Archive for December, 2015

Blackpaint 526 – the Inevitable (yawn…) Review of the Year

December 31, 2015

Best Exhibitions

auerbach eow on bed

Auerbach, Tate Britain

pollock no14 1951

Pollock, Tate Liverpool

bacon figures in a landscape

Bacon, Sainsbury Centre

 

Torso 1928 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03128

 

Hepworth Exhibition, Tate Britain

 

goya mirth

Goya, Courtauld

dumas helene

Dumas, Tate Modern

diebenkorn seated woman

Diebenkorn, RA

sargent children

Singer Sargent, NPG

hoyland2

Hoyland, Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery

Wreck 1963 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964

Lanyon, Courtauld

 

Actually a fantastic year in London; all the shows and books and DVDs below have been reviewed in previous Blackpaints, so you can see a proper evaluation – sort of – if you’re interested…

  • abstract geometry following on from Malevich at the Whitechapel with Adventures of the Black Square;
  • Marlene Dumas’ haunting and unsettling portraits and masks and nudes at TM;
  • Barbara Hepworth at TB (rather worthy, but some lovely little torsos from her and her contemporaries – maybe I’ve been to St.Ives too many times);
  • beautiful, modulating colours and shapes from Sonia Delaunay at TM;
  • Singer Sargent at the National Portrait Gallery – one delight after another, throughout;
  • Goya drawings and etchings of witches, penitents, “lunatics” and other unfortunates at the Courtauld (missed the National Gallery Goya, I’m afraid);
  • Giacometti, NPG – good but not THAT good..
  • Alexander Calder, TM – also GBNTG.

But the best:

  • Diebenkorn at the RA;
  • Rubens at the same time, same venue;
  • Frank Auerbach at TB;
  • Marlene Dumas;
  • Bacon and the Masters at Sainsbury Centre, UEA;
  • Singer Sargent;
  • Lanyon at the Courtauld;
  • Pollock at Tate Liverpool;
  • John Hoyland at Hirst’s new gallery near Vauxhall.

 

Best Films

No contest here; Jodorowsky’s Dance of Reality.  Violence, murder, suicide, live burial, plague, the Golden Shower, torture, operatic singing, more masks, Stalinism and nazism – all in the best possible taste and with an uplifting message.  And some wonderful scenery.

jodorowsky

Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini.  William Dafoe is great in the role; the sex is startlingly spectacular; mix of fantasy and reality – and a soundtrack including Tony Jo White of Polk Salad Annie fame (ask your grandparents).

Disappointing, given the hype:

Carol – woman -on- woman love story.  Good acting, good period feel, otherwise conventional.

Star Wars; the Force Awakens – Good action film, with a bit of nostalgia.  Found my attention slipping now and then (as in Carol); realised (I knew, of course, but didn’t know it in my bones) that criticism on TV and in papers is just part of the publicity machine.  They’re all for sale, from the Guardian to the Sun and beyond.

And the worst:

German’s Hard to be a God.

It is as if he deliberately set out to make it impossible to understand, or even to watch; its all too close – you can’t get any perspective.

 

Best DVDs /TV

Wild Tales – portmanteau mayhem in Argentina.

All is Lost – Robert Redford, convincingly against the elements.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Jack Nicholson against Louise Fletcher.

chief

The Swimmer– Burt Lancaster swims home across Cheeverland.

 

Best Books Read – poetry first

Gil Scott-Heron -Then and Now.  The words are great, even without the music.   What’s the word?

John Cooper Clarke – Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt.  Evidently Chicken Town and Beasley Street – no more to be said.

Ted Hughes- Collected Poetry.  As Alan Bennett says, he’s not strong on humour, but the imagery is gritty and muscular and totally original.  Who is stronger?  Hughes, evidently…

Gaudete – also by Hughes.  His verse novel about the vicar from hell who visits vigorously all the women of his parish to found his new religion – and the efforts of the shotgun-owning menfolk to curb his enthusiasm…

 

Non – Fiction

Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys –  Viv Albertine.  great book – I couldn’t put it down.  Awful title, impossible to remember the right order.

