Archive for October, 2015

Blackpaint 518 – Last Venice; Red Roofs, Red Guards, Red Dress

October 30, 2015

Biennale – the Town

My last Venice blog – this Biennale, anyway –  is about the various exhibits scattered around the town.  In the case of Scully and the Bailey-Eno collaboration (see below), the magnificent venue is at least half the attraction.

Land Sea, Sean Scully

scully

Sean Scully

I’d considered Scully one of those one-trick artists whose work repeated itself, more or less;  stripes and intersections in greys, browns, blacks and whites, vaguely reminiscent of the side of a cattle truck  – and so, with sinister and depressing associations.  This show, of around thirty works, revealed to me a very different artist;  still stripes, but a variety of luscious colours and textures.  You can clearly see the thickness of the paint, slippery and glossy, and the sweep and chop of the brush marks.  Many are huge and some of the best are done on aluminium.  When he works in a variety of blues (the “Sea” bit, I guess),  he gets a depth and vibrancy of tone I’ve not seen matched.  The venue is one of those old, deserted mansions with ochre and sienna walls, roughly textured.  The walls made me think, totally inappropriately, of the Dirty Protest in the HBlocks…

 

The Sound of Creation – Sound Paintings, Beezy Bailey and Brian Eno

beezy bailey

Beezy Bailey 

This show is in the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello, a working music academy in a beautiful seven or eight storey building with an enclosed courtyard.  As you climb the stairs, classical singing and orchestral music from the rehearsal rooms accompany you.

The paintings, vigorous, colourful, gloss on board, abstract and nearly abstract, are on the landings as you go up; some have earphones with them, through which you can hear Eno’s electronic music.  I found it pleasing, especially the one with the jaunty bass line and the unmistakeable whirr of an electric toothbrush, but not obviously connecting with, or enhancing the paintings.

Great view over the rooftops of Venice from the window next to the painting above; the slightly variegated roof tiles look like a Paul Klee painting.  As we descended, we couldn’t resist peering through a keyhole at a rehearsal in progress and only narrowly saved ourselves from falling forwards through the door.

 

Path and Adventure, Mio Pang Fei

mio

Mio Pang Fei

Chinese artist, now based in Macao, an astonishing body of work recapping Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Modernism and Abstract Expressionism, produced under one of the most hostile regimes in history.  A dim, crepuscular film playing, showing a series of horrible images from the Cultural Revolution; victims paraded with placards, heads bowed. as they are punched, manhandled, screamed at by manic Red Guards.  Many of those shown were surely shot soon after.  A line of nuns in white habits being given similar treatment.  Mio, on video, is low key and impressive but with no optimistic message for us – I’m glad to say; his work provides that.  Comparable with the ground floor of Russian pavilion.

 

…the Rest is Smoke, Helen Sear

More great art from Wales – Beddwyr Williams’ “Starry Messenger” at same venue two years ago.  The still below is taken from a looping sequence, in which a young woman in a red dress circles a beech tree, or maybe a series of beech trees, over and over again, caressing the trunk with one hand.  The tree trunks and leaves shine through her body; the reds and golds of the leaves echo her dress.  You never see more than the lower half of her face.  I found it erotic, hypnotic and ghostly.  There are other tree- and woodland- related images in the show, but this is the one that stayed with me.

 

helen sear

Helen Sear

 

 

work in prog 1

An old one of mine, but I’m anxious to publish.  Next week – Manchester galleries.

Blackpaint

30.10.15

 

 

 

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Blackpaint 517 – Venice Preserv’d

October 30, 2015

It’s preserved in brine.  No-one lives there, except for shopkeepers, hoteliers and gondoliers maybe; the average resident’s age is over 50.  Anyway, this is the pavilions blog.

Giardini (the Pavilions)

kerry1

Kerry James Marshall

This magnificent “mirror” picture is one of 5 or 6 both abstract and figurative pictures in the main pavilion, which houses individual artists, rather than national projects.

