Archive for June, 2011

Blackpaint 282

June 27, 2011

L’Age d’Or

Interesting that the most shocking transgression committed by Gaston Modot is not kicking the blind man, slapping the mother, drooling over the pictures, kicking the dog.. but stamping on the beetle, presumably because that was a real death, but also because of our 21st century environmental consciences.  I remember cutting wood lice in half with a trowel as a child and feeling no pangs of guilt.

So much going on in that film that I actually missed the peasants driving a huge coach through the ballroom; just didn’t notice them.  I DID, however, notice the shadow of the airship over St Peters Square – presumably, the one from which that sequence was filmed.

Sofia War Memorial

I thought the “vandalism” of the war memorial in Bulgaria (one soldier, brandishing a pistol, was given a painted Superman suit, another a Father Christmas robe and a third, what appeared to be a clown outfit) looked great;  I suppose it was the way the Superman suit matched the heroic pose.  I suppose I would have been outraged if I was a descendant or relative of a soldier killed in the “liberation” of Bulgaria in WW2 – war memorials, official government ones anyway, are political, however, in the sense that they can carry messages beyond simple respect for the dead, especially in Eastern Europe.  The artists were probably attacking the government rather than the war dead – if there was an intended political dimension at all.  There may not have been; artists are supposed to outrage opinion – it’s part of the job; and a war memorial will do it, that’s for sure.

Turtle Burners Prize

Went to see this at the National Portrait Gallery; some stunningly good and all hugely competent, but nothing much to catch the eye in the use of paint.  Sleek, dead surfaces – or “good paintings”, as they are known to those who like paintings to be photographic likenesses (note of twisted bitterness from failed abstract dauber).  Standouts were “To be human” by Ian Cumberland and the lovely one of Lauren in her graduation dress – beautiful drapes and folds – with the dog, by ??? sorry, didn’t have a pen to take note.

Other statuary is a different matter.  I admire Churchill hugely, and was delighted to see the Mohican he acquired in the riot – he looked good in it, I thought.

Mike Waterson 

Was only playing the Early Watersons CD yesterday – then read today that Mike was dead; only 70.




Blackpaint 281

June 21, 2011


Reading Terry Gilliam in the Observer, I observed the observation that he was the only one laughing – “uncontrollably” –  at the pictures at a Magritte exhibition; the other visitors went round, he says, in a “religious state of awe”.  If  the exhibition was in London, they were probably just being English; a slight, lightly contemptuous smirk is generally considered sufficient.

Noel Fielding, who is English, says almost the same thing as Gilliam, a bit further on in the article: “I find it ridiculous when you walk round a gallery and people are just looking at something obviously funny and stroking their chins.”

I’ve often found Magritte to be amusing, sometimes startling – but never funny enough to make me laugh uncontrollably. When you say that,  I think it’s just a way of saying “I got it – but none of those other idiots did”.

This all sounds snotty, I know, but I’m tired of Magritte’s little men in tight suits and bowler hats, doing cute, surprising little things; cloudy blue skies, easels, windows, apples, human rain, toes on shoes, eyes for tits, pipes that are not pipes, trains in the fireplace and so on.  It’s good, of course – how many other painters can you reel off the images like that? – but they can get wearing.  I’m in more of a Pollock/De Kooning/Mitchell mood at the moment.


The symphonies – how is it that the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th are all majestic, hummable, full of hooks and themes and totally memorable (although you can mix them up) and the others, 1,2,4 and 8 are completely the opposite?  I can’t recall a single theme or line from any of them.  The contrast is staggering, to me anyway.  Is there a parallel in painting?

The Feis, Finsbury Park

I was at this on Saturday, to see Bob Dylan, Christy Moore, Shane McGowan, and Sharon Shannon.  Dylan’s set was like a blues rock pub gig with a great band; his “singing” now like a cross of Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart, with a bit of the younger Dylan in occasional lines.  You had to wait for a recognisable line to identify the song, but much better than recent reviews had led me to expect.

The crowd, some very boozed-up and rowdy, were notably good-natured; great to see groups of them dancing in abandon to Christy Moore’s song, Yellow Triangle (about concentration camps, murder of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals) and Viva la Quinta Brigada (a homage to the Irish dead of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War).  No po-faced Respect shit.

