Archive for November, 2015

Blackpaint 522 – Cartels, Carpaccio, Cheever

November 27, 2015

Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman (2015)

This compelling documentary, about a self-defence militia in Mexico, set up by a charismatic doctor to defend his local towns and  villages against the Knights Templar cartel, is rather problematic.  There are a number of scenes that must surely be reconstructions, as the camera appears to be always in the right place to get the crucial shot and soundbite for the purpose of the narrative.  If it’s just the result of bravery, luck and brilliant editing, it’s stunning.  I’ve no doubt that the shoot  outs are genuine; at one point, someone appears to give the order on the soundtrack for a suspect to be murdered – and these are the good guys.  In the light of the beheadings, hangings, torture and rape shown and described, it’s not surprising that the “autodefensas” are likely to be merciless to the perpetrators when they catch them, I suppose.


It all goes wrong, of course; corruption sets in, the “autodefensas” are infiltrated by gangsters,  who form their own cartel within, the doctor turns out to be a sleaze who chats up young women on camera; he ends up in prison, having been betrayed by his erstwhile “officers”, who are co-opted by a corrupt government.

There is a parallel story about Tim Foley and his Arizona Border Recon, an American paramilitary force resisting incursions by “cartel members”.  Their operations seem rather pathetic, in comparison.

More from Venice


Carpaccio, Accademia

Love those hats.


Bellini,  Correr Museum


Albert Oehlen

Oehlen Hetzler

A beautiful catalogue published by the Galerie Max Hetzler of an exhibition seven or eight large paintings from 2014.  They are all on wood panels, with a white background; gestural, patches and flickering lines of fairly subdued colours, mostly including a grey cloud; no spray or computer work in these.  The trickle downs and freshness or the colours recall 60s Joan Mitchell.  And the cover unfolds into a poster of one of the paintings – pretty good for £14 odd.

John Cheever

I find his short stories just get better every time I read them; I’m on my third trip through the Collected Stories now.  They are polished, funny, often sad, sometimes shocking, sardonic, wise, brilliantly readable and they never pall, which is surprising, given the quite narrow social milieu in which they are set; New York/New England, upper middle class, servants, mansion apartments, holiday homes, leafy suburbs.  I’ve just finished “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill”.  I don’t think he’s a great novelist, however.  I’ve read most of them and the only memorable one, I think, is “Falconer”, his short prison novel.  The others just strike me as the short stories extended unnecessarily.

Finally finished a couple of new paintings:



black storm1

Black Storm




Blackpaint 521- Mediating Between Nothingness and Being; Calder and Giacometti

November 23, 2015

Alexander Calder, Performing Sculpture,  Tate Modern

This is one of those exhibitions that you go round with a smile on your face; probably childhood associations with mobiles or, if you’re a mature adult like me, with kites and novelty items on top of the TV.  His portraits are staggeringly good, done as they are with a few lengths of wire; if you go underneath them and look up, you can see how well they work, even from below.  I loved the fish in the wire tank, too.


Some of the works were like models of Picabia dream machines (although none of them seemed to be working when we were there;  the aerial mobiles, assembled from wire and coloured metal discs, reminded me of Chinese dragon creatures, lobsters and, oddly, of tapeworms – the segmented bodies, I suppose.  Reminders of Picasso everywhere, of course.

Antennae with Red and Blue Dots 1960 Alexander Calder 1898-1976 Purchased 1962

It’s a pleasing exhibition, but ultimately lightweight (sorry); I think Calder’s work is better seen with the work of his contemporaries, to add variety – but then, you could say that for rather a lot of artists.

Giacometti, Pure Presence, National Portrait Gallery

Rather a small exhibition to weigh in at sixteen quid odd, I thought ; we had a two-for-one from Cass Arts that eased the pain.

The title comes from something Sartre wrote; it refers to Giacometti’s practice of putting the subject right in the middle of his drawings and keeping any background confined to  a few sketchy lines, a chair or door, say, floating and fading in a corner.


