches from Seurat and Sisley, lots of white sky and blossom, I think.  Miniature figures on the sands from Boudin.

Cezanne – a few trees, a wooded lake (check the reflections – do they really go like that?), a St.Victoire, men in bar.

A couple of Gauguins, one of fields, a garish green – good from a distance.

Manet’s “Bar at the Folies Bergeres”, the one where the girl’s reflection is out of line and the bottles of Bass are on the bar (or is it Worthington?).  Also, a “Dejeuner sur L’herbe” – there must be several, I would think.

There’s a lovely Modigliani girl, best I’ve seen, and some great Degas, especially the black, grey and white woman with the umbrella.

Rubens – 6 or 8, a  sketch of the Deposition from the Cross, well, two actually, one with Christ upside-down and the other, the more famous one of him being lowered right way up.  In both, the man at top of cross has the white sheet in his teeth.  There is also the landscape with the stars.

And Van Gogh – Portrait with Bandaged Ear.

Downstairs, in the Gothic room, there is a triptych by the Master of Flemelles, Robert Campin, another Deposition in those cold, piercing Flemish/German colours.  In the corner is a picture which is crude and rather simple close up, but a work of great, colourful beauty from across the room.

So – it’s a brilliant collection.  Years ago, I used to work for Courtaulds in Norwich, making artificial silk,  running a set of power looms in a noisy weaving shed; but I suppose he’d already bought most of this stuff before that…

Boris Anrep

Not a familiar name to me, but I’ve walked over his work scores of times – he did the two mosaic landings at the National Gallery.  Among the Muses are Greta Garbo and Virginia Woolf, Bertrand Russell is there, Some chap climbing a pylon, A.lice in Wonderland for some reason, and the centrepiece, Churchill, fighting the monster Apollyon, I think.  They are well worth a look.

Listening to “Woman Love” by Gene Vincent:

“I went to the doctor, he said “Lord above!

You need a vaccination of woman love.

Let’s go, cats!” (guitar solo).



Blackpaint 76

February 24, 2010

Michelangelo’s Dream” at the Courtauld Gallery

I have to say that I was hoping to be able to find things to criticise in this exhibition.  The advice given by WordPress to bloggers is: be controversial!  What better opportunity could there be than to attack God – because Michelangelo is the Clapton of drawing.

Unfortunately, they are stunning – but I do have some minor cavils to air, so all is not lost.

The very first drawing is a preliminary sketch of  Phaeton’s fall from the heavenly chariot; it is brilliantly realised, and you would think could not be improved – until you see the next two versions.  The next, in black chalk, pulls the composition together into a triangular shape with Helion at the apex.  Phaeton’s upside-down, falling body echoing that of the falling horse on the right of the picture and heading towards the base, formed by the earth and Phaeton’s frantic sisters.

The third (or was it the second?) version is a vertical, funnel- shaped plummet  towards the earth, with the horses interlocked in an embrace.

Next is the Dream; a winged messenger swoops down to blow a horn in the face of a sleeping, muscular nude male, lounging on a box and leaning against a sort of globe.  in the box is a collection of theatrical masks and around the figure, lightly but perfectly drawn in the background, a set of writhing figures indulge in what appear to be sinful activities.  The drawing is in black chalk, and the shading is soft, no distinguishable lines (which is true of most of the drawings, except where a stylus has been used, and very light shading lines in these).  As Laura Cumming says, it has a cinematic feel, as if these background figures are appearing and disappearing on a screen.

To lower the general tone, the globe appears to be bisected to resemble the two halves of a bottom.

I think the next is Ganymede, being attacked in mid air from behind, by a giant eagle, the talons of which are gripping the boy’s legs; also in black chalk.

Next is Bacchanal, this time in red chalk; a group of chubby (but muscular) boys is carting a dead horse towards a pot.  A drunken man is sprawled on the right and an old female satyr is nursing a child (I think) on the left.

There now follows The Risen Christ, the usual Michelangelo muscular young man thrusting up towards heaven with a cape, or remnant of winding sheet round one shoulder – and perhaps it’s now pertinent to ask why they have such tiny genitals, like seed pearls.  Is it some sort of Renaissance unspoken convention?  Maybe they copied it from the Greeks and Romans.