Theo Angelopoulos – The Trilogy (Weeping Meadows)

Ethnic Greek refugees from Odessa come to Salonika; from the Russian Revolution to the Greek Civil War.  Reflections in the river, horses, the funeral on the raft with the coffin, black flags, the silent men (recalling the SS men crossing the lake in Visconti’s “The Damned”); it was operatic, somehow, especially the flood scene with all the boats in a flotilla.  The usual problem of history epics covering long periods – people keep telling each other what has happened to keep the audience up to date; the beach/jetty scenes with the dancing reminded me of that JackVettriano painting.  Turned a bit Mother Courage at the end – also a bit Bela Tarr (accordions, rain) and a bit Bo Widerberg (the white sheets stained with Nikos’ blood recalled the father’s shirt in Adalen 31).  Loved the film and the music.

Next entry, more art, less music and films.



Blackpaint 280

June 14, 2011

L’Age d’Or

Good to hear the precise, rolling diction of Robert Short, one of my old teachers at UEA, doing the commentary on the DVD, clearly relishing the alchemical references to “shit and gold”.  I remember being told, along with the rest of my sorry class, to “Piss off, and come back next week when you’ve done the reading I set”, after we showed him uniform ignorance of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right”.  Years later, and a teacher myself, I realised that he was probably not angry but happy at the opportunity to ditch, righteously, two hours of boring teaching and pursue his own hobby of making surrealist films.

Remember sitting behind him in a Norwich cinema, watching Bunuel’s “Milky Way”, he convulsed with laughter – the only one laughing; everyone else puzzled.

Cecily Brown 

Another pungent Guardian arts review, to follow Jonathan Jones’ Mark Leckey job – this one from Adrian Searle.  He describes her works currently on show at the Gagosian as “Turgid paintings that leave you in need of a lie-down”.  The problem for Searle is that she does very busy paintings in which figures, naked or getting there, are often to be seen in the throes of coitus – seen with difficulty, that is.  Searle feels he has to make the effort to decipher these figures and is annoyed at this.  “She paints hide-and-seek images in which there is lots of noodling about”, he says.  Given the subject matter of her paintings, it’s perhaps not surprising he needs a lie-down after looking at them.

But why do you have to make out the content?  What Brown does, in my view, like De Kooning – although obviously not as well – is to make paint look good on the surface; she uses a mix of “squirming marks, flurries and squiffs of paint” (Searle’s words), to which you might add scrapes, scratches, scrawls, drips and areas of flat colour, often in DK hues, that look great.  Apply the flick test; flick through a book of contemporary painters and you will stop at hers.  Adrian Searle could stop worrying about spotting the half-concealed athletics and enjoy the marks and colours on the surface.  Just because Brown likes a bit of sex, there’s no reason why this should spoil the viewer’s chaste appreciation of her art.

Clyde Hopkins

My partner has just given me a catalogue of this painter’s work from an exhibition at the Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery in 1990.  I’d not heard of him, but he used to be her tutor at Chelsea.  They are staggeringly beautiful, all of them, in brilliant reds, marmalade, black, yellow – lots of dots and heavy black scoring; some of them remind me of Jaap Wagemaker. Fantastic.


(This is one of mine, not Hopkins’)


Tuesday 14th June


Blackpaint 279

June 11, 2011

Franz Kline

Time, surely, for a Taschen book on Kline; I’ve just come across a painting by him called “Gay Street Rooftops” dated 1941.  Good, but pretty conventional cityscape stuff.  I’d like to know how he got from that to those black and white structures (Chinese letters, some compare them to) for which he is known.


“Vol de Chute” from 1961, a fantastic, Appel-like painting, lozenge shapes of colour with that spidery black scoring outlining them in bands, like barbed wire; blue, yellow, orange, white, green , grey…  it’s all there.


“Grey Center”, (I know, but it’s an American picture) 1946, one of the Accabonac Creek series; lots of leggy, angular shapes – maybe more like  knees and elbows, I thought at first by Lee Krasner, rather than Pollock;  it’s in white, grey, pink and ochre – de Kooning colours.  Still appears to have vestiges of the figures he used to put at either side of his paintings; “Pasiphae”, for instance (name of the painting was supplied by his dealer, Pollock not being familiar with Ovid at the time).

