Archive for January, 2013

Blackpaint 378 – Urinals and Wooden Specs

January 24, 2013

Breaking the Ice: Moscow Art 1960 – 80s

I’ve now visited this show again (Saatchi Gallery until 21st Feb) and will try to do it a little more justice than last time.

Vladimir Nemukhin and Lydia Masterkova, colourful and energetic abstracts with overtones of Kandinsky and anthropop colours.  Yuri Zlotnikov, like dots and lines and dashes escaped from Malevich’s Constructivist abstracts.  Oleg Tselkov’s bulky, masklike faces, remind one of Botero maybe or even Lempicka in the execution.  Oskar Rabin’s black, grey and white Caligari houses and streets and crucified vodka bottle and fish.  Dmitri Plavinsky’s scabrous grey tablets, like Rosetta Stones studded with bits and pieces. Dimitri Krasnopevtsev’s distorted dungeon stairs and arches in grey, black and white.

Ilya Kabakov’s rough, Socialist Realist pastiches that he “attacked” with an axe in a studio Happening, or stick paper rosettes on in neat lines.  Rough, giant wooden Soviet (rose-coloured?) spectacles, and a rickety wooden Tatlin tower model – who did those? – and Lenin meeting Giacometti man (Leonid Sokov).  Alexander Kosolapov’s Suprematist Urinals – really smart or “cherry”, as the LA Cool School artists would say; bet they’d sell in the gift shop.  And Warhol pastiches with Soviet imagery – bit obvious, but funny.  The best painting by Victor Pivovarov, big, pastel colours, looks abstract until you see the figures on the sides.  Colours reminded me of Gary Hume.  Couldn’t find it online.

So: the obvious reaction is admiration that this work was produced at all, given the lack of opportunity to show without state interference.  Great show, especially for free and with the main event downstairs, the contemporary Russian art.

breaking the ice 2

The Garden of the Finzi Contini

Vittorio de Sica’s sunlit but harrowing film from the 70’s with Dominique Sanda as the doomed heroine – the pre-deportation scenes in the schoolhouse are hard to bear.  Unfortunately, I have a tendency (like many others, I suspect) to be assailed by inappropriate thoughts at grave moments; I couldn’t help but notice Sanda’s occasional resemblance to the Lady Penelope puppet in  Thunderbirds.  

The London Art Fair

Discussing this last week, I forgot to mention the fantastic photos of Homer Sykes; British folk customs caught 30 – 40 years ago, including the great Britannia Coconut Dancers at Bacup in Lancashire.  Also, Ian Beesley’s photos, featured last week in the Guardian.  Google them both and see some great images.

Warhol

Some early drawings by Warhol featured (again in the Guardian) and the owner compares them to Schiele, saying they show a brilliant talent.  Well, maybe – but so what?  Surely the least important thing about Warhol is his ability to draw hands “properly”; it’s that Robert Hughes bit again – you can’t be a proper artist unless you can draw properly.

Fernando Pessoa

I’m reading his “Book of Disquiet” – cross between Sartre in “Nausea” mode (lots of things make him sick), Celine and a slight touch of Adrian Mole.  He’s got my number on art though: “The downfall of classical ideals made all men potential artists, and therefore bad artists.  When art depended on solid construction and the careful observance of rules, few could attempt to be artists, and a fair number of these were quite good.  But when art, instead of being understood as creation, became merely an expression of feelings, then anyone could be an artist, because everyone has feelings.”  That’s me then.

A Prophet

Watched this brilliant, long, French prison film again and I have to mention Niels Arestrup, as the ageing Corsican gangster Luciani; poignant scene when the other Corsicans sing as they leave him behind and even more, when el-Djebena is released from the hole and “transfers” to the Muslims.

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Bloody Window

Blackpaint 

24.01.13

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Blackpaint 377 – The Chocolate Staircase and the Shinjuku Thief

January 17, 2013

Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape at the Royal Academy

Sounds impressive, but most of the pictures on show are etchings and other prints made from original paintings by the above.  I’m always amused to see the little figures in them – you couldn’t just do a landscape in England; it wasn’t a proper picture.  There had to be a kid with a cart and some cows, or maybe a mythological subject – a giant snake killing some chap by a stream, maybe, or some hero fighting a dragon.  I think it might have been Gainsborough who broke that taboo and did the first true “landskips”; have written about it in a previous blog.