Just Kids –  Patti Smith about her and Robert Mapplethorpe.  Surprisingly restrained and almost Victorian prose at times.  By the way, lovely exhibition of Mapplethorpe, featuring photos and film of the young Patti at Kiasma, Helsinki.

patti2

 

Fiction

Raymond Carver, Collected Stories – he just wipes everyone but Cheever off the map.

John Cheever, Collected Stories.  Torch Song, the Duchess, the Little Red Moving Van, The Country Husband, The Swimmer… no, Cheever’s the best.  Unless Carver is…

House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski – a sort of horror story, pretentious, experimental in form.

Shark, Will Self – pretentious and experimental in form and language.

Finders Keepers, Stephen King – the absolute master of plot and narrative drive; once you start any SK story you will finish it, unless you die first.

 

And the worst;

The Enormous Room, e e cummings – the archness of the language is unbelievable; a prison novel set in WWI, which is, so far,  a series of “comic” character sketches.  It’s driving me mad and I may give up on it.  The Penguin Modern Classic cover is a great Paul Klee, though…

 

And My Best of 2015

heaven only knows 2

Heaven Only Knows II

 

pellet1

A Pellet falls from Outer Space

Blackpaint

31.12.15

Happy New Year to all readers for whom it is New Year.

Advertisements

Blackpaint 525 – Tight Rope, Frenzy and Sex in Gothenberg

December 20, 2015

Tight Rope, White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey Street

This is a great exhibition; it has to do with artists who walk the line between figurative and abstract, I think (I haven’t read the book that goes with it yet – £20.00) – whatever, it has some lovely pictures from the likes of Guston, Bacon, Freud, Baselitz, Matisse, Duchamp et al.   It has one of the worst Picassos I’ve ever seen ( horrible, evil yellow with scrawls) and a terrific Tracey Emin figure on white over two or three panels.  My favourites below, starting with the great Bay Area painter David Park:

david park

Untitled (Portrait of Tom Jefferson), 1957

 

plessen

Magnus Plessen, Untitled, 2015

Plessen seems to have used tape which he has pulled off to get the straight lines.

 

armitage

Michael Armitage, Conservationists, 2015

 

Here’s the Emin –

tracey

Tracey Emin, I think of you all the time

 

– and here’s the Picasso –

picasso mustache

Picasso, Man with a Mustache, 1970

Despite the Picasso, there are loads of excellent pictures here.  Even the ones I didn’t like – Dana Schulz’ retina-burners, for example – made me want to go home and paint immediately; those chunky but slippery brush sweeps, I imagine.

Also on show there are Gilbert and George’s “Fuck You” posters (that’s probably not their proper title, but gives an idea of the content).  Should detain you for a minute or so, long enough to read them all.

 

John Berger on Rembrandt and Goya

I’m reading Berger’s “Portraits – John Berger on Artists” and I find him insufferably precious at times – “It is remarkable how, for those who suffer a desire for art, so much does begin and end in it” (the National Gallery).  He also tends to make confident assertions about doubtful things.  There are examples throughout, but here’s one: “Goya lived and observed through something near enough to total war to know that night is security and that it is the dawn that one fears”; is that really right?  It fits his argument..

However, his comments on Rembrandt’s late self-portraits are interesting; he suggests that R. painted himself from memory, rather than using mirrors – thus avoiding the theatricality that Berger says always creeps in when artists do mirror SPs.  Have a look at the Courbet SP “The Desperate Man” to see what he means.

courbet

OK, it’s an extreme example.  Berger also suggests that Goya painted “the Naked Maja” from imagination – he simply did the clothed Maja without the clothes.  In evidence, he offers the breasts; falling unnaturally to the sides as they had done when she was dressed.  That’s what Berger says, anyway.

Frenzy

Hitchcock’s murder film on TV the other night; the cast was staggering, straight off the Shakespearian stage of the 70s – Jon Finch, Anna Massey, Billie Whitelaw, Clive Swift, Barry Foster et al.  The lewd conversation between barristers and the pub landlady about rape comes as quite a shock to contemporary ears and there is a very nasty rape sequence later.  Great bit in the back of the potato lorry, however.

Star Wars – film critics

They’ve all abandoned their critical faculties; not worth listening to (as I write, Mark Kermode is on TV, shouting and waving his arms about).

