Posts Tagged ‘Beckett’

Blackpaint 523 – Last Stands in Africa, Callan and Pina

December 7, 2015

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum

Some of these photographs defy belief, and I don’t mean just the ones that have been set up to do just that (the one that comes to mind is swallows flying through a hole torn in a painting set in a window frame).  To my mind, the best are the two blue sharks, the migrating geese (?) taken from above and the antelope in the dust that look like a cave painting.  Oh, and the clouds of mayflies like snow flurries around the vehicle…

cristobal serrano

Cristobal Serrano


Artist and Empire – Facing Britain’s Imperial Past (Tate Modern)

Another of those exhibitions at Tate in which historical and social factors outweigh, perhaps, questions of the standard of the art on show.  Laura Cumming in the Observer was scathing about the show for this reason and for “nauseating” pictures such as that of Victoria presenting a bible – “the Secret of England’s Greatness” – to a kneeling Indian prince, or “suitably grateful and genuflecting black man”, as she describes him.

Inevitably, there are a number of Last Stands heroically depicted; Isandlwana below –




Charles Fripp

-and Major Wilson in Matabeleland below –


(c) Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Allen Stewart

I actually prefer the wonderful Denis McLoughlin cover of my 1956 Okay Adventure Annual (see below); It’s not in the exhibition, but it ought to be.

Wilson OKay

And General Gordon is there, defying the natives in Khartoum, and the doctor, last survivor,  just managing to stay in the saddle in Afghanistan…

The best pictures, to my mind, are those of elderly Maori warriors and chiefs by Goldie (below)


and those by Rudolf Swoboda (below) which Cumming tells me are “kitsch and sentimental”.  She points out that the subjects of these portraits were “brought over from Agra to perform at the Colonial and Indian of 1886” and were actually convicts, not the Indian “types” they represent.  They still look like good paintings to me, however; I presume all the women who have posed as Virgins in Old Masters were actually virgins?

There are some interesting sculptures made by the colonised subjects depicting British administrators and the like, but the best is a black wooden bust of an African in jacket and tie, with a bulging forehead; 1920s, I think.  It wouldn’t have looked out of place in Kettles Yard, with the Gaudier- Brjeskas and Nicholsons, etc.



Rudolf Swoboda

One of the paintings represents white women and children besieged at Cawnpore, in a state of collapse from hunger and despair; in the corner, the gates burst open and a horde of – British soldiers flood in!  Hooray, a rescue!  Apparently, the original plan was to show frenzied rebels, about to wreak the unspeakable, no doubt – but the artist changed it to spare the sensibilities of his viewers.

The physical depiction of the colonised peoples in this exhibition is markedly lacking in racial caricature.  There was no exaggeration of physical features to make the imperial subjects look comical, or stupid, or sinister (which, to anyone familiar with comics and cartoons from the 50s and 60s is surprising) – rather the opposite, in fact; they are exotic, but handsome and dignified in portraits.  And the bible picture described above is the only one in which a subject kneels to a British queen or her representatives.

No doubt, some on the left will detect an irony in the opening of this exhibition relating to our imperial past, as the bombers fly over Syria and Iraq and Afghan refugees, amongst others, try to get across European borders – but not I.

Anthony Valentine and “Callan”


I was saddened to read that Valentine had died; that’s him in the middle.  Older British readers will recall Valentine as Toby Meres, the ex public schoolboy foil to Edward Woodward’s chippy Callan in the 60s.  Callan worked for “The Section”, doing dirty jobs for the security of the state, paid in used notes in brown envelopes.  If caught,  he was on his own.  Fiction, of course; Callans couldn’t exist in a proper democracy like ours.  It was a great series, though.

Pina, Wim Wenders (2011)


I thought this documentary, on the choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, was mesmerising.  The sequence in which a male dancer constantly loads a female into the outstretched arms of another male, who promptly drops her (Beckett, fail again, fail better – or if not better, faster) was brilliant; she did the speeding up thing in other sequences.  She loved putting her female dancers – and once, a male – in long, flowing pastel dresses.  In addition to Beckett, I thought Fellini – and Bergman – in that last sequence with the dancers parading in a line on the escarpment.  And listening to “The Rite of Spring”, I thought it could be Vaughan Williams…

The members of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, reminiscing on Bausch, recalled that thing you come across so often with “inspirational” figures  – where a legend in a given field observes, says nothing, and then at the crucial moment, gives the performer the one word necessary, which makes all clear.  Dance, painting and sculpture, music, judo – all fields in which I have come across similar descriptions.


work in prog

Work in Progress



Blackpaint 167

July 15, 2010


Read on a bit more in Ellmann and I found that Beckett denied any charge of optimism in his work and countered the “I’ll go on” ending in “The Unnameable” with “Nohow on” in a subsequent work.  Still, artists aren’t necessarily the best guides to their own work; I shall persist in detecting optimism in his work, particularly in the thoughtfulness and sympathy with which his characters often treat each other (Vladimir and Estragon in Godot, for example).

When you consider, optimism is a pre-condition of creating art anyway.  Even if you are saying that everything is pointless, purposeless, and painful, the fact that you are saying it gainsays you.

Jawlensky (1864-1941) and Van Dongen (1877-1868)

Another pair who show strong similarities.  Jawlensky was a colourist first, did unlikely landscapes as well, and  was an associate of Kandinsky.  If you look at his painting “Schokko”, you will see that he has used a strong outline round the head and shoulders.  His other works are also outlined, sometimes almost by scratches in the paint as much as lines of pigment.

Van Dongen’s “Portrait of Dolly” shows no such use of outline.  In other respects, however, the use of colour and approach to subject, the two are strikingly similar.  Different countries, movements and influences, however.  Jawlensky went further along the road to abstraction – see his “abstract heads” – but not so far as Kandinsky.

De Stael and Diebenkorn

This is probably totally fanciful, but if you take a picture of de Stael’s “Portrait of Anne”, done in 1953, and turn it upside-down or on its side, you have a pretty close approximation to a Diebenkorn abstract landscape.  Black and red maybe a bit more intense, but not much…  So what? You might ask – nothing of great import, except that it indicates the degree of abstraction in the de Stael and it reflects positively on both artists, to my thinking, anyway.  Why no TV profiles on them and their work?  list of further artist TV profiles to follow…

Tadeusz Kantor

Finally for now, Google the above artist and see at least three staggering (must stop this).. very interesting gestural/abstract paintings, amidst a host of pictures of his theatrical projects.  and that face – straight out of Expressionist cinema.  Actually, he looks just like Artaud; maybe it IS Artaud in one of Kantor’s productions.

Take this Hammer by Blackpaint.  An old image, used twice before I think.  Title nicked from Leadbelly.

Take this hammer, and carry it to the captain (*3)

You can tell him I’m gone, you can tell him I’m gone.



Blackpaint 166

July 13, 2010


Sort of, but not quite; it makes an interesting heading though.  I’m referring to the plans to tour a mummy show through the USA over the next few years (see Blackpaint 162 on the likelihood of human bodies/pieces one day being displayed as art).  True, this is under the aegis of science – but really we’re talking at least three parts morbid curiosity to one part scientific interest, surely.  These bodies are however, dried out and hundreds (at least) years old – human necrotic art still awaits its Damien.

James Joyce

Richard Ellman, in an essay/lecture as part of his book “Four Dubliners”, relates how Joyce seemed to encourage Nora to go with other men, so that he could write about the experience of being cuckolded, like Bloom in Ulysses.  Apparently, he made advances to two separate women in Zurich, whilst writing his masterpiece, to inform the Gerty MacDowell sequence and Bloom’s dalliance with Martha Clifford.  Once he got what he wanted – material for the book – he pursued the women no further.  Clearly, a conscientious artist.  I feel another list coming on – artists who go to extraordinary lengths…


I’ll return to proper, visual art in a moment, but want to comment on something which has just struck me, but is no doubt a commonplace in literary circles – Beckett is an optimist at base.  I’d always thought of him as the ultimate “downer”, the artist with the view of life as meaningless – “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more” (Godot) – brutal, funny in a cruel, pitiless way, vain.  Now, ploughing through “The Unnameable” after the increasing disintegration of Molloy and Malone Dies, I find that he can be read as a stoic; everything is shit in the worst possible way, I shit upon my surmises – literally, plop, plop, he writes – and yet, as the last line says, “I can’t go on I’ll go on”.  Stoic – which to my mind, is a sort of optimism…

Patrick Heron

That fantastic one in the Art Book, “Fourteen Discs; July 20, 1963” with the “sculpted” area of red/orange paint and the “scribbled” discs of red and yellow overlapping onto the green and the yellow scribble on the blue, creating a floating feel.

Diebenkorn and de Kooning

Strong similarities between Diebenkorn’s “Berkeley No.52”, painted in 1955 and de Kooning’s “4th July 1957”; the horizontal sections, the violet-blues, the yellow-to-oranges…. de K’s looks more slippery, greasy, splattered but they could easily be two parts of a diptych by the same painter.  They are both breath-stopping – sorry, no more superlative cliches, but it’s permissible in both cases here.  Diebenkorn’s is in the Phaidon “20th Century Art Book”, de Kooning’s in “Intensely Dutch”.  In both cases, these pictures alone justify the cost the book.

Art trial in Russia

Yesterday in Guardian, reported that Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev on trial in Moscow and verdict expected, for organising an exhibition in 2007 called Forbidden Art, satirising Christian images, specifically of Jesus.  Charges are fomenting religious and ethnic hatred (sounds familiar) and insulting human dignity.  No protest letters from British artists in Guardian, as far as I know.  One of the defendants was a head of contemporary art at the Tretyakov – bit like putting Serota on trial.

Oxydised Panel


13th July 2010