Archive for May, 2015

Blackpaint 497 – Metzger on Metal, AbEx Women

May 31, 2015

Gustav Metzger at Tate Britain

They’ve reorganised some of the rooms at TB and I was surprised and delighted to see a whole roomful of great Metzgers.  I thought the second and third were abstract but apparently they are pictures of a table.  I knew of Metzger as one of those Auto-Destructive artists from the 60s who set fire to things and smashed up pianos and the like – in the recent “Art Under Attack” exhibition at TB, there was a film of Metzger with a big screen up opposite St. Pauls, which he destroyed with acid (the screen, not St.Pauls) so that the cathedral slowly appeared through the growing holes.  Before this, he was one of Bomberg’s disciples and there are a couple of paintings which are instantly recognisable as school of Bomberg.  Is there any other painter who had such an iron grip on his followers as Bomberg did?



This one is on metal.





Yes, easy to see the table now – but I had to be told.  My partner thinks he’d seen Matisse’s “La Table de Marbre Rose” (1916);

matisse table



Also new at TB, a darkened room containing Ralph Peacock’s brilliant “Ethel”:

Ethel 1897 Ralph Peacock 1868-1946 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1898

Look at that face: “How long am I going to have to sit here?”

Mitchell, Frankenheimer, Hartigan

Last blog was half about the imbalance of “influential” male and female artists in the 80s and 90s, at least as it was reflected in Taschen books.  It didn’t allow me to include any abstract expressionist painters, so here are works by these three women, fighting their corner in the famously macho AbEx “community”.  Joan Mitchell is my favourite painter. Helen Frankenthaler is also a seminal figure, of course – Grace Hartigan much less well-known, but also fantastic (see below).

frank lorelei


joan mitchell gug

Joan Mitchell


Grace Hartigan, Paper Dolls

Beckett – Fail Better

I keep hearing and reading people quoting Beckett’s famous phrase as if it’s some sort of positive guidance.  He’s taking the piss, surely – if you fail, you fail.  Consider this exchange from “Rough for Radio 1”:

“She (astonished): But he is alone!

He: Yes.

She: All alone?

He: When one is alone one is all alone.”

When you fail, you fail.  And on that note –

asger's revenge


Asger’s Revenge




Blackpaint 496 – Women’s Half Issue; Diebenkorn; Caligari

May 24, 2015

George Baselitz and Women Artists

Reading in the Guardian this week about Baselitz, I was interested to see he hasn’t modified his opinion about women as artists; just not up to it, apparently.  Baselitz figures prominently in Klaus Honnef’s “Contemporary Art”, a Taschen book published in 1990 and claiming to be “the first attempt to provide a comprehensive survey of contemporary art”.  It draws on the work of 102 artists from nine countries (mainly Germany, Italy, USA and UK) and out of the 102, ELEVEN are women.  There are several group photographs of ten or a dozen smiling artists; only one contains a woman – Francesco Clemente’s unnamed wife.

To avoid compounding the error, these are the artists in the book who are women; four are American, the rest German:

  • Susan Rothenberg (below)

  • Ina Barfuss
  • Elvira Bach (below)


  • Jenny Holzer
  • Rosemarie Trockel (below)


  • Asta Groting
  •  Isa Genzken
  • Barbara Kruger (below)


  • Katharina Sieverding (below)



  • Cindy Sherman
  • Astrid Klein

So there we are; I’ve mentioned all the women artists in a 25 year old Taschen book and can no longer be fairly accused of misogyny.  Thank goodness that things have changed and there is no longer any perceptible sexist bias in the art world…


I’ve been back to the RA exhibition for another look and spent 90 minutes just wandering round these fantastic pictures in delight.  This time I noticed sections in “Day at the Race” and the Urbana to its left which both have little groups of colours in them, as if exposed by scraping – sort of oblong insets.  And “Sea Wall” (below);

dieb sea wall

and the unganly, collapsed beauty of one of his women drawings (knee up, she’s lying on her left arm);

and the charcoal drawing with the straight lines, the collages and the cigar box tops – and everything else.  Fantastic – see it while you can, it’s not on much longer.

diebenkorn day at the race


diebenkorn berkeley 57



The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920)

What I’d forgotten about this great German Expressionist horror film is the twist at the end; is the narrator really mad, and “Caligari” the master of the asylum? Or has he been telling the truth?



Conrad Veidt on the roof with friend



Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt

Back to the talkies next week.

john the conqueror root

John the Conqueror Root



Blackpaint 495 – Political Art, Labyrinths and the Chimes at Midnight

May 18, 2015

Deutsche Borse Prize at Photographers Gallery

Three sets of photographs that are worth checking out:

  • Ponte Tower, Johannesburg, by Subotsky and Waterhouse;

MS 11


  • 80s Russian couples in bathing costumes, by Nikolai Bakharev (the Russian blokes all look really hard, even when acting silly and wearing comedy headgear);


  • South African lesbians, by Zanele Muholi – Remember seeing these startling photos at last Venice Biennale.

