Archive for May, 2010

Blackpaint 144

May 31, 2010

More Exposed

Some more photos and sequences from the Tate Modern exhibition:

  • The Iraq convoy, smashed in the first Iraq war, like the Germans in the Falaise pocket (but without the hedgerows).  The WWI aerial photos, taken from about 500 ft, I thought – dangerously low, anyway – where you can see the individual soldiers advancing under clouds of shell smoke.  The Normandy cliffs, from higher up, but not that much.
  • The sex in the Japanese park sequence, where the photographer actually gets in on the action, pushing the idea of voyeurism to its extreme.
  • The Araki nude seen from behind, kneeling and resting her body across a chair or something, with a twist of her body at the waist; a beautiful life drawing pose, surprisingly, perhaps
  • Various actual surveillance photos of barbed wire, hangar-like buildings, deserted roads, deserts.
  • Northern Ireland army installations like cages; an IRA man in an armchair with a stocking over his flattened features.
  • paparazzi photos of celebs, Marilyn, Burton and Taylor.
  • The Kennedy assassination shots.

So, some great shots but all familiar; too much maybe, too wide a definition for one visit.  OK if you’re a member and can go back for a second or even third time.

Other Stuff

from yesterday’s visit, not  mentioned before;

  • the drooping coils of Marisa Merz’s metal schlangs, dangling from the ceiling;
  • The Dieter Roth plaque of blue,  pink and yellow card, treated with glue, next to the great (but small) wooden Schwitters;
  • the strangely sexy pile of old clothing against the naked statue in the Arte Povera bit (didn’t get the artist’s name);
  • Lucia Nogueira’s video of kite flying on windy verges in, surprisingly, Berwick-on-Tweed.  Why surprisingly?  because she was Brazilian.  I remember seeing her ink and paint-blot pictures a while ago.

Brief today, because not many readers on a Bank Holiday.

Blackpaint

31.05.10

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Blackpaint 143

May 30, 2010

Judo

Yesterday, went on DLR to Excel Centre at Custom House for the BJA Championships.  It was part of a big martial arts exhibition, with jiu jitsu, various karate forms, mixed martial arts (cage fighting) and muai-tai (is that how its spelt?); great, and humbling, to watch these men and women battling bravely, some clearly way outclassed and exhausted in a way that only a fighter, who has to respond to the rhythms of an opponent at close quarters, can become – and yet, they fight on, never give up.  It was riveting and inspiring.

On the way, the train was full of youngsters in Japanese-style gowns, some with swords in cases, who I assumed were doing some obscure form of kendo.  then, at other stations, they were joined by other kids dressed as characters from, Alice, Star Wars, Alien – the alien him/herself, in fact.  Outside the Excel centre, there was a great concentration of them, including strong contingents of young Japanese girls; in the middle of them were small knots of tough blokes in Gracie T shirts, looking bemused.  There was a  fantasy film convention taking place in the same venue.

So, what’s the connection with art?  Nothing, except that I wished I’d had a camera on the train but I realise that, even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to take pictures – even though this lot were  exhibitionists and would have posed happily.

Exposed at Tate Modern

Which brings me to the above exhibition.  Some of the photos were taken on the NY subway by Walker Evans, and many others, most in fact, without the knowledge of the photographed.  actually, there is very little that I haven’t seen before, sometimes many times.  the Evans, the Robert Franks, the Winogrands and Weegees… The Cartier Bresson of the cyclist passing at the foot of the winding staircase is probably the best – there is a Dane which has several things happening at once, like most CB’s, and also like Winston Link’s set-up shots of trains, planes and movie screens (although no Links in this show).

There is the most beautiful large picture of a young girl in the very first room, with shining hair and an expression of curiosity, that looks impossible to have got without her knowledge, but clearly was.  Some pictures, by contrast, are absolutely horrifying; the series of the woman jumping to her death from the burning hotel being the worst.  I missed the one of Ruth Snyder in the electric chair, but I’m familiar with it – her kicking one leg up as the current hits and that blurred, touched-up quality I remember from True Detective magazine back in the 50s and 60s.  The Weegee photo of the faces of children at the murder scene is staggeringly good; they look feral and “wired”; they remind me of the photographs of crowds at lynchings and tell you a lot about human nature.  

Enough for now; more on the exhibition and other stuff at the Tate modern tomorrow.

Since we started with judo, we’ll end with it; what or who is the connection between this greatest of sports and 1.  modern French painting 2.  English photography?  

