Archive for May, 2014

Blackpaint 448 – Theory, Violence, Horror, and Nature

May 29, 2014

Theory and Non – Theory (cont.)

Since last week’s blog and my (defensively) sarcastic comments about the French and French/Algerian masters of critical theory, I have discovered Paul Strathern and his potted guides, “Derrida in an hour” etc.  Fantastic.  I’ve done Derrida, Foucault, Wittgenstein and have Heidegger lined up; what Strathern needs to do is to get his finger out and do Barthes, Baudrillard, Lyotard, Deleuze and one or two others, then I’ll be OK for my book group next time.  Trouble with the group is that if you want to hold your end up, you have to read not only the scheduled book, but every other book in the world that has any bearing on the subject.  I can’t hope to do that but maybe can fake it with Strathern’s help.

Comics Unmasked, British Library

jonah

(Not the Jonah on show, but gives you an idea)

The best work on display in my view is a Beano spread from the early 60s, I guess, of Ken Reid’s fantastic ” Jonah”.  This is so busy and full of energy that it practically moves on the page as you peer at it.  Also very striking was “Gwendoline”, and the Rupert Bear and the Gypsy Grandma  from the International Times, or maybe Oz – delicacy prevents me from description.  For some reason, R Crumb was omitted altogether??? and there was only one Posy Simmonds, a page of  “Tamara Drewe”.  Despite the graphic sex, the most shocking cartoon for me (although I have the book in which it was published) was Reg Smythe’s Andy Capp, reproduced below:

andy-capp

This was presumably first published in the Daily Mirror, before inclusion in the collection I own.  Private Eye, I remember, used to run a strip by Bill Tidy, The Cloggies, in which there was a character called  “The Blagdon Amateur Rapist.”  Can’t remember when, but I guess well into the 70s, maybe later.

There are many other treasures and I strongly recommend the exhibition. I got a great compendium of early 50s US horror comics too; “The Horror, the Horror!” by Jim Trombetta, £20 and well worth it.

DH Lawrence, The White Peacock

Lawrence’s first novel, in which the action is beset throughout by great wodges of nature description; we know at all times what the lapwings, clouds, forget-me-nots, brooks and grasses are doing.  This seems a common syndrome with first novels; Almayer’s Folly by Conrad and Orwell’s Burmese Days both have the same characteristic, not necessarily a fault, in my view; I think Orwell brings it off well.

The Lawrence has a more amusing fault; the narrator is one of the characters, yet he is “all-knowing”.  He tells us what his sister Lettie says and does explains that with her suitor George when they are off alone in the woods, for instance.  I wonder how common this error is in literature; I can’t offhand think of any other examples, yet it struck me immediately in “Peacock”.

Clark at Tate Britain

Here are the Seurats in the Clark exhibition:

seurat clark 1

seurat clark 2

I think the first one is usually in the National Gallery – but the second is new to me.

Asger Jorn – Restless Rebel

New book on Jorn, essays on various periods.  It’s great of course – below, Jorn in his studio.

jorn in studio

 

And here’s my latest effort, which turned into a landscape when I put it on its side.  I hate it and will vandalise it with green and blue paint as soon as I publish this.

 

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 Blackpaint

29.05.14

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Blackpaint 447 – Ken Clark’s pictures, Theory and Non-Theory, Capitalism, Fellini and Orwell

May 23, 2014

Kenneth Clark Collection at Tate Britain 

This is an astonishing exhibition; four and a bit big rooms of great art, most of it actually owned by Clark.  Some of the treasures on show listed or shown below:

pasmore clark 1

Victor Pasmore

A couple of portraits and nudes by Pasmore that are new to me, along with the more familiar river side pictures like Hammersmith and “Evening Star” in which, unlike the Turner of the same name I saw the other week at Margate, the star in question is readily visible.  The rear view nude on the bed (which I can’t find a picture of) looks like a fore-runner of Uglow.

sutherland clark1

Graham Sutherland, Sun rising between two Hills

A number of great Sutherlands, landscapes, foundries, Blitz damage, portraits (of Clark himself); also Pipers on similar themes, and Paul Nash – especially his magisterial “Battle of Britain” with it’s vapour trails making a great, plant-like shape in the sky above the Thames and the coast.

bell clark1

Graham Bell, Brunswick Square, 

A new one on me – love that violet blue.

Just too much to list really – Cezanne drawings. Coptic tapestry figures from the 5th – 7th century AD, a Lippo Lippi Moses striking the rock, a couple of Nolans, one horrible the other fantastic, a couple of great Seurats, a Samuel Palmer, Cornfield by Moonlight and Evening Star (again), Henry Moore in the shelters and the mines, oh, a couple of Leonardo drawings…  It’s amazing that one man could have amassed all this in the 20th century.

