Archive for May, 2011

Blackpaint 276

May 26, 2011

Jonathan Jones’ review of Mark Leckey at the Serpentine Gallery

I haven’t yet seen the show, but Jones’ review in Tuesday’s Guardian has to be the most damning I have ever read:  I have to recommend it for the degree of vehemence contained – it’s an artwork in itself.  Several reader comments on Jones’ review assumed it was some sort of post-modern satire (he denies this and asserts it’s a genuine opinion).  A few extracts: the headline refers to “farting about with speakers and screens”; “…how terrible an exhibition I had stumbled into”; “The installation GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction with its bonkers talking gadgets…. is one of the worst works of art I have ever seen in a serious gallery”;  “Nothing prepares you for the stupidity and arrogance of the central exhibit…” – and so on.  Read the review on the Guardian website to feel the heat.

What makes this really intriguing is the review posted under Jones’ name for the 2008 Turner Prize, later won – by Leckey.  Here are some extracts:  “This year I care (about the Turner Prize) because Mark Leckey is on the shortlist..”; “Mark Leckey is a fantastically creative example..”; “I find this artist irresistible..’; and he refers to Leckey’s art as “captivating, mysterious, soulful and provocative.”

I checked and, yes, it’s under Jones’ name on the site, dated 13th May 2008.  So what’s happened – has Leckey deteriorated, or has Jones had a Road to Damascus?  The degree of hostility in the recent review suggests the latter.

Violence in Painting (2)

Wrote about this recently in relation to the Caravaggio Abraham and Isaac in the Uffizi.  I was going to do more on pre-20th century paintings of violence – then I realised the scale of the job! Consider the following:

Goya’s horrors of war, Saturn scoffing his young, the witches, the cudgel fighting, the firing squad;

Various Massacres of the Innocents (Rubens comes particularly to mind);

Crucifixions and scourgings of Christ (Grunewald for instance);

Beheadings, sawings, grillings, stonings, skinnings, piercings by arrow of numerous saints – Catherine, John the Baptist, George, Ursula with her Virgins – 11.000 was it?  Agatha with her breasts on a plate…  that  saint having his thin intestine wound out round a tree.

And none of this is shocking to see; we look at it with perfect equanimity in the National Gallery et al, with maybe a wince at the idea of poor Agatha, say.  So what about the 20th and 21st centuries?

Beckman’s Night;

Grosz’s scenes of murder and suicide in Berlin;

Dix’s mutilated Card Players and corpses in the trenches;

The War artists’ pictures of the two World Wars;

Warhol’s car crashes and fallers;

Marlene Dumas’ Dead Marilyn.

Again, none of these are shocking to us, except perhaps the Warhols, because they are prints of actual photographs.  Bacon’s paintings are still more “violent” and shocking than these actual depictions.

The same can perhaps be said of cinema.  How many genuinely shocking instances of violence in recent TV or cinema?  Very few, since Reservoir Dogs started the intensification process in cinema and CSI followed suit on the small screen; we (or at least, I) have become unshockable – nearly.  So in cinema, this is my short list of shocking moments:

Antichrist, the self mutilation of the Charlotte Gainsbourg character;

The Pianist. Again, self harm, this time Isabelle Huppert:

The Orphanage, when the car hits and kills the old woman;

Salo, the scalpings and blindings at the end – but like St.Agatha, this is more the idea than what is actually seen;

Man Bites Dog, the rape and murder scene;

As for TV, I can only think of the John Lithgow killings on Dexter, which I think really pushed the limits.

The knowledge of reality is all – genuinely shocking and distressing, and destined to remain so, is the footage of people falling on 9/11 and the few seconds of the einsatzgruppen in action and the Kovno murders.

So – that’s enough of this unsavoury topic; didn’t set out to dwell so much, but things kept popping up in my head (worrying, in itself, really).  Next blog on still life and flower painting.

Blackpaint

26.05.11

 

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Blackpaint 275

May 21, 2011

Bela Tarr

In  “Satantango”, his three DVD, 7 hour film, Irimias and Petrina sleep together, like Morecambe and Wise, in a little cubicle, in their overcoats.  Petrina covers the sleeping Irimias with a blanket.

