Posts Tagged ‘Abstract painting’

Blackpaint 262

March 21, 2011

Anselm Kiefer

In Saturday’s Guardian, a pleasing quotation from Kiefer regarding “Salz, Merkur, Sulfur”,  a recent work: “..the salt-covered U boat is my Noah’s ark as the Flood was important to alchemists,…It is made out of the base metal lead; there are seven flames because seven is the alchemical number of perfection, and so on.  It all means something.  Not that anyone needs to know this, but if I’m asked I will tell you.” Well, thank goodness for that – the implication is that the work stands, for Kiefer, on the merits of its visual power alone, without the need to read a lengthy exposition on a gallery wall (or stand in everyone else’s way, gawping, while you listen to the explanation on one of those those audios).

Kiefer is the embodiment of those artists who build a career around a big idea; the core of his has been the exhumation of German history from under  layers of guilt and willful amnesia in the decades after WW2 – a worthy and courageous work in the 60s especially.  So someone asks, “What is this work about?”  No problem; he knows –  and, if he’s asked, he’ll be able to tell you.

Miro

Miro is another one.  As Tim Adams says, in Sunday’s Observer, “He had no interest in pure abstraction…”You get freedom by sweating for it,” he believed, “by an inner struggle…”.  Whatever this second part means, Adams’ piece quotes Miro to the effect that his pictures, even the most surreal, were made up of collections of symbols representing things in the real world: “I’ve shown the Toulouse-Rabat airplane on the left; …I showed it by a propellor, a ladder and the French and Catalan flags”.  The whole display of bacteria-like shapes and squiggles swimming in an orange and yellow background “means something”; everything is representative.

I’ve always loved Miro’s work, for its colour, movement, humour – and Kiefer’s, for almost completely opposite qualities, darkness, weight, gravity of purpose. I had no idea about the Toulouse – Rabat airplane and not much specific about alchemy; but the lack of detailed information didn’t stop me liking the work and knowing more hasn’t enhanced my appreciation.

I think it’s enough to say “It’s about itself”.  Paintings that are only about visual things like image, structure, texture, colour, movement, balance – pure abstraction –  are as valid as the “hidden meaning” efforts; and you don’t have to read the spurious Artspeak expositions.

Some early paintings that I think are stunning – and no problems with meaning:

Fra Angelico

St Nicholas of Bari (1437) – look at the castle and the pink mountain with the folds.

The Mocking of Christ (1441) – disembodied head spits in Christ’s face.

Giotto

The Stefaneschi Altar, the Martyrdom of Paul – yes, the decapitated head does still wear the halo; and the Martyrdom of Peter – upside down on his cross, as if diving, an angel reading the bible to the assembled watchers, from the sky.

The Arrest of Christ, Padua. – the Judas kiss, Judas enveloping Christ in that yellow cloak.

The Master of Flemalle (Robert Campin?)

The Annunciation, Merode Altarpiece – look at the folds in the fabric of both the angel’s and Mary’s gowns; and the tilting forwards of the table – like a Bonnard or Cezanne a few years later.

Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources

Finally got round to seeing these after meaning to for years; Yves Montand (I remember him in “Z”) and Daniel Auteuil, as the Soubeyrans -great, tragi-comic pairing. For some reason, keep watching films about peasants – Provencal, Iranian and Ozark hill folk so far.

Blackpaint

21.03.11

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Blackpaint 261

March 17, 2011

The Emperor

I forgot that Japan still had an emperor – Akahito, isn’t it?  When I saw him on TV, I thought he looked like a character from a David Lynch film.  It’s quite surprising that in the world’s third largest economy, disaster survivors are rationed to half a rice ball a day and lack bedding and other essentials – not so different to New Orleans after Katrina really.  No doubt I’m wrong, so back to art.

I thought I’d revisit some old favourites.

Asger Jorn

Look at “den Hellige Have” (the Holy Garden”); the gamut of colours he manages to bring together.  Green, green-blue, ultramarine, cadmium yellow, red, black, pink, orange – shades of Hoffman and de Kooning.  I think you need to have a surface roughness and  drawn quality around the different colours to bring this off, otherwise it’s too vivid, like a child’s painting.  His pictures from the mid 60s are so varied in style.

Joan Mitchell

Her middle period stuff – again, early to mid 60s – sometimes look like exploding heads (see La Chatiere 1960); like Appel, but colours less screaming and without the inch deep ridges and canyons of paint.

