Archive for October, 2011

Blackpaint 302

October 31, 2011

Tarkovsky

I mentioned that Bunuel was deaf in last blog, and that may be why music was apparently not so important in his films; watching Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice” last week, and his use of, for instance, Bach’s Matthew Passion, it’s clear that Tarkovsky is the opposite of Bunuel in this respect – as also in the total lack of humour in any of his films (T., not B., that is, of course).  One other thing in “Sacrifice”; the painterly, bleached, interior scenes, are surely based on Hammershoi.  It was filmed in Sweden, after all.

Middlemarch

Exchange of literary opinion on the North Downs Way last week:  “How you getting on with Middlemarch?”

“More than half way through.”

“Anything happened yet?”

(Pause..) “No.”

Venice Guggenheim

Was transported to Venice as a birthday present, so expect many Venetian entries in blogs to come.  The Guggenheim has a bunch of Miros, Ernsts (Bride stripped bare, for instance), Picassos, Braques, Kandinskys, Klees..  I’ve picked four of the most striking paintings:

El Lissitsky

Beautiful, clean, geometric, shades of Malevich.

Motherwell

I think it’s called “Personage”.  Again, clean, clear colours, bit dirtier, more painterly than the El.

Schwitters

Little collage this one, with a corroded metal disc (or that’s what it looks like) and a butterfly.

A great transparent cyclist by Metzinger and a portrait of the painter Frank Burty Haviland by Modigliani, early, utterly unlike his almond-headed nudes and portraits.  And, a load of early Pollocks, including one of those Synasthaesia ones (see earlier Blackpaints on Pollock).

Incidentally, have been given the Taschen on Modigliani and I’ve revised my opinion of him drastically.  I’d thought of him as a sort of Lempicka, doing tasteful pin-up nudes in an endlessly reproduceable, stylised way; but the portraits are great, the styles more varied, the flesh surfaces unexpectedly painterly (hate that word, won’t use it again) – look at the surface, for instance, of the Courtauld Gallery nude…. the problem for me is the pretty faces. The bow lips, demurely downcast eyes, long lashes, come-hither looks would be OK on a biscuit tin, though not sure about the naked bodies.

More Venice, including the Biennale, in the week.

Blackpaint (Chris Lessware)

28.10.11

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Blackpaint 301

October 21, 2011

Tacita Dean in the Turbine Hall

..of the Tate Modern, of course.  Must be enormous pressure to do something spectacular.  She’s chosen to celebrate the medium of film and the display is a tall, window-shaped projection on the back wall, with film sprocket holes on either side.  Critics have variously described it as a cathedral window or a lift shaft – I tend to the latter.  So, what happens is that a series of images come and go for 11 minutes, then the sequence starts again.

The images include (from my memory):

Shaggy Ink Cap mushrooms; rapids, with the middle section flowing backwards); pink flower; lump of resin(?) suspended on string or wire; mountain (Matterhorn?) pictured in different colours; a human eye, opening and closing; large orange dots.  I’ve resisted the temptation to add more, gleaned not from memory, but other critics’ lists – and that’s the thing; you can’t help doing a cuddly toy – listing what you remember.  Not really what you ought to be doing when contemplating a great work of art.

So- it’s nice, but it’s not Eliasson; more in the class of the Rachel Whiteread.  Better that that thing with the bunk beds and paperbacks or the Salcedo split in the floor;  but I think the Balka was more memorable.  Actually that’s a lie; the Balka thing came to mind after I’d thought of all the others mentioned.

Gerhard Richter

Interesting that Richter is now the greatest living artist, according to various critics (Laura Cumming, for instance), when a while back, it was Boltanski, when he had his installation in Paris.  Latest thing, I suppose.

But the Richter at TM is great, and I’ll be going again, several times (we get in free as my partner is a member – cheap, if you go a lot).  I’ll take it in sections:

First, there’s the blurred photo paintings; bomber raids, Wehrmacht Uncle Rudi,  victim Aunt Marianne, with a baby in arms – is that Richter? – , the creepy, smiling dog with the clown face, couples, tiger, ruins… must stop this, making lists again.

