Archive for December, 2011

Blackpaint 316 – Rudders and Shark’s Fins at the Serpentine

December 31, 2011

Helen Frankenthaler

The news of the death of the great Helen Frankenthaler – great painter, beautiful woman ( judging by the Guardian photograph) made me realise how easy it is to overlook people if they haven’t had a retrospective or show recently.  I think I’ve only seen two or three of her works together as part of a package at the Guggenheim, Bilbao maybe 7 or 8 years ago.  Then, a few paintings in Ab-Ex books and art histories (Autumn Farm, Spring Blizzard, the much later and fantastic Lavender Mirror) but no easy- to- find book to herself.  But she was a pioneer; the pouring of thinned paint onto unprimed canvas, leaving tracts unstained, was her “invention”, later adopted by Morris Louis, notably.

Joan Mitchell has had a bit of well-deserved attention lately, with a lovely book and a small exhibition in Edinburgh; now we should see the same for Frankenthaler… and Krasner, Hartigan, Jay DeFeo….

Lygia Pape

“Magnetized Space” at the Serpentine Gallery, free. lovely exhibition.  She was a Brazilian artist who died, aged 77, in 2003 – a Neo-Concretist (no, I didn’t know either).  The Neo – Concretist movement was “dedicated to the inclusion of art into everyday life”, so the booklet says.  Anyway, there are several videos on show that we didn’t have time to watch, beautiful, careful drawings of close parallel lines on white paper, with sections tilted to look as if collaged on – very similar to Rachel Whiteread’s stuff at Tate Britain, I thought – but the most beautiful woodcuts on paper; minimalist, geometrical shapes cleanly cut against each other, both black and white and in three or four colours.  There are three in particular, in which the grain of the wood has been imprinted onto Japanese paper.  One resembles the rudder of a boat, another a shark’s fin, the third an abstract swirling pattern.  They are great, don’t miss them.

The Roberts

Colquhoun and MacBryde, about whom Roger Bristow has written a book entitled “The Last Bohemians” (2010).  I knew of them vaguely from the writings of Julian Maclaren-Ross and Daniel Farson but I’d only scene one picture by Colquhoun, the one that Grayson Perry included in his Hastings exhibition a while back.  the first illustration on the book is “Bitch and Pup”, which Colquhoun did in 1958; it’s very striking and no doubt I’ll be returning to them, as I read more.

The Artist

I’ll have to see it, the critics having unanimously praised it – but it all sounds a bit “Cinema Paradiso” to me.  That’s enough, signing off to get drunk (er).  Happy New Year, to those of you for whom it is.

Blackpaint

31.12.11

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Blackpaint 315 – Splat!! on the Windscreen

December 27, 2011

Holmes; a Game of Shadows

With Robert Downey Jr as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson, the latest Guy Ritchie film was almost fast-moving enough to counter the graveyard cold of the Streatham cinema in which I saw it on Christmas Eve.  As there were only eight customers, including myself, I assume that the only way the cinema could operate was by eliminating overheads – such as heating. 

anyway, the film has the predictable joke Germans and Frenchmen, a French gypsy camp at which Irish fiddle music is played, and a My Fair Lady version of London.  The fight scenes are those loud ones which are too fast to see what’s going on, but in Martial arts tradition, blows are occasionally slowed to stop time and then concluded in a sort of sucking rush.  The same happens with bullets passing through sleeves or the bark of trees.  there is a wonderful set piece in the Paris Opera – Don Giovanni – and another in a snow-bound forest, involving artillery and mortar fire.  There are shades of the Saragossa Manuscript trick that he used in “Snatch”, with the milk carton splattering the car windscreen, at least once.  Basically, an unexplained event happens and is explained later.  In the Saragossa Manuscript, it is a man falling through a ceiling into a trunk; in Ritchie’s film, it is Holmes flinging Watson’s new wife from a train into the waters of a lake far below.

There is a hint of Chronos in the clinking and closing of metal breeches and hinges, and the disguises Downey uses are presumably taken from theart of Liu Bolin, the camouflage artist – by the time the credits came up, I was too chilled to notice whether he got a credit.  Great film, anyway (not Bela Tarr, though).

