Archive for May, 2010

Blackpaint 134

May 14, 2010


I’m informed that what I wrote yesterday was not complete – there were landscapes done as frescoes on the walls of Pompeii and according to Wikipedia there is some evidence of ancient Greek landscapes, although none survive ( I have to say that I could find no examples on google images, apart from some garden scenes and one of animals charging; plenty of interesting erotic ones however).   Wiki also mentions the various Books of Hours, notably the Limbourg brothers’ one made for the Duc de Berry, in which the passage of the seasons is portrayed as a backdrop to human activities.  So the British Museum claim that the Leonardo landscape of 1474 was the earliest European landscape is not quite right.

Still Lifes 

Again, according to Wiki, there were Greek examples, but most notably, Egyptian funerary ones, consisting of goods and articles that the dead might want in the afterlife.  The earliest European examples after the Romans were religion based – assemblages of articles of religious significance.

Philip Pearlstein

At life drawing today, we looked at this artist’s work – bit like Lucian Freud nudes.  The lecturer remarked that he preferred Freud because Pearlstein’s surfaces showed little trace of the artist’s brushwork, while Freud’s were visibly worked over, with a lot of the changes, or working on show.  It struck me that this was a good illustration of the difference between the traditional (for want of a better word) view of excellence in painting and the “modern” view; many people would say the surface should show as little working as possible.  The object is to produce a perfect illusion of reality – impossible, of course, but to be pursued nevertheless.

This is overstating it, I know;  more and more people are prepared to accept and like different representations of reality – the brushwork and structural lines, for example.  There’s still that gap when it comes to abstract stuff, though; people want to read “things” into a painting.  They want, or feel the need to, see people or houses or trees or whatever.  Some will ask you “What’s happening in this one?”  Others will tell you what they see in it.  Fair enough; once it’s done, and on a wall for public appraisal, the painter doesn’t own it any more and anything can legitimately be “read” in it.  Or maybe not – comments?



Blackpaint 133

May 13, 2010

Very short blog today – private view tonight, so I have to get to the supermarket to get the cheap wine and pour it into the expensive-looking bottles.

30,000 Years of Art (Phaidon)

Bought this about a year ago but like all huge, heavy coffee table books, it hasn’t been looked at much – too heavy to read it on your lap; you need a lectern.

I should have made the effort, however, because it’s full of beautiful art, some of it staggering for historical as well as aesthetic reasons.  On page 366, for instance, is the Bikini Mosaic from Sicily, AD325.   Its just like a photograph of Cannes or somewhere in the 60s (well, the poses are, anyway).


Two blogs ago, I mentioned Leonardo’s 1474 landscape in the Renaissance Drawings exhibition; supposed to be the first European landscape.  I checked through “30,000 years” and, sure enough, no Euroscapes; however, the earliest Chinese landscape, by Zhan Ziquian (possibly) is in there, dated AD 602!  Another eight or ten Chinese landscapes, covering the period up to the Leo.  Also, a Korean one and a number of Japanese ones, but these much later than the Chinese; about the same time as the Leo, in fact.

Granted the book is misleading; it doesn’t include any of the Dutch landscapes of the 17th(?) century.  I find it interesting though;  why did Chinese artists see fit take the landscape as a subject – and conversely, why did European painters reject (or not think of) it?  If you know, or have a theory, please comment.

Actually, when you look at those Gothic paintings, Brueghel, for example, with the snow and the mountains, trees and cliffs, there is enormous interest in the landscape and often the human figures are almost insignificant – but they are there and the titles of the paintings point to them and not the landscape.  So- why did the Dutch eventually decide to do the countryside (albeit with cows or farmers and carts included)?  Was it eastern influence – Chinese and Japanese stuff coming back on trading ships?

Still Life

More bizarre, perhaps, is the still life.  Why did someone decide to bung a pot, some bottles, apples, a dead fish or whatever together on a table to paint them?  The earliest one in “30,000 years” is on page 325, a fresco from Pompeii dated AD50.  It consists of a dish of eggs, a pewter jug, a couple of quails, I think, hanging on the wall and some other kitchen bits and pieces.  According to the text, these still lifes were common as a wall decoration in – kitchens, not surprisingly.  Along with those fine mosaics and paintings of fish, shellfish and game, they call to mind the vinyl kitchen wallpaper designs of the 50s and 60s.  Again, if anyone knows more, please comment and educate me.



