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


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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