Archive for April, 2010

Blackpaint 114

April 19, 2010

Ten Male Artists whose work  should be published in cheap editions by Taschen or Tate or anyone good

Partly to demonstrate the anti-sexist credentials of Blackpaint’s blog, but also to mention a slew of painters I like but can’t get cheap books about:

  • Hans Hoffman – I can only find one book on this seminal colour field artist and teacher (in Henry Pordes, Charing X Road) and it’s 65 quid! 
  • Richard Diebenkorn – highly desirable book by Jane Livingston, but it’s 35 quid.  Bit cheaper on Amazon, but I like to  buy the old-fashioned way.
  • Richard Guston
  • John Hoyland
  • Graham Sutherland
  • Pierre Bonnard – the colours in the Phaidon are dead; Taschen required urgently.
  • Eduard Vuillard
  • Asger Jorn, Appel – all the CoBrA people, really.
  • Keith Vaughan
  • Albert Oehlen

A mixed bunch, to be sure; but I have actually  searched for cheap editions of all these and have only really been lucky with odd ones in catalogues.

Michelangelo  and Trees

I missed one (see Blackpaint 112) ; there are actually two pretty basic and dead trees in the Flood (Sistine).  I have amended the blog accordingly, but my point remains, I  think.

Goldsmiths

Watching the BBC4 programme on Goldsmiths, I was struck with the obsession they – both tutors and students – have with “meaning” in art.  They construct their tableaux or objects or  whatever and  then worry that the public won’t get their meaning.  one said,”They won’t think hard enough about it”.  The prof, however, when pressed, said, “It’s all about the art, really; the rest is bullshit”.  This I  found reassuring, but I’m told  by those who know, that art schools require context and meaning and argument and that  artists who refuse to discuss their work in these terms and assert that a work of art should, as it were, speak for itself, will not get far in academia.

Strange really; it’s a sort of marxist or pseudo-marxist position, that art has to be experienced and appreciated in context.  I remember writing an essay arguing just that,  several years (well, decades) ago at university.  The tutor’s comment  was “Interesting – but I don’t think you would convince a purist.”  Now I’m the purist, I suppose.

I also find it interesting that what I  do, a lot of the general public regard as “modern art” – but it’s really old-fashioned, of course, abex or colour field stuff being the equivalent of, say, modal jazz, Coltrane doing “My Favourite Things” or Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” – 51 years old!

Blackpaint

19.04.10

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Blackpaint 113

April 18, 2010

Ten women artists who should have a cheap Taschen or Tate book written about them

With loads of their paintings in, of course.  Google each of them for an afternoon’s inspiring viewing.

  • Gillian Ayres
  • Grace Hartigan
  • Prunella Clough
  • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham
  • Sandra Blow
  • Helen Frankenthaler
  • Roni Horn
  • Cecily Brown
  • Margaret Mellis
  • Joan Mitchell

This list is based purely on personal choice and prejudice, of course, and has no pretensions to objectivity.  

Wallander 

The Swedish version of course – Branagh’s angst is far too near the surface.  Very bad slip last night, when Kurt made a joke about blow jobs with women present (albeit police officers).  This isn’t what we expect from a kindly, suppressed, approaching retirement police officer in a liberated country like Sweden.  Contrary to what my partner says, these are real people who live in the real town of Ystad and frequently have to send to Malmo – or Malmer, as it is apparently pronounced- for reinforcements.

Painting

I’ve just looked round the room at my latest paintings and realised that they are all the same – in some cases, turning them from lanscape to portrait or vice versa makes them just about identical to another.  So, here is the last in my current “style”; I am going to ring some radical changes in the days to come.

Listening to 1952 Vincent Black Lightning by Richard Thompson.

“I see angels and Ariels in leather and chrome,

Swinging down from heaven to carry me home.”

And he gave her one last kiss and died,

And he gave her his Vincent to ride.