When the charismatic Irimias is not there,  his disciples lose faith – rightly, of course – and only the faith of Lajos’ wife is unshaken; she does them the disservice of talking them round again.  Only Futaki, with his grim, thin, vinegary face, is unconvinced and strikes out alone.  I haven’t seen the end yet, however; maybe he comes around again.  Another hour or 90 minutes to go.

I’m seeing shades of Beckett and Bunuel in Tarr’s work.  I was going to say he stands at the opposite pole of my other obsession, Fellini – but then there are the whales, in “Satyricon” and “The Werckmeister Harmonies”…  I suppose what I really like about Tarr is the complete lack of pretension in his work.

An Ordinary Dog, by Gregory Woods

“Jerome”, one of Woods’ poems in the above collection, is clearly based on a painting of the eponymous saint; I can’t decide which one, however.  Woods mentions Jerome resting his slippered feet” on the upholstered ribcage of a dormant lion” – I thought the Durer, but no slippers and the lion is a foot or so away from the saint’s feet.  Maybe I’m being too literal; one of my many faults.  The last line – “Call me trivial but I can hear his stomach rumbling” – reminds me of that poem in Penguin Poetry of the Thirties, “The Progress of Poetry” by Christopher Caudwell:

“In evening’s sacred cool, among my bushes

A Figure was wont to walk.  I deemed it an angel.

But look at the footprint.  There’s hair between the toes!”

Kurt Schwitters

Just done another umber, alizerin, grey and black panel that looks (intentionally) a bit rough and rugged, like something from the beach at St. Ives, a chunk of sunk rowing boat maybe.  I thought of sticking some real wood to it, making it a sculpture or collage at least – then, flicking through an art book, came on Schwitters’ stuff done in the 20’s and a host of others, of course – Burri and Tapies with the sacking – and thought I’d better leave it.  There is nothing new under the sun, as I keep finding out – anew every day.

Max Ernst

His sculpture “Capricorne” , of a seated, bull- headed (Minotaur?) figure, flanked by a standing “wife” (Tanning) with a fish-shaped head – actually, the fish looks more like a hammer about to crash down on the bull’s head – holds in his right hand  – what?  It  looks to me like a giant toothbrush, which of course is entirely possible in Ernst’s work.  It’s now destroyed, anyway – book doesn’t say how.

The Minotaur

Must be one of the most frequently recurring images in art; I can think of Ernst, Picasso of course, Keith Vaughan, GF Watts… Actually, that’s about it.  I’ve just checked and, apart from a load of fantasy comic illustrations and figurines, a Greek vase and a Canova sculpture, I can’t find any others.  In film, there’s “Oedipus Rex” and “Satyricon”, of course.

Blackpaint

21.05.11

Blackpaint 274

May 16, 2011

Chagall Windows

Came across these last week walking in the Kent countryside, at All Saints, Tudeley, near Tonbridge.  Not the sort of place or denomination, where you expect to see stained glass windows designed by a world famous Russian Jewish artist . There they were, in narrow windows shaped like the head and torso of a man, with one larger altar wall one, containing a Christ figure.  For the most part, they were in that clear, singing Chagall blue, one of the four blues I see plain in the mind’s eye:  Perugino, Klein International, Chagall and Titian’s Ariadne on Naxos.

What are they doing there?  Memorial to Sarah Avigdor-Goldberg, drowned in 1963 yachting accident, whose parents once lived at the manor.  The church is worth Googling, if you can’t get down (or up) to Tudeley.

Van Gogh

He got a good review from a journalist and sold a picture, famously his only sale, for 400 francs – to a relative, it’s true, not  a civiian, but a sale all the same – AND was getting praise from fellow artists, notably Gauguin – all shortly before shooting himself.

Typically, he wrote to the journalist, thanking him and sending him a picture of a cypress… but then proceeded to tell him he’d got it all wrong and should be praising Monticelli instead of himself.

His fits sound distressing – they involved swallowing paint and turps and eating dirt on occasion.

