Archive for October, 2010

Blackpaint 213

October 30, 2010

National Gallery

I had to go up to see Clive Head’s pictures, currently getting record crowds.  They are hyper real, like huge photographs – a tube exit at Victoria, street scenes in Kensington, I think – one, a coffee shop, shows Bouji’s night club in the background.  Fantastic job; you have to get pretty close to see they are paintings, not photographs.  I thought they had been done from photos – the angles look photographic – but according to the blurb, does loads of drawings, takes loads of photos and draws freehand from a combination of photos, so they are more than just a photographic repro in paint.

I looked very closely for some time, and couldn’t distinguish any way in which they differed from such a repro, however; at first, I thought it was the depth of focus, but this can be achieved by photographic means and the store signs do blur in the distance, sure enough.

I checked out the Raphaels, of course, and noticed the tight, pursed little mouths that most of his women have, for example the Mond Crucifixion (love the sun and moon); but also the two Madonnas, the Pinks and the Garvagh.  His men don’t have the mouth thing – pope Julius has a sour, pulled in straight line of an old man’s mouth.

I’d forgotten about the two beautiful, highly-coloured, little predella paintings, of the Procession to Calvary and the Sermon on the Mount; the first looks like something from the Canterbury Tales, somehow (apart from Christ, of course).  There’s a great tension in it, created by Christ pulling back under the weight of the cross and the man leaning forward, dragging on the rope.

Cranach the Elder

That naked Venus, ignoring the complaining Cupid; she’s got a clean, lean body like a modern-day teenage model.


My notes appear to read “fungus on maple”, but I now realise it’s “fingers on nipple”.  It’s that picture of the two couples and the man on the right is caressing the woman’s nipple; move the children on quickly.  In the background, a lizard descends the tree behind them and further back, a goat is trying to mount a bank – presumably a comment on the foreground action.


“Unfaithfulness” – one of the great back and shoulders in art; reminded of that Gauguin drawing, something about pigs (see recent blog on Gauguin).


There are two Ms, both unfinished – the Entombment and the Manchester Madonna.  Neither of them bear much resemblance to the Sistine stuff; the faces and poses are very different, although the muscularity of the bodies under their silky clothes is characteristic.

Diebenkorn and Terry Frost

I was surprised to find similar figures appearing in the works of these two – particularly chevrons.  Frost liked heraldic devices, Diebenkorn playing cards.

Bloody Wakefield by Blackpaint



Blackpaint 212

October 28, 2010

Raphael v. Michelangelo (cont.)

Having made one of my usual sweeping generalisations ( great cliche that; you can see them sweeping in the mind’s eye, Horatio),  I am now having to qualify it repeatedly.  Raphael’s “static” compositions (see last blog) – the Fire in the Borgo is perhaps the least static.  The man hanging by his hands is very Michelangelesque.  Also, The Expulsion of Heliodorus. 

Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement”

So the angels swirling about in the top left and right lunettes are carrying the Instruments of the Passion.  On the left, the cross, the crown of thorns, the nails – invisible, but presumably in the hands which are being cradled by a second angel – but NOT the lash,  a strange omission, really; on the right, the whipping column (the huge phallic object, in case you hadn’t noticed), the sponges on a stick, the ladder, peeping up at the very top.  Vasari mentions a lance, the one that pierced Christ’s side presumably, but I was unable to make it out.

St. Bartholomew and St. Peter

These two seem oddly threatening to the Christ figure; the first, waving his skinning knife near the left leg, and Peter pointing a huge key at Christ, like some kind of Star Wars firearm.  Christ could be recoiling in alarm.  Opposite Bart, St. Lawrence sneaks away like a thief, with a backward glance, his grill over his shoulder.

Naked Lunch

From Michelangelo to William Burroughs.  Re-reading the above book, in the section titled “benway”, I found a description of interrogation and demoralisation techniques, short of out and out torture, that coincided very closely with the techniques in which British forces were trained, according to a Guardian article a day or two ago; I think the Guardian source was Wikileaks.  The Burroughs book was written in the 50’s.