Theory

I attended a symposium at UCL a couple of weeks ago, on “Real Abstraction”.  A series of distinguished academics, who discussed matters like materiality in very abstruse terms, assuming familiarity with the terms on the part of the audience (many of whom looked as if they were up to speed on the topic).  All the speakers, I think, mentioned Adorno; Capital also made an appearance in every presentation.  It was soon clear to me that the real subject was how abstraction in art could be accommodated by Marxist theory of the Frankfurt school – for the first speaker anyway.  We listened to six of the speakers and none of them made any attempt to define what “Real Abstraction” was. We listened quietly, applauded politely and visited Habitat in the lunch hour, buying a nice glass flask for £8.00.

More Theory

My painting has always taken account of “theory” – Foucault, Barthes, Derrida, Baudrillard, Deleuze – I suppose it’s obvious from the content.  At my book group the other day, I discovered from one of the academics that there are “theory” and “non-theory” people in the universities; the latter would be traditionalists, liberals or conservatives, using analytical processes not determined (although perhaps informed) by the writings of the above and their followers.  Glad I’m not one – now I can add Adorno to the list too.

Orwell, Eileen and 1984

Perhaps the ultimate non-theory person; I was interested to read in the great Crick biography that Orwell’s wife Eileen worked for the Ministry of Food during the war, persuading the people to eat whatever vegetables were currently plentiful – one month, she might be stressing the health benefits of potatoes; the following month, there may be a shortage, and she would switch to pointing out how fattening potatoes were.  Crick suggests plausibly this filtered into Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Fellini, The Ship Sails on

Watched this again and was freshly impressed by the performance of Freddie Jones  as the reporter-narrator, who ends up in the rowing boat with the rhino (you have to get the DVD and watch it, too complicated to explain) and Barbara Jeffords as the suppressed operatic diva.  Fantastic.

 

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For Derrida

Blackpaint

23.05.14

Blackpaint 446 – Poured Paint, Pigs, Saddam and Crocodiles

May 16, 2014

Helen Frankenthaler and Turner at Margate

A fantastic exhibition at Margate, unfortunately just finished.  I thought the comparisons between the two artists were totally fortuitous, but this didn’t matter at all, given the quality of work on show.  The Turners were all well known, I think; my favourites as always were the  watercolour sketches – and of the paintings, “Evening Star” and “Calais Sands at Low Water; Poissards Collecting Bait”.

The Frankenthalers were a revelation; the earlier ones from the 50s and 60s were oils, the later acrylics.  there was a wonderful film playing of her producing a painting by pouring thinned paint on a canvas on the floor and pushing the puddles around with sponges and mops.  A few below:

frank lorelei

Lorelei

frank 2 cromagnon

Hotel Cro-Magnon 

frank 1

 For E.M. (Eduard Manet)

Frank mountains-and-sea-1962

Mountains and Sea

This last one wasn’t in the exhibition; I include it because it was her famous “breakthrough” picture, painted (or poured and painted) in 1952.  In the literature, there is, as with several other abstract expressionists, a degree of dispute over representation and abstraction.  No problem here, though; it’s clearly a green rhino with blue feet and a body made of flowers, charging towards the sea.

Orwell – Animal Farm

Must be the sixth or seventh time I’ve read this, but I found I had tears in my eyes after the first of the massacres, when the dogs that Napoleon has been rearing in secret rip the throats out of the pigs who have been “assisting Snowball”, in his sabotage activities.  Robert Colls, in his “George Orwell:  English Rebel”, describes how Orwell was criticised for implying there was something inherently bad about the pigs (the Communist Party) in the book; there is no “mechanism” to explain why they behave as they do.  In reality, the revolutionaries in Russia came from a long tradition of clandestine, disciplined activity against the Tsars, involving terror and counter-terror, assassination, ruthless self-sacrifice and a readiness to use violence to further their ends.  This must surely go some way towards explaining the way events developed under Lenin and Stalin; you can’t blame Orwell for leaving this out – the book’s an allegory, not a history.

It brought back to me that appalling film of Saddam Hussein addressing a meeting of his Ba’athist party, while secret police tapped a succession of unfortunate members of the audience on the shoulder and led them out of the meeting to be shot.

As Orwell’s allegory stands, of course,  it seems that the pigs, under Napoleon, take over leadership and exploit the other animals because they are the most intelligent and organised and this leads to corruption – eventually, they are indistinguishable from the humans.  It’s unlikely that Orwell would have thought this an adequate explanation – to that extent, the criticisms are justified, to my mind.  Still one of the greatest works of the 20th century, though.

