Archive for February, 2022

Blackpaint 699 – Lifeys and Detox at Tate Britain

February 23, 2022

Phil – one minute

My correspondent Laurie sent an interesting comment about life drawing on my last blog post, so I’m going to try to answer it here. It also gives me the opportunity to post a load of my “lifeys” which, given the variable quality, might otherwise be seen as self – indulgence (which it is, of course).

Laurie was particularly concerned at the tendency, on “Portrait Artist of the Year”, for example – a British TV programme – for many competitors to draw or paint from an image on screen or tablet, rather than from the model. He feels this is a “corrupting way of condensing the long look into a frozen snapshot”, and asks for my views.

Phil – portrait on old cardboard

As can be seen from the above effort, portraiture is not a forte of mine. It was done from a live model, however, so any corruption is my responsibility. I made a cursory and wholly unsuccessful stab at getting a good likeness, but that really wasn’t what I was after. What was I trying for? An arresting, colourful, interesting image that would hold the interest for more than a few seconds and which a viewer might return to and make new discoveries.

In other words, a good picture. That pretty much covers any effort of mine, representational, abstract, portrait, landscape, combination of any of these. “Corruption” is exactly the right word, I think, for what I do to the human body in my pictures, sometimes by intention, often by accident.

Phil one minute

I see what Laurie is driving at – you can get a greater sense of immediacy by attempting to capture a living, breathing pose than from a “frozen” one in a photo; but that is also to do with the imposition of a short time limit. It gives you a freedom of expression. The longer you’ve got, the more of that freedom drains away. Plus, of course, the more opportunity you’ve got to screw it up.

Phil with a bit of shading

Laurie was writing about portraiture though – if your intention, or main intention, is to produce a good likeness, I can see, perhaps, why a photograph might help; you can switch your gaze from one to the other, check your accuracy – what if you’ve got an inexperienced model who moves too much? You’re working against the clock, maybe?

There is another consideration with portraiture, which I think Francis Bacon once touched on – he was talking about his own pictures, but it could apply to others. He worked from photographs rather than models because (he said) he didn’t like them to see what he was doing to them.

Isabel Rawsthorne, Francis Bacon

Yes, it is recognisable as Rawsthorne. Yes, Bacon is an extreme example, but there is a pressure exerted by the presence of a model. I find extreme beauty in a model of either sex is a problem because you want to reproduce the beauty (whatever “beauty ” is – but the reader will know what I mean). If you read this Phil, or Francoise, I did say “extreme” beauty.

Phil, bending, cropped

Something I’ve done frequently is odd cropping. It seems to be highly regarded in many circles, since I’m sometimes complimented on it. The reason is simple – I can’t draw “small”, or not well, anyway. Whatever the size of paper I use, there’s never enough to get the whole image in. This image is not cropped – well, not more than a couple of centimetres – I just ran out of paper at the edges. Bad planning, really.

Francoise, bending down

Look how long those legs are! That’s a distortion of reality, of course, but I think it makes for a better picture. I’m not sure, of course – plotters, like Coldstream and Uglow wouldn’t agree; then again, I’ve seen some pretty long legs on Uglow paintings….

I’ve just realised how this reads – I’m not remotely comparing my poor effort to either of these distinguished painters; it’s the principle I’m writing about. I love the sheer solidity in Uglow’s work (a solidity that is illusory, but all the more admirable for that); but with the solidity goes a certain stasis.

Phil two minutes

“Toxic” Hogarth and Contemporaries

I’m not sure if the Hogarth is still on at Tate Britain, but I wanted to add a few pictures to those i posted a few weeks ago when I blogged on the show. I remarked that the captions were mostly concerned with the depiction of a racist, misogynistic, imperialist society and were somewhat ambivalent – not always clear whether it was the artist at fault or the society depicted – or both. Below is an example of the sort of caption I’m writing about:

So there we are – we are safe to look at these paintings, because possible wrong interpretations have been “detoxified” by the “Museum Detox Interpretation Group”. I’m interested to know whose idea this was and if it will become a regular feature of future exhibitions of “toxic” art – and maybe a condition of such art being shown at all.

Pietro Longhi, the Venetian master, I believe. I love those masked figures; wish I knew what was going on. Should have read what the Detox Group had to say….

