Archive for April, 2013

Blackpaint 391 – A Pair of Brown Eyes and Storm Clouds on the Volga

April 25, 2013

Tate Modern

Some other “new” stuff worth seeing that I didn’t mention last time:

Bill Woodrow‘s big elephant head sculpture, with car doors, unravelling maps and machine gun held in trunk;

Rachel Whitehead‘s sarcophagus-like black bath-tub thing;

Roger Hilton‘s waving, leaping “Oi-Yoi-Yoi”;

A huge Frank Bowling figurative painting, in style and coloration rather like an early Hockney, or maybe Kitaj;

A whole roomful of Chapman Bros. imitation tribal fetishes – look closely, they all have Macdonald’s motifs;

An apocalyptic Primrose Hill by Frank Auerbach;

A Bacon triptych;

Some of those lumpy sculptures by Rebecca Warren – I like them, but none have the presence and personality of de Kooning’s Clamdiggers.

There is a room devoted to Basic Design, with characteristic works by Pasmore, Richard Hamilton, Alan Davie, William Turnbull and Rita Donagh – interesting to those (like myself)  following the thread of abstraction in British art.

Finally, there is a portrait by George Clausen called “Brown Eyes”, which I didn’t mention before because I was afraid it was banal and sentimental.  My very unsentimental partner said it was “arresting”, however, so I mention it now.

clausen

Actually, it seems he did quite a few of the same girl, whoever she was, and when you look at several of them together, the sentimentality oozes back rather – but still….

Gert and Uwe Tobias at the Whitechapel Gallery

They are brothers, born in Romania.  Went to the private view for this last week, and felt – wrongly, I’m sure – that there was a smartly black-shirted attendant behind me the whole time.  There were certainly plenty of them, to stop you taking drinks upstairs or straying through wrong doors…

Large, bright, childlike images of E. European folklore on black backgrounds, creating a wallpaperish effect – lots of butterflies and other insects, strange birds – shore larks, maybe – thorny vines and spindly witch dolls.  Sometimes an echo of Picabia’s odd machines.  I enjoyed the smaller, brightly coloured pieces the most.

gerd and uwe

Upstairs were the photographs of Karl Blossfeldt, mostly from the 20s and 30s, I think, from the German mags in which they appeared.  Close-ups of parts of common plants that obviously echoed – or inspired – architectural forms.  Some looked like spiral staircases or pagodas or whatever; I wasn’t sure whether he was a scientist, an artist or some sort of mystic.  I guessed he might be a follower of Rudolf Steiner, but nothing on the internet.  That thing about natural forms reproduced in human works sounds very like Steiner to me.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov,” The Happiest Man”( under the  University of Westminster, Baker Street)

It is “under” too; down the iron stairs and turn immediately right – don’t go along the underground delivery passage, like we did.  There’s notice pointing to the gallery, set just so you miss it at the foot of the staircase.

It’s a sort of underground cinema, with a little, cosy Russian room, full of knick-knacks, armchair, sofa, pictures on the wall, a kulak’s place maybe, not an impoverished peasant’s hut; you can watch the films through the window, or sit outside in the cinema.

The films are extracts from musicals of the 30s, 40s and 50s; healthy, headscarved, fleshy women, wearing their medals, running to work behind tractors or on combine harvesters; smiling, preening moustached men, flirting with the girls, Cossack hats set at rakish angles, plucking guitars – the song of the couple in the buggy sounded like “The Carnival is Over” to me – everyone happy.  The film was blurred and this added to the beauty of the images; buttery, tawny cornfields, golden dust,  HUGE, deep, deep blue skies, winding river (must surely be the Volga, or maybe the Don), crumbling bluffs, great, black, thunderous, rolling clouds…  The same colours can be seen in Sokurov’s “Save and Protect” (his version of Madame Bovary).

So, the beauty offsets the irony, somewhat.  Vassily Grossman’s “Everything Flows” has an account of the Ukrainian famine – man-made- of 1933, in which millions died and armed guards were placed outside villages to ensure that starving peasants were kept from dragging themselves towards the towns (nevertheless, some managed to make it to cities, where they presented a spectacle of horror to the citizenry).  Ilya Kabakov, I read in the pamphlet, acknowledges the realities, whilst admitting to the nostalgia that these films induce in him.  It’s a great exhibit and it’s free to see.