House of Leaves, Danielewsky (cont.)

So, it’s a house that expands, contracts, twists when you are inside, while remaining just an ordinary house on the outside.  It is pitch black, the corridors lead to an enormous staircase that falls to a colossal, cavernous chamber.  And so, the endless, interleaving, irritating footnotes are supposed to echo the labyrinthine nature of the corridors – you get lost in them – and the pages containing only a few lines of text, surrounded by white empty page echo the emptiness of the huge chamber at the foot of the staircase.  Maybe.

Chimes at Midnight, Orson Welles

This has just been released in UK as a DVD; I’m still using the Spanish version I got as a present some years back.  Welles is a brilliant Falstaff, although I think surpassed by Anthony Quayle in the old BBC Henrys.  I was surprised to notice that Welles softens Hal’s treatment of Falstaff by including the lines from Henry V, in which Henry orders the release of “the man who rail’d against our person” and making them apply to Falstaff. Granted, it’s too late; Falstaff is already dead.  Still, it softens the king, harmfully in my view.

Art Fair, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore

A very small Adrian Heath, not much bigger than a postcard, on sale for £22, 000…

Other great paintings on view were early William Croziers; spiky, lots of black and fiery red, much better than his later, more colourful stuff;

Pierre-Francois Grimaldi, layered collages of old torn and tattered posters;




and Rose Hilton; glowing, warm, pink – well, rose, mostly.  Her son introduced himself to us; I wasn’t sure if he was Roger’s son, too – if so, quite a heritage.

“Bite Your Tongue” -Leon Golub at the Serpentine

Huge, dark cartoons of thuggish, armed US soldiers in Vietnam and thuggish, armed cops back home in USA, threatening and carrying out thuggish things on guerrillas and civilians.  I wasn’t greatly impressed.


Pascale Marthine Tayou at the Serpentine Gallery


Extraordinarily varied art – soft stuffed pieces (see above), neons, broken mirrors, a huge cloud of cotton with wooden stakes protruding, hanging above your head in a darkened tunnel – this artist from the Cameroons reminded me of Cildo Meireles, the Brazilian, who constructs elaborate tableaux out of historically and politically charged materials.  Like Meireles’, Tayou’s art is political; the materials and structures relate to the colonial and  post-colonial history and current problems of the country and continent generally.

None of this is apparent, however; you need to read the explanatory blurb on the walls.  Golub and Tayou thus represent two ways of doing political art:  the direct and the allusive.  My own way is a Third Way – an example is below (ignore the title).  The painting expresses my angst resulting from the failure of the Labour Party at the last election and the prospect of another five years of rule by the “party of working people”.



Between the Slates




Blackpaint 494 – House of Leaves, Murder in Moscow and Eric in Dulwich

May 10, 2015

Down Dog

Down Dog

I’m deeply traumatised by the election result and the prospect of 56 SNP-ers coming to take all our English money away and leave us defenceless against Russia et al, so tonight’s blog will be short and hurriedly written (no change there then, I’m tempted to write – but I won’t because I’m trying to avoid cliche).

House of Leaves, Mark Danielewsky

Now a hundred or so pages into this experimental horror(?) novel, with several hundred more to go – but since many of these pages are blank or nearly so, might just make it.  The experimentation, so far at least, consists of a labyrinthine structure of textual references, many obviously fictional, some probably real authors but fictional works, some probably the other way round.  There are “windows” of text which is reversed on the obverse page, as if the paper were transparent; some of the refs continue over numerous pages and are printed upside down.

At the core of this playfulness are two continuous narratives, one an intermittent commentary on the other, which can be read in a conventional way – so the “experimentation” forms a sort of packaging for the story and as such, can be more or less ignored – you still get the gist.  One of the narratives is rather flat and impersonal in tone, an “objective” report of events; the commentary is slangy, wild, peppered with expletives and full of graphic sexual and chemical encounters, real or imagined.  It reads a bit like the Stephen King of The Dark Half.

So, an experimental novel, rather like most of BS Johnson; odd- looking textual things going on, little jokes and metaphors dancing around – but a solid central narrative core provided by identifiable narrative voices (so far).

NOT Finnegans Wake, then; Joyce’s dream language retains the power to subvert, corrupt, or, at least, to flavour anything else you choose to read after putting Finnegan down.

