Archive for August, 2015

Blackpaint 509 – Patti in Helsinki, Ray and Tobias, Hard to be a God

August 28, 2015

KIASMA – Helsinki Museum of Contemporary Art

Concrete ramps receding into the distance inside – a cross between the New York Guggenheim and the sets for “Caligari”.  There is a stunning Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition; the leathery penises on show I thought rather diminutive but the shots of Patti Smith were riveting.  When she was young, one of the most photogenic women I can think of – not beautiful; skinny, hairy legs. but still..

Patti Smith 1976 Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax from the Estate of Barbara Lloyd and allocated to Tate 2009 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P13083

patti2

As I’ve said before, a biopic needs to be made featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg, before she gets much older.

Other Mapplethorpe portraits of note – Keith Haring, Arnie, Gere, Burroughs, Capote, Sontag, Leibowitz, Rauschenberg, Hockney, Warhol of course.

Helsinki Design Museum

Interesting that Finland had an Arts and Crafts movement very like that in England driven by William Morris, about the same time too.  20th century stuff is arranged by decade.  Current catwalk designs below – far left rather like my current look.

design museum

Ray Carver and Tobias Wolff

Wolff’s stories are reminiscent of Carver’s – except that Wolff tells you what his people are thinking.  Carver mostly tells you what they do and you draw your own conclusions – unless they are talking straight to you over a coffee, say, and then they follow the conventions of the dialogue.  Wolff’s best stories: “Hunters in the Snow” and “Leviathan” – this week, anyway.  Carver’s?  All of them.

Hard to be a God, Aleksei German, 2013

Russian film, black and white.  set on another planet, on which it appears to be Brueghel/Bosch time; the knobbly, gap-toothed, beaky faces are Brueghel peasants or soldiers, the cartwheel gallows, corpses and infernal machinery of “The Triumph of Death” are all there.  The mud is Flanders 1917; everyone is caked with it and shit, the torrential rain is sticky, everyone treats everyone else with brutality throughout, dwarves abound, bowels slide forth, eyes are gouged, etcetera, etcetera.  Through the chaos wanders a “God” from Earth, who resembles Dave, of Chas and Dave, occasionally blowing an outlandish alto saxophone-thing, sub Albert Ayler.  There is some kind of sci-fi/Game of Thrones-type plot (it’s based on a novel, see Wikipedia for plot summary), but the dialogue is so fractured and disjointed, it seems designed to prevent understanding.

hard to be a god

 

Visual references abound: in addition to Brueghel, there is Goya (the conical hats of the Inquisition victims); Pozzo and Lucky from Godot; Fellini’s Satyricon; the Saragossa Manuscript (the gallows corpses); Tarkovsky’s Ivan Rublev (general look, and the use of a peasant’s head – still attached  – as a battering ram).  Unintentionally I’m sure, and probably for British audiences only, there is a strong odour of Monty Python and Blackadder.

The film is around 3 hours long and seems longer – as well as the impenetrable plot, there is the relentless use of close-up.  Most of the time, you are struggling to make out what is going on and when the camera draws back, you sigh with relief.  The actors keep peering and poking at the camera lens which is amusing, at first.  The sub-titles are occasionally adolescent – “zits”, for example – which adds to the Thrones/steampunk/video game feel. German, who died aged 75 in 2013, was no punk wunderkind, however; he never emigrated, but faced a constant struggle to get his films made and shown.

So, it’s probably a critique to some degree of Putin’s Russia and no doubt a masterpiece – I’ll get the DVD when it comes out and watch it in 30 minute bursts; might be bearable, or even brilliant like that.  At the last, beautiful, snowbound scene, I was getting that thing where you pray that nobody will come on or start the dialogue again, so that it can fade out.  Last had that in “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, which was definitely a masterpiece.  My advice is to read the Wiki plot summary a few times before you go, if you feel you really have to…

shoreham dog

Shoreham Dog

 

down by the river

Down by the River – rather Expressionist for me, but still.

