Archive for April, 2012

Blackpaint 339 – Toads, Pus, and Self-Indulgent Vice

April 26, 2012

Figure Drawing

Trying to keep my hand in on the figure drawing front until I can return to my Friday sessions, I bought a big pad and have been copying nudes out of the Louvre and Courtauld guidebooks.  After two days, I’m thoroughly sick of Rubens nudes in lesbian fantasy poses, bouncing about with tambourines, and naked slave girls being artfully stabbed at the court of Sardanopolis, and I’ve taken refuge in the works of Kirchner.  Pointy feet, skinny. insect-like bodies, pus, lime green and acid orange instead of rosy pinks and fleshy curves.


Wandering about on the common today, getting used to walking and stretching my stitches, I felt like one of those unfortunates loitering in the park,  in the Larkin poem Toads Revisited – “Waxed-fleshed out-patients,  Still vague from accidents”; always exciting nowadays  though, with the constant need to jump out of the path of the determined, hard-eyed cyclists, sprinting towards you along the No Cycling paths.  It reminded me of this I saw in the Guggenheim in Venice – it’s by Metzinger:

But actually not quite right; not enough malevolence.

Luc Tuymans

I came across this painting of his in Phaidon’s 20th Century Art Book; it’s from 1990, and is entitled “Body”.  The commentary, rather than the work itself, I found interesting.  “…a small, near-abstract composition, painted with an almost careless disregard.  Tuymans deliberately wishes to avoid the appearance of sophistication, seeing virtuosity as a self-indulgent vice.  He uses cheap paints, badly stretched canvases, and sometimes employs a medium for the base coat which causes the surface layers to crack, resulting in premature ageing… Tuyman’s colours are dismal and sickly, like the nicotine-stained walls of a decaying mental hospital.”  It seems to me that this commentary applies to a whole swathe of painters, both figurative and abstract, ranging from de Kooning and Diebenkorn to Marlene Dumas and William Sasnal – give or take the remarks about colour and cheap paint.  It is an approach that has been absorbed into the aesthetic of the last 50 years, yet it still divides people on the question of “proper art”.  Rough, cheap, dismal and sickly – sounds good to me.

Meek’s Cut-off

Saw this on TV last night.  What are we to make of the ending?  I thought Bela Tarr and Tarkovsky had cured me of the need to ask such questions, but after a straight telling of an intriguing story, with two clear possibilities presented, the film just stopped and I felt cheated.  Did the Blackfoot lead them to water or slaughter?  Still want to be told a story with a proper ending…. pathetic really.

Figure Drawing 5




Blackpaint 338 – Charlotte, the Scatman and the Hunters

April 21, 2012

Melancholia –

Just seen Lars Von Trier’s film and I have to say it was great.  Just like Tree of Life, the influence of Tarkovsky was evident to me, in the subject matter (see Tarkovsky’s “Sacrifice”) and the early appearance of Bruegel’s “Hunters in the Snow” – almost in the credits.  T. used this picture in both “Mirror” and “Solaris”.  The horse falling backwards in ultra slow motion onto its haunches brought to mind the aerial scene in Andrei Rublev.  Enough of the Tarkovsky comparisons – the rest is pure Von Trier, the elaborate, formal wedding and the disaffection bubbling through echoing “Festen”, of course.  Charlotte Gainsbourg should obviously play the younger Patti Smith when the film of Just Kids is made.

The Tobias Woolf story “Hunters in the Snow” should also be checked out, which brings me to-

King of Marvin Gardens

Bob Rafelson’s film on TV the other night – beautiful ensemble playing between Nicholson, Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn; clean washed skies, wooden sidewalks of Atlantic City and Scatman Crothers, great performance overshadowed by his turn in the Shining.   I’d completely forgotten about the shooting scene.

Olympic Art

Deller’s inflatable Stonehenge, Emin’s dove plane, Kapoor’s metal tower, like the stuff that Poets Laureate knock out for special occasions, e.g. Ted Hughes’ “Rain Charm for the Duchy”.  Actually, not really – Hughes’ poem is very good.