Liu Bolin

Albert Oelhen

Got a really expensive book on Oelhen from the Whitechapel Gallery, and was surprised to read that he used a computer to generate basic images in some pictures and then painted on top of them.  He calls the process “educating” the pictures.  An Oelhen painting may include collage, computer generation, Ab-Ex style gestural painting, airbrushing and elements of surrealism.

Oelhen

Best Picture

Best picture I have seen in the flesh this year was Asger Jorn’s “Green Ballet” at the Guggenheim Bilbao.  Best pictures in books recently were in the Vitamin B2 collection, by Vaida Caivanho and Amy Sillman. 

Here is my last picture this year:  Figures in a Landscape 2.

Blackpaint, 27.12.11

 

Blackpaint 314

December 22, 2011

Sutherland

Laura Cumming in her review of the Sutherland show in Oxford (see Observer last Sunday) remarks on his adoption of  realism with the outbreak of WWII, or at least, the Blitz.  I remarked on this in Blackpaint 128, in relation to Bomberg, with his involvement in the First World War – it’s as if the sights of warfare call for a more realistic depiction, or some artists no longer feel that an experimental approach can do them proper justice.  Maybe this is understating it, in the case of Bomberg – according to Robert Hughes in his book on Auerbach, Bomberg was so traumatised by his time in the trenches that he shot himself in the foot, a capital offence at the time.

Irvin

I mentioned the Alice Correia essay I read in the Irvin book – she quotes Roger Hilton as follows: “Words and painting don’t go together.  The more words that are written about painting, the less people will see the painting.  Half the difficulty that people find in “understanding” painting is that they think they have to put it into words.”  The truth of this  is easily demonstrated – just think of the number of times you have gone to an exhibition and spent more time reading the labels and info on the walls than looking at the pictures.  A bit of context is OK, but a work, especially an abstract one, should speak through the image – otherwise, why bother?

Unfortunately, she spoils it for me on the previous page: “Why is it that that non-representational art draws so much negative attention? …The work of Jackson Pollock… still has the ability of infuriating viewers who feel they are being duped in some way….It could be because abstraction does not have any easy answers.  The question is not “what is it of?” but rather, “how does it make me feel?” ”  

Well, no.  Back to words again!  The “feelings” proposal negates Hilton’s comments entirely.  Pictures don’t need to represent feelings either.  She asserts that Irvin’s pictures are about hope, an easy conclusion to reach, since they are vibrant, bright colours and contain little black. But  he was in the RAF during WW2; some of them could easily represent burning German cities from a plane, with daisy-like bomb explosions (Plimsoll, Skipper and Brandenburg, for example).  Let the pictures speak for themselves.

Van Gogh

I’m sure I have remarked on this before, and that loads of others have also noticed it, but some of Vincent’s late paintings look as if he is painting  LSD experiences.  The blazing stars, of course, but also tree bark, meadow grasses, fields and hedgerows seem to swarm, somehow, or are outlined in light, in a way that I remember from long-ago “experiments” with hallucinogens.  Not to suggest that he was an early adopter; maybe a chemical imbalance made him see in that way.  Then again,  not all painters paint what they see – probably not even most.  Certainly not me, even in life drawing; I’m happy with anything that looks halfway OK, even if it’s nothing like what I see. 

The Music Lovers

Sample reviews,  from Wikipedia:

Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader described the film as a “Ken Russell fantasia – musical biography as wet dream” and added, “[it] hangs together more successfully than his other similar efforts, thanks largely to a powerhouse performance by Glenda Jackson, one actress who can hold her own against Russell’s excess.”

TV Guide calls it “a spurious biography of a great composer that is so filled with wretched excesses that one hardly knows where to begin . . . all the attendant surrealistic touches director Ken Russell has added take this out of the realm of plausibility and into the depths of cheap gossip.”  Ken Russell must have been immensely proud of these, and other, worse, reviews.

My own realist efforts.

