Archive for February, 2013

Blackpaint 383 – Eva Hesse, Cork Street, Lichtenstein

February 28, 2013

Philippe Vandenberg at Hauser and Wirth, Piccadilly

Belgian painter, roughly painted scenes of flagellation, animal mutilation and anal intercourse in a pastoral setting.  Hints of Breugel in the settings and busyness, Raqib Shaw in the shock content, plain to see but small enough to miss unless you look properly and early Per Kirkeby a little, in the general look of the paintings.  These comparisons make the work sound much better than it is, I have to say.

Cork Street

Some great painting to be seen at the moment; I don’t bother with the names of the galleries – just drop in to all of them.

Anthony Frost

Arresting pictures in his characteristic blazing colours, like landscapes painted on rough, irregular “beds” of cord netting, board and canvas – maybe 50’s Sandra Blow with bright colours, even Diebenkorn, ditto.

Alf Lohr

At the Adam Gallery – big semi-abstract canvases using staining, runs down, “spattering” (looks like, but apparently he does it with masking fluid) and a variety of other techniques that produce busy canvases reminiscent of Albert Oehlen or even Ofili, as regards shapes and colours.

Kurt Schwitters

A number of beautiful small collages that match some of the best ones at the current Tate Britain show.

Eva Hesse at Hauser and Wirth, Savile Row

This is a great free show, not to be missed.  Drawings of Heath Robinson-type stuff – but not quite.  They remind you of domestic appliances: bedside lights, food mixers, cables, plugs, but they’re not.  Smaller ones are vividly coloured, blues, reds…  larger ones contain some blatant phallic tubing, and several look like dressmaking patterns – but not quite!  The one I want is in the corner – a white horn shape contained within a looping drawing on parchment.  There are also some hybrids – vividly coloured plaques with sculpted centres and “protuberances” poking or dangling, or just clinging to them.  Great drawings, beautifully executed and witty.  Sort of anti-Vandenberg.

eva hesse1

Photographers Gallery 

Went again to see the Letinsky.  Two of those food and paper collages are quite powerful – they are the darker ones and dominate all the other pictures.  One looks, from a distance, like mist boiling up a cliff side, the fruit dropping over the edge into the void.  Or not – it’s only fruit on a tablecloth…

Upstairs, on the fifth floor, the collages of Jan Svoboda; textured wall surfaces, framed to make lovely abstracts.

Roy Lichtenstein at Tate Modern

Student bedroom poster stuff; it’s so well known, needs no description from me.  His stuff leaves me cold, although I admit it has an immediate impact and is historically vital, original, vibrant and so on.  I don’t get much out of it because there’s no texture.  The only ones I liked were the small ones where he’d done gestural strokes across the flat surfaces, giving it a bit of roughness.  A.ll the critics I’ve read ignored or dismissed those ones.

de Kooning

His painting “Whose Name was Writ on Water”, completed in 1975, apparently had areas of soft paint that started to “bleed” down the canvas – only an inch or so, but movement all the same – in 1997!  Perhaps those stories about Auerbach’s surfaces slipping glacially weren’t myths after all…

Le Serpent

Another of those French thrillers in which a wealthy media/arts/TV bourgeois is targeted by someone he victimised in childhood (Hidden).  The French seem to love to torture the self-satisfied, leftie, softy middle classes – “Lemmings”, maybe, fits in here too.  OK, “Hidden” is Michael Haneke, so it’s director is not French – but it feels like a real French film.  Great villain in Serpent, though.

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Pink Dockyards

Blackpaint

28.02.13

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Blackpaint 382 – Corpses, Ribbons and Scrapers

February 21, 2013

Films that fall into two halves

“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” is definitely one ; the night on the steppe (what is the right word for that countryside?  it’s not moorland, but more than rolling farmland really) and the finding of the corpse in the morning, and the return to town – that felt like the end.  But no; there was the aimless, exhausted wandering about the town, cafe etc., followed by the post – mortem examination.  First time I saw the film, I was irritated by this “extension”; it felt added on.  This time, no – it completed the story, told you about the isolation and fundamental humanity of the main characters, detective, doctor, prosecutor.

The other films that spring to mind are the two versions of Henry V (Olivier and Branagh – and Shakespeare, of course); they should end on the battlefield, or immediately after.  All that courting stuff with Kate is a real anticlimax.  Can’t mess about too much with Shakespeare, though, I suppose.