Blackpaint 

28.08.15

 

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Blackpaint 508 – To the Finland Station

August 23, 2015

Amos Andersonin Taide Museo, Helsinki

The only art museum open on a Monday in Helsinki.  The exhibition was based on Work.  A number of OK paintings of tradesmen in a Realist style – I was going to say Socialist Realist, but that’s really anything but Realist, of course.  Blacksmiths, factory hands, supervisors, technicians, seal hunters, even two portraits of a famous conductor (orchestra, not bus) – but above all, log rollers.  A pretty big feature of the Finnish economy, log rolling, by the look of it.

My favourite exhibit was this group of workers, maybe a factory committee meeting, made of wood, each about 9 inches high:

workers

There was also a short film about an anxious young man starting work in a big factory somewhere in the 50s or 60s – a sort of “Look at Life” type thing for those who remember; he keeps getting reassuring smiles from older, experienced hands.  The result is like a sort of gay industrial promo, if there were such a thing.

Didrichsen Art Museum

A 20 minute bus ride from the centre, a Bauhaus-y building on a lake, set in a sculpture garden (Moore, Bernard Meadows), reminiscent of the Louisiana gallery outside Copenhagen, but much smaller.  Pictures by Finns painting from pre WW1, influenced by Fauves and Seurat, Symbolism and Expressionism.  Best were by Enckell, “the Awakening Faun” ( see below, rather like Duncan Grant, I think) – Ollila, “Four Women”, Ruokokoski, “Girl, 1911”, Sallinen, “Mirri” and “Landscape” and Makela, “Bridge Construction”.

Enckell 1

Enckell, The Awakening Faun

Additionally, there were paintings by the mysterious AW Finch, a painter and potter whose works showed up in several galleries and museums, but about whom there was no info.  turns out he was Belgian but of British extraction, and settled in Finland, pursuing a career first as painter, then potter, then painter again.  Here’s a Finch from the Didrichsen:

Finch

AW Finch

He normally works in short, diagonal strokes. top left to bottom right – unless he’s doing pointillism, of course.

There is also a great collection of Central and South American figures and artefacts, mostly Peruvian and Mexican – examples below:

mexicans

OK, enough Finland for today-  more next blog.

John Cheever and Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff and Donald Barthelme

I wrote last time, or time before, about “The Swimmer”; both the Cheever story and the great film based on it, featuring Burt Lancaster.  Predictably, the short stories pulled me back in and I’m ploughing through the great 700 odd page brick of the collection again.  Not that it’s in any way a chore – they are brilliant little masterpieces, polished and elegant (but not twee), undercut by humour, tragedy – “The Hartleys”, for instance – and with frequent interjections from the author to remind you that these are works of fiction, after all, and he can take them anywhere he feels like going.

The problem is that I now have to read the different, but equally brilliant Carver stories again – the one about the boys who catch the fish and cut it in half so they can both take it home, or the one about the carpet cleaner salesman that was referenced in “Mad Men”… Then of course, there’s Tobias Wolff – closer to Carver than Cheever, but a voice of his own (why hasn’t he published more lately?)  And Donald Barthelme; I think I caught a whiff of Barthelme’s light mania in one or two of the Cheever stories.

Stalker

As for films, I’m back in the Zone again, with Tarkovsky’s nervous guide throwing his nuts around in a sling, as the water pours down in the tunnel and the great black dog watches, while the Writer disobeys instructions.  Half an hour at a time is the way to watch Tarkovsky.

 

bloody wakefield

Bloody Wakefield Revisited

 

spider's song

Spider’s Song Again

Blackpaint

23.08.15

 

Blackpaint 507 – No Words, All Pictures

August 13, 2015

 

Theodor Roussel, “Reading Girl” (Tate Britain)

The Reading Girl 1886-7 Théodore Roussel 1847-1926 Presented by Mrs Walter Herriot and Miss R. Herriot in memory of the artist 1927 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N04361

Fascinating painting – what’s she reading? – but surely something wrong in the neck area…

Anyway, I’m off to Helsinki tomorrow to run the marathon on Saturday, so I’m just going to bung a few of my old pictures up and call it a blog.

red and blue on ochre 1

 

Blue and Red Lines

john the conqueror root

John the Conqueror Root

 

work in prog 1

 

Blue Crouch

Blue Crouch

water engine 2a

Water Engine 2

watercolour2

Standing Model

002

Samonas

black prints

And this is the new one – Black Prints

Proper blog with words next week.

