Archive for November, 2011

Blackpaint 309

November 30, 2011

Bacon – the Sylvester interview

I’ve been watching that amazing sequence on the Bacon Arena DVD, where Sylvester, lighting one fag from the butt end of another, questions Francis in a probing manner whilst the two of them are lying on a divan bed – Sylvester in one of those white detective raincoats!  There’s plenty of space between them, but Sylvester keeps moving closer and blowing smoke around Bacon’s face.  Just like Peter Cook or a Python sketch.

In an odd way, Bacon’s painting sometimes reminds me of De Kooning – the pinks and oranges, maybe, and the brushwork sometimes.  We use a Duccio postcard as a bookmark in the De Kooning book and it matches perfectly, as far as colour goes.

Pollock – Art of America;

Andrew Graham-Dixon’s new series on US art (America means North America, in this case); he looked at Lavender Mist, I think, and a few others, and said something like; “It’s all very well to look at Pollock’s paintings and admire them – but we have to explain them”.  Why??  He then went on to say that he saw chaos in them – but that’s nonsense, isn’t it?  They are full of harmonies, the colours and shapes recur and echo each other in all the “drip” paintings; there’s surely an overall impression of control in them – he said that there was virtually no accident in them, he mastered the dripping and the only chance element occurred in the fall of a few inches between the end of the stick and the surface of the canvas.  I suppose they looked like chaos at the time, but not now.


Interesting that James Rosenquist, who started in advertising, painting billboards, said in Art of America that he hated the images he produced for adverts – the images that he used in his artworks were supposed to demonstrate the emptiness of advertising and hence his contempt.  Strange that the slick images and finish that he uses in his huge pictures are the thing that he is prized for.

Bela Tarr

Last blog, I mentioned an interview in which he was asked why he liked ugliness (landscape, buildings, above all, faces):  again, I can only see beauty – the derelict buildings, the rain, mud, darkling skies, bare trees against the horizon, peasants’ faces grained with dirt and tiredness, unshaven, peering through the rain with a cigarette disintegrating in the mouth, and the men too, just as downtrodden; those long, receding, glimmering tarmac roads, the figures trudging to the vanishing point in endless takes, the accordion music repeating melancholy phrases…. beautiful.

Ken Russell

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I watched Women in Love again recently and was bowled over by its brilliance as an adaptation; Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed (especially) and Alan Bates perfect casting.  Reading the book, I was surprised to find that Ursula was the older sister; Lawrence draws her personality in much stronger strokes than is presented by Jenny Linden – Lawrence gives her an obstinacy that maddens both Gudrun and her father, but which is lacking from the Russell film.  Doesn’t matter – masterpiece anyway.



Blackpaint 308

November 27, 2011

Dulwich Art Gallery – Painting Canada

Thomas Thomson et al – Thomson is by far the best of the Group of Seven exhibited here.  There are strong similarities to Hodler; pinks, gold, ochre. deep reds and orange of the woods against the clean, cold, blue washed skies.  There’s a Japanese feel about some.  A number of Thomson’s unobtrusive, small paintings, too small to really appreciate until I saw a beautiful one reproduced in the Observer last Sunday.

Thomson’s body was found in a lake, having fallen from his canoe – or maybe he was murdered and dumped?  A surmise chucked in by the organisers to spice it up a bit, I suppose.

As well as the lovely but not over-remarkable paintings of Thomson and his mates, there are those of Lawren Harris.  Unbelievably awful blancmanges of icy mountain peaks against folds of undifferentiated ice and snow.  These are so bad they have to be seen to be believed.

After Harris, a quick sprint round the usual treasures of Dulwich; the Gainsborough portraits, the Rubens sketches and a Canaletto of the Bucentaur by St,  Mark’s Square – Beautiful, but the paint is so thick.