Next, grey/black curved liquid spurt, reminded me of Bacon painting about which he was gleeful, apparently, at bringing off a perfect squirt of water. Also,  a grey swirl, with orange-green splats.

Next, “Damaged Landscapes” – Turner-ish grey Alps; Paris decomposing into curling, black and white squares and L shapes, like melting wax mixed with ash; kitsch snowy mountains; an empty, anonymous concrete city.

Grey Paintings – a dense undergrowth of grey sword-like strokes, recalling both Laurie Lee’s childhood jungle-garden memories and Christopher Wool’s paintings – although Wool’s are more slippery and soft-edged.

Figuration meets abstraction – brown cloudscapes, enlarged and smoothed out; two large coloured paintings that were originally little painterly sketches of – something that escapes me now – enlarged, blurred and smoothed until just two oblong blobs in pink and white.  A blurred Annunciation, based on Titian, apparently.

Genre Paintings and Early Squeegee – and the exhibition explodes into colour.  Blazing greens, reds, yellows, pinks; green tendrils of paint.  Completely overwhelming the little skull and candle paintings, and a fantastic iceberg.

Landscapes and Portraits – A huge abstract with seething red and orange on the right (of the picture) and cool, squeegee’d blues and greens sliding and curving on the left – can’t remember what’s in the middle.  Another with a shower of fat, purple bloody drops.  Betty turning away – apparently she’s looking towards a grey painting, although it looks like a plain dark background –  and another of her reading; both very slightly blurred “photographs”, it seems to me.  Some blurred landscapes with houses.

18 October 1977 – the Baader-Meinhof pictures.  Some Warhol-ish repetition of Meinhoff dead, although unlike Warhol, minor variation and blurred surface.  These, and the earlier, “Uncle Rudi” ones, brought to mind those blurred, sometimes touched-up photos you used to get in True Detective magazine, like Ruth Snyder in the electric chair or Charles Starkweather under arrest.

Abstraction in the 90’s – a huge beetroot – coloured squeegee job; a grey picket fence pattern; eight small, piercingly colourful scrapy abstracts, one with folds of scraped paint resembling bright leaf insects. 

2001 and beyond – the September picture that I have already written about (the planes hitting the WTC); the booklet appears to contradict the Guardian McCarthy article I cited – maybe I misread it.  OK, have reread it and I did misunderstand- it was a number of sketches that Richter thought to be abstract, until a friend pointed out that they showed the attack on the WTC;  Richter then based this picture on them.  Also, some great small ones in white with black line markings, like atom particle tracings on a metallic plate.

Cage – exhibition ends across cafe, in the room with the 6 huge scrapeys that are on permanent display.  Inspired by John Cage’s music, they look to me like swamp, scraped out in varying colours.

Bunuel

My mate Paul tells me he was deaf, which is why there’s not much music in his films.  Not many people know that.

Blackpaint (Chris Lessware)

20.10.11

Blackpaint 300

October 18, 2011

Jerusalem

Great to see in yesterday’s Guardian editorial, the following : “…the deep dream of Albion, from Arthur to Falstaff to Bunyan to Blake to Sandy Denny…” ; over the top maybe, but well done, whoever thought of linking her with this illustrious company.

Martin Rowson

At last, yesterday, an arse-licking cartoon – but who is it, Fox, Werritty, or a generic lobbyist tugging at the trousers of the banker pigs?  I guess Werritty, from the business cards scattered around.  And what is that in Haigh’s hand?

Proper blog to follow on Thursday – meanwhile, read yesterday’s, on Vertov and Cezanne.

Blackpaint

18.10.11 

Blackpaint 299

October 17, 2011

Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera

Made in 1929 in Odessa, it contains all the fetishes of modernism – machines, steam, trains, trams, open saloon cars, fire engines – and a sort of tour of daily life; sport and leisure (high jumpers, hurdlers, swimmers, organised exercise,vodka and beer bars, cinema, circus), work (happy workers on assembly lines, packaging cigarettes at high speed), birth and death (what must be the first live birth – you actually see the baby emerging from a shot directly pointed at the mother’s vagina and at the same level), accidents, street life….