The British Pavilion

lucas2

Sarah Lucas

 

lucas1

Sarah Lucas

The British and Russian pavilions form, for me, the opposing poles of the national exhibitions; the Lucas sculptures are joyfully obscene and the great yellow phallus wags like a middle finger before the Gran Bretagna sign (see above).  Inside, a number of sculptures rest on piles of spam tins or plunge headlong into toilets with cigarettes poking out of their bumholes and vaginas.  Lacking in subtlety and pathos perhaps – but no denying the popularity with the punters.  Everybody was laughing and snapping away uproariously; four mature German women obviously very intellectually stimulated…

Romanian Pavilion

I loved the Romanian show again this year, because it contains some real paintings – and good ones at that.  I thought at first glance they were abstract, but was sharply informed by my two companions that they were not; “There’s a hand – and there’s a man in that one”.  True, but the thick paint, applied in swipes by a knife maybe, and the vivid colours make them look abstract.  They are collectively called “Darwin’s Room”, so there is a conceptual basis – but I liked the paintings too much to bother with that.  They remind me of Bosch, or Brueghel, or even the Matthias Grunewald.

romania2

Adrian Ghenie

romania1

Adrian Ghenie

Russian Pavilion

russian pavilion

Irina Nakhova has put together a rather oddly matched group of exhibits; the above is a hologram(?) of a pilot’s face peering anxiously out of a giant oxygen mask; amusing and memorable but… on the other hand, there is a very moving display of film and photographs on the lower floor, constantly playing through “windows”; unsmiling soldiers in uniform, sometimes with guns, scratchy old film of Russian people going about their lives, photos of victims of the NKVD, shot at a rifle range, people whose faces are scrawled over with a pen like the Rodchenko photos.  At one point, the walls appear to be closing in.  The faces, at an angle, look like stained glass windows.

To finish, two more Bellini paintings from the Accademia:  Note the similarity in the position of the dead Christ in the Pieta to that of the baby in the Virgin and Child.

pieta

bellinibaby

Giovanni Bellini

 

reflections 2

Mirror Portrait

Blackpaint

30.10.15

Blackpaint 516 – Deaf in Venice; Biennale I

October 28, 2015

The Biennale

The 56th Venice Biennale finishes on 22nd November, so readers have plenty of time to drop everything and go.  If that is not convenient, you can view my highlights here over the next three days.  I’m just back from Venice, deafened by the constant click/buzz of photos being taken on phones, tablets and even the odd camera.  At the Biennale venues, saw many tourists just snapping everything, without looking at the pieces; all nationalities guilty, but some more guilty than others.  Two particular examples of photomania stand out:

  • a woman who sat in front of a 3D movie made by a Russian film collective and apparently attempted to photograph every frame (if films still have frames – they probably don’t).  She must have taken more than fifty pictures;
  •  in a square by the Accademia bridge, saw a circle of maybe 30 tourists round one of those central wells with the iron covers, all snapping away furiously; when they moved back, I saw the attraction – a ginger cat had been sitting there.

There are a lot of beautiful paintings in the Accademia,  Giorgione’s mysterious “Tempesta” for example, but the various Giovanni Bellini Virgins with child are the highlight for me.  He clearly used the same young girl as a model in several of the pictures and her slightly pudgy but somehow beautiful face is  obviously that of a real person, rather than some stylised ideal.  The kid’s not bad either, by the standards of the day, and that green panel in the background turned up in several virgins by different painters.  More Bellinis to come.

bellini1

Giovanni Bellini

Arsenale

There are three venues for the Biennale; the Arsenale, the Giardini where most national pavilions are situated –  and various individual and national displays scattered around the city.  I’ll do the three best from the Arsenale today, the Pavilions tomorrow and the scattered venues on Friday.

 

kay hassan1

Kay Hassan

South African artist; they are collaged faces, built up into thick, placard-like posters – or poster-like placards.  He calls them “Everyday People”.

 

helen marten1

Helen Marten

UK artist.  I don’t know how to begin to describe her constructions; they are made up, as you can see, of a multitude of..things and bits of things and are sometimes presented against a painted board background – or in at least one case, through a painted board background.

 

sibony2

Gedi Sibony

American artist.  His work is done on sheets of metal from cut-up trailers.  Logos or advertising material (these examples are drink cans) are then roughly painted over, in white, black, yellow paint.  Sounds like a crap idea but I think they look great.

sibony 3

Gedi Sibony

I’ve left out a whole load of great stuff – George Baselitz has some huge hanging figures (upside down, of course) that are sharper somehow than his previous work, as if done in inks.

 

polruan

Polruan

Blackpaint   28.10.15

Tomorrow, I’ll do the Giardini with the Pavilions.