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of America

Brilliant to see this at the same time as reading Anthony Beevor’s history of WW2.  Stone makes a great deal of Roosevelt’s running mate, Henry Wallace; some sort of socialist, by US standards, apparently.  You get the impression from the programme that Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union all joined the war together, to crush Nazism – and then Britain and the USA sat back to let the Russians do it all.  It’s not the facts he states; it’s those he omits and the spin he spins…

Promised Land

Anti-fracking film, starring Matt Damon, set in farming town in mid-West.  Heart’s in the right place, but cliche-ridden (last minute conversion, emotive speech to erstwhile opponents).  Good to see Hal Holbrook again, soon after Lincoln, though.

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Great Leap Forward

Blackpaint

25.04.13

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Blackpaint 390 – Blind Gary, Sybil and The Magic Board-Rubber

April 18, 2013

Dobell’s at the Chelsea Space

Little gallery in the Chelsea Art School complex opposite Tate Britain.  Photos from the 40s, up to when Dobell’s moved to Tower Street.  I knew it best from then on, when Les Fancourt used to sell me Texas 50s blues on Krazy Kat pretty much every week, but some familiar faces in the photos, notably Jimmy Asman and Maureen from Asman’s in New Row (sadly, also gone).  Asman sold me my first jazz record, by Billy Banks’ Rhythmmakers in 1932; “the Hottest Jazz Ever Recorded”, the sleeve announces.

The original record racks are in the exhibition, and the Phil Seaman, Billy Butterfield and Dill Jones sleeves – I’m sure they were all in the rack the last time I looked in the shop!  Also those great bags with the record spines; I wish I’d kept some.  The famous shop was at 77 Charing Cross Road, hence 77 Records – see the Blind Gary Davis LP cover below (although I think my copy came from Dave Carey’s Swing Shop in Streatham – sadly, also long gone).

gary davis

Also in the photos, Ray Smith of Ray’s Jazz, which survives in Foyle’s of course, but without Ray or  Bob Glass, who knew everything about jazz and blues, most things about all other kinds of music – and everything, really.

Chelsea Interim MA Show

Worth a look;  there is –

A cardboard ocean liner crashing from heaven into a table (or maybe a chair);

Bright, fragmentary Japanese – style abstracts, stuck like jigsaw pieces to the wall;

Video of a woman bound like a mummy in coloured wool strands, which plays in colour on the floor and in B&W on an old TV on a stand;

Video of PP Arnold in B&W, playing on another TV (I liked this basically because I identified PP Arnold – “First Cut is the Deepest”, before Rod – without seeing the label);

A room full of detritus – Pyms bottles, rubbish, fractured polystyrene, dubious smears and puddles – with a curtain screen at one end, from which hip-hop music emerging.

Sir William Nicholson

Got a catalogue called “Making Waves” in Campbell’s by the Tate Mod for a quid; it had two fantastic compositions by the above, one of which, Portrait of Sybil Hart-Davis, is below.

william nicholson 3

It’s great, isn’t it?  And this one too –

william nicholson 2

I love the composition, the colours, the space in the Hart-Davis one…

Tate Britain

They’ve rearranged the pictures in some of the 20th century rooms and put some new stuff up;

There’s a sort of landscape room (although it’s got that huge Lytton Strachey portrait by Lamb and some other pics that are not really landscape) – I liked the three fibreglass moulds of earth and rock by Mark Boyle, the Tacita Dean lighthouse film, the Wilson Steer girl from behind, and the Spencer Gore.

There’s a huge Hoyland canvas in a dark pink on grey, just big expanses of colour with grey stripe and a sort of inset panel of paint; the colours throb.

Tony Cragg’s “Stack” – like a pile of palettes (although it’s not), with all sorts of matter wedged in – another jigsaw.

A nervy, colourful AbEx job from Fiona Rae, lots of jaggedness on white canvas.

My favourite Gillian Ayres breakfast – although her title is “Breakout”, I think.

Loads more – next time.