Peter Lanyon

Has a definite palette, sometimes quite close to Alfred Wallis (see Porthleven); green, sea green, blue, brown.  Also sky blues, white, red and orange (see Soaring Flight, Offshore, Eagle Pass, Wreck).

Michelangelo

“The Rebellious Slave (prisoner)”, in the Louvre; look at the complex of interlocking muscles in the depression behind his pushed-forward, left shoulder and below thw thick band of muscle extending from the shoulder to the back of the neck – fantastic work.

Frank Auerbach

I may have said this before, but to see his work in the Tate Britain, you would think he was a dirty, muddy painter.  In fact, many of his paintings sing with colour; blues. yellows, oranges, white, greens – both portraits and cityscapes.  I think he is the greatest living figurative painter, in that he is more varied and experimental than Lucian Freud.

RB Kitaj

Again, may have said this before, but the surprise to see his completely different approaches to doing the human figure.  In his painted tableaux, they are square-ish, stiff, roughly drawn, cartoon – like; in the life drawings, they are, to my mind,  unparalleled in the skill and beauty of the execution.  I really can’t think of anyone better .  That woman with the Veronese back and the three studies currently in the British Museum exhibition..  Go and see them, if you are not familiar with them, and see if I am exaggerating.

Abstract painting

I’m still constantly amazed to hear people describe abstraction as “modern art”.  It’s really old-fashioned now, surely, retro not modern.  Maybe it’s just a British thing that it has to represent something in the real world (landscape, portrait, storm at sea) or else, it’s a picture of nothing.  Highest praise is, “You really feel like you are there”.  Also interesting is that politics has little to do with taste; the most radical of politicos often have the most fiercely conservative views on art.  With this in mind, I have returned to figurative painting (see below).

Aphrodite at the Waterhole (apologies to Hancock)

Blackpaint

16.03.11

Blackpaint 88

March 16, 2010

When is a picture finished (2)

I stick it on the wall in the front room, and leave it for a few days to decide.  BUT – this doesn’t work really, because you get familiar with it and it acquires a sort of integrity in your eyes.  Same as repetition – if you repeat an image in several paintings it can acquire status, like those comedy programmes on TV, where a catchphrase is repeated week after week.  You get input too – “I don’t think it’s quite finished yet”, or “I really like this bit” – invariably the bit you were just going to paint over.  SO – I don’t have the answer to this either.  There are no answers, I suppose.

Anyway –

It was like this:

Then it was like this:

But now, it’s like this:

I don’t think it’s finished yet.

Giotto

I’ve been looking at his stuff which I love, but I can’t get away from the cartoon (in the modern sense) aspect of it: the little square figures – although not in the picture below-  their rudimentary expressions of grief or surprise, the sawn-off angels doing yoga positions in the sky, all in those rich, deep colours.

Listening to No More Doggin’, the John Lee Hooker version on Riverside, distinguished by being one of the few songs where he knowingly rhymes the ends of lines.

“Honey, no more doggin’, foolin’ round with you (*2)

I’m gonna let you go baby, that’s what I’m gonna do”.

Blackpaint

16.03.10

Blackpaint 87

March 15, 2010

 How do you know when a painting is finished?

One way is to check that there are no dead areas.  In the picture below, the dark green base can’t have anything more put in it – it would get crowded and fussy and anyway, it’s already performing the function of giving the structure some clear definition.  The ochre patch top left isn’t doing much, but again, I don’t want it to get too crowded.  I think the place to go is top right into the cloudy grey stuff.  That’s what I’m going to do anyway – see how it turns out.  The picture below is a development of the one I was doing yesterday; see Blackpaint 86 for earlier version.  And see tomorrow (Blackpaint 88) for how it turns out!

I’ve been using postcards for mark making, to scoop up the paint and trowel it around like a knife.  A couple of the cards have come out quite well in this process, so I’ve photographed them and will try paintings based on them (though of course, my paintings tend to go where they “want” to, rather than turning out the same as some pre-determined plan).  Here they are, anyway:

Blackpaint

15/03/10

Blackpaint 74

February 22, 2010

Keith Vaughan and others

Funny how one painter leads on to another – reading about Paul Nash (Bp. 72) I came across that beautiful picture of a curving coastline of ochre sand against a sea wall in light grey and stark black, called “The Shore”.  This took me on to Nicolas de Stael, the landscapes entitled “Marseille”, “Les Martigues”,  “Sicile” and “Montagne Sainte-Victoire” (didn’t someone else do a few of that last one?).  However, when I checked, they’re not THAT similar – maybe the sweeping distances and vivid colours… 

Anyhow, de Stael took me on to Keith Vaughan, because they both use that technique of the small rectangles of colour, almost like square scales.  You can see it for instance in de Stael’s “Parc des Princes” and “Les Footballeurs”, and Vaughan’s “Millhouse”, “Fire at Night” and many others.  de Stael used a palette knife; don’t know if Vaughan did too – doesn’t look like it to me, but the effect is similar.