If you do go to Venice, eat at the Rosso Pomodoro (Red Tomato).  Nice and informal, no pressure to have the expensive dishes, like elsewhere.  Have the spaghetti and prawns, chittara I think it’s called.  Fantastic.

 

 

 

Blackpaint 515 – The Thicker the Better, Chaps.

October 19, 2015

Auerbach at Tate Britain

There are three fantastic modern painters of wildly different types on in London at the moment – John Hoyland at Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery, Peter Lanyon at the Courtauld and Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain.  I did Hoyland last week; now for Auerbach (the only one still living and, very much, still painting).

Below are two of my favourite paint “cakes”; the earlier paintings are REALLY thick, the paint in semi-detached curls in some cases.  The paint is built up almost into reliefs or sculptures on the canvas.  “Earls Court Road, Winter” (1953)  is brown, black, grey and almost green, a scabby mass of wrinkled oil like a chunk of mud excavated from the site and hung in the gallery.  The paint gets progressively thinner as the years pass, but it’s always oily, slippery, layered and brushed through other colours, picking them up on the way.

auerbach eow on bed

EOW Nude on Bed (1959)

auerbach eow half length

EOW Half-Length Nude (1958)

The heads and portraits are pretty much all fabulous; some of the cityscapes, parks and buildings less so.  I found myself thinking the sacrilegious thought about the picture below: “I could have done that when I was 11”; and then three or four more times, with others, “Mornington Crescent Looking South” (1996) and “The House” (2011), for instance.  The point is, I didn’t and Auerbach did, although not at 11.  Auerbach invites this sort of random, outlaw thought by stating (on the wall, at the start)  that he wants us to consider each picture as a thing in itself, not an example of how he was painting in a given decade.

auerbach vincent terrace

Interior Vincent Terrace (1982 – 4)

As always with Auerbach exhibitions, we were plagued with those who stand for minutes, an inch away from the surface, sometimes delivering lectures to their girlfriends – it’s always men, I’m sorry to say – and blocking everyone else’s access to that picture.  It’s stupid of course, because the portraits mostly resolve into quite startlingly sharp images from about 12 feet away.  Up close, they are a mass of intricate, indecipherable whorls.  Sometimes, they are better like that, though.

I’ve lots more to say on this exhibition, but I’m going for the third time tomorrow, so I’ll save it for next time.

Lanyon, the “Glider”  Paintings, Courtauld Gallery

lanyon solo flight

Solo Flight

I reckon about 20 pieces of work in this exhibition, staggeringly beautiful images; blue curtains of rain or mist, vortexes, cloud, coastline, reproduced in his gestural swipes and sweeps, scrapings, splatters, dribbles and pools – no, oceans – of deep green/blue.  He’s painting the invisible air currents a lot of the time.  There are also several of his assemblages. incorporating thick bits of broken blue glass, scrawled with black paint.

lanyon cross country

Cross Country

It was startling, then, to see two paintings,”Near Cloud” and “North East”,  both from 1964 (the year of his death, after a glider crash) which were “emptied out”, like late de Koonings.  They were flat, untextured, thinly painted, almost diagrammatic.  What happened there?

Sluice Art Fair, by the Oxo Tower

Lots of little art works, some very classy; photographic prints, collages, tiny drawings on blocks – but at gasp-inducing prices.  For example, a small square with some very attractive gestural lines and patterns sketched on it, by Kark Bielik, was priced at £800.00!  Clearly, the labour theory of value not operating in the art world at any level (obvious, I suppose).

One of those riveting and irritating films in which disparate images are flung before your eyes for less than a second before they are thrust out (images, not eyes) by another.  Your mind is always processing them in retrospect.  A lot of war images – there go some Russian attackers! Now it’s a mine going off! – in this one; I think we saw the prototype of this sort of film montage at the Biennale a couple of years ago, by Stan VanDerBeek  (Blackpaint 414).   This one’s by Laura Pawela.

Gargantua and Pantagruel and Finnegans Wake

No doubt someone has done a thesis on it, but reading these simultaneously – well, a bit of one after a bit of the other, as it were – I was struck again by the lists.  They both, Rabelais and Joyce, like a lovely long list of silly names, or disgusting objects, or what have you.  By long, I mean pages in Joyce’s case.  Sometimes funny – often irritating.

