Archive for November, 2010

Blackpaint 225

November 30, 2010

Hans Holbein

I’m intrigued at the difference between the realism or naturalism of the famous portraits and the highly stylised portrayal of characters in his religious/historical paintings; they look as if they were done by different artists.  The staggering portraits – Thomas Cromwell, Ellyot, More and that lady with the squirrel – could have been done yesterday, except maybe that no-one nowadays would do those beautiful coloured backgrounds (that green-blue in the lady).  But look at “Noli me Tangere” for example; the drama of the poses and the portrayal  of Christ with his big head and long face (like Wirtz, “The Miraculous Draught  of fishes”) in that karate master posture – you would never think  that was a Holbein, surely. 

Albrecht Durer

It seems to me that there is no such dichotomy with Durer, except for one portrait:  that of his father, aged 70.  In  this portrait alone, he approaches Holbein’s naturalism and the painting could be taken for one  by the younger artist.  Check them out on Google.

The painting which caught my attention today, however, was Durer’s “Christ as the Man of Sorrows” of 1493.  There is the usual display of torture instruments: the crown of thorns, a whip and a bundle of birch twigs.  Christ bleeds from numerous wounds.  What is strange is his pose and his expression – he rests one cheek on his hand, the other hand lies open on a bench at the fromt of the picture and he has on knee raised as if on a box.  The pose is casual.  His face displays boredom, not agony or exaltation – I can see him as  Tony Hancock in that famous radio sketch about a boring Sunday afternoon in 50’s Britain.

The Man of Sorrows theme has produced other oddities – see Fra Angelico’s  version, for example, with  a disembodied head spitting into Christ’s face.

Last Suppers

 Saw Andrew Graham Dixon’s programme on German art last night and there was yet another “round table” Last Supper; this one by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in Wittenberg Cathedral, I think. 

The Gospel according to Saint Matthew

By Pasolini, of course; wonderful film, fantastic music, Blind Willie Johnson, Bach, Mozart, Missa Luba…  And  those faces: Peter, Thomas the doubter, Judas, the soldier with the spear and sponge.  All the way through, I had this nagging feeling I’d seen Jesus’ face before (the Jesus in the film, that is – haven’t just had a conversion) and then I realised what it was – Richard Hamilton’s picture of “The Citizen”, wrapped in a blanket in the H Blocks, his own shit smeared all  over the walls of the cell.  I looked it up on Wikipedia where it said the portrait was of Hugh Rooney, one of the hunger strikers; another source said it was modelled by Hamilton’s son.  Whichever source is right, he is the image of Pasolini’s Christ (a 19 year old Spanish student, in fact – P. used non actors).

Bridget Riley

I’d remembered Riley’s spot picture as a disc; I was wrong – its a square, set on a point like a diamond.  And I was wrong about “Escape 3”; it DOES divide in the centre, so that the bottom half appears to fold out – or in.




Blackpaint 224

November 27, 2010

Last Suppers

Just watched Bunuel’s “Viridiana” again – and it has the best beggars’ banquet scene in it.  A nun invites the local beggar population to move into the mansion she inherited from her uncle (who hanged himself because she wouldn’t marry him).  As usual in Bunuel films,  naive (sanctimonious) kindness results in unexpected disaster – when she leaves them alone to go on an errand, they raid the cellars and kitchens, set themselves a sumptuous meal, get drunk, fight, fornicate, wreck the place.  At the climax of the feast, the drunken figures resolve themselves into a tableau of da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, grouped around a beggar “Christ”.

For some reason, this scene annoyed the church in Spain, where Bunuel directed the film after 25 years in exile, and it was suppressed by the Spanish government.

Bridget Riley

Read Hilary Spurling in the Guardian Review and found that, yet again, I must have missed something – there was a Rubens included in the exhibition.  Have to go again, but that won’t be a problem; the painting “Red on Red” that I mentioned was reproduced in the paper and looked even more beautiful than I remember.  The only problem is that it very faintly reminded me of a British Gas logo.