Have to stop now as I have three holes in my abdomen (planned – surgery) .  Have to say, the abstract art works in the Day Surgery at St. George’s Hospital in Tooting are pretty damn good – afraid I was in no condition to note the names of the artist(s).

Life Drawing 3



Blackpaint 337 – Orgreave, Iscariot and “The F-Word”

April 16, 2012

Jeremy Deller at the Hayward

Collection of his various projects in which he has played the role of interviewer or organiser or visionary – a term not too strong for the “Battle of Orgreave” re-enactment.  The exhibits include:

the flattened car from Iraq that was previously exhibited in the Imperial War Museum (see earlier Blackpaints) and was toured through the States;

Adrian Street, the “flamboyant” Welsh wrestler, his costumes, fights on video and struggles with machismo in the Valleys;

Deller’s “Open Bedroom”, with jokes copied from the walls of the British Library toilets;

The reproduction of Valerie’s Snack Bar, open and functioning, in which the customers looked like living sculpture exhibits the day I went.  Maybe they were particularly theatrically clothed (very arty crowd that day) – or maybe that’s always the effect.

Overshadowing, or maybe drowning out everything else. however, was the Orgreave video and photos that went with it.  Somehow, he got redundant miners who were there, together with military re-enactment groups and at least one policeman, interviewed on film, to reconstruct the “battle” – more a mounted assault, really – and won the 2004 Turner Prize with the filmed record.  Staggeringly realistic and powerful to those who remember the events, now back in the news, linked to the Hillsborough disaster.  The South Yorkshire force was responsible for order on both occasions and lawyers for the families of the Hillsborough dead allege similar tactics of lying and cover-up.

The film of Thatcher at the end, in tight-lipped, glaring, defiant mode brought back vividly her stance at the time; black and white, all or nothing, strikers were the “enemy within”.  She clearly knew nothing about, and cared nothing for the mining communities involved in the strike and this was her great asset – “Ignorance is Strength” (1984, Orwell).

David Shrigley (also at Hayward)

The Orgreave exhibit totally wiped out the David Shrigley exhibition for me – couldn’t be bothered with the little jokes, cartoons, insects with cannons, stuffed dogs…  Very unfair, of course; the leisure centre made me laugh out loud and so did a couple of other things, but the miners’ strike sucks the emotional oxygen out of the surroundings every time for me.

Damien Hirst

On TV Friday night, I glimpsed a shot of a young Hirst in front of his first dot painting, (the one that had run), hung or maybe painted direct onto a scabby, disintegrating, white tiled wall (shades of Deep End).  It looked great and revealed to me what was missing from his show – textural grime. 

Sounds odd, considering the rotting cow’s head, the blood, the massed dead flies, the stink, the disgusting fluid streaks down the walls in the butterfly room… but yet, it’s all too cleanly encased and clinical and glassed in.  Even the huge, black, circular cake of dead flies was neat and tidy.  For some reason, everything looks more exciting to me when it’s half-destroyed – for instance, those giant imitation stained glass windows, made from butterfly wings; destroy the pattern, leave it intact only here and there, bring a bit of entropy in – I think it would look better, might say more.  Then again, he’s the millionaire (billionaire?)…

Incidentally, on the same programme  (the Review Show, BBC2), the presenter Martha Kearney was clearly uncomfortable when one of the reviewers used the word “farking” , quoting Irvine Welsh’s take on how the English say “fucking” – she also panicked when another guest referred to some incident in Welsh’s new book; it was clearly deemed not fit to be repeated.  This is on a cultural review on BBC2, going out after 11.00pm.  Nursery school?  I hate all the bleeping you get on TV and especially the use of the formulation “The C-word”, “The F-word” and “The N-word”.

Kings Place – “Abstract Critical – Newcomer Awards”

Five lovely canvases by Iain Robertson, white base, faux-clumsy, slapdash figures, sweeps, circles, triangles, crosses in glowing, burning colours – a lot of Gillian Ayres, more than a touch of Albert Irvin, CoBrA peering through…

A couple of huge (and hugely priced) colourful, feathery swatches and tangles like Albert Oehlen by Gary Wragg. both entitled “Rue Gambetta”, one of them a cool 40 grand.