And latest, abstractified Figures in a (winter) landscape.  This was called “Life Drawing 1”, a couple of blogs ago.

Blackpaint

22/12/11

Blackpaint 313 – Pretentious is a Pre-condition

December 18, 2011

Fred Cuming

Saw a book of Cuming’s paintings – landscapes, gardens, studio interiors – today.  Doesn’t sound very exciting, but they are really stunning; I looked him up on Google Images and they all looked very similar, sort of blue and misty.  when you zoom them, though, the glowing fires concealed open up.  I don’t usually go for traditional landscape and figurative painters – modern ones, that is – but he’s great; best English  figurative stuff I’ve seen since Rose Hilton, up in Cork Street a few months ago.

Albert Irvin

Bought a cheapo catalogue of Irvin (see last blog) up at King’s Place the other day; the usual eye – burning raspberry, yellow and green stars and flowers etc.; I was surprised to read that an early influence was De Kooning; apparently, he (Irvin) used a lot of black in those days – don’t think he touches it now.  But his main influence was Peter Lanyon.  I can see that in the sweeping brushstrokes sometimes, but not in the colours.  Good, if short,  essay by Alice Correia, containing some interesting observations about abstraction:

Irvin

Lanyon

Cinema

I think I’ve only seen four films at the cinema this year; all of them were great.  They were Days of Heaven (Malick), Il Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino), Caves of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog) and We need to Talk about Kevin (Lynne Ramsay).  See previous blogs on all.   But this has been  a year in which I got into “World Cinema” in a serious way and discovered a world of pleasure (and pain) by accepting certain pre-conditions:

First, don’t demand a story.  You might find there is one after a while, but watch the film for the images (sound as well as visual).  Second, half-hour chunks can be good – I love Bela Tarr, but I’m not ready to do a whole film at one sitting (unless, like a number of his characters, I am very drunk on Hungarian fruit brandy).  Third, don’t scorn pretention; all art is arrogant and pretentious, or it is if it’s any good. 

10 Best films I’ve seen on DVD this year are:

Satantango, Bela Tarr (twice)

Russian Ark, Sokurov (three times)

Amarcord, Fellini (twice)

l’Age d’Or/le Chien Andalou, Bunuel/Dali (three or four times)

Satyricon, Fellini

Damnation, Bela Tarr

Werckmeister Harmonies, Tarr

Salo, Pasolini

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Bunuel

Women in Love, Ken Russell.

I want to publish, so it’s a bit short today.  I see I have a bad attack of brackets, so will try to avoid them henceforth (will do my best, anyway).

Figures in a Landscape

Blackpaint

17/12/11

Blackpaint 312 – He Slapped the Paint on with his Bare Hands

December 13, 2011

De Kooning

“And just as he occasionally applied the paint to canvas with his bare hands, de Kooning’s sculptures reflect the physical investment in the creation of a work of art that was characteristic of …..Abstract Expressionism.” (Barbara Hess, de Kooning, Taschen 2007).  Occasionally?  I would have thought he did it a lot and often – I don’t see how you could get some of those marks with a brush or knife.  Nothing like getting a good fistful and slapping it onto the canvas – in a careful and thoroughly controlled movement , of course…

Soutine

One more quote from the same book, this time DK himself:  “I’ve always been crazy about Soutine – … Maybe it’s the lushness of the paint.  He builds up a surface that looks like a material, like a suvstance.  There’s a kind of transfiguration, a certain fleshiness in his work”.

He’s right, isn’t he?  And there is a certain resemblance in his (Soutine’s) distorted trees and villages to DK’s “style”  (although DK hated the word).

Gesamtkunstwerk at Saatchi

Just want to mention two more artists from this exhibition; the first is Ida Ekblad, a Norwegian who often works in Germany.  She has made several thick plaques of concrete or plaster, in which are embedded, or to which are stuck, various bits of pipe and metals, coloured fabric, general rubbish, some more organised than others, a wash of paint here and there…  I know, sounds like crap, but they really look great, especially from a distance.  When she paints, she turns in huge, dramatic Scando works, owing something to the school of Per Kirkeby.  Saw one of hers in Venice Bienniale, but forgot to mention it then.