“A naked lunch is natural to us,

We eat reality sandwiches.

But allegories are so much lettuce.

Don’t hide the madness.”

“On Burrough’s work”, Allen Ginsberg 1954.  What great advice for an artist.

Fra Angelico

I’ve already blogged about the above, in relation to his strange and beautiful “Mocking of Christ”, with the disembodied head spitting into his face.  Looking at other paintings, I have some questions:  why, in “The Dream of the Deacon Justinian”, are Sts. Cosmas and Damian replacing Justinian’s corrupted leg with a healthy – but black – leg (Justinian is white)?  And in the gruesome “Decapitation of St. Cosmas and St.Damian”, the sainted heads retain their halos, as they roll about in the dust, looking like space helmets; do saint’s heads always retain the halo after removal?  I shall be checking the web to find out.



Blackpaint 211

October 25, 2010


My birthday the other day, and I got three cards of different painters: Albert Irvin, Vincent van Gogh and Alfred Wallis.  with them lined up on the mantelpiece, it struck me that Irvin’s and van Gogh’s colours were so different that it was almost as if you needed a different word to describe them – VG’s muted, rich, glowing, nuanced; Irvin’s brash, bright, glaring (fluorescent even), with no blending or sculpting, hardly any texturing.  But it’s more than this – they just seem to be from two different worlds altogether, can’t explain more clearly.  Irvin seems to go with Warhol and maybe Albert Oehlen, no-one else I can think of.

As for Wallis, his palette in this picture, white, Prussian Blue, yellow ochre is really characteristic of St.Ives.

This stuff is all because I’ve been bought a load of different oils and am trying to work out what pictures I can paint with them – the “old” ones have the wrong forms, textures etc.

Michelangelo and Raphael

Pretty much sticking by what I said in last blog, but there are some Raphael compositions that you couldn’t really call “static”:  Galatea, the various St. George’s and St.Michael’s, Road to Calvary (the so-called “spasimo” – though even this is restrained, compared to Mick).

One thing – “Dream of Jacob of the ladder to heaven”; it’s on the wall of the Palazzi Pontifici in the Vatican.  It’s sooty and badly drawn and looks as much like a Raphael as an Albert Irvin.  It’s not in the Wikipedia list of his works, for some reason.  I think a workman knocked it out during Raphael’s lunch hour.

Reading Diebenkorn book by Jane Livingstone, and again reminded of Lanyon in his attitude to figurative v. abstract, and to landscape.

Back properly soon.

Nameless as yet, Blackpaint


Blackpaint 210

October 23, 2010

Blackpaint is indisposed at the moment so cannot write very much.

Raphael v. Michelangelo

Returning to this idea from last blog, that I got from Matthew Collings on TV, that you can compare the two and decide which is better; at first I thought it was ridiculous.  After all, sometimes you prefer one thing to another, other times it’s reversed.  Then I thought that you do this with ordinary stuff all the time; why not with the top end?  they may be incredible but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect (maybe perfection is a fault – but no semantics today).

So, the obvious things:  Raphael’s colours are more intense, glowing, subtle – I think first of the rich red to browns, the blue, of course, like Perugino’s but somehow less sharp, and the deep green in the seated Pope.  Michelangelo’s colours are also subtle, apart perhaps from the blue  background to the Last Judgement, but only the Doni Tondo comes anywhere near Raphael for colour.

But the figures – Raphael’s are mostly static.  They sit on  thrones, converse with measured arm gestures, gaze reverently skywards, balance fat-cheeked holy babies on their knees (the babies sometimes reach for a flower, gently).  They are, mostly, clothed.  Revealed flesh is  thick – sinews and bones are well- covered (apart from Michelangelo’s knee, mentioned in last blog).  His compositions are stately.

Michelangelo’s figures are not static; they writhe, twist, gesture violently, flex and display muscles, tear at their hair and generally act up in a Mannerist – manner.  They are frequently naked, often entwined with others or with phallic objects (see the Column of Flagellation in the Last Judgement).  they are sculpted into or out of the “space” of the background.  The compositions are usually in motion, always idiosyncratic (see those young men posturing in the background of the Doni Tondo).

