Posts Tagged ‘Ai Weiwei’

Blackpaint 277

June 2, 2011

Exhibition

Had an offer to take part in an exhibition the other day, which was nice;  however, when I asked for details, I was told that one condition was no nudity, or partial nudity (I presume they meant in the paintings).  The reason was, the venue was a church hall and nudity might offend those who used it for purposes other than looking at art.  They have a point, I suppose – some of the Michelangelo stuff on the Sistine ceiling and wall might alarm cubs or scouts;   the implied oral sex in Adam and Eve for instance, or the wielding of huge phallic columns, or the snake biting Minos’ penos – sorry, penis – then again, it might not.  The images are distant and difficult to make out, after all.  Anyway, although my stuff is abstract, any figures anyone might read into the blotches and smears are definitely nude and might well be taking part in some obscene act – so had to decline, regretfully.

Ai Weiwei

Went to see the bronze Zodiac animal heads in the courtyard of Somerset House, with the fountains and kids playing within their semi-circle.  They actually look like hard, moulded brown plastic (the heads, not the kids) and feel like it too.  There was a rat, cockerel, dragon, snake, lion (or tiger), hare, bull, horse, pig… must be three more, but can’t remember.  They are based on figures that were outside a Chinese palace, I think, and that a British army stole or destroyed during an Opium War; so there is an irony in  them being on display in a British “Palace”.

The Lisson Gallery show has the neolithic pots that Ai plastered with garish, modern industrial paint.  This iconoclastic streak in Chinese art makes sense in the context of a society so bound by rules and convention and order; smash it up, break free, clear the decks, start afresh.  In this respect, a negative (or rather positive) image of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guard, the Little Red Book – but done from below, by insanely brave individuals trying to achieve a sort of freedom of thought and action.

Ai Weiwei is still being held without charge by the Chinese authorities.

Out of Australia, British Museum

Prints and drawings by the “Angry Penguins” group of Australian artists, Tucker, Nolan, Boyd, Brack and Hester; also some drawings by German Jewish WW2 internees, and abstracted landscape pictures by the great Fred Williams.  These drawings, particularly Nolan’s and Boyd’s, are well worth a visit, but it is the Native Australian pictures, by the likes of Judy Watson and Kitty Kantilla  that are really interesting.  There is one of a lightning god, in the form of a grasshopper with “wrists” chained to “ankles” and little hammers on the elbows; another of sand whorls on the ground, another with arrows of a cyclone heading towards lines at right angles, representing the land…  They look like abstract tapestry patterns, but are all representative.  I’m explaining this badly; go and see.

Aguirre, Wrath of God

Watched this again the other night;  the whirring, wheeling whistle of that bird, Kinsky’s mad, sneering glare, the sinister “la, la, la”-ing of Aguirre’s accomplice, the beautiful, doomed girls…  fantastic film, enhanced in some strange way by the crap subtitles.

Blackpaint

02.06.11

 

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Blackpaint 270

May 1, 2011

Figures in profile

The convention for processions in profile; which culture adopted it first?  The Egyptians and Assyrians (of various kinds – Babylon, Nineveh, Nimrud, Tigrath-Pilaster – I can’t keep hold of the differences) both use the convention; I’m guessing the Egyptians, who presumably then influenced the Assyrians… and later the Greeks, of course.  Then again, maybe both the early cultures developed the convention independently, which would be more interesting.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary about the caves of Chauvet in the Ardeche region of France, discovered in the early 90s.  Staggeringly beautiful, powerful, animal images – the horse with its mouth slightly open, the clashing rhinos, the way the artists have incorporated the scoops and bulges of the cave walls, the cave lions in profile, the black pigment on scraped white walls.  There is only one human figure in the whole cave system, a woman’s back on a sort of tooth -shaped rock, poking down from the roof.  Littering the floors, bear skulls, covered in sparkling calcite, like round puddings under a layer of smooth sauce.

