Archive for September, 2011

Blackpaint 296

September 28, 2011

Gerhard Richter

Tate Modern exhibition of above starting in October and an article by Tony McCarthy in Guardian Review on Saturday.  He identifies the “blur”in his pictures as a characteristic – but of course, Richter’s work is so diverse – some figurative, some abstract – that it’s impossible to say he just does this or does that; he does nearly all of it!

One thing that is annoying in the article – McCarthy suggests that “September”, series no.911 was regarded by Richter as an abstract image, until a friend pointed out that it was the planes hitting the World Trade Center.  Once it is said, the towers and the planes are apparent (the image is included in the article) – but it’s a stretch to believe that the artist could have done it unconsciously and just not noticed.  It suggests that abstract works – or Richter’s abstracts, anyway –  should be treated as “Where’s Wally” exercises; look for the hidden picture.

The huge Richters in the Tate Modern, for example; light filtered through the foliage onto the surface of water, down in the bayou, maybe?  Or the one called “791-4 Abstract Painting” in the Phaidon 20th Century Art Book (actually, that one looks pretty much like the Tate ones, acid colours and scrapes).

John Martin

The other Tate has the Martin exhiition on now – I intend to go tomorrow.  His huge Apocalyptic canvases were displayed as events, people paying an entrance fee and then filing past in awe – which of course, describes a modern exhibition; well, maybe not the awe..  But there was something different about these Victorian shows, in that people paid to see a phenomenon, a spectacle, rather than a work of art.  Parallels were perhaps the paintings of Frederic Church, the American landscape artist, whose blinding sunsets were in the American Sublime exhibition a few years ago – or Cruickshank’s Temperance work, which he toured in a crusade against the demon drink.

Modern parallels?  I was thinking maybe Hockney’s recent giant treescapes, Anish Kapoor’s wax cannon and Marsyas, and the Eliasson Weather installation in the Tate Turbine Hall.

Women in Love

Re-acquainted myself with Ken Russell’s version the other day and I was amazed at the restraint of the film, compared to “The Devils” or the Tchaikovsky one.  I’d forgotten how powerful Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed were together, and the brilliant set pieces – the Eleanor Bron dance, Alan Bates running down to the river bleeding, Glenda Jackson frightening the Scottish Longhorns, and of course, Bates and Reed wrestling starkers in front of the blazing hearth; watch out for sparks, you two.

Gerald Crich freezing to death in the snow was echoed in “The Shining” by Jack Nicholson (or rather, King and Kubrick).  Watched this again on TV a week ago and really noticed how outlandish Nicholson’s changes of expression are in the scene where Delbert Grady (Philip Stone) cleans his jacket and gives him – advice – in the toilet.  I think it is the intensity of Grady’s manner contrastng with Torrance’s naughty boy demeanour…

Blackpaint

28.09.11

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Blackpaint 295

September 19, 2011

Degas

Laura Cumming, reviewing the new show at the RA, says that Degas is more Michelangelo than Leonardo – what does she mean by this?  Maybe that Leo was more concerned with physical accuracy, the exact position and function of muscles, bones and flesh than Michelangelo; M was more ready to distort, exaggerate, generalise, to enhance the presentation of physical effort, posture. dramatic action… that seems fair enough comment.  She says that Degas seems to somehow project himself (spiritually, mentally) into the bodies of his ballet girls, to partake in their physical being in some way; that seems to me to be fanciful.  Surely it’s what anyone drawing a figure does, sort of, isn’t it?

Edward Lucie – Smith

I’m getting a lot out of his “Art Movements since 1945” (see previous blogs); he makes the connection between Kurt Schwitters and his Merzbauten and people like George Segal and Ed Kienholz, who produced environmental artworks in the 50s and 60s – that is, works that you walk through and round.  I’d thought of him as someone who produced beautiful little collages of wood, cloth etc.

