Archive for February, 2016

Blackpaint 534 – Tom, Dick, Brussels and Sprout

February 26, 2016

Jessie Buckley as Marya Bolkonskaya (War and Peace)

Marya-Bolkonskaya.

The eyes, the hair, the frown – she’s straight out of a Giotto painting.

giotto2

giotto

Now this terrific adaptation has run its course and been replaced by the altogether inferior “Night Manager”, an updated Le Carre novel.  Updated, but still very dated; all these seedy English ex-military types calling each other “dear heart”, clipped sentences, languid beauties lounging about, setting manly English hearts beating; Tom Hiddleston needs to get back to working with Joanna Hogg (Archipelago, Unrelated, The Exhibition) where he’ll be properly stretched – I think he’s too good for this.  Why would he want to appear in a prime time prestige TV serialisation, when he could be in obscure art films, showing at the Ritzy or the ICA?

The Brussels Town Museum (in the old square near Town Hall)

little men

Seen their cousins in a wood carving of the Death of the Virgin in the Victoria and Albert, London.

lion

Bashful lion hiding his shield on stairway.

 

bruegel hoist

Where have I seen one of these before?  Bruegel’s “Big Babel”, below.

 

bruegel babel

See it?  Third storey up, on the right.

 

skinny knight

Skinny armour.

A Life of Philip K Dick – The Man who Remembered the Future (Anthony Peake)

Dick

 

I always thought that Dick wrote brilliant short stories and crap novels (with one or two exceptions); I would have said that his shorts were nearly up there with Ray Bradbury.  It seems from this fascinating book, however, that it wasn’t all imagination.  Many of his main themes – “precognition” (telling the future), simulacra, parallel universes and time flows, false memories, half – death, religious messiahs, government/corporate conspiracies – were extensions of his own beliefs; he thought it was all happening to him, often simultaneously.  Only the (outlandish) names are altered.  An example: “Horselover Fat” in Valis.  Horselover=Philhippus (Greek, sort of); Fat= Dick in German.  Maybe the thinness and rambling nature of his longer texts lend themselves in some way to film versions (Blade Runner, Total Recall, the Minority Report, and now the Man in the High Castle) – great bones, not too much flesh, allowing plenty of interpretive freedom.

My favourite Dick stories:  Pay for the Printer, The Days of Perky Pat.  Novel: Now Wait for Last Year.

 

Hockney museum

David Hockney, Man in a Museum (or You’re in the Wrong Movie). 1962

“Bare Life”, London Artists Working from Life, 1950 – 1980 (Hirmer, 2014)

This catalogue of a German exhibition in 2014, contains brilliant repros of works by Auerbach, Kossoff, Bacon, Hockney, Freud, Kitaj, Uglow, Coldstream, Michael Andrews, Hamilton, Allen Jones and Nigel Henderson.  There are several essays, one of which, by EJ Gillen, mentions the dispute in 1959 over the compulsory  drawing from nature classes at the Royal College of Art: “Ten unruly students were put on probation and eventually expelled.  Among these was Allen Jones, who argued in a 1968 satire entitled Life Class that drawing from nature had become obsolete since photography was able to reproduce human forms perfectly.”  I wonder what the state of play is now in the art colleges, as regards “drawing from nature”; can anyone tell me?

Looking-Towards-Mornington-Crescent-Station---Night

Frank Auerbach, Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station, Night, 1972 – 3

 

If you’re in London during the next two weeks, visit – 

sprout

angel3

Angel 3 (again)

Blackpaint

26/02/16

 

 

 

 

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Blackpaint 533 – Brussels; a Dog’s Breakfast and God on an Egg

February 21, 2016

Musee Des Beaux Arts (Museum of Ancient Art) Brussels

OK, a selection of the fantastic art in the above, starting, oddly, with the massive Alechinsky below – just like an Asger Jorn, lots of little animal and elf heads swirling around in it – but not exactly ancient.  It’s in the vast entrance hall, as is the Wappers below it.

 

alechinsky2

 

wappers

Scene from the 1830 revolution, this has got everything in it, all going on at once.  Even a dog in there, women with babies, drummer boy…  Reminds me a bit of that Copley in the Tate Britain, gates of St. Helier, death of some officer..?

christ on egg

Magnificent picture by??   God appears to have four legs, two of which are balanced daintily on a big egg.  Looks like a Last Judgement to me.

 

ribera

de Ribera – Apollo Flaying Marsyas.

Apollo is delicately stripping the skin from Marsyas’ leg as if it were a salmon steak.  And look – the raw flesh echoes Apollo’s lovely gown!  I’m sure M would appreciate that.

Now, a series of huge Rubens:

rubens1

Titian-like compo; and that cadmium red against the yellow ochre, against the blue…

 

rubens2

I think Lucian Freud did a painting looking down on a man in bed with his arm raised like that.  Look at the muscles in the shoulder and arm of the kneeling woman and the red dress of the fleshy angel on the left.

rubens4

The Martyrdom of Saint Livinus.  He’s had his tongue torn out; that’s it, in the pincers, being offered to the dog.