Blackpaint

13.08.15

Blackpaint 506 – Light through the Thorns, Parrots in Boxes, Budgies in Trunks

August 8, 2015

William Gear – A Centenary Exhibition, Redfern Gallery, Cork Street W1

gear redfern 1

A couple of blogs ago (Blackpaint 502), I wrote about the Neil Stokoe exhibition at the Redfern, to which I’d gone. expecting William Gear.  Now the Gear is on, until September 5th and it’s well worth the trip to Green Park tube and the heat of Piccadilly to see it.

Gear exhibited with CoBra in 1949 – he and Stephen Gilbert were the only British artists – but I have to say, I don’t think he has a lot in common with painters like Appel; his work strikes me as much more like Adrian Heath, Bryan Wynter and even sometimes Patrick Heron, than the wilder, thicker, more gestural products of Appel and Jorn.  There is one painting, however, “Le Marche aux Fleurs” (1947), which could easily have been an early Jorn.

There are several recurring features of Gear’s work, the most prominent, perhaps, being the tangled bundle of jagged, hooked, thorn-like shapes he seemed to fling across his canvases, so that the patches of bright colour seem to peep out through a thicket of scrub.  The shapes are often, but not always, black.  Gear isn’t afraid of yellow; he uses a full spectrum, but it’s the yellow and black that stay with you after the Redfern.

Triangular grids are another feature, and there are a number of works like “Black Form on Red”(1957), that comprise two or three colours used in large, simple shapes, looking rather like sheets of thin leather or felt, collaged onto the canvas – Poliakoff, maybe, or Burri.  An influence that is suggested in the catalogue is that of Nicolas de Stael – I couldn’t see that, I have to say.

gear redfern 3

Good exhibition, in association with the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, where Gear was the curator in the 60s.  There was a great black, thorny self-portrait on show at the Pallant House in Chichester recently; maybe its still there.  made me think of Tony Bevan, a bit.

gear redfern 2

Joseph Cornell at the RA

cornell 1

This is an exhibition for those, and there are many of them apparently, who like quaint objects and photographs displayed in shallow boxes.  Inevitably, there is a large overlap with the likes of Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and other European surrealists; the difference being that, whereas Ernst, for example, also painted and sculpted, Cornell stuck to the box formula permanently.  Clearly, he had a thing for parrots and cockatoos; his work goes completely against the grain of North American art of the time (40s and 50s) in two ways – it’s small and it’s in boxes.  Although there were later, feminist, artists in the states who put things in drawers and boxes to display them – not parrots, though, as I recall….

cornell2

The Swimmer, Frank Perry (1968) DVD

I think John Cheever’s short story is a masterpiece of the form, one of the best of the 20th century; hard to think of others so perfect, maybe a couple of Joyce’s Dubliners or Margaret Atwood’s Serpent’s Egg.  The film is also a work of art, though very much of its era (Hamlisch’s lush theme music, coupled with jagged Johnny Staccato jazz riffs and some eye -watering psychedelic visuals).  Burt Lancaster is brilliant as the ageing playboy Ned Merrill, in his budgie smuggler trunks, swimming home across the county, by way of the “river” of swimming pools of his “friends”.  Lancaster is by turns genuinely creepy and strangely sympathetic, despite his insensitivity. The pools are not there for freeloading swimmers to propel their sweaty bodies through.