Fra Angelico

A while back, writing about violence in paintings, I mentioned Caravaggio’s Abraham and  Isaac, saying that C ‘s painting showed a brutal realism. It is exemplified  in the way Abraham grasps the boy’s face and throat in preparation for the killing stroke with the knife.  Of all artists, Fra Angelico matches this in his “Massacre of the Innocents” (San Marco, Florence).  The soldier on the far right grasps a woman’s throat while thiusting the dagger into her baby’s throat; she is holding the blade, trying to push it away.  Expressions of grief and horror, and violence all around.

This contrasts strongly with Piero della Francesca, who was being discussed, I think by Tim Marlow on TV the other night.  The painting in question was a battle scene but it appeared to me to be absolutely static – something in the way Piero paints seems to drain all movement from his paintings.  And the faces appear expressionless; they don’t engage with the other figures, but usually stare out from the canvas.  I think they look like figures in surrealist paintings, say Delvaux or de Chirico.

Le Quattro Volte

Film by Michelangelo Frammartino.  A sort of seasonal portrait of an Italian mountain village, almost silent – the camera views from a distance much of the time.  It has the Brughel snow scene (cf. Tarkovsky’s “Mirror”); close-ups of wood surfaces, like a tree trunk with lichen and scrambling ants, drifting smoke, a spectacular sky – and lots of goats – those amazing rectangular retinal slots in their eyes.  It seems as if nothing much happens, but it does: a goatherd looks after his flock, coughs, and dies eventually-  we accompany him into the catacomb and hear the door shut on us.  There is a crucifixion festival, a tree felling and climbing festival, and eventually – second time I’ve said that, must say something about the film – we find out what they’re making and why all the smoke.

It skirts sentimentality – the little lost goat, the doughty dog, life and death, life goes on, the men  shake hands with each other  before doing business….  I suppose all films are romantic in one sense, though, as soon as you frame a scene and a narrative emerges.  What about Chien Andalou and l’Age d’Or?  Probably they’re romantic too – have to think about that one.




Blackpaint 278

June 6, 2011

British Museum

Spent just an hour wandering through the galleries on second floor; after a couple of minutes found myself deeply absorbed in those black and red earth pots that look as if they were made yesterday, rather than 2000 years ago.  Stories of Theseus, Hercules, the Trojan War, distance runners, javelin throwers…  Then, there were the paintings from the walls of Pompeii – Icarus nose-diving, Odysseus tied to the mast while the Sirens sing (harpy-like birds instead of beautiful women), Ariadne watching Theseus, leaving her abandoned on Naxos…  Then, those bearded, smugly smiling Cypriot statues, then the Judgement of Paris, done by the Etruscans in that Egyptian-style profile, cartoon faces with pointy noses and chins, eyes set halfway down the nose, copied the style from Picasso, maybe. A large plaster or stone plaque, showing Anthony “pleasuring” Cleopatra, as they say, in the back of a barge, while a boatman stares determinedly ahead…

Then, the Medieval Europe room, and the Tring Tiles; non-biblical legends of Jesus as a child, accidentally killing several of his playmates and then reviving them under the direction of his mother, the BVM.  Similar story on a Young Tradition album I have.

Back to the Greeks a moment – I was pleased to see how many different sorts of pots and cups and jars they had to deal with the task of wine drinking; the kratos for mixing, others for cooling, amphorae for storage with the long, pointed ends for handling.  Clearly, they kept their units up.

Tate Modern

Did the Miro again, and this time, I liked those metallic grey-black-brown ones with the piercingly bright red, white and black blobs crawling on them – “Escape Ladder” and the others – better than last visit.  I thought one of the burnt canvases looked OK; the others like try-outs.  Still liked the Black Fireworks and the condemned cell one, and this time, noticed the three wooden staves at the end – the King, Queen and Prince.  Thought they were quite good, as Adrian might say.

Mitch Epstein

US photographer, pictures of working and derelict industrial structures, oil derricks etc., in the coastal southern states.  In one photograph, of a derrick on the sea shore, the reflection in the water looks just like one of those “Season” Twomblys.