Jasper Johns

Looking at those works of his from the 60s in which he “quotes” from art history – notably the Isenheim Altarpiece (Grunewald) in “Perilous Night”, but also Leonardo, Picasso and others.  These are quotes however, rather than the “re-imaginings” of earlier works by Picasso himself (Manet, Delacroix, Velasquez) or Auerbach (Rembrandt et al).  I suppose the most recent of this school would be Dexter Dalwood – he quotes like Johns, rather than doing his own versions.

As for Johns, the works which are my favourites are the big canvases with attachments like brooms, and collaged bits, those bolts of colour, red, yellow, orange, often on a blue background; the grey curtains of thinned paint soaking down into the fabric (see  “According to What” 1964), the stencilled lettering….

Bruegel

In “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent”, according to the Taschen book by the Hagens, the fat Lord of Carnival astride the barrel represents Protestantism, while Catholicism is personified by the lean, haggard, hungry figure with a beehive on his head (no explanation of the beehive offered!).  This is a novel presentation; Prots – or rather, the Puritan variety – are more usually lean, stern killjoys, the Catholics happy to feast and keep Christmas.  I suppose this is an English, or more precisely, Shakespeareian representation.

Willem de Kooning

I’ve never seen a contrast more clear and tragic than that between his paintings of 1983 onwards, as Alzheimer’s or whatever variant it was, took hold, and those from before.  The later ones are cleanly painted snakey loops of pastel colour on empty canvas, tangled but spaced out, textureless.  Go back to 66/67, say, “Two Figures in a Landscape” or “The Visit” – splotches, streaks, swathes, bleeds and trickles, pink, green, yellow, white, blue-black, scratched, scored and worked like Appel but much more subtle somehow; rich, swarming texture… fantastic.

Larry Rivers

I love the loose way he paints figures and faces – reminds me of Jim Dine or even more, Kitaj’ s figure drawings.  See “Parts of the Body; French Anatomy Lesson”.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Reading this, it strikes me that the old film was perfectly cast.  I can’t imagine any actors better than Stamp, Christie, Bates and Peter Finch in their respective roles as Troy, Bathsheba, Gabriel and Farmer Boldwood.  And of course, Dave Swarbrick as the fiddler at the post-harvest piss up…

Blackpaint

19/09/11

Blackpaint 294

September 13, 2011

Changing Times…

Edward Lucie-Smith, writing in 1969, refers to Bridget Riley as “Miss Riley”.  Male painters are referred to by their surnames: “Hockney”does this or that…  .  Lucie – Smith quotes Dr. Johnson with reference to computer – generated art: “Dr, Johnson’s remark about a woman preaching seems applicable: it is not that the computer does it well, but it is surprising that it can do it at all.”  Interestingly, he later refers to Barbara Hepworth as “Hepworth” – clearly a sign of respect.

In material from the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, I am told that Mary Webb taught at Norwich School of Art – which has since been renamed “Norwich University College of the Arts”.  What bollocks all that is; Norwich Art School sounds much better, I think.

Days of Heaven

Finally got to see this great film again, at the BFI – I remember seeing it back in 1979 and thinking it was the best film I’d ever seen.  I remembered the name of Nestor Almendros, the cinematographer, but not that it was Terence Malick directing – the photography seemed far more important.  It was nearly as stunning the second time, but maybe a little less so, because my expectations were so high.  The narrative voice of the young girl provided a clear link to Badlands; parts of it, and parts of the dialogue sounded improvised.  I found Leo Kottke’s upbeat guitar music a bit irritating and there was one scene which came perilously close to that awful stretch in Gangs of New York, where everyone is doing their own street bit – juggling, fighting, drinking, picking a pocket…  The river scenes reminded me a little of Night of the Hunter.  Brooke Adams has somehow got a silent film face; I could easily see her with Chaplin, in Gold Rush, say.  Strange, beautiful eyes and that downturned mouth…

Fellini’s Casanova

And yes! The whale makes an appearance in this too, as a circus/freak show exhibit, like in Tarr’s Werckmeister, and Fellini’s own Satyricon (although not in a circus; hoisted from the sea).   I think there’s a thesis to be written on the role of rotting whale carcases in art house cinema.  Maybe you could stretch it to include huge, unidentified fish things, to get Dolce Vita in.