He wrote a lot about Delacroix, the “master colourist” as he called him, and his last great enthusiasm was for Puvis de Chavannes.  Like many of us, he clearly had no idea how good he was.

Bronzino and Holbein

A chance TV programme on above the other night, from which I learned that Bronzino’s real worth was as a portraitist; brilliant, stagey portraits, dramatic lighting effects, use of props, magnificent, detailed clothing – but also solid, smoothed flesh and sculpted features, imbued with character.  Not a Holbein though – where did H come from, he seems to have dropped from the sky.  His portraits are perfect, completely naturalistic, none of that tendency to all look vaguely alike, precise, quivering with life.. well, they look as if they might.  Completely modern – but better.  Fascinating, too, the disparity between Holbein’s portraits and the religious and history works; in the latter, he seems to revert to a much earlier, less naturalistic style, more in keeping with his contemporaries.

National Portrait gallery

I’ve written about the Tony Bevans and the Larry Rivers; there are two more on that first floor that deserve a mention.  They are Warhol’s Jagger, in which the thick, straight black strokes around his head make him look like a monk in a cowl – and Ruskin Spear’s Francis Bacon, transfixing the viewer with his owl’s eyes.

Ai Weiwei

Six weeks missing now, and two exhibitions in London, at the Courtauld and the Lisson Gallery.  He must be by now the world’s most famous living artist.  If it goes on, there will be that debate again about whether to exert “pressure behind the scenes” or protest openly.  I remember when the Chinese premier visited and the Met lined the route with big policemen and confiscated banners so that he wouldn’t be offended by the sight of Free Tibet protesters.  Let’s keep Ai Weiwei and all other imprisoned artists in our minds and continue to pressure our lot to pressure their lot…

Michelangelo

His “Crucifixion of St. Peter” in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican clearly contains another self-portrait,  the old man on the right of the picture.  The Taschen refers to Peter, being hoisted upside down on his cross, as looking out at the viewer but he looks to me as if he is eyeing the ground, hoping he won’t fall off head first when the cross is raised.  One other thing – there is a vast plain behind the scene, as there is in the companion piece “The Conversion of Paul”;  despite these huge vistas, not a single tree is depicted.  I remind the reader of my major discovery, strangely ignored by the world’s press, that Michelangelo Doesn’t Do Trees (see previous Blackpaint blogs too numerous to mention).

Bela Tarr

The camera pans slowly across a darkening horizon halfway down the screen, interrupted in places by the black silhouettes of leafless trees; an accordion plays, over and over, a Hungarian folk tune which sounds very like part of Beethoven’s Fifth.  The scene changes; now, a small flight of outdoor stone steps, lit in the blackness only by light from the door at the top.  In the light, the rain squalls and buckets down…


New images next blog.

Blackpaint

16.05.11

Blackpaint 273

May 11, 2011

Ai Weiwei

I understand that the Tate Modern has “Release Ai Weiwei” in enormous letters on the outside of the building; if this was the case when I wrote, criticising the management, I hope they will accept my apologies.  I was up there the other day – Sunday, I think – and didn’t notice it; maybe it was on the other side.  Good to see two new exhibitions at Somerset House and Lisson Gallery and campaign for his release gaining momentum.

Tate Modern

The Rothkos are back in their central “temple” after being temporarily replaced by Agnes Martin and the bloody Austrians.  Looked a long while at the Dubuffet, “Busy Life” –  saw the boulder thing.  The figures, scattered at all angles, look as if they are scraped into rock.  Maybe this is because I saw Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” the other day (see 270).

Stanley Spencer

His “St. Francis Feeding the Birds” looks very much like a portrait of Mike Leigh in costume – unlikely, given the disparity of dates.  This brings me to today’s main theme, which is top ten portraits.  I have two lists of my favourites:  20th Century and pre – 20th century.

