Archive for April, 2011

Blackpaint 269

April 25, 2011

Repulsion

Watching this great Polanski film the other day (starring Catherine Deneuve), I was staggered when a character started telling Deneuve the plot of a film she had just seen – starring Charlie Chaplin, in a tramp role!  “Repulsion”, for those who might not know, is set in the 60’s, around South Kensington.  Maybe they still showed Chaplin shorts at the old cartoon picture houses, along with Bugs Bunny and the Cockerel newsreels – I’m far too young to know.

Also in “Repulsion” – briefly, before Catherine slices him up with a cutthroat razor – is Patrick Wymark.  He strikes me as a perfect Francis Bacon character; thick neck, squat, erect body, sneering lips, braying voice, sweaty face, pushy, bullying, canine.  Surprisingly, the Deneuve character is not impressed.  He joins the rotting rabbit carcase and that of the previously murdered John Fraser in the stinking apartment, while Catherine is groped by the (imaginary) hands that emerge from the walls.  And a jazz score by Chico Hamilton.

Leonardo  

In one of the Saturday papers, Guardian or Telegraph, a drawing of a man’s head, newly discovered (loose) in a Leonardo sketchbook.  An Italian academic has claimed it as a Leonardo original – rashly, I think.  It looks more like a picture from a serial in the old Eagle Annual.  Something very modern about it; it’s not sculpted, in the way Leo’s other drawings are.  Italians seem prone to rushing in with these things – see previous Blackpaint entries (Blackpaint 111,212 and 215) on the Michelangelo Sermon on the Mount “discovery” .  Still, maybe I’m wrong and my hard-earned reputation will be destroyed.

Caravaggio

Looking again at the Uffizi catalogue and there are three Caravaggios listed:  Medusa, The Adolescent Bacchus and the Sacrifice of Isaac.  The last is quite startlingly brutal – Abraham is distracted by the angel as he is about to cut Isaac’s throat.  He holds the knife very convincingly and is forcing the yelling Isaac’s face down against a boulder by a hand round the back of his neck, the thumb mashing into his cheek.  Isaac is not looking submissive and reconciled to his fate – not one little bit.

Medusa, also apparently yelling, stares out in horror or shock from a lozenge of green.  Glistening snakes writhe round “her”  head – but it’s the face of a young man, surely.  The blood squirting from the neck gives the picture the air of a waxen guillotine victim at Tussauds.

The Bacchus picture shows a fleshy young boy, crowned with flowers and rouged, holding a big, shallow glass of wine over a bowl of rotting fruit.  The text refers to symbolism, but why?  Corruption, I suppose – but maybe Caravaggio just thought rotting fruit was more interesting.

El Greco

There is a large El Greco in Dulwich Picture Gallery at the moment – The Opening of the Fifth Seal, the Vision of St. John, which is so roughly finished and “modern” in its general aspect that it looks, to me at least, like a Kokoschka.  When you have checked out the El Greco, have a look at the Friends Open in the same gallery; one of mine is in there.

Sorry, old one – having to revamp this week’s, which I screwed up last night.

Blackpaint

25.04.11

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Blackpaint 268

April 21, 2011

Rose Hilton

In one of the Cork Street galleries I blogged about, a display by the above, now in her 80’s.  She was unable to keep up her painting while married to Roger Hilton; partly due to his opposition, partly to the attitudes of the time (woman looks after the house and kids, man gets on with the artistic creativity side of things).  She apparently accepted her role while he was alive – however, he died in 1975, so pity she waited this long.

The paintings are beautiful; glowing, saturated colours, pinks, oranges, reds, a sumptuous grey.  Mostly figurative, one abstract (I think) reminding me strongly of a Diebenkorn.  The painter who comes to mind most frequently is Bonnard, one nude very like Matisse, Roger in there occasionally with the charcoal line, Feininger in one townscape.  I loved these paintings and despite the fact that this was a commercial exhibition, there was no repetition fatigue such as marred the Hoyland and Cohen exhibitions.  Go and see these works if at all possible.

