Archive for February, 2014

Blackpaint 436 – Hockney, Orwell, Beatings and Orgasms

February 28, 2014

Hockney Prints at Dulwich Picture Gallery

This is a great exhibition; loads of prints extending through several rooms.  I liked the earliest stuff from the 60s the best – “The Rake’s Progress” series on his first time in America.  In these, he’s doing those cartoon figures, reminiscent of people like Barry Fantoni; he likes fire, which pops up in several etchings, a chair burning, for instance; in fact, the red of the fire the only colour in these, apart from blue on the US flag in one, I think.

Next, he does a series based on Cavafy poems, in which the figures are no longer “cartoons” but beautifully spare, single line renditions of (usually)naked young men.  I guess from the perfection of outline, he must have selected the etching line from a number of pentimenti in a drawing, like the one of Celia Birtwell below.

Plenty more; flowers, portraits, swimming pools…  The one immediately below with the columns, trees, garden, and distorted perspective is from the latter part of the exhibition.  The colours are recognisable from his big show at the RA a couple of years ago.

Hockney Dulwich 1

hockney dulwich 2

Newsnight – the Harriet Harman interview

An innovation on Newsnight after Laura Kuenssberg pursued Harman with the Daily Mail agenda, trying to force her to apologise for being an officer of the NCCL at a time when the Paedophile Information Exchange was an affiliate to the organisation.  After the interview was shown, Jeremy Paxman, full of his usual self-regard, and Kuenssberg, still fizzing with righteous indignation, discussed Harman’s performance like sports pundits, so that the viewers didn’t have to make up their minds unaided.  I wonder if this will be a regular event whenever the press demands apologies from Labour grandees for misdeeds 30 years before.

The Hunters, Angelopoulos

A group of hunters in the snow (Brueghel again) come across the body of a revolutionary fighter from the Greek Civil War.  It’s the 60s – the war ended in 1949, but the body’s wounds are fresh.  The hunters and their companions all have guilty pasts which are revealed, as the police examine them, the body on a table in the room…  All the usual Angelopoulos magic, the mountains, the music,  the operatic scenes – but additionally, in this film, a fully-dressed actress acts a drawn-out orgasm on a ballroom floor before a large audience, who applaud politely after the climax.  Shades of Bunuel.  Later, a portly hunter, dressed in a satin Father Christmas outfit, dances rather formally with his bobble hat – shades of Bela Tarr.

Orwell  – Such, Such Were the Joys and 1984

In the Guardian last week, Sam Leith wrote about the famous Orwell essay, describing it as “a load of bollocks”.  In the essay, Orwell recalls his time at St. Cyprian’s, a prep school near Eastbourne in the years before World War One.  It includes a description of Orwell’s (or Blair’s) beatings for wetting the bed, the second of which was carried out with a riding crop which broke, as a result of the headmaster’s exertions.  There are many other examples of abuse and privation, and Leith quotes another critic, who says the essay is drenched with self-pity.

This is odd, since Orwell expressly states that he didn’t feel especially picked out for mistreatment and in fact, regarded his beatings and the rest as his own fault; as a child, he had accepted the guilt which “Sambo” and “Flip”, the headmaster and his wife, allotted to him: “Now look what you’ve done!”, as Sambo yells at him when the riding crop breaks.  One of the themes of the essay is how the pupils accept the system and internalise it.  Not surprising then that his letters home contain no hint of discontent, or that his contemporaries (Leith cites Jacintha Buddicom) say he seemed happy enough.

Anyway, Bernard Crick dealt at length with all this in his 1981 biography of Orwell – he’s not mentioned by Leith.  One thing that is interesting; Leith rejects the Anthony West theory that “1984” was Orwell’s prep school miseries writ large- he does suggest, much more plausibly, that his political analysis worked back on “Such, Such..”.  Crick thinks that Orwell exaggerated and shaped his “memories” for literary, maybe political, purposes;  to state baldly that Orwell’s reminiscences are “a load of bollocks” is surely going a bit strong, though.