Blackpaint 132

May 11, 2010

Kingdom of Ife

A few blogs ago (Blackpaint 123),  I was writing about the mixture of naturalistic and stylised features in the atrifacts  of this culture as if it were something unique.  it isn’t of course, and I realised this looking at the picture of Nebamun, a “reckoner of grain”, hunting fowl in the marshes, done on a tomb wall in Egypt around 1390BC (30.000 years of  art, Phaidon, page 113).  The hunter is in the typical Egyptian profile pose, one leg advanced, body turned towards the viewer, face side view; the animals, however, particularly a cat, are “Unfettered by the strict conventions that applied to representations of people” – and are portrayed in a more naturalistic way.  There are, no doubt, many other examples from other cultures.

Renaissance Drawings (cont.)

Leonardo, “An old man and young man in profile”; parallel and tonal shading.  Little sketches of his war machines, revolving sickles and circular tanks like little flying saucers.

More Leo – a very densely shaded little sketch, I think of St. Anne with the infant that became the cartoon.  Also, the man in profile with the bizarre winged hat, and that fantastic left leg done in red chalk. 

Sangallo (?) – a poet tearing up a scroll; like the Pollaiulo Adam, very dodgily proportioned arms and legs.  Maybe this is intentional stylisation  which appears “wrong” in the presence of all this virtuosity.

Piero Di Cosimo, St. Jerome in a rocky landscape, done in charcoal on 5 sheets of paper joined together,  it looks like a soft pencil drawing.  The label says the lion is in there, but I couldn’t find it.

In a side room, a sketch for Raphael’s “St.George” that I blogged about on St.George’s Day in Blackpaint 118.  Cross hatching and parallel shading, top left to bottom right.  Also a facsimile of the painting.

More Raphael – an “Entombment”, with cross hatching in the “Michelangelo” style.  Raphael’s male figures, although beautifully drawn, tend to be fleshier and smoother than those of Michelangelo and Leonardo; I wonder if he was less involved in dissecting bits of dead body that the others, who show great relish for delineating the exact dimensions and shape of muscle, bone and tendon.

Michelangelo – best in show, I think; a youth beckoning, with a fantastic back, cross hatching, and the legs and one arm “ghosted” in, fading away from the centre of the drawing;  Loads of big, fat babies their skin in folds, all cross hatched; two perfectly drawn legs upside down on page.  Most of Mick’s stuff is like real sketching in a modern book, jostling for room on a page or intersecting with other drawings.

Carpaccio – lovely effects on blue paper with lead white.

Botticelli – a “Pallas” with two adjacent heads and three eyes, one shared by both heads!

Fra Bartolomeo, Virgin and Child, showing distinct Leonardo influence.

Del Verocchio, Leo’s master – several beautiful, demure heads or women and angel, one of which is the poster girl for the exhibition.

Lorenzo Monaco, whose sketches look decidedly modern, but in painting become those archaic saints  with the dark faces and spade – shaped beards.

Finally (for me, anyway, because I went the wrong way round), that beautiful pair of cheetahs or leopards done by “a follower of De Grassi”. 

Generally then, some very great drawings – I’ll be going again, so will not spoil this with any of my usual cynicism.  To my mind, the exhibition serves to underline the supremacy of L and M; but plenty more of interest too.

Head of St.Anonymous by Blackpaint



Blackpaint 131

May 10, 2010

Robert Natkin

Obituary today of another great painter I’d never heard of until I saw the Guardian.  An abstract expressionist and colour field painter, his paintings are misty light blue and red/orange patches and ovals, often with a milky surface, as if seen through white muslin.  I like his stuff a lot; a bit like a washed-out Hans Hoffman in some.  There’s a photographer of the same name, who died in 1996.

Fra Angelico to Leonardo – Italian Renaissance Drawings

Finally got to this today; crowded, but not packed.  So much in it that I’ll do it over a couple of days.

Here goes, in no particular order: Michelangelo, “old man in a hat” – shading vertical lines and top left to bottom right and cross hatching.  Elsewhere in exhibition, notes refer to cross hatching as the characteristic Michelangelo style (new to me; see Blackpaint 16 about Mick’s, Leo’s and others’ shading habits).

Several Siennese drawings, all based on Duccio paintings.

“Hanged men” by Pisanello, clearly done from life, as it were; the one with the drooping thigh boot rather haunting.

Gozzoli and Lippo Lippi pictures on blue paper, in metal- and silverpoint highlights picked out in white lead, really effective.

