Archive for October, 2012

Blackpaint 364 – Michelangelo and the Animals, Schutte’s Soft Heads

October 25, 2012

Raoul De Keyser

His obit was in the papers the other day.  One of the famous Belgians.  His paintings were simple, often geometric but roughly so, bright, primary colours – when they were not totally abstract, they were of everyday things; football pitches, dogs, monkey puzzle trees…  In this respect, he reminded me a little of Prunella Clough, writ large…

De Keyser

Clough

Thomas Schutte at the Serpentine

Free exhibition; outside on the grass, a group of Schutte’s squat, bald figures bound to each other, supported on broomstick legs.  Inside, photographs of his distorted, softened and sagging wax heads line the upper walls of one room around a huge, central figure apparently made out of resin – but actually metal, the colour presumably supplied by oxidation.  Small etchings and drawings, all portraits or figures, many self portraits, done with a minimal line and sparing colour; a striking one of a woman with an orange throat (which he uses in another picture too).  Worth the visit, but I missed his stumpy little bald gnomes with the ecstatic, or maybe tortured, expressions.

Michelangelo and the Animals

  • Some readers will be familiar with my discovery that M didn’t do trees (see Blackpaints 111, 112 et al)); it struck me recently that he didn’t do much in the way of animals either – certainly fewer than any other Renaissance painter I can think of.  Titian, Leonardo, Tintoretto, all took the opportunity to knock out a variety of animals at times, but M seems to have kept it to a bare minimum.  Here’s my list:
  • Fish, apparently sucking Jonah’s leg, on the Sistine ceiling;
  • Ram with throat cut, another awaiting sacrifice, a horse (head only) and an ox (head only), also on Sistine ceiling – in the Noah section;
  • A couple of fanciful serpents in the Underworld on the Sistine altarpiece, and the serpent tempting Eve, on the Sistine ceiling (but does this count? It’s half woman);
  • In the Presentation Drawings, the horses attached to Phaeton’s chariot as it plunges to the ground and the eagle eating Tityus’ liver;
  • A marble barn owl on one of the tombs.  And that’s it, so far as I can see.

Actually, let’s go the whole way: there’s not much landscape either – rocks, desert, bare minimum really.  What he really liked was doing figures.

Paolo Sorrentino

Watched his two great films on DVD – “Il Divo” and “The Consequences of Love”, both starring the prince of stillness, Tony Servillo .  He’s the complete anti – stereotype of Italians; or  maybe that’s just a British conception, that Italians are voluble and animated.  In “Il Divo”, he is Andreotti, the seven times PM, with links to the Mafia; it touches on the deaths of Calvi (the banker found “hanged” under Waterloo Bridge), Aldo Moro (kidnapped and eventually shot by the Red Brigades) and other political murders of judges, lawyers, etc.  Unlike the work of Francesco Rosi (Giulano, The Mattei Affair, Illustrious Corpses) it has an almost operatic feel – there is no attempt at “documentary”.  “Consequences” co-stars Olivia Magnani; presumably Anna’s granddaughter(?); she is riveting.

Head of Saint Luke, the Painter Saint

Blackpaint

25.10.12 

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Blackpaint 363 – Naked Smoking and Hoovering; watch where you drop the ash.

October 18, 2012

Richard Hamilton at the National Gallery

Paintings – although they mostly look like giant photographs – done with laser colour sprays on canvas, controlled by computer program.  Colour gradations, especially flesh tones of the young naked women who inhabit the pictures, are so perfect.  The naked women make telephone calls, hoover, wander around or take part in tableaux that rehearse famous historical paintings – Annunciation (Leonardo? Lippi?), Sanraedan’s cavernous Dutch church interiors, Nude descending a Staircase, The Bride Stripped Bare.  The “action” takes place in hotel lobbies, or Hamilton’s various homes – one at Cadaques, I was interested to see.  The main exhibit consists of three pictures, in various media and states, of a nude woman lying on a couch in a position reminiscent of a Titian nude, overlooked by portraits of Courbet, Titian and, I think, Rubens.   Here and there are areas of blurring that recall Richter.  The disengagement of the nude women suggest Delvaux’s dream women, to me at least.  The tones are mostly subdued greys and pinks.

Technically brilliant, I found them flat, uninspiring and  lifeless.  Why do people keep re-doing the Old Masters?

Before leaving Hamilton, I should mention Jonathan Jones’ review of same last week in Guardian:  “What a dude!” he was moved to exclaim.  Compare with Rachel Cooke’s comments on Conrad Shawcross (gorgeous) and Ed Ruscha (also gorgeous) in recent-ish reviews.  Good to see journalistic standards are being maintained in the broadsheets; that’s what distinguishes them from  bloggers.

Kitaj

Unfortunately, after the sarcasm, I have to admit to an inaccuracy myself.  I cited the Kitaj back as one of the great backs in art (which it is), but totally failed to notice that the model is smoking.  This is somewhat important, as the picture is called Matryka Smoking.  This compounds the error, since I said I thought it was Kitaj’s wife, Sandra.  So that’s that sorted.  My obsession with backs comes from my usual spot in the life drawing session – behind the model.

  Howl

Saw the film on Ginsberg on TV last night; great poetry, terrible animations.  Far too literal – spirit-like hipsters swooping about the night sky transparently, like Peter Pan.  The obscenity trial was good though, based on the actual transcripts.

Lemming

Much better was this French “black comedy thriller” with Charlottes Gainsbourg and Rampling.  The latter adopts a chilling deadpan expression, bringing to mind Robert Shaw’s great Jaws description of sharks’ dead, black, doll-like eyes.  Charlotte Gainsbourg, a bit like Keira Knightly, has one of those faces that shift from beautiful to ugly, vulnerable to contemptuous in an instant.  great film, very highly recommended.

Vija Celmins

At Tate Britain, small charcoal and graphite drawings and lithographs, mostly of galaxies and spiders’ webs.  the question, as with Anna Barribal (see  Blackpaint 358) is: how does she do it?  Surely she doesn’t put the black in, leaving thousands of tiny, blurred, round, white star spaces?  This again is an example of art which painstakingly – no, the word is not strong enough – obsessively, fanatically reproduces that which a photograph could, perhaps, also reproduce.  It’s fascinating. but is it any more than that?  No doubt it is,and someone will comment to tell me how.

A couple of other things from the Tate – a new Turner, “Venice, the Doge marrying the sea” or some such title; look at it from the archway, it’s brilliant from a distance, less effective close up.  Also the Yass wire walker film – if you watch it through the archways from the other end of the galleries, it looks great, painterly, especially the tower block.  The Keiller exhibition was being dismantled while I was there; huge crates labelled “H. Moore” standing around in the main hall; but I did have a good look at the Lowry, and noticed how weird his perspectives are; they seem to start again at the end of every street going away from you, like a mediaeval painter maybe.

Harris Savides

Obit in Guardian of the above, cinematographer on David Fincher’s “Zodiac” and so responsible for that great yellowish look that the film had – I don’t know how better to describe it, but it fitted the period and the theme perfectly – as did Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man; what a sinister song.

Dinosaur Walk

Blackpaint

18.10.12

Blackpaint 362 – Squirrel Suicide and Beuys Hanging at the Whitechapel

October 10, 2012

Whitechapel Gallery

Giuseppe Penone – Giant “felled” tree, in bronze,  cut into sections and hollowed so that you can look right through it – almost; there’s a curve at one end.  The branches are naked and lopped, like the upright real trees by the same artist  in the Arte Povera bit of the Tate Modern.  But as well as being made of bronze, this one is lined with crinkly gold stuff.  So – it’s like a Bond Street version of an Anselm Kiefer, or a Damien dry run before he thought of the skull.

Maurizio Catellan

There’s a small exhibition by this artist, famous for the pope felled by a meteorite in the Sensations exhibition and for the horse halfway to the ceiling with its head stuck into the wall.  This is show is small in both senses; the famous squirrel suicide (sprawled across a table, tiny gun on floor, empty glass, possibly poison) is on the floor against the wall.  it’s tiny but then of course it is – it’s squirrel-sized.  For some reason, I was surprised;  I expected a giant squirrel.

A small man in a grey felt suit hangs by the collar from a peg on an upright trolley; slick black hair, prominent, curved nose.  I saw the felt suit and thought, “Beuys” – but unfortunately, didn’t say it to my friend.  A moment later, I read the wall blurb and it identified the suit as a reference to Beuys.  Cursed the missed opportunity to make an informed comment in a loud voice within earshot of the attendant.

A huge industrial rubble bag filled with bricks and – rubble.  Apparently, from an art gallery in Sicily bombed by the Mafia.

A large circular rug on the floor, made from the design of the label on a box of Bel Paese cheese. And that’s about it, apart from a couple of unremarkable neons.  The squirrel scenario and the hanging Beuys I liked – the cheese rug reminded me of Boetti and the maps.

Eyes Wide Shut

Watched this mildly erotic Kubrick film over several evenings, 40 minutes a hit (it’s pretty long) and was surprised it was good – I remember it being widely slated on release.  What was really striking, however, was the dialogue between Cruise and Kidman in the grass smoking scene – they both, but particularly Cruise, seem to be channeling Jack Nicholson in “the Shining”.  That thing where Nicholson, as Torrance, repeats the last thing that Shelley Duval has said in that mocking, disbelieving way – Cruise does it several times.  “The Shining” was, of course, a Kubrick film so presumably it’s the direction.  The lighting, too, at the first party, reminded me of the bar scene with Delbert Grady; very intense on the faces, enhancing the shadows and highlights.

