Archive for June, 2013

Blackpaint 400 – Dora, Mark and Stanley in Dulwich

June 27, 2013

Dulwich Picture Gallery – “A Crisis of Brilliance”

This is an exhibition of works by a number of British artists, connected with each other by way of the Slade, where they all studied under Tonks , and then by Bloomsbury etc., completed between 1908 and 1922.  WWI therefore features (there is the huge, rippling, faintly Kokoschka – like Bomberg of sappers under bombardment and Nevinson’s solitary, diving biplane) but does not dominate the exhibition.  My highlights as follows:

Stanley Spencer, “Mending Cowls at Cookham” – the  storm- threatening sky providing stark background to the  white of the cowls, as they are put in place.  That key shape does something too;

spencer cowls

Dora Carrington, “Soldiers at a Stream” – little painting, perfectly rendered and coloured, horses drinking, soldiers mounted;

Mark Gertler, “Pool at Garsington” – a touch of Cezanne, maybe; the L-shaped slice that seems to be collaged in, surrounding the house and tree;

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Carrington, that profile of Strachey with the stunning hands, fingers tented in thought (actually though, not- he’s holding a book).

There are some beautiful pencil drawings, hard to choose the best; self-portraits by Spencer and Carrington and Bomberg, all great (although Carrington’s, done at 16, looks nothing like Gertler’s portrait of her, done a few years later – Gertler’s is exceptionally fine, lightly but surely drawn and conveying a wealth of character; the gaze of love, presumably).

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Carrington’s heavy-hipped “standing Nude” is notable and the Gertler “Seated Nude”, done in watercolour pencils.

The clinker of the exhibition is Carrington’s “Bedford Market”, but she was very young when she did it and it’s very competent.

The exhibition is only three or four rooms, quite understated, but some real treasures.  I see I haven’t mentioned Paul Nash at all – probably because I’ve seen so much of his work lately.  The impact dulls with repetition; or does it always?  Maybe there are some painters who always grab you – for me, it’s de Kooning.  Forgot to mention Bomberg’s “In the Hold”, one of his horse-frightening geometric “abstracts”, way beyond anything else in the exhibition for experimentation and fittingly, separated from the others at the entrance.

Salter, All There Is

Finished this now, as well as “Light Years”; the writing in the earlier novel perhaps more consciously “fine”, sometimes crossing the border into pretentious territory – but I read them both, quickly for me, and am close to finishing his memoir, “Burning the Days”, for the second time.  There is a startling section towards the end of “All There Is”, when Salter’s protagonist Bowman rather forcefully overcomes the weak resistance of Anet, the young daughter of his ex-lover, takes her on a trip to Paris and abandons her there in a hotel room – an act of revenge on her mother, who had abandoned Bowman (and “robbed” him of a house in the courts).  Anet says “No” – but Bowman clearly knows she means “Yes”, and acts accordingly.  He’s right, of course; afterwards, she’s happy – until he ditches her.  Salter offers no hint of approval or disapproval; merely “describes”.  Maybe that’s what startled me about it – it’s so at odds with currently acceptable attitudes towards sexual conduct.

Almodovar, Talk to Her

This film is another case in point; it has a young woman in a coma, who is stalked – before the accident – by a pudgy mother’s boy.  He manages to become one of her carers when she is comatose, rapes her and makes her pregnant, a crime for which he is eventually imprisoned.

Unbelievably, given the circumstances outlined above, you feel a sort of queasy sympathy, rather than revulsion, for the rapist.  I’ve checked online; it’s not just me, the proper critics are united in their admiration for the film, which won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe in 2002.

So, how can this be?  Firstly, you don’t see the sex (although there is a fantasy sequence where a tiny dancer enters a rather stylised vagina).  The  surreal atmosphere of Almodovar’s films probably helps; and the rapist is portrayed throughout as a gentle, concerned character with a strong empathy for women, who is in love with (fixated on) the victim.  And he is caught, imprisoned and eventually kills himself.

