Blackpaint 401 – Manhugging at the Fair; Annoying in Chechnya


Lowry at Tate Britain

I think he’s more important as a social historian than as a painter; the old Mitchell and Kenyon films which play in this exhibition show that his particular vision was spot on.  No-one else was covering this sort of industrial, municipal vista so consistently.

As I said in last blog, I think there’s something of Brueghel in there and not just the small figures and the white background.  B documented the lives of his peasants and Lowry  is doing the same for the people of his northern towns, to an extent; the Fever Van, the Funeral, Going to and Coming From Work, the Fair at Daisy Nook (twice, at least).  His figures are less solid than B’s, caricatures really, but he does give them individual details, even if they come out looking the same.

Several characters recur; a pair of drunks (?) “man-hugging”, kids, and those two dogs – probably more that I didn’t notice.  None of the figures seem to cast a shadow – indeed, they look somehow separate, even when they overlap, as if collaged.

lowry2

No dogs in this one.

When you see the paintings surrounding you, their filmic quality is obvious; you can easily imagine the figures coming to life and swarming through the factory gates towards the smoking chimneys.  I thought of that film of snow-covered Nevsky Prospect and the people  scattering under fire during the 1905 revolution.  It’s on the cover of the paperback of Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution”.

My favourite painting is uncharacteristic and one of the first in the exhibition – it’s the little brick terraced house with the flowers in the window.  Look closely at it- it’s beautifully painted, especially the brickwork.

Another interesting and uncharacteristic painting was a Welsh scene, I think called “Bargoed”; somehow, the perspectives are more conventional (his townscapes often look like two or three different photographs cut up and collaged together and the diminishing size of the figures as they recede is often “wrong”) and the whole picture has a more “muscular” feel – not better than the townscapes, but much more conventional.

lowry1

Quick visit to our favourite room, the one with Bigger Splash and the red Caro – I looked closely at the Bacon triptych and was interested to notice how thin the paint was – the weave of the canvas fabric was clearly visible.  His own remarks about the role of accident and chance in a painting and the common (mis)conception that he painted with a sort of vigorous abandon had led me to believe that the paint would be applied more thickly.

The Tony Cragg “Stack” – how did they install it without its falling to pieces?  It’s surely not stuck together and yet there is no way it could be raised – unless it was on a palette that was somehow slipped out from under it when it was in place…

Aleksandra, Sokurov

How irritating Sokurov’s characters can be.  This is the film about the grandmother who visits her army officer grandson when he is on active service in Chechnya.  She goes around being provocative, as if the presence of a matriarchal figure, overweight and with  bad legs, should be treated as completely normal by the gormless boy soldiers.  They have to help her out and keep her safe.  She meets some Chechnyan counterparts and treats them, and a young Chechnyan assigned as her guide, to a string of platitudes that, I’m sure, would have gone down really well with the population during Russia’s war on the Chechen “rebels”.

I was reminded of the diplomat in Russian Ark; he is also an irritating figure, pushy, inquisitive and  annoying to everyone in the film.  Unlike Alexandra, of course, he (the character, that is) is not Russian, but French or Swiss.  And then there is the Mephistopheles character in Faust – but its right for him to be annoying, I suppose.

Salter, “Light Years”

There’s a great scene in this, where Viri, the central male character, is at a party, getting drunk – except that you don’t know he’s plastered, until he insists on doing a costumed imitation of Maurice Chevalier, unbidden, before the guests, forgets and repeats lines, then passes out in the maid’s bedroom as the others go in to dinner.  It’s a trick that Richard Yates also uses, I think in “Easter Parade”, where the male lead instigates a punching contest with a younger character who is annoying him by being younger and having opinions…

Imagine, Vivian Meier

BBC programme on the staggering work of “amateur” photographer and professional nanny Meier, who printed only a tiny proportion of her 100, 000+ negatives and kept the rest in storage, to be sold off after her death.  She seemed to have taken pictures in just about any style, all good, many stunning.  Joel Meyerowitz made a good point about her portraits, which were often of street people; he said that using a Rolleiflex, which you looked down at while you pointed it at the subject from your midriff, meant that you didn’t have to confront people by raising the camera to your face and looking at them directly.  Maybe that helped – whatever the reason, great pictures were the result.

poor tom

Poor Tom – an old one, but I like it…

Blackpaint

4.07.13

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