Archive for August, 2017

Blackpaint 604 – Holbein, Debussy, Sargent and Mrs Robinson

August 22, 2017

The Encounter, NPG

This is an absolutely stunning little exhibition of Renaissance drawings that should be seen by everyone interested in portraiture, and the reason is Holbein.  Leonardo, Durer, Pontormo,  Rembrandt are there too and some of the works (Pontormo, Rembrandt,  Caracci) are brilliant but the Holbeins are supreme.   Just line and a little sparing colour, but they tremble with life.  I thought, looking at them, that you could walk outside and see these faces adorning the people passing down Charing Cross Road – something that I didn’t get from any of the other masterworks on show.


Holbein, John More (son of Sir Thomas) –  could be checking his phone for messages…

Annibale Caracci’s drawings are also something of a revelation, while not in the same class as the wizard Holbein.  I’ll be going again.

The Graduate, Mike Nichols (1967)

I bought the DVD (50th anniversary release), only to find it was all over the TV this week.  Like everyone else of my age, I seem to have seen a bit here, another bit there – the frogman suit, the frantic chase to the church – but never the whole thing, from beginning to end.  A joyful experience to see it through, the perfect soundtrack – but, like my friends, I had an odd feeling that something was missing.  Surely, when Benjamin (Hoffman) was trying to locate the church where Katherine Ross was getting married, he went to at least one wrong location before he found it?  Three of us watched it and thought the same thing, independently…

It was reviewed or mentioned in the Guardian recently; I think it was Peter Bradshaw – he (if it WAS he) made a big deal of Mrs Robinson (Ann Bancroft, above) being a “sexual predator”.  Maybe so, but I can’t see Hoffman’s character having suffered any damage from the predation; rather the opposite.

Chris Ofili, Weaving Magic, National Gallery

The Ofili – designed giant tapestry below, featuring a very Japanese – looking, seated musician, playing a stringed instrument in a colourful, fanciful, slightly Disney-ish paradise.  I liked the tapestry and some of the preparatory, or related small drawings (below).

Chris Ofili


Singer Sargent watercolours, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Lots of people raving about these; I have to say, I was rather underwhelmed.  They are very accomplished, of course,  and there are some beauties: a couple of Boudin-like little beachscapes,  lovely rendition of Venetian statuary and architectural features and three brilliant male nudes at the end.  Also, I loved the oxen, the alligator and the Scottish soldiers.  However, I thought on the whole, it was somehow drab.  It reminded me of painting by numbers.  Probably it’s the subject matter – harbours, gondolas, a Spanish dancer (I think – maybe there just should have been one), pebbles beneath a fast-flowing river.  You can’t blame him retrospectively for cliches, I suppose.  I much prefer the Sargent of the huge oil portraits, the glowing women in their glowing dresses – his Mrs Robinsons (Mrs. Agnew, for example).

Ken Russell’s Monitor programmes

Oliver Reed as an actor playing Debussy, with Annette Robertson as Gaby

The Delius one – Song of Summer – still by far the best, but the Debussy, with Oliver Reed, playing an actor, playing Debussy, has its moments too.  Russell had to do it like this because the BBC, at the time, didn’t allow documentaries in which actors represented real people and spoke dialogue.  In his earlier “Elgar”, Russell had actors playing Elgar and his wife, but it was a sort of dumbshow with a voice-over (Huw Wheldon).  Sounds ridiculous now, but at least the BBC worried about these things, which are sort of important.  How many times do you see “fact-based” programmes now and think hang on – did that really happen?  Anyway, things soon changed, probably because of Ken, so we got the brilliant Delius and all the other strictly factual composer biopics he made subsequently.

Meant to do Matisse at the RA, but think I’ll go again and do it next time.


Three Score and Ten




Blackpaint 603 – RA Summer Show, Black Power, Dunkirk

August 14, 2017

Nathalie Du Pasquier, Pace Gallery


This finished a week ago, but I thought it was worth including.  She does these LEGO type paintings, with odd inconsistencies in perspective that remind me a little of Duccio and a little of Escher.  I like the colours too; they make good photos – but after a while, strike you as a bit superficial.  But then, so do many (most?)artists…

RA Summer Show

Didn’t get in again – next year, I’m going to adopt my friend Chris Grice’s strategy, and just burn a £50 note on the entry day, to avoid the hassle of filling in the form.  My pick of the paintings below:


Arthur Neal


Christine Stark


Dan Perfect


Sean Scully

Apart from these, the usual suspects in evidence: Barbara Rae, Gillian Ayres, Basil Beattie, Elaine Cooper (she put it together this year), Michael CraigMartin, doing their usual thing.

Soul of a Nation – Art in the Age of Black Power (Tate Modern)

On first viewing, I paid too much attention to the propaganda stuff – the Black Panther posters, the work inspired by “the struggle”… some of it’s good; “Fred Hampton’s Door”, for instance, or Noah Purifoy’s “Watts Riot” (see below) – but I was put off, rather, by the partisan information on the walls.  Whoever wrote this seems happy to describe the killing of Panthers by the police as “murder” (without the quotation marks).  As I recall, the Panthers were an armed revolutionary group – indeed, they made a fetish of their weaponry and pseudo-military organisation – and included a number of convicted violent criminals in their membership.  Maybe the Tate has used the term only where it’s been legally proven – or maybe, as with the “Queer” exhibition, they are going with the radicals…

Anyway, on second viewing, much worthwhile art, my pick below:

David LaRue Johnson, D9 Flat 5th

The one on the left, wee bit Barnett Newman, maybe…


Betye Saar

she does these little “shrine” pieces, rather like Cornell, maybe, or that chap in Barcelona, what was his name?

