Archive for October, 2010

Blackpaint 203

October 8, 2010

Martin Rowson

Glad to see in the Guardian a week or so ago,a Rowson cartoon featuring a long tongue issuing from the mouth of a toadying pressman and winding towards Cameron, who was descending from a royal-type coach.  Unfortunately, it (the tongue, not the coach) did not approach the anus of the said politician, but formed a slimy red carpet for him to tread.  More subtle than arse-licking but somehow less satisfying – hang on, that didn’t sound right.  Anyway, must end this obsession; this blog is  becoming more obscene by the day.  I see that a reader used the terms “tate modern vaginas” to find the site. 

So – from now on, no obscenity, no pointing out indecent little details in works of art – only good, clean, mature discussion on artistic matters, in the highest of moral tones.

Ai Weiwei

Coming soon to the big hall at the Tate Modern, how do you square the work of an artist like Ai, who tangles with an arbitrary and viciously reactivr regime like the Chinese government with artists who paint about paint, or “investigate materials”?  Difficult one – there’s nothing heroic about the latter.  Ai, who has recently been provoking the government about those missing in the Szechuan earthquake, is like a lion tamer sticking his head in the lion’s mouth – but without taming it first. 

I suppose, say, asking questions about the liquid qualities of light passing through various media doesn’t really match up in the credibility stakes – but someone has to do it.   One day, when all the dictatorships are overthrown, global warming has been halted and reversed, famine is no more,  peace and plenty and democratic socialism reign, we’ll still have art surely – or maybe not, because no struggle.

A thread in Chinese art –

Ai Weiwei famously dropped and smashed a Han dynasty vase and filmed himself doing so;

Huang Yong Ping destroyed A History of Chinese Art in a washing machine;

Cai Guo Qiang blows things up with fireworks.

I don’t know, but I have the feeling that, in the context of Chinese history and philosophy, this destructive streak must be especially shocking.  Then again, Mao and the Cultural Revolution… maybe in that context, destruction is culturally familiar.  Woefully ignorant here, as is obvious, so please comment.

Wayne Thiebaud

Now 90, I mention him because I like his work and it’s apposite to the comments above about political art.  He does pictures of consumer items like  cakes, shoes, lipsticks set against flat, highly coloured backgrounds.  He has a background in signwriting and cartoons which clearly shows in his work.  There’s something funny about a lovingly-painted slice of cake with a cherry on top,  on its plastic shelf in an automat, or a stout, shiny pair of black brogues set at a jaunty angle.  Is it political?  Of course – something to do with the worship of consumer items, mass production, etc., etc.  But then, all art is political in the sense that it represents a choice of what to represent and what not to represent.  Its not necessarily commited, though. 

More about this, when I’ve thought it through clearly – might be some time.

Broke Line Tide



Blackpaint 202

October 6, 2010

Michelangelo’s God (Sistine Ceiling)

I find it amazing that the brain – my brain, anyway –  seems not to register things that should be obvious and impossible to miss.  God animates Adam with the famous touching finger, reaching out from his seat in the brain – shaped thing (see Blackpaint 165) .  Don’t look – is he alone in there?  I thought so, but I was wrong – the deity is surrounded by a group of attractive young persons of indeterminate sex, presumably members of a high order of angels, seraphim maybe.  The touch, of course, is also Michelangelo’s invention – Genesis speaks only of god breathing life into Adam.

All this stuff – about the Flood, Adam and Eve and the serpent, etc. –  is trivial, I suppose, but it does illustrate how freely M. took liberties with the text and got away with it.  I think it was only the nakedness that led to problems.  When you think that printers had their ears cropped for little errors – “thou shalt commit adultery”, for example – although that’s a bad example, because it’s quite a serious mistake…..


I’ve been reading the story “the Unknown Masterpiece”, in which the painter Frenhofer believes he has created a masterpiece in his portrait of Catherine Lescault, “the beautiful courtesan”.  He invites two fellow painters in to see; what they see is an unintelligible mass of paint, with only a human foot recognisable in a lower corner of canvas.  Meanwhile, Frenhofer raves about the light falling on the hair, the flesh of the bosom quivering until he hears one of his friends remark that there is nothing on the canvas.  At this, he collapses in tears and self-pity, which rapidly turns to defiance and the assertion of his own mastery, which others are too small to recognise.  Typical artist.

Open House

The point of the above is that it reminds me of the reactions of some visitors when they come over your doorstep and see abstract paintings.  No doubt their hearts sink (cliche, sorry) and they try to think of something to say.  A frequent response is, “Well, there’s certainly a lot of paintings; you’ve been very busy.”  After an interval of, say, five minutes they leave, thanking you politely and heading for the next house on the list .  Fair enough, of course; there’s nowhere to go with abstract art, people are either pleased and/or excited with what you have done with the paint, repelled and appalled –  or it’s nothing.  A bad figurative painting is still a bad painting of Something. 