“Mixed” gallery 

I don’t know the name of this gallery, but you can recognise it by the big, yellow/orange Albers on the wall to the left of the glass doors.  As well as the Albers, there is a Donald Judd shelf in aluminium and wood(?) – sleek and shiny; a very uncharacteristic Dubuffet – no scraping; a standard Ben Nicolson (standard is good – I don’t go along with the Guardian critic who compares him unfavourably with Mondrian, because Mondrian was soulful and mystical and Nicolson wasn’t;  good job too, say I) and a bunch of sculptures by Bill Woodrow.  Several of these echo Rauschenberg’s “Gluts” – see Blackpaint last August – in that they are car parts; battered doors, bonnets, fenders attached in a little tableau to a soft sculpture – a black panther in one, an Indian Chief”s headdress in another, echoing his exhibit in the Tate Britain.

Miro at the Tate Modern

Went to this the day after it opened, in the evening.  Got in straight away, no queue, no struggling masses, despite the hype.

The first room contained a number of paintings that reminded me of patchwork quilts with deep blue skies above.  There were two yellow abstractions (although how abstract any of Miro’s work is, is open to question), one called the Hunter, I think; unmistakeable Miro, little microbes and other entities connected by lines, swimming about all over the place.

There were some collages with gouache, very effective, I thought, and a number of small, electric coloured tubular entities on black background, Daliesque –  hated them.

Several paintings linked by the theme of the Catalan peasant – one very much like Ernst, a washed-out blue and washed-out red for the hat; you’ll see what I mean.

A line of maybe 20 drawings in ink on white, potato head entities that reminded me of Jorn’s little people – line like Stirnberg.

Loads of those little ones with red, white and/or blue entities swarming on metallic looking grey-black backgrounds.  The famous one is the “Escape Ladder”.

Up to now in the exhibition, nothing that was new to me, apart from the quilt ones at the beginning.  Touches of Klee, Dali, Tanguy, Gorky and Ernst – Gorky as well in the long titles, eg the Girl with the blonde armpit etc.  Now, getting to the 60s and the influence of Abstract Expressionism and they get BIGGER.  Suddenly, three are filling a room.  The orange one with the thick black loop is the harbinger; then the burnt canvases, looking like metal remnants on their supports.  Twombly-like scribbles and meandering lines; the condemned cell one with the white paint tipped on and streaking down; the black fireworks at the end.  Needless to say, I loved all these, the usual precise little drawings on defined backgrounds having given way to size, roughness, violence – texture.  Not really what Miro is about though – Escape Ladder et al far more characteristic.

Have to say, it seems absurd to try to make a case for Miro as a committed political artist – he went to France for the duration of the Spanish Civil War, when volunteers from all over Europe were making their way (with difficulty) to Spain to fight for the Republic – and in some cases, for Franco.  Then, when WW2 came along, he relocated to Spain and managed to work under Franco’s rule.  One poster done in France and one painting in 1974, recording (protesting?) the execution of Puig Antich isn’t much.

I think to call Miro “political”  is a bit of an insult to Ai Weiwei, a truly political artist, still missing in China, and whose work remains on display in the Tate, still with no comment from the gallery on his current plight.

Ray Smith

RIP Ray, of Ray’s Jazz, late of Shaftesbury Avenue.  Many happy Saturday afternoons spent there, listening to and sometimes buying, some arcane stuff on the advice of my mate Bob Glass.  It’s where I was educated, really.  Now Bob and Ray are gone – left us here to carry on.

Blackpaint

20.04.11

Blackpaint 267

April 15, 2011

Hans Hofmann

Yes, one “f”, two “ns” – I think I’ve been mis-spelling it for a year or so; maybe not.  Anyway, I’ve bought a stunning book about works he did in 1950, a pivotal year for him.  He wrote an essay or article entitled “When I start to paint..”, which is worth quoting from, I think:

  • When I start to paint, I want to forget all I know about painting.
  • What I would hate most is to repeat myself…
  • As a painter, I deny any rule, any method and any theory.

Because Hofmann is famous for his influence as a (highly theoretical) teacher and the development of his famous “push-pull” praxis, these are perhaps surprising statements – but they are not contradictory, since he also says “(While painting) I take for granted that my knowledge has become second nature”.  The paintings are great, swirling patterns of bright colour, in combinations you would think would hurt your eyes, yet highly structured and textured; the text describes their surfaces as open and breathing.  They are like the paintings of Appel and Jorn in this respect.

The real beauty, however, is in the close-up detail extracts.  It’s only £23.00 odd; “Hans Hofmann, circa 1950”, the Rose Art Museum 2009.  I’ve not seen it anywhere  but Waterstones in Piccadilly; only one copy there, I think – and I’ve got it.