Beautiful little painting (the woman is demeaning herself, unfortunately) – but isn’t that leg wrong? It’s coming from the wrong place, surely…

I meant to do Bacon at the RA today, but too much to show and say, so I’ll finish with my last painting (the last one I’ve done, not – I hope – my last ever):

Light in a Black Sea


Feb 23rd 2022

Blackpaint 698 – Salt on the Saveloy; Lubaina Himid

February 5, 2022

I try to read a bit of the bible every day and have been doing so for years. The proper bible that is; the Authorised King James version with the proper poetry, not that homogenised stuff they use in churches now and have been since the late 50s or early 60s or whenever it was. I’m probably on my third circuit now – my paperback edition has Old and New Testament and the Old, but not the New Apocrypha.

I’m not a believer, far from it, but I love the prose and the poetry, the nostalgia and the great stories. I’ve just finished Esther, with its story of how she and Mordecai turned the tables on Hammam and had him and his ten sons hanged (and 75,000 other enemies massacred), for plotting the massacre of the Jews. That’s Hamman ,hanging, in Michelangelo’s version above. None of that New Testament stuff about forgiving enemies or turning the other cheek… although I love that different fanaticism too, portrayed best in Pasolini’s “Gospel According to Matthew” and maybe Emmanuel Carrere’s “The Kingdom”, dealing with the Acts and the Epistles of Paul.

But currently, I’m on Job and savouring the poetry there and I find two verses which have an immediate resonance for me: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” (Job, 5,7) – and “Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? And is there any taste in the white of an egg?” (Job 6,6).

The first of these is so arresting, visual and economical. The second is more personal; it was my darts night last night, as always involving quite heavy drinking; on my way home, I stopped at the chip shop as always, for my saveloy and chips. The lady put loads of salt and vinegar on the chips as I requested but added the saveloy (and a sausage) after – hence no salt on them. I discovered that “that which is unsavoury” can be eaten without salt – but your mouth is really dry afterwards and the disappointment is huge. And no, without salt, there is no taste in the white of an egg.

Lubaina Himid – Tate Modern until 3rd July 2022

Big, clean, colourful, static assemblages of black people in somewhat mystifying scenarios like the one above, make up most of this exhibition. There are also sound exhibits by Himid and Magda Stawarska – Beavan and long linear wall sculptures, mostly of wood but interspersed with objects, of which musical instruments – I spotted a banjo – were a frequent element.

I remember this one is called “The Pulley” (see the upper part of the picture)

The booklet that goes with the exhibition, and the various wall plaques, explain that Himid is interested in the architecture, in a big sense, of our surroundings – not only buildings, but rooms, furniture , decor, appliances, clothes – the implication being that there is a mismatch, an ill fitting between the people and their manufactured surroundings, in every sense of the word. I guess the implication is that this is perhaps more true for African and Afro – Caribbean people, but wouldn’t wish to pursue this into deep waters. The mismatch is explicit as far as women are concerned, though – as the booklet says: “What kind of buildings do women want to live and work in? Has anyone ever asked us?”

Frequently, it is an ocean that appears through the windows of these sparse rooms full of faintly bewildered, uncertain groups. The bird – headed woman in the above painting calls attention to the strong surrealist streak in these works; I’m reminded a little of Paul Delvaux (although no nudity, I think) and de Chirico. A bit fanciful this, but maybe even Della Francesca (the statue-like poses, the stillness, the way they tend to look out or away from each other.

I like this one; should be titled “The Blancmange”, but it’s not. Now there’s a madeleine moment for me – does anyone still make such things? My mother had a blancmange mould in the shape of a rabbit and we had it for afters frequently – until Instant Whip was invented. However, back to art….

Does anyone else get Picasso from this one? Those blimpish female figures running along a Mediterranean beach?

I had to include this – court scene? Historical drawing room? It’s a tableau of life-size cut outs, like a giant magic puppet theatre.

So that’s an introduction, and probably a poor and superficial one, to this exhibition. It was better than I expected, but then I have rather a strong aversion to Himid, after what I thought was a graceless speech when she won the Turner prize a couple of years back – the bit where she said it had been a long time coming – the implication (maybe she stated it openly, can’t remember) being that she should have got it long before but being a woman, and a black woman, had prevented that. Don’t know if that’s true, but it’s not for her to say, in my opinion.

Only one new picture to put up of mine:

Phil Twice, on rough old wet cardboard

Blackpaint, February 5th 2021