Blackpaint

Sunday 18.04.10

Blackpaint 112

April 16, 2010

Blog Vocabulary

I’ve decided that in future I won’t be using meaningless vocabulary when describing or discussing art – either mine or other artists’ work.  From now on, then, the following words are banned from my blog, unless quoted or used in a reader’s comment : beautiful, amazing, wonderful, ravishing, breathtaking, stunning, fabulous, brilliant, etc., etc., etc.  I will continue to use ugly, crappy, shitty, however, in the interests of accuracy, fairness, moderation and the fine traditions of blogging.  Readers are requested to comment immediately on noticing any use of the specified words or similar ones,  in any context other than that outlined above.  Thank you.

Treeless in Gaza

Michelangelo didn’t do  trees.  Yesterday, I discussed the painting that an expert suggests is by Michelangelo (see Blackpaint 111).  The painting shows John the Baptist preaching to an attentive audience amidst a parkland  scene – sylvan is a better word.  It’s full of trees anyway.

Now, there are several reasons why I think he’s wrong about Michelangelo, but at the risk of seeming slightly mad (unusually  for a blogger) I want to emphasise this point.  I’ve been through all my books on M. and all the images on Google and I can find only THREE trees in all his known work: the tree  up which the serpent winds (presumably the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) in the Adam and Eve picture and two dead trees in the Flood; all of them on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Even in those pictures where M. does some landscaping, it’s always barren or rocky, or both.  I think he didn’t like doing trees because they bored him – no juicy musculature.

So, either he put all except three  of  his trees in this disputed picture – perhaps  someone had pointed the deficiency out to him – or it’s not a Michelangelo.  Actually there  is a third possibility; someone else may have done the trees and the rest of the background, and then M. did  the figures – and the rocks, he often did rocks.  But that doesn’t seem likely to me.

I have to say that, in the fifteen minutes I spent researching this theory, I was delighted to look again at some of the most beautiful, ravishing art in human history.  it was utterly breathtaking.

There we are, then, my hare-brained theory escapes to haunt the web and confound the experts (or probably  not).  Back to normal, possibly, tomorrow.  Have a lovely weekend.

Listening to “The Trees They Grow So High” trad., arr. Martin  Carthy.

“Oh the trees they grow so high, and the grass it grows so green,

And many’s the cold winter’s night my love and I have seen;

On a cold winter’s night, my love, you and I alone have been;

Oh, my bonny boy is young but he’s growing…”

Blackpaint

16.04.10

Blackpaint 111

April 15, 2010

The New Michelangelo

Today’s Guardian reports that a painting called “Saint John the Baptist Bearing Witness”, owned by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and attributed to the “close circle of Francesco Granacci” may actually be a Michelangelo.  The claim is made by an expert, Everett Fahy, in Italian journal “Nuovi Studi” and apparently rests on four main points:

  • unspecified (in the Guardian) evidence in the imagery and underdrawing.
  • Michelangelo was a close friend of Granacci.
  • The rocks in the picture appear quarried and Michelangelo spent a lot of time in the quarry of Carrera, when working on his “Pieta.”
  • Two figures in the painting “closely resemble” two male nudes by M. in the Louvre and background figures in the Doni Tondo.

So is it a Michelangelo?  As  an expert on the subject recognised by several people in South London, some of whom have read books on art – well, looked at the pictures – I can definitively say the professor is mistaken.  I can’t evaluate the evidence of the underdrawing BUT –

The figures are static, with no apparent interest in physique and musculature ( unlike M’s) and the colours look wrong too, although it’s hard to tell from the repro in the paper; more like Raphael’s than Michelangelo’s,  except perhaps for the Doni Tondo.  The composition too – it’s too boring, too stately – where’s the violence, the grief, the striving, the phallic symbols (indeed, the phalluses), the bulging muscles, the controversial self-portrait…? 

And there are too many trees – M. didn’t waste time on non-functional landscaping in his pictures.  And there is no character in the faces; compare them with his known works.  There are superficial points of similarity in the figures Fahy cites in the Louvre drawings and the Doni Tondo, but they are simple standing postures and fairly normal ones too. 

On the other hand, see yesterday’s blog (Blackpaint 110) on bad paintings by good painters; it could be an atypical and not very good M., I suppose.

No – if it does turn out to be a genuine Michelangelo, I’ll turn down my invitation to join the Royal Academy, which I’m sure will be here any day now.