Some of the paintings were done 5000 years apart, the later artist having no compunction about adding to the earlier ones – how could s/he know how old they were.. and why care?

Lots of Hans Hass – style spiritual theorising from Herzog; amusing eccentrics (mostly French), dressed in Inuit furs or sniffing crevices, trying to discover new, unknown caverns, or clumsily demonstrating spear throwers.  Some impenetrable musing about albino crocodiles from the Eden-style project near the nuclear power site up the valley; would the crocs one day escape, get as far as the caves and wonder at the drawings?

For some reason, this brought to mind Aguirre, Klaus Kinski in his Conquistador helmet, floating down the Amazon on his log raft, surrounded by the corpses of his followers, monkeys overrunning the vessel – but still staring madly, baring his teeth at the endless green.

National Portrait Gallery

Larry Rivers’ portrait of David Sylvester, the style reminding me a bit of Jim Dine, a bit of Rauschenburg even, with the sweeps of ochre on the body.  Tony Bevan’s self portrait heads at odd angles, with the elongated necks, pipe-cleaner hair; done in strong, crude acrylic colours with thick charcoal strokes.

Ida Kar

Rumanian “Bohemian”, photo portraits of artists; Leger with his flat tweed cap, scowling out like a French peasant, Epstein like a Polish train driver in HIS forage cap, Bratby en famille with one of his paintings, outside a suitably curlicued terraced house; Piper with his paintings and Braque with loads of his – busy boy – Heron with a black squiggle, Helen Lessore looking hunched and rather gloomy and the best one, Foujita, with his Stanley Spencer hair and three of the creepiest dolls I’ve ever seen.  Great portraits, only £3.50 to get in.

Canvas

Bought a square one for a change from my usual 30*40 inches, and I can’t believe the difficulty I’ve had painting it –  nothing fits right.  Suppose it’s good to get out of your usual ways, once on a while.  I’ve ended up with something like a big egg yolk in a bottle-green sea.

Ai Weiwei

On 28th April, Tate Modern’s website expressed dismay at Ai Weiwei’s detention and providid a link to a petition calling for his release.  Please go to same and sign it, when you have finished reading this.

Wedding

Nice to see Nicholas Whitchell, Rowan Pelling, Martin Bashir and all the other members of the royal family being given plenty of air time.  Pity that they can’t just keep on going until the next royal event…

Blackpaint

Mayday 2011

Blackpaint 267

April 15, 2011

Hans Hofmann

Yes, one “f”, two “ns” – I think I’ve been mis-spelling it for a year or so; maybe not.  Anyway, I’ve bought a stunning book about works he did in 1950, a pivotal year for him.  He wrote an essay or article entitled “When I start to paint..”, which is worth quoting from, I think:

  • When I start to paint, I want to forget all I know about painting.
  • What I would hate most is to repeat myself…
  • As a painter, I deny any rule, any method and any theory.

Because Hofmann is famous for his influence as a (highly theoretical) teacher and the development of his famous “push-pull” praxis, these are perhaps surprising statements – but they are not contradictory, since he also says “(While painting) I take for granted that my knowledge has become second nature”.  The paintings are great, swirling patterns of bright colour, in combinations you would think would hurt your eyes, yet highly structured and textured; the text describes their surfaces as open and breathing.  They are like the paintings of Appel and Jorn in this respect.

The real beauty, however, is in the close-up detail extracts.  It’s only £23.00 odd; “Hans Hofmann, circa 1950”, the Rose Art Museum 2009.  I’ve not seen it anywhere  but Waterstones in Piccadilly; only one copy there, I think – and I’ve got it.

Cork Street Galleries

Some terrific stuff in these posh galleries at the moment; Green Park tube, walk through Burlington Arcade past the Royal Academy and there you are.  Hofmann’s comment about not repeating himself very apposite in several cases, however.