The Drawing Room, Abstract Drawings

Tucked away in an old industrial building in Bermondsey, there are some startling names on show here; Jackson Pollock, Eva Hesse, Anish Kapoor, Tomma Abts, Alison Wilding, Sol LeWitt, Serra…  They are mostly small, geometrical, several on graph paper.  The Pollock is funny, because it is “fenced off” by a single wire barrier to emphasise status, presumably.  It’s not a great Pollock…  The best works are those by Hesse, John Golding, and Garth Evans (see below); like Oiticica, but not as wobbly.

garth evans

Come and see (maybe buy) my paintings at Sprout Gallery, Moyser Road, Tooting, London SW16 between  4th and 15th March – open every day, including Sunday, 11.00am – 5.00pm.


Work in Prog




Blackpaint 435 – Hamilton, Richter, Baselitz, Andrex and the Phuncbot…

February 20, 2014

Richard Hamilton at Tate Modern

richard hamilton 2

Surprising how much ground he covered in his ideas and work.   It starts with shapes and forms from D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson; then those parchment-coloured, fragmented, “technical” drawings – car grids and headlights, electric toasters, commercial hairdriers, collages using plates of reflective silver material; a room based on Hamilton’s reconstructions of “Bride Stripped Bare”; blurred photographs, recalling (prefiguring?) Richter – anonymous blobs on crowded beaches, the Jagger-Fraser handcuffs picture, the Kent State victim, echoed in Richter’s Baader Meinhof pics; the flower pictures (Richter again); the political stuff – Treatment Room, with Thatcher holding forth (silently) on screen over bed (touch of Hirst here); Blair as a two gun cowboy, the Christ -like Dirty Protester in his cell, British soldier in Belfast street, Orange Order bowler hat man, maps showing expansion of Israeli occupied territory…

There are a couple of pictures containing Andrex toilet paper; not adverts, but semi-abstract paintings – and a trendy 60’s model girl, squatting fully dressed (paisley, I think) and taking a little curly shit on the floor – clearly where Martin Creed got the image; then there are the empty, mirrored hotel lobbies and stately naked models hoovering and hovering; the “Richard” (Ricard) parody logo that recalls Ed Ruscha’ s work; the electric toothbrush with denture plate attached and parody advert with Lorraine Chase- and, of course, “What is it that Makes Today’s Homes..” – this is so small that I missed it first time round and had to go back through to find it.

richard hamilton1

So, rich mix of ideas, startling originality, immaculate execution, with an underlying coldness and disengagement, even in the political work.

Philemon (Bible)

A short letter from Paul; but the interesting thing is that this letter, to Philemon, asking him to take back his former slave Onesimus, a runaway, demonstrates that slavery was not incompatible with Christianity – or, at least, with the Bible.  I suppose this should be obvious – nothing against slavery in the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount, for example – yet you tend to forget, because of the Christian influence in the anti-slavery movements in the 19th century.  I wonder if the other great religions condemn slavery explicitly?

Memphis Tennessee

I’ve been listening to this for 50 odd years – not continuously, of course – and have always wondered who “took the message and he wrote it on the wall”.  It sounds like “the phuncbot” to me.  So I finally looked it up on the net and it’s “My uncle”.  One version gives “Cos my uncle…”.  I’m still not convinced and prefer phuncbot.

The Travelling Players

travelling players

Theo Angelopoulos’ masterpiece; an ever dwindling, forlorn band of actors trudging and training through 20th century Greek history, putting on the same classic play in village halls, as war, murder, treachery and tragedy surround and wash over them.  It has that sort of tableau vivant style, interspersed with chunks of history spoken straight to camera by actors, like narrators in a play.  This sounds dreary, but isn’t; there is staggering mountain scenery, grotesque violence, partisan politics in both senses – and classical references, in that the players correspond to the tragedy of Agamemnon – Electra, Orestes etc.  And music – beautiful, haunting songs and American dance tunes.  Suitcases, shabby suits and coats, umbrellas, railway stations, mountain roads in the snow.  Long, but fantastic.

Baselitz, Richter, Penck at the British Museum

Powerful and dramatic woodcuts and drawings from Baselitz.   In 1967, he began to turn everything upside down; seated figures, eagles, trees, the lot.  The info on the wall explains that he was trying to empty the pictures of their figurative content, to abstractify them in some way. He succeeds sometimes, but mostly you think this is a seated man upside down; I wonder why.  Great, Seurat-like portrait woodcut from Penck and spirally, scribbly abstracts from Richter.

