Archive for May, 2012

Blackpaint 344 – Last Tango from Bela

May 31, 2012

Bela Tarr

I read in the Guardian that he is retiring to teach at a film school.  Terrible news – no more rain, mud, pigs and palinka, displaced peasants… 

Fred and Ginger

I’ve been watching the old Astaire Rodgers films again – Top Hat, Swing Time, Follow the Fleet – and ending up with a stupid smile at every breathtaking dance number; I find this is perfect to alternate with Tarr films, on the old 30 mins of Astaire-Rodgers, followed by 30 mins of Satantango or Damnation principle – they complement each other perfectly (as of course do Fred and Ginger).

Ed Burtynsky at the Photographers Gallery

The exhibition is titled “Oil”.  Huge, Gursky-ish photographs; spaghetti junctions, vast Volkswagen lots, thousands of Harley bikes at Sturgis, N.Dakota (where there’s a bikers’ convention): nodding donkeys flung higgledy-piggledy across the landscape in Baku, Azerbaijan; same hardware but neatly set out in California and Canada.  Shipbreaking in Chittagong – monolithic, black “walls” of iron, dwarfed workers posing; a Philadelphia truck-stop complex, Exxon and Big Mac signs; a beautiful, painterly interior of a refinery, shining, chromed pipes; oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  In one of these photos, tiny ships spraying foam (?), the surface of the sea just like coal, as if looking at a glistening, wrinkled, solid coal wall in a mine.

Art and the State

One thing that can be said for Damien Hirst is that (so far as I know) he has not participated in any of the Olympic or Jubilee nonsense currently engulfing the UK.  Could be wrong about this – please comment if I am.  Anyway, the sight of a collection of artists, actors and various other performers, in their posh clothes, at a reception for the Queen at the Royal Academy was bizarre and faintly nauseating.  They looked, for the most part, deeply embarrassed – some, notably David Hockney, pulling faces that made them look demented.  Maureen Lipman, interviewed by Will Gompertz, acquitted herself well; she said she had no idea why they were all there and then qualified this by opining that it was all about money and networking.  Gompertz and the odious George Alagiah “back in the studio”  (Morrissey is right about him “acting out” the news) feigned amusement – the interview disappeared and a more conventional few sentences from Charlotte Rampling substituted on later airings of the story.  Well done, Maureen; disappointing, Charlotte. 

Jonathan Jones on Hirst

Something I left out when discussing Jones’ excoriating review of Hirst last week, was his side-swipe at “whimsical abstraction”.  I assume that this is the process of producing abstract work without a coherent ideological frame of reference.  If so, my improvised paintings clearly fit the bill, so I must thank Jones for supplying me with a convenient label.  Latest whimsical abstraction below.

Blackpaint

31/05/12

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Blackpaint 343 – Hansel and Gretel, Staring Eyes and Jones v.Hirst

May 24, 2012

Bauhaus at the Barbican

Bauhaus to me means those Modernist white buildings with big windows and outside staircases, distinctive lettering, smoking artists with staring eyes, wearing overalls they have designed themselves…  This exhibition shows the early Arts and Crafts nature of the movement, buildings designed in wood by Walter Gropius having that Hansel and Gretel quality, or maybe Goering’s Karin hunting lodge.  Some of the early woodcuts on display, by Feininger, Itten and Gerhard Marcks, the latter two new names to me, very German Expressionist.  So that was unexpected. 

 Then there were the dolls, or puppets:  again, some of these were slightly sinister – one called the Executioner, another with a head consisting of an electrical circuit, and, the most memorable one of Paul Klee, with the staring eyes and a laboratory coat.

A set of small, colourful Kandinsky abstracts, entitled “Small Worlds”, consisting of shapes and symbols apparently flying apart, suggesting notes of music to me; of course, Kandinsky believed in synaesthesia, the perception and representation of sound, particularly music, in visual image.  Wasn’t that in Fantasia?

