Archive for July, 2014

Blackpaint 456 – Malevich, Bohemia and Bloomsbury

July 21, 2014

Among the Bohemians, Virginia Nicholson

Just finished this rambling, but most enjoyable tour of “Bohemia” by Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter.  It suffers from jumping up and down the decades within themes, often without giving dates, but a good episodic read all the same.  I was astonished to read that Dora Carrington, whose appearance and paintings  give one an impression of strength and intelligence, shot herself after the death of Lytton Strachey.  Bohemia was about drink, drugs, sex and all that – but also about free thinking, freedom from convention, the use of the intellect; pity to read of a great woman artist destroying herself over the loss of a companion (Strachey was homosexual).

Nicholson seems to me rather reticent about Eric Gill, given his unconventional home life and the current climate of opinion in the UK about child abuse; since the word “Bohemian” denotes, among other things, unconventional behaviour, I expected to read more about Gill than was there.  She describes Gill’s behaviour as “preposterous”.

The Art of Bloomsbury, Richard Shone

This book was published in conjunction with a Tate exhibition of 2000; I’ve only just got round to reading it.  The painters it deals with are Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry.  I was surprised by the colour, beauty, variety and technique displayed by all three artists,,  having always thought of them as a bit “brown” and boringly British.  Just flicking through, there are works that resemble Lautrec (Grant’s Virginia Woolf), the Scottish Colourists (Fry’s Blythburgh and Studland Bay), William Nicholson (Bell’s Iceland Poppies), Bonnard (Bell’s The Open Door and Grant’s Window, South of France and the Doorway); there are fabulous abstracts by Bell that look like Winifred Nicholson, more by Grant and luscious still lifes by both Bell and Grant, the best of which is Grant’s Omega Paper Flowers on the Mantelpiece.  A lovely book and I’m off to Charleston as soon as poss.

grant vanessa

Grant

bell the open door

Bell

grant omega

Grant

bell abstract

 

Bell

 

Malevich, Tate Modern 

So, enough of all this Bloomsbury and Bohemia stuff – off to TM, where proper theoretical painting is on display.  that is to say, it’s underpinned and driven by theory, a good analysis of which can be found in Boris Groys’ “The Total Art of Stalinism”.

In the first room, there is all sorts, as Malevich casts around for a style – some of it looked to me like German Expressionism, nudes surrounded by heavy black lines; Seurat – style landscapes; little collections of figures with Toulouse Lautrec figures; Munch/Nolde – like paintings; a strange, frog-like “dancer” with huge, clubbed hands and feet.

Next, Larionov/ Goncharova influenced peasants, growing more abstract, peasants with metallic, Leger like bodies; Theatre costumes like later Bauhaus efforts; the famous Black Square.

Malevich,-The-Woodcutter,-1912_original

Next, floating, coloured geometric shapes on white, the Suprematist paintings, seeming to be in the process of flying apart or coming together and, in one or two cases, resembling abstractified figures, despite the fact that Malevich gives one or two ironic “realist” titles when they clearly don’t represent the indicated “real” thing at all.

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There is a room of drawings arranged by decade, often showing rough, freehand sketches of the geometric paintings; then, back towards figuration, with highly stylised peasants, metallic, harlequin, clown-like figures that wouldn’t have been nearly realist enough for the regime and finally Social Realist portraits that show the final capitulation of any independence or experimentation.

Malevich died of cancer in 1935, not in the gulag (although he had been imprisoned).  If he’d lived, I’m sure he would have been shot at some stage, despite the SR stuff.

Orlando, book and film

Back to Bloomsbury for a moment; I’ve started Woolf’s book and watched Sally Potter’s film of the same.  There are big differences in the narratives, but they are each great works in their own right.  It’s fascinating to read Woolf’s work in chronological order and see how she changes; this novel is certainly the easiest read yet (not quite Stephen King, but getting there) and the most visual.

The Potter film has strong resemblances to Greenaway’s style, in the use of location and music; the violence and grossness are missing, but it does have Tilda Swinton.

Big Painting

I’m trying to go big by sticking two canvases side by side and painting one image across them.  Results below  – the second image is  the painting as it stands now, but no doubt it will change.  It’s called, for obvious reasons, “Critical Theory – a Guide”.