In The House

Director Francois Ozon, with Kristin Scott Thomas, Fabrice Luchini and Ernst Umhauer.  A lonely schoolboy insinuates himself into the home of a schoolmate as an unofficial maths tutor, but really to write about the family and maybe seduce the mother.  He writes up his visits and shows them to his literature teacher, who is himself seduced and starts to encourage and aid in the project.  Very funny, but quite slight – unlikely to stay with you long.

Two observations:

  •  It’s another example of that “turning the tables” thing that French directors seem to love – the boy’s obsession captures the teacher, and later transfers to KST, the teacher’s wife (there was another example on TV this week, a film from 2003 starring Daniel Auteuil, called Apres Vous).
  • The prose style of the boy’s regular reports on the family reminded me strongly of Camus’ Outsider.  Must re-read it.

The Magic Board rubber

In Arne Dahl’s The Blinded Man, episode one.  I thought I was seeing things, until Chris Grice mentioned it to me.  It rubs out – then it restores.

Man Hands

Also indebted to Chris for pointing out the Seinfeld episode in connection with last week’s discussion of the Holbein portrait.

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Blackpaint

18.04.13

Blackpaint 389 – The Squirrel and the Orang Utan in Art

April 11, 2013

Titian’s Actaeon Surprising Diana in the Bath – this week’s example of Validating Crapness

It’s a fantastic painting; composition, colour, movement, drama. all that and the rest.  However, there’s something wrong with Diana’s head – it’s too small and it looks as though there should be another one in the proper position atop the neck immediately behind it.  It’s VC rather than just crapness because it forms a sort of fossil shell-shaped point of focus in the painting – it draws my eye immediately every time I look at it.

titian vc

Holbein’s Lady with a Squirrel

By way of contrast, this (for me) is in the running for the superlative portrait of all time – but her right hand is wrong, it’s too fat.  The wrongness adds nothing to the picture, unlike Diana’s little head.

holbein

Fischli and Weiss

Two stones on top of one another – actually, I think that might be what it’s called – outside the Serpentine Gallery.  Despite its simplicity, I find it amusing and appealing.  From one angle, it looks to me like Snoopy from Peanuts.

Trockel

Forgot to mention the AbEx “paintings” of Tilda, the orang utan, in Trockel’s Serpentine exhibition; I liked them.  Also the disembodied black female legs, one left and one right, but different sizes (different exhibits, too).  Shades of surrealist fetishists and Bunuel.

Films this week –

Medea (Pasolini); Callas superb, odd headgear as always with P., strange Turkish rock formations, like white kilns in ranks.  The scenes like a series of tableaux almost, with little regard for connecting fore and aft, so familiarity with story helpful.  Great, nevertheless.

Confidence (Istvan Szabo); wartime Budapest, a young wife whose husband is arrested has to be hidden by the underground.  She has to move in with and pretend to be the wife of an activist who is also being hunted.  They respect each other’s privacy at first but the inevitable happens.  Predictable, but moving and erotic too.  Dreamlike shots of rain-slick cobbled streets and massive granite-grey buildings, almost empty of people…

The History of Violence (Cronenberg); the Guardian said this was “taut and brutal”- I knew it involved gangsters victimising an apparently ordinary American family, so I checked on Wikipedia to make sure the wife wasn’t raped.  I don’t like the way women are raped in films to justify an orgy of revenge violence (Straw Dogs said it all, 40 years ago).  Looked OK, so we watched it – but she WAS raped, by the husband.  That is, she gave in and enjoyed it, on the stairs, after putting up a token resistance.  I find this offensive, but for some reason,  Ken Russell’s Roman soldiers raping nuns don’t bother me.

Milo O’Shea 

Died earlier this month.  For me, he was the perfect Leopold Bloom, in Joseph Strick’s Ulysses, which critics always describe as flawed or unsatisfactory.  Like Anthony Quayle’s Falstaff for the BBC’s Henry IV in the 80s, he defined the part.  OK, Welles’ Falstaff in Chimes at Midnight was also iconic, but Quayle “inhabited” the part, as critics now like to say about Daniel Day Lewis in everything.

Bach and Brahms

I was intrigued, when listening to the 8th variation of Brahms’ Anthony Chorale (or Variations on a Theme by Haydn – which it apparently isn’t) to find it was almost the same in essence to Bach’s Matthew Passion, part 75: “Make thee clean my heart from sin”.  So what? Nothing, just noticed it.