Ghirlandaio drawing of servant woman pouring out a jug, with cross-hatching “in the Michelangelo style”.  One of the best drawings, I think; he was Mick’s mentor.

Da Vinci’s 1473 landscape – the earliest European landscape say the notes – must check on other cultures.  Very variable shading, all directions, short and long, a little like some of Van Gogh’s. 

More Leo, Virgin and child with cat, loose sketching, hardly any shading, quick and – sketchy.  Also Christ with cat.

Leo, background to Adoration of the Magi with perspective lines ruled in, like a diagram – surely just an intellectual exercise for him.

Rosselli, Mount Sinai – again, no trees (see Blackpaint 112 on Michelangelo, who doesn’t do trees either).

Pollaiuolo – a very strange Adam; rangy and muscular, with a right arm completely out of proportion and short bandy legs, leaning on a stick as if it were a crutch, teamed with a more conventional drawing of Eve.

Mantegna, St.James led to execution, the shading lines run from bottom left to top right, some horizontal; in the next picture, Man on Slab (Lazarus?), the shading is reversed, as it is in his Virgin and Child.

Two beautiful drawings by Bellini with tonal shading, that to me, were reminiscent of Ingres; in the next picture, however, attributed to Bellini and done in the same medium, there was clear parallel shading from top left to bottom right.  They looked quite different to me.  this latter drawing was called “Campo San Lio”.

I’ll finish today with Ghirlandaio’s drapery study (beautiful); apparently, he dipped the cloth  in wax and hung it on an armature so that it hardened and the folds were preserved.

More tomorrow, including Carpaccio, more Michelangelo, more Leonardo, Raphael and – more.

Apotheosis of Blackpaint


Blackpaint 130

May 9, 2010

Private View (cont.)

Eavesdropping on the visitors, one realises what should have been obvious; this is more about interior decorating than it is about art.  There you are, having agonised about your work, wrestling with the tempestuous emotions stirred up, screaming (almost ) with frustration, perhaps just managing to check your shaking hand as it lifts the razor to your ear – and what do you hear? 

 “What about that for the lounge?” 

“No, I don’t think so really – we need something a bit more… green”.

Fair enough.  It’s a compliment, really because they are paying cash to live with your work – or not, in most cases.


What I said about admiring him because he died in poverty; reason is that, to me, it implies he had some integrity about his art, something I haven’t got; I’m a whore, I’ll knock out a green painting for the lounge any time, I suspect; haven’t been asked, so far.  Of course, it could just be he was a miserable, cantankerous bastard who was his own worst enemy, but I prefer to think not.


Watched the Alastair Sooke programme on the above.  I was amused to hear Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club doing “Swing 42” yet again.  Someone at the BBC sound archive is a Reinhardt fan and Django keeps popping up on anything to do with France or art or the occupation of Paris in WW2;  A bit like the Ry Cooder bottleneck soundtrack to “Paris Texas”, every time there’s a desert or US road shot.

There were three staggering generalisations made by Sooke.  First was about “The Piano Lesson”; there was a lot of grey, for Matisse, in this picture, a spike of it poking into the boy’s head.  “It’s about the First World War,” said Sooke, “Matisse was thinking about all those young men sent to the front…”.

Second, there was that beautiful, rich red interior with all the items floating about in the room as if in liquid.  “Matisse has left the hands off the clock,” said Sooke, “He has suspended time…”

Third and last, and maybe fair enough, the book “Jazz”, which Matisse made in bed in the last couple of years of his life; Sooke said in this book, with its brilliant colours, “Matisse was defying death”.

I’d really like to know what evidence he has for any of these assertions; all three were made totally baldly, no “One might think Matisse was..” or anything like that.  Still, if art critics are prepared to take this on, it removes the responsibility from artists so not necessarily a bad thing.

Roger Hilton

This thing about Matisse doing the simplified cut outs when he was ill and bedridden reminded me of Hilton and the childlike images he produced with poster paints after his illness incapacitated him.  Please note I say childlike, not childish; I’m not being disparaging.

Interregnum by Blackpaint

Listening to Cold, Cold Feeling by TBone Walker.

“I got a cold, cold feeling, it’s just like ice around my heart, (*2)

I know I’m gonna quit somebody, every time that feeling starts”.



Blackpaint 129

May 8, 2010

Bomberg (again)

Just to demonstrate how wrong your (actually my) assumptions can be, I read on Wikipedia that the first version of his “Sappers at Work” was rejected as a “Futurist abortion” and he came up with a more figurative one, presumably based on the one hanging in the Tate Modern (Blackpaint 128).