 

 

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First Version

 

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Current Version

Blackpaint

22.07.14 

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Blackpaint 455 – Life Drawings

July 14, 2014

Latest collection of quick life drawings

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Next blog back to normal format of high level criticism and theory.

Blackpaint

14.07.14

Blackpaint 454 – South American Abstracts, Magic Realism and Dead Drunk Danes

July 11, 2014

Radical Geometry at the Royal Academy

South American geometric abstract art from Brazil (Sao Paolo, Rio), Uruguay and Argentina (Montevideo and Buenos Aires) and Venezuela (Caracas).  I’m always surprised to see this sort of art, geometric and minimalist, coming from SA – I suppose I expect it to be sort of wild and profuse, colourful like the Amazon jungle; Mireilles maybe.  This exhibition is nothing like that at all; collectively, it reminded me of modernist decor in a Corbusier mansion – some of the ceramic wall plaques have overtones of the Festival of Britain.  The highlights for me were:

Brazil

Oiticica’s wobbly squares – indeed, everything on Oiticica’s wall.

oiticica1

Lygia Pape’s lovely woodcuts – surfaces of wood and unique in this company.

lygia pape

Lygia Clark’s triangular works, in a variety of formats, opening out in surprising ways.

Willis de Castro’s minimalist, single colour plaques with tiny marginal “bits”.

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Looks much better than this in the gallery.

Uruguay

Torres-Garcia’s Klee – like tablets of images.

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Venezuela 

Carlos Cruz-Diez – this is the man who does the light saturated, coloured rooms (see Blackpaint on the Hayward light show some time back).  A wall- length series of graduated coloured light slats, glass I think, or maybe perspex, to finish the exhibition.

Asger Jorn – Restless Rebel

This book of essays and great pictures about my Scando hero is a revelation; I knew he did a whole lot of different stuff – the paintings of trolls and mythic animals, the ceramics, the mosaics and murals at the house in Albisola, the illustrated books, the altered (“detourned”) kitsch pictures – but I didn’t realise that there was always a philosophical underpinning to what he did.  Even if it was – well, a bit eccentric.  He kicked off with Marxism, but wasn’t content with dialectical materialism; he invented “triolectics”, that’s three forces involved in the conflict – thesis, antithesis and something else (artistic creativity, I think).

Famously, he was a founder member of Cobra – he also contributed to the split, by taking up with Constant’s wife and alienating the Dutch contingent.  No doubt there were ideological differences too. There was his “Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism” and the liaison with Guy Debord in the Situationist International, which he funded, despite Debord’s opposition to artists’ involvement(!).

Then there was the telegram he sent to Harry Guggenheim, who had the nerve to award him a prize of $2500 in 1964: “Go to hell with your money bastard.Never asked for it.  Against all decensy mix artist against his will in your publicity….Jorn.”

So – full ideological back up throughout.  But I still like him because he did really colourful, vigorous, writhing paintings with birds and trolls and other things lurking in them and he mixed a whole load of different colours successfully, like de Kooning and Joan Mitchell, say, and of course, Karel Appel.

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Asger Jorn, Dead Drunk Danes

Ingmar Bergman, Fanny and Alexander

This appears to be turning into the Scandinavian post – apart from all the South American stuff above, of course; but maybe there’s a connection here too.  I’d always thought Fanny and Alexander was one of those lush Visconti-type films, Death in Venice or the Leopard maybe, and was set in Russia.  Wrong – it concerns the Ekdahls, a wealthy Swedish family and it has a very dark Gothic story-line and strong elements of magic realism in it.

What it also has is a magnificent speech at the end, going for (and touching) Shakespearian once or twice: “We must live in the little world… The world is a den of thieves and night is falling….Evil breaks its chains and runs through the world like a mad dog….The poison affects us all…no-one escapes…Therefore let us be happy while we are happy…

Well, maybe more Beckett than Shakespeare, except for the last bit, of course.

Urban Art

Exhibiting tomorrow at Urban Art, Josephine Avenue, Brixton London – in the street with 200 other artists, 10.00am to 6.00pm, Sunday too.  Please come and buy the painting below and many more that have appeared in this blog.