Cork Street Galleries

Some terrific stuff in these posh galleries at the moment; Green Park tube, walk through Burlington Arcade past the Royal Academy and there you are.  Hofmann’s comment about not repeating himself very apposite in several cases, however.

John Hoyland

Acrylic on cotton duck, mostly big, square-ish works, 50*50 ins maybe?  Almost fluorescent colours; turquoise, raspberry, acid yellows, purple – and some with thick, glabrous centres of black and brown, like sawn-off tree trunks coated with lumpy creosote; circular splotches of dazzling white, pink, red with coronas of tiny splatter marks.  On some, little flattened discs of multi-coloured acrylic, like trodden-in plasticene.  Electric colours, spacey titles.  Individually, striking and exciting – collectively, the impact drains away.  You need to hang a Hoyland between a muddy Auerbach and a Lanyon, say.

Harold Cohen at Bernard Jacobson Gallery

Again, the vivid acid colours;  patches, snakes, rivers, bent elbows of paint, dashing about all over the canvas.  And again, the cumulative effect of twenty or so is less than that of one big one, seen from the street.  Cohen invented the AARON computer painting program, but these are a sort of collaboration between the computer, which does the basic pattern with inkjet, and the painter, who finishes the work by hand.  For some reason, that seems better to me.

Picasso at Alan Cristea Gallery

Black, grey and white “Portrait Lithographs”.  Fantastic, of course, but with the exception of three done in a rougher, more textured style, very similar variations on a theme.  Less is more, then, is today’s thought.

The Seventh Seal

Watching this the other night, I was struck by how Japanese it looked (and sounded);  the landscape, the riders, the tumblers, the wagons, the bits of music, the mediaeval setting – could have been Kurosawa.  Then again, he was reckoned to have very Western sensibilities, I think.  They were working about the same time.

Ai Weiwei

Has he been released yet?  It seems incredible that they can just drag him off somewhere and lock him up for “economic crimes” – medieval really.  He must be one of the world’s best-known artists.  Maybe if the Chinese government read this, they’ll realise their error and release him.

Blackpaint

15.04.11

PS – Saturday.  Last night, visited the Miro exhibition at Tate Modern, of which more in next blog.  Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds still on display, but not a word about his arrest – no petition, posters, nothing.  Shameful, I think; is the management afraid of offending Chinese visitors?

Blackpaint 266

April 11, 2011

Susan Hiller

Revisited this exhibition, and found several whole rooms I missed the first time.  In one, a series of different films were playing, each showing a young girl – I think they were all girls – displaying psycho-kinetic powers; moving things until they fell off tables, causing things to burst into flames (think I recognised Drew Barrymore in “Firestarter”).  Then,  a burst of what the catalogue calls white noise and everything changes place.

The fact that they were all girls or young women is interesting; I suppose Stephen King appropriated the idea with Carrie and then Firestarter.  The first example I remember, however, was a short story about a boy with such powers, who destroyed or “rearranged” things horribly when he heard his family or neighbours complaining – so they had to spend all their time saying how good everything was.  Can’t remember the author – Ray Bradbury maybe, or Richard Matheson.

The next room was another video display, this time of characters from Punch and Judy shows, blown up and slightly blurred, to the soundtrack of “Night of the Hunter” – the bit in which Robert Mitchum delivers a sermon based on the “love” and “hate” tattoos on his fingers.

Finally, there was a video of tourists and shoppe rs passing through a number of Juden Strasses in Germany or Austria.  The bright, chilly blue skies, shops, strolling tourists, backpackers.. generally, everyday, banal scenes make a powerful comment on the vanished history implied in the street names.

So, some memorable images – but I still found, on looking at the catalogue, that I’d missed most of it!  Get this more and more, the feeling that I’d been to a different exhibition to the one described.

Emil Kusturica, Underground

Exhausting, full-tilt charge through from WW2 through to the civil war(s) and the break-up of Yugoslavia – comic, surreal, tragic by turns and the source, perhaps, of that Balkan Brass/turbo-folk style that you hear all over the place, from the Django festival at Samois to that manic gypsy band  on “Later”, to the trumpet-based buskers by the Millennium Bridge.  At the end, all the dead come alive again underwater, climb out onto Yugoslavia island and float off together into memory.

