Archive for April, 2014

Blackpaint 443 – Deacon, Cezanne, Fellini and Bragg

April 25, 2014

Richard Deacon at Tate Britain – until Sunday!

I was unexcited about the prospect of visiting this exhibition, since painting is more my thing than sculpture usually; that’s why it took me so long to get around to it.  I was surprised – it’s great.  Wood, metal, cement. sometimes all three together – wooden strips looping along the floor and rearing up like lassos; an oblong metal “shell”, open at both ends, with a flat metal lip overlapping and then blending with the edge of the orifice.  It just lies there on the floor, like a giant grey metal cream horn.


A splintered and tortured steamed oak and metal structure, writhing all over the floor – how does he twist the wood like that?  I presume it’s made possible by the steaming process.


A black “hogan” shaped thing, or maybe giant seed case called “Struck Dumb”, rather spoilt in my view by a red bow tie shape at one end;  “After”, a huge, “wickerwork” snake, curling across the gallery, stiffened by a wide silver metal band running from end to end.  A group of small, organic shapes, sculpted in various materials, like a group of sea creatures washed up by the tide.  And terrific, looping, diagramatic drawings with erasures and fuzzed lines in blue ink.

deacon 3

Great sculptures and great engineering.  It finishes this Sunday, so go this weekend.

Ruin Lust, Tate B

I thought this stretched the definition of “ruin” a bit far; there is a series of photographs by Gerard Byrne, for instance, which show hangovers or survivals of 60s design in present-day architecture and society – great photos, interesting idea, but not really “ruin”.  Unlike Waldemar Januszczak, however, I don’t really care if the concept is stretched though, as long as there’s some good art to look at in the exhibition.  And there is some; several paintings and prints of Llanthony Abbey to kick off.  I know it well and none of these look much like it (not that it matters).   The usual suspects are here; Turner, Constable, Wilson Steer.  There’s a mildly Apocalyptic John Martin, of the Pompeii eruption, which looks to me as if it’s happening in a vast underground chamber – my partner tells me he did some designs for sewers during the cholera epidemics, so maybe that influenced him. They are in Jeremy Deller’s exhibition in Nottingham, I understand.  Photos of stupendous German bunkers and gun emplacements on the Atlantic coast, by the Wilson sisters;  A couple of familiar surrealistic pictures by Paul Nash; a great Sutherland and a Piper church.

piper 1

I thought Ian Hislop’s description of Piper as “a committed Modernist, in love with the Olden Days” (The Olden Days, BBC2) was spot on.  Some war photographs from Rachel Whiteread and a Patrick Caulfield, which displays the contrast between his clean, radiantly coloured, graphic style and the ruinous subject matter.  Not one of the great exhibitions, but a good 30 minute job. if you are a Tate member and don’t have to fork out specially.

Cezanne and the Modern , Oxford Ashmolean Museum

This is just packed out with interesting things, as is the permanent collection at the museum ( I’ll write about that in next blog, along with the Matisse cut-outs).

The Cezannes are mostly watercolours; the best of these are one of a rockface or quarry, almost like an early Hamilton car fender drawing from a distance; and one called “Undergrowth”, I think, like a pen and ink and wash drawing.  Then, there is a single, large, unfinished oil painting called “Route to le Tholonet”, which has beautiful, subtle blue, brown and green hillsides behind a couple of tree trunks and a sketchy cottage – it’s oil, but it looks like watercolour, especially in the exhibition guide (good for £5).  Also pears in a bowl, a skull and a shimmering bottle still life.  Great St.Victoire, next door with the others.

Others: Great Modiglianis, one of Cocteau, pink cheeks, spidery body and features, wrists and chin and a male face, a Russian I think, with a crooked, “stuck on” nose;

A striking Degas nude, “After the bath, woman drying herself” – her bum is right in your face as you enter the gallery; she appears to be diving forwards, her arm and shoulder outlined in red, head disappearing behind divan, or whatever.  Her head’s in the wrong place, it seems to me, too far to the right…;

degas ashmolean

A Van Gogh, “the Tarrascon Stage”, the paint badged on thickly in sticky-looking squares;

A fabulous Manet, “Young Woman in a Round Hat” – on the wall above is a quotation from Manet; “There are no lines in Nature…” and yet, round the woman’s left shoulder and arm, a very visible black line.  Great painting though.