Actually, Bomberg is rapidly becoming one of my heroes, for the following reasons:

  • I like his paintings.
  • His work, hung outside a gallery in Chelsea, frightened the horses that drew the 29 bus.
  • He was one of the most “brutally excluded” British artists ever – expelled from the Slade in 1913 for being too avant-garde, unable to get a teaching job at an art school after WW11 – Wikipedia doesn’t explain this, which is odd because his paintings by then were far more conventional, although brilliant.
  • He died in poverty.


Philip Guston was another artist who comes to mind as one who turned from abstraction to figurative painting around 1970.  He was already an established and lionised figure of abstract expressionism and attracted deep hostility when he went figurative, rather like a jazz musician going “modern”, or Dylan going electric in 1966, was it?

Why the change?  Politics seems to be the answer.  with the Vietnam war in full swing, Nixon as president, the recent memory of the Chicago Democratic Convention, Guston felt he could no longer paint paintings about painting.  Hence the change, the cartoon figures, the big boots, KKK hoods, cigarettes, seas of blood, Nixon’s bandaged leg, prick nose, testicle cheeks.  The only thing which stayed similar, it seems to me, was the general “pinkness” of his paintings, pinks, reds and greys being distinctive (but by no means exclusive) in his abstracts.

Blackpaint, Election Day.

OK, that’s it, I’m fed up with art for today – so here in no particular order, my 10 favourite rock records.

  • 20 Flight Rock, Eddy Cochrane
  • Crazy Legs, Gene Vincent
  • Hot Dog Buddy Buddy, Bill Haley
  • Bye Bye Baby, Johnny Otis
  • Rave On, Buddy Holly
  • Whole Lotta Woman, Marvin Rainwater
  • That’s Alright Mama, Elvis
  • Round and Round, Chuck Berry
  • Down the Line, Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Midnight Shift, Buddy Holly
  • Ready Teddy, Little Richard

Alright, that’s eleven, but mine goes up to eleven.

Listening to all the above,


From the Socialist Republic of Tooting


Blackpaint 128

May 6, 2010

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.



Blackpaint 127

May 4, 2010


Down to the pub at the bottom of the road, which we will call the Dick Turpin.  Many weeks ago, I left a number of my paintings there to be displayed in the restaurant area when it was up and running.  The decoration has been complete for several weeks, but there always seems to be a problem; the chef has let them down is the current one.  I have given up really, but since it is costing me nothing, I’m leaving the paintings there for the present, hoping against experience and reason that they will eventually go up and well-fed customers will buy them.


I’m looking at three postcards from the Paris Musee national d’art moderne, lined up on the mantelpiece.  They are, left to right, “Nu a la bagnoire”, “L’atelier au Mimosa” and “Nu de dos a la Toilette”.  They were done in 1931, 1946 and 1934 respectively, but I can detect no major difference in style.

The first thing is that from a distance of 10 feet or so, they look like abstracts – which doesn’t detract from their beauty at all.

Secondly, there is no depth in them.  Everything is upfront; the perspective is accurate but there is no sense of the background receding; the floor in “Nu..baignoire” is given the same value as the bath, the chair and the woman’s leg.  There are no shadows to emphasise perspective; the mimosa leaves in the second painting appear to be plastered directly onto the windowpanes.  The room appears to be shimmering, as if burning in yellow, orange and pink flames. 

Finally, there is an almost Klimt-like appearance to the patterning on the floors, chair back etc.

According to Brassai (Penguin book of Art writing, ed. Martin Gayford), he worked on several paintings at once, canvases pinned to wall, loading his brush and applying the colour to more than one canvas, wherever he thought it might fit.

Paul Nash

I was about to contrast the Bonnards with the washed-out Downlands and chilly blues and greens of Nash – then I had  a look at the latter’s work.  Yes, steely, chilly blue skies, but the browns and yellows of “Landscape of the Moon’s Last Phase” and “Michaelmas Landscape” are actually the same as “Mimosa” and “Nu..Toilette”.

Incidentally, I said in Blackpaint 114 that there were no good, cheap books on Bonnard.  I was wrong; there is a Thames and Hudson and another small book – but although the colours are good, the illustrations are only postcard size and too many are black and white.



Blackpaint 126

May 3, 2010

Moore and Ofili revisits

Second visits are often disappointing, and I wasn’t as impressed this time by the big elm “recliners”:  however, I had a good look round Moore’s archetypal recliner (the one the cartoonists always parody) and noticed the way the hole disappears when you look at it from behind and above and the shoulders become even more massive; also, the way the light falls on the planes, emphasising the perfection of the sculpting. 

