Archive for July, 2011

Blackpaint 287

July 22, 2011

Lucian Freud

What a staggering photograph by David Dawson in today’s Guardian, of Freud working, stripped to the waist, in 2005;  his torso looks to me exactly like one of his own (Freud’s) paintings.  By contrast, another crass assertion by Adrian Searle that, next to Freud, Hockney and Howard Hodgkin are “artistic pygmies”; fair enough to think that, but not without argument.  Searle merely asserts that Freud’s art “has authority” (presumably Hockney and Hodgkin lack that quality) and follows it up with anecdotes about his assertive (boorish, aggressive?) behaviour.  He once painted himself with a black eye after getting into a punch up with a taxi driver.

For my money, his best pictures were the portrait of a young Francis Bacon, the picture of Harry Diamond standing next to the aspidistra and the portrait, elongated and looking down, of Frank Auerbach.  Also, that great, porridge-y, self portrait, naked apart from the boots.

I’d have hoped for some comparison with Auerbach, too; seems logical as they are both painters of flesh and Grand Old Men.


The BBC4 film Art in Cornwall, fronted by James Fox, got another airing last night; it was 90 minutes long and good on Wallis, Nicolson, Hepworth, Wood, Gabo, Lanyon and Heron.  Not enough on Frost, nothing on Hilton, Blow, Mackenzie, Wynter…  Surely, it should have been two 90 minute programmes to get it all in.  Still, better than nothing…


The film was pretty good on Peter Lanyon, and sent me straight back to my books to look at him again.  The sweep and energy in the paintings, surf exploding, sunlight blinding, flight lines, roughness, scoring of rocks, concealed figures (Lost Mine and Porthleven), those fantastic murals at Liverpool and Birmingham universities…  Why isn’t he rated as highly as Freud and Bacon?  Too abstract for the figuratives, and too landscape-y for the abstractionists, I suppose.

Tarkovsky and Tarr

Both of these directors clearly have a thing about rain –  I’m watching Tarkovsky’s “Nostalgia” at the moment, and great, soaking deluges are pouring down, often shot through with dazzling light that separates out the individual falling drops.  Derelict brick and cement buildings are a favourite, with great holes in the roof that admit torrents.  Often, as with Tarr, dogs are wandering about, usually German Shepherds in Tarkovsky’s case.  The difference between the two is one of mood; Tarr’s deluges pour down on glum village streets or mud roads and shabby blocks of flats; Tarkovsky’s downpours in Nostalgia, Stalker and Mirror tend to be more – well, nostalgic in mood.











Blackpaint 286

July 19, 2011

Steve Bell and Martin Rowson

Interesting to compare and contrast the differing approaches of these two Guardian cartoonists to the phone hacking scandal.  Bell has homed in on Rupert Murdoch’s obvious fondness for Rebekah Brooks; in his strip, the old man wants Brooks to replace the “Windsor bitch” (or rather, “butch”) as queen, but wants a shag first.  In the next strip she is dead – a comment on her pallor, presumably – which is not a problem for Rupert. as he isn’t averse to necrophilia… the strip alleges.

Rowson is rather easier on her; he portrays her before the upcoming MPs commitee, standing on a stool, like the Cavalier kid in the famous painting, “When did you last see your father?”  She is saying to her inquisitors, “When did your balls grow back?”, or similar words.  This has the effect of drawing the reader to her side, as the persecuted victim, spitting defiance at her hypocritical questioners, standing bravely against tyranny.

The Bell approach is crude, scurrilous and over the top;  I like it for that reason.

Rowson’s idea contains a great truth; these MP’s committees often have a lot of posturing and sanctimony, from MPs who fancy themselves as Rumpoles – bit early to be changing the focus and fostering sympathy for the Murdoch side, though; I think they’re quite capable of looking after themselves and even “blagging” their way through to a result.

Urban Art, Brixton

Spent Saturday and Sunday standing under stair rods of rain or waving away clouds of little gnat – like flies under a chestnut tree in Josephine Avenue, re-arranging pictures every 5 minutes in an attempt to trap customers.  Everyone else there seemed to have some sort of “thing” they did – paintings of kitchen chairs and tables and frying pans, fish prints, graffiti style “street” spray paintings, dog and cat portraits, imitation butterflies in box frames, swimmers at the lido….  Abstract paintings on canvas pretty thin on the ground.  There’s no way you can be sure that your work will sell; should it be bigger, smaller, under glass??  Total lottery.  Lots of visitors though, even in the pouring rain.

Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”

Very PK Dick- like future story, set in Russia; a Stalker takes people to the Zone and guides them around the deserted area hit by a meteorite or a missile or something, and forbidden of course; there, you can confront your inner self, desires, fears, in a room.  You can’t go directly or come back the same way; the Stalker has to throw sheets wrapped around metal nuts.  where these land, that’s the way you go.  Derivative story, fantastic images; Tarkovsky does that thing of switching to colour in the Zone, B & W outside.  Not original; Bertolucci’s “Before the Revolution” has it – but effective, all the same.