Whitechapel Gallery – William Sasnal

Great free exhibition, several roomfuls; Richter comes first to mind, the photo paintings, blurred faces, the layered single colour plaques – oatmeal, grey.  Luc Tuymans, too, I think, in the drawing style.  Cartoon-ish, graphic outlines, the drained colours (greys, blacks, browns, greens).  Free use of trickle-down in the strong, straight, black lines of the big paintings of mountain, lake and buildings.  Several paintings which are abstractions of death photos by a Mexican photographer whose name escapes me;   an incinerated corpse, burnt by electrocution, a hanging man on a tree – although I could not make it out from the abstracted picture – it looks like a branching, undersea invertebrate or maybe a necklace arranged in a stiff pattern of beads.

Other pictures that I recall – Japanese girls, kneeling worshippers with distorted, blurred faces, a group of mountain hikers, portrait of Roy Orbison, a vanishing picture of Saturn,  a huge (three panel) pig farm with an Auschwitz feel to it, a re-rendering of that Seurat boy on the river bank, blanked -out portraits, a sinister, derelict ski jump… why sinister?  It’s the style.  The cartoonish draughtsmanship, the drained colours, the blurred faces, the oily black line, they all contribute to that quite common vibe of something nasty behind the mundane and commonplace.  Quotations from Sasnal on the wall information indicate that he takes himself and his art very seriously, so don’t expect any jokes.

Whitechapel – ROYGBIV 

Also free, another tranche of Government paintings, this time based on colour, hence the title “Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain”, a mnemonic for the colours of the rainbow.  A beautifully produced, free booklet to go with it, with every painting in the exhibition in miniature.  The standouts are:

Graham Sutherland’s” la Puce”, an etching and aquatint of  a flea in bed;

Callum Innes,” Exposed painting, Cadmium Red Deep”, red, cream and darker cream rectangles with a red bleed;

Robert Buhler’s “Twilight, Venice (II)”, a glowing dome in a violet evening light, reminiscent of the Melville bell tower in the last Whitechapel exhibition of Government paintings.

It’s only on until December 4th.

Bela Tarr

Watched a filmed interview with Tarr, in which he was asked why he overwhelmingly used “ugly” people in his films; shrugged, and replied “It’s my nation”.

A couple more life drawings and one proper abstract one, to finish:

Marco Polo

Blackpaint (Chris Lessware)


Blackpaint 307

November 21, 2011

Life Drawing

You see the same poses over and over in Old Masters; Titian, for example – saw that bald Joseph from “The Flight into Egypt” at the NG  in another Titian in Venice – at the Frari, a Virgin and Child with St.Peter.

Frari (Venice)

National Gallery

Well, OK, they’re facing different ways and St.Peter’s older…. nice pictures anyway.

Same thing with Tintorettos at the Brotherhood of San Rocce, which is stuffed with Tints; the figure from Milky Way crops up, another from that one of Perseus turning his attackers to stone – Reni, is it? – and Veronese-ish horse on the left of the massive Crucifixion.  Maybe they used the same models, who had their own stock of poses, like today.

This is just an excuse to flag up some life drawings, since I can’t make it to Leonardo this week and have nothing to say else to say.

OK, that’s enough for today; back to words and abstraction tomorrow.



Blackpaint 306

November 19, 2011


I thought Laura Cumming said something interesting in last week’s Observer; referring to the “images” (presumably both the drawings and the paintings), she says, “The line (is) controlled, incised, repeated: nothing spontaneous, everything studied”.  It’s not clear to me whether there is an implied criticism in this statement but that, for me, in essence, is why I prefer Michelangelo’s line, in paintings at least; drawing is another matter.

Again, writing about Cecilia’s stoat, Cumming refers to “the sheer strangeness of this wild thing, so impossibly still” – she’s right; the animal is aroused, looking in the same direction as the girl, as if it has just spotted a movement, yet the body lacks that tension of the predator alerted.

She shares other critics’ reservations about the Salvator Mundi, too; the stoned eyes, the fingers holding an invisible joint…  All this is unremarkable really, except insofar as there has been a concert of inflated praise for this exhibition on the TV, that makes you want to find fault.  Everything is “incredible”, the pictures show us the “souls” of the sitters, and on and on.  I suppose I’ll go to see it, but I’ll be looking to find fault.  I expect Leo will be quaking, up there in painters’ heaven.