Asger Jorn

As always – well, often – happens when I look at art books,  I find myself reproducing in a general sort of way, the style or look, if not the techniques of artists I like.  I suppose this lurks around the plagiarism area, but it’s not conscious; it just happens.  I’ve been burrowing in Guy Atkins’ book “Jorn in Scandinavia 1930 – 53” and a very pale something of the following pictures seems to have lodged in my head and come out on the paper (run out of canvas, pro tem): “Wounded Beast”, “Buttadeo”, “Sickly Phantoms” and “Return to the Detested Town”.  These are all from 1951 and all feature heavy black scoring (looks like charcoal) around ghostly white or green faces, emerging from a maelstromic – is that a word? – background.  I seem to have picked up on the black scoring, for now anyway.


Last Bonnard for a bit;  Bonnard was always revising his work and Julian Bell tells the story of Vuillard and Bonnard going to museums in which B’s works were displayed, where Bonnard would alter a picture with which he had become  dissatisfied, while Vuillard diverted the attendant.  I can’t believe this happened more than once, but a great story, nevertheless.

Quiz:  who did the “Broken Obelisk” sculpture at the Rothko Chapel in Houston?  Clue: not Rothko.



Blackpaint 223

November 25, 2010

Bridget Riley at the National Gallery

This exhibition contains both Riley’s own works and those of artists she has herself chosen, presumably to illustrate her inspirations and connections with her paintings.  “Escape 3” is the first of her works on show.  It is a canvas of modulating grey and blue wavy horizontal lines.  When I looked at this in the gallery, it appeared to me that the top half was irregular in terms of the width of the lines and their spacing, whilst the lower half consisted of two areas which “tilted” towards the viewer like a hinged sandwich.

Later, I saw the exhibition reviewed on TV and it was obvious that this division was false; the undulating, horizontal lines are “crossed” by regularly- spaced “creases” running diagonally top to bottom.  Optical illusion, but I only “got” the proper illusion, as it were, when the TV distanced me from it.

Opposite is Mantegna’s “Introduction of the Cult of Cybele to Rome”.  Processions of celebrants going this way and that, very strong sculptural effect, almost 3D.  Riley says the painting has “an all – embracing rhythm with which he (Mantegna) builds horizontals and verticals”.  The connection is “the special nature of pictorial space” in his paintings.

The other paintings she has selected are Raphael’s “St.Catherine”, in which more rhythmic currents in the portrayal of robes, the wheel, the figure are present; and three small Seurat figures -in -landscape  sketches, which presumably resonate with her palette (as does the Raphael).

There are two huge paintings, one on linen, the other directly on the wall (executed by assistants), which are in pastelly blue, green, beige and orange and resemble  cut out and concertina’d paper decorations, leaning viewer’s left to right, and stretched across an area of wall.  “Arcadia”, on linen, was done in 2007, “Blue” this year, of course.  The rhythms are there, the colours echo the Seurats to a degree. 

 There is a whole wall covered with empty black circles, which intersect like Venn diagrams; a colourful, vertical stripes painting (like those Mod blazers from the 60’s – yes, I had one); and a shimmering, modulating – again- set of black through to white dots, set in a circular pattern.  The most striking work, I think, is “Red on Red”, a beautiful, flame-like image in red, pink, orange and Prussian blue.

So, at first glance, highly unlikely combination  of images, but possible to see what she is driving at.  I’m unable to swallow Andrew Graham – Dixon’s assertions that her work reflects her love of natural forms, however;  I think you can probably take ANY painter and set your terms wide enough to discover ANY influences, echoes, associations you like – or, at least, art journalists can.  Just chop and wave your hands, assert EMPHATICALLY and pause for dramatic effect before the last word.

Quiz; Who painted the tower at Neunen, over and over again (no, I mean paintings, not the actual tower)?

Blackpaint, unfinished yet.



Blackpaint 222

November 22, 2010

Miro at the Tate Modern

From reviews, Miro’s show at the Tate Modern, like Picasso at Liverpool recently, seems to be an attempt to portray Miro as a political artist.  This claim largely rests (it appears) on the poster he did for the Republican cause (see Blackpaint 26, Jan 2010) and on a surreal painting  “Still Life with Old Shoe”, in which he shows an enormous fork, about to plunge down into an apple – apparently a subliminal reference to the impending outbreak of the Spanish civil war, according to curator Matthew Gale.  Gale says this shows he is not just about “whimsy”.  He also made a work which was a response to the execution by garotte of an anarchist activist, Puig Antich – in 1974.  I remember that horrible event – the victim is strapped to a board and a metal noose tightened around his neck until the spinal cord is severed – you didn’t have to be an activist to be horrified – everybody was.