 

 

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Islares Farewell

Blackpaint

11.07.14

Blackpaint 453 – Making Colour, Orwell and Kafka, Rolf Harris

July 4, 2014

Making Colour, National Gallery

Exhibition of works taken from the permanent collection – nothing new here – illustrating various points about, unsurprisingly, the history of colour use in art.  The technicalities are interesting and some good pictures (see below):

 

caracci

 

Caracci – similar colours in the Veronese exhibition recently.  Love the gesture: “Yeah, straight on down and take a left – can’t miss it.”

stamina

 

Stamina – St. Margaret’ s execution.  It’s the executioner’s purple robe that is the focus for this painting.

Masaccio_StGeromeAndStJohnTheBaptist

 

Masaccio – Sts. Jerome and John.  The colours, the facial expressions and the little lion.

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Gainsborough – Mrs.Siddons.  I think there’s another Mrs Siddons by G in Dulwich Picture Gallery; looks like the same dress.

 

 George Orwell – Taylor’s biography

The Bernard Crick bio is still the one of choice for me, but Taylor’s has the odd illuminating detail missing from Crick.  For example, late in his life when a collected works was being contemplated, Orwell had no personal copies of Burmese Days or Clergyman’s Daughter – he had to do a JR Hartley to get copies.  Can you imagine a modern author without at least one copy of every single edition of his/her work?  Neither can I.

Finished Nineteen Eighty – Four again; I’d forgotten what a gruelling experience the last section was.  Apparently, some prospective reviewers were unable to sleep after reading it.  I wouldn’t go that far, but its certainly depressing.  Taylor discusses the similarities to Murray Constantine’s  “Swastika Night”, and, rightly in my view, dismisses the on-line view that Orwell nicked the plot.

A faint echo that sounded for me was the story “In the Penal Colony” by Kafka.  It will be remembered that an officer of the colony has inherited from his governor an execution machine that kills by repeatedly penetrating, ever deeper, the flesh with needles that write out the “crime” on the body until the condemned is dead.  The point (excuse pun) is that the prisoner comes to some higher understanding of the nature of his crime as he dies.

This is akin to the need of Ingsoc to go beyond just killing malcontents like Winston; first, they must be remade, by torture and brainwashing,  to see their previous ideas as errors and to love “Big Brother”.  this is a real need; to simply dispose of opposition by murder is not sufficient.  It undermines the whole point of totalitarian society to tolerate the existence of opposition, even passive dissent, even in the past.  Dissent must be changed to acceptance and the past must be restructured.

The officer of Kafka’s penal colony himself submits to the machine, because the new governor is against him and  the unnamed observer fails to see a reason for the machine and disapproves on humanitarian grounds.  In this absolutism, the officer resembles the Party in Orwell’s novel.

Jonathan Jones on Rolf Harris

In today’s Guardian, Jones (an art critic) recounts an anecdote in which he” saw Harris’ s dark side years ago” .  At the unveiling in 2005 of Harris’s portrait of the queen, Jones asked him if he seriously believed that “his portrait was a good work of art”.  This brought out the Dark Side, apparently; “anger suddenly crossed his previously beaming face”.  Well, what did Jones expect?  In my experience, creative people are narcissistic through and through and anything less than 100% adulation is unbearable – unless they’re going for shock effect, of course.  If you publicly insult someone in front of the assembled media, I would have thought it quite likely you’ll see an angry expression pass over their features.

He goes on to draw a parallel between Harris’s “determinedly inoffensive daubs” and the “banality of evil”, famously, Hannah Arendt’s phrase describing the Nazis.  “The middlebrow is inherently corrupt”, perhaps, says Jones; “Chocolate box art is a lie”.

What complete nonsense this is.  I would guess that there are some, maybe even many, conventional, inoffensive, “chocolate box” painters who don’t have Harris’s predatory sexual habits.  Some of them might even be decent citizens.  Same goes for the fans and punters – too stupid to recognise the banality of evil, maybe, but not necessarily perverts.

 

 

 

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Blackpaint – St. Clement’s

7.04.14