Posts Tagged ‘Arshile Gorky’

Blackpaint 572 – Kentridge and Kafka, Kooning and Kline

October 17, 2016

William Kentridge, the Whitechapel Gallery

Four or was it five, distinct rooms, each with films showing, one at least with other things to look at:

  • Wooden machine, like a loom maybe, or to me, reminiscent of the execution machine in Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” – the one on which the prisoner lies on his back and needles write the nature of his crime on his body, deeper and deeper until he is pierced through.  B&W films showing dancer in whirling white robes, doing a sort of dervish dance.
  • Flickbooks – great flick portraits of Kentridge pacing, stroking his chin, looking thoughtfully down at the floor, on book pages, I think.

kentridge-1

  • DaDa film – colour film starting with sliding panels rather like Schwitters collages – a bit – then actors in costume, one in those boxy cardboard assemblages that Oscar Schlemmer made for Bauhaus productions.  Can’t remember what they are doing – something DaDa probably.
  • A surround room of moving images, more WK selfies, moving ink sketches of repeated images, a coffeepot, a typewriter…

kentridge-2

Sounds underwhelming, I know, but definitely worth seeing, if only for the flickbooks.

 

Abstract Expressionism at the RA (again)

Straight to the de Koonings, which are really stupendous, and went all over the red 1955 “Composition” with my eye, bit by bit, instead of just standing in front and absorbing the whole thing in one go, as I usually do; I love the dirty bits, the chunky, scabby black and white squirls, the jagged patch of turquoise – just fantastic.  The catalogue, though generally good, gives you no real idea of the clarity and impact.

dk-at-ra

“Whose Name was Writ on Water” again – the spatters indicating how DK turned the canvas during painting.  The dullness of the dirty crimson against the washed-out blue – I used to think it was “Ok, but..” – not now, it’s great.

The red one next to “Water” – the paint screams at you,  At the top it looks to be still wet; in fact, there is a big chunk of what looks like wet marmalade, right up the top.

Mitchell’s “Salut Tom” – the brushwork on it is great, an indescribable quality to it – of course, or there would be no point in painting it…

There are two lovely Gorkys, the grey-green and white ones, painted in the same year – it looks as if they were done with the same paint.  Similarly with two of the smaller Pollocks, painted in 1945.

I was a little less impressed with Pollock’s “Mural” this time – the colours under the green were crude, fairground colours; not sure if this is a good or bad thing.  For contrast, look at Mitchell; the colours are cold, pure, clear, deep.

Clyfford Still – several of the paintings have a Barnett-like line down them.

Klines – swimming pool ladders, bridges, scaffolding, in stark, rough black and white – one swirling black foggy one, different to the others, rather like a Lanyon in black.

kline-at-ra

Arabian Nights, Pasolini, 1974

paso1

The last of P’s trilogy of films based on ancient tales (Canterbury Tales and the Decameron are the other two); as with the others, it has a patchy, disjointed feel here and there, awkward segues, loads of explicit, .but very static sex by today’s standards – then, you realise how memorable the combination of music and scenarios is and how Pasolini’s images stay with you.  In this one there is a surprise live dismemberment.

Brexit

In these tempestuous and exciting times, two contrasting songs to suit the more radical of the pro- and anti- factions; they are:

“Hawkwood’s Army” by Fairport Convention

“Peppers and Tomatoes” by Ralph McTell

cobalt-window-2

Cobalt Window

Blackpaint

17.10.16

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Blackpaint 181

August 24, 2010

Blog

Sorry, its going to be  short today as I’m  trying to get a painting right – oils are great, make everything brighter and sharper, but they’re thick and sticky so I find I need to pretty them up here and there to make them look a bit more intentional, not just a tangle of colours I’ve splurged randomly onto the canvas and rolled around in (although I’ve done a bit of that too).

Louisiana

Not the US state, but the art gallery in Copenhagen.  Was there three summers ago and it was the best, with Guggenheim Bilbao, that I’ve been to outside London.  Anyway, in Hay on Wye, found an old 1995 catalogue for  Louisiana for a tenner.  It’s got the following, which I recommend you look up on Google as usual and give yourself a high quality visual experience (I was going to say “treat”, but I’m avoiding cliches like the plague, at this moment in time):

Pierre  Alechinsky

Belgian, member  of CoBrA, look at “Noise of the Fall” (Bruit de la Chute).  like Bram van Velde matched with de Kooning, it has a little fringe of black and white waterfall pics at its base, like those little scenes you get at the bottom of altar pieces – he did that often.  Compare his with Gorky’s; I like Alechinsky’s, but maybe overfamiliar with Gorky’s, which is in the Tate (but not currently on the wall).

