Archive for July, 2012

Blackpaint 352 – Yoko Ono, Stepladders and Keyholes

July 26, 2012

Yoko Ono at the Serpentine

As you enter the exhibition, you are confronted by three identical, conical mounds of earth – they are labelled Country A, Country B and Country C.  Around you, army helmets hang, containing  jigsaw pieces.  A stepladder stands with a magnifying glass on top, so that you can read the tiny word above – but you can’t climb the ladder, so the word remains unread.  Perspex plinths of graded height stand in a line: on top of one, a box,on the next a needle, on the last, an apple (green, slightly bruised).

There is a series of photos of a laterally stretched face, titled “Doctor”; shoe prints of Yoko and John, heels distinct, soles fuzzy – she describes them as “neat and wild”.  There is a large perspex, box-shaped maze in the middle of gallery; while we were there, a little girl in the maze walked into one of the panels with a resounding bang and burst into tears, so go round with your kids.

There is a fascinating film of a series of butt0cks, some male, some female, I think – but in pairs – shot at anus level while the naked owners walk away – not into the distance, as the camera stays with them; tracking shot, or maybe walking on the spot.  Illusion of  meaty faces rubbing against each other, lips concealed..(sorry about that image).  How often do you get a chance to see that?  Not often, I’m betting.

And there was a film of Yoko having her clothes cut off, now and decades ago.  I believe I saw Yoko at the top of a ladder – same one? – having her bikini cut off at the Alexandra Palace in 1967.  It was a psychedelic all-nighter, with, I remember, Soft Machine, the Purple Gang (Granny Takes a Trip) and possibly Pink Floyd.  John Lennon was there and George or Ringo, in Sergeant Pepper mode – heavy moustache, hair short at sides, granny glasses, Afghan jacket.  I was there with my mate Ian McCormick, later Ian MacDonald, the author of “Revolution in the Head”, definitive book on Beatles’ music.  All our yesterdays….

And Macbeth brings me to-

The Hollow Crown

Simon Russell Beale’s Falstaff was great, I thought, for the pathos – Chimes at Midnight and the scenes with Doll Tearsheet (Maxine Peake terrific too) – but a little lacking in the bluster and vainglory.  Still haven’t seen a better Falstaff than Anthony Quayle in the first BBC Henry, and I’ve seen a few – Welles, Stevens, Joss Ackland, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane.  But whenever I get the video out, I have to watch Quayle doing the Sherris Sack and  the Honour speeches from part one and Chimes from part two – and nobody cries “Woe to my Lord Chief Justice!” with quite the glee and threat that Quayle manages.  But Russell Beale was great and so was Jeremy Irons – saying the words as if he’d just thought of them, not learned them by heart to repeat with reverence.

Titian

Been to the National Gallery to see this exhibition, which will get a blog to itself – suffice to say now that you have to kneel down and peer through a keyhole to see Wallinger’s bathing Diana – or her head, the rest of her being hidden by the sides of the bath.  I don’t quite get the analogy with the Titian painting, since poor old Actaeon comes across Diana by accident in the Ovid story… Never mind, it’s all art.

The Torch

Went to see it arrive at Tooting Bec Lido; I was especially impressed with the Samsung, Coca-Cola and Lloyds TSB buses preceding it, in corporate colours, with waving, dancing passengers.

I Mailed it in the Air 2

Blackpaint

26.07.12

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Blackpaint 351 – Ena, Betty and the Dirty Old Men

July 20, 2012

Late to publish again – sorry.

John Singer Sargent

I feel ambivalent about this painter – sometimes, I am staggered by how good he is (Mrs. Agnew, Ena and Betty Wertheimer) and sometimes he goes way into chocolate box territory (Mrs. Cazalet and her children – especially her children).  No-one, I think, can do shimmering silk in a few dozen loose brush strokes like him.  I suppose the chocolate boxes are an occupational hazard for a Society painter; you won’t get paid if you paint the kids ugly.