So – Raphael is the better painter, Michelangelo draws better.  I love them both, but Mick for choice!

Stuart Brisley

There’s a new painting by the above in the St.Ives room at the Tate Britain; it’s rather like a Tapies, a black, shallowly- cratered surface with a greeny-grey, sparkling texture like mica in the craters and cracks.  Is “shallowly” a proper word?  Proper blog next time, when my head stops pounding.

Rufus 2 by Blackpaint


Blackpaint 209

October 19, 2010

Lucian Freud

I saw that Jerry Hall has sold some of her pictures for £ (or maybe $) 2.3 million and when I saw one, a portrait of her naked on a bed, I assumed it was hers, in the sense that she’d painted it.  It looked like a poor attempt at a Lucian Freud; fuzzy pink flesh, lop-sided approximation of a face…

Of course, it was a Lucian Freud, hers in the sense that she owned it.  Very bad painting, judging by the newspaper photograph, almost unbelievable from one of the most brilliant “realist” painters of human flesh alive; maybe when you’re rich and famous, you feel you have to paint pictures of your celebrity mates, even if they don’t inspire you.  Shame when you think of Harry Diamond, Francis Bacon, the suited Irish blokes, Lee Bowery and all the other fantastic pictures he’s done.  Still, any painter can have an off day – I expect I will, eventually.

Three new Tate Books

1.  Eva Hesse

Some great paintings, up to 1960; mostly “spectres” and some masks.  Great, greys, greeny yellow ochre backgrounds, long-necked, sketchy ghosts in a greasy, slippery style.  Grey horror masks, antecedents of Marlene Dumas.  What an artist she was – of course, I love these works better than her minimalist stuff, though that’s usually good too.

2.  Hannah Wilke

Beautiful (as was Hesse), she disfigured herself in photos with stick-on boils, did videos in which she danced in a cowboy outfit and stripped – saw that in the Paris Feminist exhibition at the Pompidou  and generally did stuff relating to exploitation of female beauty.  Later, she got cancer and documented the physical results of the disease and treatment, such as hair loss, “unflinchingly” is the cliche, I suppose.  Was she the first to do that?  Anyway, the book is hard to look at but worth it.

3.  Jenny Saville

Freud-ish portraits of both sexes and various ages, using livid, lurid colours often suggesting smeared blood and/or decay and profusely fleshy models.  The extreme close-ups of her brushwork are very beautiful abstract pictures in themselves.

Turner Prize contenders

I saw four out of the five.  Dexter Dalwood has six large paintings; “Lennie” (of Mice and Men), “Greenham”, “Melville”, “White Flag”, “Burroughs in Tangier” and (famously) “Death of Doctor Kelly”.  They follow his formula of room/location of famous person/event, with the principle absent, although I couldn’t work out what or where “White Flag” was; the rest are self-explanatory.  There were “cameos” of other artists in the following; Terry Frost discs in “Greenham”, Braque (I think) in “Melville’s room”, Twombly lines in “Borroughs” – as well as a red line and some blue scribble at the top, which looked a bit Lanyon to me – and Jasper Johns of course in “White Flag”.

Angela de la Cruz had several leatherette and fabric things, like collapsed canvases on easels, or tents maybe.  Also, a broken chair on a stool and a filing cabinet welded to some other piece of junk.  they were a bit like soft Rauschenberg “Gluts”.

Susan Phillipz was a disembodied voice, singing “Lowlands Away”, originally installed under a Scottish bridge.  Anne Briggs’ version far superior – or Sandy Denny’s or Martin Carthy’s.

The Otolith group had a battery of a dozen or so TV’s showing different episodes of a subtitled arts series, coupled with a fim by Satyajit Ray called “the Alien”.

Missed the last contender, also TV stuff, due to lack of time.  I don’t like looking at TVs in art galleries usually, anyway.

I think Dalwood should win, although his stuff is not brilliant; at least it’s substantial.