These were the selectors, however – of the selectees, it was Dan Roach’s pictures in oil and wax on paper that stood out, recalling Clough and Ian McKeever, somewhat.

National Gallery

Some random observations:

Only the Constable sketches look good to me – the wagons and little boys and rainbows spoil the finished paintings.

Guido Reni – “Europa”; what a duff painting.  The bull is terrible and so is the cherub.

The Veronese “back” in “Unfaithfulness” – fantastic.  Also Veronese – the size of that horse in the right of the picture of Alexander!  Maybe it’s on a step?  Also the big heads on the left and the “ghosts” wafting about in the centre.

The Titian Vendramins – the figure on the left has a head just like a French soldier at the time of the Dreyfus case.

The Campin Virgin with the improbably long, straight nose and the Van der Weyden Virgin – those fabric folds!

The Duccio pinks and the Giotto Pentecost legs, like spindly insect legs under the square bodies.

A grey-bodied Jesus as the Man of Sorrows, with massive chest and shoulders like a body builder.

Tree of Man and Pasolini

I was a bit hard on this the other day – called the beginning and the end “crap”.  Not so – it was the air of religiosity that I found unbearable, all that holy, churchy choir stuff and white floating linenLast weekend, I watched “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” by Pasolini – that’s the way to do religion on soundtrack; Bach, Blind Willie Johnson, Congo Mass; and the faces, particularly the young and old Marys and Judas Iscariot (Pasolini look-alike?), and the angry, intense, studenty Jesus.

Work in Progress (I know – too much brown).



Blackpaint 336 – Tree of Life and the Leaking Pupae

April 10, 2012

Deep End

No wonder it sounded like a foreign film dubbed (see last blog); apart from main actors, most were German and it was filmed in Munich!  I wonder if that goes for the baths – I always thought in was an old public baths in the East End of London, Hackney or Tower Hamlets.

Jonathan Jones in the Guardian

Last week, this critic was saying that, with the Lucian Freud, Hockney and now the Damien Hirst exhibitions, women artists weren’t getting a fair share of showings in London.  Hard to sustain this argument, I would have thought; in the last couple of years or so, we’ve been to Roni Horn, Susan Hiller, Rachel Whiteread, Kusama,  Tracey Emin, Joan Mitchell, Lygia Pape, Mary Heilmann, Nancy Spero, Isa Genzken, Pipilotti Rist, Vaida Caivanho, Cecily Brown, Rose Hilton…  OK, the three blockbusters were all men – but Freud just died, Hockney has done a whole body of new stuff in his 70’s and Hirst is the world’s priceyest living artist.

Damien Hirst

At the Tate Modern.  All the expected stuff is there; the swirl paintings (impressive, I thought);  the shelves of packaged drugs (I was surprised how many of them I know by name – it’s part of modern life); the sharks, looking pretty shrivelled now, like flesh under water too long; the beef head with the blood puddle and the fat black flies dying in droves on the insectocutor; the cows and calves sawn in half (spine and gut street maps, if you queue to walk between the two halves);  the crematoria of stinking fag ends; the anatomical models and variations on same; but the butterflies were new.  That is to say, I’ve seen the wings before and the “stained glass window” type patterns assembled from them – but not the butterfly room.

This was overheated, of course, and painted white or hung with white canvases.  The walls were studded with a variety of strange pupae or chrysalises, which appeared to have exuded vertical streaks of coloured fluid down the walls.  The mature butterflies tended to the huge, and the highly coloured, iridescent blues predominating, I think.  On a table in the middle of the room, bowls of fruit, pineapple, melons, etc. were studded with insects, drunk on the fermented juices.  The experience was faintly nauseating, like the stink of rotting flesh and fag ends from the other exhibits.

We didn’t bother queueing to see the diamond-crusted skull, since images of it abounded – and to queue reminded me of lining up to see the saints’ relics in Santiago di Compostella and other Catholic shrines.  And the Crown Jewels in the Tower, of course.