Betty and Ena

Chagall

I’m familiar with Chagall’s floating/flying fiddlers, of course, but I have to say I was surprised by the “Fantastic Horse Cart”, painted in 1949, in which a rudimentary green horse (actually it looks more like a tapir) rises into the orange sky, supporting with its front legs a blue-faced fiddler.  If this weren’t enough, the horse is harnessed to a cart, which hangs from the horse and contains two small children.  Below is a village of old wooden houses.  Not Socialist Realism, then.

Mark Wallinger

His exhibit at the National Gallery involves peering through peepholes at  naked or “scantily-clad” women, in poses relating to the Titian  Diana and Actaeon paintings.  In a recent Guardian article,  a museum spokesperson claimed they were being plagued by “dirty old men”.  I can’t believe this – in the 50s and 60s maybe, but not now, when porn is easily accessible on the internet – so I’m told.

Art fairs

Those antique road trip progs on the telly have produced a public which wants a deal on everything.  I was at Urban Art in Josephine Avenue, Brixton last weekend.  It was all “What’s your best price?” or “How much for cash?” or “You did say two hundred, right?”  On the TV, they’re selling stuff just bought from another antique shop down the road; it’s all speculation to make a quick twenty or thirty quid.  It annoys me when people want a deal for paintings I’ve done, as if I expect them to knock me down, and price them accordingly.  Different if they say “I really like that painting, but I can’t quite afford it; is there any chance you could ….”  Might be the same thing, but it feels different to me.

Satantango, Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Finished the book now, and one thing different from Bela Tarr’s magnificent film; when Irimias, Petrina and the boy arrive at the deserted chateau, they are confronted with a vision of the dead girl – in Tarr’s film, it is simply a thick white mist, and only Irimias appears to be overawed, and falls to his knees.

Larva

Blackpaint

20/07/12

Blackpaint 350 – Bomberg, Belle and Munch

July 12, 2012

Picasso and Britain

Last days at the Tate Britain, so went again.  The Duncan Grants I still like, in spite of everyone else, it seems; especially “Interior at Golden Square”; also, one or two of the Nicholsons, especially the pink one.  The Picassos themselves blow everything else out of the water, of course, for confidence, inventiveness, use of colour… but there are a couple of duff ones (see previous Blackpaint ).

Bomberg at South Bank University

Turns out that only four or five of the drawings and paintings on show at the moment are Bombergs – but this was not a disappointment, as those by his followers  are great.  There is a beautiful charcoal sketch by Edna Mann, of a nude woman stoopimg to pick up something from the floorpaintings that are very Auerbach in colour and structure by Dennis Creffield;  Cezanne-like bathers heavily outlined in black by Cliff Holden; and a big, dark, swerving, black-outlined head by Dorothy Mead.  Great little exhibition, and more to be shown in October, I was told.

Patrick Keiller at Tate Britain

This “exhibit” comprises an exhibition within an exhibition, based on the “Robinson Institute”, a fictional entity based on a fictional character invented by Keiller.  It is concerned with English landscape (which I got, without reading) and the development of capitalism (which I didn’t).  Along with Keiller’s own photographs, some brilliant, interesting works by Turner, James Ward, Paul Nash, Gursky, James Boswell, John Latham (huge black blot), Fiona Banner (small black blot)…..  I find these fictional conceits increasingly irritating – why not just stick a load of paintings you like together, like Grayson Perry at Bexhill a couple of years ago? – then again, Keiller has used the Robinson thing before, so it’s got the integrity of a previous history.

Edvard Munch at Tate Modern  

This, I have to say, is the worst exhibition I’ve ever seen.  Or, to be fair, it’s a very good exhibition of one of the worst painters I’ve ever seen.  The paintings are in dead colours, crudely painted, many figures cursorily executed with round, turnipy heads.  One “Kiss” looked like a man kissing a Labrador standing on its hind legs.  There is a series of seven or eight “Weeping Woman”s, in which she looks like a pale corpse, going greenish here and there, like something out of “The Shining”.  His wallpaper – lots of claustrophobic interiors – looks as if it’s patterned with dried blood.  Banal, flesh-creeping subject matter:  vampire women, a post-sex (rape?) scene, operating theatres with huge blood stains, a man aiming a rifle at someone through a window..  Lots of photographs, with “ghosts” hovering in them, but too small for me to keep looking at.  It’s crap, but good value – there’s lots of it.  I never did understand why The Scream has resonated with so many people.