The White Ribbon

Watched this for the second time, on TV this time; struck me that this is one of those “eve of WWI” films, the English counterparts being ” The Shooting Party” and “The Go-Between” (Losey, Pinter screenplay).  The latter is set well before WWI actually, in the aftermath of the Boer War, but it shares that characteristic of being bathed in a too- good- to- last, golden summer.  In both films, tragedy occurs as a portent of loss of innocence and greater tragedy to come – in the Go-Between, there is a hint of corruption (the belladonna, representing the Julie Christie character?).  When I was a teacher, some women colleagues wanted it to be avoided as an examination text, because of its perceived misogyny.

How do these compare to “White Ribbon”?  Contrast, rather than compare, really; instead of the hazy sunshine, we get sharp, crisp B&W, snowbound fields; the villagers live a life that is brutal, repressed, corrupt, penurious; there is incest, rape, violence, torture, fanaticism and creepy children (Village of the Damned, Turn of the Screw and all the others).  That is such an effective trick, simply to get a child to stare straight at the camera, perhaps with an “innocent” smile…  When the doctor cruelly and repeatedly insults the midwife who has been his mistress and housekeeper, I was reminded of that Nigel Kneale short story in the 1949 “Tomato Cain” collection: “They’re scared,Mr Bradlaugh”.  Finally, there are the doorway shots; like Bela Tarr, Haneke clearly loves a good shot through an open doorway; the Vermeer effect.

Scrapers

I’ve been doing small pictures on mounting board, using Liquitex acrylic paints, which are almost fluorescent colours.  I haven’t used a brush on any of them; instead, I use bits of straight-edged card and my fingers.  I call them scrapers for obvious reasons.  One shown below, and several others in previous blogs of last few weeks.  There’s a limit to the number of different effects you can get like this, though, and I think I might have reached it.

 

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Blackpaint

Screen door

21.02.13

Blackpaint 381- Cutting Edge Stuff

February 14, 2013

Photographers Gallery

Fittingly, with Schwitters on at the Tate Britain, the Photographers Gallery has three exhibitions on, all of which involve collage.

First, there is Laura Letinsky.  Large, pastel-tinged photos of halved fruits, cakes and pastries, spoons and forks, cut out and reassembled on large, thick sheets of knife-edged paper.  The effect, from a distance, is rather like those early drawings by Richard Hamilton, of household goods and machines on cream paper.

laura letinsky

Next, Geraldo de Barros.  A Brazilian art photographer, de Barros’ work, all in black and white, varies from shots of alleyways and doorways in sharp contrast of shadow and light, swarthy – textured walls, crumbling in decay – is “swarthy” the right word?  It has the right sound, like running your hand over rough plaster – to simple monochrome planes, crossed by what looks like masking tape, to make striking minimalist images.

de barros

This minimalist strand falls into the somewhat surprising Brazilian tradition of artists like Oiticica, making art from cardboard boxes, crates and other detritus.  Why surprising?  I suppose because it’s Brazilian – think jungle, sunlight, colour, effusion, exuberance, all that stereotypical stuff.  Beatriz Milhazes, maybe, does the sort of art I would expect from Brazil; effusive, exuberant, blinding colours – not cardboard boxes, black and white minimalism.. but she’s not in this exhibition.

milhazes

Milhazes

Finally, at the PG, there is a floor of other photographic collagists, one of whom is Anna Parkina, also showing recently at the Saatchi Russian exhibition.  I liked Parkina’s work, and the marine – themed collection spread out on the floor.  Had my fill of collage for a while now…

Pacific Standard Time; Los Angeles Art 1945 – 1980

Great Tate book, got it at TM in a sale recently.  It’s got stuff on the artists featured in “The Cool School” film; but I haven’t got to that yet.  I was interested in the row at Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1947; the director, James Byrnes, put on a show of local moderns, AbExes and others and the museum was picketed by hundreds of excluded “traditionalist” artists from the area.

Later, Byrnes was allowed to buy a small Pollock for the museum – on condition that he didn’t show it!  He ignored this condition, and was forced to resign, after refusing to sign a McCarthyite loyalty oath. Another artist, Rex Brandt, was investigated after someone discerned a hammer and sickle device on the sail of a yacht in his picture “First Lift of the Sea”.  Interesting to read about this identification of abstract and “modern” artists with communism, given the later connections made between the Abstract Expressionists and the CIA.