Some really bizarre scenery on show – there are several etchings of cwms – is that right? – in Wales that appear to be surrounded by monolithic, flat faced slabs of rock, the likes of which I have never seen.  Plenty of thunderstorms, wild seas, rainbows, billowing cloud; a few beautiful, postcard-sized Constables tucked into corners.  And there are a few large paintings; dark and dramatic in the midst of all the black and white prints.

In the stairwell, an incongruous sight, but a very welcome one; a huge painting by Basil Beattie that looks like a melting, chocolate cream staircase on raw brown-green linen – a staircase in a stairwell.

basil beattie

Swinton and Scott Thomas

Watched films starring these two actresses in foreign films recently; Tilda Swinton in an Italian film, “I Am Love” (English title) and Scott Thomas in “Leaving”, a French film.  At times, I felt as if the two films were somehow bleeding into each other.  Both women married and comfortable/wealthy; Swinton falls for an Italian chef, Scott Thomas for a Spanish builder.  lots of torrid sex in idyllic, rural mountain surroundings; both leave their boring, bourgeois husbands for the exciting studs.  OK, the endings are rather different but the general situation and shape the same.  Continental art films – they can churn this stuff out endlessly.

Oshima

RIP. ” Ai No Corrida” I’ve got on video – yes! Video still working! – but will someone please bring out “Diary of a Shinjuku Thief” on DVD?  Can’t remember much about it from seeing it at UEA many years ago – except that I spent a rather sleepless night, tossing and turning, after seeing it.

Other films that need to be brought out on DVD as soon as possible (I’ve been looking for them for ages):  “The Damned”, directed by Visconti and “The Spider’s Stratagem”, Bertolucci, I think.

London Art Fair at the Angel

Went there today; a very mixed bag, but some beautiful paintings by Adrian Heath, Robyn Denny (especially), Paul Feiler. and two real beauties by Douglas Swan – that blue one with the yellow circle.

douglas swan

Also, however, some real clinkers – a terrible Keith Vaughan, an awful, and huge, Hoyland – red, green, yellow and crude – and Patrick Heron, especially one that looks as if he’s painted it over with white enamel.  It’s very heartening for a painter to see that the masters can knock out rubbish from time to time,too.

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Bloody Doors and Windows

Blackpaint

17.01.13

Blackpaint 376 – Naked Wallowing and a Brown Smudge

January 10, 2013

A Bigger Splash at Tate Modern

Second review of this exhibition, which I only got half-way round the first time.  I wrote then about Yves Klein orchestrating his women body-printing on paper and the film of Jackson Pollock painting “Summertime”.  Niki de Saint Phalle, looking beautiful as she fires a rifle at her white plaster dummy to release dribbles of brilliant paint; Pinot Gallizio’s loom with the long random print spooling out; photos of Shiraga preparing to bombard his huge canvas with paint bombs and the thickly plastered, surprisingly effective result of one of his missions; the “shocking” photos of Herman Nitsch, Otto Muhl and their associates in the Viennese Actionists, wallowing naked in animal blood, fake(?) ordure, slithery piles of – organic matter; Stuart Brisley, doing something similar but in a more acrobatic fashion against the wall and floor in the corner of a house or studio (the result looking quite good – like to have seen it for real).

Then the women and drag artists who transform their faces and bodies and adopt personas:  Valli Export ,Cindy Sherman and others, mugging at the camera, painted and disguised to exhibit themselves as art objects.  Thus far, I made it last time.

The second half of the exhibition is about the creation of environments and performances within these.  The most striking exhibit is the Cocteau bedroom, a sort of sky-blue, dreamlike room, created by Marc Camille Chaimowicz, and fitted out with paintings and objects that Cocteau might have liked(!) – Vuillard, Duncan Grant, but also a Warhol electric chair print.  Very camp but probably right for Cocteau.  In the same vein, Karen Kilimnik’s “Swan Lake”; a bedroom, dressing table bathed in electric, mauve-ish light, objets again, recording of Swan Lake on a loop and, for some reason, an overpowering musty pong around this exhibit; part of the exhibition or left by some other visitor?

There are more such exhibits from Joan Jonas, Guy de Cointet and others.

It felt to me like two different exhibitions stuck together – the action stuff at the beginning and the theatrical rooms and sets in the second bit – with, maybe, the self-transforming crew providing a bridge between the two.  Hockney’s inclusion initially mystified me; not only “inclusion” really, given the title of the exhibition!  The explanation in the little free booklet you get is that “Hockney’s paintings – hung in homes and galleries – act in the film (Jack Hazan’s documentary “a Bigger Splash”) as a provisional stage set.  They create an environment that seems to encourage the self-consciously flamboyant behaviour of the artist and his associates…”.  I’m not convinced by this, but it’s a rich exhibition, lots of interesting spectacle and there is enough content for several visits; pity it’s not free.

Jonathan Jones and Titian

A startlingly upbeat and assertive report in the Guardian on Tuesday from the above critic, about a portrait of one Girolamo Fracastoro, which the National Gallery has owned for years, but has just decided  is definitely a Titian, and not just an “attributed to”.  Nicholas Penny, the director of the NG, has no doubt it is a Titian – neither does Jones, it appears.  If it is a Titian, it means the NG now has “the finest collection of Titians in the world”.  Jones refers to discoveries in the restoration lab about “the canvas and  technique” which “blaze the name of Titian”.  The only detail of these discoveries that Jones describes relates to the fur collar: “we are feasting our eyes on a flecked mist of white, gold, brown and black, a virtuoso, nearly abstract(?) performance which has all the magic of Titian.  With joyous freedom and a casual command of fluffy gossamer colours, the master sensualist has recreated the richness of a lynx fur on Fracastoro’s shoulders”.  After this flight, reminiscent of Daily Telegraph advertising, Jones has this bathetic quote from Penny: “The great thing about the lynx is that it has got this brown smudge as well as black and white”.

I was at an exhibition just about a year ago, at the National Gallery, which was entitled “Fakes”.  It highlighted works that had been wrongly attributed, cut up and stitched together or were outright  fakes and quoted surprising estimates of the number of errors and fakes undetected in galleries and museums worldwide.  Big change in outlook at the National Gallery, then, and Jonathan Jones obviously approves.

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Blackpaint

10/01/13

Blackpaint 375 – Sexual Politics and the Ozenfant Coincidence

January 7, 2013

Out of sync. this week, because of the annual review, so will do a short one today and another on Thursday to get back on track.

Contre Toi

DVD of French film featuring Kristin Scott Thomas as a doctor, abducted by a young man whose wife died following childbirth attended by KST.  She is held captive in a bricked up cellar room and treated brutally – knife at throat, denied water, pushed around and eventually punched in the eye, after he tries to force her to masturbate him (he soon desists).  Naturally – it’s a French film – she soon starts to feel affection for him; he’s lonely, like her, and of course, there’s Stockholm Syndrome…

She escapes, turns the tables on him, takes him to bed wearing a very fetching slip – her, not him – so the sex we have been expecting is the inevitable pay off.  But she then turns him in.  So, interesting sexual politics; abducted, threatened, assaulted – of course, she has to fall for him.  But it’s OK, because she got free and CHOSE (sort of) to do it – and she gets him put away.  It’s written and directed by a woman, Lola Doillon.

The Ozenfant Co-incidence

I got Alasdair Gray’s Lanark for Christmas; I’d just got to the bit where Lanark meets Dr. Ozenfant when I stopped reading for the day.  Minutes later, I was reading Jane Rye’s great book on Adrian Heath and happened to see, in the notes, a reference to “Apres le cubisme” by Amedee Ozenfant and someone else.  What are the chances? Coincidence, you say;  I wonder…  then again, Gray is an artist and might well have studied or come across the book…

This is only one example of mysterious cosmic forces that I have noted – see previous Blackpaints on “The Taylor Vincent Ad”, Blackpaint’s Law of Spurious Plausibility and my convincing argument that Shakespeare was the reincarnation of Michelangelo.

Adrian Heath

Before leaving the Heath book, I was intrigued to see that, whilst teaching at Cosham, he used an exercise in which he developed a sort of abstracted landscape out of a figure drawing.  It’s a pretty common exercise apparently, and I only mention it because I find that I’ve done more or less the same thing in most of my last dozen or so paintings – maybe even more.  He does it better though.

Commenting on Heath’s practice of making preparatory drawings or sketches for his paintings, Rye writes,”This practice was certainly at odds with the ideas of the American expressionists who regarded preliminary drawing as a decadent practice incompatible with true spontaneity” (p.141).  Well,  yes, you would have thought so – but Franz Kline and de Kooning both used sketches and indeed, DK imported whole images from previous paintings.  They LOOK spontaneous though…

OK, stopping now; more on Thursday.

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Blackpaint

7.1.13