Venice Biennale

Since this is now over, I’ll just mention three more artists that made a (good) impression:

the first is Christian Boltanski, who was the French contribution.  A huge roomful of old-fashioned printing apparatus, producing poster-sized baby pictures, which are simultaneously thrown up on screens to make composite faces, half -child, half-adult.  Digital scoreboard with ever-increasing numbers in green (births?) and red (deaths?).  If this interpretation is correct, quite a “complete” artistic statement. 

Next, the Egyptian pavilion; filmed sequences of the demos in Tahrir Square, during which Ahmed Basiouny dressed in an Alien-shaped polythene head bubble and ran on the spot for 30 days.  Ominously, the film showed him pouring fluid on and around himself on “Last Day” – since the wall info said that he had died during the demos and rioting, with no further information, we thought he might have self-immolated on film.  Thankfully, this was not the case.

Finally, the Russian pavilion had a moving record of  Andrei Monastyrski and “Collective Actions” the guerilla art group in the 70s and 80s who did pop-up exhibitions in the open air, lasting until the FSB, (or KGB were they still then?) turned up to attack them and destroy the artworks.  Also Gulag hut/bunk mock ups, snow, fur hats, vivid coloured paintings against the blinding white of the snow….

Bela Tarr

At the risk of being boring – surely not – I must mention the above again, in terms of texture.  I’m watching “Satantango” again – Susan Sonntag said it should be watched once a year, but she obviously wasn’t a real fan – and almost every shot contains texture; soaked woollen garments, scabby cladding on mouldering brickwork, rotting wooden doors and casements, seamed, creased faces, running with rain, great clods of juicy mud with mirrors of rainwater (it often rains in Tarr’s Hungary).  But the sound is also all texture, the crunch and scrape of boots on lino, a drained bottle of fruit brandy clunking to the floor.  Just fantastic -you can chew it.

Blackpaint  (Chris Lessware)


Blackpaint 305

November 14, 2011

Richard Hamilton

At the Tate Britain last week, saw Hamilton’s iconic “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” for the first time in the flesh- it’s the one with the Charles Atlas cutout holding a giant lollipop, while a semi-naked woman with a lampshade on her head pouts from a nearby armchair – it’s so small!  26*25 cms!  I’d always thought it would be huge, perhaps because it was so famous…   Dali and Miro and Ernst and Turner pictures have all provoked the same surprise in the past.

Great Movie Scenes

Two today; first, “Russian Ark” (Sokurov), after the ball, the officers, officials and ladies in period dress descend the great staircase of the Hermitage toward the sea of oblivion awaiting them;

Second, “Satantango” (Bela Tarr) – Irimias, Petrina and the boy march, heads -down through the driving rain, across the empty, darkening Hungarian plain towards the twisted trees along the horizon.  An accordion plays a tune vaguely reminiscent of Beethoven’s 7th, the Allegretto – just the first two chords, really.  They arrive at a house; instead of following them inside, the camera lingers on the steps and the slanting rods of rain, lit up in the doorway, surrounded by swallowing blackness.  The accordion plays on…

Degas at the RA

Ballerinas – or rather, ballet dancers; ballerinas sounds too fey.  These girls are sturdy, the legs sometimes heavily outlined in black, the errors and corrections, as Degas strives to get the positions exactly right, enhancing the drawings.  Perhaps “strives” is putting it rather too strongly.  The “Fourth Position” drawings, I think, are the best; the way the girl’s shoulder bends forward.  Her features look African or mixed race to me – Dago Red commented recently that Degas was himself Creole (see Blackpaint 295, comments).  Another striking one is the Arabesque, the male dancer thrusting his torso forward out of the picture at the viewer.