Casanova

Fellini, Donald Sutherland in the title role, having sex with a mechanical life-sized doll in Gothenburg, a debauched Dudley Sutton playing a harmonium halfway up a wall…  Now, that’s what I call a film.

 

dirty protest2

I’ve finally finished a picture – here it is; it’s called

Dirty Protest

Blackpaint

19.12.15

Blackpaint 524 – Karl, Kitaj and hanging about in the woods

December 13, 2015

A Death in the Family, My Struggle Vol.1,  Karl Ove Knausgard

The obsessive detail in which Knausgard describes the minutiae of everyday life can be crushing; when you see the denseness of the type on the Kindle page, no paragraphs in sight, it recalls Proust.  I’m glad to hear that reviewers have mentioned Proust in connection with his projected multi-volume memoir.  Others mention his unflinching confessional style, glossing over nothing for the sake of discretion. It’s surprisingly gripping, in the sense that you read page after page looking for somewhere to stop, thinking why doesn’t he just say he made tea, instead of telling you how he filled the kettle with water from the cold tap, pushed the button in, watched the red light glow….  Should he get up or should he have a wank?  The cartoonist Steve Bell broached this years ago in his “If” series; ex -Seaman Kipling posed himself the same question, but he described it as a “discreet Sherman”.

The critic James Wood described it as interesting, even when it is boring; I sort of see what he means.

Kitaj and his Life Drawings

I have to say I think Ron Kitaj’s life drawings are pretty much the business, so here’s a selection, some of which I’ve shown before:

kitaj1

kitaj2

kitaj3

kitaj

I know, male gaze and all that – but they are fantastic.

Bloomberg New Contemporaries, ICA

There were four stand out works for me:

bloomberg3

Katy Schwab

These are cross-stitch embroidery – pretty good, eh? There are four or five I think, and they are very small, but perfectly formed.  Made me think of Sonia Delaunay and Sophie Tauber -Arp.

 

bloomberg2

Jamie Fitzpatrick

The figure is made of wax – and he seems to have borrowed his paints from the artist below; the palette’s almost the same.

 

bloomberg1

James William Collins, “Ffion”

I thought a tiny bit Guston-y – but my partner frostily put me in my place, saying the colours were totally different to those of the great Phillip…

 

hilde krohn huse

Hilde Krohn Huse – Hanging in the Woods

A video sequence. in which the naked artist has contrived to suspend herself from a tree and undertakes a number of balletic or yogic movements which increasingly appear to be attempts to release herself.  It’s funny, sinister in the suicide connotations – and interesting to those of us who do life drawing, in the sense that you don’t often see the anatomy performing under such conditions.  I think next time I’m at Putney, I’ll suggest to the model they might try something similar; wonder what sort of reply I’ll get?

Carol, 2015 (dir. Todd Haynes)

Famously featuring Cate Blanchett as Carol and Rooney Mara as her younger lover.  It had a lot of effusive praise on “Film 2015”;  It looks great (that Zodiac palette, again, that you also see in the current Fargo series), the 50s cars and especially that train set in the department store) and the acting’s good, of course.  However, if it had been a male/female affair, it would have been unremarkable.  My attention strayed once or twice.

I had another attack of that thing where I catch glimpses of other faces; this time, it was Cate in profile with startled eyes and lips hanging open – Donald Sutherland in “Casanova”! And Rooney Mara, in a scene near the end, was suddenly the girl who plays Audrey Hepburn in the Galaxy chocolate advert.

The soundtrack was good, though; Billie Holiday singing “Easy Living” and a vocal group doing “One Mint Julep”.

heaven only knows 2

Heaven Only Knows 2

Blackpaint

12.12.15

 

Blackpaint 523 – Last Stands in Africa, Callan and Pina

December 7, 2015

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum

Some of these photographs defy belief, and I don’t mean just the ones that have been set up to do just that (the one that comes to mind is swallows flying through a hole torn in a painting set in a window frame).  To my mind, the best are the two blue sharks, the migrating geese (?) taken from above and the antelope in the dust that look like a cave painting.  Oh, and the clouds of mayflies like snow flurries around the vehicle…

cristobal serrano

Cristobal Serrano

 

Artist and Empire – Facing Britain’s Imperial Past (Tate Modern)

Another of those exhibitions at Tate in which historical and social factors outweigh, perhaps, questions of the standard of the art on show.  Laura Cumming in the Observer was scathing about the show for this reason and for “nauseating” pictures such as that of Victoria presenting a bible – “the Secret of England’s Greatness” – to a kneeling Indian prince, or “suitably grateful and genuflecting black man”, as she describes him.