Almodovar is clearly a follower of Bunuel in his anarchistic, surreal tendencies and his insistence on exploring the “unacceptable” faces of sexuality – fetishism and illness are prominent themes in the work of both.

What makes Almodovar’s film less jarring than the incident in Salter’s book?  I’m not sure.  To be continued.

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Blackpaint

27.06.13

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Blackpaint 399 – A Failure to Whack; Paulie, Christopher and Landy

June 20, 2013

The Pine Barrens

Brueghel’s “Hunters in the Snow” at the end of the episode, as Christopher and Paulie thaw out in Tony’s car after failing to kill the Russian;  the black tree trunks stand out against the snow and Cecilia Bartoli sings; the first Brueghel of the blog, more to come.  The Sopranos was  better than The Wire, the characters more rounded, the tonal range wider, the satire more biting, the acting better, no irritating “Fuck!” episode, no Steve Earle (great singer, world’s most annoying actor) and no spurious analysis by Zizek – as far as I know.

The Ladykillers

I watched a beautiful print of this film on TV; the first time I’d seen it, I’m ashamed to say, it looked as if it was brand new (directed in 1955 by Alexander MacKendrick).  Guinness, Sellers and Lom, but above all, Katie Johnson as the Lady all great – the shots down onto the railway line as the steam boiled up from the locos.. I watched it almost without a smile, gripped.  I know crime wasn’t allowed to pay in the 50s, but all five villains dead in a comedy is some going – although I suppose there was “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, with a bigger body count.

Ekcovision adverts cropped up again; reminded me of the ghost of Roberts, now a pizza place, in Bedford Hill.

Michael Landy’s Saints Alive at the National Gallery

Well, only three alive when we went.  A short queue on Saturday, but still a twenty minute wait for a token to get in, because they control the numbers.  Around the walls, collages of bits of saints stuck together like Duchamp or Picabia, plus some big drawings by Landy of derelict Catherine wheels in a derelict landscape.

The working models were:

St.Francis – he whacks himself in the forehead with a big cross when you put a coin in the slot;

St.Jerome – he whacks himself on the chest with a rock when you step on the pedal (but you have to wait for it to charge up);

St. Multi-Saint – head of St. Peter Martyr, with curved knife on crown, St.Laurence’s grill, St.Michael’s lion leggings and winged devil from Crivelli and a couple of tiny souls in torment – Adam and Eve? – who jiggle up and down in the pan of a set of scales when Multi-Saint is working.  When it’s working, the knife whacks him repeatedly on the head.

So: whacking with implements is the norm; Doubting Thomas has a gouging finger which no doubt probes the hole in Christ’s side, when he’s working; St. Apollonia has a pair of pliers which she pokes, I presume, into her mouth – when she’s working.  The machinery appears improvised and scavenged – pram or go-kart wheels, that sort of thing – but most of the wheels and cogs seem to function on each model.

I thought it was a laugh; can’t see that it had any of the spiritual resonance that Laura Cumming detected in her Observer review.  I did see a know -all type, dragging his wife over to the various paintings in the NG that were illustrated in Landy’s models, so some fun to be had tracking them…

Other Paintings at the National Gallery

These should be checked out:

The Master of Osservanza

osservanza

Ercole de Roberti

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Fabulous little pictures.

Lowry and Brueghel

Jeannette Winterson, in the weekend papers, quite reasonably goes on about repetition, mass society, mass production and the age of industrialisation in her appraisal of Lowry’s work;  I have to say, though, that it seems to me Lowry individualises his little figures.  They have different clothes, hair colours, ages, attitudes; definitely not identical figures.  What they remind me of are Brueghel or maybe Avercamp; the skating scenes probably, because of the white.  I love Brueghel – I find Lowry depressing.