Blackpaint

30.05.10

Blackpaint 142

May 27, 2010

WordPress advises bloggers to start with an eyecatching headline, so here goes:

Artists and cannibalism

Diego Rivera claims in his autobiography that in 1904, he and companions lived off corpses that they bought from a local mortuary and ate.  This claim is uncorroborated; I got it from Mary Roach’s’s book “Stiff” (Penguin 2004).  More gratuitous sensationalism as soon as I come across it.

Some more abstract (or near abstract – or just a bit abstract, but good) art to look at

These are all to be seen in the Taschen “Art of the 20th Century”, I recommend you buy it and no, I don’t have shares in Taschen.

  • Nicolas de Stael, Portrait of Anne, 1953
  • Jonathan Borofsky, Canoe Painting, 1978
  • Jules Olitsky, Strip Heresy, 1964
  • Larry Rivers, Africa 1, 1962/3
  • Hans Hoffmann, the Ocean, 1957

In addition, there are “Untitled”s by Walter Stohrer, Albert Oehlen and Per Kirkeby that are all excellent, the last resembling a flame bursting in midnight blue.  There is easily enough in this book to send you straight to the canvas ready to chuck the pigment on – and then to give up in despair, several hours later, wondering how they make such beautiful pictures.

Now I’m thoroughly depressed, so signing off for the night, and resorting to the bottle.

Blackpaint

26.05.10

Blackpaint 141

May 26, 2010

Tate Modern’s  10th anniversary

Saw the programme fronted by Matthew Collings on the above last night and had the pleasure of hearing Joan Mitchell described as a “lady abstract expressionist”;  Collings also offered the opinion that she was “not on the same level” as Pollock or Rothko.  Whilst this is arguably the case with Pollock, at least for those few years that he was producing the incomparable drip paintings, I have to ask, why Rothko?  Because he always insisted on the importance of his paintings, and conducted himself with almost insane self-importance, surrounded himself, or was surrounded by, an air of religiosity?  Joan Mitchell, I submit (members  of the jury), was “not on the same level” because she was a woman in a mad, macho bunch of egotists and because she chose to go to live and work in France.  I think Collings has been influenced (unconsciously,no doubt) by the misogyny of the movement, and I think her work stands comparison with the best of the ab exes.

Rothko

The thing about Rothko, though, is this: maybe, when you find that thing that you paint, there really is no point in painting anything else.  Just about everything he did, after discovering the panels of colour, was variations on that same theme.  Some of them are very beautiful and provoke profound reactions in the viewer, some are just the variations.  Ingots with slots or panels of different, shimmering colours; archways of light or darkness.  He hit it and stuck with it, and that obsessiveness has a power in itself, creates its own beauty (or horror) – neither the right word; validity maybe, but that’s a bloodless term to use.

Lorenzo Monaco

Should have mentioned the beautiful virgin and child by the above at Edinburgh; a rather well-developed baby (actually, could have been up to 10 years old) with a mop of curls rather like Titian’s Joseph.  Also, several small Duccio- like panels with that dusty pink that he does – but it was someone else, whose name escapes me.

Photographs really “glamourise” pictures sometimes; those snotty remarks I made about Titian’s surfaces seem nonsense when you look at the photos in the Companion.

Blackpaint

26.05.10

Blackpaint 140

May 25, 2010

National Gallery of Scotland (cont.)

Not an immediately exciting title, I would guess, unless you are a Scots patriot – however, I have saved a couple of really controversial observations for this bit of the review.   Here’s the first;

Titian

Titian’s work is of variable quality.  There is the Diana and Actaeon that was recently “saved for the nation” at a cost of..how much was it?  Great composition, the way he reels back with arm across face – but close up, the brushwork is, well, scrubby and scrappy – or “increasingly broken and impressionistic” as the Companion puts it.  and there’s something wrong with Diana’s head, isn’t there?  It’s too small and in the wrong position.  the Diana and Callisto, closely  resembling the Actaeon in composition, contains no such difficulties – but, somehow, the first one seems the greater picture. 

The Three Ages of Man contains a heap of fat and unappealing babies and an extremely serious young girl, peering into the face of a much older, Byronic (and near naked) man, whilst fingering a flute-type instrument in a distinctly phallic position.

The Virgin and Child with John the Baptist features a similar character as J the B, and the virgin wears a blue  and rose dress, the folds of which are brilliantly depicted in white – but somehow dominate the picture, making the rest look underpainted.  And the right arm of Venus, just risen from the sea, squeezing water  from her hair – too fat.  Colours staggering, however, in all pictures.