Blackpaint 285

July 10, 2011

The Vorticists (Tate Britain)

Interesting to see how closely the works of the painters, at least, resemble each other; the diagonals, acute angles, elbows and zigzags.  I’d find it difficult to distinguish between Wyndham Lewis, William Roberts and Echells.  Dorothy Shakespear and Helen Saunders also using similar configurations but more adventurous use of colour – or maybe, a stronger imperative to “beautify” the work.  This may be right for the purely abstract work, but, of course, paintings such as Bomberg’s Mud Bath were done in a vivid blaze of colour…

Also interesting to me that the work often reverted to figuration during the war, and the involvement of several of the Vorticist artists in the trenches – as if, perhaps, they felt the experience required a less abstract depiction, or maybe was inexpressible in purely abstract terms??  Nevinson, however, was always figurative – his paintings remind me of Feininger, mixed with a little Delaunay (the Eiffel Tower, say).

As for the sculpture, Epstein’s driller is the first thing on view, in the form that he intended and looking rather like a robot biker.  Elsewhere, there is a relief of a woman upside-down giving birth; only realised this when I read the title. Before, I thought the emerging infant was a stylised penis going the other way .  Gaudier-Brjeska’s works mostly resemble stylised sculptural insects, smoothly and cleanly executed.

Have to mention the bombastic manifestoes and declarations in varying sizes of stark, black font on the walls, shouting  manic assertions in the true and irresistable manner of all tiny movements…. (See Blackpaint on Mondrian, Van Doesburg etc.)

Elsewhere in the Tate, there is an exhibition of photographs and newspaper articles concerning a show called “Prostitute”, put on at the ICA in 1976  by Genesis P- Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti,  that looks to have pushed things as far as possible at the time, in terms of nudity, sexual reference and general outrage – further, I guess, than you could go now in an art gallery?  There is a photo that looks as if it gave Tracey Emin the idea for that one of her naked, scooping paper money towards her crotch.  There are little boxes with shelves, on which are used sanitary towels, exhibited under Orridge’s name (did he nick it from feminist artists, or do it first?  I looked it up, and it appears it was Judy Chicago in about 1972)  The tabloid headlines on display are hilarious.  A thoroughly edifying experience and I can’t recommend it too highly.

Finally at the Tate, there’s a s0rt 0f 30’s and WW2 room with some great pictures; the white horse from the train carriage window by Ravilious, a great country lane with pink slanting lines by Edward Bawden, a spectacularly awful Nevinson with a huge, symbolic War monster crouching over the world, like a GF Watts, I thought.  Some great Sutherland Blitz damage, a Trevelyan mill town collage, hunger marchers in Humphrey Spender photos.  And posters of the green and golden- yellow fields of England, to remind the wartime populace what they were fighting for.


“Mother and Son”; it’s like Christy Moore’s “Sonny, don’t go away”, turned into a film and transferred from Ireland to Russia.  Well, not like it at all, really.  Really claustrophobic rural steppe scenery, filmed  at an angle, somehow; the son’s figure, as he carts his dying mother around in his arms, is always slanting and elongated – he looks like Frankenstein’s monster at times.  Short; only 90 minutes, but gruelling, with the Russian “Shto, shto” whispering, which grates on my ears anyway.

A reminder – look out for my book cover to Gregory Wood’s “An Ordinary Dog” (Carcanet).  There are three copies on sale in London; two in Foyles, one in Blackwoods, both in Charing Cross Road.  Mind you, I expect they’ve all been sold by now.



Blackpaint 284

July 7, 2011

Cy Twombly and Poussin at Dulwich

Went round this last Sunday – then came news of Twombly’s death.  The obits always cast a faint sanctimonious glow over the dead; luckily, I wrote notes before the news, so can avoid the solemnity.

As always now, I try to avoid reading anything on the wall at an exhibition, or booklets, until I’ve had a good look at the art – so all I really got was that he used a lot of classical references (knew that already) as did Poussin, and presumably that provides the link.  They certainly don’t look much like each other, not even colours or forms.

The first room had a couple of large canvases in odd shapes, as if a giant ace of clubs were stuck onto the usual rectangle.  I recall a great, dark, grey-blue-green tumbling from top left to bottom right, with a froth of white against a creamy pink haze – like a huge ocean wave crashing down.

In the corridor, large rectangular canvases, some covered with Twombly scribbles and swirls in pencil, or pastel crayon, some with the white dribbles like semen, rough sketches of penises among other dubious items and thick clots of paint splashed on to harden; lines of poetry or names scrawled on canvases.