Degas and Picasso

Adrian Searle in today’s Guardian, says that the famous Degas statue of the Little Dancer was “the model for one of the figures in Picasso’s 1906 Demoiselles d’Avignon – or at least, this is the opinion of Richard Kendall, the curator of the Degas show at the RA.  I checked this out, and he can only mean the demoiselle on the left, as the viewer looks at the painting.  The posture and the head position are completely different, however, and the only resemblance I can see is between the right leg of the little dancer and the leg of the demoiselle – pretty thin, really (the idea, not the leg).

Diebenkorn

I have started to love that second abstract period; the way some of them combine the painterly-ness with the schematic, sort of half minimalism of all those ones that look like archways or windiws…  started to do some like that myself – only 35 years later, of course…

The song the spider sings

Blackpaint

Sept 13th 2011

Blackpaint 293

September 8, 2011

Michael Craig-Martin’s Oak Tree

I’ve seen this at the Tate Britain many times, of course, but I read the interview extract on the wall for the first time yesterday – it reminded me of a Peter Cook interview.  The oak tree appears to you and I to be a glass of water, set on a shelf high up the wall.  According to MCM, it became an oak tree when he chose to exhibit it as such.  It is not a symbol or a metaphor – it is an oak tree, currently in the form of a glass of water.  It will cease to be an oak tree, if and when MCM decides that it is no longer one.  He isn’t asked what will happen when he dies; will it remain an oak tree (although appearing to be a glass of water) or will it revert?  What if a careless attendant were to spill it and refill the “glass” with water?  Would he know?

Don McCullin

There is a roomful of B&W photographs by McCullin, at the moment; landscapes, rural and industrial, tramps and drinkers in the East End in 1969, GIs and East German police in 60s Berlin.  The landscapes are almost too beautiful, in the sense of composition – a shot along a water-filled ditch, thorn trees lining it, black against an awesome sky; snow-covered fields under a winter sky, on Hadrian’s Wall – the ditch a bit Bela Tarr.  A woman wheels a pram across the shot, slag heaps and chimneys in the distance, soot or coal dust covering everything; despite the open-air setting and the distance, I found this and the other industrial shots oddly “enclosed”, almost claustrophobic – reminded me of that Baltermans photograph of distraught Russian women, finding the bodies of their murdered men on the Russian steppe.

But the tramp photos are the most remarkable; they are covered with dirt, stunned and staring, almost roasted by the open air and hard living.  Two of the faces have to be seen to be believed; they look Shakespeareian.

Dismembered Bodies

I think the room is called this, or something like it.  At Bilbao Guggenheim this summer, a lot of sculptures – Kiki Smith, Robert Gober – could have fit in here.  There is a video by Bonnie Camplin and Paulina Orlowska that I watched several times through; it was a series of cut-outs of two women, dancing to jumpy music and I became hooked on the bit where the black floor seemed to be sucked up into the bottom of the one on the left.  Other artists – John Slezacker’s cut – ups and a wooden piece by Enrico David that looked like cut – outs of the Beatles with dowelling penises thrusting horizontally out.  Also, something that looked like a tall, roughly-made, cardboard guillotine.

Stuart Brisley

A series of photos of a long ago happening in which Brisley lay on the cement ground in a park and revolved, drawing with chalk as he did so.  Then he repeated the action with white paint, then black paint until his body in the photo resembled an oil-drenched corpse, partly dismembered…   Then he jumped in a lake.

