Posts Tagged ‘Abstract art’

Blackpaint 75

February 23, 2010

Richard Diebenkorn

Yes, it’s  addictive once you start, the game of making connections (see Bl. 74); yesterday, I was on about Keith Vaughan and Nicolas de Stael – today, I’m thinking of Diebenkorn and the tenuous connection to de Stael.

It’s landscape that is the link.  De Stael did those highly coloured landscapes made out of colour blocks sculpted onto the canvas with a knife.  Diebenkorn did those fantastic “abstract landscapes”, tawny like a lion’s pelt,and white and blue, crossed with black “roads”.  When I first saw them in that great, grey and orange-covered book by Jane Livingston, I  was struck by their beauty.  The later “Ocean Park” series are much cleaner, more geometric, more green and blue – but a logical development.

Then, I came to the figurative paintings; golden/orange and dark blues, greys and flesh tones, that were equally beautiful.  Diebenkorn was unusual, in that he kicked off as an abstract painter in the late 40’s and developed in Albuquerque (see Urbana series, for instance) and then switched to figurative between 1955 and 67, returning to abstract thereafter.  Guston, of course, also switched from abstract to figurative – but never made the return journey.


And of course, the “abstract landscape” thing brings me back to Peter Lanyon, because that’s a good deal of what he did too.  Many of his pictures are named after particular places in Cornwall and USA and are sort of total landscapes, giving all possible perspectives and sometimes impossible ones – from within the earth, say.  After taking up gliding, his paintings were increasingly “top shots”, to borrow a film-making term -and this is  another link to Diebenkorn, whose pictures sometimes look like aerial photographs (the opening sequence of aerial shots in “Up in the Air” comes to mind).

I’d had an idea that Lanyon had been killed in a glider accident in 1964; it turns out, though, that he sustained only a minor leg injury in a rough landing – it later developed into thrombosis, which actually led to his death days later.  Nevertheless, it is the 4th violent demise of an artist in this blog in three or four days, albeit accidental  – the others were Christopher Wood, suicide under a train; Keith Vaughan, suicide by drug overdose (ill with cancer); and de Stael, threw himself from a building. 

Listening (as promised) to Lonnie Donegan, “the Grand Coolie Dam”

“Now the world holds seven wonders, that travellers always tell,

Some gardens and some towers, well, I guess you know them well;

But now the greatest wonder is in Uncle Sam’s fair land,

It’s the big Columbia river, and the big Grand Coolie Dam.”



Blackpaint 31

January 6, 2010

Conceptual Art

I think my problem with this sort of art is an unwillingness to engage with ideas that are not immediately apparent in the work.  If I have to read a plaque on the wall in a gallery in order to understand what the artist is saying, then the chances are quite high that I won’t bother.  I may still like the art; I may get a lot from it; but it probably won’t be what the artist intended.

I’m not sure whether this is legitimate or just crass.  Visual art surely should engage you visually; maybe its impact can be deepened by accompanying text – but if you end up writing great chunks of explanation (or having them written for you by critics), then it seems to me that you probably ought to make your message clearer visually.

That said, I’ve just trolled through the whole of “100 Contemporary Artists” (Taschen), both volumes, and the earlier “Art Now”, same publisher, and I haven’t found a single artist whose work doesn’t engage me visually to some degree, without reading the (mercifully brief)higher art bollocks written about each of them.  Some are more arresting than others, of course – and I prefer the painters, as I suppose I would.

Probably it’s because the conceptual artists are in a book rather than a gallery and you can return to that again and again.  as you flick through to your favourites, the others become more familiar and you start seeing things you missed at first.

More favourites: Tom Friedman – especially the “Green Demon”, Elmgreen and Dragset – the Prada shop in the middle of nowhere; Gursky, Albert Oehlen and Luc Tuymans.  and Pipilotti Rist – lovely videos and even better name.  But the images that stop me as I flick through are by Cecily Brown, Marlene Dumas, Tuymans and Oehlen.  Buy the book or look them up on the net – I’m worried about copyright if I attach images to this, other than my own.

Actually, there are two instances where I’m glad I read the text.  The first is Matthew Barney, who made the “Cremaster” series of films; there is a startling still of a red haired young man with pig’s (?) ears flopping down on each side of his head – reminds me somehow of a scene from “The Shining”.  The text reads, “The title of the series is derived from the cremaster muscle in the male genitals from which the testicles are suspended, and which is retracted in a reflex movement produced by cold or fear inside the body.”