The Oskar Schlemmer figures, slim, androgynous, anonymous, very prevalent – and Schlemmer’s pneumatic costumes from “The Triadic Ballet”.  Furniture, Breuer chairs, nests of pastel coloured tables; teapots, tea sets and “liqueur flasks”, made from nickel silver? looking strangely fragile, awkward and impractical – the handles look difficult to hold and as if they might burn your fingers.  Probably very simple and utilitarian in the context of the times, though.

Trouble with the Bauhaus stuff is that it’s had a fair amount of exposure over the years – I remember a really big Bauhaus exhibition at the V&A, I think, a few years back, so seen all this before.  Good, though.

Damien Hirst at White Cube

An interestingly vitriolic review of these paintings by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian, entitled “A message to Damien Hirst: stop now, you have become a disgrace to your generation”.  He says that the paintings fail “to come close…to basic competence”,  that they “lack the skill of thousands of amateur artists who paint at weekends all over Britain”.  He can’t, says Jones, manage to paint an orange accurately; the “poor sphere seems to float in mid-air because of the clumsy circle of shadow below it”.

I won’t quote more from the review as it can be read online, no doubt, but the tone interested me; Jones wrote a similarly savage review of an exhibition by Mark Leckey a while back; like Hirst, once praised and admired by Jones (see Blackpaint 276).

Some of the paintings are reproduced in the Guardian; they don’t look that bad to me, I have to say; the orange looks like an orange and doesn’t seem to me to be at any worse odds with the tabletop than some of the fruit in Cezanne or Bonnard paintings (Hirst seems to be playing about with the picture plane by using a grid of dots in “front” of the table).  OK, they wouldn’t merit an exhibition if they weren’t by Hirst – but not that bad, on this showing.  Have to go and see it now, to see if it really warrants the Jones blitzing. 

Bram Bogart

Obit. in Guardian.  See the book “Intensely Dutch”; he uses paint applied inches deep, even thicker than Appel, great slabs and billows of single colour, white, yellow, red.

And an old one of mine to end with, just gone to a new home;

Brother Angels

Blackpaint

24/05/12

Blackpaint 342 – Richter, Kitaj and Tarr; a light interval.

May 17, 2012

Gerhard Richter

Forgot to say in last blog that Richter uses no earth colours in his squeegee paintings – titanium white, ivory black, lemon yellow, cadmium red, ultramarine; that’s it (no green?).  Then, he sweeps and swerves through the paint with a big perspex scraper, leaving scrapes and skidmarks in the paint, or with his giant wooden baton, attached to the top or side and pushed or pulled across surface with apparent effort.  In one image, he pushes the wood with his shoulder across a field of grey, the paint  resisting more every inch, like Sisyphus with his boulder.

He says some interesting, and apparently contradictory things about his work and painting in general.  He says, citing Adorno, that you can’t put pictures together – they are “mortal enemies”.  Each painting, he says, “is an assertion that tolerates no company”.  BUT he paints series, the “Cage” series for example, in the Tate Modern, that seem to be designed to draw strength from, and bounce off each other.

As regards abstraction, he says the eye is always looking for something real – i.e. from the “real” world – and that is where you can start to get “a sort of meaning”.  He sees an abstract painting as containing the potentiality of an infinite number of real images – sort of, all pictures are contained in each picture.  Interesting to me, after going through that long explanation, every time someone asks what a picture is supposed to be.  Instead of droning on about image and structure and texture and contrast and movement and balance and juxtaposition, I can just say “well, it’s whatever you want it to be…  Madonna and Christ?  Well, yes, I see what you mean…”.

His assistant says, “You can’t influence the painting; if I say it’s good, leave it, he’s more likely to change it… because he’s looking for a reason”.  Cantankerous old bastard, one might think; I know a lot like him.

Watching the big squeegee or baton process on the DVD, I remarked on how a painting would appear after a sweep and then be destroyed by the next sweep.  First, a monochrome yellow, sweep, then a white cloudscape, sweep, a light horizon, sweep, a Rothko – the earth colours do emerge from the mixing process.

