Archive for September, 2013

Blackpaint 413 – Venice; Three Saints and their Beastly Companions

September 30, 2013

Guggenheim Museum in Venice

Just back from a week in Venice to visit the Biennale (bit late – it closes next month).  Venice full of German, American and Japanese tourists and very few native Venetians; the streets were practically deserted by 8.30 pm, apart from rather subdued groups and pairs of lost tourists.  The Biennale, both the Arsenal and the park pavilions, more impressive than last time; I’m going to blog every couple of days this week until I’ve done everything worth mentioning.  Some of the very best things we saw were not part of the Biennale however, but were at the  Guggenheim; four, no five new pictures hung last year.First, Hans Hoffman’s “Spring on Cape Cod”.

hans hoff at the gug

Next, de Kooning’s “Woman, seated”.

DK at gug 2

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, in her amazing, clean, cold greens, oranges, reds and blues.

joan mitchell gug

And Burri, brown and black, underneath a sheath of cellophane.

Carpaccio

Going back a little, there were the Carpaccios at the Scuola di Giorgio dei Greci; the famous St. George and Dragon with various scattered body parts – the lance seems to be on the wrong side of the horse’s head; wrong, that is, for martial, not artistic purposes.  In the next panel, George again, with the dead dragon, about to strike off its head for the assembled, be-turbaned crowd.

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Next, we have St.Tryphon, just like a little boy, with the Basilisk demon he has just exorcised from the little girl’s body.  It looks rather like a little donkey – pity it wasn’t a Gryphon, for reason of rhyme.

carpaccio2

St. Jerome next, with his newly tamed lion, trying to introduce it to a group of elders, who appear strangely reluctant to meet it.  And then, a much younger Jerome in his study, fine red leather chair, all sorts of scientific instruments at hand and a little white dog, looking on while he has his vision.

Don’t Look Now

Watched this again as soon as I was back from Venice and not much evidence of change in the last 40 years – the water ambulances are different and there were no giant cruise ships obliterating the views, but otherwise the same.  What I did notice was how everyone in Venice appeared to have some sort of secret personal agenda, signified by meaningful looks, gazings into the distance (priest), murmurs of “Ah, yes, of course” (police inspector)…  Only the English headmaster and his wife were free of the air of mystery – but they were in England.

More on Venice, particularly the Biennale, this week.

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Work in Prog

Blackpaint

30.09.13

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Blackpaint 412 – Talent and Taste and the Darkling Plain

September 19, 2013

Jonathan Yeo at the National Portrait Gallery

Saw the Culture Show programme on Yeo last night and was suitably impressed by his technical skill.  a whole bunch of political, arty and acting celebs, instantly recognisable, in a surface spectrum from creamy smooth (Sienna Miller) to Freudian fractured – assemblies of small, variegated  planes (George W Bush).

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Only when reading Yeo’s Wikipedia entry, did I discover that the Bush “variegated planes” are actually images from porn magazines, a technique that Yeo has used several times.

I think I would say the same thing about Yeo as I said about Augustus John last blog; loads of talent, dubious taste.  By that, I don’t mean the use of porn images, or painting the pregnant Sienna Miller naked; more that they seem to flatter the subjects and include little tricks and flourishes – see the Nicole Kidman above.  Apart from Bush, maybe, I can’t imagine any of his subjects being dismayed or upset at the way they have been portrayed.  Have to go and see for myself now, at the NPG.

Paul Feiler

He died this summer, when I was abroad. so I missed the obits.  The last, I think, of the 50s and 60s St. Ives generation. I considered him for a while to be the greatest living British abstract painter.  Then I “discovered” Albert Irvin – and there’s Gillian Ayres of course – but he’s still up there, I think, in terms of “the greatest” – but no longer living…

feiler

Paul Feiler

John Bellany

Another painter recently dead is Bellany.  As utterly unlike Feiler as you could imagine, his odd figures in awkward poses remind me, a little, sometimes, of Paula Rego – and RB Kitaj in his cartoon style, Unlike Rego, he often used harsh, garish colours.