Autumn of the Patriarch, Marquez 

The author’s recent death sent me back to this book to finish it, after 20+years; should be easy, since it’s full of colourful sex and violence, skinning alive, feeding to crocodiles, assassinations and terrible revenges – but it’s hard going, there being no paragraphs and only one full stop every 5 – 10 pages.  I thought Krasnahorkai was tough going.  Makes Conrad seem like Stephen King…

Exhibition (again)

Re-visited Joanna Hogg’s new film at the ICA (see previous) and some new thoughts; the “trouble”, whatever it is, depression maybe, is his, not hers.  I’d forgotten the scenes in which she is obviously afraid for him when he’s locked in the toilet or bathroom and when she is so afraid that something has happened to him in the street that she runs out of the house in her underwear, barefoot.  The artspeak is good –  “Yeah, she’s totally into what I do…” – and the excruciating little exchanges on the intercom – “Do you still love me?”  “I’m cold”  “Do you want me to turn the heating up?” (pause) “Wouldn’t mind…”

I mentioned the “crazing” on the window pane in some of the shots – this was actually the reflection of thick, small shrubbery on the glass.

I’m really struggling with my latest canvas, which is a raucous blast of blood red, black and grey at the moment, so an old one to be going on with…

001

Blackpaint

16.05.14

Blackpaint 445 – Ashmolean again, and Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition

May 8, 2014

Ashmolean Permanent Collection

As promised, a selection from the above:

di lorenzo

di Lorenzo – “St Nicholas of Bari banishing a storm”

Check out the mermaid in that pea green sea – and the C shaped boat.

uccello ashmolean

Ucello – “The Hunt in the Forest”

Cartoon – like, reds on dark green; flying hounds – like a Russian folk tale illustration.

michelangelo ashmolean

Michelangelo (possibly) – “Holy Family with John the Baptist”

The bloke on the left looks like an M, but not sure about the others…

master of bielefeld altar

Master of the Bielefeld Altar – “Christ Before Pilate”

Strange, Bosch-like figures…

daisy linda ward

Daisy Linda Ward – “Still Life with Matchbox” (or similar title)

This beautiful little assemblage on a pristine tablecloth is the exception in a roomful of full-blown blooms, fruit and lobsters, overwhelmingly Dutch, on black “varnished” backgrounds.  They like beer in steins, crabs and lobsters, flies and crickets and butterflies, lemons with peel hanging in ribbons, shrimps, areas of rot on fruit..  there’s that bundle of asparagus, by Coote, that was on the TV prog on still lifes…

rembrandt ashmolean

 Rembrandt, of course – portrait of Catrina Hoogsaet

Nearly missed this one; it’s huge, but behind the stairs as you come into the room.  Also, a fantastic Manet, a woman in white on a balcony, I think she’s Berthe Morisot.  It looks unfinished and all the better for it, in a way.

martineau ashmolean

Martineau – “A Poor Actress’s Christmas Dinner”

She’s staring across the bedclothes at a Christmas pud.  Lovely drawing, in that highlighted, half-completed style.

inchbold

Inchbold – “Study in March”

A piercing, cold, blue sky; an almost photo -realist, Victorian painting.  Reminds me of Glasgow Boys.

sickert ashmolean

Walter Sickert – “Gaiete Montparnasse”

A theatre balcony from below right; unusual angle – maybe Degas or Toulouse Lautrec might have done similar? Some other great Sickerts; a rough-ish “Ennui” and “Pierrots”, both second versions of the ones at the Tate Britain, and a “Self-Portrait with Bust of Tom Sayers”, another good painting.

Also a balustrade by Singer Sargent, a cockatoo by William Nicholson, Samuel Palmer meadows, Boudin beaches and great Dutch interiors with pipes and armour.  There’s loads more, so go and see it.

Exhibition, Joanna Hogg (ICA)

hogg exhibition

As I said in last blog, this film is claustrophobic compared to “Unrelated” and “Archipelago”;  it’s just the two characters, artists, in their Bauhaus-y, but rather tacky and ramshackle private house, “somewhere near South Ken”, I read – somewhere.  The sliding doors rumble, the lift is rackety, the boiler needs attention; they work in different sections of the house and communicate on intercom.  Outside, emergency sirens wail, people shout and argue, cars with thumping sound systems roar past, female Eastern European voices issue instructions repeatedly and stridently into mobile phones…

I mentioned the several instances of female masturbation, undertaken (or attempted) lying back on a stool, then in bed, using sheer materials, oil massaged into breasts, high heels worn in bed – sometimes I was unclear at first whether Viv Albertine’s characters WAS masturbating – maybe she was practising a piece of conceptual art… she binds herself with tape for some pieces.

There are great shots of the spiral staircase (reminded me of those Soviet buildings photographed by Richard Pare – see previous Blackpaint) and the interior and balconies of the building, especially reflection shots, through and on top of the venetian blinds, “crazing” on glass – colours are a sort of dark but garish, livid German 80’s Expressionist, Kippenburger, say.