Questioned on how he knows a painting is finished – the big question – he says the following; “I feel less free with each step; I carry on until nothing is wrong any more”.  It implies dissatisfaction with every work; you don’t stop when you have achieved what you want, but when you can’t find a recognisable fault.  I suppose this is implicit in an improvising approach – but it could have been something like; “I stop when a completed picture jumps out at me”.  He’s obviously too honest to come out with rubbish like that, unlike some other abstract painters. 

Kitaj

That drawing of a seated woman’s back – I suppose it’s Sandra – it’s breathtaking, like a Michelangelo.  I’ve said this before. but it’s amazing how different his two styles are – the cartoonish, “Cecil Court” style and this classical, Old Master look.  I note how “fleshy” his colours, especially whites and reds, are in the cartoony ones – I don’t mean flesh tones but thickness and richness.

Young Musician of the Year

What is the title of that recorder piece played with only a drum accompaniment by Charlotte Barbour – Condini ?  It is played by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick to close out “Arthur MacBride” but the only info given is that the tune is French.

Bela Tarr

The novel “Satantango” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai is out in a translation by George Szirtes; I have it and am hoping it is as uncompromising as the Bela Tarr film.  Only 274 pages, but no paragraphing.  It has punctuation, which is rather conventional I agree, and will lack the accordion music – but I have high hopes.  Next week, will review Turin Horse.

Blackpaint

17.05.12

Blackpaint 341 – Ballet Girls, Donkeys and Buckets

May 10, 2012

Charcoal and pencil

The first is great to use, the second a chore.  I’ve acquired a cheap book of Degas’ drawings, mostly ballet girls, and have been copying them; the legs are the most difficult – feet always pointing in some improbable direction.  That, and getting them to look like the young girls they are – mine keep coming out too old, somehow.  They haven’t got that slight dumpiness or sturdiness that Degas’ girls have got.  That line of his is just great.  Also, the two servants with the laundry baskets and the ones that are grooming the horse (or horses, it transpired, as I was drawing – the head belonged to a second horse looking over, NOT to the first horse looking back – if you see what I mean).

Can’t somehow get the same buzz from pencil – too laborious, can’t just smear the dust with my thumb to get shading like I can with the charc, got to draw parallel lines.

St.  Ives since the Fifties

A cheapo catalogue of a 2006 exhibition at the Katharine House Gallery in Marlborough I got in Campbell’s, that bookshop opposite Tate Modern.  I mention it because there is some great stuff in it from St Ives people I didn’t know of; chief of these is Rachael Kantaris, two lovely etchings and an acrylic by her, touch of Hilton in that black line through the fleecy white.  Then, Tony Shiels who was born in 1938 but is new to me; three gouache and watercolour, very reminiscent of Lanyon (senior), best being “St.Ives Sea Head” from 1960.  Also some stunning Terry Frost Lorca illustrations – and loads more.

Kantaris

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen at Rotterdam

Also from Campbell’s, only two quid, a catalogue of this museum, to which I’m heading at the first opportunity – assuming it’s still open, as there’s no date in the catalogue as far as I can see – can’t be bothered to read the text.  Anyway, some stunning stuff in it, the chief being Karel Appel, “Farmer with a Donkey and Bucket”, from 1950.  It’s a painted stable door – with a bucket hanging on the bottom. 

Appel

Then, there’s Asger Jorn, “The Town of Ivory Towers” from 1955 – dark green and dried-blood red, deeply scored and looking rather like a stained glass window; can’t find a picture on Google.

Then, de Kooning – “The Cliff of the Palisade with Hudson River, Weehawken, New Jersey, 1963” – which actually looks like a figure study in white and brown, on an ochre and blue background.  There’s a great Dali self-portrait in pencil and black ink on paper – heavy sketched like a Jim Dine or Kitaj life drawing, like no other Dali I’ve ever seen.  Three great van Dongens, including “A Finger on her Cheek” – don’t know why I like him so much, apart from the name.  Maybe it’s the crudity of the colours and the energy of the line….