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bellany 2

Well, not sure about Kitaj…  Apparently, his (Bellany’s) paintings got brighter and more optimistic in tone after his liver transplant.

Old Masters, Thomas Bernhard

I recently made a facetious remark about this great book, comparing the protracted rant that it mostly is, to John Cooper Clarke’s “Evidently Chickentown” – and concluding that Clarke’s poem(?) is the greater work.  About 60% of the way through, however, certain changes begin to occur in the Bernhard book and it takes on greater depths.

Consider the following, on the uses of art after bereavement: “None of those books or writings which I had collected in the course of my life …were ultimately any use, I had been left alone by my wife and all these books and writings were ridiculous.  We think we can cling to Shakespeare or to Kant, but that is a fallacy, Shakespeare and Kant and all the rest…..let us down at the very moment when we would so badly need them, Reger said…. everything which those so-called great and important figures have thought and moreover written leaves us cold…”  So, art is no help or cure for pain – echoes of “Dover Beach” and “The Green Linnet”.

We are soon back to ranting. however; and I am gratified to find that Reger, the protagonist, believes that every great work of art is mortally flawed (see Blackpaint 387, the theory of validating crapness) and that many artists, notably El Greco, can’t do hands.  According to Reger, “El Greco’s hands all look like dirty wet face flannels”…

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Tenby, Wall to Fort

Blackpaint

19.09.13

Blackpaint 411 – Decorum Returns; Iron Man, Sky Walks and Erasure

September 13, 2013

Ray Howard Jones

I’m in Tenby, Pembrokeshire to support my son in the Iron Man Wales Triathlon.  At the local museum, an exhibition of this artist, who turns out to be a woman.

ray howard jones

Rather like a less washed out Paul Nash, maybe.  I mean “washed out” in a good way, of course.  Also in this great little museum, a David Jones,  A couple of John Pipers and some lovely Gwen and Augustus Johns – and Winifred, the other sister, of whom I had no knowledge.  Augustus and Gwen both draw beautifully. of course; but Gwen is the one with taste.  I love those melancholic portraits.

Marx Reichlich

Recently, re-visited the Courtauld in the Strand; there was a portrait by the above in there, as good as a Holbein.  He was Austrian, 1460 – 1520,  and his work is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna – I wonder if Thomas Bernhard’s character Reger gets round to dismissing him as “kitsch” in “Old Masters”?

(c) The Courtauld Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

It’s fantastic isn’t it?  I think it’s called “Woman with Lily-of-the-Valley”.

Archipelago

I was on about this last week; Joanna Hogg’s masterpiece, set on Tresco in the Scilly Isles.  The cast is a mix of pros and amateurs – the painter Christopher Baker is just that, a painter not an actor – and that seems to have worked brilliantly in making the dialogue sound authentic; but the pro members, most notably Lydia Leonard as the passive-aggressive, uptight daughter are also great.

The most noticeable trope of the cinematography is the use of long framing shots, through windows, doorways, courtyards and particularly on a bend in the staircase, by the newel post.  when I say “long” though – there’s long and there’s Bela Tarr, so maybe these are medium long.  Some great shots – a beautiful, grey/blue granite cave, a laughing herm (I think that’s the term) in the tropical gardens.  I was gratified to hear on the voiceover extra that Hogg was influenced by Hammershoi interiors.

Man on Wire

It’s easy to see how Petit’s personality could overwhelm certain individuals and compel them to assist in his escapades; he seems rather like a dizzying drop himself – draws and repels.  What I found mystifying is how much relevant film footage was around from the planning stages of the WTC walk and the earlier stunts on Notre Dame and Sydney Harbour Bridge; it was as if it had been shot with a view to making “Man on Wire” about 35 years later.  And then, to have no moving footage of the actual walk…

Or rather, walks – he did it eight times, back and forth.

Butcher’s Crossing and Augustus

Reading both of these novels by John Williams, of “Stoner” fame.  They’re OK – Butcher’s Crossing is about a C19th buffalo hunt, Augustus an epistolatory novel about Augustus Caesar – but nothing whatever, so far as I can see, makes them identifiable as the work of Williams.  I can’t think of any other author whose work is so diverse.