Leonardo

The Madonna of the Yarnwinder, recently  stolen and recovered, is on display – and again, I have to say, it’s not up to other Leonardos; the faces of both the mother and child seem odd, elongated noses, blurry features..

Raphael

No childish criticism of these three “luminous” pictures, except that Joseph in the tondo seems overly coiffured;   I love the squirming Jesus in the Virgin and Child.  Mary’s eyes don’t engage with the child’s, but seem rather to stare thoughtfully past him to the floor – it seems to me I’ve noticed this lack of engagement in other V and C’s; is it some sort of convention?

Other fantastic stuff

Beautiful, silky surfaced Rubens; a religious allegorical painting by Holbein; Stoning of St Stephen by Elsheimer, with the young man poised to fling  the big stone at the back of the kneeling martyr’s skull; the Van Der Goes Trinity Altarpiece, the legends of St.Nicholas by Gerard David…

The Impressionists

Cezanne’s The Big Trees, with its geometric, blue and brown tunnel, next to Van Gogh’s Olive Trees, with its short, diagonal brush strokes and coiling trunks and limbs, the two pictures echoing and bouncing off each other; unusual, vibrant Gauguins, Jacob wrestling the angel against burning red and the whites of the women’s headgear and the dusky pink of the ground and short, downward “tiles” of foliage in Martinique Landscape – and the Degas portrait of Diego Martelli, arms folded, on the table a spread of yellow, white and blue sketchbooks and papers that could make an abstract painting in themselves.

Finally

John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew, looking directly and intensely at you, the way that white silk dress is painted with those loose brush strokes..

And much more.  I’m going back to see it all again, as soon as I can.

Cold Blue Jug by Blackpaint

25.05.10 

Blackpaint 139

May 24, 2010

Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

A lot of real treasures and the most helpful attendants I’ve encountered.

First, they’ve got an exhibition relating to “Dance” in a little gallery at the back; I was astonished to see a Roger Hilton woman, the blue and yellow “Dancing Woman”, leaping across the wall opposite me; interesting to see how ropey the drawing was, close up – the beauty is in the energy of the image.  There was a Sickert chorus line, Degas ballet dancers and two astonishing postcard -size watercolour pictures by Arthur Melville, one of the Scottish Boys, done in 1889.  They are titled Dancers at the Moulin Rouge, which the pink, white and black one shows, but the other one is abstract.  It has a large patch of egg-yolk yellow with a touch of brown decalcomania at the base, a mid region of Prussian-ish blue and a red/orange patch on grey/brown at the bottom.

1889 is early for a British abstract, surely; more surprising when you consider the other beautifully done, but conventional watercolour paintings by Melville on display (conventional in composition – he was an experimentalist with the watercolour medium).

Tipu

The ground floor is dominated by a huge, mad canvas by Benjamin West, of a Scottish Mediaeval king being saved from a raging stag by the spear of one Colin Fitzgerald.  Opposite is the defeat of Tipu Khan (of Tipu’s Tiger fame) by David Wilkie.  Nearby is a portrait of Lady Kinneard, wife no doubt, of Lord FU Kinneard of legendary fame.

Rembrandt

In an alcove is Rembrandt’s “A Woman in bed”; it’s Saskia, leaning out of a four-poster, pushing the canopy curtain aside – and her hands are enormous.  Her left is towards us, so that might be right, but her right is away from us, across her breast, and its the same size.  They’re good hands, but they’re  too big.  Yes, it’s an obsession with me (see blog on Mick’s David, Blackpaint 106)

Dutch Lobsters

There are several perfectly painted Dutch lobsters with glistening fruit; my partner says it’s because lobsters were an expensive status symbol – I suspect it might be that one painter, Kalf for example, did a really brilliant lobster and all the others had to try to beat him.

Velasquez

The old woman cooking eggs, with the blunt-featured, crop-haired young boy looking on; a picture so beautiful that I  can’t think of a sardonic comment.

I’m going to leave the Titians, Raphaels, Leonardo and the Impressionists until tomorrow and finish with

“the Death of St.Ephraim and incidents in the lives of the Hermits”. 

I think that’s what it’s called; irritatingly, it isn’t in the otherwise brilliant Companion Guide to the gallery and I can’t remember who painted it – the Master of somewhere or something. 

It’s full of strange little vignettes – a hermit, cave and lion like  St.Jerome; a monk chasing naked women; black demons in boats with naked women; a circle of flagellants processing round a sort of maypole, scourging themselves; a skeletal corpse rising from a rock to terrify-passers-by; a monk riding a dragon… Who was St.Ephraim? Must look him up.