Any Miro exhibition is good news, but why bother to transform someone plainly more interested in the politics of the psyche – in his art, anyway – into a political painter?  Miro doesn’t need the justification.

The Last Supper

I’ve checked on Google, and although most Last Suppers take the da Vinci form ( table lengthwise across picture, Christ central, disciples seated behind table in a line) there are a number of exceptions.  Tintoretto’s table slants from lower left to upper right and includes a number of servants in the lower right area, Palma de Vecchio, Dieric Bouts and Simon Vouet all show disciples round the table.  In Bouts’ stunning, serene picture, Christ sits at the top of the table.  This arrangement is used in Russian icons, one of which, from 1497, shows a round table.

I was rather surprised to come across a version by Andy Warhol, based on the da Vinci.

Caspar David Friedrich

I’ve been told I’m too kind to painters and should be more critical, so I’ve cast round to find one I really don’t like, and I’ve come up with the above.  After all, he’s dead and I’m hiding behind anonymity, so I can say what I like.  I saw Andrew Graham – Dixon’s item on Friedrich on the Culture Show last week, which was clearly an advert for AGD’s forthcoming series on German art and it confirmed my aversion.  Country crucifixes in the snow,  misty mountains, purple –  orange – green skies, thrown – away crutches, heroic/romantic figures staring out over mist-filled chasms or oceans, deserted, ruined monasteries, graveyards….

Well, there are two I like; the wreckage on the ice floe, forced up into the Tatlin tower shape and the little man on the beach with the great, threatening wall of fog or cloud rolling towards him.  It makes me think of John Carpenter’s “The Fog” – are there undead pirates concealed in it?


I like the way he illustrated the predicted effects of his war chariot, in the drawing of it with the blades on the wheel hubs; he has drawn dismembered bodies scattered around.  Well, yes, I suppose it would have that effect, wouldn’t it?


Who painted himself as “a Tyro”?



Blackpaint 221

November 19, 2010

The Nabis

It means prophets in Hebrew.  This group was made up of Bonnard, Serusier, Maurice Denis, Vuillard, Ranson and others.  Why I mention it is the amazing story of “The Talisman”; this was a panel painted in 1888 by Serusier, under the guidance and instruction of Gauguin, who they regarded as their master.  Serusier brought back the painting, entitled “The Bois d’Amour a Pont – Aven”,   like Moses with the tablets of stone, and it was treated as their guiding star by the rest of the group.  It is a highly stylised landscape, with a large yellow colour field, an orange-red bridge leading to a blue house with bright blue river and patches in background; very flat surface.  The flatness of the picture plane was of the essence, as was the intensity of the colours. 

I love these obsessive little movements with their fixed ideas and absolute rules (see stuff on Mondrian and van Doesburg in Blackpaint 60 and 61, February 2010). 

Also of interest about Bonnard is that he won a poster competition for France – Champagne and his poster apparently influenced Toulouse Lautrec; TL subsequently painted habitually in this style, whereas Bonnard abandoned it immediately.  The Bonnard poster is really like a Lautrec – you would assume it was one, if you were not told otherwise.

Before leaving Bonnard (for today – he’s too interesting to neglect for long), I must mention “White Interior”; there’s a table corner in it, which he maybe positioned wrongly, or maybe just wished to show with different articles on it, so he painted it again, further to the right – and left the first one in.  Looks OK; why change it?


I’ve been looking at his wonderful portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, the one of the demure young girl with the ermine.  In Leonardo’s day, the ermine was a symbol of purity because of its fastidious ways;  apparently, it didn’t like getting its fur dirty.

How times have changed; an ermine is a stoat, which is a close relative of the weasel.  What would we now make of a portrait of a young woman fondling an alert and rather predatory looking weasel?  Not purity, I would think, even if the fur was white.

Quiz for today

Raphael also painted a lady holding an animal symbolising virtue, though this one was mythical; what was it?