Raphael V. Michelangelo

I was surprised to hear Matthew Collings put it like this on TV the other day, and declare Raphael the “winner”.  Will pursue this in future blogs.  I have to say that Raphael made a lovely job of M’s knobbly right knee in “The School of Athens”, however.

Towton by Blackpaint


Blackpaint 208

October 18, 2010

A steep decline in hits over the last few days, so I will try to post more frequently and improve the quality of insight – latter may be difficult, however.


Finally got to see the Gauguin on Saturday; well, to glimpse the paintings through chinks in a mass of human backs.  In some ways, this was productive, in that you see the paintings as abstract colours and shapes first and some, particularly the landscapes, work very well in that respect.  There are 11 rooms, but I took no great notice of which paintings were in each, so these will be random observations (some might say, “as usual”).

Dominating one of the rooms – Sacred Themes, probably – is “Jacob wrestling with the Angel”, with that red; it’s culinary, like a hot pepper stew, against the cold milk – white of the women’s caps.  I think the painting, from the NG of Scotland (see Blackpaint 140), actually dominates the exhibition.

In an earlier room, there is “the Ham”, with a less fiery orange backdrop – from a distance, it looked to me like a Picasso, a cow’s skull, maybe.  In the same room, a red tablecloth with a little black idol – he pops up repeatedly elsewhere – and several interiors with Cezanne-ish fruit.  There is a child sleeping, with a large, ornate tankard and several obscure, feathery objects floating surreally round her.  BUT – there are also the awful dogs, drinking from a bowl of milk.

Some of the drawings are very pleasing, the finest being the oddly titled “In the Heat Pigs”(?); a coloured rear view of a peasant woman naked to the waist, doing something, feeding pigs perhaps, that I couldn’t make out, many other views of clothed backs intervening.  I thought his line was reminiscent  of Degas.

The landscape room has the most abstract “feel”; flat planes and plaques of vivid colour, sometimes outlined in black.  Also, to my surprise, several instances of trees and shrubs done in thin, diagonal brush thrusts in tawny and flame colours.  Flatness is the most noticeable quality.  In this room, I believe, is “The Loss of Virginity”; a naked girl lies in a field, a fox at her side, a flower between her fingers – difficult symbolism, this – whilst in the distance, a mob of villagers approach to see what is to be seen.

Back to the “sacred” room – a Tahitian angel with green wings, a lemon-green Christ on the cross with Breton Marys at the base.  These reminded me, rightly or wrongly, of Chagall.  “The Invocation” – that acid green again, with a mauve-magenta-purple ground and again in “Two Women”, which looks like a lesbian fantasy on the artist’s part, with a large, odd dog (fox?) looking on as the women touch and Gauguin, one presumes, approaching in the background.

“Ondine” shows a swimming woman, rendered in a horrible, chalky but sharp blue-green and “The Bathers” has a Garden of Eden appearance, with animals at rest and some tall, vertical plants, maybe creepers (I’m sure there is a particular “Eden” I’ve seen that I have at the back of my mind – but that is where it stays, for now).

Finally, a picture in which the more “sculpted” figure, deeper relief and general depth of background differentiate it from the others – “Tehamana has many Parents” – the Tahitian girl in the black and white striped dress.

Predominant colours:  Pink, that sharp green, that mauve-magenta-violet-purple amalgam, purple-ish brown.  I noticed that the colours in some of the repros on sale were an improvement on the originals.

Two images that have stuck in my mind this week

Gerard David, “Christ being Nailed to the Cross”, the only painting I have seen where the cross, with Christ on it, is lying on the ground;

and Michelangelo, the Doni Tondo, in which the right arm of Mary, touching Christ, looks massive and elongated compared to the left (which is closer to the viewer).