John Hoyland

Acrylic on cotton duck, mostly big, square-ish works, 50*50 ins maybe?  Almost fluorescent colours; turquoise, raspberry, acid yellows, purple – and some with thick, glabrous centres of black and brown, like sawn-off tree trunks coated with lumpy creosote; circular splotches of dazzling white, pink, red with coronas of tiny splatter marks.  On some, little flattened discs of multi-coloured acrylic, like trodden-in plasticene.  Electric colours, spacey titles.  Individually, striking and exciting – collectively, the impact drains away.  You need to hang a Hoyland between a muddy Auerbach and a Lanyon, say.

Harold Cohen at Bernard Jacobson Gallery

Again, the vivid acid colours;  patches, snakes, rivers, bent elbows of paint, dashing about all over the canvas.  And again, the cumulative effect of twenty or so is less than that of one big one, seen from the street.  Cohen invented the AARON computer painting program, but these are a sort of collaboration between the computer, which does the basic pattern with inkjet, and the painter, who finishes the work by hand.  For some reason, that seems better to me.

Picasso at Alan Cristea Gallery

Black, grey and white “Portrait Lithographs”.  Fantastic, of course, but with the exception of three done in a rougher, more textured style, very similar variations on a theme.  Less is more, then, is today’s thought.

The Seventh Seal

Watching this the other night, I was struck by how Japanese it looked (and sounded);  the landscape, the riders, the tumblers, the wagons, the bits of music, the mediaeval setting – could have been Kurosawa.  Then again, he was reckoned to have very Western sensibilities, I think.  They were working about the same time.

Ai Weiwei

Has he been released yet?  It seems incredible that they can just drag him off somewhere and lock him up for “economic crimes” – medieval really.  He must be one of the world’s best-known artists.  Maybe if the Chinese government read this, they’ll realise their error and release him.

Blackpaint

15.04.11

PS – Saturday.  Last night, visited the Miro exhibition at Tate Modern, of which more in next blog.  Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds still on display, but not a word about his arrest – no petition, posters, nothing.  Shameful, I think; is the management afraid of offending Chinese visitors?

Blackpaint 216

November 7, 2010

Ai Weiwei

Unbelievably, the Chinese have demolished his studio and now placed him under house arrest, presumably because of his support for dissidents and general refusal to toe the line.  His installation, which got such a lot of bemused comment in the British media because of the porcelain dust business, is still “on” in the Tate Modern, our main showcase of modern art to the world; the current campaign of intimidation against him should be headline news, surely.  The Chinese government are also trying to stop ambassadors from attending the Nobel Prize award to Liu Xiaobo.

Arthur Melville

One of the Glasgow Boys, current exhibition at the Royal Academy, this is the painter who has a little picture at the NG of Scotland in Edinburgh that appears to be as near to abstract as makes no difference (see Blackpaint 139, May 24th).  This surely makes it the earliest abstract in Western art (?).  Laura Cumming, in her review of the show, mentions it and points out that it is actually an impressionistic rendering of a scene at the Moulin Rouge, but rightly says it is more like Abstract Expressionism than any other movement around at the time.  Melville’s  more conventional paintings are hugely impressive too; the one in the Observer reminds me of something by Brueghel, big red-flanked mountains, a U shaped lake at the foot (no serpent, unfortunately) – that is, until you notice the brushwork.  Haven’t been to the RA yet, so don’t know if the Moulin Rouge pictures are in the show – I suspect not, or they would have been reproduced in the Observer article.

Zoe Leonard

Should have included her in my list of artists using strange materials (see Blackpaint 162, July 5th): she has made baseballs (must be – she’s from New York) out of orange and grapefruit peel, stitched in sections and a purse out of banana skin with zip fastener attached; “unzip a banana”, as the advert used to tell us.

Mariotto Albertinelli

A strange “Creation and Fall” in the  Courtauld collection by this artist;  Eve is emerging from the sleeping Adam’s side, assisted by an angel supporting each elbow.  To the right of sleeping Adam is Adam awake, receiving the fruit from Eve, who stands by the Tree.  The serpent’s human (but sexually indeterminate) head appears to be whispering in her ear – and a thin twig from the tree, or maybe a foot of the serpent, appears to be tickling her pubic hair.