Sartre also describes Giacometti as constantly “mediating between nothingness and being”.  Not sure what he means by this; it could apply to just about any artist.  I suppose it’s something to do with this faintness of background – and with the sculptures, the rough,  finger-and thumb-worked nature of the clay from which the perfect little heads and faces emerge.  They were kneaded into being, Sartre is saying (maybe): they could just as easily be kneaded out of being.


There is a film from 1967 of Giacometti working, with a commentary by David Sylvester.  Sylvester observes that, in the sculptures,  his women are all motionless, standing straight-legged (where they have legs) bolt upright, receiving the gaze of the sculptor and returning it impassively.  The men, however, like Giacometti himself, are “striving” – perhaps he said “striding” – restlessly.  This can’t be observed in the current exhibition, however, since only one sculpture, I think, has legs; it’s a woman, in that characteristic “one-legged” stance.

The paintings, all in that muddy ochre/grey/black/orange palette, are really drawings; thin, whippy, B&W lines delineate the figures and faces, which often have a grey-black “wash” across them.  Sylvester says that many of the sculptural portraits seem to resemble Giacometti himself; other lookalikes for me are General de Gaulle and the Queen, when she was young.

Here’s the sacrilege: I thought this exhibition was also lightweight.  The drawings looked tricksy somehow, and I missed the striders and the bigger sculptures  (I suppose because this IS the NPG, and the striders aren’t portraits).  Seen Giacometti displayed much better in,say, Louisiana near Copenhagen.

24 Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom (2002)

Watched this brilliant film in which Steve Coogan plays Tony Wilson, the Manchester – based impresario, except that “impresario” isn’t at all the right word…club owner, record producer, visionary, idealist, loser –  the Manchester -based Tony Wilson is the best description, maybe.  Is it really true that Ian Curtis hanged himself while Werner Herzog’s “Strozzeck” was on the telly and, if so, was there some connection between the two events?

falling man

Falling Man


black surround

Black Work in Progress





Blackpaint 520 – Bellini, Bruegel, Bosch, Berger, Bromden, Bergman

November 16, 2015

Giovanni Bellini again

Returning briefly to Venice,  I have to post a few of Bellini’s Virgins; it’s so obviously the same young girl modelling the BVM and the same child too, I think – ginger hair and normal proportions.




Definitely a different child in this one though.. or much younger.


In the new John Berger collection, “Portraits” (Ed. Tom Overton, Verso 2015) , Berger says that Bellini’s Virgins represent a journey towards the open air; they start in dark interiors and progress towards open meadows.

Portraits; John Berger on Artists

Two more startling insights – well, I found them startling – on Bosch and Bruegel:


The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562)

“…Bruegel’s paintings are more relevant to modern war and the concentration camps than almost any painted since.”  I find that hard to contest, looking at the “Triumph”;


The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch (1500 – 5)

Berger compares Bosch’s vision of Hell to “a typical CNN news bulletin, or any mass media news commentary.  There is a comparable incoherence, a comparable wilderness of separate excitements, a similar frenzy.

“Bosch’s prophecy was of the world-picture which is communicated to us today by the media under the impact of globalisation, with its delinquent need to sell incessantly.”

Overstated no doubt, but apart from the last bit about selling, I thought this was pretty close to right, as regards the coverage of the Paris murders on Friday night.  Sky, Euronews, France 24 all overstated the numbers of dead, as if they weren’t bad enough; BBC repeated some story on Twitter about the jungle camp at Calais being on fire (why do they repeat this shit on “social media”?); it seemed to me that Al Jazeera came closest to getting casualty numbers and other details right at the time.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


I was roundly criticised by women friends for praising this “misogynist and racist” film when it was first released back in 1975 – and no doubt some of the criticism was justified.  Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) is the embodiment of controlling, malignant authoritarianism; the thuggish, cynical guards are black, the mental patients are white (exception being Chief Bromden, played by Will Sampson) and the anti-hero McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) treats his girlfriends as chattels, to be smuggled into the institution for sex – with himself, Turkle the corrupt guard (the brilliant Scatman Crothers) and, disastrously, with Billy (Brad Dourif).  McMurphy comes close to strangling Nurse Ratched near the end, so violence against women too.