The oil paintings actually look like pastel drawings, those warm reds and ochre rich and beautiful.  Can’t stand that bloody awful chalky, but acid, green that he sometimes uses, though; Gauguin also prone to use it at times.

I understand that the girls would be from the lower social classes and were targeted by numbers of “gentlemen” for prostitution; Degas’ interest in them seems to have been technical, however; notes on some of the drawings about positions – he was trying to get them right, as if for an instruction manual.  Whatever his reasons, beautiful drawings – I have to say, though, a bit of variety in the subject matter would have improved the show.  Enough of the ballet dancers already.

Building the Revolution

Also at the RA; Russian artists and designers and their influence on Russian architecture in the 20s.  Popova, very Futurist; Klutsis, with his designs for loudspeakers, podia, propaganda kiosks (where and when else?); Sternberg, Korelev and, of course, Rodchenko.  They provide the drawings, paintings and plans – the other half of the exhibition is made up of  photographs, many of them huge colour ones,  taken by Richard Pare in 1998.  The photos include the circular, stainless steel bakery, the Cheka Buildings (fantastic, curling staircase, curved building, chilling name), the derelict “Red Banner” textile works.  You can plainly see the influence of the curves, circles, intersecting lines…  The dilapidation of some of the buildings enhancing the “glamour” of the colour photos, somehow – like Degas’ “mistakes”.  Very familiar Bauhaus- type features – that ocean liner profile, those curves.  The Melnikov Building, with diamond shaped windows studded into a cylindrical “funnel” of pure white; a Palace of Culture, by contrast, almost without windows – looking like a prison.

Leonardo next time, whether I get in or not; always ready with an opinion.

Blackpaint (Chris Lessware)


Blackpaint 304

November 10, 2011

A Canterbury Tale

The opening scenes of this strange Powell and Pressburger film are justly famous; Chaucer’s band of pilgrims ride towards the town (Pardoner, for example, clearly recognisable); the knight flies his falcon, which soars and becomes a Spitfire.  Cut back to knight – same face, but now topped by a 1940’s soldier’s helmet.  Fantastic, poignant – but I couldn’t help thinking that Eisenstein, or his editor, would have done it better.  There is a jump between the bird and the plane, not a smooth transformation.  Maybe I’m wrong; no expert.

It seems to me to be a strange, foreigner’s vision of rural England.  Dennis Price is an unlikely sergeant, with the accent of a toff – his cold eyes and brusque manner seem more appropriate to the serial killer he played in “Kind Hearts and Coronets” than the would-be church organist he plays here.

Then there is the absolute weirdness of the “glue man” story; a local (toff) magistrate, disguised as a soldier,  attacks young girls at night and pours glue in their hair.  Why?  To dissuade them from going with soldiers encamped nearby, who might be distracted from attending the magistrate’s local history lectures and learning about the Pilgrims’ Way.  I think I’ve got that right.

Nevertheless, it has a magic about it and some wonderful scenes of rural Kent in the 40’s – and there are the accents too.

John Martin “Apocalypse”

At the Tate Britain.  A whole Martin exhibition is interesting, but he suffers from the repetition of Apocalyptic and biblical scenes – I liked his paintings much better when there were just a couple of them in the old “Nutter’s Gallery” as we called it, decades ago, in cruder, crueller times.  Martin needs some Dadds and others to vary it a bit.  The searing, shiny pink deserves a special mention, as do the glaring reds and yellows.  His angels, I think are rather Turnerish and I see he uses scraping on rocks and mountains, as Turner did sometimes.  One or two pictures had that bejewelled quality that Gustave Moreau’s paintings have. 

 His version of Milton’s Pandaemonium looks just like the Houses of Parliament; the wall notes, indeed, say he was influenced by the plans for the same.  When all is said, though, he does a great lightning bolt and Earth turning upside-down.

