Blackpaint 705 – More Sickert, Surrealism at TM and Heroes of Democracy

More Sickert

Two things to add to last blog on Sickert: first, his great “end of the pier” painting of 1915 (below). For my money, the best in show, even if familiar from Tate walls already, Surely, the makers of “Oh What a Lovely War” must have been familiar with it. Melancholy, bitter sweet, elegiac – add your own cliches.

The second painting I want to draw attention to is this one of the conductor Goossens in action. It’s from the last section – last wall, I think – where the paintings are based on press photographs of celebrities. Despite the muted colours, I find it very striking for reasons that I can’t fully explain. Which of course it always should be with art.

Surrealism Beyond Borders, Tate Modern until 29th August

Good exhibition, some of it – well, a lot of it – familiar stuff; lobster telephone, Magritte train emerging from fireplace, Roland Penrose’s torso in a hoop. There are a number of pictures from South America, Mexico and Cuba which are less familiar, however, and which do nothing to elucidate the term itself.

What are the strands of “surrealism”? Well, there are the incongruities, visual jokes often, of Magritte and Dali and Delvaux and others, the biomorphism of Tanguy, Lam, Brauner, Andre Masson’s automatic drawings, the monstrous dreamscapes of Tanning, Ernst – and others (giant insects, bird’s heads, old mansions, huge flowers)…. and much else that I can’t think of now, but which require a thorough analysis to make sense of. So let’s not bother with that because, once again, analysis never gets the essence and often undermines the impact of the image.

Miro, of course – great painting, but is it surrealism?

Max Ernst, Two Children Threatened by a Nightingale – classic surrealism, dream situation, incongruous – and beautiful, haunting image.

Leonora Carrington – Self Portrait. All the epithets I used for Ernst, except beautiful and haunting. I still find it very hard to distinguish her work from much of that by Dorothea Tanning. Is it the similar names. the shared connection with Ernst or sexism on my part?

Pierre Alechinsky

I like this painting, but fail to see why it is deemed to be surrealist.

Arshile Gorky, Waterfall

Similarly, with Gorky’s great image. Why is it surrealism? Much closer to Abstract Expressionism, I would have thought – although I can see why some other Gorky pictures, with their biomorphic shapes and fantastic titles, might suggest surrealism: “The Liver is the Cock’s Comb”, for example.

Navalny (Sky Documentary)

Amazing. What makes someone put themselves in the lion’s den with pretty much no hope of success, more, the certainty of long and brutal incarceration and a good chance of being murdered? Alexei Navalny, the Russian oppositionist, has already survived one poisoning attempt, goodness knows how; he went back (!) to Russia and of course, landed immediately in prison, serving an ever-expanding sentence – fifteen years, was it, at the last count?

He at least knows that his ordeal is being followed in the free world; no such comfort for his incredibly courageous supporters (many of them appear to be “respectable” middle-age, middle-class women) attacked, beaten, dragged away to jail by thugs in police uniforms. What happens to them? Astonishing that there IS an opposition in Putin’s proto-fascist state.

And yet, Navalny appears so – relaxed throughout. Tall, good looking, athletic, casual and friendly and good-humoured in his manner, it’s hard to imagine anyone more the opposite of Tsar Vladimir. the documentary revolves around a “sting” carried out by Navalny and his supporters, which turns up the story of the attempted murder from one of the conspirators. It’s pretty light on N’s politics, beyond democracy, human rights and an end to corruption – but that’s enough to be going on with, surely.

Z (1970, dir. Costa – Gavras)

I followed Navalny with the DVD of Z, which seemed appropriate; the hero – tall, good looking, athletic, friendly and good humoured, not quite as casual as Navalny – comes to Athens to address a left-wing, anti-nuclear rally, in a city seething with right-wing thugs, mostly employed by the security services to break up rallies and beat students with clubs. It’s based on the murder of Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. The protagonist is played by Yves Montand, who is not as “lucky” as Navalny.

It also stars one of my favourite assassins, Marcel Bozzuffi – you’ll recognise him from the French Connection – and Jean-Louis Trintignant as the incorruptible magistrate.

One or two of my old ones to end with as usual:

Bad Old Science

Burning in the Green

Both sold back in the good old days…

Blackpaint June 23rd 2022


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