After watching it again on DVD, I have to say that it was even better than I remember; the fishing expedition, the after-hours orgy and the rousing ending were the highlights.  They don’t make them like that any more; tried to think of something similar and the best I could do was Mark Rylance as Rooster in Jez Butterworth’s play “Jerusalem”.


I was sad to read on Wikipedia that Will Sampson died of scleroderma at only 54, after a heart and lungs transplant.

Ingmar Bergman

I wrote last week that a lot of Bergman’s films seem to be set on islands; I did a bit of research and found there are at least seven, starting with “Eva” in 1948 to “The Passions of Anna” in 1969.  Bergman moved to the Swedish island of Faro in the early 60s and founded a studio there – but there were already three films that were wholly or partly island -bound. Something to do with isolating the characters and developing the tensions or attractions between them, maybe; or, as in “Shame” (1968), watching the effect of the outside world bursting in on them – civil war in this case.


Bergman was arrested for tax evasion in 1976; although the charge was dropped, he closed down Faro and said he would make no more films in Sweden.

I was going to write something about Kitaj, but since he doesn’t begin with a “B”, it would mess up my title – so next time.




A couple of life drawings/paintings – yes, I know, but I can assure you the model is alive – or at least, he was when I did it.



Blackpaint 519 – Agnes, Auerbach, Ten and Patti Again

November 8, 2015

Master John, NPG

These fantastic paintings by “Master John” or from his workshop – whoever he was.  Not Holbein for sure, but brilliant. I think.

master john 2


master john 1

Patti Smith, Just Kids

This is turning out to be a fascinating read; she completely confounds your expectations.  I thought she’d come across angry, tough, scathing – punk; not at all.  She’s sensitive, kindly, vulnerable, a bit pretentious, a bit awkward.  She knew everyone, remembers everything.  It’s a great companion and contrast to Viv Albertine’s book, which is also great in a different way.

Lines for Agnes, exhibition and discussion at Marylebone Church

Attended this last Saturday.  A small exhibition of small paintings with some perceived relationship to Agnes Martin; minimal but not minimalist, somewhat geometric, patterns or colour fields darkening at bottom…  One speaker mentioned the problem of taking too much out; erasing until you have nothing left.

It struck me that there are at least two completely opposite tendencies in abstract painting – or maybe just painting – with one going towards the erasure of everything, the other chucking in the kitchen sink.  One end is occupied by Agnes Martin, the other by, say, Appel or, if figurative, early Auerbach.  It’s a spectrum of course.  Won’t pursue this further, since it has already involved me in one heated argument.

Auerbach, Tate Britain

Since I’ve mentioned him,   I’ve been to the exhibition for the third – or is it fourth? – time today.  First, I noticed that the one with the red “worms” crawling across it; they look as if they are squeezed straight from the tube.  There’s a sort of broken shelf of paint built up under them, and it’s tempting to think that they would have simply fallen off without this shelf.  As for ” Building Site, Earls Court” (1953), I’ve realised what that black mass reminds me of – black olives, trodden into an oily mash.

“Ten”, SLWA, Gerald Moore Gallery, Eltham College, until 6th December


Marion Jones

“SLWA” stands for South London Women Artists – although with a couple of possible exceptions, these are paintings by artists who happen to be women – no feminist themes as far as I could make out.  I have to declare an interest; the above very excellent painting is one of my partner’s.  There are other good works, but you’ll have to go along to see those.

Bergman, The Passion of Anna

Another highly fraught piece starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman; again, it’s set on an island.  Three out of four of the films in the Bergman box set I bought are set on an island – and I’ve got an idea some others of his are also island-bound.  I’ll investigate and speculate further on this – no doubt it’s well known and someone’s already done a thesis on it.

Haven’t completed any new paintings this week, so here are four of my recent life drawings – I think I’ve captured a good likeness….


drawings 4


drawings 3


drawings 2