manet round hat


Soutine – these are a revelation; he’s much more than the sides of beef.  A thick red-lipped, crop-headed self portrait; A beautiful, sad-eyed portrait of an unknown woman in a black dress, with a dark blue background;  an awful choirboy and an awful hanging turkey BUT – three expressionist paintings of the town of Ceret, that look a little like Auerbach building sites, but with curving lines.  There’s a church spire from below looking up, recalling Delaunay’s Eiffel Tower.  Another, with two paths meeting to form a triangle, like the legs of that Boccione statuette… all done in the late 20s.

soutine 2

Fellini, “81/2”

Stunning opening and closing sequences – in the opening, Mastroianni (Fellini) floats high above, attached by the ankle to a line and to a car (it’s a dream sequence) – and the closing, the actors take part in a Dance of Fools, hand in hand, to the music of a clown band – shades of “The Seventh Seal”.

The Olden Days (BBC2)

I mention this series again, NOT because my son Nicky was a researcher on it (although he was), but because I was struck by the startling resemblance of Billy Bragg to the photograph portrait of the older William Morris…


Heaven Only Knows (final version)




Blackpaint 442 – Barlow’s Faulty Towers, That Ad, Adrian and George

April 15, 2014

Phyllida Barlow; “Dock” at Tate Britain

There seems to be a lot of destruction about at Tate Britain lately; “Ruin Lust”, the present exhibition, for example, and the recent one on iconoclasm, ranging from Reformation church smashing to the Suffragettes, the IRA and Action artists.


At first sight, Barlow’s work seems to fit in with this; as you come into the hall, the first thing you see is a collapsed heap of planks, beams and general rubble which looks as if it has just crashed to the ground.  In fact, the work seems to me to consist of 7 or 8 “units”, one of which is the collapsed heap; the others are:

  • a tower of beams from which a giant cardboard (?) roll or drum hangs;
  • another tower, topped by a bulging, squirming mass of ropes, stuffed bin bags, trunking and debris, threatening to topple over;
  • a sort of pyramidal  structure of interlocking, wooden or metal bench-like forms, one face of which is covered with painted panels in Guston colours (these panels face you through the arch from Caro’s red metal sculpture and are really effective from this view – try it);


  • a tubular tower, a sort of Trajan’s Column of cardboard rolls, stuck together with brightly coloured crime-scene tape (shades of Isa Gensken);
  • another big erection of beams from which are suspended a number of huge boxes or trunks, great holes smashed in them, round the mouths of which, a polystyrene foam bubbles;
  • hanging from the ceiling, a strange, white, branching, basket-like structure a bit like Sarah Lucas’s stuffed sculptures or maybe a giant representation of a cell structure, like something that might hang above the escalator in the Science Museum.  Hanging from this, I think, three giant, unvarnished, wooden shield shapes.  I find these, the basket and the shields, to be a false note, not fitting with the rest of the installation.

So at second sight, not about destruction at all; more about things in flux, a process of becoming rather than being “complete” like the other works in the gallery.

I wondered about how she built it; she’s in her 70s, after all.  Obviously there was a team and machinery, but you somehow think things on this scale require a young, vigorous, ambitious, (reckless?) mind.  Did she do drawings?  Maybe it was more general idea and materials and then standing watching, shouting instructions: sort of “Bit more to left – hold it there, that’s good…. Now, tumble those ropes out a bit more…”   And how are these things commissioned?  does Tate have a list of artists it goes to, or do the artists approach the galleries with ideas?  This would apply to the Turbine Hall at TM too, of course.

Next time, “Ruin Lust” and the fantastic Richard Deacon exhibition.

Doreen Lawrence in the M&S advert

I think the presence of Baroness Lawrence in the M&S advert is problematic.  The company benefits from the association with someone like her, who has justly acquired a sort of proto-Mandela status, beyond criticism; there’s probably no payment involved, or she will be donating the money to a worthy cause – still, M&S is in the business of flogging clothes and will get increased profits, I expect.  Is it no different from Olympians advertising banks, or the Royals granting charters to private firms?  as far as I can see, there has been no criticism in the press of the ad, so maybe I’m out of step.  Those people who want the Baroness to stand as Labour candidate for Mayor of London will be wanting some of the same magic; someone beyond criticism to carry the flag.  What a coup that would be.

Sue Townsend


Adrian Mole is one of the great comic characters of English literature, alongside Pooter, another noted diarist; I was surprised, however, to come across, in Sunday’s Observer, an extract from Townsend’s book “Mr.Bevan’s Dream”, about trying to get an emergency benefit payment.  What surprised me was how gripping it was, how angry it made me and yet how fair and even-handed were her comments.  Who did it remind me of?  Ah yes, Orwell – and unlike George –  no criticism intended – Townsend wasn’t down there on a visit.