 

The Longest Journey, EM Forster

Even though I’m currently re-reading “Finnegans Wake”, Forster’s book is the strangest, most difficult novel I’ve struggled through for ages; I had to keep going back and reading bits over again to make sense of it.  the problem is twofold – the language: very arch, ironic, riddled with Edwardian Oxbridge phraseology and slang – and the concerns; “love children”, family disgrace, inheritance, the intellect v. the physical, the prosaic v.the poetic, genetic flaws, town and country, social class… Actually, that’s quite a lot and I’m sure I missed plenty.

I was interested to see that Forster kills his characters  in an even more offhand way than Virginia Woolf; a “hurt” at football, a drowning and a steam train across the knees- the last completely unsignalled (sorry) and dispassionate: “It is also a man’s duty to save his own life, and therefore he tried.  The train went over his knees.  He died up in Cadover, whispering “You have been right,” to Mrs Failing”.  That’s it.

 

finsbury mud 2

 

Finsbury Mud 2,

Blackpaint

08.08.15

 

Blackpaint 505 – Francis, Rembr’ndt and the Chimp’nzees

August 2, 2015

Bacon and the Masters, Norwich (UEA)

Afraid this exhibition is now finished – I got to see it in its last week – so its a bit redundant now to review it.  However, I’m rather redundant myself, so here’s a few words.  First, I have to take issue with Jonathan Jones’ assessment in the Guardian; he thought the “Masters” (Matisse, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Van Gogh, Bernini et al), whose works Bacon used as  templates or providers of inspiration, actually made Bacon’s efforts look rather “silly”. His previous admiration for the British painter evaporated in the presence of the Masters.

There is no doubt that the Rembrandts are striking and the terracotta Bernini torsos staggeringly powerful, even though small; my feeling is, however, that Bacon’s work stands up well and does justice to those whose works he used – or rather, the photographs of them, since he famously avoided seeing the originals.

Take the paintings below, for instance; the powerful, sinister “Figures in a Landscape” (1956):

bacon figures in a landscape

 

or the portrait (1957) of Peter Lacey, Bacon’s sadistic “true love”, who did the painter quite serious injury in lovemaking (I don’t know if Bacon returned the compliment – I suspect not); I think the portrait suggests one of the Furies about to descend…

bacon lacey

or this great sketch or half-started work on linen from 1981, one of the three large sketches that begin the exhibition:

bacon three figures 1981

 

Here’s one of the Berninis for comparison:

bernini

The only Bacon that I felt was not up to par was a sketch of the Screaming Pope.  it suggested a Steve Bell to me…

Look closely at any Bacon and you will see how thinly and carefully he paints, with a stroke that is often very dry.  The portraits are painstaking and the famous distortion does not obscure the likeness in most cases; it’s dissection and reassembly, not butchery, not by a long way.

Afterwards, using one of the luxurious WCs in the Sainsbury building, I saw myself in the mirror which takes up the whole rear wall. Slightly crouched, toilet paper in hand, trousers around lower legs, furtive expression… a rather typical Bacon scenario, to match those in the gallery…

Watching an Arena DVD on Bacon, I was struck again by his odd pronunciation of Rembrandt – it was “Rembr’ndt”.  A while later he did it again with “chimp’nzee”.  I thought it was unique – then I watched a DVD on Auerbach and he said “Rembr’ndt” too.

John Golding, UEA

golding2

Up the stairs from the Bacon exhibition was this large show of paintings from Golding, a major British abstract artist, somewhat akin to Hoyland, I think, as a sort of counterweight to the great figurative master on the ground floor.  Here are three works, all large, from different periods.  This show may still be on – worth a trip to Norwich, if it is.

 

golding3

 

golding6

The Double Life of Veronique, Kieslowski

This film was on TV last week.  I can’t make my mind up about Kieslowski’s work – sometimes, as here, it strikes me as sentimental and soft focus, a little bit “Truly, Madly, Deeply”; she falls in love with a handsome puppeteer, for god’s sake.  Then again, he did “A Short Film about Killing”, with the long murder and the hanging scene….

Two old pictures that I have overpainted somewhat, to finish:

jungle

The Road to Mandalay

 

10th May 1941

 

10th May 1941

Blackpaint,

2.08.15