Egill Jacobsen

More CoBrA, I think – “Mask”, bright pink/orange, curves and curls, reminds  me of Constant but also a bit of Gillian Ayres.

Jorn

OK, this is really all about CoBrA – well, it IS in Copenhagen – check out “Dead Drunk Danes”.  Strange title; surely the Danes are a sober people?

Appel

love those rough black grids and lines, scrawled over  and over into the red – a crude, crude beauty every time.

Ejler Bille

Don’t even know if this is a man or woman.  Grey-green grounds, rough surface like pebble-dash, great, looping lines, forming circles and birds.

That’s enough to be going on with – more tomorrow.

Dog Star

Blackpaint

24.08.10

Blackpaint 92

March 22, 2010

Arshile Gorky

Went for a second time to this exhibition at the Tate London.  This time, I noticed the nifty little blue aeroplane paintings, full of technical detail – reminded me of some of the stuff in the Van Doesburg.  However, I found the thin, spidery black lines an irritation this time, also the fluffy white backgrounds of some pictures and the rather sickly nature of the colours generally.  Also annoying were the pretentious titles and I left thinking no, not one of the greats – except clearly as a catalyst, for de Kooning, for instance.  Definitely this time, I noticed how some of them look great from the far end of the gallery, and how they disappoint as you draw near.

BUT – second visits are often like this; it’s the mood you’re in. 

Seurat

I’ve been looking at a Thames and Hudson book of above and have to say how stunning his drawings are; sketches in Conte crayon composed of swimming particles that seem to swarm before your eyes like atoms coalescing (maybe partly the glasses, but still) – just fantastic.  It’s that thing of thinking you know someone, not really looking at their stuff any more – Gauguin, OK, know what he  did; Cezanne, yes, Mont St. thing  again; and then you actually look.

It appears that I can’t download pictures again, so words only today.

Blackpaint

Sunday Night

OK – so I could download – but it took all night and all day.

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 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

Blackpaint 68

February 14, 2010

Arshile Gorky

So, after reviewing the (Sewell) review, I’ve now seen the show.  There are 12 rooms, so I’ll take them one by one.  Room 1, I made no notes, but remember an imitation of a Cezanne still life. 

Room 2 showed how AG had “abstracted” a Picasso-like portrait of “Woman with a Palette” several times over the years. 

Room 3 displayes some fine drawings, obviously influenced by Picasso. 

Room 4 continues this with a number of paintings which are Picasso imitations, using a lot of white. 

In room 5, still unoriginal, I have made the following notes: “awful colours; fluffy whites; putty effect of painted background.  Drawings, however, are delicate and subtle.”

In room 6, the influence of Miro is very apparent – although the first painting recognisable as a Gorky appears, dated 1943, with the characteristic leaf/butterfly/biomorph shapes, circled and linked by the thin black lines.

Then, oddly,  Room 7 takes you back in time; portraits of AG with mother, and sister and friends.  The portrait of AG with his mother has been reproduced in all the reviews of the show, I think – and I don’t understand the interest.  They would have been of huge significance to Gorky himself, of course, and should be in the show – but why here, half way round?

Room 8, smallish drawings, from a distance look like people grouped on ice or by a lake, with pastel “washes” of colour.

Room 9, and “Waterfall”, and at last the famous Gorky.  There are several waterfalls, in fact, one of them named; the notes I have made are; “thin paint, sometimes running.  Pirate 1 resembles a Graham Sutherland!”

Room 10, Landscape.  I’ve noted two; “From a high place – looks like a picnic!” and “Apple Orchard”, with an orange background that is a blend of yellow, reds and greens close up.  The thin black lines are much in evidence and the shapes are reminiscent of Matta, Masson maybe – some of them also remind me of the late de Koonings, the same deadness and emptiness, but only sometimes.

Room 11, “Betrothals”, the bad luck room – the fire and the cancer.  What I noted was that there are three versions of “Betrothal” and in each, the figures are identical (although the colours are different).  This seems to be his way of working; compose in a sketch and develop by trying out different colours.  So again, a painter whose work can appear spontaneous and who is associated with a movement which prizes and promotes spontaneity, turns out to work in a formal, considered and wholly traditional way.