Holy Motors

I can see why the fuss; it’s wild, stylish, fast-moving, and with the feel of anarchy of something like Themroc (without the politics).  Leos Carax comes across as annoying, greying, punky git, which is fitting, of course.  I’d thought that the beautiful Modernist building where we first see Oscar was the Corbusier Villa Savoye; wrong, it turns out to be the Villa Paul Poiret, by Robert Mallet – Smith (1925).  Have a look at it online – the Corbusier as well.

The other building featured is the derelict Samaritaine store, where “Oscar” and Kylie meet.  And that cemetery – is it Pere Lachaise?

No doubt it’s full of film references; the only one I got was Les Yeux Sans Visage, when Edith Skob puts the mask on.  She starred in “Visage”, so it’s not much of a spot.  I  think I recognise Oscar’s wife from a recent documentary.

La Belle et la Bete

I’m watching Cocteau’s version of the story, in which the influence of Max Ernst seems clear to me – the Beast strongly resembles the massive, feathered, owl-or hawk-headed striding figures from his Surrealist paintings and collages.  So there we are, collages again; full circle.

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The Lake District

Blackpaint

14.02.13

Blackpaint 380 – Adams, Attenborough and Lady Chatterley

February 7, 2013

Schwitters again

As threatened, I have visited this exhibition at Tate Britain again.  Second visit confirmed my first opinions – paper and material collages brilliant, straight lines good, curves and circles bad (unless rubber or cardboard or metal rings glued on), human figures or faces pasted in detract from the collages, paintings not good, poetry great .  Here’s an example: “Fumms Bo Wo Tiu Ziu UU”… actually, I can’t do umlauts on my keyboard, so this must look ridiculous – but it gives you an idea of Schwitters’ verse.

My favourites were:  “Opened by Customs”, “Mask”, “The Nipple Picture”, “Pine Trees”, “Horizontal”, “Windswept”…  Well, go and see for yourself.  Collage sounds childish to some people; sticking bits of paper in primary school, we all did it.  But Schwitters actually makes abstract pictures, where others might just have random bits of stuff stuck on a sheet of paper.

Ansel Adams at the National Maritime Museum

You expect a nature photographer – THE nature photographer, maybe – but in a sense, he is something more than this.  As the film which accompanies the photos makes clear, Adams considered himself an expressionist artist.  The photographs were supposed to  convey mood and emotion; consequently, he spent hours developing versions of what he’d photographed, darkening or lightening skies, creating pictures that did NOT show the river or the mountain or the sky that had been in front of his camera, but an adapted variation.

What you notice is the sharp edge or “cut” of the prints, the dense blacks, the textures of the rocks.  There is one picture which resembles a samurai in a kimono, sitting on a bank of sand or gravel by a fast flowing, Alaskan (?) river, with a dense layer of black bringing it into relief.  Another, of a rock with limpets or mussels attached, like a curving human back or elephant’s head; another “Japanese” looking picture, with “rushes” piercing bleached-out water surface that are really submerged trees.

These are the ones that impressed me most; there are also the dramatic mountain- and skyscapes, storm clouds billowing in the gaps between the peaks – no doubt, enhanced in the darkroom.  No little people to give scale; as far as I remember, no animals either.

ansel

Interesting to compare this exhibition to the

Wildlife Photography Prize at the Natural History Museum 

These are of such staggering technical brilliance that you are awed – or you would be, if you didn’t watch Attenborough’s current “Africa” series and/or the last one, the title of which escapes me for the moment.  In fact, this exhibition is rather like a collection of Attenborough stills and enlargements.  In one way it is better – you don’t get that terrible, jaunty penguin music, or the polar bear cub tubas, or the waltz for the fighting giraffes…  I prefer to watch it with the sound down now – you don’t hear the commentary, but that’s also taken a dive lately, with Attenborough anthropomorphising, which he said he’d never do…

Whilst at the NHM, there is an exhibition of paintings and drawings by early 19th century naturalists and some gifted amateurs, some of which are very beautiful; the Audubons of course, the Bird of Paradise plant, the various sketch books (more staggering brilliance), and the renditions of native Australians and ships at sea by the anonymous group called “The Port Jackson Painter” – an echo of those medieval Masters of here and there in the British Museum.