Inevitably, there are a number of Last Stands heroically depicted; Isandlwana below –

 

 

isandlwanafripp

Charles Fripp

-and Major Wilson in Matabeleland below –

 

(c) Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Allen Stewart

I actually prefer the wonderful Denis McLoughlin cover of my 1956 Okay Adventure Annual (see below); It’s not in the exhibition, but it ought to be.

Wilson OKay

And General Gordon is there, defying the natives in Khartoum, and the doctor, last survivor,  just managing to stay in the saddle in Afghanistan…

The best pictures, to my mind, are those of elderly Maori warriors and chiefs by Goldie (below)

Goldie1

and those by Rudolf Swoboda (below) which Cumming tells me are “kitsch and sentimental”.  She points out that the subjects of these portraits were “brought over from Agra to perform at the Colonial and Indian of 1886” and were actually convicts, not the Indian “types” they represent.  They still look like good paintings to me, however; I presume all the women who have posed as Virgins in Old Masters were actually virgins?

There are some interesting sculptures made by the colonised subjects depicting British administrators and the like, but the best is a black wooden bust of an African in jacket and tie, with a bulging forehead; 1920s, I think.  It wouldn’t have looked out of place in Kettles Yard, with the Gaudier- Brjeskas and Nicholsons, etc.

 

swoboda1

Rudolf Swoboda

One of the paintings represents white women and children besieged at Cawnpore, in a state of collapse from hunger and despair; in the corner, the gates burst open and a horde of – British soldiers flood in!  Hooray, a rescue!  Apparently, the original plan was to show frenzied rebels, about to wreak the unspeakable, no doubt – but the artist changed it to spare the sensibilities of his viewers.

The physical depiction of the colonised peoples in this exhibition is markedly lacking in racial caricature.  There was no exaggeration of physical features to make the imperial subjects look comical, or stupid, or sinister (which, to anyone familiar with comics and cartoons from the 50s and 60s is surprising) – rather the opposite, in fact; they are exotic, but handsome and dignified in portraits.  And the bible picture described above is the only one in which a subject kneels to a British queen or her representatives.

No doubt, some on the left will detect an irony in the opening of this exhibition relating to our imperial past, as the bombers fly over Syria and Iraq and Afghan refugees, amongst others, try to get across European borders – but not I.

Anthony Valentine and “Callan”

callan-28005_2

I was saddened to read that Valentine had died; that’s him in the middle.  Older British readers will recall Valentine as Toby Meres, the ex public schoolboy foil to Edward Woodward’s chippy Callan in the 60s.  Callan worked for “The Section”, doing dirty jobs for the security of the state, paid in used notes in brown envelopes.  If caught,  he was on his own.  Fiction, of course; Callans couldn’t exist in a proper democracy like ours.  It was a great series, though.

Pina, Wim Wenders (2011)

bausch

I thought this documentary, on the choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, was mesmerising.  The sequence in which a male dancer constantly loads a female into the outstretched arms of another male, who promptly drops her (Beckett, fail again, fail better – or if not better, faster) was brilliant; she did the speeding up thing in other sequences.  She loved putting her female dancers – and once, a male – in long, flowing pastel dresses.  In addition to Beckett, I thought Fellini – and Bergman – in that last sequence with the dancers parading in a line on the escarpment.  And listening to “The Rite of Spring”, I thought it could be Vaughan Williams…

The members of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, reminiscing on Bausch, recalled that thing you come across so often with “inspirational” figures  – where a legend in a given field observes, says nothing, and then at the crucial moment, gives the performer the one word necessary, which makes all clear.  Dance, painting and sculpture, music, judo – all fields in which I have come across similar descriptions.

 

work in prog

Work in Progress

Blackpaint

7.12.15