Burmese Days

I’ve been looking at Orwell’s writing on Forster and Passage to India; mainly favourable, as you would expect.  He does say that Forster’s characters sometimes die for no real reason – and that the Germans broadcast Passage in the war as anti-British propaganda.  This was not a criticism; rather, it showed how powerful Forster’s novel was as a critique of British imperialism in India.  I imagine they would have broadcast Burmese Days too, had Orwell been as distinguished a novelist as Forster at the time.  It’s much more vehement than the earlier novel.





Blackpaint 434 – Creed; the Piles, the Cacti and the Suspense

February 14, 2014

Hayward Gallery – Martin Creed, “What’s the Point of it?”

This was reviewed on the Review Show (BBC2) and was described as “joyous” by Paul Morley; the others agreed.  I was astounded to hear that music was part of the exhibition, in the form of several soundtrack items – I was totally unaware of this; just didn’t notice it, I suppose.  In fact, the reviewers mentioned a number of items I missed; as always, sounded as if they were at a different show.

It’s packed with exhibits, mostly numbered not named – here’s my list, with the occasional comment:

  • Swinging “MOTHERS” sign, nearly skimming the head, if your as tall as me (6ft 4in)
  • Diminishing, or growing, stacks/lines of cacti, chairs, tables, planks, boxes, girders

creed cacti

  • Pictures of stepped pyramids and staircases

Creed pile

  • Stripe paintings on walls (horizontal, vertical, diagonal,  criss-crossed…)
  • Film of rather small erect penis, gradually diminishing, on terrace
  • Pointed tower of LEGO
  • Rough portraits, duff portraits, freely painted, multi – colour abstracts (small)
  • Metal nozzles, protuberances and er – intuberances (?) like bathroom fittings
  • smooth white breast-shaped swellings, “growing” from wall
  • Dark piano, each key of which sounded at intervals by attendant
  • White piano, lid opening and crashing shut automatically at regular intervals
  • Door, opening and closing
  • Car, bonnet, doors and boot of which opening and shutting, lights on and off, regular intervals
  • Line of metronomes, out of sync (when we were there, anyway)
  • 1000 differently coloured and framed prints of a broccoli “tree”
  •  A load of balls (tennis, basketball, football, etc.)
  • Little ticky-tacky paint and tape pictures, quite nice
  • Video of two dogs, wolf hound and chihuahua, wandering about and pursued by men
  • Video of a young man and young woman, walking on into a white space and being sick on the floor.  The man is first, and accomplishes his puking with something of a swagger; hands on hips, I think.  The woman, however, outdoes him with about six consecutive large sploshes of thin red winey vomit – couple of bottles’ worth, I should think.  Well done!
  • Separating the two vomits is a sequence in which a young woman comes on, hitches her dress up, squats down and proceeds to have a shit.  This is quite tense, as at first, she only manages a couple of little pellets.  She grunts a bit; obviously she thinks there is more to come.  I got a little annoyed at this point when a young couple came and stood in front of me – didn’t want to miss anything…. and then there it was – curling out slowly and finally achieving separation.  She stands and walks off; job done.

In the leaflet, it says “horrible vomit” becomes a form of painting, and shit – the first solid thing that any of us makes – is sculpture”.  This reminds me of the David Foster Wallace story of the man who shits out fully-formed “sculptures” like portrait busts of celebrities…

Saatchi Gallery – Body Language (cont.)

Couple more painters worth a mention in the above exhibition:

Dana Schutz

dana schutz picnic

This one’s called “burnt Picnic”, I think;

And Andra Ursuta

“Vandal Lust”, a fantastical trebuchet (catapult) thing – sort of ramshackle Anish Kapoor, not working – with a couple of flattened, smashed bodies lying around, one of which appears to have been propelled into a wall, going by the damage to the plaster.

Denis Tarasov‘s Russian and Ukrainian gravestone C prints, showing the dead in their lives with their cars, cigars and champagne are worth mentioning too.