In the end room, the famous Four Seasons, in raspberry, acidic yellow, Prussian Blue, dark green.  One has Autumn scrawled on it, but they all looked like summer to me.  The smears and trickles and smashes of colour suggested Joan Mitchell a little to me.

The best works for me were two smaller ones in the corridor; Venus and Adonis, and Bacchanalia.  The first had a pad of pink that reminded me of the Osborne bum nose. The second was a rolling scrawl of black, grey and brown pastel like a brown wave rolling in, or maybe a tangle of wire.  Full of movement, lovely picture.  Both of these had pictures stuck to the top part of   canvas; the first an illustration of a rhubarb leaf (!) from an old book, the second a classical engraving of a number of figures.  When I skimmed through the book of the exhibition, I found that Twombly had done four or five of these Bacchanalias, for different months from March to November (the one on show).  They looked pretty similar to me.

As for the Poussins – two types; several dark, brownish, varnished look, like Sickert’s ancestor, the others the sort more familiar to me – the brighter colours, the big cast of parading or dancing characters, the reddish tinge of the undercoat.  The compositions are great, the figures wonderful – a Veronese back in one – but the faces crude.  An inappropriately serene Goliath’s head being carried on a stick like a huge toffee apple; a herm with a red face, which the wall labels (read after) linked to the Twombly rhubarb leaf, and which I thought was pushing it a bit.

So it’s great, if not huge.  Twombly’s pictures demanded a new way of looking that now is part of the orthodoxy, to go with Pollock’s spiralling drips, Rothko’s arches and all the others – we have Twombly’s scribbles too.


The boxed set is now out.  I’ve only managed Ivan’s Childhood so far – black and white, pretty conventional WW2 story line, but a couple of striking dream sequences and some great night time shots in the marshes (Pripet Marshes?) with flares arcing in the sky and dropping into the water.  Started watching, resigned to ploughing through a boring early work, but fairly gripped by the end.



Blackpaint 283

July 3, 2011

Last Year in Marienbad

Watching this, I have discovered, like thousands before me, no doubt,  the source of many parodies – especially that one where actors speak a pretentious sentence whilst gazing out at the audience and mid-sentence, the scene changes and they’re in different clothes or a different place.  This is not to denigrate the film – it’s beautiful (and so is Delphine Seyrig) and anyway, I love pretentious films; cliches and parodies are so often born from great art, n’est-ce pas?  Loved the Max Ernst feather dress, too.

It strikes me that L’Age d’Or could have been done as an “anti – Marienbad” – if it wasn’t 30 years older.  the couple in Marienbad are sort of polar opposites to the couple in the Bunuel film – stylistically anyway.. but now I’m starting to see parallels, so will stop with that…

Laura Cumming on Magritte

Last Sunday, reviewing the Magritte show at the Tate Liverpool, LC wrote in the Observer that Magritte’s work was “a sustained exploration of painting itself, how it works, what it can ever show or truly say”.  I think this is an astonishing claim for a painter who, most critics seem to agree, was no great shakes as a user of paint, but was a competent illustrator – a man who was a good commercial artist.  Surely, it’s the power of his images that makes him interesting, as well as the champion poster – shifter, apparently (or maybe it’s the most book covers).  His painting is as good as it needs to be to get the idea across – he’s a conceptual artist, who doesn’t really explore painting at all.

Cartoon Museum – Steve Bell  

This is in a little street opposite the front entrance of the British Museum and contains a great exhibition of Bell’s work.  I was surprised at how well some of his characters stand up after a few years (Bell turns his politicians into characters, for example the Iron Lady and Major with the underpants, Blair with the mad eye, Cameron with the condom head); I remember them seeming a bit crude and even silly to me, when he first did them.  Now, they strike me as epic.  Then, there are the variations on famous paintings; my favourites are Major’s underpants burning on the Thames (after Turner), Blair about to be inundated by an overcurling tidal wave of shit in the form of Gordon Brown (after Hokusai) and Brown as a boxer, flat on the mat, punching himself in the face (I think that was a Bell original).

There is also the French artist, the penguin, the monkey, the sheep, the chief inspector….

There’s a fascinating video of Bell going about his work at party conferences and doing his own commentary.  As you would expect, he finds a physical peculiarity and develops it – Cameron’s smooth cheeks and a certain wateriness of the eyes that suggest a fishiness to him; Osborne’s slightly bulging neck and, especially, the bum nose-end.  Go and see it, after the Australian prints and drawings in the BM.

Whitechapel Gallery 

Here, for free, is an exhibition of some of the art works that have been chosen by various politicians and diplomats to decorate their offices and reception rooms.  The one I particularly liked was a photograph by David Dawson of Lucian Freud, painting the queen.  She’s sitting there, in a plain plastered room (presumably in Buck House?? – no; St.James’ Palace ) with a crack running across one wall, in a very ordinary-looking coat – with her crown on.  More of this exhibition tomorrow, along with Vorticists, Twombly and others.