Blackpaint 694 – Life Between Islands.. Don’t You Remember?

Life Between Islands, Caribbean British Art, 1950s – Now

Tate Britain until 3rd April 2022

Against my expectations (I’d anticipated a selection based on political correctness , emphasising the evilness of British imperialism and racism in Britain, in line with the current trend in metropolitan art galleries), this is a really enjoyable exhibition. No doubt I, as an old white middle-class man, should have experienced guilt and embarrassment, and hung my head in shame, as the various commentaries accompanying the neighbouring Hogarth show seek to induce – but I didn’t. There’s plenty of politics, anti – racism and hostility towards the police in the photos and in some of the film and paintings too – but it’s good photography and good art, and there’s plenty of sardonic humour too.

I particularly remember the stilt walker, dressed as some Caribbean or African deity, stalking round the magnificent grounds of a stately home in Yorkshire, built I think by Henry Lascelles. a slave owner. I don’t know why, but I found it funny. I hope I was supposed to.

Also. there was the police dog, attacking the costumed carnival goer in the painting below. But we’ll come to that in good time.

For starters, there is a room of abstract paintings by Aubrey Williams. The first of these is from the Tate’s perma-collection, which caused me to groan (inwardly), fearing the frequent tactic of borrowing a couple of paintings and then bulking up to exhibition size with selections from the basement or even from the current display; luckily though, mostly new stuff to me anyway.

Williams’ paintings remind me a little of Alan Davie and (the one below, for instance) of Wifredo Lam.

After Williams, more abstraction: several paintings by Frank Bowling. An example of one of his “poured” paintings below. They are called that because he put them at a downhill angle and poured pigment on so that it would run down. Sorry, that’s obvious, isn’t it….

This next painter is John Lyons, born in Trinidad in 1933, works in UK. I find him really intriguing because his work to me resembles that of German Expressionism, in particular, the second, blue one looks rather like Kokoschka to me.

OK, time for the dog attack. Detail first.

The painter’s called Tam Joseph, born 1947 in Dominica, but now UK. It’s from 1982, and is called the Spirit of the Carnival (the carnival being Notting Hill). Dog reminds me of Gnasher, who was famously the “pet” of Dennis the Menace.

This is the whole picture. You can see the masquerader in the midst of the throng of cartoon coppers behind their fence of riot shields.

These red and blue ones are by Lisa Brice; I find that colour combination really effective – but I’ve seen the one on the left before, in a sort of mini exhibition here not so long ago – just before COVID I think (but my grasp on dates not so sure lately; the pandemic years have sort of telescoped together, because I was shielding the whole time.

Also by Lisa Brice I believe is a film of the most staggering display of street dancing at a Barbadian festival; some vigorous and improbable body contortions performed at high speed.

This figure is by Zak Ove, I’m guessing the son of Horace Ove but I’ve no evidence for that.

It’s a female figure – she has breasts which you can’t see in my photograph – the legs are of dry, bleached wood and she is festooned with the sort of ropes and netting you might find – no doubt, was found – on the white sand of a Caribbean or African beach.

These beautiful and elaborately encrusted busts are the work of Hew Locke.

These last two paintings are by Hurvin Anderson, who works and displays in the UK. One of them, I’m no sure which, is titled Hawksbill Bay, a Jamaican area; I thought his painting, that is the application of paint and colouring, is reminiscent of that of Michael Arnmitage.

So, definitely an exhibition to take in. In addition to the paintings mentioned and shown here, I’ll put in my diary entry listing some of the other stuff on display:

“Also, numerous films and photos of Brixton and Handsworth demos and riots, sound systems, fashions, black celebs (Baldwin. Darcus Howe, Michael X et al), some full-blown Afros.,,,,A great film (Julien?) of glittering blue waters, a young black man in a dinner jacket wading out into it, lying face down on the surface and staring at the sea bed. A silver painted football bobs out to sea…

And there’s a living room – or as it’s rather smart, maybe a front room as we used to call it, I’d put it as early 60’s. I was in there at the same time as a New Zealand couple of my vintage, give or take, and we were going “We had that!” (the dial telephone) and “We had that too!” (the ornate white circular mirror) “And that!” (the radiogram – although a different make). So not all agitprop, by any means.

