Blackpaint 128

Abstract and Figurative

In the Tate Modern yesterday, I wandered into the Futurist gallery, killing time more than anything else.  Not that the paintings (or some of them) aren’t good, but I’m sort of familiar with them – or I thought I was.  There was David Bomberg, a picture very much like “The Mud Bath” in form – zigzag solid forms that turn out on close inspection to be people.

Then, at the end of the gallery, I looked at the other Bomberg; a giant picture of soldiers at work under a light blue sky, it’s called something like “Canadian sappers mining Hill 60, in the St.Eloi sector” and it was painted in 1919-20.  It’s a strange picture, a sketch apparently, and it reminded me a little of a Spencer/Kitaj cross.  The soldiers appear to have slightly wobbly arms.  It is, however, conventional in its depiction of the human figure, compared to “The Mud Bath” paintied four or five years earlier.

What had happened in between, of course, was the Western Front and Bomberg’s participation in it.  Perhaps it seemed somehow inappropriate (strange word to apply to painting – who would want to paint “appropriate” pictures?) to render the troops in his abstract style.  After the industrial-scale slaughter, perhaps it seemed right to one who had been there to paint them as individual people rather than anonymous, semi-geometric shapes. 

After the war, there were the Palestine  landscapes, then Spain and Cornwall.  I think these paintings were more conventional than the pre – war paintings; my partner says no – the Vorticist stuff was faddy and superficial, a sort of blind alley; the landscapes more exciting in the use of paint and structure.

Either way, I was interested in this apparent abandonment of abstraction by one who had been so “radical”.  An obvious parallel – on the face of it, anyway – is Philip Guston and I’ll look at him tomorrow as I have urgent business to attend to at the polling station.

Interesting that Susan Philipsz’ entry for the Turner Prize is a recording of her singing “Lowlands” under a Scottish bridge (sorry – unclear.  She’s not singing under a bridge – The recording is played under a  bridge).

The Cock Crew by Blackpaint

“I dreamed a dream the other night;

Lowlands, lowlands away my John;

I dreamed a dream the other night;

My lowlands away.

I dreamed I saw my own true love;

Lowlands, lowlands  away, etc.

He was green and wet with weeds so cold,

Lowlands, lowlands away,” etc.



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