 

buff tit 2

Buff Tit,

Blackpaint

19.10.15

 

Blackpaint 514 – Hoyland’s Cakes, The Serpent’s Egg, Auerbach’s Mustard

October 12, 2015

John Hoyland at Newport Street Gallery

hoyland1

These huge, voluptuous colour field pictures, around 40 of them, are on display at Damien Hirst’s new gallery near Vauxhall.  It’s enormous; white walls of course, lovely staircases, a line of big toilets with heavy doors as if he’s expecting coachloads of pensioners.  The paintings are from Hirst’s own collection and it’s great to see them here for free.

Acrylics for the most part – there are two oils, I think.  Several maroons with orange, leaf green (ugh!), turquoise, grey-blue, reds and greys, arranged in blocks or columns; a few with scraped edges and splatters, “smoking” tops (the result of trickle- downs and reversal of the canvas).  The central section upstairs I think of as the cake room; pinks, beiges and whites, like huge cake slices smashed and splattered against the canvas.  In the last room, deep, singing blues, reds and oranges, scraped to reveal gold, like clouds of fire; colours arranged in blocks and diagonals.

For an alternative view, try Jonathan Jones online – “Why is Damien Hirst opening his new gallery with this second-rate artist?”  He makes the laughable claim that Hoyland is trying to do Rothko, or Pollock, or Barnet Newman.  Actually, the painters who came to my mind were Hans Hoffman and John Golding (a bit).  Hoyland, says Jones,  is simply “messing about with paint”.

hoyland2

The Serpent’s Egg, Bergman (1977)

Falls into that genre of films like “Cabaret” and Visconti’s “The Damned”, in which the story is set in Weimar Germany, in this case, Berlin – sleazy drinking clubs, cabarets and brothels (often combined), cross- dressing, prostitution, obscene night club turns, dwarves, smeared, garish lipstick, lost innocence, sudden shocking violence, crazed Nazi bands, wet cobblestones, sense of doom…  Bergman’s film is set earlier than the others- 1923 I think, the time of hyper-inflation- but the similarities are apparent.  It becomes suddenly Kafka-esque towards the denouement; David Carradine is chased around a mysterious underground laboratory-labyrinth and confronts a mad scientist, more Nazi than Hitler himself (who is a minor demagogue at this time, about to launch his Munich Putsch).

Unlike any other Bergman film I’ve seen; sort of a low budget feel, strangely, since it was made in Hollywood, and the sound on the DVD is terrible.  I ended up watching it with subtitles for the hard of hearing, which improved it no end.

That Obscure Object of Desire, Bunuel (1977)

The story of this great Bunuel is well-known; Fernando Rey’s pursuit of the young Spanish flamenco dancer to Seville and eventually to Paris, her continual promising and then avoiding/refusing  sex with him (in one sequence arriving naked in his bedroom – apart from an impregnable, tightly-laced corset); the gifts of money he constantly makes to her and her complicit mother, culminating in his buying her a house.  After another provocation, he attacks her; she grins up at him through her bleeding lips and says, “Now I know you really love me!”  Dodgy sexual politics, to be sure.  I had forgotten the little “surreal” bits in the film – the mousetrap that goes off during one of Rey’s intense scenes with Conchita; the sack that he lugs around inexplicably in several scenes.

Conchita, the girl, is famously played by two completely different actresses –  the elegant, glacial Carole Bouquet and the effervescent Angela Molina.  This caused me great consternation when I first saw the film.  I rationalised it along these rather obvious lines: they represent the two halves of Conchita’s character; cold and hot.  That didn’t work though.  So, they represent the two ways she responds to Rey.  But that didn’t work either, for the same reason (they both encourage and reject him, rather than “taking turns”).

Wikipedia says that Bunuel got the idea to use different women in response to difficulties he was having on set with another actress,  Maria Schneider apparently, and that it had no deeper significance than that he thought it was an amusing idea and would” work well”.

I love that phrase; I’ve heard it so many times from different artists and said it often myself, in response to those who ask “What does that represent?” or “Why did you do that there?” – the answer is invariably mundane or unhelpful; it “looked good”, or “I thought it was black and when I put it on the canvas,  it turned out to be prussian blue”.  As often, a Jonathan Jones piece is instructive; reviewing the new Auerbach at Tate Britain, Jones recycles the old “colourless 50s” cliche: “Back in the 1950s, he (Auerbach) saw very little colour in the world.  Frankenstein faces loom like monsters in his early paintings.   Gradually came the colours: blood red, mustard yellow, and eventually orange, purple, blue, the lot – a rainbow slowly spreading…”.  Auerbach himself, speaking on his son’s film about him, explains that the new colours were the result of his progressively having more money to spend on paint.