Then, I found other British artists had used it too; Peter Kinley, in “Grey Coast” (and according to Norbert Lynton, some earlier ones) and Patrick Heron, in “Square Leaves”, after seeing a de Stael show in 1952.

What is the importance of this?  None, except that painters influence each other, which is a startling revelation.

While I’m on about Keith Vaughan, I must mention his “The Return of Odysseus”, in which the white, upside-down figure of the falling suitor – killed by Odysseus’ crossbow – looks like a great white Praying Mantis.  Then I found a picture of “Heath”, a decade later, with rough blue, angular, elongated legs in a spidery sprawl – and I was reminded of Wyndham – Lewis (a bit)… But this game could go on and on, so I’ll stop now.

Listening to Mahler’s “Um Mitternacht” by Kathleen Ferrier and the Vienna Philharmonic under Bruno Walter, 1952; unbelievable.  Tomorrow, back to Lonnie Donegan.

Blackpaint

22.02.10

Blackpaint 73

February 22, 2010

Brighton

In the art galleryand museum near the Pavilion today.  Two interesting paintings: a Christopher Wood and a William Scott.  The Wood was a Modigliani-like (well, a bit) portrait of a young woman with an oddly reddish face; the Scott was figurative – a couple.  I looked for it on the net, but couldn’t find it – however, I did find one fantastic, ochre – based abstract which was very like a Lanyon and which has made me determined to look out a book of his stuff in the British Library tomorrow.  Previously, I thought Scott  just did frying pans and dinner tables, phallic salt cellars and black pictures (see Tate Britain).  Now I think he’s the business.

Christopher Wood by the way, was an early St.Ives man, went down there with Ben Nicholson, did stylised figurative paintings and jumped or walked in front of a train, at Bristol I think, in 1930  (actually, it was Salisbury, not Bristol).

One other beautiful thing in the museum is a group photo of rockers on the Old Steine in 1964, either Easter or Whitsun, the time of one of the battles with the Mods.  There’s something timeless and touching about them with the long hair and the roll-ups and the leathers – they remind me of squaddies or a works outing, and they look so young and innocent and unthreatening, at this distance…

Blackpaint

21.02.10

Blackpaint 72

February 20, 2010

Layering

Ran out of canvases earlier in week and I can’t afford any more for a while, so I’ve been recycliing some old crap that I never really liked.  This has actually proved better than buying new ones, because you have to go over the old surface, sometimes several times, and you get thicker texture and layering – whether you want it or not.  Results are actually quite OK I think, so goodbye thin world forever (or at least, til I can pay for some new canvas).

Paul Nash

Will soon get to Dulwich for this, I hope, but in the meantime I’ve been looking at his stuff in the Tate catalogue of the 2003 exhibition.  The thing that came across to me most strongly was the stillness in his paintings.  With the exception of “Battle of Britain”, there seems to be no movement at all; WWI searchlights look frozen, birds in the sky appear to be motionless – “the Flight of the Magnolia” looks more like the float of the magnolia.  There are a couple of exceptions – the “sunflower” pictures have a spin to them and “Tench Pond in a Gale” has the diagonal lines, but for the most part, they have the stillness of sculpture.

The other thing was the way the vapour trails in “Battle of Britain” echo, or mirror, the shapes in “Magnolia” and “Nocturnal Landscape”; I think he had these shapes in his head and they find their way onto his canvas, whatever the subject – bit Plato’s forms, really….

Blackpaint

20.02.10

Blackpaint 71

February 17, 2010

Gorky

Read today something of interest on influence of above: he is cited as an influence on Sam Francis, in his use of thinned paint allowed to run down canvas, and in his predilection, shared by Francis,  for biomorphic forms, resembling, say, leaves.  I never would have thought of that, the two seem so different; Sam Francis to me usually means vivid deep blues in flower or petal shapes, interlaced maybe with bright yellows or ruby reds. 

Gotz

Karl Otto; great bloke, painted with a broom!  He swept great swathes of black towards the corners of his paintings.  He had a knack for titles too – “Painting of Feb. 8th, 1953”, much snappier than the earlier “Painting of Feb.5th, 1953” – but then, that one was smaller.  Taschen page on him ends with this sentence: “Gotz managed not to let uncontrolled autonomism end in artistic chaos, but instead to direct it along compositional channels” – so, he managed to control his lack of control.