Blackpaint’s Quiz

A new feature, the result of inexorable dumbing-down pressures on the writer.  Correct answers will be included in Comments, of course – and that will  constitute the prize.

Q.  Who painted a plaster head, a green ball and a glove (looks like rubber) in the same painting?

St.Dorothy by Blackpaint

6.11.10

Blackpaint 207

October 15, 2010

Dexter Dalwood

I’ve been looking at the new book of Dalwood’s work.  A wizard wheeze, doing crime scenes and major events as empty rooms or places.  It ticks the social comment box – if you call a painting “Yalta” or “Birth of the UN” or “Sunny von Bulow”, it doesn’t matter what you put in it, critics will see some social or political relevance there; I don’t think there usually is any.  The Turner Prize entry, “Dr. Kelly”, for example – a tree on a hilltop, against an intense night-time blue, big silver moon – it says loneliness, maybe despair, to me; but it doesn’t constitute a critique.  Maybe having a picture named after a scandalous tragedy involving the Iraq war in the Turner Prize exhibition will be enough to gain Dalwood a lead; who knows?  

It doesn’t have to be, of course, as long as the picture is good and interesting; I’m just suggesting it helps, by giving the work another (spurious) dimension.  Good luck to him – an idea that can run, and already has for some years.

Dalwood’s paintings contain little cameos of other painters’ work;  De Kooning, for example, in the UN picture; Bacon on the wall in “Klaus von Bulow”; and Sunny as Millais’ Ophelia in “Sunny von Bulow”. 

Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement”

For some reason, I’d thought that M. painted this straight after finishing the ceiling in 1512; I suppose I just thought you would – “ceiling done, now for the walls” sort of thing.  but  no – he did a lot of other stuff and came back in 1536, 24 years later when he was 60 years old, to do the huge fresco for a different Pope, Paul III.  It took him until 1541.

Later, following the Council of Trent, some of his figures had breech cloths painted in to cover their genitals – but the concealments look  pretty random to me.  Why cover some members and leave others on display?  I can understand why they would want Jesus under wraps (but his winding sheet seems to curl round fairly naturally, so presume that was M.’s own work) -but there seems to me no reason behind the other choices.  Can anyone help?

Ai Weiwei

Sad news that the seeds are now out of bounds; now that I think of it, there was a thin mist of dust hanging above the “beach” when I was there.  Health and (choke) safety gone (cough) mad, if you ask me (wheeze and collapse).

CoBrA

There urgently needs to be a documentary made about the above group and their associates; Jorn, Appel, Pederson, Constant etc.  I can’t remember ever seeing anything about them on television or film.  Same goes for Per Kirkeby, who after all, is still alive.  Tons of art on British telly at the moment, but its mostly crap, or about huge names (Picasso, Matisse, Warhol); we know all that.

Corryvreckan by Blackpaint

15.10.10

Blackpaint 206

October 13, 2010

Ai Weiwei in the Turbine Hall (cont.)

So I went up to the Tate Modern to see for myself.  I was wrong; it doesn’t look like a builder’s yard or a railway yard – it looks like a beach.  The place was full of couples with kids who’d obviously read the Guardian article and brought them there to play in the “sand”.  there was a cleared pathway of a couple of feet round it and a team of Tate young persons sweeping the escaping seeds back in.

The seeds are actually variable in a ppearance; some are dark grey, some lighter.  The hand painting consists of three or four strokes.  They feel like stones; some people were taking photos of them.  I spent five minutes, then went up to see Jorn and Kline and Mitchell and the others.  Did it make me think of Twitter, or crystallised labour (see Blackpaint 205)?  No – it made me think “There are 150 million of these seeds and they certainly look like 150 million; so there are a lot of people in China  – 7 or 8 times as many seeds”.  Incredibly shallow, but there you are. 