A Resurrection now, in black chalk over red and stylus – shading lines, folllowed by-

Another Resurrection, this time a single figure of the risen Christ.  A static pose, even rather awkward; the body slightly lumpy – so not great, but still Michelangelo.

Now a figure of Lazarus, from 1516 (the main “Presentation Drawings” date from 1533) in red chalk; M. used the pose for Christ later.

I must have missed the Tityos, who has his liver eaten by eagles, like Prometheus; maybe I just don’t remember it.

There were some good copies by other artists, notably Tintoretto, on blue-green paper.

So – they are fantastic drawings, probably the best ever and all that, but a bit too refined and polished for my taste.  That probably has to do with the circumstances; the artist was seemingly smitten – in vain – with the young noble he drew them for, so they are sort of love tokens.

Not for me – I like a bit of crudeness, heavy shading, visible correction, sketchiness really (see example  below).  I remember an exhibition of Turner views of Venice; I thought the sketches were fantastic, the finished paintings a disappointment.

More on the Courtauld tomorrow.  By the way, I forgot to mention, in Blackpaint 64, the film about Michelangelo, “The Pride and the Passion”.

And here’s one of mine:


Wednesday 24th Feb 2010

Blackpaint 75

February 23, 2010

Richard Diebenkorn

Yes, it’s  addictive once you start, the game of making connections (see Bl. 74); yesterday, I was on about Keith Vaughan and Nicolas de Stael – today, I’m thinking of Diebenkorn and the tenuous connection to de Stael.

It’s landscape that is the link.  De Stael did those highly coloured landscapes made out of colour blocks sculpted onto the canvas with a knife.  Diebenkorn did those fantastic “abstract landscapes”, tawny like a lion’s pelt,and white and blue, crossed with black “roads”.  When I first saw them in that great, grey and orange-covered book by Jane Livingston, I  was struck by their beauty.  The later “Ocean Park” series are much cleaner, more geometric, more green and blue – but a logical development.

Then, I came to the figurative paintings; golden/orange and dark blues, greys and flesh tones, that were equally beautiful.  Diebenkorn was unusual, in that he kicked off as an abstract painter in the late 40’s and developed in Albuquerque (see Urbana series, for instance) and then switched to figurative between 1955 and 67, returning to abstract thereafter.  Guston, of course, also switched from abstract to figurative – but never made the return journey.


And of course, the “abstract landscape” thing brings me back to Peter Lanyon, because that’s a good deal of what he did too.  Many of his pictures are named after particular places in Cornwall and USA and are sort of total landscapes, giving all possible perspectives and sometimes impossible ones – from within the earth, say.  After taking up gliding, his paintings were increasingly “top shots”, to borrow a film-making term -and this is  another link to Diebenkorn, whose pictures sometimes look like aerial photographs (the opening sequence of aerial shots in “Up in the Air” comes to mind).

I’d had an idea that Lanyon had been killed in a glider accident in 1964; it turns out, though, that he sustained only a minor leg injury in a rough landing – it later developed into thrombosis, which actually led to his death days later.  Nevertheless, it is the 4th violent demise of an artist in this blog in three or four days, albeit accidental  – the others were Christopher Wood, suicide under a train; Keith Vaughan, suicide by drug overdose (ill with cancer); and de Stael, threw himself from a building. 

Listening (as promised) to Lonnie Donegan, “the Grand Coolie Dam”

“Now the world holds seven wonders, that travellers always tell,

Some gardens and some towers, well, I guess you know them well;

But now the greatest wonder is in Uncle Sam’s fair land,

It’s the big Columbia river, and the big Grand Coolie Dam.”



Blackpaint 74

February 22, 2010

Keith Vaughan and others

Funny how one painter leads on to another – reading about Paul Nash (Bp. 72) I came across that beautiful picture of a curving coastline of ochre sand against a sea wall in light grey and stark black, called “The Shore”.  This took me on to Nicolas de Stael, the landscapes entitled “Marseille”, “Les Martigues”,  “Sicile” and “Montagne Sainte-Victoire” (didn’t someone else do a few of that last one?).  However, when I checked, they’re not THAT similar – maybe the sweeping distances and vivid colours… 

Anyhow, de Stael took me on to Keith Vaughan, because they both use that technique of the small rectangles of colour, almost like square scales.  You can see it for instance in de Stael’s “Parc des Princes” and “Les Footballeurs”, and Vaughan’s “Millhouse”, “Fire at Night” and many others.  de Stael used a palette knife; don’t know if Vaughan did too – doesn’t look like it to me, but the effect is similar.