The broom thing brings to mind another favourite, Kazuo Shiraga, who, according to the catalogue of “Action Painting – Jackson Pollock”, “would paint canvases (lying on the floor) that he had previously thrown lumps of paint at whilst hanging by his feet from a rope”.

Listening to Blind Lemon Jefferson, Matchbox Blues:

“I don’t mind marryin’ but  I can’t stand settlin’ down (*2)

Gonna act just like a preacher so’s I can ride from town to town.”

Blackpaint

17.02.10

Blackpaint 70

February 16, 2010

Art in Fiction 2 (see also Blackpaint 65)

“Young Hearts Crying” by Richard Yates.  Set in New York, there are two great portraits of post-war American painters. The first is Paul Maitland, an effortlessly charming, bohemian Abstract Expressionist living in the Village.

 The second is Tom Nelson, who does ink drawings with watercolour washes on his kitchen floor – using saturated shelf-lining paper.  They take him between 20 minutes and “a couple hours, sometimes a whole day”.  Every few weeks, he carts the good ones uptown to the Museum of Modern Art, where they usually buy a couple for the permanent collection; sometimes, the Whitney takes some – the rest go to his gallery for his regular one-man exhibitions. 

The pair are seen through the eyes of the two protagonists, Michael Davenport and his wife Lucy.  The book is so good that I’ve started it again for the third time, as a result of checking the names for this blog.

Yates’ mother was a sculptor and he writes about art in, I think, “the Easter Parade”, and at least one of his collected short stories.

Art Biopics (see Blackpaint 64)

Since 1990, Wikipedia lists 11 biopics of artists, not including those I write about in 64.  They are:

Vincent and Theo, Carrington, Basquiat, “Surviving Picasso”, Modigliani, “Factory Girl” (Edie Sedgwick and Warhol), “Fur” (Diana Arbus), “Goya’s Ghosts”, Klimt, El Greco, “Dali and !”.  I’ve only seen “Factory Girl”, Sienna Miller (brilliant).

Listening to Too Many Drivers by Lowell Fulsom:

“Oh babe, something is wrong with your automobile, (*2)

You know you got a good little car, but there’s too many drivers at your wheel.”

Blackpaint

16.02.10

Blackpaint 69

February 15, 2010

Gorky

Since I wrote on Gorky yesterday, I’ve read Laura Cumming’s review of the exhibition and I think I was a bit sniffy about it – under the evil influence of Brian Sewell, no doubt.  Maybe I missed the radiance a bit; if de Kooning thought he was the business, who am I to be critical?  And he must have been the only painter in the USA doing this stuff in the early 40’s, so the importance of the link with European abstraction…

Van Doesburg

Got to visit this again, and as always, there was stuff that impressed 2nd time round that I’d barely noticed the first: Huszar’s “Composition with Female Figure”; a fantastic Schwitters with one of those long titles full of numbers – it began with “Merz”; the paintings of Bortnyik, Maes and El Lissitsky that all used perspective, a rarity in  this exhibition; and a Futurist machine picture in black, white and red by Victor Servranckx, who gets 2nd prize for great name, after Vantongerloo.  I was puzzled by Jean Gorin’s “No.3 emanating from the equilateral triangle” – couldn’t see a triangle for the life of me.  I presume it was implied.  Cesar Domela had three lovely pictures, one a tilted square with corners coloured and finally VD himself, “Simultaneous Counter Composition”, in which the coloured squares (tilted of course) appear to be sliding apart under a thin black frame.

Richard Hamilton

Interview with Rachel Cooke, in which he claims that a teacher at the Royal Academy described Picasso et al as “a load of fucking dagoes!”  The art schools of the 40’s and 50’s sound like a nightmare; I remember reading that Terry Frost once spent 6 weeks on a painting without a comment from his teacher.  When Frost felt he was finished and asked for a comment, he was told, “If I were you, I’d scrape it all off and start again.”

Painting

Going two ways at the moment; doing Mondrian- style stuff freehand, so its messy (childish, but even messed up, it looks OK) – and flinging paint on flat canvas and spreading it with the edge of a postcard.  Really messy.

Listening to” That’ll be the Day”, Buddy Holly and the Crickets (of course):

“When Cupid shot his dart, he shot it at your heart,

So if we ever part then I’ll leave you..”

For decades, I thought it was “When Cupid Charlie starts…”: again, makes no sense, but I still prefer it.

Blackpaint

15.02.10