The Snail Crab Dance by Blackpaint

Listening to Cinnamon Girl, by Neil Young and Crazy Horse

“A dreamer of pictures you run in the night,

You see us together, chasing the moonlight, my Cinnamon Girl”.

Blackpaint

24.05.10

Blackpaint 138

May 21, 2010

That Robbery in Paris

Staggering that someone could nick five  paintings of such worth in such a simple way – no sawing through roofs, swinging upside-down from wires to avoid photo-electric cells (what was that film called- Topaz? Topkapi? Rififi?); just break in in a mask, ignore the cctv, presumably cut them out of the frames and shove them up your jumper.

Actually, I was there only about five weeks ago and although it’s in a very swish part of Paris, it looks sort of run-down and dishevelled.  Maybe that’s just the graffitti and the skateboarders, though.  An attendant did stop me taking a bottle of water into one of the galleries though, so there was some security.

As to the paintings that were stolen – I don’t remember seeing any of them!  It’s always like that when you go to an exhibition, I find – you go round, peer carefully at everything, take notes even (for your blog, that is) then you “exit through the gift shop”, check the postcards and see loads of interesting stuff that you missed; it was in a corner, twenty punters round it, listening to audio guides, or it was just too small to notice.

As to the paintings, I thought that Braque was interesting – more like a Kandinsky or a Matisse.  the Picasso, as Adrian Searle said on Newsnight, was quite a complicated,  “difficult” one; not one, as Searle said, that would go nicely on the wall because it was brown (actually more a grey-green, but the point was made).  I wonder if he had in mind the Picasso quotation in his own Guardian article (see Blackpaint 137)?

The Searle interview was interesting in another respect, in that he chose to describe the Modigliani as a terrible painting and, I think, Modigliani as an awful painter.  I remember he said the shoulders were all wrong, amongst other defects that went past too quickly to note.  This is a very refreshing development, in my opinion; critics now learning from bloggers – you don’t have to offer a reasoned argument, if you think it’s shit, just say so!  It doesn’t matter that Modigliani’s stuff is in prestigious world art galleries –  although, sadly, no longer in the Paris one – his stuff is crap and so is he, because he can’t do shoulders properly!  as I recall, he’s often quite good at other bits, though.

Actually, art critics have always done this sort of thing, haven’t they?  Ruskin and Whistler, the pot of paint in the face of the public…

Off to Edinburgh tomorrow to watch my sons run the marathon; no doubt, I’ll find time to visit the art galleries, so watch out for next blog on Monday.

Blackpaint

21.05.10

Blackpaint 137

May 20, 2010

Picasso

Quote from Picasso in today’s Guardian (article by Adrian Searle on new exhibition in Liverpool, which focuses on his political commitment to Communist Party):  “Painting is not made to decorate houses, … It is an instrument of offensive and defensive war against the enemy.”  I’ve learnt this by heart, and now I’m awaiting the chance to jump in with it; next time I hear someone say “I quite like that, but the blue won’t go with the curtains” – I’ll be in there.

To tell the truth, Picasso’s political commitment doesn’t sound to me like a hugely interesting aspect of his life and certainly not of his art.  Not to deny the emotional impact of the painting, I think he had already developed the motifs and tropes he displayed in “Guernica” in his previous work.  The same can be said, it seems to me, of “Charnel House” and “Massacre in Korea”. 

Apart from the painting?  Searle points out that “He handed over suitcases of cash.  He protested the death by electric chair of the Rosenbergs…he made his only trip to the UK to attend a peace conference in Sheffield in 1950 (and)..was detained by immigration officials for 12 hours”.  Apart from the cash – of which he had plenty – this is not a great deal really, is it?

Elsewhere, Searle itemises some of the photographs on show: “Picasso listening intently to speeches at a peace conference in Poland; Picasso with Soviet officials; Picasso staring at a photograph of Stalin”.  He describes this (ironically, I presume) as “fascinating stuff”.

Searle says that Picasso “spent almost half his life in exile in France after the civil war” and  “he refused to return to Spain while Franco was alive”.  However, he had lived in Paris for many years before the civil war, did not fight in the civil war and only joined the French Communist party in 1944 “along with many other French intellectuals and artists”.  The idea of him as a political being in any sense other than a dilettante strikes me as rather thin.

This is not to denigrate him; great artist, undisputable genius, standing in same relation to “modern art” as, say, Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker to jazz (maybe both).  and he did paint “Guernica” – that should be enough.

Banks of the Nile by Blackpaint

Listening to the Banks of the Nile, trad., by Sandy Denny and Fotheringay.