The trouble with conceptual art is that it often has to be explained to you, so that you get the right message.  Once you’ve got the message, that’s it, job done  – mostly, there’s nothing more.  With a painting, you can go back to it over and over again and get something from it.  I think only the Balka and the Eliasson have made me want to repeat the experience.

It occurs to me how difficult it must be to get these things into existence, how much persuasion and organisation….  I see them (the artists) as being a bit like old style entrepreneurs, Brunel, Carnegie.  Getting these seeds made reminds me of Francis Alys getting those students to shift the dune, or Tunick, or Vanessa Beecroft persuading large numbers of people to strip off for photographs.

Andrew Marr

Blogs are the “spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night,” he says.  Right about that, anyway.

Yoshihara

Looked him up on google (see Bl. 205).  He’s done a lot of thick circles.  I like them.

Twombly

At Tate Modern, looked at Cy’s three big paintings of circular, arcing red paint.  I thought they were blood – but they’re called “Bacchus”; its wine.  Puts a different complexion on it.

Joan Jonas 

Next room to Twombly.  She did a children’s play at Whitechapel in the 70s and this is a video loop of the performance.  Terrifying – Japanese masks, blood.. Only thing I heard clearly was “Then she brought it down on his head!”  Costumes, props and lots of flags, red on white , white on red, like blood of course.

Natchez Burning

Another one gone

Blackpaint

13.10.10

Blackpaint 205

October 12, 2010

Has to be Ai Weiwei again today – his installation is now open it the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern.

Ai Weiwei – Sunflower Seeds

150 million porcelain seeds, each hand-painted, made by population of Jingdezhen, centre of historical porcelain industry in China, deposited in a huge slough on the floor of the hall.

In the Guardian photograph, it looks like a vast grey gravel or cinder bed – something in a builders or railway yard, laid down as a bed for sleepers.  Is it like a beach?

What does it mean?

Obvious meaning is crystallised labour.  According to the Marxist theory of value, a commodity is a lump of the worker’s labour in physical form.  It also represents the de-skilling involved in mass production.  Although the seeds are painted by hand, each one bears only a few strokes – this from an industry in which hand painting was highly skilled and beautiful.

The use of sunflower seeds has a resonance for China, in that they are widely regarded and consumed as a snack food there.

Ai himself says they can be seen as a metaphor for Twitter, each representing a single tweet.

I’ve been to see it this afternoon, but no time to write properly now – minor family crisis – so please treat this as a tweet.  Proper blog tomorrow.

Old one, a bit like a seed I thought.

Blackpaint

12.10.10

Blackpaint 204

October 10, 2010

Open House

Finished now.  Didn’t sell many, but enough to fool me into thinking it’s worth continuing for a few more months.  Lots of people remarked on how many paintings there were (see Blackpaint 202).  Always a surprise to see which ones sell, or are admired – invariably old ones.  One I was about to paint over was praised by several people, to my complete incomprehension.  Nice but disquieting – stuff I’m doing now is totally different, but you can’t go back.

Ai Weiwei

Great to see him getting so much coverage in the papers; that must be embarrassing for the Chinese government, along with the Nobel Peace Prize going to Liu Xiaobo.

Jiro Yoshihara

Grey paint appearing as thick as putty, with a black slash slicing diagonally upwards at a shallow angle from low left to middle right.  Above it on left, a black patch from which the paint dribbles down like thin black blood, and  between the two blacks, a scrawled and scrubbed black and white cloud, extending to the right edge and top right corner of the canvas.  This is “Painting” (wonder what he called all the others). 

Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an arresting image that shows how much can be got into a limited palette.  There’s an inverted “V” sign in white that has been painted over the stern of the black diagonal by a drying brush being dragged lightly over the surface of the canvas.  I thought of Lanyon when I saw it; the texture reminds me of brushmarks on “Wreck” in the Tate Modern.  I said “stern” because now I can’t help but see the black stroke as a rowing boat.  The black patch above the stern is now a jellyfish,  its tendrils suspended vertically in the grey “ocean”.