Ravilious at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Went round this in half an hour, as the gallery was about to close; the pictures – and there are plenty of them – have a delicate beauty and cleanliness, but can be rather bloodless in bulk.  The best ones. I think, are those where he has used darker hues, obviously night ones like that below.  His other weakness, to my mind, is the human figure; his people tend to be stiff and cartoon-ish.  Great illustrator though, reminiscent of Paul Nash and maybe Ben and Winifred Nicolson.


Force Majeure, Ruben Ostlund

A funny film, looking at the aftermath of an avalanche threatening (apparently) diners at a ski resort restaurant; how one’s behaviour stands up to examination when the danger has passed.  As is the convention, male behaviour is unheroic, selfish, foolhardy, self-justifying, self-obsessed, vain, pathetic and consequently very funny.  The women tend to be relaxed, responsible, caring, t0lerantly amused – perhaps stressed by the demands and insecurities of the men, but basically proper people.  The Scandinavian norm.

There is a terrifying sequence in which an incompetent (male) coach driver attempts to get his laden vehicle round hairpin bends above a chasm – couldn’t watch it.

force majeure

This is Moscow Speaking, Yuli Daniel

I first read this in 1970 at university and just re-read it; it’s fantastic – tough, poetic, fearless.  It’s 1960 in Moscow – the authorities announce August 10th to be Public Murder Day.  All citizens over 16 can kill who they choose, certain categories (police, prison officers) excepted…

It got Daniel 5 years in prison, along with Andrei Sinyavsky.  Alexander Ginzberg also got 5 years for protesting at the imprisonment – and eventually, Daniel’s wife got 4 years for opposing the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Tate Modern, Painting After Technology

club foot

Club Foot, Amy Sillman

Great “new” works on display at Tate Modern, notably by Amy Sillman, Albert Oelhen, Christopher Wool and Mark Bradford.  And a most wonderful huge Sam Francis; see it through the arch, it looks much better from a distance.

And nearby, in the Geometric bit, two great Pasmores and a black-based, coloured Mary Martin sculpture.


port jackson




Blackpaint 493 – Whitechapel, Faust, Finnegan, Krapp

May 3, 2015

Christopher Williams at the Whitechapel Gallery

There are four striking photographs in this exhibition; two are reproduced below – the other two are a white cockerel in profile, and a close-up clutch of large red apples on the bough.  As can be seen, the colours are saturated and intense and the images have the glamour of advertisements.

There is more to it than this, of course; Williams is saying something about the process of photography – there are many other photos of cameras and photographic equipment – and probably much else.  I find from reading the critics Sean Hagan and Laura Cummings that one of the apples is dented (i.e. imperfect) and this is significant.  Similarly, the colour sample in the “turban” pic below does not contain yellow; also significant, perhaps.  I can’t be bothered to work out, or read about the significances, however.  I tend towards the philistine notion that the picture should really stand alone; don’t like reading reams of stuff on the wall or listening to a commentary on headphones.

christopher williams2


christopher williams1

There are also some photos of President Kennedy – these are apparently more significant because they were taken not long before his assassination.  In one, he is walking away from the camera into the distance…  I’m not sure about this  – a picture of a football pitch looks the same, whether or not we know there is a mass grave below it – the difference is in our mind.  If we know, we see it differently.

Lynette Yiadom- Boakye curates at Whitechapel

My favourite selection is the Gary Hume giant hand below.  There is also

  • Peter Doig – big orange and green painting
  • Warhol – Cow’s Head
  • Hockney – Sunflowers
  • film of an Estonian artist, dancing to Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child” at his father’s gravestone (artist’s father, not Hendrix’ father)




Faust, Murnau (1926 )

I got my VCR – that’s a video player – working again the other day and was able to watch my video of this great expressionist film for the first time in several years.  I sat and watched the whole thing through in one sitting, unusually for me (short attention span).  It’s main strength is the fantastic Emil Jannings as Mephistopheles (see below); but also there is the dark expressionist doorways and windows and the cityscape – Feininger, surely.


Krapp’s Last Tape, Samuel Beckett

So then, I dug deeper into the video collection, blew the dust off, and found, after an old “Brookside” episode, this great treasure; Patrick Magee in “Krapp”.  Brilliant play, iconic actor, profoundly depressing content for anyone, like me, who is a compulsive diarist.  “Spool” is a great word, however, and bananas are a wonder food.  Magee sweats expressively – and impressively- throughout.

NPG x127343; Patrick Magee as Krapp in 'Krapp's Last Tape' by Ida Kar

Finnegans Wake

If, like me, you read a few pages of about ten or twelve different books a day – I’m retired, not rich – you find that, when you switch over, the last author’s style stays with you for a few moments and you sometimes get a sort of mental blending, or corruption even, of the latter text.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this effect is strongest with “Finnegan”; for several lines, your mind continues to expect Joyce’s dream language and you don’t immediately recognise plain English.  Most disconcerting.




Phil on Fire