The Funeral 

The woman who divided the British people more starkly than any other is being given a Princess Di -style send off by the Establishment, as if she somehow stands above politics.  Cameron, Osborne and the rest are giving two fingers to the plebs – no change there, then.

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Work in progress

Blackpaint

11.04.13

 

Blackpaint 388 – Zizek, Trockel, Callan and Mona

April 4, 2013

Zizek, YODD

Year of Living Dangerously (2011).  So full of ideas and observations, crackling and fizzing, mostly undeveloped, unexplained, dropped for something else, that it’s impossible to critique a chapter, let alone the whole book.  For instance:  “capitalism without capitalists” – only managers on super salaries and bonuses now, running businesses owned by banks run by managers on super salaries, like a big beehive with honey but no queen… that’s a book’s -worth of theory, needing development and explication – but no, move on. Bit of invective maybe, those who disagree are morons…

I like his analysis of The Wire; how the McNultys and Freamons and the rest help to prop up the system by going outside the rules, making it seem that capitalism can deliver some justice (except it can’t, because they fail).  This reminded me of “Callan”, a British TV series in the 60’s.  Callan, played superbly by Edward Woodward, was a tough, indignant little man who lived in a dingy London bedsit; when the British state needed a dirty undercover job done, a Russian spy assassinated maybe, Callan got a call and a brown envelope.  If something went wrong, he would be on his own; the state would deny knowledge.  He bristled with morality, of course; his public school controllers were all about expediency and hypocrisy.

Not the same, I know; The Wire crew operate without sanction, Callan was a (secret) secret servant of the state.  Powerful idea, though; I assumed for years  that every democratic state has a Callan or two, to do those jobs which “need to be done”, but which can’t be acknowledged.  I don’t think I’m alone in this; the Hilda Murrell case comes to mind and the conspiracy theories about Dr Kelly’s suicide.  Some people seem to be convinced these were murders, although if so, they were highly incompetent and to no credible purpose.

Rosemary Trockel at the Serpentine Gallery

  • Starts with dozens of little pictures, collages, photos, drawings, some like Marlene Dumas a little; the young German pop fan, Emin-like drawing of a man kneeling and puking in a toilet, adverts…
  • Wall hangings made from coloured strands of wool, vertical or horizontal, some threadbare, some perfect, with bright, jazzy colours on black..
  • Ceramic plaques, like great splats or badges of quartz or fool’s gold, or shiny, glazed china spladged against the wall..
  • Glass cases with tableaux and assemblages – a flat photographic girl bending up at the front end, as if reading, while a baby sleeps in a cot, with a fat black fly on its face (baby not cot);  a furry tendriled sac behind baby’s head inflate and deflates like breathing…
  • and lots more.

trockel

It made me think of Beuys – the fabric and the cases, I suppose.  I felt constipated during and after, which I feel was a reaction to the air of clutter and stuffiness – but constipated in a good way.

Theory of Validating Crapness – the Mona Lisa

Here goes with the first VC (see last blog):

It’s the white line coming from the region of her left ear.  Seems to be a rock shelf, but doesn’t correspond to anything on left side of head.  Nevertheless, it  adds something…I think – although now, it’s beginning to irritate me.  Is it damage and restoration, maybe?

mona lisa

The Secret in Their Eyes

Brilliant Argentinian film, set in present day and in 1974, during the Dirty War; palpable “chemistry” between the two –  mature leads.  The surprise ending echoes a Nabokov short story called “Russian Spoken Here”.  Despite the melodrama and the unashamedly romantic core, a real pleasure.

Little Dorrit

Dickens really knows how to end a book; I was dreading another ten chapters or so, to tie up some of the loose ends (I think they were loose – I couldn’t quite grasp the details of the financial arrangements), but I needn’t have worried.  Dickens was obviously bored too, so he made the house fall down and bury the villain.  Job done – marry the hero and heroine to each other and on with the next page turner…  The thing is, you can never tell how much more there is to go, if you’re reading a Collected Works on a Kindle; I started on 57% and finished, 30+ chapters later, on 60%!

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Memento Park

Blackpaint

04.04.13