The film has been compared to Haneke’s “Hidden”, but it has no narrative thrust like Haneke’s; there is a suggestion that Something Bad has happened; Gillick occasionally appears to have depressive fits or fugues; once, I thought Albertine was agorophobic, then realised she’d been out several times… maybe she’d been raped?  But no, too crass, too “narrative”.  At some point, she ditches the jeans, starts wearing shiny dresses, suddenly looking “sexy”; this, on reflection, coincides with the successful completion of the sale of the house and the resumption of sex with Gillick – previously, she’d declined to participate actively.

Anyway, I’m seeing it again tomorrow, so may have more to say then.

Escape From Alcatraz

Made in 1979, Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris; I saw it when it came out, forgot how brilliant it was, discovered it again in TV last week; not a single wasted second.  I hope the real Morris, and the Anglin brothers, made it; Morris would be 89 now – hope he’s alive and happy somewhere.

 

 

 

 

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Plesiosaur

Blackpaint

9.05.14 

Blackpaint 444 – Matisse, Soutine, UKIP and Exhibitionism at the ICA

May 2, 2014

Matisse Cut outs, Tate Modern

Brilliant colours, some fantastic images – but occasional hints of custom wallpaper and, for ex – art teachers (my partner tells me), the memory of those lessons when you would grab a wad of coloured paper from the cupboard and get the kids to cut out Matisse-like patterns and images and collage them.  The highlights, for me, are:

Memory of Oceania

oceania

 

Zulma

matisse zulma

 

Blue Nude

matisse blue nude

 

The top two are very large; Oceania smaller than the Snail, but not by much, I think.  The blue nude is one of three or four, slightly different – I like this one best.  It sounds odd, but the charcoal or pencil marks on Oceania make a big difference for me; don’t quite know why.  Maybe they add interest, add a bit of roughness – same for Zulma.  I  loved the stained-glass window “sketches” too.  Perhaps it’s because the whole exhibition is too brilliantly coloured and light-suffused.  There’s plenty of black, but it’s brilliant black, not dirty, grey/brown black.  That’s it – dirt.  I want a bit of dirty texture in among the bright colours; de Kooning or Jorn or Appel.  Pity there were no paintings – but then it wouldn’t be “the cut-outs”…  Still, great exhibition.

Cezanne et al at the Ashmolean Museum Oxford, 

I wrote in  last blog about the “Cezanne and the Modern” at the Ashmolean, but forgot to include some of the great Soutine paintings that were in it – so here are a few:

soutine 2

soutine selfie

soutine1

 

I think he’s a stunningly good painter; only really knew him for the sides of meat before.  Why isn’t there a Taschen on him?  Next blog, the Ashmolean permanent collection, which is also great.

Exhibition, Joanna Hogg

Saw this on Sunday, and I have so much to say that I’m leaving it to next blog too.  Unlike Unrelated and Archipelago, it focuses on a couple, rather than a family and friends;  it’s set indoors mostly and these two factors make it rather claustrophobic to watch; might be more comfortable to watch on DVD.  Still very highly recommended  though.  Be prepared for a lot of masturbation (on the screen, that is).

Orwell, Fascism and Racism

There was a wonderful example of the sort of political writing that Orwell ridiculed in the Guardian on Monday; Owen Jones, attacking UKIP, referred to its supporters “vomiting” racist remarks, and to the one who attacked Lenny Henry, as “dragging his knuckles”; this stuff is clearly not working, if it’s meant to hurt UKIP. During the Spanish Civil War, Orwell and his fellow fighters in the POUM were attacked as Fascists by the Communist movement and fellow travellers of the day – first, they were “objectively Fascist” (i.e. unconsciously supporting Franco by differing from the proper Communist position) – that soon slid over into really Fascist (secretly in the pay of Franco).

UKIP is not the POUM and Farage is definitely not Orwell; UKIP clearly attracts a lot of support from people with racist views; however, there’s no reason to think most of its supporters are racist. For years, any misgivings about immigration, positive discrimination or “positive action” for example, have been attacked as racist by campaigners.  All the mainstream parties have recently claimed to want an “open debate” about immigration; now that UKIP is attracting a lot of support, they want a cross-party campaign to freeze it out and undermine its support by labelling it racist.  Not many people want to be called  racist, or identified with fascists and Nazis, so the accusation has been powerful in the past (interesting to see the ethnic Russian militants in eastern Ukraine using it against the  government and its supporters); now,though,  concern in the UK about border control and numbers appears to be growing among earlier generations of non-white immigrants as well as the white population, so that might be sticky for any anti-UKIP cross-party coalition.

There’s no doubt that there is a strong swing to the right in parts of western (and eastern) Europe; if there is a danger to liberal democracy, it is obviously from the extreme right and not the left.  In the UK, however, simply shouting Racist! at UKIP and abhorring the indiscretions of their supporters won’t be enough; even the Guardian seems to have “clocked” that.

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Fall From Grace

Blackpaint

2.05.14