Is it worth a visit?  It’s conceptual art; in this case, seen it once, no point going again – you probably won’t get anything new.  You don’t look at these things and think that’s great, I didn’t see it like that before.

Tree of Life

Terrence Mallick, just watched it.  First thought – he’s been watching Tarkovsky.  Next – when is all this religiosity going to stop?  The choirs, the heavenly music. the wafting white linen, the chubby babies…  Then, it’s “2001”; we’re in the galaxies, there’s the sea from Solaris, back on Earth, origins of life, Disney, Blue Planet, Imax, Jurassic Park….  Then, it suddenly gets better – we’re back in Texas in the 50s with Brad Pitt and the kids.   Then, 10 minutes from the end it becomes indescribably bad again.  Ditch the crap at the beginning and the end and it would have been fantastic.


Easter Monday 2012

Blackpaint 335 – Redheads and Lurking Virgins

April 4, 2012

Deep End

Saw this on TV the other night for first time since 1970 or thereabouts; made by Jerzy Skolimowsky, set in a public baths in the East End.  Although all the actors were English (except, perhaps, Burt Kwouk in a dodgy “Chinese” hat, selling hot dogs), it sounded dubbed at times – I got the impression it was a foreigner’s view of London, same feeling with Polanski’s “Repulsion”, to an extent, but that had Catherine Deneuve as star – this had Jane Asher, who was rather good as a beautiful, hard-edged stripper/baths attendant.  Interesting that, apart from Michael Caine, who was much older, nobody to do working class cockney accents, until Ray Winstone in “Scum”, and maybe Phil Daniels and co in “Quadrophenia” – but that was much later, 79 I think.

The colours were the thing, really; green of the baths, red of Asher’s hair, white uniforms and ceilings and snow, orange, blue… the scarred and peeling walls sometimes recalling those beautiful Armenian and Azerbaijani arthouse films – “Colour of Pomegranates”, for example.  The bits I remembered from 1970 were the Tube journey with the life-size nude-ish cutout of Asher and the shock ending; won’t spoil it, in case it comes out on DVD.

Titian, The Flight into Egypt

Chanced on this new exhibition at the National Gallery today – had no idea it was opening (free).  It consists of the above painting, on loan from the Hermitage in St.Petersburg, referring to it as “Titian’s first masterpiece”, as well as a number of other Titians, Giorgiones, Durers and others that are deemed to have fed into it in some way.  The other Titians include “Noli me Tangere” and the one I wrote about before, calling it the “Flight into Egypt”, which is actually the Virgin and Child with a Shepherd, or some such title.  Confusingly, there is also a “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” on display.

The Hermitage painting is large; a small procession of Joseph, Mary and the child on an ass, led by an adolescent girl through a wooded Italianate countryside, in which a deer, a fox, a hawk, some sheep and a cow appear.  The Titian colours are there; the Virgin’s dress appears to be pink silk or velvet. and Joseph’s cloak a lustrous yellow.  Only the colours suggest Titian to me; I would not have thought of him first, perhaps because of the girl leading the ass, whose square build is unlike any Titian I have seen.  The girl for me is the main focus of the picture.

Homage to a Poet by Giorgione

The Durer drawings are stunning, of course, as are the pair of wolves by someone else, forget who; but the real attraction for me is the beautiful, strange painting by Giorgione, entitled “Homage to a Poet”.  It shows a Christ-like poet with a laurel crown, seated on a rocky outcrop, while devotees bring him tokens, animals wander about (as in the Titian) and a small, shadowy Virgin figure(?) lurks halfway up the opposite bluff.  It’s all very static; the figures stand out somehow, as if collaged on, an effect I remember from Douanier Rousseau pictures at Bilbao a year or two ago.  The shrubbery, dark at the front, lightening at the back, is sharply defined – just beautiful, and strange.  The wall notes point out Giorgione’s regard for the work of Schongauer – maybe that combination of German cold clarity with the warm colours of Venice is the secret.  Anyway, he’s my latest favourite Renaissance painter.

An old Blackpaint – at least three months old