Then, I found other British artists had used it too; Peter Kinley, in “Grey Coast” (and according to Norbert Lynton, some earlier ones) and Patrick Heron, in “Square Leaves”, after seeing a de Stael show in 1952.

What is the importance of this?  None, except that painters influence each other, which is a startling revelation.

While I’m on about Keith Vaughan, I must mention his “The Return of Odysseus”, in which the white, upside-down figure of the falling suitor – killed by Odysseus’ crossbow – looks like a great white Praying Mantis.  Then I found a picture of “Heath”, a decade later, with rough blue, angular, elongated legs in a spidery sprawl – and I was reminded of Wyndham – Lewis (a bit)… But this game could go on and on, so I’ll stop now.

Listening to Mahler’s “Um Mitternacht” by Kathleen Ferrier and the Vienna Philharmonic under Bruno Walter, 1952; unbelievable.  Tomorrow, back to Lonnie Donegan.



Blackpaint 73

February 22, 2010


In the art galleryand museum near the Pavilion today.  Two interesting paintings: a Christopher Wood and a William Scott.  The Wood was a Modigliani-like (well, a bit) portrait of a young woman with an oddly reddish face; the Scott was figurative – a couple.  I looked for it on the net, but couldn’t find it – however, I did find one fantastic, ochre – based abstract which was very like a Lanyon and which has made me determined to look out a book of his stuff in the British Library tomorrow.  Previously, I thought Scott  just did frying pans and dinner tables, phallic salt cellars and black pictures (see Tate Britain).  Now I think he’s the business.

Christopher Wood by the way, was an early St.Ives man, went down there with Ben Nicholson, did stylised figurative paintings and jumped or walked in front of a train, at Bristol I think, in 1930  (actually, it was Salisbury, not Bristol).

One other beautiful thing in the museum is a group photo of rockers on the Old Steine in 1964, either Easter or Whitsun, the time of one of the battles with the Mods.  There’s something timeless and touching about them with the long hair and the roll-ups and the leathers – they remind me of squaddies or a works outing, and they look so young and innocent and unthreatening, at this distance…



Blackpaint 72

February 20, 2010


Ran out of canvases earlier in week and I can’t afford any more for a while, so I’ve been recycliing some old crap that I never really liked.  This has actually proved better than buying new ones, because you have to go over the old surface, sometimes several times, and you get thicker texture and layering – whether you want it or not.  Results are actually quite OK I think, so goodbye thin world forever (or at least, til I can pay for some new canvas).

Paul Nash

Will soon get to Dulwich for this, I hope, but in the meantime I’ve been looking at his stuff in the Tate catalogue of the 2003 exhibition.  The thing that came across to me most strongly was the stillness in his paintings.  With the exception of “Battle of Britain”, there seems to be no movement at all; WWI searchlights look frozen, birds in the sky appear to be motionless – “the Flight of the Magnolia” looks more like the float of the magnolia.  There are a couple of exceptions – the “sunflower” pictures have a spin to them and “Tench Pond in a Gale” has the diagonal lines, but for the most part, they have the stillness of sculpture.

The other thing was the way the vapour trails in “Battle of Britain” echo, or mirror, the shapes in “Magnolia” and “Nocturnal Landscape”; I think he had these shapes in his head and they find their way onto his canvas, whatever the subject – bit Plato’s forms, really….



Blackpaint 71

February 17, 2010


Read today something of interest on influence of above: he is cited as an influence on Sam Francis, in his use of thinned paint allowed to run down canvas, and in his predilection, shared by Francis,  for biomorphic forms, resembling, say, leaves.  I never would have thought of that, the two seem so different; Sam Francis to me usually means vivid deep blues in flower or petal shapes, interlaced maybe with bright yellows or ruby reds. 


Karl Otto; great bloke, painted with a broom!  He swept great swathes of black towards the corners of his paintings.  He had a knack for titles too – “Painting of Feb. 8th, 1953”, much snappier than the earlier “Painting of Feb.5th, 1953” – but then, that one was smaller.  Taschen page on him ends with this sentence: “Gotz managed not to let uncontrolled autonomism end in artistic chaos, but instead to direct it along compositional channels” – so, he managed to control his lack of control.