The second relates to the work of Nobuyoshi Araki, who obsessively photographed his dying wife up to the point of death and beyond.  The text reads, “The photographs which have become emblematic of Araki’s work, however, are his portraits of young women – prostitutes and schoolgirls – either dressed or naked, hanging from the ceiling or thrown to the ground, their hands tied together, their legs apart, or even engaged in the sexual act.”  I’d like to know what Susan Sontag would have to say about him – this surely qualifies him as a “transgressor” ( Meaningless coincidence – Sontag was also photographed after death, I think, by Annie Leibovitz, wasn’t it?

Listening to Cyril Davies, “Chicago Calling”

“Well, Chicago calling, hear me call your name,

Yeah Chicago calling, come back home again,

I’m goin’ back to Chicago, Chicago callin’ me,

Yeah Chicago calling, Lord that’s where I long to be”



Blackpaint 29

January 4, 2010


Got to Susan Sontag in “Art Theory for Beginners”, and she sounds just the ticket for an abstract painter like me.  The search for meaning in an art work misses the point, apparently – art is irrational, a sort of magical transmutation which is beyond rational explanation.

She also has a good word for pornography, in the sense that in “goes to places” that others do not; the transgressor  (the producer of pornography, presumably), she is quoted as saying, “knows things that others don’t”.  It’s not clear whether this attitude extends to the consumer too.

No doubt her argument is distorted by compression, but it came as a surprise to me.

Theo Kuijpers

In “Intensely Dutch” – lovely, loopy triangles and half squares in oily black over deep, glowing, heavily-scored patches of colour – reds, blues, turquoise.  The paintings in this book are so rich I can’t be bothered to read the text.


I chickened out – appropriately; toned my yellows down with splotches of ochre & smears of grey, and framed them with slashes and rods of black.  Now it’s messy and sort of tough, but back to what I was doing before.  Got to make that break.

Listening to “Freddy Freeloader”, Miles Davis, and “Fables of Faubus”, Charles Mingus and “Lonely Woman”, Ornette Coleman. 

 “Two, four, six, eight,

They brainwash and teach you hate..”

( Faubus/Mingus.)



Blackpaint 26

January 1, 2010


Jean Francois Lyotard thought that the age of “Grand Narratives” was at an end;  the late 20th century and beyond, there would be the age of  little narratives.  So, no more Nation, Empire, bloc – from now (then) on, neighbourhood, tribe, cult, family, individual.  Historically wrong, then; Global Warming, War on Terror are both Grand Narratives, even if they are illusory or misnomers.

As far as art goes, however, it seems to me he was right – it’s all fragmentation, no great Movements, absolute truths.  He divided art into “Figural” – based on emotion, immediate reaction, shock, irrationality – and “Discursive” – rational, intellectual, narrative – and “privileged” (awful transformation of adjective to verb) the visual over the written.  the meaning of “figural” art?  Whatever the viewer sees/thinks/says.

So Lyotard is my man; my stuff is Figural and means whatever thr viewer wants it to mean (it may of course be Discursive too, if anyone reads something interesting, or appealing,  into it).  More Postmodernism from “Art Theory for Beginners tomorrow.

“Intensely Dutch”

I got this fantastic book for Christmas, full of staggering, beautiful abstract and figurative Dutch artists of late 20th century (with de Kooning included; fair enough, I suppose).  The colours are enough to burn into your brain, and the names are good too – Jaap Wagemaker, Wim Oepts, Jaap Nanninga, as well as Appel, Constant and deK.

“100 Contemporary Artists”

My other Christmas book, a big 2 volume Taschen, has more up- to- date artists.  I prefer the painters, and going by Lyotard’s dictum, picked out the following on the basis of immediate visual reaction (i.e. without reading the notes):  Cecily Brown, whose surfaces and colours reminded me immediately of de Kooning’s; Andre Butzer, ditto for Jorn and Guston; and John Currin, whose “Rotterdam 2006” can hardly fail to have a Figural effect – check it out, as the young people say.  The girls on the opposite page in “the Old Fence” are like something by Lucas Cranach, I think.  Then there is the great Marlene Dumas, with her ugly/beautiful, smeary pictures of dead women, pole dancers and creepy little girls with hands dripping blood.  And Peter Doig, of course, canoes, stars, jungles, uniforms…  Volume 2, I – Z tomorrow.