James Salter

Reading “All There Is”, his new novel, and re-reading “Light Years” and “Burning the Days”.  The prose is limpid, rather chilly and distanced, compared to, say, Richard Yates.  The Korean flying sequences in “Burning the Days” are great; he describes the dirt in the bottom of the cockpit floating down around him as he rolls his plane in combat.  The sex is somewhat relentlessly wonderful, however; it’s too stupendous and usually leaves the women and sometimes the men on the point of expiry.  He shares that American obsession with the bad teeth of the British.

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Work in Progress

Blackpaint

20.06.13

Blackpaint 398 – Murder on the Ark, Merkel at the Tate

June 13, 2013

Michelangelo

noahs sacrifice

Mich himself reminded me that I haven’t mentioned him much lately – I was dusting the bookshelf when the giant Taschen fell on me.  Sorry as I am to be disrespectful,  the first thing I noticed on flicking through was the comedy cow’s face in the “sacrifice of Noah” section of the ceiling (see above); that eye isn’t right, surely – and what about the horse’s head behind?  I know I’ve said this in previous blog, but what is going on at the end of the Ark?  It looks like an axe murder to me.

ark

Tate Britain Re-hang – Caro, Hockney, Cragg

Looking at the Caro sculpture again, positioned as it is, in front of Hockney’s “A Bigger Splash”, it looks as if short red diving boards are positioned above the pool in the painting.  If you’re really being fanciful, the thin, curly, red bits echo the streaks of water flying up in the painting…

The Tony Cragg “Stack” could be a four- (or five, with a top shot) faced painting, with the bucket or the blanket like a Turner red spot.

cragg

Blake- William, not Peter

In the Blake room – easy to miss, tucked away – I was looking at that body of Newton’s, in the picture where he’s using the calipers; the muscles under the skin make his body look like a snake’s – or rather, how you would imagine a snake’s body to be.

Patrick Caulfield and Gary Hume

There’s a double exhibition of these two painters at Tate Britain at the moment, and it seems an appropriate pairing, although I can’t quite work out why.  Surface, I think – they’re both about surface, Gary Hume avowedly so.

Caulfield’s paintings have perspective but are mostly rendered in thick dark diagrammatic lines, with insets in a photographic or painterly style as contrast.  The effect is all in front, no depth.  The diagrammatic bits depict restaurant rooms or complicated terraces and staircases, empty of life except for a linear proprietor, lounging through a serving hatch, strangely effective as part of this set of lines.  The Alpine lake and castle scene, “caged” with the fish tank by these lines, looks like a blown- up photograph; I’d always assumed it was, but on close inspection, it looks like a screen print touched up, or maybe even hand painted, super realist-style.  Other insets include Kalf lobsters and drinking glasses, surfaces precisely rendered.  He loves doing different styles; the catalogue roses, for example.

At times, it looks as if he’s doing impossibilities with perspective and architecture, like Escher – but no, on close inspection, it’s all right and accurate; just complicated.

Hume, famously, paints on aluminium panels, using gloss paint, often in sickly pastel shades, poured on to avoid brush marks.  I think that he uses some sort of string or filament to  stem the flow, forming ridges where two colours meet, or patterns under the paint.  Maybe it’s some sort of cut-out or stencil.  One painting looked like poured toffee or caramel, gone hard.  I only really liked one – the “portrait” of Angela Merkel, with its curved white border.

Dubliners

I’d always thought these stories were beautifully written, but that their beauty lay in the characters and the stories.  Re-reading “A Mother”, however, I find it’s full of great images: “She sat amid the chilly circle of her accomplishments, waiting for some suitor to brave it and offer her a brilliant life”.  Or: “His conversation, which was serious, took place at intervals in his great brown beard”.

Point Break

Surfing, sky-diving, bank robbing film directed by Katherine Bigelow; ridiculous story, fantastic surfing and free falling.  The bank robbery scenes, with the ex-president masks, are straight out of “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” and the chase through the back gardens reminded me strongly of “Straight Time”, the great Dustin Hoffman/Theresa Russell film.  There is a link to the Bigelow film in the presence of Gary Busey, who gets shot in both.