Belle de Jour 

The original, Bunuel – Deneuve, of course.  What does the Japanese customer have in his little box?  Why does the coffin rock beneath Severine at the Duke’s?  And did Rebekah Brookes get the idea for the demure, white-collared, black Leverson dress from Belle, rather than the Salem witch trials, as the papers and TV here suggested?

Melancholia

It’s drenched in Tarkovsky, on second viewing; “Hunters in the Snow”, the music, the theme, even (“Nostalgia”)…

Blackpaint

13/07/12

Blackpaint 349 – Malevich, Stalin and Fred and Ginger again

July 6, 2012

Sorry, a day late publishing, owing to basic idleness.

Frank Bowling

Good to see an article in the Guardian on Bowling’s poured paintings at the Tate Britain.  I knew him only by the single flag painting in the “Migrations” exhibition, which is not at all typical of his work.  He tends more to a sort of abstract Expressionism and uses colours that remind me of John Hoyland – although he doesn’t mention knowing Hoyland; Hockney was one of his art school contemporaries.  I’m going to see the Tate thing again tomorrow.

Paul Jenkins

My Australian blogger/painter friend Paintlater posted an item about this US AbEx artist, again unknown to me, who has just died.  Fantastic, large canvases with swathes of paint unfurling across them, guided with a knife apparently.  A little like Morris Louis – the paint looks as if it has been hurled but it doesn’t spatter – a bit like huge silk scarves, although not in the one below, which is untypical, but nice.

Malevich

Been reading Boris Groys’ book “The Total Art of Stalinism”, which is a reading of the the Russian avant garde and it’s relationship with the Stalinist state and Socialist Realism.  Malevich’s famous Black Square of 1923 was, according to Groys, a “Ground Zero”, painted by M as a sort of barrier of nothingness designed to put an end to further proliferation of art movements in Russia, enabling the mobilisation of artists for the construction of a real, unitary “work of art” – the socialist state itself.  Groys sees this as the self-imposed task of the Russian avant garde.

Unfortunately for the AG, their formalism was not seen as useful by either Lenin or Stalin, who disengaged with the AG in favour of the proponents of Socialist Realism – which was handier for propaganda purposes.

I’d always thought of the Russian avant garde as vaguely libertarian and radical; radical they were -but libertarian, no.  Totalitarian, more like.

Groys’ book is about Soviet Russia (published in 1987), so it largely ignores the similarities (and differences) between Socialist Realism and Nazi and Fascist art.  An interesting book to be written there – no doubt, it already has been.

 

Critics

Barnett Newman famously said that the relationship of critics to artists was like that of ornithologists to the birds – the birds do, the ornis watch and interpret.

Seems to me that this is right – artists (Bacon, Pollock, de Kooning)are great on the processes of production but are often vague and reluctant to analyse deeply what they do – in case the magic goes away, presumably.  I think its for the artist to do and the critic to analyse; its a pity that some of the critics insist on mystifying the work by “reading” it in an arcane vocabulary that is spoken only by other critics.

Fred and Ginger

“Swingtime” has got to be the best; “Pick Yourself Up” is just an unbelievable joy, when Fred does that saunter – sudden kick thing, and later swings Ginger over the barrier.  But then there is “Never Gonna Dance”, a perfect little ballet quoting all the previous numbers.  Ginger’s back in that dress is the third great back in art history; Veronese’s “Unfaithfulness”, Kitaj’s wonderful drawing are the other two (see previous Blackpaints).

Some old ones to end-

 

Blackpaint

06.07.12