Days of 36, Angelopoulos (1974)

Made under the “Colonels’ ” regime in Greece, on a tight budget, this story of a jail hostage taking and the political intrigue behind the scenes is difficult to follow at times; whose is the body fished out of the sea, for example?  It does, however, have a scene which anticipates “The Shawshank Redemption”; music (a tango, it sounds like) is played in the compound – the inmates crowd the windows of the cells, overcome with emotion…

Burmese Days 

Re-reading Orwell’s book to compare it to Forster’s Passage to India.  Orwell’s is much more forceful, more angry, the language of the British violent and racially abusive; maybe it’s the 10 years’ difference between the books, as well as Orwell’s more radical (?)political outlook..  A couple of scornful remarks about Jews and homosexual scoutmasters from Flory, Orwell’s “hero” (sort of)…



Garden House



Blackpaint 433 – Sex Toys, Flamingoes and a Robot Swede

February 6, 2014

Saatchi Gallery – Body Language

There seems to be a sort of house style to the paintings currently on display – huge; crudely drawn; harsh, raw, livid and/or fluorescent colours; acrylic or thinned-down oil, lacking surface sheen; shock-sexual images.  If this sounds bad, it’s not meant to; I like a lot of the works.

The names of the following painters occurred to me as I went round – Doig, Marlene Dumas, Sasnal/Tuymans, Rose Wylie and once, even Keith Vaughan.

Henry Taylor

Black American artist, raw, cartoonish, lively portraits and street life.  I liked “She Mixed” (below) and The Finger.

Saatchi Taylor

Eddie Martinez

Graffiti origins; his Last Supper below; which one is Jesus, which Judas?  It’s huge, by the way.

saatchi martinez

Chantal Joffe

I thought these were the best on show; mostly portraits, great flesh tones, deceptively slapdash but not when you look closely.  A wee bit Marlene Dumas, maybe..

saatchi joffe

Helen Verhoeven

saatchi verhoeven

Can’t really see it from this, but some of the nude figures are rather Keith Vaughan; what the hell is going on?  Why are those long pipe things going up the woman’s skirt and into the other one’s vagina?  And the nude on the far right, is that a blow-up doll she’s holding?  Maybe the others are blow-ups too, being inflated – I’m sure there’s a simple explanation…

There are several more painters and sculptors in this exhibition; more next blog.

Also at Saatchi, there is New Order II; British Art Today

The artists who impressed me most were

Dominic Beattie

saatchi beattie

Collages made out of overlapping layers of board or metal, not quite fitting exactly, in bright colours and patterns.  Small, but impressive from the other end of the gallery.  A treat for the eye, after all that roughly painted, huge, sexy, figurative stuff.

Mary Ramsden

saatchi ramsden

This doesn’t give you much idea – you need to see two or three together.  Large fields of flat, contrasting colour, reminding me a little of Gary Hume.

Kate Hawkins

saatchi Hawkins

You get the picture – surrealistic boxes with eye things or bow ties on tripods and ladders.  Amusing but…. more next time.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Now he’ll never get to play Gordon Finch in the film of “Stoner”, when it gets made (see previous Blackpaint).  RIP.

The Great Beauty, Sorrentino

Obvious tribute to Fellini, it has Rome, the parties, the oddities, the conga dancing in a chain of fools; Tony Servillo taking the place of Mastroianni, with something of his weary charm, if not the looks.  I was waiting for the outrageously artificial – like the whale in Satyricon, the dead fish in Dolce Vita, the rhino and the ship with smoke blowing the wrong way – was that “And the Ship Sailed On”?  There was a giraffe, but it turned out to be real.  Then, near the end, the flock of flamingoes took off improbably into an improbable sky, and there it was. He (Sorrentino) likes to have scenes in which old men throw themselves about in hip disco dancing poses, like in “Il Divo”.  Great film.

The Bridge II

I thought Saga’s robotic recoil and wide- eyed stare whenever something puzzled her was just a bit too much like Data in Star Trek; also her stock phrase “I have analysed what you said…”.  Plot totally un-followable, too many characters, too SF.  Kim Bodnia as Martin great,  though.  How are they going to get him out of prison for the next series?


Work in Progress