The final room is called “the Limit”, the title of one of the paintings.  The other bad luck room; the car crash and the suicide.  Again, there are four studies of a work called “Agony”, although this time the final version contains some changes.  One, the Black Monk(?), called Last Painting – the equivalent of Van Gogh’s crows over the cornfield, maybe; the “suicide” painting.

So, some beautiful works and a lot of mediocre ones.  It strikes me that his importance was perhaps more as an influence on de Kooning, Pollock and the others, rather than as a painter himself.  His thin paint surfaces are never as rich and interesting as de K, Pollock or Joan Mitchell; sometimes you get “dead areas”.  He brings to mind Matta and sometimes Kandinsky, with his little entities fluttering around.  But I think the historical significance justifies the exhibition.

Was Sewell right?  Yes, about the drawing – it is very skilful and does sometimes resemble etching.  Yes, about the Picasso and Miro imitation.  And yes, about his significance to the Ab Exes (although they acknowledged that themselves).  I think he is wrong in his assertion that Gorky was ignorantly copying others  and did not know what he was doing – he may not be a de Kooning or a Pollock but he has an instantly recognisable style, from 1943 onwards.  And for a painter who “abdicates formal responsibility”, he spends a lot of time doing drafts and sketches of his major works before producing the final version.  I felt a little cheated by this, as by Kline and Hartung before – I like my AbExes to give birth in a trance-like creative frenzy, improvising and composing as they go; I don’t want them doing formal sketches first!

Blackpaint

14.02.10

Blackpaint 67

February 13, 2010

Sewell on Gorky

As promised,  Brian Sewell’s review of Tate Modern show, in Thursday’s Evening Standard: writing of de Kooning and Pollock, he says they “served to bolster Gorky’s reputation as the stud who sired their rough and ready kind of gestural Abstract Expressionism.  We should blame him for the scribbles of Cy Twombly too”.  De Kooning and Pollock acknowledged Gorky as a prime influence or inspiration – why Twombly, though? 

“Rough and ready” as a description of Pollock is only partly fair – “Full fathom five” incorporated fag ends and keys, which I suppose is pretty rough and ready; but “Cathedral” and “Lavender Mist” are delicate, intricate, many-layered… As for de Kooning – well, the surfaces are often rough, paint runs down, it’s scored and scratched, the paint blears from one colour into another, the brush dries in mid-streak, so yes, rough and ready.  But the effect of this is a matter of taste; I find his surfaces a source of immediate pleasure; deep, rich colours, movement, texture – how do you explain why you think they are good to someone with different eyes?  

It strikes me that Sewell despises the whole “project” of Abstract Expressionism and is suspicious of spontaneity in the creative process altogether.  he describes how Gorky, in his later works, “the images scribbled, doodled, smudged and the colour scrubbed onto the canvas….was released from all formal responsibilities.”  Looking approvingly at Gorky’s drawings, he describes how Gorky’s “drawn line…lends order to the chaos of surreal forms, often Dali-like, in a fantasy of hubbub and disorder.” 

From these observations, one can see that Sewell’s aversion is to “hubbub and disorder”, and to release from “formal responsibility”.  He approves of Gorky to the extent that he shows technical skill at drawing.  All the other stuff is pretty much rubbish.  Clement Greenberg, who promoted him, was “jabberwocky-driven” (presumably harried by a phantom of his own mind) in describing him as “a painter of more than national importance”; this, Sewell says, “is to assume that he knew what he was doing.  He did not.”

Given Sewell’s stance, it is difficult to see how he would approve of, or derive pleasure from any Abstract Expressionist “works” or those works associated with the movement.  That’s fair enough as a position, of course; but it’s not a useful review if you like this sort of stuff.

By way of contrast, Alastair Sooke in the Telegraph says the later paintings summon “a sense of spontaneity and freedom that is nothing short of ravishing.”  There’s nothing for it – I’ll have to go myself. 

Coincidence

In Sewell’s review the adjective “desuetudinous” appeared – not a commonly employed word.  Then it popped up again, this time used by Pat Kane on BBC2’s Review Show.  I’m glad I know what it means.

Regarding Blackpaint 64 and 65, should have mentioned that there is a film of “the Horse’s Mouth”, with Alec Guinness as Gulley Jimson.

Listening to “I ain’t superstitious” by Howling Wolf;

“You know I ain’t superstitious, but a black cat just crossed my trail (*2)

Don’t sweep me with no broom; I just might get put in jail.”

Blackpaint

13.02.10