Blackpaint 244

RB Kitaj

Got the Tate DVD on the above, inspired by the life drawing at the British Museum.  I was surprised to find that the first five or six paintings discussed were either brothel or baseball scenes.  He was a steward in the US merchant navy in the late 40’s and spent most of his (meagre) wages on visiting brothels in Cuba, Vera Cruz etc.  Baseball scenes were just because he liked the sport.  Some of the players stretching or running, legs elongated like Stubbs horses.

The later paintings, “Cecil Court”  for example, or “If not, not”, carry more political freight – the latter is dominated by the Auschwitz-Birkenau railway arch and watchtower and the former shows a number of refugees lying down in the alley; one is a young woman who has given birth or aborted a child, which lies attached by the umbilical cord, in a pool of blood.  It’s hard to think of anyone who paints like him; some resemble Beckmann a little, sometimes a touch of Matisse, sometimes Chagall.

I was staggered when I first saw his life drawings, which are so different from the stylised, sketchy, sometimes cartoonish figures in the ensemble paintings; it’s easy to see his regard for Degas in them.  Go to see the one at the BM, if possible.

The exhibition he mounted at the Royal Academy in 1994 forms the background to the DVD.  His paintings were attacked vigorously by the critics and Kitaj blamed the reviewers for the death of his wife, from an aneurism, soon after.  He returned to the States, in disgust.  In 2007, he committed suicide and some obituarists seemed to think it was delayed reaction to the events of 1994 – I’d like to see some of the reviews; they must have been really bad.

Van Gogh

Still in the early stages of the Letters and I’m glad to see Vincent has emerged somewhat from his religious mania – to become obsessed with his recently widowed cousin, Kee Vos.  When he declares himself, she replies “Never, no, never” – and he takes this as encouragement, invading her parents’ home at meal-time, demanding to see her.  Rebuffed, he goes to a prostitute for consolation.  This Vincent is much more fun than the religious obsessive.

Tarkovsky’s “Mirror”

This director can be infuriatingly obscure and slow – I remember watching his “Solaris” at the ICA decades ago; the cleaners came in and started work mid-film under the impression that it had finished, so stately was the pace and long the gaps in dialogue.  His images, however, are remarkable, beautiful and lasting.  you just have to accept, let them wash over you without worrying too much about what they mean.  Tarkovsky shows you something which your mind can’t help but try to connect with what has just happened – this is a problem, because it might relate to what happens next – if you’re lucky – or to something “further down the road”, or several scenes back.  In this respect, it reminds me of Patrick White’s books.  Again, like White, sometimes we are in “reality”, sometimes in metaphor – and sometimes its hard to tell which.

Some vivid images: shed burning in the night; woman with streaming wet, long hair rising in slow motion from sink; balloon altitude attempt; Russian army crossing river in Crimea (these last two newsreel footage); Bruegel-like snow scenes with young boy; winds springing up suddenly across grassland and through branches; and mirrors, of course – at one point, we go through one.


Now watching “La Dolce Vita”; fantastic opening shot of helicopter with statue of Christ or saint dangling below it as it passes by the ruins of the Colisseum.  Later, the hilarious mass night club dance to “Ready Teddy”, with the satyr-like bearded actor capering about in a “Beatnik” fashion.



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