Posts Tagged ‘Courtauld Gallery’

Blackpaint 609 – Soutine, Kabakovs, Green Penis Man and Giant Cloth Moths

November 7, 2017

Soutine at the Courtauld: Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys (until 21st January)

A great exhibition of Soutine’s colourful, wonky portraits that are so individual I’m hard-pressed to do my usual spurious comparisons.  Although maybe one or two remind me a little of Max Beckmann… and the ghost of Bacon is hovering about here and there.  I like that shoulder disparity below and, of course, the sticking-out ears, echoing the fall of the chef’s hat.  The sumptious blue of the background in the first portrait is worth mentioning too – Soutine uses it a lot.  He was a favourite of de Kooning; maybe some similarities there?

 

 

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at Tate Modern: Not Everyone will be Taken into the Future (until 28th Jan)

Also one to see.  Ten rooms of the most varied works:  paintings, wooden model “theatres” that you peer into through little windows, full-size, re-constructed rooms full of artifacts, a winding, half-lit corridor, along which you walk trying to read the captions to the old photographs, led on by the voice of Ilya K himself, humming and crooning old Russian songs from somewhere ahead (Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album), 1990) – and the rear end of a train (the exhibition title piece, 2001).  The exhibition requires you to read the brief captions by the pieces to make sense of some; I don’t normally like doing that, preferring the visuals to do the work, but it’s worth doing here, to get the context of the Soviet setting.

The main tone is set by memory, nostalgia and fairly gentle satire; see the painting below, with its layer of torn, floating fragments, as well as the “Labyrinth” corridor.

My favourite piece is the model “Where is Our Place?” (2002 – 2017);  I missed the giant legs and feet completely until I read the caption.  Some of the paintings have a slightly Peter Doig feel to them (probably the “Snow” ones in Room 7) and the attachment of a severed arm to one item – I forget the reason given – recalled the current Jasper Johns show at the RA; very superficial connection,  I admit.

Ilya Kabakov was never imprisoned or persecuted under the Soviet regime, but showed only to “a close circle of artists and intellectuals”.  He married Emilia in 1992, after emigrating to the States.  It is not clear to me what Emilia’s contribution is – most of the pieces appear to be Ilya’s.

Venice Biennale (on until 26th November)

This year, the theme of the Biennale is “Viva Arte Viva”, a suitably Fellini-esque title for the often staggeringly pretentious pieces on show at the various sites.  This year’s theme is “The Journey”.  I quote from the Short Guide: “Along the journey of the Exhibition’s itinerary, the artists encounter each other; they draw near to, or distance themselves from one another, according to the affinities manifested in the impulses and stimuli which move them, in the challenges they must face, or in the practices they have chosen to follow”.  As far as I can make out, this means that some are like each other and some are not.  To give an idea of some of the pieces on display, I reproduce a few of the notes I jotted down as we went round the Giardini:

  • Huge fat blonde disco video (Divine?)
  • Eskimo paintings (Pootoobok)
  • Snow monkey video
  • Green penis man (Uriburu)
  • Trainer plant lattice
  • Hexagonal quartz pillars
  • Giant cloth moths

Plenty of variety, with the usual dubious connections made in the blurb(s):  migration, refugees, threatened ethnicity, climate change…  Below, three of the best from the national pavilions:

Frank Walter, Antigua and Barbuda Pavilion

“Outsider” painter (brilliant) and sculptor (not so good); lived latter part of his life in an isolated shack/studio, no power or running water, churning out the most vivid and exciting pieces on discarded and improvised supports, like old boxes of photographic equipment.  A couple of examples below – his colours are really piercing.

 

 

Geta Bratescu, Romanian Pavilion

This woman, now in her 90s, we knew from an exhibition at Tate Liverpool a couple of years ago – but there, the artworks were nearly all cloth pieces.  This time, her very varied graphic styles (she has at least three) are on display, ranging from the fiendishly detailed and accurate hands and mouth below to animated cartoon style.

 

 

 

Mark Bradford, US Pavilion

Interesting American artist who works on a giant scale, layering and tearing, scraping and sanding at his multi-coloured placards of paintings.  This huge downward bulge of a work requires you (or me, anyway) to stoop low as you enter the pavilion.

This giant head, if that’s what it is, reminds me a little of a Guston made out of Weetabix, or maybe shown on a giant TV with the reception breaking up.  Fizzing with energy.

Nothing completed by me recently, so best I can do is this work in “progress”.

Work in Progress

Blackpaint

5/11/17

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Blackpaint 515 – The Thicker the Better, Chaps.

October 19, 2015

Auerbach at Tate Britain

There are three fantastic modern painters of wildly different types on in London at the moment – John Hoyland at Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery, Peter Lanyon at the Courtauld and Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain.  I did Hoyland last week; now for Auerbach (the only one still living and, very much, still painting).

