Archive for January, 2012

Blackpaint 322 – Canyons, Maggots and a lot of Trees…

January 29, 2012

Hockney at the RA

Went on Thursday afternoon and queued for only 20 minutes.  First, a couple of lovely, dour English paintings of Bradford scenes, then into the 60’s; cartoon boys tearing along in a car heading, so the caption said, from Switzerland to Italy, toothpaste colours in striped and chevrons, “An Ordinary Painting” with top and bottom balancing.

Then, some roaring red, roasted American landscapes; “A Closer Grand Canyon” (98) and “Nichols Canyon” (80) – the latter a fluorescent quilt, like that early Miro, the Farm, in the recent exhibition.  In the corner, “Garrowby Hill” and “The Road across the Wolds” (date 200?),  ribbons of road winding around hills, as the names suggest, the lower two thirds of each canvas flat , the top third a receding perspective of fading patchwork fields; really odd and effective. 

Watercolour trees and puddles from 2004, smudgy blue-grey skies – quite striking in their pallor, in the prevailing Ribena and lettuce-coloured surroundings. These must be the paintings that Alastair Sooke describes as “dull-as-ditchwater” in the Telegraph.  Welcome relief, I thought.

The hawthorn and blossoms were a highlight for me; big, square blocks of branch, the blossom squirming like bunches of white grubs on the limbs.  Ghosts of Paul Nash and maybe early Craxton hovering.

The uniform size and number of the IPad panels surrounding the room, I found a little off-putting; what stayed with me – the reflecting puddles and the swirling leaf/tree tunnels, created by multiple small strokes, the Van Gogh effect.

One thing very apparent, especially with the huge composite image of “Spring in Woldgate Woods” (2011), is the crudity of the drawing – the trunks are often just flat shapes, outlined with a thick dark line.  Flowers and leaves are simple shapes like cut-outs coloured in.   This may be the result of the enlargement of IPad drawings – I didn’t read the notes carefully enough to be sure.  However, it is even more apparent in the Yosemite pictures, which are recent and are definitely enlarged IPad images.  The only thing I really liked about these was the clouds in one of them.

There is a sequence of paintings in different styles which are versions of a Sermon on the Mount by Claude.  Hockney’s final version has Christ preaching on what looks like the top of a giant carrot.  These pictures seem somehow out of place, except for the carrotty colour.

The sketchbooks in glazed cabinets are good, but then, isolating and presenting images in this way gives them added significance – for me, the repetition and uniformity of size of the other images detracts, although it did occur to me that, if you saw many of these pictures in a gallery “on their own”, with  paintings by other artists, you might walk past them without a second glance.

BUT – having said that, a bit of distance makes all the difference.  If you stand right back, the other end of a room, say, some of them look great.  It’s obvious really; they’re made to be seen from far off.

I haven’t mentioned the charcoal drawings; they are really quite powerful – big, square cliff faces of tree at intersections and crossroads, looming like liners or huge black department stores.  One of them reminded me of an enormous black owl’s head.

To return to this thing about presentation for a moment – I saw the show reviewed on BBC4, the Review Show (appropriately).. and all the pictures looked fantastic – the winding roads and patchwork fields, the blossom maggots, the Technicolour woods, even the red-raw Grand Canyon.  Photographs, and especially television, glamourise everything drastically.  There’s no point in going to exhibitions, everything looks much better on the telly. 

 And of course, with IPad drawings there’s no texture, no lumps, bumps, trickles or ridges – just SMOOTH, how a picture ought to look.

Interesting to see the uniform chorus of approval on the prog for Hockney’s “positivity”; he has “brought the colour home” from the States; he is showing “bravery” for still doing new work at his advanced age (Leonard Cohen, too, got similar praise).  This positivity thing seems to be in the air in the art world; something to do with the Olympics, all being in it together, the Big Society – art in the service of society under the coalition.  Paul Morley, in particular, condemned any negative criticism of the Hockney and took a sneering swipe at the RA visitors as middle class, for making facetious remarks like “Too many trees” within his hearing.  Too many trees is, however, true and to-the-point. 

 One last thing – one test of a work to me is if the image stays in your mind with any sort of clarity, once you stop looking at it.  The Hockney pictures certainly do that.