Angel of Mons by Blackpaint


Blackpaint 220

November 16, 2010


Taking a break from Michelangelo for a week or two – not that I’ve exhausted him as a topic, but “What do they know of England who only England know?”, as someone – Kipling, was it? – once said.  So, following on from the “Virgin of the Rocks”, I thought I’d look at Leonardo’s “Last Supper”, in the Refectory (appropriately) at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

Jesus has just announced to the diners that one of them will betray him and there is general consternation.  In any Last Supper, of course, the two main characters are Jesus and Judas; Jesus is, I think, always portrayed centre table and in Leonardo’s, Judas is two seats to his right – although Peter is leaning across to talk to John, making Judas effectively third on Christ’s right.  I wonder, is there some convention about the seating of the disciples, or do they go wherever the painter decides?  And has there ever been a depiction of the scene looking from one end of the table, with the disciples around it and Christ at the top?

Anyway, Judas has to be prominent, so that his guilt (a moneybag usually, and some positional difference from the others) can be signalled.  Leonardo’s depiction was the first in post-Medieval times to have Judas behind the table with the others.  He is clutching his bag of silver and recoiling in shock –  apparently in the act of reaching for a bread roll.  I read somewhere that he was sometimes depicted with red hair, to distinguish him as the betrayer.  From the poor state of repair of the fresco, I can’t tell whether or not Leonardo has followed this convention.

The Sperm Pipe

The second work by da Vinci to draw my attention today was the drawing of the act of sexual intercourse, in which the side view of the male in section shows a tube running from the brain directly to the penis.  The male is shown as a person (see below) whilst only the female sexual parts are depicted.  It was thought at the time that sperm was produced in the brain and flowed from there down to the penis by way of this pipe.  Given that images arising in the brain contribute to the erection of the penis, this seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable hypothesis in the absence of physical evidence and can therefore be cited as an early example of Blackpaint’s Law of Spurious Plausibility (Blackpaint 217 and 165).

Bram Bogart

Looking at his “Untitled” 1956, ink on watercolour paper, couldn’t help noticing resemblance to those Chinese gunpowder paintings by Cai Guo-Kiang – it’s in “Intensely Dutch” by Hendrik Kolenberg, Art Gallery NSW 2009.

Van Gogh

While I’m on Holland, ploughing on through the Taschen 2 volume, complete VG.  In 1885, he painted portraits of 19 peasant women in white caps, 15 peasant women in dark caps, one in a red cap, two in green shawls, one in “greenish lace” and 11 with bare heads.  Only four portraits of men, though – two in caps, one with a pipe and one with a cap and pipe.  That’s just the portraits – others show work and eating, for instance, the famous “Potato Eaters”.



Blackpaint 219

November 14, 2010


This was on TV last night, and I had forgotten that it was  unique in cinema in its creation of a dream atmosphere.  This had to do with the sound, the constant muted industrial racket, the gaps in the dialogue (a long, bemused pause after every cliche’d phrase – “So, Henry, whaddaya know?” – long pause – “Oh..not much of anything,”) and the way in which the utterly bizarre was treated as normal – the bleeding, moving chicken, the mother’s fits, the baby thing.

Ididn’t notice when I first saw it – 25 or maybe 30 years ago – the Bacon references.  When Henry’s head falls off and the baby’s emerges from his shirt collar to take its place (dream within the dream), you are confronted by one of Bacon’s besuited screamers, with an obscured or eroded face and just an anguished mouth in focus.  The baby itself, in its tight wrappers of dingy bandage, is nearly a Figure at the Base of a Crucifixion.  The little thrippets of flesh that keep popping up or falling down and flipping about are out of Tanguy, I think, or maybe Ernst.  And the frozen grin on the face of the father brought to my mind Lloyd Bridges high on glue in “Airport” – not an art-historical reference, I’m afraid.

Can’t end the subject without mentioning the dough-faced singer pausing and squishing the things dropping onto the stage, without losing the ingratiating simper…

Leonardo da Vinci 

And so to some proper art, if not proper art criticism.  Which of the two Virgins of the Rocks would Leo consider the better?  One is in the Louvre, the other (later) one is in the National  Gallery.  The latter has the better background – the blue of the gap in the rocks is more satisfying – and is lit more dramatically, faces paler, especially Mary’s, and more strongly shadowed; the blue of Mary’s gown is more intense.  On the other hand, Christ baby has the halo and baby John has the staff, both of which look faintly ridiculous and the faces of the babies are better in the French one.  Christ in the NG version looks as if he has dropsy.  Also, Uriel’s gown in the Louvre version is a pleasingly rich red.