Portraits pre 20th Century

1.  Holbein – Thomas Cromwell.

2.  Holbein – Unknown Lady with Squirrel and Starling

3.  Velasquez – Pope Innocent X

4.  Rembrandt – self in age.  Any of them – but especially at the age of 63.

5.  Gainsborough – Mrs.  Siddons, or the Linley Sisters

6.  Leonardo – Lady with an ermine, Cecilia Gallerani (doesn’t the ermine resemble her?)

7.  Ingres – the landlady in the National Gallery.

8.  Goya – Duchess of Alba

9.  Salvatore Rosa – Self portrait.

10.  Whistler – Symphony in White no.2

20 th Century Portraits

1.  De Kooning – Marilyn Monroe.

2.  Marlene Dumas – Jule the Woman.  The red face.

3.  Francis Bacon – 3 studies of Muriel Belcher, or 3 studies of George Dyer.

4.  Gerhard Richter – Betty.

5.  Lucien Freud – Harry Diamond next to the Aspidistra – it’s called “Interior in Paddington”.

6.  Larry Rivers – David Sylvester.

7.  Frank Auerbach – all of them!

8.  Otto Dix – Von Harden

9.  Singer Sargent – Ena and Betty Wertheimer.  And, of course, Lady Agnew.

10.  Joyce’s father – Patrick Tuohy.

Bela Tarr (cont)

The accordion plays the melancholy, repetitive tune, while two drunken old men execute a dance by a snooker table, involving brandishing a chair.  A crowd of unshaven, capped, feral, moustached, semi-drunken men wait in a cobbled square; one forces spirits down the throat of a timid youth who is foolish enough to approach him.  The same youth comes eyeball to eyeball with a rotting, stinking whale in a huge wooden container in the same square – it resembles the recent Balka installation at the Tate Modern (container, not whale).  A drunken mob invades an asylum and lethargically beat the occupants with sticks, fists and feet.

The Banks of the Nile

Blackpaint

11.05.11

Blackpaint 272

May 8, 2011

Bela Tarr

A top shot, from a bridge maybe, of travellers disembarking with suitcases from a ferry and boarding an old dockside train; it’s twilight, puddles, cobbles, steam…  Yes, they’re still coming – how many is that?  A mournful, haunting accordion plays a slow melody, over and over.  We watch the back of a man’s head as HE watches through steamed-up glass…  Later, a violent incident happens away at the top of the screen, in the darkness, on the quay – something, or someone hits the water…  A violent argument takes place between the man and the proprietress of a grocery, in the shop itself.  As they scream and tussle,  a man emerges from the freezer room at the back with a giant fish on his shoulder, slaps it on a slab and starts to chop it up.  The fight ends, the two antagonists leave – and the camera lingers on the man chopping.  He chops the fish 47 times before the scene changes…  We watch, through the window of a shabby room, with another smoking man, cable cars going to and from a factory or colliery, across a smoke -stained landscape, many times.  Mournful music plays.  Outside a dingy neon-fronted bar, ferocious rain teems down and ferocious scavenging dogs scour the mud…

These are moments – all in black and white. and beautifully shot and recorded – from the fims of Bela Tarr, my current obsession.  More to follow.

Violence in paintings

Since last blog, or maybe the one before, I have come across a number of old paintings depicting violent incidents in surprising ways – or perhaps with surprising subjects.  I was writing about Caravaggio’s “Abraham and Isaac” in the Uffizi, how brutally realistic is the violence, even though the angel prevents the “sacrifice” before Abraham can use his knife.  In the Domenichino version of the same scene, the angel, flying across the picture, brushing against Abraham’s shoulder, and grabbing the knife in his hand.  It actually looks as if Abraham is doing a judo throw on him – a poorly executed Kata-Guruma.  Everyone, including the ram, looks skyward piously- Abraham mildly startled, though.

Bernardino Luini tackled “The Executioner presents John the Baptist’s head to Herod” around 1530.  The headsman holds it by the hair, as if scrutinising it for nits, while Salome, looking very like a Leonardo saint, turns her gently smiling face away with lowered eyes, too modest, it appears, to accept the gift (Herod not in my version – must be a detail).  Even John looks demure and thoughtful – politely, he refrains from bleeding, though there is  a basin, which Salome caresses.