Four great under (fresh)water sequences – L’Atalante of course, Underground, Atonement (the fountain and Balham underground station) and Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (the flooding of the valley).  Saltwater – Jaws of course, Tabu, Gallipoli …

Laura Cumming’s Watercolour top ten

In the Observer;  The Turner, Palmer, Melville and Blake all good choices.  Ravilious boring – a greenhouse? – Gwen John OK.  Cumming’s number one was the Hockney self-portrait; not particularly watercolour, could have been oil or pastel, but a great SP – that intense stare that you get when you try to do a likeness of yourself.. like those descriptions of murderers – “But what I remember most, Officer, was his staring eyes”…

Michelangelo

At the time of his death, Michelangelo was still working on the Rondanini Pieta, now in Milan.  In it, the body of Christ is supported by the Virgin Mary – but it looks, in fact, as if she is being carried on the dead Christ’s shoulders.  In addition, Christ has a free-floating right arm, done in an earlier phase (the sculpture was begun in 1552 or 3), indicating a much bigger Christ figure.  It looks strangely modern, like a Rodin perhaps, and with a lovely, curving, downward sweep – echoing at the end the apparent modernity of Matthew, done in 1506.

Below, my cover for Greg Woods’ new collection, “An Ordinary Dog”, to be published by Carcanet Books this coming June.

New Rose

Blackpaint

11,04.11

Blackpaint 265

April 4, 2011

Cause Celebre

Interested on Friday night to hear Germaine Greer on the Review Show saying – I think – that there was doubt that Alma Rattenbury killed herself.  I remember from “60 Famous Trials” that Alma stabbed herself and jumped into a river within days of George Stoner’s death sentence.  I checked and that appears to be right; Stoner’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment later.  I gather from the discussion that Terence Rattigan changed Stoner’s name in the play for some reason.  I was also interested to see Rattenbury’s entry in Wikipedia as a famous architect in British Columbia; sadly, he’s now much more famous in England as a murder victim.

While I’m on about “60 Famous Trials”, I must mention the poisoner Vaquier, a Belgian barman working in England,  who was in love with the landlord’s wife.  When he bought the poison, he used an assumed name that he thought the shopkeeper would not remember.  The name he chose was Mr. Wanker.

Ulysses and Madding Crowd

Jonathan Coe in the Guardian was on about unsuccessful film adaptations of classic novels.  He cited Joseph Strick’s 1967 “Ulysses” again – but why?  I found it a brilliant, funny rendering; Milo O’Shea was great in the brothel fantasy scenes, especially the trials and the humiliation by Bella Cohen.  The cast was wonderful – TP McKenna as Buck Mulligan, Milo as Bloom and Sheila O’ Sullivan as Molly, and Maurice Roeves made a fair stab at Stephen.  I’ve read the book six or seven times, so I know it pretty well; there was a lot left out (of course, and thank goodness), but what was left in was done brilliantly.

As for “Madding Crowd”, Coe thought it was OK, if a little “swinging 60’s”, presumably because Stamp and Christie were in it – hard to see how you could avoid this aspect, considering that it was made in the swinging 60’s; maybe use a different, less fashionable cast.  Nothing particularly swinging about it, to my way of thinking.

British Museum

In Prints and Drawings, some new old cartoons by  Heath.  He’s new to me anyway; some interesting surreal touches, notably Duke of Wellington with a lobster claw for a head.

Wellcome Trust

Has an exhibition about waste, dirt and disease.  For some reason, it has a great de Hooch on display, one of those red brick alleyways in Delft (or Leyden?) – these Dutch painters, de Hooch and Kalf and the like, the fore-runners of Super Realism.

Royal Academy

I took two paintings up for the handing-in day on Thursday – what’s the quote? “The triumph of hope over experience”?  I’m stuck in a groove at the moment, of St. Ives/60s style abstraction.  Surely there’s a retro market for this stuff?  Might have to start doing stylised frying pans or kitchen tables or ingredients in a pattern…  Seems to be a constant demand for that sort of thing,as long as it’s bright and well-executed.

Vincent’s letters

I’m getting a bit sick of VG’s eternal admonitions to his brother.  “Look Vincent,” Theo should have said, “just do me a few hanging frying pans, or kitchen scenes, or harbours and fishing boats in nice, bright colours, that I can shift.  Enoughof the muddy peasants and potatoes and dodgy portraits of yokels – just do something that people can look at and say, “It was just as if you were there – you could almost smell the grass…”.

Blackpaint

04.04.11