Blackpaint 67


Sewell on Gorky

As promised,  Brian Sewell’s review of Tate Modern show, in Thursday’s Evening Standard: writing of de Kooning and Pollock, he says they “served to bolster Gorky’s reputation as the stud who sired their rough and ready kind of gestural Abstract Expressionism.  We should blame him for the scribbles of Cy Twombly too”.  De Kooning and Pollock acknowledged Gorky as a prime influence or inspiration – why Twombly, though? 

“Rough and ready” as a description of Pollock is only partly fair – “Full fathom five” incorporated fag ends and keys, which I suppose is pretty rough and ready; but “Cathedral” and “Lavender Mist” are delicate, intricate, many-layered… As for de Kooning – well, the surfaces are often rough, paint runs down, it’s scored and scratched, the paint blears from one colour into another, the brush dries in mid-streak, so yes, rough and ready.  But the effect of this is a matter of taste; I find his surfaces a source of immediate pleasure; deep, rich colours, movement, texture – how do you explain why you think they are good to someone with different eyes?  

It strikes me that Sewell despises the whole “project” of Abstract Expressionism and is suspicious of spontaneity in the creative process altogether.  he describes how Gorky, in his later works, “the images scribbled, doodled, smudged and the colour scrubbed onto the canvas….was released from all formal responsibilities.”  Looking approvingly at Gorky’s drawings, he describes how Gorky’s “drawn line…lends order to the chaos of surreal forms, often Dali-like, in a fantasy of hubbub and disorder.” 

From these observations, one can see that Sewell’s aversion is to “hubbub and disorder”, and to release from “formal responsibility”.  He approves of Gorky to the extent that he shows technical skill at drawing.  All the other stuff is pretty much rubbish.  Clement Greenberg, who promoted him, was “jabberwocky-driven” (presumably harried by a phantom of his own mind) in describing him as “a painter of more than national importance”; this, Sewell says, “is to assume that he knew what he was doing.  He did not.”

Given Sewell’s stance, it is difficult to see how he would approve of, or derive pleasure from any Abstract Expressionist “works” or those works associated with the movement.  That’s fair enough as a position, of course; but it’s not a useful review if you like this sort of stuff.

By way of contrast, Alastair Sooke in the Telegraph says the later paintings summon “a sense of spontaneity and freedom that is nothing short of ravishing.”  There’s nothing for it – I’ll have to go myself. 

Coincidence

In Sewell’s review the adjective “desuetudinous” appeared – not a commonly employed word.  Then it popped up again, this time used by Pat Kane on BBC2’s Review Show.  I’m glad I know what it means.

Regarding Blackpaint 64 and 65, should have mentioned that there is a film of “the Horse’s Mouth”, with Alec Guinness as Gulley Jimson.

Listening to “I ain’t superstitious” by Howling Wolf;

“You know I ain’t superstitious, but a black cat just crossed my trail (*2)

Don’t sweep me with no broom; I just might get put in jail.”

Blackpaint

13.02.10

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