The little so-called sketches like jewels, worked over carefully in pen, pencil, crayon, pastel etc., and the pen sketch with the blots which are themselves attractive – something similar on TV last night, that thing about Warhol by Sooke; Warhol used a technique of pressing paper against the wet ink line of a drawing to get a broken, blotty line.

There was a funny little mother and child at the start in which the baby was huge, the size of a small adult (and mother’s face seemed to reflect this).  Reminded me of some of those 12th century madonna and child icons in the National Gallery etc, in which the Christ is a full-grown man on mother’s knee.

Although it might be true, as Laura Cumming asserted (see Blackpaint 80), that Moore’s subject matter is rather limited (Mothers with child, recliners, masks, helmets, stringed sculptures, the “atomic” maquette, the warrior, the miner drawings, the shelter drawings..), the varieties of material and style are wide.  African Wonderwood?  and how did he get that gleaming smooth finish on concrete?

As for Ofili, I liked it as I did first time around.  No new insights, other than the humour and the really strong sense of unity of the whole set of work – must be the colours, because he’s stopped using the elephant dung.  One thing – that exchange between Ofili and Jonathan Jones about the function of the hanging man (see Blackpaint 54, 55); the painting’s called “Iscariot Blues”, something I overlooked last time.  Best paintings still the art nouveauish “Raising of Lazarus” and the cocktail girl next to it.

Fundamental Painting

A Tate room devoted to stern, dark, minimalist work from the 60’s;  Alan Charlton (born 1948), four huge paintings in shades of charcoal grey.  The first has a long slot cut in it, the second four square holes in the corners, the third is cut into 20 equally sized “sleepers” and the last, a square, framed with a 2″ interval.  Other artists; Edwina Leapman (one all blue, one all red, slight gradations of pigmentation); Bob Laws (huge plain canvas with a black frame painted in 2″ from edge;  Alan Green, Peter Joseph (dark blocks of black, green, blue).  What’s it about?  Asking questions like “What is a painting?”

John Golding 

Born 1929, a canvas called “CV 1973”.  Two unequal rectangles, one egg yolk yellow, the other dark flesh pink.  A white frame of plain canvas all round with swipes of paint here and there – vaguely reminiscent of a landscape Clyfford Still.  My partner tells me the salient point is that the pink is layered, built up in a Rothko-type way.  Two other Goldings, one blue one green, quite different.  The blue one, “Toledo Blue”, lines across a sort of misty surface, vaguely like a Futurist painting, Boccione maybe, not much close up, but great through archways from a couple of rooms away.

I Mailed it in the Air, by Blackpaint

Listening to Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers;

“I wrote a letter, I mailed it in the, I mailed it in the – air indeed, lord,

I wrote a letter, I mailed it in the air,

So you know by that I have a friend somewhere”.

Blackpaint 03.05.10

Blackpaint 125

May 1, 2010

Private View

And again, the anxious wait, the scanning of the faces as they arrive – is this one yet another artist showing, or is it a punter?  They’re spending a lot of time looking at my painting in the corner.. look, she’s leaning forward to read the title and the price – shit, they’ve moved on.  Too much attention being paid to the twee little heads and the ones with the gold leaf on them – they’re clever enough, but not really art; more like novelties, toys really.

The trouble is, mine are too rough to sell in this sort of area; they don’t have the right finish.  The paint on the sides is uneven, not perfectly straight like on those other ones on the square, blocky canvases with the cartoon ladies and men with little arms against those warm pink backgrounds that everyone’s cooing over.

As for the prices, I think they’re all wrong – too high for the present time, everyone’s watching their pennies; I’d have put them on for £100 less…   Well, this isn’t much good, is it?  Everyone shrieking “Hello!!” to each other and standing chattering and drinking wine, not looking; half of them haven’t even looked at any of the work.  I’m in everybody’s way all the time, wherever I stand someone’s trying to get past, or I’m standing in front of something someone wants to see.  Some girl artist, about 20, shouting into her mobile how she’s been here an hour and only sold one little one, for £200 or something.. What’s he charging for that one? How much!? Surely no-one’s going to pay that for that.  And so on…

In the Rough Grass by Blackpaint

Listened to American Trilogy by Elvis.

“O I wish I was in the land of cotton,

Old times there are not forgotten,

Look away, look away, look away,



May Day 2010