Wilhelmina Barns – Graham

Just around the corner from the RA, in Berkeley Street, an exhibition of the above Scottish and St.Ives painter, showing a pleasing diversity if styles, from naturalism to total abstraction.  One glowing yellow ochre and brown harbour scene, resembling Prunella Clough’s early worker pictures; some lovely abstracts with magisterial brush sweeps of white; in a corner, a group of brilliant, brightly-coloured abstract shapes (with one terrible pink-based one, the larger one in the middle of the wall) and by far the best painting, a brown and red job that looked like a pair of pliers clenching a red-hot ingot – just like a Roger Hilton, I thought.  Great little exhibition, just right for my little British tastes.

The Russell Omnibuses on Elgar and Delius

Fantastic – the images and the music.  That avenue of  poplar trees filmed from below in a tracking shot in Elgar, the stunning acting of Max Adrian as Delius – “Are you ready, boy?   Take this down – Tan -ta-TAA, Tan -ta-TAA….”.  Russell was a great, great film-maker.

Blackpaint

29/01/12

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Blackpaint 321 – Yorkshire, Blackburn and the Leopard

January 23, 2012

Hockney at the RA

The weekend papers full of hype for this – Roy Hattersley droning on about Yorkshire, bringing in Captain Cook and other irrelevancies, interviews with bussed-down Yorkshire painters groups, Yorkshire tourist board planning Hockney tours…  More about Hockney’s “superlative” drawing skills,” richness and exuberance” of the colours.  I have to say that none of the repros I have seen particularly demonstrate Hockney’s (undoubted) drawing skills and some of the green, orange and Ribena colours look like no colours I have seen in “real life”, in Yorkshire or anywhere else.  An artist called Jim Bruce – not a Yorkshireman – tellingly referred to Hockney’s landscapes as “abstract”, while enthusing about them to an interviewer.  Laura Cumming in the Observer says “He is not primarily interested in the ever-changing rhetoric of weather, light or nature.  He is thinking about picture making..”   She refers to the colours as “Matisse crossed with Walt Disney” and I persist in being reminded of the animated Lord of the Rings.

The size of the paintings must contribute to the feeling of “Event”; I touched on the previous display of Hockney big trees at the Tate Britain when writing about John Martin’s spectaculars recently.  Interestingly, with regard to hype, I see that the Leonardo exhibition is described as “overpraised” in today’s Guardian.  Don’t think any critics had the nerve to say that when it opened.

Having said all that, the Hockneys are definitely distinctive; you couldn’t mistake the pictures for anyone else’s work and that’s something to prize, for sure.

London Art Fair

Acquired tickets for this, which normally cost £18 entrance fee, expecting a lot of dross; instead, saw the best British painting I have seen all year.  Admittedly, most of it was  St. Ives or other oldies, but that’s the rut I’m stuck in.  My partner tells me that the recession is leading collectors to sell off some good stuff, but I’m unconvinced; lots of cash around at the top end, I think.  Anyway, some lovely, brilliantly coloured Anthony Frosts (Terry’s son), loads of Alan Davie, including a great one on thick brown wrapping paper, Roger Hilton poster paints and others from earlier, loads of little Sutherlands, Keith Vaughans and great early Sandra Blows, when she was using sand and suchlike.  Several Ivon Hitchens, Prunella Clough, and a totally uncharacteristic Patrick Heron, that was bright little colours on a black base.  The best pictures were as follows:

Peter Lanyon, large oblong panel, with unusual, intense orange -red section and an almost grafitti feel to it; 

John Blackburn, new to me, but born 1932; beautiful white and blue panels on an upright rectangle, tucked away at back, very like Paul Feiler;

Paul Feiler (born 1918, Britain’s greatest living abstract painter), white and off-white square with red and blue broken and concealed lines breaking surface here and there; 

Adrian Heath, who taught Terry Frost in POW camp, Poliakoff-like geometric shapes in various colours, resembling collage;

Robin Denny, a big, wild, dark blue Ab Ex effort, so fantastic I stepped back carelessly for a better look, straight into a gent who was also gazing at it.  On the way home, we saw his (Denny’s) coloured rods design on Embankment tube – hard to believe same bloke did both.

Also in Embankment station, a besuited Peter Blake, several of whose works were on show at the Angel.

Three other painters whose work I liked were Mark Surridge, little Lanyon-y panels; Rebecca Salter, gauzey, gossamer surfaces to her canvases,; and Chloe Lamb, whose abstracts, often in variations of ochre, I loved, but thought the paint could have been slapped on more thickly.  There is another Chloe Lamb, featuring on Google.

The Leopard, Visconti

Made in 1963, just seen the DVD.  Sicily in Garibaldi’s time, eras ending, the stately old aristos intermarrying with the new bourgeoisie – Burt Lancaster surprisingly perfect, once you get used to the dubbed voice; another sumptuous, hypnotic ball to go with the one in Russian Ark; those quirky mazurkas.  And Romolo Valli, the hotel manager in Death in Venice, here a sycophant priest.  And music by Nino Rota.