Final Broke line Tide



Blackpaint 207

October 15, 2010

Dexter Dalwood

I’ve been looking at the new book of Dalwood’s work.  A wizard wheeze, doing crime scenes and major events as empty rooms or places.  It ticks the social comment box – if you call a painting “Yalta” or “Birth of the UN” or “Sunny von Bulow”, it doesn’t matter what you put in it, critics will see some social or political relevance there; I don’t think there usually is any.  The Turner Prize entry, “Dr. Kelly”, for example – a tree on a hilltop, against an intense night-time blue, big silver moon – it says loneliness, maybe despair, to me; but it doesn’t constitute a critique.  Maybe having a picture named after a scandalous tragedy involving the Iraq war in the Turner Prize exhibition will be enough to gain Dalwood a lead; who knows?  

It doesn’t have to be, of course, as long as the picture is good and interesting; I’m just suggesting it helps, by giving the work another (spurious) dimension.  Good luck to him – an idea that can run, and already has for some years.

Dalwood’s paintings contain little cameos of other painters’ work;  De Kooning, for example, in the UN picture; Bacon on the wall in “Klaus von Bulow”; and Sunny as Millais’ Ophelia in “Sunny von Bulow”. 

Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement”

For some reason, I’d thought that M. painted this straight after finishing the ceiling in 1512; I suppose I just thought you would – “ceiling done, now for the walls” sort of thing.  but  no – he did a lot of other stuff and came back in 1536, 24 years later when he was 60 years old, to do the huge fresco for a different Pope, Paul III.  It took him until 1541.

Later, following the Council of Trent, some of his figures had breech cloths painted in to cover their genitals – but the concealments look  pretty random to me.  Why cover some members and leave others on display?  I can understand why they would want Jesus under wraps (but his winding sheet seems to curl round fairly naturally, so presume that was M.’s own work) -but there seems to me no reason behind the other choices.  Can anyone help?

Ai Weiwei

Sad news that the seeds are now out of bounds; now that I think of it, there was a thin mist of dust hanging above the “beach” when I was there.  Health and (choke) safety gone (cough) mad, if you ask me (wheeze and collapse).


There urgently needs to be a documentary made about the above group and their associates; Jorn, Appel, Pederson, Constant etc.  I can’t remember ever seeing anything about them on television or film.  Same goes for Per Kirkeby, who after all, is still alive.  Tons of art on British telly at the moment, but its mostly crap, or about huge names (Picasso, Matisse, Warhol); we know all that.

Corryvreckan by Blackpaint


Blackpaint 206

October 13, 2010

Ai Weiwei in the Turbine Hall (cont.)

So I went up to the Tate Modern to see for myself.  I was wrong; it doesn’t look like a builder’s yard or a railway yard – it looks like a beach.  The place was full of couples with kids who’d obviously read the Guardian article and brought them there to play in the “sand”.  there was a cleared pathway of a couple of feet round it and a team of Tate young persons sweeping the escaping seeds back in.

The seeds are actually variable in a ppearance; some are dark grey, some lighter.  The hand painting consists of three or four strokes.  They feel like stones; some people were taking photos of them.  I spent five minutes, then went up to see Jorn and Kline and Mitchell and the others.  Did it make me think of Twitter, or crystallised labour (see Blackpaint 205)?  No – it made me think “There are 150 million of these seeds and they certainly look like 150 million; so there are a lot of people in China  – 7 or 8 times as many seeds”.  Incredibly shallow, but there you are. 

The trouble with conceptual art is that it often has to be explained to you, so that you get the right message.  Once you’ve got the message, that’s it, job done  – mostly, there’s nothing more.  With a painting, you can go back to it over and over again and get something from it.  I think only the Balka and the Eliasson have made me want to repeat the experience.

It occurs to me how difficult it must be to get these things into existence, how much persuasion and organisation….  I see them (the artists) as being a bit like old style entrepreneurs, Brunel, Carnegie.  Getting these seeds made reminds me of Francis Alys getting those students to shift the dune, or Tunick, or Vanessa Beecroft persuading large numbers of people to strip off for photographs.

Andrew Marr

Blogs are the “spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night,” he says.  Right about that, anyway.


Looked him up on google (see Bl. 205).  He’s done a lot of thick circles.  I like them.


At Tate Modern, looked at Cy’s three big paintings of circular, arcing red paint.  I thought they were blood – but they’re called “Bacchus”; its wine.  Puts a different complexion on it.