I at first thought that Uriel in the Louvre version had no wings – they are certainly more distinct in the NG version.  In both, Uriel resembles a girl.  So, on balance – they come out even, for me. 


After writing about Leonardo, you turn back to abstractionists with a sort of trepidation; how can they stand up to these geniuses of the past?  Answer: Karel Appel, “Flying Heads” 1959.  Great, thick crusts of paint, slatched on with a knife or trowel, white, green, yellow, orange, red, black, grey; scored, scabbed, scratched.  It looks like two, or even three breasts whirling about in thick, white and grey clouds.  The text in Dietmar Elger’s “Abstract Art” (Taschen) describes it as a “veritable whirlpool of thickly applied masses of paint.”  It looks good enough to eat.


Who filmed Pollock at work on Long Island in 1950?  (must make these a bit harder).

Blackpaint 14.11.10

Blackpaint 218

November 11, 2010

Richard Diebenkorn

I’m quite bemused at Diebenkorn’s career, really; for my money, the earlier abstracts from the 50s and 60s are very much better than those of his second abstract period.  If you look at the Albuquerque, or Berkeley paintings, you see a series of rich, textured colour patches and tracts, marked and scored with black paint and sometimes (like Roger Hilton’s) charcoal, scribbles, smears and thickly-painted squirls in desert-tawny, red, greys and whites, sometimes a lavender or mauve.  They are, unmistakeably, abstractions of aerial landscapes.  I’ve gone on about them before, somewhere.

The Ocean Park pictures, though interesting, are much less so.  The colours are more sickly, the reds, yellows and blues thinner and more acidic (many are acrylic on paper).  There are ruled lines, geometric shapes – many resemble shuttered windows.  They’re  dead, compared to the earlier stuff.  Jane Livingstone’s book cites the influence of Mondrian here, and quotes his dictum that “chance must be avoided, as much as calculation”.  What, you may ask, do you utilise, if not  chance or calculation?  Mondrian’s  answer is “intuition”.

If you avoid the intervention of chance, accident, whatever you call it, I think you lose the possibility of that “life” that sometimes  is caught in a picture, flickering across or against a smooth, uniform patch of colour.  Diebenkorn’s early abstracts  capture a lot of  those moments – just check  the series I have mentioned.  The Ocean Park pictures, sadly, never do.


Something that I did not previously know about the above was that one of his models, Renee Monchaty, commited suicide – in  her bath.  And Bonnard discovered the body.This was  in Rome, in 1923.  He subsequently (and famously) went on to do a number of  paintings of his wife Marthe getting in and out of the bath and in  two at least, lying full length  in the tub.  Surely, whenever he painted a bath scene, he would have been reminded…  Clearly, real artists are different to the rest of us; I’m reminded of  Bacon painting George Dyer with his new lover’s head  substituted (see Blackpaint 96), and Araki’s wife.


In whose work does a businessman sit in a bar with a chamber pot on  his head?

Millbank by Blackpaint


Blackpaint 217

November 9, 2010

Michelangelo and Shakespeare

There is a growing body of evidence that Shakespeare was the re-incarnation of Michelangelo.  Consider the following facts:

  • Michelangelo died on 18th February 1564 and Shakespeare was born (possibly) on 23rd April 1564.  The two month gap was necessary to re-process the potentiality of the soul (Italian to English, painter/sculptor/architect to dramatist/poet).
  • Both men are broadly acknowledged to have been geniuses.
  • Both men were allegedly homosexual (disputed in Shakespeare’s case, but strong circumstantial evidence in the Sonnets).
  • Both were poets – although Shakespeare  was the better one, of course.
  • Both M. and S. were attacked by jealous rivals; Michelangelo by Aretino, Shakespeare by Greene.