 Orwell, the Musical


Just been reading that Orwell’s newly published “Road to Wigan Pier” was delivered to him in the trenches where he was fighting with the Trotskyist POUM militia in the Spanish Civil War; surely it’s time somebody wrote “Orwell, the Musical” – Eton, Burma, the Hanging, Shooting an Elephant, dish-washing in Paris, tramping in London and the hopfields of Kent, Wigan Pier, fighting, wounded and fleeing for his life in Spain, the war commentaries and diary, Animal Farm, Jura, nearly drowning in the whirlpool, Nineteen Eighty-Four- must be enough here for loads of great stage-sets and les Mis-type anthems.  Come on, Lloyd-Webber and Cameron Mackintosh!


 Heaven Only Knows



Blackpaint 441 – Giants and their Weapons, Orwell and the Sweet Life

April 11, 2014

Future Map, ual (University of the Arts London)

This was an exhibition at SPACE, Mare Street in Hackney, showing (to quote the booklet) “the finest emerging visual arts from  University of the Arts London. Now in its 16th year, Future Map has a well-earned reputation for exhibiting the next generation of artists who will define our visual landscape”; I went last week, meaning to write it up but got bogged down with Orwell et al – and now the exhibition’s finished.  Still, these were the the works that I found memorable:

  • Jack Wilkinson (the winner) – “Untitled”, an assemblage of marked and spattered off-white boards, recalling those early panels of Richard Hamilton, interspersed with black, upright rectangles.
  • Sean Lavelle – “Glassrack Green and Orange”; a wooden framework, draped with a transparent green plastic fabric, drawn on to resemble green bricks, and with snake- like forms writhing across it.  I thought of it as “worms on a frame”.


  • Han Byul Kang – “Dawn”; several objects, one a halved rocking chair, inverted, an occasional table and a giant cotton reel – or maybe, one of those big spools around which cable is wound, all of which were highly decorated in brightly coloured designs.


  • Bethe Bronson – “Hidden Exposure”; a video installation, in which a solemn, seated woman stares out at the viewer, whilst a younger, teenage(?) girl stands at her side; both in Victorian dress.  The girl, at first still, moves her head and eyes towards the older woman and then away from her, in a series of stop-time movements.


  • Abigail Booth – sculptures, one a large silver splat! of mercurial molten metal, which turns out to be “Chrome”, not mercury; the other, a block of granite, its surface marked in quarters, titled “Quartered Granite”.

These are the works that stuck in my memory, not necessarily because they were great…  The booklet, however, is superbly produced by the University of the Arts London.  It’s huge and makes all the works look fantastic.

Ian Hislop, “the Olden Days” BBC

Hislop’s first prog in the series happened to include a “prehistoric” stone circle that had actually been made in the 1850s, copied or inspired by the genuine stone ring at Avebury.  This led to a mild dispute with a friend about the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex, who I thought was Bronze Age and he thought was Victorian.  Turns out the best guess is 16th or 17th century.   So, of course, I had to look up all the other chalk horses and the  Cerne Abbas giant – and only the Uffington horse in Oxfordshire, by the Ridgeway, is genuinely Bronze Age or earlier.



cerne abbas

Cerne Abbas – also 17th century (spot the difference – yes, that’s right, the weapon)


Uffington – the real thing, and also the most beautiful by far.

Orwell and anti-semitism

Still ploughing on through the collected works and the biographies; finished “Coming up for Air” and well into “Down and Out in Paris and London” (started with the novels; that’s why I’m out of synch).  I have to say that there are a number of very dubious references to Jews peppered throughout the works – he makes no outright anti-semitic statements, but the portraits and anecdotes involving Jews are always derogatory.  Flory, in “Burmese Days”, opines that the British Empire is run in the interests of the Jews and the Scots.  Flory is a fiction, and not necessarily the bearer of the author’s own opinions, but you feel it chimes with the prejudices of the Orwell of the period.  I think he probably changed as his political views developed, and I’ll be interested to see if I remember right as I drive on through to Nineteen Eighty Four.  I think the anti-Jewish prejudice was pretty typical of Orwell’s social background and education – but you expect better of someone as questioning and self-examining and fair minded as Orwell.