Joan Jonas 

Next room to Twombly.  She did a children’s play at Whitechapel in the 70s and this is a video loop of the performance.  Terrifying – Japanese masks, blood.. Only thing I heard clearly was “Then she brought it down on his head!”  Costumes, props and lots of flags, red on white , white on red, like blood of course.

Natchez Burning

Another one gone



Blackpaint 205

October 12, 2010

Has to be Ai Weiwei again today – his installation is now open it the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern.

Ai Weiwei – Sunflower Seeds

150 million porcelain seeds, each hand-painted, made by population of Jingdezhen, centre of historical porcelain industry in China, deposited in a huge slough on the floor of the hall.

In the Guardian photograph, it looks like a vast grey gravel or cinder bed – something in a builders or railway yard, laid down as a bed for sleepers.  Is it like a beach?

What does it mean?

Obvious meaning is crystallised labour.  According to the Marxist theory of value, a commodity is a lump of the worker’s labour in physical form.  It also represents the de-skilling involved in mass production.  Although the seeds are painted by hand, each one bears only a few strokes – this from an industry in which hand painting was highly skilled and beautiful.

The use of sunflower seeds has a resonance for China, in that they are widely regarded and consumed as a snack food there.

Ai himself says they can be seen as a metaphor for Twitter, each representing a single tweet.

I’ve been to see it this afternoon, but no time to write properly now – minor family crisis – so please treat this as a tweet.  Proper blog tomorrow.

Old one, a bit like a seed I thought.



Blackpaint 204

October 10, 2010

Open House

Finished now.  Didn’t sell many, but enough to fool me into thinking it’s worth continuing for a few more months.  Lots of people remarked on how many paintings there were (see Blackpaint 202).  Always a surprise to see which ones sell, or are admired – invariably old ones.  One I was about to paint over was praised by several people, to my complete incomprehension.  Nice but disquieting – stuff I’m doing now is totally different, but you can’t go back.

Ai Weiwei

Great to see him getting so much coverage in the papers; that must be embarrassing for the Chinese government, along with the Nobel Peace Prize going to Liu Xiaobo.

Jiro Yoshihara

Grey paint appearing as thick as putty, with a black slash slicing diagonally upwards at a shallow angle from low left to middle right.  Above it on left, a black patch from which the paint dribbles down like thin black blood, and  between the two blacks, a scrawled and scrubbed black and white cloud, extending to the right edge and top right corner of the canvas.  This is “Painting” (wonder what he called all the others). 

Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an arresting image that shows how much can be got into a limited palette.  There’s an inverted “V” sign in white that has been painted over the stern of the black diagonal by a drying brush being dragged lightly over the surface of the canvas.  I thought of Lanyon when I saw it; the texture reminds me of brushmarks on “Wreck” in the Tate Modern.  I said “stern” because now I can’t help but see the black stroke as a rowing boat.  The black patch above the stern is now a jellyfish,  its tendrils suspended vertically in the grey “ocean”.

All this, despite having spent two weekends maintaining to visitors that my paintings are non-figurative and not intended to look like anything in the “Real” world and that to see them as pregnant women or jungle landscapes or whatever was erroneous, etc., etc….  Can be entertaining though – I have one that I think looks like a hooded judge in a white gown, or a Klansman sitting in judgement;  one visitor said it was a still life, another saw a big 50’s style fridge.

Anyway, Yoshihara a founder of the Gutai group (1954) that apparently influenced Pollock.  I’m going to look up more of his stuff.

Painters whose works have a spurious, superficial mutual resemblance, No. 10

Wols and Georges Mathieu.  The latter, of course, used to do those spontaneous performance paintings.  They both like spiky, insect-like tangles or knots in black or white, streaking out from a  central point like track of atoms in a ..what are they called, those machines that smash atoms and record the track of the fragments?  Add to that brilliant colours, splotched and scratched and muddied (more so in  Wols’ case) and you have the resemblance.  I like Wols best.

This is the one I was going to paint over.