Rosso Fiorentino – “Moses and the Daughters of Jethro”.  From 1523,  a near naked young Moses gets stuck in to the seven shepherds who are being mean to Jethro’s daughters.  In an amazing Mannerist triangular pile of flesh, he is putting a shoulder hold on one, while two more are already laid out on the ground.  Behind him, another shepherd appears to be hurling a bludgeon at a mildly alarmed daughter in the background, clad in a blue gown, revealing the right breast.  Luckily, it looks as if it will miss her – the bludgeon, I mean.

Domenichino is in the Prado; the other two are both in the Uffizi.  More violence next time.

Gregory Woods

Attended the launch reading of his new poetry book, “An Ordinary Dog” in Honor Oak last evening; brilliantly structured, very funny, moving, full of classical references and pretty explicit in several verses.  It reminded me of the best of Thom Gunn’s work.  On sale from next month and I did the painting on the cover – which, of course, has no bearing on my opinion of the work.

Blackpaint

08.05.11

Blackpaint 271

May 4, 2011

Max Ernst

Bought the Phaidon book on Ernst by Ian Turpin and was surprised by the variety of techniques and effects Ernst achieved over the years, many of which come under the heading of “oil on Canvas”.  frottage (rubbing of pencil et al over a textured surface), grattage (scraping away of paint), decalcomania (laying paper or some other medium onto an area of wet pigment and then shifting it slightly and peeling it away), this latter invented by Oscar Dominguez – as well as collage, of course.  Birds, plants, insects, plumage, jungle, psychomachinery, eyes, thin, overlapping panels of paint (colour fields, in fact) – echoes of Picabia, Magritte, De Chirico, Douanier Rousseau, Dali, even one that looks like a Chris Ofili! (“One Night of Love”, demonstrating yet another technique; coiling twine or string down onto wet paint and then removing it to leave the trail).

My current favourites are “Garden Aeroplane-Trap” from 1935, in which white, bony, plane-ish structures lie in wooden trays piled up into citadels, being crawled or grown over by pink, fuzzy, mollusc-like plants, or maybe shellfish – AND –

“The Robing of the Bride”, 1939.  A naked, elongated, high-breasted woman is cloaked in a robe of rich red feathers which mask her head and face, attended by a green feathered snake-bird man holding a big broken arrow, another long naked girl, and a four-breasted, little green Manalishi thing with a distended belly, picking its nose with a thumb.

What does it mean?  Possible sexual connotations, I would think – and the text refers to Duchamp, if that’s any help.

Phillip Taafe

At the Gagosian Gallery, Kings Cross.  Huge, high white walls, silent, suited security attendants hold the door open for you.  Various painted layers on paper attached to canvas – huge rectangular or triangular works in a range of bright colours; pink, greens, blues, reds,  oranges, often featuring masks (Noh theatre) and harem-like grilles.  Scimitar shapes, one with gold, spidery, bursting fireworks or stars, another like petals cascading down in straight lines.  Faint echoes of Ofili again, and perhaps Gilbert and George without the swearwords.  Wallpaper-ish sometimes, too.

Turner

That strange painting of Napoleon against a garish sunset, contemplating a shell – its in the Tate Britain, the one in which his reflection makes his legs look twice as long.  There’s an Ernst, “Napoleon in the Wilderness”, in which N is contemplating an encrusted, but otherwise naked woman, holding a saxophone-shaped strap thing with an odd little dragon on the end, where the bell should be.  Did Ernst know the Turner?  Turpin makes no mention.