But the machines – sliding metal, spraying oil, shafting, rolling, clanking (I assume; silent film) punching, squirting steam.

Placards and statues of Lenin and Marx pop up, but none of Stalin – 1929 too early.  One or two happy tramps and bench sleepers, but mostly well-fed, well-dressed, happy workers, full shops, teeming streets, smiles, laughter….   The technical tricks – slomo, speedup, Dutch leans, split-screen, tracking shots; Vertov’s group were anti – fiction in film, pro-documentary.  The credits announce a film without narrative, but of course, the modernist bent creates its own narrative within the big one of birth, life, death Soviet – style.

Greatest Artists Ever

So the Guardian announced last week, as the headline to a choice of, not artists but  pictures, selected  by various luminaries; Amanda Levete, an architect, chose a Zurbaran still life. showing lemons, a jug, and a cup and plate, looming out of the darkness.  A surprise to me, after his saints and cowled monks.

Charles Saumarez – Smith and Isaac Julien, while making radically different choices (CSS picked “paintings of the Italian Renaissance”, which is cheating, Julien picked Cindy Sherman), both cited transcendance of time and genre as their main criterion.

And Blackpaint’s choice, the reader asks?  Changes from week to week, of course, but I think de Kooning’s “Palisades” – or maybe Lanyon’s “Headwind”, that I’ve just come across…

Headwind, Peter Lanyon

Yes, I know, Lanyon v. de Kooning.. but it’s magnificent, isn’t it?

Cezanne again

“Cezanne’s aim in segregating the sexes in the Bathers series was to exclude any … element of the transient, sexual or erotic”, says Ulrike Becks-Malorney in the Taschen.  She writes that “his strong feeling of shame, his sexual inhibitions and fears, and his shyness about showing naked men and women together in what he regarded as trivial, sensual poses.”

This is puzzling to me, since in the previous sentence, she refers to the pictures of 1860’s and 70’s in which he “used the confrontation between the sexes in a provocative way.”  Presumably, she is referring to “the Orgy”, 1864 – 8 (or circa 1870, as Catherine Dean has it, in the Phaidon book on Cezanne), “the Temptation of St. Anthony”, 1870 and “A Modern Olympia” 1873 – 75.  Check them out; hard to reconcile with sense of shame or sexual inhibition.

Also, there is this odd sentence, referring to a figure with arms behind his head in a male Bathers of 1900: “It is a gesture of opening oneself up and offering oneself – in this particular case, it is presenting an erection to the seated figure in the bottom left-hand corner”.  And, yes, she’s right, for sure.  what a strange old bugger Cezanne must have been.

Painters who took ages, and did drafts, even though it looks as if they knocked their pictures out in minutes…

Franz Kline.  This sounds critical, but I don’t mean it to be – I find some of his work staggering.  Just found some of his coloured ones, with the reds and greens – fantastic.  Google him and see.

Next time, Richter and Tacita Dean at Tate Modern.

Blackpaint

17.10.11

Blackpaint 298

October 10, 2011

Open House

Last two weekends spent at home, waiting for the public to come and buy.  They came and were polite, even enthusiastic – but there’s not much money about, so I must content myself with compliments and expressions of surprise at how many paintings there are (quantity, not necessarily quality).  Not much abstraction aversion this year, though; “Where do you get your ideas?” rather than “What is this supposed to be?”  Comment in the visitors book from someone’s child; “These pictures are very nice.  I like scribles”.

Russian Ark

Have probably said this before, but the single tracking shot that comprises this film, somehow wields enormous emotional clout at the end.  The doomed officers and aristos come together slowly, like two sides of a zip, on the staircase and the balconies, as the camera passes between them.  The movement and the closeness of the faces, looking quizzical, amused, maybe faintly annoyed as the camera passes, induces a sort of vertigo or unsteadiness in the viewer (me anyway).  Its echoed by one of the characters, when she says, “I feel as if I’m floating..”; and so on, down the staircase, to where the open doors look out onto a frozen sea, smoking with cold, and awaiting the soon- to- be- swallowed-up gentry – although Sokurov pictures them sailing its waters for ever.