Old one, I’m afraid; batteries in my camera gone.

Blackpaint

23/01/12

Blackpaint 320 – The Shire, the Sunset and the Pequod

January 19, 2012

David Hockney

His new show at the RA seems to be dividing the critics somewhat, so I am eager to go see.  Some seem to be casting him as Grand Old Man of figurative painting, upholding traditional old English values (that thing about drawing, a sort of fetishism I think) against the conceptuals, the empty, sensationalist Hirstites. His grumpy old squire-ishness and eccentricities about smoking and the calendar assist in this, I suppose.  Some reviewers are writing in awed tones about beauty and soul – enough to make you sick, or me anyway.

Martin Kettle in the Guardian expresses this identification with traditional values – he chucks in Yorkshire pride too, no nonsense in Yorkshire – most strongly; he writes that “Hockney and his art express and address the kind of people and country that he and we wish we were”.  What does this mean?  That we are  people who love landscape painting, hate abstract and conceptual art, admire the “useful”, despise the frivolous, can draw really, really well?  All sounds deeply conservative to me, as if Hockney’s art was made to chime with Cameron’s current version of Thatcherism.  He’s probably right about many people living in Britain today – when times are hard and uncertain, you tend to cling to what you see as safest.  Not sure he’s right about Hockney, though.

Hockney’s tree pics and landscapes strike me as so oddly coloured that I think of them almost as cartoons – the repros I have seen remind me of the graphics that you used to see in pre – CGI animation; not so much East Yorkshire as The Shire.  That bright green, the beetroot – to – mauve colours he uses for paths; it all lacks the denseness and richness and subtlety of trad English landscape.  So what – he’s using trees and landscape to make pictures and if the pictures don’t look like the landscape, it shouldn’t be a problem.  The only question is, do you like the pictures?

Giorgione

Was in the National Gallery today, and I came across a couple of paintings by this mystery man of Venice.  The first, Il Tramonto, the Sunset, had a lot going on in it as well as the sun setting; St. George killing the dragon, St.Anthony waving out of a cave, St. Roch (maybe) getting his leg bound up, and a pond with a very humpy monster sitting in it.  What is the relationship between all these?  Like the Tempest, in the Venice Accademia, no-one has much idea what’s going on.

The other picture was the Adoration of the Kings, that little panel with the groom crossing his legs and looking down at his feet, way off to the right out of the main action of the picture, but stealing the attention completely.  The glowing yellows and reds are up to Raphael standard.

Catena

Why does Catena have partridges wandering about in both the pics on display next to the Giorgiones?  there they are, in both a St. Jerome in his study (lion with very human face) and in an Adoration (baby Jesus with head like a cannonball).

Travelling Light

At the Whitechapel, the latest government pictures selection, by Simon Schama this time.  Best pictures; Roger Hilton’s fabulous Pequod (thought it was a big Alfred Wallis, from across the room); Bomberg’s Jerusalem Armenian Church, and Marta Marce’s “Scalectrix” loops.  There’s that great portrait of Byron, done up like a Greek soldier, but looking very soft – not like the mad satanic near rapist portrayed in Ken’s “Gothic”.  Once again, fantastic booklet, made for bloggers so they don’t have to take notes.

Blackpaint

19.01.12

Blackpaint 319 – The Slipping Glimpser

January 16, 2012

De Kooning

I gave myself the Thames and Hudson Retrospective of DK for Christmas.  It seems to me that you need a label different from Abstract Expressionism to fit him – a third part of his work seems to me to be figures, another third landscape in some way and only maybe a third abstract.  Proportions probably wrong, but you get my drift, no doubt.  I was interested to read that he called himself a “slipping glimpser” – nice phrase, which I take to mean he tried to capture some fleeting moment, or movement, or impression that he received on the corner of the eye or maybe was gone before he could even identify it, like catching hold of a dream.  I’m not sure this would make any sense in the context of abst ract painting – but it certainly does with figurative.  Trying to think of other painters who do that, and Bacon and Auerbach come to mind. 

Sometimes it’s hard to describe or pin down painters’ techniques (or tricks – or is that the same thing?)   I remember in the Diebenkorn book, Jane Livingston talks about Dieb.’s subversion of his own graphic skills, to draw intentionally awkwardly, “even clumsily”, to achieve the effect he wanted.  I think that she means the achievement of a rich surface by means of  smeared or broken lines, reworkings with “ghost” marks left in, clotted, grooved or scraped areas.. or maybe she is referring to his figurative paintings, his drawing style. 