Below are two of my favourite paint “cakes”; the earlier paintings are REALLY thick, the paint in semi-detached curls in some cases.  The paint is built up almost into reliefs or sculptures on the canvas.  “Earls Court Road, Winter” (1953)  is brown, black, grey and almost green, a scabby mass of wrinkled oil like a chunk of mud excavated from the site and hung in the gallery.  The paint gets progressively thinner as the years pass, but it’s always oily, slippery, layered and brushed through other colours, picking them up on the way.

auerbach eow on bed

EOW Nude on Bed (1959)

auerbach eow half length

EOW Half-Length Nude (1958)

The heads and portraits are pretty much all fabulous; some of the cityscapes, parks and buildings less so.  I found myself thinking the sacrilegious thought about the picture below: “I could have done that when I was 11”; and then three or four more times, with others, “Mornington Crescent Looking South” (1996) and “The House” (2011), for instance.  The point is, I didn’t and Auerbach did, although not at 11.  Auerbach invites this sort of random, outlaw thought by stating (on the wall, at the start)  that he wants us to consider each picture as a thing in itself, not an example of how he was painting in a given decade.

auerbach vincent terrace

Interior Vincent Terrace (1982 – 4)

As always with Auerbach exhibitions, we were plagued with those who stand for minutes, an inch away from the surface, sometimes delivering lectures to their girlfriends – it’s always men, I’m sorry to say – and blocking everyone else’s access to that picture.  It’s stupid of course, because the portraits mostly resolve into quite startlingly sharp images from about 12 feet away.  Up close, they are a mass of intricate, indecipherable whorls.  Sometimes, they are better like that, though.

I’ve lots more to say on this exhibition, but I’m going for the third time tomorrow, so I’ll save it for next time.

Lanyon, the “Glider”  Paintings, Courtauld Gallery

lanyon solo flight

Solo Flight

I reckon about 20 pieces of work in this exhibition, staggeringly beautiful images; blue curtains of rain or mist, vortexes, cloud, coastline, reproduced in his gestural swipes and sweeps, scrapings, splatters, dribbles and pools – no, oceans – of deep green/blue.  He’s painting the invisible air currents a lot of the time.  There are also several of his assemblages. incorporating thick bits of broken blue glass, scrawled with black paint.

lanyon cross country

Cross Country

It was startling, then, to see two paintings,”Near Cloud” and “North East”,  both from 1964 (the year of his death, after a glider crash) which were “emptied out”, like late de Koonings.  They were flat, untextured, thinly painted, almost diagrammatic.  What happened there?

Sluice Art Fair, by the Oxo Tower

Lots of little art works, some very classy; photographic prints, collages, tiny drawings on blocks – but at gasp-inducing prices.  For example, a small square with some very attractive gestural lines and patterns sketched on it, by Kark Bielik, was priced at £800.00!  Clearly, the labour theory of value not operating in the art world at any level (obvious, I suppose).

One of those riveting and irritating films in which disparate images are flung before your eyes for less than a second before they are thrust out (images, not eyes) by another.  Your mind is always processing them in retrospect.  A lot of war images – there go some Russian attackers! Now it’s a mine going off! – in this one; I think we saw the prototype of this sort of film montage at the Biennale a couple of years ago, by Stan VanDerBeek  (Blackpaint 414).   This one’s by Laura Pawela.

Gargantua and Pantagruel and Finnegans Wake

No doubt someone has done a thesis on it, but reading these simultaneously – well, a bit of one after a bit of the other, as it were – I was struck again by the lists.  They both, Rabelais and Joyce, like a lovely long list of silly names, or disgusting objects, or what have you.  By long, I mean pages in Joyce’s case.  Sometimes funny – often irritating.

 

buff tit 2

Buff Tit,

Blackpaint

19.10.15

 

Blackpaint 466 – Sigmar’s Laundry, Egon’s frogs, Will’s Erection

October 26, 2014

Sigmar Polke at Tate Modern;

Some small paintings and collages, but a lot of huge ones.  Generally, dull but intense colours; sounds like a contradiction, but what I mean is that the colours are deep but they don’t glow – they’re deadened, somehow and many are on browning paper or newsprint.  Deep blues, reds and greens, several deep dark violet/indigo paintings that change as you move in relation to them (Chris Ofili maybe saw them).  The dots are there, as you can see below, often splotchy and uneven, intentionally so, of course.

sigmar polke 1

Several of the collages are composed of pretty tame cut-outs from old soft porn magazines and there are a couple of big “sex” paintings – two women wringing out a huge, towel – like, limp penis and another of a man giving rear action to a face- down woman in a laundry room.

There is  a room of Auschwitz/Berlin Wall watchtowers against banal, wallpaper backgrounds; this one against a flock of geese.