 

rubens5

 

rubens6

A couple of the dozen or so Rubens sketches on show.

 

boy with bobbin

I don’t know who did this picture – the label was too blurred to read in our photo.  Look at the grubby left hand clutching the  – what is it? a bobbin, maybe? – whatever, its one of the great hands.  And the absorbed expression..

Kitaj, Marco Livingstone, (Phaidon, 2010)

kitaj cecil

Kitaj – Cecil Court

Consider this quotation from the end of Livingstone’s account of Kitaj’s life and work: “… he provided both clues to the meanings of his pictures and traps with which to ensnare the inattentive spectator.  The more knowledge one brings to his work, and the more prepared one is to follow up the references and the quotations…..the more one is rewarded.  Long after the artefacts made by many of his contemporaries have exhausted themselves and been drained of content, Kitaj’s paintings will continue to gnaw away at our curiosity and to yield their secrets.”

Or not.  Kitaj’s work is abstruse and impenetrable in many cases because it makes continual reference to his own reading, and his cultural, historical, political and sexual interests (obsessions).  Read the same books, live the same life – you might get it; but you might not, because he likes to be puzzling.  For me, the interesting information in the pictures concerns form, colour, line, composition, texture and a whole load of other things to do with painting that can’t easily be put into words.  That’s the point of painting pictures, figurative or non – figurative.  I don’t want to “follow up the references and the quotations” or avoid the “traps with which to ensnare the inattentive spectator” – PAY ATTENTION, you at the back there! – I just want to look at the pictures.

By the way, Cecil Court, above, is one of the few Kitaj pictures in which there’s any sense of perspective.  Most of his pictures  seem to press up against the “screen” of the front of the canvas.  Not a criticism, just an observation.

Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

Fascinating explanation of the reason why miles (leagues) are shorter near to Paris and get longer as you head towards Brittany etc.  There’s a great deal to learn in this riveting old book.  I wonder why it was never made in a children’s version, the old Classics Illustrated for example.

wip2

WIP.  Seems to be a droopy charcoal penis in the left centre, on a pink background.  It has no significance to the picture, which is totally abstract.

blackpaint

Blackpaint 532 – Brussels, Tolstoy, Magritte and those balls – what are they? – they’re Bells!

February 14, 2016

Musee Des Beaux Arts, Brussels

icarus

It’s not actually called this any more, though the Brueghel painting of Icarus plummeting into the ocean that inspired the famous Auden poem is still there; it’s divided into three, or actually four bits (the modern one is closed at the moment), all in the one huge building: the Magritte museum, the “fin-de-siecle” museum and the mighty “museum of Ancient Art” are the sections open at the moment.  The building is at the top of the “Mountain of Art”; big, freezing, windswept square, lines of pollarded trees, watch for the mouse running under the waste basket, turn right after the massive library.

the-fair-captive

The Fair Captive

Magritte first; lots of cloudy skies in window frames, mirrors and easels; skin changing into wood grain or bricks; doves made of leaves; owls in threatening groups; bowler-hatted men (of course) – and those curious metallic balls with the horizontal slots in them, that also feature, I think, in some Max Ernst paintings.  What are they, I wonder.  Looked it up – they’re bells, like you hang round horses’ necks, apparently.

magritte balls

So far, so usual Magritte, but I was interested to see some of his colourful early poster work – I had’t known he was an ad man, but it makes perfect sense; the “surrealism” is often a neat little transposition, tidily illustrated (it’s night in the urban street, dark, street lights on outside the little villas – but it’s broad daylight in the sky above the tall trees) and often he uses the same image several times, slightly adapted, with a different “surreal” name.

villa magritte

There is a startling and inexplicable style change in the 40s(?); the usual neat precision gives way to rough-drawn, pink/brown/yellow pastel colours for a few pictures.  I checked, they were still oil on canvas; but then back to the familiar style again.

the-explanation magritte

The Explanation

Fin – de – Siecle

Some terrific stuff in here: Vogel,  the awful weather painter; that is, the weather’s awful, not the paintings.  It’s always raining, snowing or maybe just grey and drizzly in his town and village streets; Van Rysselbergh,  nothing special, landscapes in lines and stipples – but what a name!  Ranks with Van Dongen and Vantongerloo in my book (yes, there is one Van Gogh, portrait of a young man); Rops and Spillaert, both with loads of paintings, as if the museum director had said “OK, get cracking, we’ll take the lot.” And Finch again!  (see Blackpaint on Helsinki, August 2015).

Some little Kollwitz etchings. reminiscent of Goya penitents, that great Bonnard of his wife stretching, standing naked against the window in the bathroom – where else? – some good Toulouse Lautrec drawings, three Gauguins (two great, one awful) – but the real surprise was Ensor.

Ensor Chinese%20Porcelain%20with%20Fans,%201880

Chinese Porcelain

There were a couple of the cartoon-y clown/mask ones, the sinister ones he’s famous for,  but several good, chunky, almost social -realist pictures and a lovely still life with a central blob of red, a dish I think.  And “The Skate” (below):

Ensor_TheSkate

Ensor boy with lamp

The Lamplighter, Ensor

The last museum, “Ancient Art”, was so rich and enormous that I’m leaving it until the next blog.