Listening to “City of New Orleans”, Willy Nelson:

“Good Morning America, how are you?

Say, don’t you know me, I’m your native son;

I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans

And I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”

Blackpaint

15.04.10

Blackpaint 110

April 14, 2010

Musee d’Orsay

Do not despair; last entry on Paris,  two collections to go.

This one is the giant train station, with the central aisle and landings occupied by a host of sculptures, some bizarre, reminding me of the murderer’s studio in Roger Corman’s “Buckets of Blood”.  The place was packed, of course; the crowd included a party of elderly Americans, one an octogenarian Jimmy Stewart, about 6’6″, thin as a lath, grey-suited, who pointed at a Degas and drawled in a Boston accent ,”I would love that for my collection,” apparently in all seriousness.

Where to start?  I suppose the thing that surprised us most was the number of truly awful paintings on show by fantastic, legendary painters.  There were three terrible Manets, one a portrait of a woman with fat red lips, that you might have expected to see on the railings at Hyde Park.  Ditto several Cezannes! Browny, creamy, crappy colours, sloppy execution.  Some ugly (to say the least) Bonnards in crude, harsh greens and -mauves, was it? – that astounded me after seeing the Bonnards at the Pompidou the day before.  And there was a turgid, shit-brown house or bar by Van Gogh, surrounded by a group of several Dutch women.  Maybe they were discussing how bad it was; more probably, they were saying, “Look, that’s that restaurant at the corner of…”

Having said this, there were, of course, shedloads of brilliant Degas, Cezannes, Manets, Van Goghs, Lautrecs, Pissaros, Renoirs (don’t like him anyway, too pretty), Redons, some lovely pastels by Maurice Denis… Very few Seurats, I think I’m right in saying, and the few were very small and not striking.  Just too many Impressionists and Post-impressionists, leaving me gasping for the cool water of Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell or de Kooning.

So now the good things.  Manet’s Olympia above all; she’s short, challenging, direct and holds your gaze (which is long) – but her black maid looks odd and unconvincing to me, actually like all black people in paintings by Europeans of the time now I think of it.  Maybe it’s some racism in me, or maybe there’s a thesis in this somewhere – probably already written long ago.  Nearby, Courbet’s vagina – painting, that is – with its little group of engrossed spectators.  Other vast Courbets, darkly varnished, of stags and hunting scenes, elsewhere in rooms of their own, are amongst the awful things.

The wonderful draughtsmanship of Degas and Lautrec evidenced over and over again; those chaps could really do hands!  The Van Goghs, apart from the brown pub, glowing with rich colours, as were some of the Gauguins and Cezannes.  And the Dejeuner sur l’herbe (how many did he do? There’s one in the Courtauld gallery too).

There was a special exhibition called Crime and Punishment, that was like Tussauds with a few great paintings (Blake, Fuseli, Munch) thrown in to give it artistic credibility – but also  a full size guillotine, brown wax death heads, gruesome photos of old murder victims – victims of old murders, that is. 

There was one memorable painting, by Carel Willink, of a hanging scene; the prisoner, in a pin striped suit and collarless shirt, bound at the ankles and knees, standing on the platform, reading from a sheet of paper.  Around him, the hangman and assistants in ’20s suits, waiting patiently, one casually seated on the hand rail.  The noose waiting too, tidily fixed to a hook on the upright timber.  I think it was probably done from a photograph, although he specialised in de Chirico-like empty, dreamlike streets and squares.

Museum of Modern Art

Out by the Eiffel Tower, in a huge white municipal building with columns and steps, covered with graffiti and besieged by skateboarders.  First, Fauves – Vlaminck, Derain, Dufy; loads of ceramics, plates and pots, mostly by Vlaminck, some by Picasso and Matisse; Legers, rough and crumbly close up, a lovely Gris; several harem Matisses, after Delacroix, was it?  A huge Delaunay football painting of a Cardiff City match.