The Artist

Saw this last week, and was unable to understand the universal acclaim.  I found the jaunty music and silent movie cliche really irritating at first, but as the story deepened and the charm of the two stars took hold, I enjoyed it more.  Nevertheless, an hour after seeing it, it was fading from my mind.  The French do pastiche very well, though.  I used to go to the Django Reinhart Gypsy Jazz festival at Samois every year, and whatever type of jazz was being performed – blues, jug band, Glenn Miller, bebop – a French ensemble was there to do it perfectly.

Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the ICA

Website tells me this is now finished, but I was intrigued by the relatively few paintings and sculptures on show.  There was one that resembled a Frank Stella; dreamcatcher shape, smooth surfaces, straight lines, airbrushed – “cherry” as the Cool School would have called it; another, the opposite, roughly painted, crude colouring, called “Garden ghosts” I think; another composed of long green and brown and yellow(?) streaks, like an abstraction of a tropical tree, a bit Richter or Irvin maybe.  What occurred to me was that, despite their differences, they shared with the smaller sculptures the advantage of being easily saleable, transportable and hangable;  Ideal commodities, that is to say.  How the hell do you sell a shallow flight of stairs, leading to a narrow window, which lights up every few minutes? 

The Mystery of Appearance, Haunch of Venison, Bond Street

Free exhibition of English painters of 60s on – Auerbach, Freud, Bacon, Kossoff, Hockney et al.  Three beautiful Auerbachs, two of Primrose Hill, but the best a very small picture of a prone male(?) figure lying face down, it appears.  The background is dark grey or brown, with a raised central square panel, and the figure is picked out in loops or petals of white, green and blue-maybe yellow too-paint.  Then, there is a large Andrews, a reach of the Thames or some such that has a tract of mud and shifting sand that recalls the surface of the early Sandra Blow pictures.  Another Andrews is a large reception at Norwich Castle, showing Frank Thistlethwaite, the VC of University of East Anglia when I was there.  I recognised the painting – I think it hung somewhere at UEA, the Union maybe.  What I didn’t know was that the blobby nature of the faces wasn’t just bad brushwork, but a comment on the old Victorian- style VIP painting. Like Diebenkorn, intentionally clumsy.

Blackpaint

16.01.12

Blackpaint 318 – 5 o’clock shadow and the Chrysler eggs

January 10, 2012

Larry Cohen

This week, the new DiCaprio film “J.Edgar” is on release, which reminds me of Cohen’s great film of 1977, covering the same ground: “The Private Files of J.Edgar Hoover”.  This must be seen, if for no other reason than the fact that it stars Broderick Crawford as Hoover.  In addressing one of his FBI agents, he delivers the line, “You have a tendency to 5 o’clock shadow – shave twice a day”.  Quite why this is brilliant coming from Crawford, I’m not sure – would it be as resonant from DiCaprio,though?  The film has Dan Dailey as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s (alleged) lover.  The cast list, in fact, is full of famous names from the 50s.

The Chrysler eggs refers to “Q the Winged Serpent”, Cohen’s later masterpiece, in which Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec deity, pictured as a sort of archaeopterix – type dinosaur, nests in the top of the Chrysler building and starts to snatch and eat unwary New Yorkers.  Fantastic, funny and I’ve just decided to get both on DVD.

The above is not intended to disparage DiCaprio, who I think is a strong and versatile actor; Broderick Crawford just has to be himself, though – he’s a winged serpent.

Gainsborough

Nicola Kalinsky in the Phaidon book says that G was not much good at figures; the Andrews, for instance, are “peg-like” and stiff….clothes horses”.  I suppose this is true enough – I always felt there was a caricature-ish appearance to this picture, as if G were satirising them in some way.  It’s interesting that Gainsborough did his own dresses and draperies, rather than leaving it to an assistant; nowadays, we tend to prize the rendition of the silks and satins more than the subjects – after all, who knows what they really looked like?

Van Gogh

There really was no pleasing him; when, in 1889, Isaacson the painter praised his work, calling him a pioneer, VG wrote that his review was highly exaggerated and “it would be preferable if he said nothing about me at all” (letter 611).  Later, when Aurier wrote a very overblown piece on him, he wrote back saying Gauguin and Monticelli deserved the praise.  And he sold a painting, “the Red Vineyard”, at the Les Vingt exhibition in Brussels.  All this leads Walther and Metzger, in the Taschen Van Goch, to the colossal assumption that “His solid conviction that he would have to pay for success, sooner or later, was to drive Van Gogh to suicide” (Van Gogh, the Complete Paintings, Taschen 2010, p.573).  Lovely example of art criticism – not a scrap of evidence that this is true.