Still, sold five – a big one, a middle one and three small ones; not too bad and another weekend to go.


Last blog, I was looking at Gilles Neret’s little coffee table Taschen on angels; today, the companion on devils – which he interprets very loosely to include satyrs, fauns, pans, demons.  The sexual content is frank and startling and demonstrates clearly that these illustrations must have acted, perhaps unconsciously, as a safety-valve in medieval times and pornography in the 19th century.

My favourites are:

1.  Fra Angelico’s “Last Judgement”, in which the damned appear to be in a series of S and M parties in a block of flats, opened up to the viewer;

2.  Georgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, “Punishment of lechery”, in which burning torches are being thrust by demons into vaginas and anuses (ouch!); and

3.  Hieronymous Bosch, “Last Judgement”, in which the various fantastical monsters have that luminous and translucent appearance that one associates with recent photographs of deep-sea creatures.

Gone but not forgotten.



Blackpaint 202

October 4, 2010

Michelangelo’s serpent

Looking at the Sistine ceiling version of the Adam, Eve and serpent story (the section in which Eve appears to have been engaging in oral sex), I see that M. represented the serpent as a woman.  Incredibly, I have only just noticed this.  It appears from a perfunctory check on Google that this is the case with other versions of the story; artists show the serpent either as a snake, or as a serpent- or lizard-like female.  In the Hugo van der Goes version, it’s true, the lizard thing looks to me a bit like Max Wall, but the artist was clearly going for female.

Why is this?  Presumably,  it reflects the misogyny of the Early Church – and the artists – but I would have thought a predatory male serpent would be more appropriate for the seduction and suborning of Eve.  As to Michelangelo’s treatment, what is Adam doing there anyway?  Well, we know what he’s been doing – see above – but he’s definitely not there with Eve and the serpent in Genesis; if they were both there, the serpent’s job would have been that much harder and Eve wouldn’t have had the opportunity to corrupt Adam and the sexual politics of the whole thing would be much more complicated.  The Genesis story is nice and simple; serpent (sexless or male in sense of being phallic) corrupts Eve; Eve corrupts Adam.  Men beware women – they are weak and a corrupting force, given half a chance.

Milton and Genesis

In Paradise Lost, the serpent’s body is “occupied” by Satan for the purpose of seducing Eve, and Milton refers to the creature as “he” throughout.  The serpent is also “he” in Genesis, but there is no identification with Satan; the serpent is merely “more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made”.


While I’m on the subject, Satan in the book of Job is clearly not the Devil but a trusted servant of God, who is sent to arrange the trials of Job on the instructions of the deity.  Not sure where or how the two – devil and Satan – became fused.


I have three favourite depictions:

1.  Giotto’s “Lamentation of Christ”, in which the angels in the sky look as if they are doing “grief”  in an acting class;

2.  Fra Angelico’s “the Annunciation”, in which the angel (Gabriel, was it?) has a lovely pair of butterfly- like wings, red, black, grey and cream, and

3.  Carlo di Braccesco, another “Annunciation”, in which the angel body surfs through the sky on a board, with a long-stalked flower, a lily I think, over his (its?) shoulder.

Listened to Angels Love Bad Men, by the Highwaymen.

“Angels love bad men, that’s how it’s always been,

They give their whole hearts when they fall;

Angels love bad men, that’s how it’s always been,

Love pins their hearts against the wall.”

Poor Tom (again, but I like it) by Blackpaint


Blackpaint 201

October 1, 2010


Review of the new exhibition at Tate Modern by Adrian Searle in Guardian this week said Gauguin had re-emerged in the work of Peter Doig and Chris Ofili.  Hadn’t thought of this before, but he’s right, in my view.  Easy to see why Ofili, the relocation to Trinidad, the choice of local subject matter, even the use of colour – the central picture in the Guardian article is suffused with a shade of mauve reminiscent of Ofili’s latest work (at least, the work exhibited recently at the other London Tate).

Why Doig?  his paintings, after all, are usually enigmas, in a way that Gauguin’s are not, or are not intended to be.  I suppose it’s simply that sometimes they resemble one another in their use of tropical location, colours and configuration.

He also mentions Tuymans – have to think about that one!


He uses the word “schwandel” or “schwendel” when discussing red paintings in “Painters painting” in a manner which suggests he thinks it would be  a familiar term to viewers; what is he talking about?  Is this a term in frequent use in the art world? 

Grown up Politics

I know it’s nothing to do with art, but I have now heard or seen this term used not only by the insufferable prick of a Lib Dem MP (see Blackpaint 197) but Toby Young on TV and Polly Toynbee in the Guardian.  Another phrase which seems to have spread like germs on a toilet door handle is “wriggle room”, sometimes delivered as “wiggle room”.


Tomorrow.  Haven’t done the titles or prices yet – panic!  Closing now…

Blackpaint – Old one

Listening to Richard Thompson, Vincent Black Lightning 1952

“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.”


October 1st