Joan Mitchell

joanmitchell

A documentary on Sky Arts the other night sent me straight back to the Livingston book on JM:  the beautiful, cold freshness of the greens, blues and pinks in the early ones; the ones built of interlocking swipes of blue, white and black; the floating, black or grey masses in the midst of frenzied streamers of colour in the “depression” pictures early 60s.  Sometimes her pictures remind me of dyed and shredded paper.

Lady Chatterley

Watched  this French film, directed by Pascal Ferran, noticing some baffling differences to the famous book – notably, the priapic gamekeeper was called Parkin, not Mellors.  Then, I discovered on Wikipedia that it is based on an earlier version by Lawrence, entitled “John Thomas and Lady Jane.”  So, that cleared that up.  The naked romping in the forest in the rain and the garlanding of various body parts were present and correct, however.    Haven’t yet seen the English effort, made for TV in 1993, directed by Ken Russell –  the master of naked forest romping – with Sean Bean as Mellors and Joely Richardson as Lady C; I expect Ken, Sean and Joely do a better job – chauvinism on my part, no doubt.  But surely the definitive version would be that of Just Jaeckin, starring the late Sylvia Kristel.

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Blue Billboard

Blackpaint

07.02.13

Blackpaint 379 – Respect, Abe; Straight Lines, Kurt.

February 1, 2013

Lincoln

It IS sentimental and over-respectful; too many adoring gazes from black servants, soldiers quoting the Gettysburg Address, heart-rending “freedom chords” at strategic points, telling you how to feel, as Adam Mars-Jones puts it.  Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant and does “disappear into the role” (Kirsty Wark, I think) and it’s fun to play spot the actor in the supporting cast; there’s Shane out of “The Shield”, Layne out of MadMen playing Ulysses Grant – sorry, spoiler there – and that elderly, white-locked bloke who has been in everything since forever, playing Preston.  Tommy Lee Jones is great and Sally Field as irritating as ever.

Back in 1981, I visited Mormon HQ in Salt Lake City.  They had a series of life – size dioramas portraying the history of the Mormon religion. At times, “Lincoln” reminded me of this, especially towards the end.  However, one shouldn’t be too critical – it’s hard to see how Spielberg could avoid paying his respects, given Lincoln’s stature and the issues involved.  I suppose if someone over here did Churchill in WW2 it would be as respectful – or maybe not?  One last, obvious comparison: The West Wing.

Schwitters at Tate Britain

I can’t think of an exhibition I have seen in the last few years which had a higher ratio of successes to duds than this one.  The fabric and paper collages, though many were tiny, were great, for the most part.  Age helped, maybe, in that most were slightly browned and faded, softening the colours to pastel; fragments of words and numbers, for some reason, work well – maybe because they provide a sort of ready-made motif.  Easy to overdo, though, and he rarely overdoes.  I didn’t like the ones where he used cutouts of people; I thought that he strayed into surrealist, Max Ernst territory when he did this; one or two were almost like Stezaker.

Generally, Schwitters is best when he sticks to straight lines, unless he’s sticking a round object straight on; the ones with curves or painted circles I thought were less successful.  That goes, in fact, for the paintings in general.  There are some unremarkable portraits,  a couple of dodgy seascapes, some quite bad feathery abstract efforts and an especially bad “Madonna and Child”, like a wave with two rings on the crests.  often, the colours are too garish.

I loved the sound poetry – half recited, half sung, with the “words” on the wall.  Still, for me, the best of the large collages is the one that was in the “Migrations” exhibition a while ago – “Picture with Spatial Growths – Picture with Two Small Dogs”.  That great, convex sweep from top left to just right of centre at the bottom, on the area of black – from a distance, it looks like a painting.  Highly recommended; I’m definitely going again, soon.

schwitters2

Turner

Before the Schwitters, I took a walk through the Turner galleries; there are two new seascapes that caught my eye immediately – “Rough Seas” and “Rough Seas with Wreckage”.  Both very “abstract”, especially the first; superficially, from a distance, with your eyes half-closed, it looks Twombly-ish.

Sprout Gallery

Readers in UK and Europe might want to drop in to the above gallery in Moyser Road, Tooting, London SW16 6SE to see (maybe to buy) my paintings, or those of my partner, between Tuesday 5th and Sat 16th Feb, 11.00am – 5.00pm.  For those in the Americas, Middle and Far East and Australasia, I realise the journey may be a little too much but you never know…

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Blackpaint

1.02.13