Jones’ review is otherwise not bad, apart from his habitual thumping overstatement and childish posturing – “My generation owes Auerbach an apology..”…

serpents egg of obscure desire

The Serpent’s Egg of Obscure Desire

Blackpaint

12.10.15

 

 

Blackpaint 513 – My Show and the Slade’s, Patti, Andrei and the Fonz

October 6, 2015

Slade MA/MFA Interim Show, UCL

A futuristic cityscape, made out of dark wood with the odd chair or table leg showing; aprons and other garments (see below) hanging on pegs over women’s shoes; “jewel/gold” encrusted domestic articles, kettles etc.; a plate of sliced toast with a plastic container of jam in a darkened room; huge old black steam locos fuming away on a video in another darkened room; a vertical cigar smouldering on video (towering inferno, 9/11) – and some paintings, in those bright, dry colours (Sillman, Oehlen, German sort of thing.  Flat, thin paint, fashionable lack of texture.  Examples below:

Alexander Page 1

Alexander Page

 

yuxin su 2

Luxin Su

 

tae yeon kim 1

Tae Yeon Kim

 

olivia bax

Olivia Bax

I hope I haven’t misidentified any of these artists; why don’t the students put BIG name cards up next to the work, instead of leaving little stacks of cards in the corner?

Open House Wandsworth

All my paintings and those of my partner Marion Jones on show and for sale at absurdly low prices, Saturday and Sunday 16th and 17th October, 11.00am – 6.00pm at 84 Ribblesdale Road London SW16 6SE, including those below:

Megiddo

Megiddo – Actually, this one’s gone.

red and blue on ochre 1

Red and Blue Lines on Ochre

red and blue canals1

Seagulls over Sorrento

geometry1

Geometry 1

asger's revenge

Asger’s Revenge

port jackson

Woodpecker

work in prog 1

Blue Crouch

Blue Crouch

water engine 2a

Water Engine 2

watercolour6

Standing Nude

photo

Islares

001

Redleg

 

Wild Tales, dir. Damian Szifron (2014)

Spanish/Argentinian.  A portmanteau film, six stories about revenge, rage, duplicity, infidelity.  The first story was a real shock because of a horrible echo of the Germanwings murders.  Other echoes, for elderly filmgoers: Duel, Marathon Man, Carrie, Short Cuts (marginal, but that chef looks just like Lyle Lovett in the cake story).

Just Kids, Patti Smith 

I bought Smith’s book about herself and Robert Mapplethorpe after finishing Viv Albertine’s great autobiography – I sort of thought they might be similar; outspoken, opinionated, edgy, gritty…  Wrong, so far.  Smith writes in a rather stilted style by today’s standards – she writes, for instance, about “garments”, not clothes.  At times, she reads more like Jane Austen than, say, Lou Reed.  Consider this passage: “I had not yet comprehended that Robert’s conflicted behavior related to his sexuality.  I knew he deeply cared for me, but it occurred to me that he had tired of me physically.  In some ways I felt betrayed, but in reality it was I who had betrayed him.”

OK, Austen probably wouldn’t have mentioned sexuality.  This shouldn’t put you off, by the way; her portrait of counter culture in 60s US is fascinating.  The other night on TV, I happened on one of those gruesome tribute concerts, where a big star sits in the audience while other stars sing to him/her; it was Springsteen’s turn and Patti was singing the great “Because the Night”; “..Because the night belongs to lovers, because the night belongs to – (smile, gesture) – BRUCE!”  Sometimes, nothing is more destructive than age and success.  Patti looking a lot like Henry Winkler these days, I think.

patti fonz

 

Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky

Just finished watching this masterpiece again and it struck me that Boris the boy bellmaker is the counterpart of a Young Communist zealot, cajoling, threatening, forcing the doubting workforce to perform the impossible, in the face of terrible obstacles.  Violence, bullying, sternness, squalor, the interspersion of sentimentality with horrible cruelty (eyes put out) – all the common features of Russian literature and cinema (Karamazov, for instance).  And unforgettable images, of course.

reflections 2

Reflections I, 

Blackpaint, 6.10.2015