A great room containing several huge Germans – a Polke, a lovely Oehlen, a Baselitz upside-downer – and with them, a Christopher Wool, typical, dark ashy grey, oily lines “crawled” across it in black.  Giant black lemons by Thomas Schutte lying around.  The only annoying thing, pointless to my mind, a number of imitations and copies of paintings by, for instance, Pollock, distinguished by red labels (genuine works were labelled in black).

OK, enough of Paris – back to London tomorrow.

Blackpaint

14.04.10

Blackpaint 109

April 13, 2010

Pompidou Centre (cont.)

The main collection at the Pompidou hasn’t changed that much since 2004, when I was last there: there are Matisses and Kandinskys throughout, or so it seems; a great collection of Fauves – Mat himself, Vlaminck, Dufy, Derain,Kees Van Dongen (love that name) painting everything blue and red and orange and green.  There is a line of lovely Laurent sculptures on an outside terrace amongst the tubular scaffolding; there is a room of Brauners and Lams, dominated by a huge Matta, looking from a distance like an Ab Ex and calling to me from a couple of rooms away – what was that unlikely story about Brauner getting blinded in one eye? see below, no pun intended – and the “usual” Legers and Gris(es) and Surrealists dotted throughout.

Highlights: 

  • Picassos.  As always in a room of Picassos, you get the impression that he has contemptuously dashed off a definitive, totally original, brilliantly coloured masterpiece in 30 minutes, then moved on impatiently to knock out another one to go on the opposite wall.  When he is hung with anyone else (except sometimes Matisse), your eye – well, mine anyway – is “sucked” straight to his work.
  • Two Matisses – a woman with a starched white blouse right at the start and a fabulous fiddler sketched in black, who looks about to start playing as you stare at him.
  • A room full of Rouaults (apologies for the accidental alliteration), most based on Les Fleurs du Mal, that are wonderful figure paintings in his black style, but that manage to glow in a way I’ve never noticed with his stuff before.
  • Two excellent de Staels, one with that typical squares-on-scraped-concrete feel, the other with big triangles of light green.
  • A Soulages in variable black with what looks like 5 white chalk lines horizontal across it – and next to it an Ad Reinhardt, a really BLACK painting, entitled “Ultimate Black No6”; it looks as if he is putting Soulages’ half-hearted effort in its place.
  • Burri and Fontana – sacking and slashes respectively.
  • A Pollock in swirling, broad black and white strokes (brush?).
  • Dubuffet; a couple of scraped surfaces with concealed figures and one big Aztec clown picture, as I have come to think of them.
  • Finally, and most memorable, a couple of Bonnards – beautiful golden-browns, fiery oranges and whites, colours that burn and glow, the nude woman leaning against the bath in what seems the most natural and relaxed pose – but of course, if you think about it, totally unnatural!  Fabulous, ravishing pictures.  Why no Taschen book on Bonnard?  The Phaidon is terrible; the colours are dead, especially the browns.   

Brauner

For those who don’t know it, the Brauner story is briefly told in Sarane Alexandrian’s “Surrealist Art”.  In 1938, he was accidentally blinded in the left eye by a bottle thrown during a brawl by Oscar Dominguez; since 1931, he had been painting figures “with horns coming out of their eyes, and others who looked in despair at an eye which had been plucked out….. in 1932, in “Mediterranean landscape”, and in 1935, in “Magic of the seashore”, he had shown himself with his eye pierced by an instrument with the letter D, Dominguez’ initial, on its handle”. (p.113, Surrealist Art, Thames and Hudson 1995).

Trying to keep the blog down to 500 words, so Musee d’Orsay and Museum of Modern Art tomorrow.

After the galleries, sat on the roof cafe with my partner, drinking beer, on a golden evening, looking out over the gargoyles on a nearby church that was possibly Notre Dame, with a single rose in a vase on the table and “Un Homme et une Femme” playing.  All together now: “Naa – Naa…na-na-na-na-Na, na-na-na-na-na-Na…” Two beers cost 12 Euros.

PS – The Shobdon Tympanum (see Blackpaint 17 and 106) depicts “Christ in majesty”, surrounded by whirling angels – so not a mystery woman in striped T shirt after all (Google Shobdon-arches for more).