All this, despite having spent two weekends maintaining to visitors that my paintings are non-figurative and not intended to look like anything in the “Real” world and that to see them as pregnant women or jungle landscapes or whatever was erroneous, etc., etc….  Can be entertaining though – I have one that I think looks like a hooded judge in a white gown, or a Klansman sitting in judgement;  one visitor said it was a still life, another saw a big 50’s style fridge.

Anyway, Yoshihara a founder of the Gutai group (1954) that apparently influenced Pollock.  I’m going to look up more of his stuff.

Painters whose works have a spurious, superficial mutual resemblance, No. 10

Wols and Georges Mathieu.  The latter, of course, used to do those spontaneous performance paintings.  They both like spiky, insect-like tangles or knots in black or white, streaking out from a  central point like track of atoms in a ..what are they called, those machines that smash atoms and record the track of the fragments?  Add to that brilliant colours, splotched and scratched and muddied (more so in  Wols’ case) and you have the resemblance.  I like Wols best.

This is the one I was going to paint over.

Blackpaint

10.10.10

Blackpaint 203

October 8, 2010

Martin Rowson

Glad to see in the Guardian a week or so ago,a Rowson cartoon featuring a long tongue issuing from the mouth of a toadying pressman and winding towards Cameron, who was descending from a royal-type coach.  Unfortunately, it (the tongue, not the coach) did not approach the anus of the said politician, but formed a slimy red carpet for him to tread.  More subtle than arse-licking but somehow less satisfying – hang on, that didn’t sound right.  Anyway, must end this obsession; this blog is  becoming more obscene by the day.  I see that a reader used the terms “tate modern vaginas” to find the site. 

So – from now on, no obscenity, no pointing out indecent little details in works of art – only good, clean, mature discussion on artistic matters, in the highest of moral tones.

Ai Weiwei

Coming soon to the big hall at the Tate Modern, how do you square the work of an artist like Ai, who tangles with an arbitrary and viciously reactivr regime like the Chinese government with artists who paint about paint, or “investigate materials”?  Difficult one – there’s nothing heroic about the latter.  Ai, who has recently been provoking the government about those missing in the Szechuan earthquake, is like a lion tamer sticking his head in the lion’s mouth – but without taming it first. 

I suppose, say, asking questions about the liquid qualities of light passing through various media doesn’t really match up in the credibility stakes – but someone has to do it.   One day, when all the dictatorships are overthrown, global warming has been halted and reversed, famine is no more,  peace and plenty and democratic socialism reign, we’ll still have art surely – or maybe not, because no struggle.

A thread in Chinese art –

Ai Weiwei famously dropped and smashed a Han dynasty vase and filmed himself doing so;

Huang Yong Ping destroyed A History of Chinese Art in a washing machine;

Cai Guo Qiang blows things up with fireworks.

I don’t know, but I have the feeling that, in the context of Chinese history and philosophy, this destructive streak must be especially shocking.  Then again, Mao and the Cultural Revolution… maybe in that context, destruction is culturally familiar.  Woefully ignorant here, as is obvious, so please comment.

Wayne Thiebaud

Now 90, I mention him because I like his work and it’s apposite to the comments above about political art.  He does pictures of consumer items like  cakes, shoes, lipsticks set against flat, highly coloured backgrounds.  He has a background in signwriting and cartoons which clearly shows in his work.  There’s something funny about a lovingly-painted slice of cake with a cherry on top,  on its plastic shelf in an automat, or a stout, shiny pair of black brogues set at a jaunty angle.  Is it political?  Of course – something to do with the worship of consumer items, mass production, etc., etc.  But then, all art is political in the sense that it represents a choice of what to represent and what not to represent.  Its not necessarily commited, though. 

More about this, when I’ve thought it through clearly – might be some time.

Broke Line Tide

Blackpaint

8.7.10