“Oh hark, the drums do beat my love, no longer can we stay,

The bugle horns are sounding clear, and we must march away;

We’re ordered down to Portsmouth and it’s many the weary mile,

To join the British army on the banks of the Nile.”

Blackpaint

20.05.10

Blackpaint 136

May 18, 2010

German Expressionists

I said some blogs ago (Blackpaint 105) that German colours had a sort of dead, livid quality; I applied this to pretty much all German artists from Expressionists to date.  Now, obviously this is a ridiculous generalisation and probably bordering on racial prejudice – nevertheless, I’m going to try to modify the view whilst hanging on to some sort of justification for it, simply because I don’t like admitting to being wrong.

I’ve been looking at a beautiful Taschen book on Expressionism by Dietmar Elger – it has a glowing still life in red, yellow, blue and black on the cover, by Jawlensky – and I’ve decided the “problem” for me is that the pictures are so crowded with colour.  Picture after picture is chock-full of brilliantly coloured images which fill the canvas completely, leaving no space at all.  The colours, to be sure, are sometimes livid and acidic; Schmitt-Rottluff and Max Pechstein in particular, turn is some very livid nudes in acid green-blue and greeny yellow.  But almost all the painters in this book crowd out any space with colour.  The exception is Egon Schiele, who eliminated background from his beautiful, diseased nudes altogether.

So, not dead colour –far from it – but too much of it.  That said, I think that in Beckman’s work, for example, that “deadness”, the washed-out quality, can be discerned and it is echoed in the photographic silver greys and dark browns used on and off by Kippenberger, Kiefer and Tuymans (not German, but still) and others.

Flak Tower by Blackpaint.

Listening to Newport News Blues by Will Shade.

“Now don’t you wish your easy roller was both little and cute like mine? (*2)

Every time she walks, you know she reels and rocks behind”.

Blackpaint

18.05.10

Blackpaint 135

May 17, 2010

Alastair Sooke’s Picasso programme

Big disappointment, this.  There was plenty on Blue Period (cue Miles Davis’ “Blues for Pablo”), Rose Period, Saltimbanques, Harlequins; there was that lovely picture of Gertrude Stein that was on the cover of the Penguin “Autobiography of Alice B Toklas”.  There was the suicide in the cafe.

My first big gripe was the description of the women in “Desmoiselles” as ugly!  The two on the viewer’s right with the mask -like faces, I suppose, but the others, staring directly out of the picture, are beautiful, surely, both in face and body.  Their gaze may be interpreted as challenging, but that was nothing new – Manet’s “Olympia”, for example.

Sooke’s comments on “Three Dancers” (hellish, middle one a parodic crucifixion, etc.) were fair enough, but a bit overstated.

It was interesting to see the detailed close-ups of the Cubist surfaces – the overworking, varied texture; could have been St. Ives!

Then, we’re on the beach at Antibes in the 30s (where is the “bone” beach picture of 1929?) – and then, Spanish Civil War and Guernica.

“Guernica” is obviously hugely important depiction of  brutality of war, an image resurrected over and over again – there was the story of the covering of the Guernica tapestry in the UN at the time of the 1st Iraq war – BUT is it really as shocking as Sooke appears to find it?  How can it be, next to photographs of the real thing?  Film and photographs of the Kovno garage massacre and the einsatsgruppen, Dresden, Belsen – that is shocking;  “Guernica” is not.  In fact, the man entering on the right like some sort of swooping ghost, I find vaguely comic and endearing.  Bathetic, I think, is the right word.

It strikes me that Sooke follows the line that Simon Schama did in his recent programme on Picasso; that “Guernica” was really the last important and original work that P did and that afterwards, he was reproducing his own ideas, sort of feeding off himself with endless variations in different mediums (ceramics, for example).  Sooke doesn’t actually say this, but the scant attention paid to the post-Guernica stuff seems to bear it out.  We got “Sylvette” – and an interview with her – but little else in the way of pictures.  Instead, Sooke moved on to merchandising; stripey sailor tops, Andy Warhol, signatures on cars.  This was interesting in a way, and fitted with the other progs on Warhol and Matisse (and, no doubt, Dali), but it meant that great swathes of the paintings were left out.  A few examples:

  • The statuesque women 1921 -3
  • Three Musicians 1923
  • “Bone” pictures 1929
  • Blimp nymphs with beach ball 1932
  • Dreaming woman
  • Night Fishing at Antibes 1939
  • Re-working of classics (Dejeuner sur l’herbe, Women of Algiers)

Would have been great to see any, or all the above.

Not Picasso.

Blackpaint

17.05.10