Chelsea MA Show

Striking videos by Adam Frank Walker in the film theatre; the first, called “Flat Screen-Hackney” I think, was filmed during the recent riots.  There were striking close-ups of participants, fronting up to the police, taunting them, chucking rocks, carrying off a flat screen.  Film jerky, episodic, occasionally washed out in a blaze of yellow or red.  If he filmed it himself, he must have been at risk – maybe it was a compilation from TV or internet?  Second was “Everyday fucking art” (or maybe “Accidental art”); a snarling, smoking man yelling out of the screen in a Notts or Derbyshire accent, in answer to unprovoking questions from the unseen filmmaker,  Finally, another angry man, apparently a flatmate, threatening to “rip your fucking head off if you do that with the camera again” – or similar words.  I went to Walker’s website to read up on him but I couldn’t understand most of it.

Not nice, but effective – like rappers snarling and poking fingers out of a TV screen at you. The films make you feel first uncomfortable then angry, so that you want to punch back.  Any still from any of the films would be powerful; I thought they linked up with the McCullin tramp photos, especially the everyday artist.

 

Blackpaint

8.09.11

Blackpaint 292

September 5, 2011

Edward Lucie-Smith

I’ve just acquired a used copy of his “Movements in Art since 1945” (Thames and Hudson, 1970); I’ve no idea if it’s still in print – it would have been updated, of course – but it contains a whole load of colour illustrations of paintings I’ve never seen before, in a beautiful matt finish, much nicer that the usual glossy.  Some listed below:

  • Gorky, the Betrayal (47);
  • Hofmann, the Rising Moon (64) – the characteristic “push-pull” rectangles on a red background;
  •  De Kooning, Woman and Bicycle (52-3) – ELS links De Kooning’s sharp-toothed women to Warhol’s later Marilyns;
  • Heron, Manganese in Deep Violet (67) – glowing, of course;
  • Sam Francis, Blue on a Point (58);
  • Asger Jorn, you Never Know (66) – swirling yellow, blue, red;
  • Appel, Women and Birds (58) – swirling blue and red, a little less yellow than Jorn;
  • De Stael, Agrigente (54) – eye-burning, “abstract” landscape…

and loads more.

Some of his remarks are interesting, given the time at which he is writing; he says that Hockney’s then current works of the California, lawns and pools,”Bigger Splash” phase lack the irony and bite of the earlier, cartoon boys period.  He yokes Balthus and Bacon together as figurative outsiders, dealing in comparable, transgressive or shocking images (surely Bacon is by far the superior of the two).  He notes the intriguing mixture of nostalgia and modernity in the work of Pop artists, such as Peter Blake, and the way that British Post -Painterly abstractionists like John Walker were still prepared to use perspective in their works, whereas such  use was banished from the Americans’ work.

He has a 1962 quotation from Duchamp, regarding the “Neo-Dadaists”, which is simple, but hugely important:  “This Neo-Dada, which they call New Realism, Pop Art, Assemblage,vetc., is an easy way out and lives on what Dada did.  When I discovered ready-mades I thought to discourage aesthetics.  In Neo-Dada they have taken my ready-mades and found aesthetic beauty in them.  I threw the bottle rack and the urinal into their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty” (ELS. p.11).  What better expression is there for the problem I was on about in the last blog – how you make things look “good” in a painting by making them look like something somebody has done before?  There’s the answer – paint something which looks crap, then do it over and over again until you get used to it and it becomes a style….

St. Martin’s MA show

Beautifully produced catalogue for this, “on sale in the foyer”, and only two quid.  Here are some exhibits I remember:

Helen Sorensen, Peas and Music – green shoots from a huge soil bed, surrounded by speakers that weren’t playing when we visited; oddly touching, for some reason;

Oliver Guy-Watkins – don’t know title – a stairwell and whole section of basement smothered with fake snow; reminded me of the inside of my un-defrosted fridge;

Elsa Philippe, the Conductor – a video in which the artist (if it is she) resembles a member of the Incredible String Band in one of their early 70’s entertainments;

Laura Degenhardt, Thames Boat – didn’t see this in the flesh, but liked it in the catalogue for it’s painterly qualities – but I’ve just noticed the dimensions; 20*25 cms!  That’s about a postcard, isn’ it?

 

In the Dark Australia

Blackpaint

5/09/11