 

sigmar polke 2

There is a big print-like painting with a horned devil, amongst many other things; and some Richter-y  “Nazi family” type photoprints with the dots – and the old resin covered pictures… and much more.  Somehow, not as playful as previous Polke shows I remember…

Schiele at the Courtauld

William Boyd was right about the quality of these drawings and paintings.  They are all pretty small, mostly A2 or less, I think.   However, they are staggeringly assured, varied in execution and full of little presentational devices like the white border around the picture below and the strange positions of the figures on the page.  Some of them lie forming an inner frame to the picture, or are tucked in a corner, or have feet or head cut off by the edge of the page.  You get the impression that he drew fast and aggressively, making no errors (bet that’s wrong).  The first couple, of a young girl and a small child look like Marlene Dumas without the blurring.  The child is podgy – but there’s not much podge around in the rest of the exhibition.  The males, particularly, are stick-thin and flayed, with thick bristles on their legs and around their penises – they brought to my mind frogs, pinned out on a dissection table.  the legs look sort of crunchy…

Euan Uglow and maybe Jenny Savile were the other artists that occurred to me, from the purple, brown and green colours used on the torsos and limbs; like maps, sometimes.  Fabulous, strange, explicit drawings – I wonder what he would have gone on to do if he hadn’t been killed by the flu epidemic.

schiele2.

Also at the Courtauld – 

In the Medieval Room, a predella by Borghese di Piero, one of which see below; glowing reds, orange and carmine maybe – I’m hopeless on colours – used in a strange representation of the trial of Sts. Julitta and Quiricus.  Up there with Duccio, we think.

 

borghese

 

Shark, Will Self 

I’m starting to like the challenge; Self has just brought Ulysses in, in the form of an erection he characterises as stately, plump Buck Mulligan (not his own erection, by the way, but one of his character’s).  You don’t get that in Proust – or not so far (10% now).

 

 

010

 

Target for Tonight

Blackpaint

26.10.14

Blackpaint 76

February 24, 2010

Michelangelo’s Dream” at the Courtauld Gallery

I have to say that I was hoping to be able to find things to criticise in this exhibition.  The advice given by WordPress to bloggers is: be controversial!  What better opportunity could there be than to attack God – because Michelangelo is the Clapton of drawing.

Unfortunately, they are stunning – but I do have some minor cavils to air, so all is not lost.

The very first drawing is a preliminary sketch of  Phaeton’s fall from the heavenly chariot; it is brilliantly realised, and you would think could not be improved – until you see the next two versions.  The next, in black chalk, pulls the composition together into a triangular shape with Helion at the apex.  Phaeton’s upside-down, falling body echoing that of the falling horse on the right of the picture and heading towards the base, formed by the earth and Phaeton’s frantic sisters.

The third (or was it the second?) version is a vertical, funnel- shaped plummet  towards the earth, with the horses interlocked in an embrace.

Next is the Dream; a winged messenger swoops down to blow a horn in the face of a sleeping, muscular nude male, lounging on a box and leaning against a sort of globe.  in the box is a collection of theatrical masks and around the figure, lightly but perfectly drawn in the background, a set of writhing figures indulge in what appear to be sinful activities.  The drawing is in black chalk, and the shading is soft, no distinguishable lines (which is true of most of the drawings, except where a stylus has been used, and very light shading lines in these).  As Laura Cumming says, it has a cinematic feel, as if these background figures are appearing and disappearing on a screen.

To lower the general tone, the globe appears to be bisected to resemble the two halves of a bottom.

I think the next is Ganymede, being attacked in mid air from behind, by a giant eagle, the talons of which are gripping the boy’s legs; also in black chalk.

Next is Bacchanal, this time in red chalk; a group of chubby (but muscular) boys is carting a dead horse towards a pot.  A drunken man is sprawled on the right and an old female satyr is nursing a child (I think) on the left.

There now follows The Risen Christ, the usual Michelangelo muscular young man thrusting up towards heaven with a cape, or remnant of winding sheet round one shoulder – and perhaps it’s now pertinent to ask why they have such tiny genitals, like seed pearls.  Is it some sort of Renaissance unspoken convention?  Maybe they copied it from the Greeks and Romans.

A Resurrection now, in black chalk over red and stylus – shading lines, folllowed by-

Another Resurrection, this time a single figure of the risen Christ.  A static pose, even rather awkward; the body slightly lumpy – so not great, but still Michelangelo.

Now a figure of Lazarus, from 1516 (the main “Presentation Drawings” date from 1533) in red chalk; M. used the pose for Christ later.

I must have missed the Tityos, who has his liver eaten by eagles, like Prometheus; maybe I just don’t remember it.

There were some good copies by other artists, notably Tintoretto, on blue-green paper.

So – they are fantastic drawings, probably the best ever and all that, but a bit too refined and polished for my taste.  That probably has to do with the circumstances; the artist was seemingly smitten – in vain – with the young noble he drew them for, so they are sort of love tokens.

Not for me – I like a bit of crudeness, heavy shading, visible correction, sketchiness really (see example  below).  I remember an exhibition of Turner views of Venice; I thought the sketches were fantastic, the finished paintings a disappointment.

More on the Courtauld tomorrow.  By the way, I forgot to mention, in Blackpaint 64, the film about Michelangelo, “The Pride and the Passion”.

And here’s one of mine:

Blackpaint

Wednesday 24th Feb 2010