ICA – Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2011:  In the Presence

This is a free exhibiton of 40 recent art graduates’ work, and there is a lot of interesting and some good stuff to be seen.  I’ll start with three today:

Jessica Sarah Rinland

“Nulepsy” – a video dream sequence, I imagine, of a naked young man sleeping, interspersed with stills of him with parts of his body shrouded in some white, film – like mould on a corpse – too quick to see more clearly.   Naked skateboarding in a park follows.  Yes, we’ve all done it in our dreams.

Jonathan Trayte

“In the Presence of Nature” – A huge joint of meat on the sawn-off bone, like a section of a sheep’s torso, cast in bronze and sprayed or coated gold.  At least, I think (and hope) it’s meat; wood wouldn’t be as interesting.

Joshua Bilton

“Post Diptych” – A pair (obviously) of photographs, lovely white and grey tones, one of a wooden triangular structure like a giant dog kennel in a bare field of earth; the other a tree study, which close up, contains a trellis like structure.  One of those things that draws your eye across a room.  More next time.

Figures in a (Crowded) Landscape

Blackpaint

10/01/12

Blackpaint 317 – Wandering Ears and Landskips

January 4, 2012

Van Gogh’s Ear

The Taschen book shows three self portraits done in August and September1889, in which Vincent appears to show the left side of his face in half-profile.  In two, the ear is clearly intact; in the other one, it is mutilated.   Since it was the left ear that was damaged, the viewer is probably seeing a mirror image transcribed by VG.  The same goes for the two pictures with bandaged ear; the bandage appears to be on the right ear, so it must be mirror image.  In the third self portrait, presumably also done with a mirror, the ear is damaged .  So, what’s happened here?  He must have realised the “error”, and put it right – or maybe he just preferred himself with the ear intact.  Doesn’t matter, I know; but he had a thing about realism and it intrigued me to know.

Gainsborough

Reading the Phaidon book on above, and to my surprise, it’s fascinating.  Gainsborough refers to a “landskip” and my Dutch mother-in-law tells me that’s the Dutch spelling of landscape – which makes sense, as the Dutch more or less made the genre their own in the 17th century.  The author suggests that G may have had a job putting little figures in imported Dutch landscapes to make them acceptable to the English market.

“Landscape with Sandpit” – to my eyes, completely atypical of Gainsborough; chunky, blocky, low sandhills surrounded with lush vegetation, like some Caribbean treasure island (Dutch landskips by Ruisdael and Hobbema, for instance, sometimes look like Sumatran jungle, rather than European woods and copses).

There is that staggering portrait of the Linley sisters, in the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  The distinctly creepy, challenging stare and smile of Mary, peering slightly down on us head-on, rather than slightly tilted in other portraits.

Unfinished

I was surprised to read that several of the best-known pictures are unfinished; The Andrews husband and wife icon is one; there is a patch of plain canvas in Mrs. Andrews’ lap, under her folded hands.  The portrait of G’s two daughters pursuing the butterfly is also unfinished, as is the Diana and Actaeon.  I have to say that I don’t think they are any the worse for this; like Turner, whose sketches of Venice outshine many of his highly finished works.

William Gear

The book on the two Roberts that I referred to in the last blog, mentions this Scottish painter as one of the earliest British abstractionists; he apparently exhibited with CoBrA in 1949, so maybe they should have got an “E” for Edinburgh in the title somewhere.

Klee

Reading a Taschen on Klee – sounds like a tiresome individual in a number of ways.  A couple of paintings, one called “The Daub”, remind me of a wobbly Sean Scully.

Girl with a Dragon Tattoo

Again, the cinema (Ritzy) was freezing, but at least they had an apology pinned to the door.  I think the success of the Swedish Wallander (Kristerson) and The Killing was partly due to the distance provided by the foreign language and subtitles, which somehow smooths over the ridiculous plots and unlikely twists.  This new version of the Larsson is in English, so the absurdity of the plot is all too apparent.  However, Rooney Mara is a real face; she reminded me a little of Darryl Hannah’s replicant in Blade Runner – the black eye make-up, I think – and also, strangely and I don’t know why, of the girl in Franju’s Yeux Sans Visage.

Blackpaint

4/01/12