Do Ho Suh 

Look up – there’s a red polyester staircase starting in mid-air above your head.  A bit Whiteread, a bit Abakanowicz…


Seriously thinking about that good taste thing – that’s to say a picture looks good or OK when you can say it looks a bit Lanyon, or Scully or Twombly – you have to refer to some other painter who is good.  No point in that, really; but it’s really hard to get away from.  Maybe force yourself to stop before you’ve got it to that stage (i.e. when it still looks shit) or get a good Lanyonesque and then sabotage it with pink lines or something.

Un Chien Andalou

I was surprised to find, on buying the DVD (l’Age D’or) that the eyeball-slitting scene comes at the beginning, not the end, as I falsely remembered. It’s still very funny, I think; the bicycle crash, the desperate expression of the youth watching the ants run from the hole in his hand,  the two seminarists being dragged across the floor with the piano and the dead donkeys.  One of them was Dali (the seminarists, not the donkeys).  The youth reminds me of Richard E Grant in “Withnail”.  The end, with the two of them half-buried in sand, maybe lodged in Beckett’s mind; it’s like “Happy Days”.

According to Wikipedia, the woman in the film commited suicide – she burnt herself alive ; the young man also killed himself, with an overdose.  Bringdown, as we used to say in the 60s.




Blackpaint 277

June 2, 2011


Had an offer to take part in an exhibition the other day, which was nice;  however, when I asked for details, I was told that one condition was no nudity, or partial nudity (I presume they meant in the paintings).  The reason was, the venue was a church hall and nudity might offend those who used it for purposes other than looking at art.  They have a point, I suppose – some of the Michelangelo stuff on the Sistine ceiling and wall might alarm cubs or scouts;   the implied oral sex in Adam and Eve for instance, or the wielding of huge phallic columns, or the snake biting Minos’ penos – sorry, penis – then again, it might not.  The images are distant and difficult to make out, after all.  Anyway, although my stuff is abstract, any figures anyone might read into the blotches and smears are definitely nude and might well be taking part in some obscene act – so had to decline, regretfully.

Ai Weiwei

Went to see the bronze Zodiac animal heads in the courtyard of Somerset House, with the fountains and kids playing within their semi-circle.  They actually look like hard, moulded brown plastic (the heads, not the kids) and feel like it too.  There was a rat, cockerel, dragon, snake, lion (or tiger), hare, bull, horse, pig… must be three more, but can’t remember.  They are based on figures that were outside a Chinese palace, I think, and that a British army stole or destroyed during an Opium War; so there is an irony in  them being on display in a British “Palace”.

The Lisson Gallery show has the neolithic pots that Ai plastered with garish, modern industrial paint.  This iconoclastic streak in Chinese art makes sense in the context of a society so bound by rules and convention and order; smash it up, break free, clear the decks, start afresh.  In this respect, a negative (or rather positive) image of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guard, the Little Red Book – but done from below, by insanely brave individuals trying to achieve a sort of freedom of thought and action.

Ai Weiwei is still being held without charge by the Chinese authorities.

Out of Australia, British Museum

Prints and drawings by the “Angry Penguins” group of Australian artists, Tucker, Nolan, Boyd, Brack and Hester; also some drawings by German Jewish WW2 internees, and abstracted landscape pictures by the great Fred Williams.  These drawings, particularly Nolan’s and Boyd’s, are well worth a visit, but it is the Native Australian pictures, by the likes of Judy Watson and Kitty Kantilla  that are really interesting.  There is one of a lightning god, in the form of a grasshopper with “wrists” chained to “ankles” and little hammers on the elbows; another of sand whorls on the ground, another with arrows of a cyclone heading towards lines at right angles, representing the land…  They look like abstract tapestry patterns, but are all representative.  I’m explaining this badly; go and see.

Aguirre, Wrath of God

Watched this again the other night;  the whirring, wheeling whistle of that bird, Kinsky’s mad, sneering glare, the sinister “la, la, la”-ing of Aguirre’s accomplice, the beautiful, doomed girls…  fantastic film, enhanced in some strange way by the crap subtitles.