Noah Purifoy, Watts Riot

Found piece, obviously…


John Outerbridge, Tribal Piece


Raymond Saunders, Jack Johnson

Reminiscent of Nathan Oliviera’s figures.

Also good are Romare Bearden‘s distorted photographic collages and the apocalyptic “American People Series #20:Die”, by Faith Ringgold – it has the energy of “Guernica”.

Dunkirk (dir. Leslie Norman, 1958)

After seeing the Nolan film, I thought I’d check out the original Dunkirk; it stands up really well and several scenes seem to “pre – echo” Nolan’s.  This one puts the evacuation in a wider context, switching between France and England.  John Mills is great as the corporal, reluctant leader of his little band of left-behinds and Richard Attenborough does his usual sound job as the selfish civvie businessman, turned reluctant hero.  “Reluctance” could be the theme – if it weren’t for Bernard Lee, stiffening the spines in the saloon bar and down at Sheerness…

It’s praying that does for Bernard Lee – the Stuka attacks while they are on their knees.

Sorry, rather brief and jejune, this week.  A new painting though…  Next time, Matisse at the RA and “The Encounter” at the NPG.


Merrie England






Blackpaint 602- Surreal Women, Spitfires and Sandymount Strand

August 1, 2017

Dreamers Awake, White Cube 

Fifty Surrealist women – or rather, their works – on display at the Bermondsey gallery.  Big names here; Lee Miller, Bourgeois, Carrington, Tanning, Agar, Fini et al.  The earliest dated work is Lee Miller’s ” Untitled (Severed breast from radical surgery in a place setting 1 & 2)”, from 1929. Lots of the usual surrealist stuff; nakedness, masks, flowers used as masks (Linder Sterling in particular, her very provocatively posed women wearing huge blooms over various parts), sculptures of anatomical bits (Helen Chadwick’s ribbed courgette pricks with fur collars, entitled “I Thee Wed”, a series of cloths printed with archival dyes by Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin, which resemble Marlene Dumas’ “porn” pictures – big human- shaped blots of colour with sexual appendages and forthright titles (When my cunt stopped living; A million ways to cum), conglomerations of white biomorphic shapes with limbs and, inevitably, penises emerging here and there.

All great stuff, of course, but two artists in particular I enjoyed:  firstly, Nevine Mahmoud, with this luscious split peach of a sculpture, which looks like alabaster, but is listed as calcite, marble and steel –


Miss Her (Peach), Nevine Mahmoud, 2017 – see also her “Bosom”, which is a breast in pink and ice alabaster –

and Shana Moulton, with this video display piece.  A wriggling woman trapped or framed in a sort of display cabinet, various anatomical bits, most notably a big hand with a talking face on the palm, to the right and on the floor.  The cabinet transforms into a bath and fills with water, the woman turning into a Bonnard nude with touches of Klimt in the surround.  Very funny; loved it.

My Life as an INFJ, Shana Moulton, 2015 – 2016

INFJ?  Any ideas?


Dunkirk, dir. Christopher Nolan (2017)

Very loud and “intense” (the word that everyone who has seen it uses); the explosions and bullet strikes as stunning as “Private Ryan”, but the horrors far more muted, for the 12 certificate, maybe – I was surprised to see two young children with their mother in front of me.  The performances were strangely stilted, in the case of the older characters, especially Branagh – as if delivering immortal words at all times.  The throttling-back seemed appropriate in the case of Mark Rylance – quiet and thoughtful, gentle heroism sort of thing.

Bit too much “nick-of-time”ism, maybe; the cockpit, the stuck wheels, the multiple escapes from sinking ships; I wondered if based on personal accounts, strung together.  The scene where the soldier wakes on the Mole and is hurried onto the last boat with the officers struck me as someone’s personal anecdote.

Although I love and revere it, I could have done without the chords from “Nimrod”, designed to tickle the tear ducts (unsuccessfully, I’m proud to say).  The beautiful, tiny Spitfires are the absolute stars of the film, despite the controversy about their numbers over the beaches; I hope they weren’t CGI…

On balance, good, but not as good, I think, as the portrayal of Dunkirk in “Atonement”- much as it pains me to praise anything to do with Ian McEwan, after his recent pronouncements.  Great to see a straight, patriotic British film at this time though; I wonder if it will escape criticism for “Anglocentrism” or some such…

Ulysses, dir. Joseph Strick (1967)

I’ve finally finished Finnegans Wake, so I thought I’d go back to the easy one.  I got up to the scene in the Ormond and  decided to check the film out again to see what a job Strick had made of it – the answer is, not half bad at all.  You won’t know what’s going on if you haven’t read the novel; there are great chunks missing (the library sequence, the cabman’s hut) but Night Town is good, especially Bella Cohen’s, and some of the casting is brilliant.  Milo O’Shea will always be Bloom for me; Barbara Jefford as Molly looks wrong at first but grows into it; Joe Lynch is just right as Blazes Boylan and Martin Dempsey as Simon Dedalus too.  TP McKenna’s Buck Mulligan is spot on and Maurice Roeves, again, like Jefford, looks wrong at first, but convinces you in the end.  And Sandymount Strand looks great (shot by the great Wolfgang Suschitsky) so keep your eyes open…

Bill Viola (again)

In the last blog, I did Viola at the Guggenheim, Bilbao; I knew this piece reminded me of something – it’s this Panther paperback cover from the early 60s.



Panther Paperback Cover

Haven’t done much big abstract stuff lately, so two old ones to finish with:

Water Engine 2