Propaganda Art

A few blogs back, I was rambling on about art and propaganda and said that only propaganda for or by “the oppressed” was likely to produce any decent art; propaganda on behalf of the powers-that-be – Socialist Realism, Nazi art – was likely to be laughable, or sinister, or both (depending on the distance of the viewer from the Power that Be’s).

This sounds like the sort of thing George Orwell would say, only much better, of course; however, what about the following?

Republican posters in the Spanish Civil War (I’m thinking of Miro, for example); Rodchenko’s posters for various Soviet Government ventures in Bolshevik Russia; murals and other art produced under the auspices of the WPA in 30s USA; murals produced in Mexico and elsewhere by Rivera and Orozco.


Listening to Steeleye Span, Bedlam Boys.

“Still we sing bonny boys, bonny mad boys,

Bedlam boys are bonny,

For they all go bare and they live by the air,

And they want no bread nor money”.

Just finished reading “Bartholomew Fair” by Ben Jonson, and was totally lost by the last 30 pages – as many characters as “And Quiet Flows the Don” and full of 17th century London slang.



Blackpaint 25

December 31, 2009


Yesterday, I was reading Hadley Freeman’s column in Guardian, in which she happened to bring up Gauguin in relation to the fim “Avatar”.  Unfortunately, I chucked the paper away (in the recycle bin, of course) and since then it’s found its way to the bin outside – and I’m not going sorting through that.

I was under the impression that she had written something like this, referring to the portrayal of the native population of the planet under attack: “Add in a couple of orange brush strokes and you will have something like a Gauguin and just as patronising, simplistic and offensive”.  I thought this was good, a controversial viewpoint to blog about – especially since today’s Guardian has a reference to a forthcoming Gauguin show at Tate Modern with the following words: “His art, however, is a time bomb, still ticking in the 21st century”.  This sounds pretty positive to me; not the sort of thing you’d write about someone patronising, simplistic, etc.

However, I checked her article online before writing, and it seems to have changed.  It now reads, “Add in a couple of orange brush strokes and you have a Gauguin painting.  It (the portrayal) is patronising, simplistic and offensive, like Palin and fake science.”  I suppose this still implies that Gauguin’s paintings are P, S and O, but the attack is  diverted through the easier targets of Palin and fake science.

Well, I could be totally wrong; on the other hand, at the bottom of the online article, it says “as amended on 30/12/09”.  If anyone cares enough to clear this up for me, I’d be grateful – tonight would be good, as I have not been invited to see the New Year in with anyone.  I wonder why.

For the record, I was wondering if you can patronise people who don’t exist (the people in the film, not the Tahitians Gauguin painted).  I suppose one is patronising the people who these fictional people resemble – or you think they resemble.  That could be dangerous in itself; who is to say that they see it, or themselves,  as you do?  This can be a recurring  problem for liberals and left wingers and all those who regularly feel and express indignation on behalf of others.

Since I can write what I like and no-one is reading anyway, I’m now going to do a U turn; I think it is P and S, but I think that Cameron was doing that PM thing of referencing other films (see last blog) and so, not particularly O.  But my son Tom violently disagrees and is doing a chemistry degree, so I suppose he must be right.


I got “Art Theory for Beginners” for Christmas, one of those books which have cartoons and look really simple – until you read the accompanying text.  I’ve been reading about all those French philosophers, Derrida, Lyotard, Barthes, Baudrillard etc., in an attempt to give my own poor work some sort of spurious status by linking it to some “proper” movement or idea.  No success yet, but will continue to try.


Another painting each from Jorn and Kirkeby, re my spurious thesis in last blog.



Watched Festen.  I think the ending was sentimental.  The family should have backed the father up to the bitter end.

Listened to “Cold, Cold Feeling”, by T Bone Walker (in “When did you last see your father?” by Blake Morrison – he must have had the same EP as me in the early 60s).

“I got a cold, cold feeling, it’s just like ice around my heart, (*2)

I know I’m gonna quit somebody, every time that feelin’ starts.”



Happy New Year.