Blackpaint

13.04.10

Blackpaint 108

April 12, 2010

Blackpaint back

from Paris, with controversy and ignorant comment, bad art and dated musical references.  I see my readership has plummeted in the last few days; no doubt, this post will continue the process of decline.

Pompidou Centre

The lower floors have an exhibition of women’s art, entitled “Elles a centrepompidou”, mostly from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.  There is some brilliant, though familiar stuff (Dumas faces); some equally brilliant, though less familiar (Louise Nevelson, a huge black gate affair with Leger/Ernst- type shapes and Sylvie Fanchon, a huge sky blue canvas with bright red linked chain painted across it, just like a big Prunella Clough); and a few exhibits that a less principled viewer of either sex might have found provocative – even titillating.

First, a big B&W video by (and of) Hannah Wilke, in which she makes a series of ironic, pouting faces to camera and touches herself, performing a striptease.  Next to this, another video;  artist (Kiki Smith?) strips, or already is, naked and slathers wallpaper paste all over herself and rolls on the floor in wallpaper.  A small black sculpture by Smith portrays a woman prone beneath a goat which is apparently having sex with her.  My delicacy here is perhaps misplaced, because nearby is Betty Tompkins’ “Fuck Painting”, which portrays a large penis entering a vagina, I think from below, but not sure.  Nearby again, a series of small drawings by Tracey Emin, some of which at least, show an enormous penis moving towards an eagerly smiling cartoon girl, who is the same size as itself.

Like everyone else, I looked at all this solemnly and was reminded of Tompkins the following day in the Musee d’Orsay when I saw the famous Courbet picture of a woman’s thighs and lower torso, legs spread to display the furry vagina – and a group of six or so, including a couple of women, peering at it, absorbed.  The Courbet was the more accomplished painting, I think, though with less going on than the Tompkins.  More on the d’Orsay tomorrow.

Some more from the Pompidou women’s exhibition – Annette Messager’s rag dolls on long sticks propped around the walls; Eva Hesse’s giant white worms rearing up (perhaps some phallic significance here) and Lee Bontecou’s “Untitled” from 1966, a combination of painting and sculpture, curved surfaces bulging out from the picture painted cream, brown and red.  Reminded me of some Frank Stellas, in this “coming out of the wall” sense.

Finally, there was Eva Aeppli’s installation of 13 gaunt, gowned figures all apparently male, seated on folding chairs, in an unfortunate juxtaposition with Sigalit Landau’s “Barbed Hula” – a video of a female, bikini’ed torso hula hooping, but wait – the hula hoop turns into barbed wire! Marks left, but no blood drawn.  The juxtaposition is unfortunate, in that it looks as if they are ogling the bare belly of the hula girl.

Since many of these exhibits are 25, 30, 40 years old, the historical context has changed, perhaps largely as a result of the art itself: consequently, art that was once radical, startling, outrageous seems now very similar to quite mild pornography.  Something similar happens to all of us, I suppose; the difference is there’s always the chance that  it will all come round again for the art.  I hope I die before I get old.

Tomorrow, the rest of the Pompidou and the Orsay.

Listened to “Watch Your Step” by Bobby Parker; raw metal guitar riff nicked and slightly adapted by Beatles for “I Feel Fine”, blistering sax solo, soulful screaming and very disturbing “stalker” lyrics “..You ditched me baby, but you’ll get yours one day, you better watch your step…”

Also “Meet on the Ledge”, Fairport Convention, where Sandy comes in..

“The way is up; along the road,

The air is growing thin;

Too many friends have tried, blown off this mountain with the wind…”

Blackpaint 12.04.10

Blackpaint 107

April 9, 2010

The Two Davids

Blackpaint will be in Paris until Sunday night, so normal blogging will be resumed then.  I am in severe trouble over my remarks about Michelangelo’s David and the other one (see Blackpaint 106) but hopefully a weekend away will allow the restoration of an uneasy truce at home.

Until Sunday, then, a Saint’s Head (St.George in the fire, I think – sold it sometime back and can’t remember) that would have been more appropriate to 106 than the tasteful little watercolour –

Listening to “April in Paris” (naturally) by Thelonious Monk, the best by far.