Barry Flanagan

Also at the TB.  Later work is the sinister giant bronze hares, but I preferred (predictably) the earlier stuff – thick coils of yellow rope snaking across the floor, sacking, hessian (hanging and folded) or stuffed tightly with sand to make shrivelled vegetable shapes, or those odd, upright, cut-off tubes of sacking that look like shapes from a David Shrigley cartoon.  Wigwam shapes made from thick cut branches, bark still on – bit of a Beuys vibe, I might say, if I were not afraid of appearing pretentious.  And a few beautiful drawings, one of a figure lying prostrate, which look as if they were executed in a single, perfect stroke (OK, he probably had a few tries, picked the best and chucked the others away); impressive, anyway.


Nick Relph – video with blue and yellow filters, hand drawn, over film – appeared to be about GIs in Korea or WW2, phasing into another one about the production of textiles.  Colours punchy and saturated, like Rist.

RH Quaytman – beautiful, black and white photographic print of sun on the surface of a lake, then zoomed in and enlarged in next one.  A sort of fractured, distressed quality to them, reminscent of Richter’s white pictures, I think.

Blackpaint (Chris Lessware)


Blackpaint 303

November 6, 2011

We Need to Talk about Kevin

I saw this brilliant film last night and could only use tired superlatives about Tilda Swinton’s performance, so I won’t bother.  One thing did strike me, however; a feeling of familiarity when her terrifying son turned and smiled at her, at one point.  Where had I seen that before?  Didn’t have to think long – Bjorn Andresson, luring Dirk Bogarde on, in “Death in Venice”.  Probably fanciful, since I’ve only just watched “Venice” again and read the story for the first time – I was intrigued to find that Mann made the pursuit of Tadzio more redolent of corruption than the film suggested; bit more darkness at the heart.  Tadzio – all those women pursuing him, shouting “Tadzi-uu, Tadzi-uu” all the time – is one of the most dislikeable characters in film.  Now he’s joined by Kevin, in all his incarnations; but perhaps “dislikeable” is rather too weak in Kevin’s case.

Whose idea in “Kevin” to use Lonnie Donegan and Washington Phillips on the soundtrack?  Totally incongruous. but it worked, like everything else in the film.

Il Bidone

Broderick Crawford looks exactly the same in all his films – bit more or less flab, more or fewer wrinkles, but basically the same old ten-four.  He doesn’t act, according to Dominique Delouche, Fellini’s assistant director on Bidone, he just is (and had to be kept off the booze while making the above).  Ridiculous thing to say, but I find he has a sort of vulnerability about him, like Mitchum in “Eddie Coyle”, say.  Great hard man, though, cf.  Neville Brand. 

Delouche had a sad story about Fellini, after “La Strada” was booed and jeered at Cannes or somewhere.  He pursued Fellini to offer his praises and found Giuletta Masina with black eye make-up running in tears down her face, while Fellini trudged dejectedly beside her – like a pair of sad elephants, he said.  Strange to think of this feted Italian hero being jeered.


There was so much fantastic stuff at the Biennale, I’m going to have to do a few artists a day to get it all in.  First up, the Belgian pavilion had “Feuilleton” by Angel Vergara, “curated” by (what does that mean?) Tuymans.   Perspex panes, spattered and smeared with brilliant colours, fixed over news footage illustrating the Seven Deadly Sins.  The effect like moving, noisy Rauschenburgs.


Swedish pavilion.  Andreas Ericksson, another painter in that Kirkeby groove – I’m a pushover for dark, licheny, broody Scando surfaces, maybe with livid slashes of colour…

Seth Price.  There as an individual artist, doing great things with lengths of rope attached with resin to textured, painted canvas surfaces.  Doesn’t sound exciting, but it is.

Pipilotti Rist.  Another individual, more brilliant colours, video Venicescapes with Northern Lights, naked women (poss. Rist herself), gynaecological features I think, but hard to tell…. intriguing.

Christopher Wool.  Huge, blotty, dark – well, blots in varying (modulating) colours. remind me a bit of those mid- 60’s Joan Mitchells, only enormous.

More tomorrow; here’s one of mine,

Head of St. Blaise

Blackpaint (Chris Lessware)