Erasures

I did a couple of life classes recently; the results were depressingly poor.  Turned them into something that looked a bit more classy by smearing and rubbing out the duff bits and getting stuck in with oil pastels on the other bits.  Some results below.

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Here’s a more conventional one to finish with – except it’s unfinished…

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Blackpaint

Work in Progress

13.09.13

Blackpaint 410 – Surprise at the Size; Sex, Death and Lemons

September 5, 2013

“Keep Your Timber Limber” at the ICA

When I saw this advertised as an exhibition of drawings, I assumed the timber in the title referred to a pencil.  Wrong; or perhaps metaphorically right. The first thing you see – hard to avoid double entendres here – is a drawing of a huge, hairy penis and balls across an entire wall, resembling a cannon and with “Moral Injury” along the shaft and “Fucked by Numbers” beneath it.  It’s by Judith Bernstein, and conflates the act of fucking and being fucked – ridiculous to use less direct vocabulary –  with the casualties and destruction of the Iraq and Afganistan (sic) wars, as well as Vietnam, to which it originally referred.

As a piece of visual propaganda, it’s pretty much dried out now and fails to carry a frisson beyond the initial surprise at the size; the two activities linked here – killing and having sex – seem to me, and hopefully to most people, to be not the same – mutually exclusive even (despite common parlance and psychoanalysis).

There are a number of small drawings in pretty inks by Margaret Harrison, depicting women in scanty clothing, rather like seaside postcards, one of whom is the filling in a sandwich and another of whom has a lemon between her legs (cf. Urs Fischer’s carrot, last blog).

Harrison

I found them rather erotic, but I don’t think that was reaction the artist intended.  I was reminded of the exhibition of feminist art since the 70s that I saw at the Pompidou Centre a couple of years ago (see previous Blackpaint); I found most of the works there erotic too.  A piece in the Guardian Review this week on Nora Ephron referred to her remark about her husband’s affairs; “He would have sex with a venetian blind”.  This was quoted as a brilliant put-down – but I can’t imagine many men being insulted.

The male input was rather more direct – Cary Kwok had three drawings showing a Hassidic Jew, a Buddhist monk and a Catholic priest dripping with semen from their own masturbatory efforts; Tom of Finland had his pictures of bikers engaged pleasurably in the act – strange how the genitalia on show were rather undersized; maybe copied from Greek and Renaissance sculpture?  Limber timber everywhere.

There were some great fashion plates by Antonio Lopez and a George Grosz cartoon – I have to say I agree with Adrian Searle, that none of the various elements seem to go with each other. They’re all drawings, arguably – but beyond that?

R Crumb

Actually, the Harrison pictures, and the Toms and Kwoks, reminded me faintly of Robert Crumb – but probably only because of the “transgressive” material and the drawing skill displayed.  Seeing Crumb’s work at the Guggenheim recently caused me to think of some literature I’d like to see illustrated by him; a collected works of Jane Austen, perhaps…

Sweet Tooth

Writing about this Ian McEwan novel in last blog, I was wondering how many other examples, there were, apart from Joyce’s Penelope in Ulysses, of male authors writing in the 1st person from a woman’s point of view.  I came up with Defoe’s Moll Flanders and on the net, found references to Richardson’s Clarissa and Allan Gurganus’ “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All”.   Maybe also bits of Dracula.  Not many then; and I hadn’t finished “Sweet Tooth” when I last wrote – there’s a twist at the end which gives McEwan a safety net.

Visions of Light

Fantastic film about the history of cinematography, with one beautiful example after another, interspersed with interviews that actually give you some insight, rather than just slowing up the excerpts.  Fascinating to see Nestor Almendros (Malick’s “Days of Heaven”); he’s the image of Romolo Valli, the fussy hotelier in “Death in Venice”.

My current favourite cinematographer, or director of photography as they now appear to be called, is Ed Rutherford of “Archipelago” (director, Joanna Hogg); apparently, it was his first film.  Much more on this great film next blog – I’ve done it before (see Blackpaint 359) , but just bought and watched the DVD through twice.

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Blackpaint

Atlantic Bar

5.09.13