One other painting to mention, “The Earring, 1893”, by George Hendrik Breitner – never heard of him before.  beautiful long, straight flower vase of a woman looking in a mirror, Whistler maybe, Japan definitely. bit Klimt, but just a bit… 

Breitner

1900, Bertolucci

I saw this way back in the 70s when it first came out, and I was dismayed to see it again and find that it’s dubbed (presumably because most of the big male stars – Lancaster, de Niro, Donald Sutherland, Stering Hayden – are American.  This gives it a terrible spaghetti western sound – probably would be great with subtitles.  It also has two, perhaps three, of the most dislikeable child actors, doing all that rite of passage stuff – comparing willies. masturbating in the fields, wrestling and slagging each other off – haven’t seen the second DVD yet, but no doubt they compete for the same girl…

Can this really be the Bertolucci who coaxed such subtle and understated performances from Brando and Schneider in “Last Tango”?

Blackpaint

Figure Drawing 6

Blackpaint 340 – Dustmen, Chlorine and Gerhard’s Enormous Squeegee

May 3, 2012

Orchestra Rehearsal, Fellini

Is this film just reactionary?  Takes me back to my student days in the early 70s (chanting slogans, sitting in, exaggeration, graffiti, posters, charismatic, long-haired, moustachioed student leaders speechifying in apocalyptic terms, gazing into the socialist future with shining eyes, seeing themselves as Leon, or Che, or Makhno,  sitting in….  sorry, back to the film.

There are gibes at the unions’ demands on  demarcation and tea breaks and Fellini clearly identifies with the maestro, who is scorned and abused.  The old caretaker, however, reminisces to the audience about the good old days, in which the maestro’s word was law and the musicians would accept physical punishment for playing a bum note or coming in late – sounds like fascism to me and Fellini steers clear of wishing for that, I think.

At the height of the “anarchy”, a wrecking ball comes through the wall (representing what?  The philistinism of  contemporary culture?  Television?); it kills the harpist and the musicians “come to their senses” – like good pupils, they submit their individual wills to the maestro and proceed to make music together, sheltering in their common pursuit from the external enemy – but the maestro’s angry rebukes soon begin once more…

Paintings that Smell

Not literally, of course – Stanley Spencer’s “The Lovers” comes to mind first; the dustmen, worshipped by the housecoated women, the rubbish – old cabbage leaves, tea leaves, tea pots – the picture smells of Jeyes’ Fluid to me, disinfectant with decay underneath, and a suspicion of armpits.  Maybe it’s because I used to be a dustman for a short time, many years ago, before black plastic bins and bags.  The maggots and seafood restaurants were the worst – and that cold trickle of liquid down the back of your neck as you hoisted the tin bin onto your shoulder; what was it – rose water, maybe? Probably not.

Secondly, Hockney’s “Bigger Splash”; chlorine, of course.

De Kooning Retrospective, Thames and Hudson

Fabulous paintings, but something of a tedious text, which seems overconcerned with delving into the crowded abstracts and retrieving identifiable bits and pieces of images – door, ladder, mouth, teeth, penis, vagina, window, chair…  This approach soon palls and threatens to undermine the magic of works like Gansevoort Street, Easter Monday, Interchange and the rest.  Pictures are mouth-watering, though.

Tate Modern

That corner in the surrealism bit is where I go now – Appel yellow wooden plaque next to Motherwell’s Ulysses; swing right to Joan Mitchell’s huge grey painting and further right to the Dorothea Tanning…  BUT still missing my Franz Kline black bridgehead with the two Asger Jorns facing it; Proud, Timid One and Letter to my Son – I want them back as soon as Damien Hirst is over.

Gerhard Richter

I watched the new DVD on Richter last night and was fascinated to see him dragging his enormous wooden squeegee down and/or across the painted surfaces of his canvases, blending, covering or scraping off the pigment.  Several times when he did it, I thought “Great!  Now leave it!”  But he didn’t – he dragged it again and wiped the image out.  The film left me with the impression that it’s really difficult to paint with someone pointing a camera at you while you do it.  Richter said as much, politely; he talked about painting being a secret (private) activity.

That squeegee is a bit of a WMD, really; he uses a big brush to modify after it has passed over – but I would have thought he’d be moving on soon as regards technique, if he hasn’t already.

Work in progress (note Baselitz influence)

Blackpaint

2.05.12