The Fall

Watching Gillian Anderson’s highly sexualised performance in this serial, I wondered if the writer or director had seen the down- market Swedish crime series “Those Who Kill” (see previous Blackpaints).  Laura Bach, as the woman detective, wears a similarly sexy “uniform” and at one stage, is actually having sex with the serial killer she is hunting – unwittingly, of course.  To be absolutely clear – she knows she is having sex with him; but not that he’s a serial killer.  I hope that we don’t get something like this in the second series of “The Fall”.

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Headlong Changed

Blackpaint

13.06.13

Blackpaint 397 – Moth’s Wings, Ekcovision and Vanishing Points

June 6, 2013

Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway

Sometimes, you get those coincidences – in an Observer article by Robert McCrum on Sunday, reviewing Sarah Churchwell’s new book on SF, Zelda and Gatsby, McCrum quotes Hemingway on SF: his talent “was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings”.

Monday, reading “Jacob’s Ladder”, umpteenth SF short story in his collected works, came across this: “And with the clumsy tools of jealousy and desire he was trying to create the spell that is ethereal and delicate as the dust on a moth’s wing”.  McCrum doesn’t give the source of the Hemingway quotation, so I must assume it was hommage rather than plagiarism.  All references I can find online attribute the image to Hemingway.

Pessoa, the Book of Disquiet

Just finished this collection of writings by the Portuguese poet/”bookkeeper”; I found much of it hilarious, but I’m not exactly sure I was supposed to.  At times, it reminded me of Sartre’s Roquentin  in “Nausea”, or of Celine’s Bardamu in “Journey to the end of the Night”.  He makes a virtue of inertia, travelling in his mind rather than in space, while he works at his accounts in the Lisbon warehouse – then seeks to undermine even the dreaming, which is itself, he thinks, a waste of effort.  Is it shot through with irony?  Must be, surely.  the reason I use inverted commas when I say “bookkeeper” is that Pessoa wrote, and lived, through a number of heteronyms – avatars, I suppose they might be called now.

Ed Ruscha

I’m still ploughing through “Pacific Standard Time”, the great book on the art of LA and its environs from WW2 to the eighties.  In it, Ruscha’s painting of Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art on fire, is described as having “incompatible vanishing points”; I find this mystifying – they look OK to me.  Judge for yourself, below.

ruscha

The Lavender Hill Mob

First time I’ve actually watched this through, and I was knocked out by it – the Eiffel Tower sequences, when Holloway and Guinness are hurtling down the spiral staircase, and the police car chase around the strangely spacious streets of London (maybe it was the bombsites) both classic sequences; that huge “Ekcovision” advert on the wall!  The Welsh policeman singing along to “Old MacDonald” as he stood on the running board – Saturday morning pictures feel about it.

Of course, there was the problem of criminals being seen to get away with it.. and Sid James and Alfie Bass, half the “mob”, being written out halfway through – still, brilliant film.

Festen

Again.  Still riveting, even when you know what’s coming.  This time around I loved Michael, the thuggish, desperate, racist brother, played by Thomas Bo Larsen –  perhaps “loved” is the wrong word, especially when he attacks his girlfriend.  Also Gbatokai (can’t find his real name) who does he resemble, I was thinking?  A young Obama.  And Helge, the father (Henning Moritzen) behaving “appropriately” to the end.

When are paintings finished? 

Who knows?  I stick them on the wall and wait to see – it used to be that they “proved themselves”, in a way, by acquiring a sort of presence over time.  Now, I think I’ve lost the facility of seeing that – the crap, unfinished ones seem to have a right to exist, same as the better ones.  This latest looks like a pellet brought up by an owl, floating in blue fluid..

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Pellet

Blackpaint

6.6.13