Blackpaint 20

December 20, 2009

Balka (again)

Laura Cumming, in today’s Observer, reviews an exhibition by Miroslav Balka in Oxford.  Balka is the artist who has the big installation in the Tate Modern now, the container lined with black felt that I wrote about “I am Blackpaint”, my first blog.  Although Balka didn’t say so (avoided it, in fact, because he didn’t want to direct audience reaction), I immediately associated it with the concentration camps, seeing it as a giant cattle truck, the people entering, going “into the darkness”… the associations are obvious, although I don’t think it detracts from the effect – IF you see it under the proper conditions.  The proper conditions include an absence of chattering, shouting youngsters, brandishing their mobiles aloft to shed light around.

Anyway, Cumming describes in her review some of the exhibits at Oxford as “wintry, tense … maaking a point of uncertainty….In these film installations, Balka returns over and over again to a history one assumes must be Polish, because the artist is Polish, yet which tug the mind in all sorts of directions.”

There is a still from “Pond”, showing a ring of trees with a frozen pond within it and a black blob resembling a kneeling figure in the distance.  Cumming identifies it as “Birkenau, which is both a forest and a death camp.”  presumably, this is information supplied by Balka, in notes, perhaps, or a voiceover (unlikely).  This identification seems to me to conflict with the objective of “making a point of uncertainty”; without being told it was Birkenau, it could be a park anywhere; Clapham Common, New England, Sweden… As soon as you know the artist is a Pole, and more, that he lives near Treblinka (Ithought it was Cracow, near Auschwitz – maybe that was where he grew up) – the association is inevitable.  The trees across the pond loom in, the blob is a kneeling figure from those horrible photographs of mass murder by the Einsatzgruppen.

Anyway, the review is great and the exhibition sounds great too – but I want to consider the point above.  Is it possible for a Polish artist to avoid – assuming he/she wished to avoid – associations and inferences from World War 2 and the Holocaust?  Only, I think, if they were to avoid greys, blacks, browns, whiteouts, mist, forests, black and white film, huts, trains… you can continue the list.  If they were to specify “this work is not about the war” that would, of course, be taken as irony.  Some histories are so powerful that they can’t be escaped from, I think; even if the artists were able to free themselves , the reviewers and audiences would still contextualise.

And why not?  Once the work is on the wall or screen, it doesn’t belong wholly to the artist any more – that goes of course for poetry, music, all forms of art.  I remember seeing a Sean Scully in the Tate, mostly greys, whites and browns, that immediately suggested cattle trucks and concentration camps to me.

So, I don’t think that Polish artists can escape at least the question; how does this relate to the war?  They are constrained by their history, not necessarily to create, but  to be interpreted in this way.  Not for them the sort of trivia I deal in; colours, shapes, materials used for their own sakes and properties; they must be significant.  

Listened to: It’s Cold in China Blues, by Isaiah Nettles, the Mississippi Moaner.

“So cold in China, the birds can’t hardly sing;

And it made me mad, ‘cos you broke my diamond ring.”

Perfectly logical.



Blackpaint 14

December 13, 2009

Rothko and Boyd (cont.)

The other thing that Boyd did in his article was divide artists up into “foxes” and “hedgehogs”;  foxes do all sorts of different art, hedgehogs are “one-trick ponies” (lots of animal metaphors in use).  Among the hedgehogs, he includes Lucian Freud and Vermeer, as well as Rothko, of course.  I can see why Rothko is included,  although surely he had three tricks- the stripes and panels, the arches and, earlier, the so-called Multiforms.  Maybe these were sub-divisions of the main trick.

Freud is “one trick” because of the figure studies, presumably; but then, he has done naked, clothed, full body, heads – and backyards and gardens on occasion.  But why Vermeer? Interiors, mysterious women?  I find it hard to think of many artists who could not be called “hedgehogs”, to use Boyd’s term, if one wanted to make the trick big enough-Picasso, Richter, Cezanne, Van Gogh….

But, for all the above cavils, it raised some questions for me such as why paint (or sculpt, or photograph, or…)?  To be answered in coming blogs, no doubt.

Listened to: Church Street Blues, by Norman Blake.

“Get myself a rocking chair, see if I can lose

Them thin dime, hard time,

Hell on Church Street Blues.”

More tomorrow,