There are some difficulties with the theory, however.  They are as follows:

  • M. was Italian, S. was English – as far as we know.  Not a great deal is known for sure about Shakespeare and he wrote a lot about Italy – Romeo and Juliet, Two Gentlemen, Merchant, Othello, etc.
  • Although both were poets, Shakespeare was not a visual artist,  as far as we know.  He could well have been good at drawing, but have chosen to concentrate on his plays.
  • The theory violates all known laws of physics and biology – but then, so do all mainstream religions.
  • The theory is quite plausible, but not overly so;  therefore it does not violate Blackpaint’s Law of Spurious Plausibility (see Blackpaint 165, July 11, 2010).

A couple of notes on Michelangelo’s Last Judgement:

The “breeches painter”, Daniele da Volterra,  painted 34 loincloths or strategically- placed bits of fabric on M’s nudes in the Last Judgement.

St. Catherine’s pose, leaning forward over her half-wheel, was described as “lascivious” by Gian Paolo Lomazzo.

There are two couples kissing at the top of the LJ;  again, M. was criticised by Lomazzo for this.  Actually, they look like males to me.

Spurious Similarities

1.  Lisa Yuskavage and John Curtin

The first does tousled, Marilyn -like young women in negligees; Curtin does strange, elongated, cartoonish women (and men) often in underwear and sometimes engaged in sex..

2.  Jose Toirac and Luc Tuymans

Both do hazy, smeary, touched-up B&W photo-style pictures of famous/notorious figures; Castro, Lumumba,  Bormann…

3.  Monique Prieto and Gary Hume

It’s the paint; bright household pastel shades.

George Shaw

Not like anyone I can think of – just wanted to mention him.  Dark, dull, damp, sinister sheds and fences and bungalows and ditches, all painted in Humbrol enamel paints; they look like places where bodies are discovered.


Who painted the skating clergyman?  Too easy, really.


Blackpaint 9/11/10

Blackpaint 216

November 7, 2010

Ai Weiwei

Unbelievably, the Chinese have demolished his studio and now placed him under house arrest, presumably because of his support for dissidents and general refusal to toe the line.  His installation, which got such a lot of bemused comment in the British media because of the porcelain dust business, is still “on” in the Tate Modern, our main showcase of modern art to the world; the current campaign of intimidation against him should be headline news, surely.  The Chinese government are also trying to stop ambassadors from attending the Nobel Prize award to Liu Xiaobo.

Arthur Melville

One of the Glasgow Boys, current exhibition at the Royal Academy, this is the painter who has a little picture at the NG of Scotland in Edinburgh that appears to be as near to abstract as makes no difference (see Blackpaint 139, May 24th).  This surely makes it the earliest abstract in Western art (?).  Laura Cumming, in her review of the show, mentions it and points out that it is actually an impressionistic rendering of a scene at the Moulin Rouge, but rightly says it is more like Abstract Expressionism than any other movement around at the time.  Melville’s  more conventional paintings are hugely impressive too; the one in the Observer reminds me of something by Brueghel, big red-flanked mountains, a U shaped lake at the foot (no serpent, unfortunately) – that is, until you notice the brushwork.  Haven’t been to the RA yet, so don’t know if the Moulin Rouge pictures are in the show – I suspect not, or they would have been reproduced in the Observer article.

Zoe Leonard

Should have included her in my list of artists using strange materials (see Blackpaint 162, July 5th): she has made baseballs (must be – she’s from New York) out of orange and grapefruit peel, stitched in sections and a purse out of banana skin with zip fastener attached; “unzip a banana”, as the advert used to tell us.

Mariotto Albertinelli

A strange “Creation and Fall” in the  Courtauld collection by this artist;  Eve is emerging from the sleeping Adam’s side, assisted by an angel supporting each elbow.  To the right of sleeping Adam is Adam awake, receiving the fruit from Eve, who stands by the Tree.  The serpent’s human (but sexually indeterminate) head appears to be whispering in her ear – and a thin twig from the tree, or maybe a foot of the serpent, appears to be tickling her pubic hair.

Blackpaint’s Quiz

A new feature, the result of inexorable dumbing-down pressures on the writer.  Correct answers will be included in Comments, of course – and that will  constitute the prize.

Q.  Who painted a plaster head, a green ball and a glove (looks like rubber) in the same painting?

St.Dorothy by Blackpaint