Positive (Sky Docs)

I watched all three episodes of this documentary series on the trot – and then a few days later, watched them all again. Once or twice, I must admit I grew a little misty-eyed… The first thing my sister asked me when I mentioned it to her was “Does it explain where it comes from?” And I said, well, no – but it pretty much covers everything else. The interviewees were an engaging lot. Jonathan Blake (“L1”, the first diagnosed HIV positive “case” in the UK – although he was infected – “met my virus”, as he put it – in the bath house scene in San Francisco) courageously offered himself as a poster boy in one of the publicity drives. Richard Coles described how he realises with dismay that he started courting friendships with heterosexual couples – because they were less likely to die. The woman also called Coles or Cole, who was infected when a condom broke during sex with her boyfriend. She also offered herself as an interviewee in a documentary – and has been shunned by her mother ever since.

The stories and images are affecting , and the commentaries compelling; the story of the failure of the Concord AZT trial reminded me of the particular anguish that the dashed hopes of unsuccessful drug trials can bring. And there’s that brilliant hookline of Blake’s used in the ad for the series: “We lived through HIV…. Don’t you remember?” It ought to win a BAFTA or three.

I should say that I have an interest, in that the sharp-eyed will notice that on the poster above, a producer credit goes to one Nicky Lessware, who might possibly be a close relative of mine…. But it’s still brilliant.

As always, a few of my own paintings to finish:

Mr. Whippy (left) and Bilgames on the wall

(Sofa by IKEA)


Blackpaint December 9th 2021

4 Responses to “Blackpaint 694 – Life Between Islands.. Don’t You Remember?”

  1. Laurie Merrifield Says:

    Hi Chris,
    merry Christmas to you, hope you are touching this one out okay…

    ref 248 Exterminating Angel.
    I believe Bunuel gave it that title because when the guests eventually managed to leave the mansion, they immediately made their way to the church to give thanks for their salvation, but then found they couldn’t leave the church.
    Perhaps Bunuel was making a point about religious hypocrisy. Very profound closing scene of sheep flocking through the street outside with closing credits. Perhaps to drive home the moral story?
    All the best,
    Laurie Merrifield

  2. blackpaint Says:

    Hi Laurie
    I did reply at length but it disappeared when I tried to send so here goes again- I broadly agree with what you say and with Roger Ebert’s analysis. A pretty focused and acute critique of Franco’s Spain and the mindset of the Spanish bourgeoisie, scattered with Bunuel’s ingrained surrealism. I was wondering about first use of the phrase Exterminating Angel and which angel it applies to-Passover angel, St Michael, something from Apocalypse? Can’t find anything on line…..

  3. Laurie Merrifield Says:

    Dear Chris,
    thank you for your comments… much appreciate you persevering with a second reply. I’m enjoying your blog, rich in art history, and your artist’s perspectives and insights, but most of all with your own bold personal take on it all.

    Much respect also due to you for joining up the dots linking art movements, writers, painters, sculptors and critics, and making a good effort to make sense of it.

    Also fascinating reflecting on your experiences and references,
    and I can’t help thinking what a stimulating curriculum we had in our art colleges in the sixties and seventies.

    As young students we took for granted European directors such as Bunuel, Fellini, Polanski and Antonioni offering their hugely original life views, which later led to collaborations with innovative actors like Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Dirk Bogarde. Like all progressions, we may not have had the Kubrick’s and Roeg’s cinematic visions without those European visionaries.

    But also a big thank you for your ‘feet on the ground’ footslogging blog which I feel is invaluable in giving many artists, scattered around the UK, remote from the great art works and exhibitions on your doorstep, your creative insights to sustain their interest.

    As a younger artist in the summer of 1990 I had my self portrait hung in the NPG and know from personal experience how hard it is for many artists to gain some recognition. As a working artist your blog somehow makes sense of all our feelings.

    Gratefully yours,

  4. blackpaint Says:

    Hi Laurie-
    Thanks very much for your generous comments; I think you are over-praising me just a little, but carry on by all means…
    I didn’t attend an art school and picked up my knowledge, such as it is, of world art cinema at University film club, the Academy & other London indies and buying dvds from FOP and the BFI in last 20 years. I’ve never had a painting of mine anywhere near a major gallery, apart from once at Dulwich Picture Gallery, when I got hung in a competition on a wall on which a Jackson Pollock was displayed – sadly, not at the same time. The blog has been a process of learning, and I wince at some of the errors and preposterous views I’ve expressed over the years. Please keep reading and stay in touch.
    Chris Blackpaint

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: