Posts Tagged ‘Bacon’

Blackpaint 585 – Vegetable Heaven, Miro at Montjuic, Bacon in Soho

February 3, 2017


Still Life with Sharon Fruit



Barcelona – probably worth two blogs, although only there three days; we’ll see how it goes.

Sagrada Familia

Gaudi’s famous perpetually developing cathedral/folly – first visible from the south-west by two of its towers peering like Triffids over the surrounding roofs.  In some ways, it’s a rather vegetable experience, both inside and out.  The towers (seven, I think) are grey cucumbers; the columns inside are like giant sticks of celery.  Some way up, they swell into diving helmet bulges, with lights behind glass windows (see below); from these bulges, the branches fork upwards, ending in thorn-like fingers slayed against the ceiling, reminiscent of Graham Sutherland’s paintings.




Over the main entrance, Christ appears to be about to launch himself from the high board.  Other scenes from the crucifixion below the cross; the sad man,  Christ dragging the cross, the mourners…



Giant celery and diving helmets

The stained glass inside is a stunning spectacle, washing the interior in piercing blues, reds, greens and gold.  I thought it was all abstract, but you can detect figures in some of the designs, and there are one or two constellations.  There is another crucifixion inside, with Christ hanging with bent knees and an Art Nouveau canopy which would look OK in a French period pub.

Outside again, to the other doorways, which are thickly encrusted in decorative carving and studded with statuary depicting other biblical scenes; the Massacre of the Innocents, the Flight into Egypt et al.  Also worth a mention is the Ascension of Christ, the figure perched on the bridge between two of the “Passion Towers” outside.  See my sketch (rough – but not bad from about 80 feet below):



Miro Museum

Spectacular Bauhaus – type white building, in a spectacular setting, up Montjuic, the hill overlooking Barcelona. The chap below was on the door.  Beautiful dark green bluff behind building, cedars, poplars…



The permanent exhibition covers much the same ground as the huge Miro exhibition in London from a few years back (see Blackpaint 222 and 262): the early farms and village squares that could be anyone; the blue, green and brown backgrounds with spidery line drawings; then into the familiar Miro territory of biomorphic shapes and blazing primary colour (my two favourites below);




The huge plain canvases with the wandering line, protesting the imprisonment and execution by garotte of the Anarchist in 1974; the black fireworks; the burnt canvases.

The large sculptures below brought home to me the similarities between Miro and Karel Appel.  Since Miro was earlier, the influence must have been his on the Dutchman.  The bird things, the staring eyes and bared teeth of the figures, the primary colours, the painting onto wood, the highly coloured shapes and like carnival figures on floats – the two artists share all these things.

The difference between the two – Appel’s extreme “painterliness” (I saw an Appel in St. Ives on which the paint must have been two and a half inches thick) while Miro’s surfaces are mostly smooth.  He famously said he wanted to “assassinate painting”.





appel flute2

Appel (figures for The Magic Flute, CoBrA Museum, Amsterdam)

More on Barcelona – Picasso, MACBA -next blog.

Love is the Devil (John Mayberry, 1998)

Watched this again the other night after the BBC documentary on Bacon, which revealed that George Dyer’s death on a French hotel toilet  before Bacon’s Paris exhibition was concealed for two days by Bacon and several of his entourage, to avoid spoiling the grand opening.

Derek Jacobi is astounding as Bacon – Bacon’s chin was more pointed, otherwise he was perfect.  And so was Daniel Craig as Dyer; he’s wasted as Bond. Fantastic (imaginary) shots of Craig, bloody, flayed, tumbling forward as from a diving board.


Little Ice Fall










Blackpaint 566 – Babes in the Wood

August 23, 2016

Bacon and Auden

I can never read Auden’s staggering poem “September 1st 1939” without remembering Bacon’s painting – and vice versa.  It’s the two men in hats, sitting in a bar(?) while the slaughtered body hovers to their left:

bacon crucifixion 1965

Bacon – Crucifixion 1965

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

Actually, Bacon’s triptych suggests another Auden poem as well; “Musee des Beaux Arts”.  The theme of this is how normal life goes on while momentous and/or tragic events unfold “next door”; Auden refers to Bruegel’s Icarus picture (below), in which the ploughman goes on ploughing as Icarus’ legs – see them? – follow the rest of his body into the depths.  The barflies in the Bacon are sort of parallel to the ploughman.



Bruegel the Elder – Icarus

Interestingly, Auden excluded “September 1st 1939” from his Collected Poems; maybe he regretted being in the USA as Great Britain went to war; maybe he changed his mind about the politics; “Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return” might be represented as an excuse for the rise of Nazism.  Whatever the reason for its exclusion, it has to be one of the best poems on a political theme ever written.

Z, dir. Costa – Gavras, 1969

I fancied something political and unequivocally left-wing to watch, maybe to readjust my parameters a bit, so I turned to the DVD of “Z”; I guess “Battle for Algiers” would have served, or a Franco Rosi, but I haven’t got them.  The film is about the murder of the politician Gregory Lambrakis in 1963, carried out, allegedly, on the orders of local police and army chiefs.  Marcel Bozzuffi (left, below, with Jacques Perrin as an opportunistic journalist) is the assassin and a brilliantly malevolent one he makes; he went on to kill again in “The French Connection” and judging by the titles of many other films, in those too.


I think Costa -Gavras might face accusations of homophobia if he were making the film today, since Bozzuffi’s character is shown to be both gay and predatory , with arguably little relevance to the plot; presumably the film is historically accurate on this point.  Bozzuffi is a great villain, though, and joins two other of my cinema icons, the wild men Gaston Modot (l’Age D’Or, La Regle du Jeu) and Franco Citti (Oedipus Rex, Canterbury Tales).

franco citti






Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (dir.Mat Whitecross, 2010)

Watching Andy Serkis as Ian Dury the other night, composing, or rather throwing together the words to “Spasticus Autisticus” in a stream of consciousness, I was reminded of Finnegans Wake.  I’m sure this is a trite, pretentious observation, made by many commentators before – but I’ve never shied away from triteness and pretension in the past, so why start now?

lost in the wood 1

Lost in the Wood



Blackpaint 544 – Still Life, Bare Life, Sokurov and CoBrA

May 7, 2016

Still Life

I’ve decided to abandon my usual practice of putting my own paintings at the end of the blog and to stick them at the beginning instead – just in case the reader gets fed up and goes elsewhere online before reaching my pictures.

still life

Still Life with Pomegranates – yes, I know, not the usual so I made some changes…

still life with pomegranate new

Still Life with Pomegranate – now that’s more like it!


“Bare Life” Catalogue (Hirmer)

In an  essay by Colin Wiggins, a similarity is identified between Freud’s “Big Man” and the Ingres portrait of Madame Moitessier – they are both below.  It’s the pose.

Ingres Moitessier

Ingres, Portrait of Madame Moitessier – he was eleven years painting this…


Freud big man

Lucian Freud, The Big Man

Hmm – and between Degas and Bacon (spine):

degas after the bath 2

Degas, After the Bath

Bacon three figures and a portrait

Bacon, Three Figures and a Portrait 

Well, yes, but marginal similarity at most. However, Wiggins is suggesting only a marginal, perhaps even subliminal influence, so fair enough.

The Sun, (dir Alexander Sokurov, 2004)

Described as a “companion piece to Downfall” on the DVD cover, this is a mesmerising portrait of Hirohito, an impotent god imprisoned by his destiny in his bunker, as WWII grinds to an end, with the destruction of Tokyo by Flying Fortresses and the cities destroyed by the atomic bombs.  There is a dream sequence in which the American bombers soar over Japan in the form of fire-breathing, flying fish.  But so far (I still have some to go), it seems unlike all the other Sokurovs I’ve seen – can’t quite put my finger on it…




Having mentioned “Downfall”, I felt it was an opportunity to include my favourite German helmet shot from the film.  Traudl tries to blend in with the Wehrmacht and somehow manages to filter through the Russian troops…

CoBrA Museum, Amstelveen, Netherlands

This great museum is in the suburbs of Amsterdam, in a nondescript housing and shopping precinct that reminded me of Swanley in Kent (also Swindon, and no doubt many other towns which may or may not begin with “Sw”); I only wish Swanley had such a collection.

The thousands of regular readers of this blog will be familiar with CoBrA (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam, the home cities of the founders of the group) and its leading painters; Asger Jorn, and Karel Appel.  Here are works by them and some of the lesser-known artists of the group:


Yellow Ochre Moon, Eugene Brands



Village Scene, Lucebert (1962)



Falling Sun, Carl-Henning Pedersen (1951)



Red Mask, Egell Jacobsen


Two Birds, Karel Appel



The Fake Laugh (Tragi-Comic Image), Asger Jorn



The Intermediate Reserve, Jorn



The Spectators and the Assassin from Lurs, Jorn



Harlequin, Jan Nieuwenhuijs

One important idea held by the group was the quite common notion that children see the world in a superior way to adults, who are jaded and corrupted and curbed by experience and socialisation; in childhood, there is some kind of direct access to the essence, which dissipates as we grow.  So, back to painting like the kids – a hopeless task, of course, but I think it produced a certain freshness and originality in their work.

See also recent blog with Appel stage settings and costumes from The Magic Flute and Noah, also at the CoBrA museum.




Blackpaint 543 – The oranges are not the only fruit…

April 30, 2016

Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art at the National Gallery

Gauguin still life

Gauguin, Still Life with a Delacroix

I have to say that I thought the Delacroixs (is that the proper plural?) were awful, on the whole.  They were melodramatic, exotic in a bad way and somehow dowdy; the brushwork looked dry and the colours lurid.  Then I looked at the work online and it was brilliant – luscious brushwork, fervid energy, piercing colour.  Just shows how photography has a glamorising effect on paintings, something I’ve noted before.

Then again, it could be I’ve been corrupted by all those repros you used to get in furniture shops in the 50s and 60s; Arab boys, Spanish flamenco dancers, harbour scenes – Delacroix is just too exotic for me.

The stunning Gauguin still life above is, for my money, the best thing on show, but there are great paintings by Degas, Redon, Moreau (not so great), Cezanne, two more Gauguins (one brilliant, the other terrible) and some awful Renoirs – but I have a blind spot about the latter, can’t stand his work.

Better show a Delacroix, after all, it’s his show, so:

delacroix algerian women

Algerian Women in their Apartments

See, it looks great as a photo.

Making your Ears Tingle

I’m reading Kings II in the King James Bible at the moment and here are three quotations that made me sit up:

Hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you? (2 Kings 18, 27)

Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. (2 Kings 21, 12)

…and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. (2 Kings 22, 13).

Pithy, eh?

The Hollow Crown – Richard II

hollow crown

Ben Whishaw perfectly cast, in my view; not an easy play to make work with all that rhyming verse – brilliant poetry, but it can sound quaint as dialogue, which it never does in this version.

The director does three art things in the murder scene at the end:

He has Richard, naked except for a loincloth, clamber to his feet, first sticking his rear high in the air in a direct echo of the Bacon/Muybridge boy;

Richard is slaughtered by crossbow arrows – up to now, he’s been Christ, now he’s St. Sebastian;

His body is dragged in a coffin before the usurper, Henry IV.  The corpse is twisted in the manner of those curving Christs on the crucifix by Cimabue et al.


Conceptual Art in Britain 1964 – 1979 (Tate Britain)

keith arnatt

I was determined to go round this without spending hours reading.  Consequently, I was round it in about fifteen minutes; there’s not much to look at apart from words.

A pyramid of oranges by Roeloff Louw from which you are supposed to help yourself (I presume they replace them);


A photo sequence of Keith Arnatt eating his own words (above);

A photo sequence of KA gradually disappearing into a hole in the ground;

Bruce McLean (in a photo sequence), performing contortions in spaces between plinths;

Michael Craig – Martin‘s glass of water/oak tree;

A long rolled-up fabric “machine” in the colours of the stars and stripes by John Latham – didn’t find out what it did;

A heap of builder’s sand by Barry Flanagan;

Some vitrines with magazines in them, some about the Singing Sculpture by Gilbert and George, in which they painted themselves gold – very influential maybe, given the resemblance to the living sculptures outside the National Gallery.

The rest was writing, including much work by Art & Language – strong on the latter, not much of the former.  Some quite turgid Marxism on one wall – turned out to be Trotsky.  I don’t scorn conceptual work, I should say; I just don’t see it as useful for me to speculate on the concepts which may or may not be involved; probably get them wrong, anyway.

Two of mine, to finish:


St.George Death Stroke (WIP from last blog)

And my attempt at a still life, in homage to Gauguin:

still life

Still Life with Pomegranate 







Blackpaint 536 – Newbolt, Soutine, the Leopard and the Greek

March 14, 2016

Thomas Newbolt at Kings Place



A series of solitary young women,  lost look in their eyes (or asleep as above), in glamorous dresses,  perched on a sofa; and small portraits of women’s faces, some cropped to show only some features.  The paint is thickly sliced on with a palette knife and is thickly textured in an almost Auerbachian manner.  I think there are one or two male heads out of twenty(?) or so.  My friend suggested a resemblance to the portraits of Soutine, which seemed to me exactly right.  I enjoyed the paintings greatly, even though several were obscured by the screens of a corporate event that was taking place.


Having mentioned this great and influential artist – Bacon and de Kooning, among several others, were influenced by him – I’ll put up some of his works; wild. expressionist townscapes, the portraits that Newbolt’s paintings faintly resemble and a side of beef, if I can find one:

soutine 2

soutine selfie

Soutine self-portrait


That path looks like a salamander holding a pine tree…



Mm – Tasty!


soutine skate

Here’s a Soutine Ray, to compare with Ensor’s Skate

Why is there no Taschen of Soutine, or any reasonably cheap book of his paintings?  A question I have asked before in this blog; but, despite its wide readership and undoubted influence, no reply has yet been forthcoming.

The Leopard, Visconti (1963)

the leopard 1

Burt Lancaster’s superb performance as the Sicilian prince, facing up to social and political change, his own mortality and that of his caste and values.  The operatic battle scenes, the insufferable nephew Tancredi (played by Alain Delon), the sweaty, shifty, worldly priest (Romano Valli – later, the fussy hotelier in Visconti’s “Death in Venice”, and brilliant in that too) – but above all, the ball  and that waltz with Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale, prefiguring, perhaps, the ball scene in Sokurov’s “Russian Ark”.

leopard 2

Well, no, not above all; there is a scene after the dance in which the ailing prince, looking for somewhere to rest, comes upon a huge room filled with the used chamber pots of the ball guests…

The Renaissance Unchained (BBC4)

I liked this series, especially Waldemar Januszczak’s exploration of Van Eyck and other so-called “Flemish Primitives” such as Memling, which showed up the absurdity of such a term for these brilliant draftsmen of fiendish detail with their clear, cold, deep colours.  I thought he had something when he referred to Michelangelo’s “Opal Fruit colours” in the Sistine Chapel (not the blues and browns though!); I’d also never noticed before the similarity between El Greco’s naked, elongated bodies in “the Opening of the Fifth Seal” and those of Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon”.  Apparently, this has been known since the 80s.  Here’s the El Greco, but I can’t find a decent photo of the Picasso, oddly.  Still, it’s a well enough known image…

fifth seal

I used to think El Greco’s paintings were OK, but sort of stuffy and boring in a dark, heavy, religious, Spanish way (despite coming from Crete); now I like them – but not that shimmery thing he has, see above.  No doubt, next week, I’ll think different.  A couple of life drawing exercises and an old painting of mine to finish:


cropping 1

Cropping 1


cropping 2

Cropping 2


green fuse

Green Fuse




Blackpaint 499 – The RA, the Internationale, Milk Cartons and Laundry Baskets

June 14, 2015

The Royal Academy Summer Show

Last blog, I identified the best picture in the show, which happened to be that of my partner, Marion Jones (Bars and Triangles, sold already).  It had a fleeting appearance on the Kirsty Wark BBC programme about the exhibition last night; about half a second, I think, so here’s another chance to see it:

marion RA

However, I feel I should I should mention some other pictures on display, so here goes:

Rose Hilton – Red Studio



Hughie O’ Donoghue – Animal Farm



Frank Bowling – Pickerslift


(It’s much bigger than this)

Christopher le Brun – Can’t or Won’t?


(and so is this)

These are all big nobs; of the non – RAs and unknowns (to me, anyway) these two are the ones I liked best:

Arthur Neal – Studio and Garden



John O’Donnell – Winter



The BBC at War, BBC1

Just watched the first episode of this; interesting that William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) had a British audience estimated at six million for his propaganda broadcasts from Germany; the JB Priestley broadcasts were set up by the BBC in competition.  Also, When the Germans invaded Russia, Churchill forbade, for a time, the playing of the Internationale as one of the anthems of the Allied nations; the music played on the programme to illustrate the eventual rescinding of the ban was NOT the Internationale, however, but the Soviet National Anthem.  Maybe the BBC doesn’t know the difference.

The Saragossa Manuscript, Wojciech Has (1965)

This Polish film is pure Bunuel, which perhaps explains Bunuel’s approving comment on the DVD box.  I think it contains the original delayed -action joke, where something happens mysteriously in one scene – and then is explained much later.  Guy Ritchie did it in “Snatch”, when a milk carton inexplicably explodes on a car windscreen and gets then chucked at the car later in the film.  In “Manuscript”, it involves a laundry basket.

Jonathan Jones

Another VERY definitive position adopted by Jones, this time regarding Bridget Riley.  Apparently, she’s more important than the figurative masters Bacon, Freud and Hockney because she provided the public with a new reality, based on a “scientific” approach to optical effect.  Only Howard Hodgkin is as important – his approach is poetic, though, whereas hers is (sort of) scientific.  The approach is quite reminiscent of Brian Sewell; black and white.  Anything reviewed is either brilliant and exposes the shoddiness and the bogus nature of some other artists – or it’s bogus and “silly” like Bacon at the Sainsbury Centre and is exposed as such by the brilliance of some other artists.

I’ve just seen “Fighting History” at Tate Britain, a show panned by Jonathan Jones as “moronic” in the Guardian the other day.  He’s right that it’s not great, but it’s nowhere near as bad as he says; my take on it next week.



Geometry 2



Blackpaint 463 – Awkward English Painters, Campion and Amis

September 30, 2014

The Later Turner, Tate Britain

Well, all the usual suspects are there; the Slave Ship, Sea Monsters, Burial at Sea, Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth,  Parliament burning,  Rain Steam and Speed, Exile and the Limpet, the whaling pictures – and some of the most hideous gold frames you could imagine.  Apart from those paintings listed, the sketches of Venice and elsewhere in Italy and Switzerland are, of course, fantastic.  Maybe I’m Turnered out, though; I’ll go again this week and see if there’s anything new to say.



Storm at Sea; Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth  

Sickert and Bomberg on BBC4

Two great programmes (I missed the one on Paul Nash).  The Sickert one showed direct lines back to Degas and TL, and forward to Auerbach and even Bacon (the self-portrait).  The paintings from photographs – Edward VIII and the Italian Count (didn’t get the name) after the conference – were linked by Andrew Graham – Dixon to Warhol.  This was not such a radical idea; I came across the suggestion in Robert Hughes’ “Nothing if not Critical” the next day.


The Bomberg prog did justice to the variety of his styles during his career and showed how his “Sappers” painting – is it still on exhibition in Tate Modern? – was based on the Caravaggio Crucufixion of St.Peter.  There’s an exhibition of Dorothy Mead, one of his best disciples, on in London at the moment.

bomberg sappers

 Bomberg, Sappers Under Hill 60

caravaggio st peter

 Caravaggio, Crucifixion of St.Peter 

Portrait of a Lady, Jane Campion

Watched a DVD of this film starring Kidman and Malkovich, and I was astounded to see a sequence in sepia straight out of Fellini – like “The Ship Sailed On”.  Moments later, it turned into Bunuel, when a plateful of ravioli pockets, I think, developed mouths and started speaking to Kidman.  Then it was gone and we were back to relative naturalism.

Zone of Interest, Martin Amis

This is the first Martin Amis I’ve read; it is gripping, and Amis has done the research on Auschwitz and the Holocaust that the subject requires.  He does, however, use the camps as the setting for a story about the commandant and his wife; not sure about this.  Maybe the only story should be the story OF the camps. He has a Jewish girl point at herself before her murder and say “Eighteen years old”.  I came across the source of this in “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, in the evidence of a German civilian who saw the incident at a massacre by an einsatzgruppe at Dubno in Ukraine, not in Auschwitz.  She was 23, not eighteen.  Still, there’s a good essay by Amis at the end and I don’t think it insults the memory of the victims.  Probably more on this next blog.



Cretan Plants (a Figurative Interlude)



Blackpaint 461- Pablo and Francis, Will and George and Gustav

September 7, 2014

Bacon and Picasso

It occurred to me while looking at Picasso in Tate Modern that the shapes of some of Bacon’s nudes are very much like those of Picasso – that is, you could paint out the flesh in the Bacons and substitute a matt cream, or light green or blue and you’d have a Picasso.. sort of…  Take a look below, to see what I mean:

bacon nude 1

picasso nude 1


bacon nude 3



0picasso nude 2


You could “Picasso” the Bacons and “Bacon” the Picassos, so to speak.  So what? you might ask – and you’d be right.  Incidentally, if you Google “Bacon Nudes”, the selection of pictures you get is much more varied and interesting than “Picasso Nudes”…

Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds (BBC4)

I watched the James Fox prog on Vienna last night (on Catch Up); he mentioned the high suicide rate amongst young Viennese intellectuals in the pre-WW1 years – the programme centred on the year 1908 – which reminded me of the recent RA exhibition “Making Faces”, on the same place and general period.  Neither the exhibition, as I recall it, nor Fox, offered any explanation of this phenomenon, however.

One picture that cropped up in the Fox programme was the stupendous Klimt below:

klimt 2

Portrait of Fritza Riedler, Gustav Klimt

Will Self on Orwell

I have to say I think Self is right about Orwell’s rules on good writing; they are ridiculously restrictive and would exclude Joyce, Woolf and DH Lawrence for a start.  Probably Self too, but I haven’t read anything of his, apart from a couple of articles in the Observer; I can’t be bothered to be looking up every tenth word.  Is Orwell’s writing “mediocre”?  Surely not; he’s always a positive pleasure to read (except for the Goldstein document in Nineteen Eighty-Four and a couple of other stretches of politics, in “Homage to Catalonia” for instance) and even where there are weaknesses, they don’t strike you while you are reading.  For my money, “Burmese Days” and “Coming up for Air” are excellent,”A Clergyman’s Daughter” and “Aspidistra” are at least very good, with brilliant bits (the hop picking in “Daughter”, for instance).  “Animal Farm” is just about perfect as allegory, notwithstanding TS Eliot’s remarks about the pigs; and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is a tightly written, thrilling and absorbing novel, quite apart from its importance as a critique of totalitarianism.  I’ve read it three or four times, like all of Orwell’s published novels and essays, and still found it gripping.  I can’t say that for any other writers, except Joyce.

I referred to “Homage to Catalonia” – there’s a point in that book where Orwell says he’s about to launch into a chapter on the details of Spanish politics and tells the reader that he can skip to the next chapter if he wishes, without loss of continuity.  I realised with amusement that I read a similar directive years ago – in “The Ka of Gifford Hillary”, a supernatural thriller set in WW2, by Dennis Wheatley.  Wheatley does a 40 -or -so page  detour into the world of British Intelligence, telling the reader, like Orwell, to skip.  I think their politics differed more than slightly, however.

Far From the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger, 1967)

I watched this again, over a couple of late nights, and I have to say, like Ken Russell’s “Women in Love”, it’s just about perfect; the cast (Stamp, Bates, Christie, Finch), location, adaptation, music, that staggering Dick Turpin performance in the circus ring…




Derby Ram






Blackpaint 420 – Australia at the RA; Whiteley’s Murder Pictures

November 7, 2013

Australia at the Royal Academy

This exhibition has had an astonishingly savage reception in some quarters, notably from Waldemar Januszczak and from Brian Sewell, who slates the aboriginal painters as ravaged by alcohol and trotting out pictures that are meaningless, when divorced from their ritual tribal functions.  Adrian Searle is also exercised by the omissions and patchiness of the show.  Clearly, it has bitten off too much to chew – impossible to do a whole continent thoroughly, with the rich and complex aboriginal cultures and the European tradition.  Still, there’s some great stuff to see, so you can go and be stimulated and entertained AND pontificate about how sketchy and incomplete the exhibition is…

To start with the aboriginal paintings; they are segregated from the others for the most part.  They are surprisingly huge and striking; there is one that is just like a Per Kirkeby, red, pink and white in a tower- or hill- like structure.  Another in this first room is a huge white square with pink and blue borders, with a wave-like swoosh in the centre; it looks like a tapestry.  Everywhere there are concentric circles, stars, giant figures built from blobs and stars of paint; “Cyclone Tracy” by Rover Thomas, a black funnel-shaped swathe through a striped landscape; another showing the story of a cannibal old woman who lived in a cave and ate kidnapped children.  It’s like a map – a blob in the middle is the woman’s cave.


Cyclone Tracy by Rover Thomas

There are paintings from the early days of European settlement; a couple that look almost like Caspar David Friedrich.  the early Euros obviously had difficulty seeing with “Australian” eyes.  Later, there are the Australian Impressionists, Roberts and Streeton etc. ; diggings, camps, sheep shearing; a great picture, “Lost”, a girl adrift in a eucalyptus forest; a radiant moonrise, a pink/grey dawn.  if you stand in the centre of the room, you can see there is an Australian colour set – dusty, tawny, orange but bleached out.

Then, we are at the modernist section; Sidney Harbour Bridge, painted by Grace Cossington Smith , who also painted the beautiful screen, like something Duncan Grant might have painted at Charleston.  Flesh hunks roasting on a beach, the sand and sea represented by blazing bands of yellow and blue; a collection of athletic, Lempicka-like figures tossing balls to each other, showing off.

Now the Nolans; several Ned Kellys – police at a burning beacon, Ned’s sister quilting the inside of his helmet, the shootout at Glenrowan.  And an odd one with a parrot (see below).


Now the 60s 0n – a Brett Whiteley of a bay, orange with small boats –


Olsen’s “Sydney Sun”, which hangs above you like a mirror over a bed – so I’m told – a bilious yellow, and compared by Januszczak to diarrhoea; two pictures by Fred Williams, small fragments and twists of paint in flat landscapes of grey and brown; a black and white Fairweather, a lot like Bryan Wynter and an enormous Arthur Boyd – a roughly drawn white figure, like a Bacon, on a black background, with a window looking out on a blazing white yard.

In the later galleries, two things of note – Fiona Hall’s set of opened sardine tins, with silver trees growing from the tops, containing not sardines, but penises, vaginas, and other “artefacts of a sexual nature”.  And a great abstract landscape, brown, grey, splattered, brushwork rather like Rose Wylie, with a bright, cream channel down the middle.  I think it was by Elizabeth Cummings but I can’t find it on the net.  Anyway, great exhibition, despite the savaging.

Brett Whiteley

I was so impressed by this painter that I bought the Thames and Hudson “Art and Life” catalogue at the RA.  The influences on him are quite obvious;  Diebenkorn in the early abstracts, maybe a little Adrian Heath too; William Scott – there’s a frying pan – and Roger Hilton, in the drawn line.  In both the drawings and the paintings, line and colour, Francis Bacon.  But he’s so good that he’s much more than the sum of these influences.  I prefer the earlier stuff, but fantastic.

The Christie Pictures

In the mid 60s, Whiteley was living in London and he became interested in the sex murders carried out in Notting Hill by John Christie in the 40s and 50s at 10 Rillington Place.  Whiteley did a series of paintings and drawings relating to the murders, some depicting Christie actually carrying out the killings.  The paintings are indistinct; they show naked bodies (Christie and the victim) fragmented and entwined and several show the penis-like nozzle of the gas pipe he used to gas the women.

When you flick through the book, you are struck first by how great the drawings and paintings are and you derive pleasure from them.  Then you read the titles, and you are repelled by the subject matter.  Still great art though?  see what you think.



I suppose there is a precedent for this; Sickert’s depiction of the Camden Town murder, say – or the Goya Disasters of War.  The sexual content in the Whiteleys adds another disturbing layer, though.  I wonder where they are – it’s hard to imagine anyone having them on the living room wall.  I bet they’re in storage in a gallery archive.


The Stadium



Blackpaint 418 – Whiteley, Schendel, Shining and Drowning

October 24, 2013

Brett Whiteley

I’d hardly heard of the above Australian artist until I saw “Art of Australia” this week.  What a brilliant painter he was  (died of an overdose in 1993); earlier stuff looked like Diebenkorn a bit – later, shades of Roger Hilton, Bacon and, I think, Scarfe and/or Steadman.  He mixed abstract, figurative, letters, techniques in a manner reminiscent of Albert Oelhen (but before Oelhen?).  Fantastic.

brett whiteley

Mark Bradford and Larry Bell at the White Cube Bermondsey

Bradford does huge canvases – I estimate the largest are 20ft * 18ft (dimensions not given and attendant didn’t know).  He plasters them with paper, paints it and then rips and shreds it down with a power sander.   The results resemble road systems and landscapes – one is like a coastline, another a tsunami investing a coastal city, another, Turner’s “storm at Harbour Mouth” (the sander swirls on black are like the rings on the cross section of a felled tree).  Some are bright – blue, pink, orange, white – reminding one of Peter Doig’s early paintings; others, dark and oppressive, like Anselm Kiefer’s work.

There are two beautiful Larry Bell pictures; they are like crumpled tinfoil and celluloid film, printed onto white canvas.  there are many more, but for my money, they are spoilt by being on black canvas and in black frames.

Blue Jasmine

Saw this Woody Allen film this week – it’s Streetcar, set in San Francisco rather than New Orleans.  Cate Blanchett does a great job of playing a neurotic, pampered, addicted, desperate woman, once rich, now broke, dumping herself on her despised working-class sister.  Script is great, but you never for a second forget you are watching acting; it’s naturalistic, rather than natural.  I can’t help comparing it to the fabulous Joanna Hogg films, Archipelago and Unrelated, that I’ve written about – in which, most of the time, no-one, pro or amateur, appears to be acting at all.

Reading Sebastian Faulks’ A Possible Life, which begins with a WW2 training exercise; officers lead their men mistakenly into flooded area and a soldier is drowned.  Strangely similar stories from two sources; Pete Seeger’s song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” (I have it by Dick Gaughan on his “Sail On” album) and a Scott Fitzgerald story I read recently – can’t find it at the moment, he wrote so many stories.  The SF version is the earliest – I wonder if it’s the original.

The Shining

Watched it yet again the other night; like Goodfellas and Casino, you only have to see a few seconds and you are hooked – these films are Ancient Mariners.  I can’t understand why Stephen King hates the Kubrick film – it’s obviously a work of art, unlike most attempts at filming King books.  Kubrick changed it a bit – killed off the Scatman and left the Overlook standing, whereas King blew its boilers and burned it down.  I think Kubrick’s ending was better.  Pity about the Scatman, though.

Klee at Tate Modern

Went round this exhibition again, and, yes, I was rather snotty about it last time.  Room 13 is great, with the ones that are composed of dots and look like little tapestries – also the blue one, “path into the Blue” I think it’s called.  There’s also the miniature opera stage set that reminded me of Picasso’s “Night Fishing at Antibes” – but much smaller.

Mira Schendel

Great antidote to Klee – Brazilian minimalist, recalling Lygia Pape and Oiticica a little; wobbly square…  Triangles, bi-and trisected canvases; then, rough paint drawings and collages of bottles on bars, drips and splatters; some brilliant black ink on off-white paper, strong lines and jagged scribbles.  Then letters appearing and playing with typefaces; hanging tablets of rice paper; Eva Hesse-like tubes of gold-ochre, suspended from ceiling; silky, white nylon threads hanging in masses and curling up like hairs at the floor; a series of rough, eye-catching tablets on walls with bible quotations – she was a struggling Catholic, apparently.



Also visited “Art Under Attack” at Tate Britain; save that for next time.


Work in Progress