The broom thing brings to mind another favourite, Kazuo Shiraga, who, according to the catalogue of “Action Painting – Jackson Pollock”, “would paint canvases (lying on the floor) that he had previously thrown lumps of paint at whilst hanging by his feet from a rope”.

Listening to Blind Lemon Jefferson, Matchbox Blues:

“I don’t mind marryin’ but  I can’t stand settlin’ down (*2)

Gonna act just like a preacher so’s I can ride from town to town.”



Blackpaint 70

February 16, 2010

Art in Fiction 2 (see also Blackpaint 65)

“Young Hearts Crying” by Richard Yates.  Set in New York, there are two great portraits of post-war American painters. The first is Paul Maitland, an effortlessly charming, bohemian Abstract Expressionist living in the Village.

 The second is Tom Nelson, who does ink drawings with watercolour washes on his kitchen floor – using saturated shelf-lining paper.  They take him between 20 minutes and “a couple hours, sometimes a whole day”.  Every few weeks, he carts the good ones uptown to the Museum of Modern Art, where they usually buy a couple for the permanent collection; sometimes, the Whitney takes some – the rest go to his gallery for his regular one-man exhibitions. 

The pair are seen through the eyes of the two protagonists, Michael Davenport and his wife Lucy.  The book is so good that I’ve started it again for the third time, as a result of checking the names for this blog.

Yates’ mother was a sculptor and he writes about art in, I think, “the Easter Parade”, and at least one of his collected short stories.

Art Biopics (see Blackpaint 64)

Since 1990, Wikipedia lists 11 biopics of artists, not including those I write about in 64.  They are:

Vincent and Theo, Carrington, Basquiat, “Surviving Picasso”, Modigliani, “Factory Girl” (Edie Sedgwick and Warhol), “Fur” (Diana Arbus), “Goya’s Ghosts”, Klimt, El Greco, “Dali and !”.  I’ve only seen “Factory Girl”, Sienna Miller (brilliant).

Listening to Too Many Drivers by Lowell Fulsom:

“Oh babe, something is wrong with your automobile, (*2)

You know you got a good little car, but there’s too many drivers at your wheel.”



Blackpaint 69

February 15, 2010


Since I wrote on Gorky yesterday, I’ve read Laura Cumming’s review of the exhibition and I think I was a bit sniffy about it – under the evil influence of Brian Sewell, no doubt.  Maybe I missed the radiance a bit; if de Kooning thought he was the business, who am I to be critical?  And he must have been the only painter in the USA doing this stuff in the early 40’s, so the importance of the link with European abstraction…

Van Doesburg

Got to visit this again, and as always, there was stuff that impressed 2nd time round that I’d barely noticed the first: Huszar’s “Composition with Female Figure”; a fantastic Schwitters with one of those long titles full of numbers – it began with “Merz”; the paintings of Bortnyik, Maes and El Lissitsky that all used perspective, a rarity in  this exhibition; and a Futurist machine picture in black, white and red by Victor Servranckx, who gets 2nd prize for great name, after Vantongerloo.  I was puzzled by Jean Gorin’s “No.3 emanating from the equilateral triangle” – couldn’t see a triangle for the life of me.  I presume it was implied.  Cesar Domela had three lovely pictures, one a tilted square with corners coloured and finally VD himself, “Simultaneous Counter Composition”, in which the coloured squares (tilted of course) appear to be sliding apart under a thin black frame.

Richard Hamilton

Interview with Rachel Cooke, in which he claims that a teacher at the Royal Academy described Picasso et al as “a load of fucking dagoes!”  The art schools of the 40’s and 50’s sound like a nightmare; I remember reading that Terry Frost once spent 6 weeks on a painting without a comment from his teacher.  When Frost felt he was finished and asked for a comment, he was told, “If I were you, I’d scrape it all off and start again.”


Going two ways at the moment; doing Mondrian- style stuff freehand, so its messy (childish, but even messed up, it looks OK) – and flinging paint on flat canvas and spreading it with the edge of a postcard.  Really messy.

Listening to” That’ll be the Day”, Buddy Holly and the Crickets (of course):

“When Cupid shot his dart, he shot it at your heart,

So if we ever part then I’ll leave you..”

For decades, I thought it was “When Cupid Charlie starts…”: again, makes no sense, but I still prefer it.