Cezanne

I was surprised to read in the Taschen by Ulrike Becks-Malorney that Cezanne spent months, even years, on his paintings.  They don’t look as if they took months to do, in the sense that time is not represented by wealth of detail – I’m thinking of Ingres, for example.  It may be  interesting to find out and compare the average time spent on a painting by various artists, so I think I’ll make a little occasional project of this, until I get bored.

Offhand, I can think of  a couple of slowhands; Ingres I’ve mentioned, Auerbach of course – but not sure about him; does it count as slow if you do someone for a year and scrape it off every night, then knock out the actual picture in a few hours?  As for speedies, there’s Vincent of course, with virtually a painting a day in the month leading up to his suicide and Michelangelo, who knocked out the Sistine ceiling in three, or was it four years.  Staggering, but then he had to get it done before the plaster dried…

Just for argument’s sake, these are my favourite Cezannes:

1.  Madame Cezanne in the Red Armchair (Striped Skirt) 1877 – the marbling effect of the blue and red on her face and hands, the almost vertical striping on the skirt, like a picket fence.

2.  The Blue Vase, 1855 – 7 (!)

3.  Vessels, basket, fruit (the Kitchen Table) 1888-90 – the one with the most pronounced disparities of angle and size, to demonstrate a heightened “reality”; to show you the inside of the vessel as well as the outside.

4.  The Lac d’Annecy, in the Courtauld.

5,  Mountain in Provence, 1886 – how solid!

6.  Mont Saint-Victoire, 1904 – 1906.  Shimmering, or rather bristling in the heat, an effect achieved by little vertical brushstrokes, like VG, with the light blue iceberg of the mountain against the scooped-out, echoing blue of the sky.

 

Blackpaint

10.10.11

Blackpaint 297

October 3, 2011

British Ceramics Biennial

This is taking place in Stoke-on-Trent at the moment, and there is a report on it by Charlotte Higgins in today’s Guardian, which contains the following arresting sentence: “Today, it (disused Spode factory) houses Sarah Younan’s ceramic pieces, very sexual and inspired by Eva Hesse:  teapots strung from the wall, with lids like nipples; others decorated with erect penises…”.  More tea, vicar?

“New” Leonardo

Again from the Guardian, recent article reports that Martin Kemp, a retired Oxford prof, is convinced that the drawing in question is genuinely an unknown Leonardo; the evidence is circumstantial, of course, but plausible.  First, there is a fingerprint on the top left of the drawing which is “highly comparable” to one on Leo’s St.Jerome in the Vatican; there are “stylistic parallels” to a Leonardo portrait kept at Windsor Castle; carbon dating puts the picture at the right period; the picture appears to have been done by a left-handed artist (Leo known to have been a left hander).

Elsewhere, I think in the Telegraph, there was a report that stitch holes in the parchment edge matched those in a sketch book of Leo’s and the thickness of the parchment corresponded – in that all the pages were of varying thickness and this one differed from the others (in other words, it matches because it doesn’t match…).

I can only refer the reader to Blackpaint’s Law of Spurious Plausibility (see Blackpaint 165 et al.).  Briefly, the law states that the more reasonable a theory appears, the more likely it is to be wrong.  The portrait, however, looks very beautiful in reproduction, lost Leo or not.

Cezanne

Reading the Taschen on Cezanne at the moment, and I ‘ve realised for the first time how radical his vision was – how did he square his stated intention of painting absolute reality with tilting tabletops, jug mouths and bowls of fruit to show interiors and altering the size of objects to defy rules of perspective?  I mean, I can see all sorts of arguments which he might have put to himself and others, and it’s normal to us now – but at the time, he was going out on a limb.  Did he write about it?  Another example of my ignorance; will research and return to the subject.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Watching this great Bunuel film again last night, I was struck by Stephane Audran’s character, embodying the sleek beauty, perfect surface manners, hospitality, resourcefulness with an underlying selfishness and amorality – powerful combination.  Fernando Rey also perfect, as always.

I was surprised that it didn’t contain the scene where they dine, sitting on toilets – guess that was another one, Obscure Object of Desire maybe…

Blackpaint

2/10/11