La Dolce Vita

Watched this again to see if I recognised the Rome I ran in the other week to Fellini’s Rome; and no, it looked completely different (except for the Trevi fountain and St. Peters).  I’m sure the image of the little boy in the raincoat and hood in the “miracle” sequence popped up years later in another film set in Italy – Venice this time; “Don’t Look Now”.

Sue Townsend

Sad news about the above – I took Adrian Mole’s diary as a style template for this blog.




Work (still) in “progress”



Blackpaint 440 – Veronese and Orwell; Vanilla Halos, Bugs in the Milk, Sick in the Porridge..

April 4, 2014

Veronese at the National Gallery

This is basically a big collection of the most beautiful, huge paintings in which the characters fall to their knees, raise their arms imploringly, recoil in fear, awe, astonishment, gesture to each other in the most theatrical manner, watched by reverential servants, docile horses (huge) and other people and animals.  The colours: that washed-out Veronese blue; a much deeper blue that I associate with Titian; rose pink; cloaks in billowing orange; the pale green and grey of the Allegorical paintings, “Scorn”, “Unfaithfulness”, and the others; subtle, pale flesh tones of the putti.

The compositions are also stunning; for my money, the finest are “The Anointing of David” and “The Family of Darius before Alexander” (part of the permanent collection at the NG).


The Anointing of David


The Family of Darius before Alexander

There are, however, some weaknesses:  In the small painting, “The Conversion of Mary Magdalene”, Christ has a giant left hand and an appalling vanilla ice-cream halo.  Generally, his Christs are insipid and unconvincing, compared to the less exalted characters.  In fact, several of the paintings contain rather sketchily drawn faces, shown up by the excellent draughtsmanship elsewhere in the same pictures.

veronese mary magdalene

The Conversion of Mary Magdalene

(Halo doesn’t look too bad in this repro – believe me, it’s bad)

A few random things of note:

The line around the head of St.Helena in “The Dream of…”; it reminds me of the line around superimposed photo images in the work of Surrealists, Man Ray, for instance;

The snake-like ripple of muscles in the back of the assailant in “the Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot”;

Terrible, insipid Christ in “The Supper at Emmaus”

The fantastic back in “Unfaithfulness”.

veronese unfaithfulness

George Orwell

Had to read DJ Taylor’s biography of the great man, which he has called “Orwell – The Life”, unlike Bernard Crick’s earlier one, which was only “A Life”.  There is a discrepancy between the two, regarding the memoir “Such, Such Were the Joys”, about St Cyprian’s, Orwell’s Sussex prep school;  this is the essay that Sam Leith described as a self-pitying “load of bollocks” in the Guardian recently.  According to Crick, Henry Longhurst, the golfer and writer, who was at the school at the same time as Orwell, was of the bollocks view (although he expressed it more moderately); he felt Orwell exaggerated and even lied about being beaten for bed-wetting.  He describes an incident in which he (Longhurst) was sick into a bowl of porridge and was then forced to eat it (he’s supposed to be defending the school! ).  Taylor, however, ascribes this account to Alec Waugh… Who is right?

Here’s Orwell in “Down and Out in Paris and London”, describing the little disasters that befall when you are broke: “you have spent your last eighty centimes on half a litre of milk, and are boiling it over the spirit lamp.  While it boils a bug runs down your forearm; you give the bug a flick with your nail, and it falls, plop! straight into the milk.  There is nothing for it but to throw the milk away and go foodless.”  No, George, you fish the bug out and use the milk.  I don’t think George, or Eric as he was at St.Cyprian’s, would have eaten the porridge.

Juste Avant la Nuit – Chabrol

Great old film from the 70s, in which an advertising exec murders a woman with whom he is having an SM affair.  He is tortured by guilt, confesses the crime to both his own wife AND the widower of his victim (a close friend) – and they both refuse to condemn him and say he shouldn’t confess.. Shades of Bunuel; the murderer’s wife is played by Stephane Audran, gleamingly beautiful and another reminder of Bunuel.

Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green

Went round this, saying “I had one of them!  Yeah, I remember that, we had one just like it!” BUT – there are no toy guns, except a couple of space guns.  When I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, I had loads of toy guns, that were pretty good facsimiles of the real thing; Colt .45s, a bolt action plastic rifle that fired plastic balls, a tommy gun, flintlock pistols in moulded plastic, an automatic that fired pellets.. also a toy crossbow, knives with retracting blades, rubber tomahawks.  I know these toys are now considered undesirable and dangerous, but surely they should be in the museum.  To omit them distorts history.



Work in (not very much) progress.