Secondly, Thomas Helbig, whose work I both loved and hated.  He has two ghastly, lumpy sculptures entitled Vater and Jungfrau, that are sort of biomorphic – half bird,  half human, really ugly in a not interesting way.  His paintings, Maschine and Wilde Mit Spiegel, however, have a delicacy of touch and colour and a rather Richter-isch quality; maybe because the first looks a bit like a blurred jet plane, recalling Richter’s September painting.

There is a book  of Helbig’s work on sale in Saatchi’s, and in it are a number of very beautiful paintings, on lacquer, I think it said, that recall Chinese wall hangings. 

Finally, for now anyway, there is Stefan Kurten; highly detailed, one or two verging on super-realism, but others in a difficult to describe graphic style -overgrown  gardens, plants, balconies, interiors of deserted flats and modern concrete buildings.  Crowded with things, empty of people.  They look fantastic in repro, maybe better than in the “flesh”.  One of them, Ultramarine II, reminded me of Hopper’s Nighthawks in its general shape, with sculptures and paintings standing in for the people.

Life Drawings

This is the finished painting that I was doing to incorporate some of my lifers, and in which I was trying to purify my colours of ” mud” and get a  De Kooning cleanliness in the tangle.  Partial success, maybe.

Life Drawing I

Here are the pictures I used:

They’re all in there somewhere.

The Music Lovers

Halfway through this and enjoying it immensely, memories flooding back.  It’s like a boisterous brother to Death in Venice, the hostility between Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein (the Delius actor) echoing that between Von Aschenbach and Alfred –   Down the river, through the willows in canoes, everyone in white,shades of  Manet… fantastic.

Blackpaint

12/12/11

Blackpaint 311 – Fellini at Skegness, cont.

December 8, 2011

Butlin’s Folk Festival

Last blog, I was rambling on about the Fellini-esque nature of the views at Skegness Butlins – the white tent, the beach, the groups of wanderers – thinking that Butlins and Fellini would make a nice, incongruous pairing for a title.  Nothing incongruous about it at all, of course; Fellini’s films are full of popular entertainment, wandering show people, circus acts, clowns, brass bands…

City of Women

Mastroianni in the above, bewildered, harrassed, pushed downstairs by revolting (but mostly very attractive) women, a strong reminder of Milo O’Shea as Bloom in Ulysses; apologetic, trying to excuse the inexcusable, guilty by nature of his existence – just perfect.  Great scene in which the burly( but oddly alluring) stoker woman tries to have sex with him in the polytunnel and is prevented by the arrival of her mother.

Cara Dillon

I said last time that she was like a gutsier Alison Krauss – since then, I’ve bought some of her records, and only the last, Hill of Thieves, could be called gutsy in any shape or form; beautiful, but wistful.  But live, she’s a different, more powerful proposition. 

Albert Irvin

Strange how you suddenly “get eyes” for a picture, or a painter, if they pursue a distinctive style;  it’s happened to me with Irvin.  I used to think his bright, almost fluorescent colours and lack of “painterly” texture were somehow shallow and trivial.  Someone sent me a postcard of one of his pictures a year or so ago and it’s been on the mantelpiece all that time, slowly (it seems) sinking in – and now I love it.

Gesamtkunstwerk at Saatchi

Free exhibition at Saatchi Gallery in Kings Road; it’s so good, I’m going to take a couple of blogs over it.  First…

Andre Butzer

Like an angry child’s parody of Asger Jorn; the gnome-like faces with big ears, but crudely sketched on the surface, graffiti style, not scratched and sculpted out of the background, like Jorn.  Those flat, jarring colours, especially the green, like a Basquiat with no taste.  They’re huge, of course – great.  That’s three of them, then there were another three with beautiful, clotted, light grey surfaces, over and across which, he’d slid a black-laden brush in geometric shapes – slidey triangles, like Bram Van Velde, only more straight – and other colours too.  These ones were more conventionally beautiful.