Freedom of Expression

Having signed petitions about Pussy Riot and others banged up abroad, I was alarmed to see jail and community service sentences being handed out in the UK for posting stuff on the net that was “grossly offensive”; not life-threatening, or part of a campaign of harrassment, but grossly offensive.  How do we criticise other countries and protest about free speech issues when we start locking people up for saying or writing offensive things?  The youth who posted the “joke” about the missing girl deserves our censure and disapproval but if you start jailing people for that, you are faced with the problem of definition – who decides what’s offensive, and to whom?  The answer is the judges,of course – and we all agree with them…

 

Servan

Figure Collage

Blackpaint

10/10/12

Blackpaint 361 – Bronze, Snow and Fire

October 4, 2012

Bronze, Royal Academy

This exhibition fulfils one of the most important criteria for me – there’s not too much to read.  In the half-light of the RA, this is quite a relief.  if you want to learn about the processes, you can; but the technical stuff is in a section of its own that you can pass by, without feeling that you’ve missed out.

The most impressive exhibit confronts you as you enter.  It’s a statue of a dancer (one leg missing) that was dredged up from the sea bed off Sicily, I think.  There is speculation that it is the work of Praxiteles, but this is probably hype, I would guess.  The motion frozen, the roughnesses of the surface, and the unfussy perfection of the modelling are something to see.

Then there is the long Etruscan Shadow Spirit, smiling to itself, the image of a Giacommetti figure – except smoother.  Then there is the Greek horse’s head, very like the Elgin one in the British Museum, the Etruscan Chimaera, the Scandinavian chariot of the sun and the Austrian carriage nearby – and the beautiful Benin and Ife heads…  I’ll stop now, before I list the lot.

The main impression it left me was the contrast between the beauty of the rough, or unpolished, or sparely decorated surfaces of artefacts of ancient civilisations (apart from those of India, Burma and China – no-one could call them unadorned): and the hideous, often huge, dark brown, highly polished contortions of the Renaissance : there is, for example, a huge wild boar that I think is the ugliest sculpture I’ve ever seen, although made with consummate skill and no doubt perfectly accurate in every detail.

There are exceptions, of course:  Cellini (well, of course) for one.  Interesting to see one of de Kooning’s Clamdiggers, like something risen from a bog clothed in clods of mud in a Harryhausen film, and the Jasper Johns beer cans, another dK connection (he gave Johns the idea).

Anna Karenina

This film, starring Keira Knightley in the title role, came as a surprise in that it moves back and forth between the stage, the theatre and naturalism.  In this respect, it is the descendent of Olivier’s “Henry V”, made during WW2, which starts and ends on the stage, but changes with great subtlety throughout.  The other work it recalls is “Oh What a Lovely War!”, which moves back and forth between the battlefields and Brighton Pier.  As reviewers have remarked, the choreographing of movements and the stage settings in Karenina lead you to expect the actors to do a song at any moment.

There are a few other film and art references:  the ball scene has a bit where the minor characters disappear and Anna and Vronsky are dancing alone (cf. West Side Story);  the beginning of the horse race sequence has echoes of My Fair Lady Ascot scenes; Anna and Vronsky wound together in white bedsheets reminds one of a Lucian Freud painting and there are touches of Renoir and Manet too.  Keira Knightley, certainly beautiful, and outstanding in this role, has a way of stretching her long throat forwards and thrusting her chin that gives her an almost insect-like appearance at times – like a praying mantis.  I thought she was too vivid for Vronsky at first, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s weakness, in his toy soldier white uniform, proved actually just right for the character.  The horse race scene is the outstanding moment.

Although reviewers have praised the cinematography, and the film is flushed with luscious reds and crisp snow whites, I missed a certain sharpness in the detail.  At the end, raindrops fall on oak leaves in extreme close up – they haven’t got that crystalline Bela Tarr look.  Maybe it’s easier to do in black and white.

Rita Ackermann

At Hauser and Wirth in Piccadilly.  Eight huge blood-red and blue abstracts under the title “Fire by Days”.  Actually, they look as if they might be human figures going up in flames.  Very impressive, and intriguing, in that it looks as if she has used sand to texture them here and there, although the leaflet only says oil, spray paint and acrylic.  She seems to have painted creases in the canvas on one at least (first on left, top left of canvas) whilst another has a thick seam running down the left side, as if two canvases joined.  Apparently, she worked out from a paint spill in her studio.  In the basement are blue skeins of oil on paper titled “Fire by Day Blues” and in the upstairs gallery, a series of distorted portraits of the same face – Fire by Days The Fool.  I think the red ones are great.  I looked through her book (£40.00) and found resemblances to Albert Oehlen and other German Expressionists of the 80s.

Blackpaint

4.10.12