On Thursday, we walked beyond the “Mountain of Art” and a huge, depressing palace on our right, towards Jubelpark and Musees Royeaux d’art et d’histoire …..  We trudged along a grey, freezing avenue of empty office blocks and building sites, as traffic tore past, terrifyingly close to very narrow pavements.  A great, glass EU building on the right reared above us and we didn’t notice it, so intent were we on keeping to the kerb.  It was easy to imagine it empty and to let, like all the others…..

The park was pure Magritte, though; neat, tidy, squared off, depressing; someone walking a little dog (loads of dogshit around – Magritte never put that in a picture, I think).  But there were busts of people, sculpted with their bodies apparently enclosed in boxes – and their bare feet poking out at the bottom.

If you eat in the museum restaurant, don’t have the “Americain” – it’s a hefty, cake – sized lump of raw hamburger meat, served with capers, salad and chips; delicious!

Kreuzer Sonata, Tolstoy

Inspired by the TV War and Peace, I’m reading this novella, which I thought I might finish on Eurostar; no such luck.  The views expressed – not sure how far they are Tolstoy’s own; probably all – make Zvyagintsev’s taciturn male bullies look like Hackney hipsters by comparison.

latest wip

The Siege of Brussels (Work in progress)

Blackpaint

14.02.16

 

 

 

 

Blackpaint 531- Loker, Blacklock and Taking No Prisoners

February 8, 2016

John Loker, Flowers Gallery, W1

Sorry to say I missed the boat on this one; the exhibition ended on Saturday.  Nevertheless, I thought the paintings were spectacular and deserved an airing on these pages.  They are acrylic and it looks to me as if he has used some sort of multi-pronged marker or scraper to interlayer thin lines of different colours across the surface of some; in one painting, the colour mix, seen from the side, appears to be floating above the canvas.  they are big, by the way; 200*215 cm, that sort of size.

loker1

Space is a Dangerous Country – RE-entry, 2014

 

loker2

Space is a Dangerous Country – Columbia/Disaster, 2015

No doubt about the nature of the content, then – which brings me to the next artist:

 

George Blacklock, “Colour and Abstraction” (Crowood Press, 2015)

blacklock

Ancestral Voices V

I went to his book launch last week at Chelsea College of Art, where he is the current dean, I think.  He was an engaging speaker – it was one of those set-ups where he was “in conversation” with another lecturer, followed by questions from the floor.  One piece of very sound advice to artists; don’t be modest with other artists (or prospective buyers), spending time telling them what you don’t like about your own pictures – you’ll put them off.  Tell them what’s good, instead.  Sounds obvious and probably only necessary to say to British artists; I know I’ve done it and so has my partner.

Anyway, from both the book and the talk, it’s clear that Blacklock isn’t really an abstract artist at all, though he looks like one at first glance.  His images are abstracted from real world images – Michelangelo’s Pietas, a banjo player, the US flag – and in that sense, are representational.  He is a big fan of de Kooning, using DK’s famous “slipping glimpser” phrase as the title of a joint exhibition with Gary Oldman in Mexico.  Many of de Kooning’s works are representational -though “abstracted” – the Women of course, but also the light on the water ones, Villa Borghese and so on.

Although he said he didn’t want the book to be a “How to”, that’s pretty much how it’s turned out, with sections on perspective, Fibonacci series, Golden Section, materials etc. and exercises for the aspiring abstract painter. Well worth the twelve quid, though, for Blacklock’s own terrific works.

The Return, Zvyagintsev (2003)

After an unexplained 12 year absence, a father (Konstantin Lavronenko) turns up again in the lives of his wife and two children, receives the ministrations of the unquestioning woman and administers family life with terse instructions.  He takes the two boys off on a “fishing trip” to a deserted island, suppressing any dissent with instant, sweeping, casually delivered executive action.  Where has he been, what is he seeking on the island?  That’s for him to know – the boys must simply obey and learn.

As in “The Banishment” (2007), which also features Lavronenko, Zvyagintsev seems concerned with Russian masculinity, especially how men behave with their wives and children.  Russia comes across as the most ingrained patriarchal society, even as, with “The Banishment”, the story is borrowed from the USA.  So, Zvyagintsev does tortured and torturing fathers and husbands, Tarkovsky does crazed or slightly touched seers (Stalker and The Sacrifice) and Sokurov does – something else.  I’ll come back to him.

Sicario (2015) dir. Denis Villeneuve

Unrelentingly grim and violent; US v the Mexican drug cartels; hanging, beheaded bodies, casual shooting throughout, Del Toro “doing what has to be done”, Emily Blunt being ridiculously obstructive with her prissy legal scruples – towards the end, I thought I was watching “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”.  Not seen it?  Far superior – Warren Oates and Sam Peckinpah, a difficult to beat combination.

Exterminating Angels

angel1

Angel I

 

angel2

Angel 2

 

angel3

Angel 3 (WIP)

Blackpaint

8/02/16