Isa Genzken 

A panel made up of maybe four large mirrors, plastered across with fluorescent tape like repairs or crime scene tape; rusty red paint running down, photo-posters of a Leonardo painting and several Michelangelo sculptures stuck on it (photos, not sculptures).  Again, great, but I don’t know why; something to do with modern life and traditional culture, street v. salon, Baader – Meinhof in there somewhere, probably..

Her other exhibits were assemblages on little podia, the most memorable built round a big artificial palm plant, with a large beer glass wearing a hat.  It looked like a bizarre machine.  She often uses little toy soldiers and cowboys, dolls – one with a scorched face – as in horror film cliches, toys/children, vulnerable, innocent/sisnister somehow.

In fact, several of the artists use toys in their work.  As well as the innocent/sinister thing, there is the glamour of a brightly coloured plastic toy – it can set off a drab assemblage of diverse objects like Turner’s red spot on in the London Bridge painting.

This is how my De Kooning type painting is progressing (or not); see last blog.  Final version in next one – something for readers to look forward to.

Blackpaint

8th December 2011

Blackpaint 310 – No Mud, just Clean, Singing Colours

December 5, 2011

De Kooning

Sometimes painters just cut through everything else when you look at something and so it is for me with DK – picked up the Taschen to see if it’s worth getting the new Retrospective for 34 quid (it is, of course) and I couldn’t believe how clean his colours are – no muddy slurry, just clean, pure greens, blues, pinks; loads of scoring and dripping and strokes of black – well, you can see in the Woman  below:

See, no mud?  When I try, I get mud straight away, as in first stage below;

Will try to rescue it, but I don’t hold out great hope.

Degas’  Ballet Dancers

I repeated my remark about the Degas exhibition at my life drawing class on Friday – namely, very wonderful drawings and paintings, but you can have too many ballet pictures; it didn’t go down very well – apparently, you can’t have too many.  Coincidentally, we had some ballet-type poses for the 5 minute jobs, and I reproduce a couple here:

The one on left above illustrates the pitfalls of not standing back to check your dimensions – you get stunted appendages (no, not that one) like the tiny left arm, bursting from his upper chest like the Alien baby. 

ROYGBIV at the Whitechapel

Forgot to mention the Macaw’s Wing watercolour by Elizabeth Butterworth and Patrick Caulfield’s Pipe with Smoke; don’t know why they’re so good, really – I think it’s the red and deep blue in both.

Fellini at Skegness

Spent the weekend at Butlin’s in Skegness at the Butlin’s Folk Festival – most of the crowd were white, many were bald (as were some of the male singers); if you were there, my partner and I were the well-dressed, youthful, rather good-looking couple in the queue – you probably noticed us.  All the acts great, as they were at Cropredy (big overlap) but only one really for me, Cara Dillon and her band.  I had thought she was a bit twee, having seen her on that Celtic Connections thing with Aly Bain, where everybody is rather well-pressed  and pleased with themselves; very mistaken.  Powerful voice over Sam Lakeman’s driving, commanding  guitar, she sounds to me like a gutsier, Irish Alison Krauss.  Hill of Thieves – fantastic. 

So, what’s this about Fellini? Being dead, if for no other reason, he wasn’t really in Skegness. But outside the Butlin’s gates, on the windswept beach, with the strange, pointy cone- shaped turrets of the big entertainments tent towering behind the fence, dozens of little groups of people trudging along like pilgrims, walking off the Guinness between sets,  it looked like a scene from 8 1/2, or maybe Dolce Vita, or Amarcord…  Anyway, I’ll post our photograph and you will see what I mean.

The Devils

Hopefully, now Ken Russell’s dead and everyone realises how brilliant he was, there will be a DVD of the director’s cut issued.  I was remembering Dudley Sutton in the film, tossing a blackened bone to Vanessa Redgrave in his best insouciant manner; he was a Ted in “The Boys” with Jess Conrad, I think, years before, and was in Fellini’s Casanova, dementedly playing an organ, halfway up a castle wall.  All this, and a close friend of Roger Hilton too.  And Tinker….

Synapse, Blackpaint

5th December 2011