Anthony Quinn

What a brilliant thug he makes in “La Strada”, displaying not the slightest concession to manners, politeness, normal social intercourse anywhere in Fellini’s film, beyond addressing the audiences of his strong man act as “Ladies and Gentlemen” and a nun as “Sister”.  Otherwise, he leans scowling against walls, scratching, smoking into his cupped hand, grunting, swilling wine, roaring about on his motorbike with the caravan thing attached – and fighting and beating people up, of course.  Haven’t seen him as Michelangelo painting the ceiling, but his Gauguin bore some resemblance to Zampano.  Actually, it was Charlton Heston who played Michelangelo, not Quinn (BP, 6th Dec 2011)

I love those Italian films of the early 50s, “Bicycle Thieves” and “Miracle in Milan” for example, with huge blocks of flats on wasteground, Roman ruins, people living in shacks, caves, dressed in odd bits of uniform, forage caps, greatcoats, driving odd vehicles (broomsticks in “Miracle”)…

Van Gogh

Was surprised to read that VG was barred entry to Arles, as a result of a petition by the people, shortly after the ear incident, and was locked up on grounds of public safety; up to that point in the letters, he seemed a peaceful and harmless sort of cove, apart from some mild stalking of his cousin and tiresome religious mania…

Blackpaint

3/04/11

Blackpaint 270

May 1, 2011

Figures in profile

The convention for processions in profile; which culture adopted it first?  The Egyptians and Assyrians (of various kinds – Babylon, Nineveh, Nimrud, Tigrath-Pilaster – I can’t keep hold of the differences) both use the convention; I’m guessing the Egyptians, who presumably then influenced the Assyrians… and later the Greeks, of course.  Then again, maybe both the early cultures developed the convention independently, which would be more interesting.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary about the caves of Chauvet in the Ardeche region of France, discovered in the early 90s.  Staggeringly beautiful, powerful, animal images – the horse with its mouth slightly open, the clashing rhinos, the way the artists have incorporated the scoops and bulges of the cave walls, the cave lions in profile, the black pigment on scraped white walls.  There is only one human figure in the whole cave system, a woman’s back on a sort of tooth -shaped rock, poking down from the roof.  Littering the floors, bear skulls, covered in sparkling calcite, like round puddings under a layer of smooth sauce.

Some of the paintings were done 5000 years apart, the later artist having no compunction about adding to the earlier ones – how could s/he know how old they were.. and why care?

Lots of Hans Hass – style spiritual theorising from Herzog; amusing eccentrics (mostly French), dressed in Inuit furs or sniffing crevices, trying to discover new, unknown caverns, or clumsily demonstrating spear throwers.  Some impenetrable musing about albino crocodiles from the Eden-style project near the nuclear power site up the valley; would the crocs one day escape, get as far as the caves and wonder at the drawings?

For some reason, this brought to mind Aguirre, Klaus Kinski in his Conquistador helmet, floating down the Amazon on his log raft, surrounded by the corpses of his followers, monkeys overrunning the vessel – but still staring madly, baring his teeth at the endless green.

National Portrait Gallery

Larry Rivers’ portrait of David Sylvester, the style reminding me a bit of Jim Dine, a bit of Rauschenburg even, with the sweeps of ochre on the body.  Tony Bevan’s self portrait heads at odd angles, with the elongated necks, pipe-cleaner hair; done in strong, crude acrylic colours with thick charcoal strokes.

Ida Kar

Rumanian “Bohemian”, photo portraits of artists; Leger with his flat tweed cap, scowling out like a French peasant, Epstein like a Polish train driver in HIS forage cap, Bratby en famille with one of his paintings, outside a suitably curlicued terraced house; Piper with his paintings and Braque with loads of his – busy boy – Heron with a black squiggle, Helen Lessore looking hunched and rather gloomy and the best one, Foujita, with his Stanley Spencer hair and three of the creepiest dolls I’ve ever seen.  Great portraits, only £3.50 to get in.

Canvas

Bought a square one for a change from my usual 30*40 inches, and I can’t believe the difficulty I’ve had painting it –  nothing fits right.  Suppose it’s good to get out of your usual ways, once on a while.  I’ve ended up with something like a big egg yolk in a bottle-green sea.

Ai Weiwei

On 28th April, Tate Modern’s website expressed dismay at Ai Weiwei’s detention and providid a link to a petition calling for his release.  Please go to same and sign it, when you have finished reading this.

Wedding

Nice to see Nicholas Whitchell, Rowan Pelling, Martin Bashir and all the other members of the royal family being given plenty of air time.  Pity that they can’t just keep on going until the next royal event…

Blackpaint

Mayday 2011