Blackpaint

08.04.10

Blackpaint 106

April 7, 2010

Victoria and Albert Museum

Visited here today to see the new Medieval Galleries again, but, once more, got diverted to the Cast Rooms to see the astonishing Shobdon Tympanum again (see Blackpaint 17), the Santiago de Compostela gates with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel- and then a jump to the Annunciation and the Christ story, progressing upwards.  You have to “read”from top left to bottom, then bottom right to top. 

Checked the cast of the David statue and, yes, I’m afraid his head and neck do now look too big to me (see Blackpaint 99 and 104) – but, far worse, he now bears a facial resemblance to David Cameron.  You don’t believe me? Imagine the hair trimmed and slicked back, some pudge on the torso, a tight white shirt with top button just undone…

Islamic Art

Waiting for my partner to return from the quilts exhibition, wandered round the Islamic treasures from Iran, India, Pakistan and Turkey.  As an abstract artist and lover of modern abstract art, I should be bowled over by these exquisite carpets and hangings and decorations but I was not (apart from those beautiful Mughal miniature paintings).  There was nothing for my eye to catch on, no roughness, asymmetry, chaos,  just harmony, order, beautiful workmanship, perfection.  I want just the opposite – disorder, bad taste, violence, anarchy; if its figurative and old, I want dragons, tortures, martyrdoms… 

So, we went to look at the multiple tortures of St. George, in the Retable (is that right?) in the room with the Raphael Cartoons.  George was, among other things, being burned, boiled alive and sawn in half, before the beheading which finished him off – one can imagine the executioner thinking “Why didn’t we do this in the first place?”

By far the best Cartoon, I have always thought, is “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes”.

After this, to prove that Blackpaint is not one of these people locked into either art or science, but happily inhabits both intellectual spheres, we were taken by our youngest to the Science Museum.  There I was staggered by the steam machinery on the ground floor – I’ve always found them beautiful, but for the first time, they looked very Heath Robinson to me, all improbable pistons, levers and boilers and wheels and lovely, rough, black metal surfaces. 

I had the Higgs Boson, Super symmetry and Schrodinger’s Cat explained to me and bought “Stiff”, a book about the “life” of corpses with, inter alia, descriptions of guillotinings – which brought a nice symmetry to the day.

Blackpaint

07.04.10

Blackpaint 105

April 6, 2010

A History of the World in 100 Objects

“Did” 30 of these yesterday, being marched round by my eldest son who duly photographed each one, allowing a minute or so for contemplation before continuing.  This was a minute more than many visitors, who contented themselves with the photo – in one case, a photograph of the label, rather than the object.

The most intriguing object for me was the 13,000 year old swimming reindeer (actually two reindeer, the male in pursuit) carved out of mammoth tusk and discovered in a French valley.  The experts have been unable to discover or surmise a use for it, which raises the possibility that it was carved simply for the pleasure, satisfaction, call it what you like, of “artistic” production.  Is this the earliest example of such a piece?  It may, of course, have had some ritual purpose, like animals in cave paintings or fertility objects; but unlike these, it seems to record an observed event. 

The Olduvai stone chopping tool makes you wonder how they knew it wasn’t just an ordinary rock – presumably it was part of a site.

German Expressionism and colour

I have some serious doubts about that stuff I was saying in Blackpaint 102, about “German” colours being dead, washed-out, livid.  I think it’s true, or at least arguable,  for Beckmann, Neue Sachlikheit people like Modersohn-Becker and Schmidt-Rotluff, and on up to Polke, Baselitz, Kiefer and Kippenberger.  But then there was Marc and Macke – OK, they were earlier but they were vibrant and limpid, like Dufy and the Fauves.  And Rouault and Soutine were as dark and/or livid as anyof the Germans I’ve mentioned.  and the Bauhaus people, like Schlemmer, they were bright too – so possibly, it’s all nonsense.  Probably more to do with movements than nationalities.

Beckmann’s “Night”

Surely that’s Lenin in the cap on the right??

Here’s an appropriate one of mine, in dark, dead colours:

Blackpaint

06.04.10