Posts Tagged ‘Cumming’

Blackpaint 183

August 27, 2010

Wolfgang Tillmans at the Serpentine

This artist seems to perplex some critics with his breadth of activity.  He seems to cover a lot of different techniques and subjects in his photographic work, to the extent that critics have wondered just what he considers to be art (see Laura Cumming, 27th June, in the Guardian): “Tillmans had no style but every style, no particular subject but everything around him”.  To be fair, Cumming is describing her reaction to him at the time of his Turner Prize award in 2000; now, her conclusion is that his art is about the processes and techniques  of photography.  If I have not misunderstood, that makes this show something like a glorified showreel.

To some degree, I think that’s right, but there are some striking images and several artists, painters and photographers, come to mind.

There are several huge photographs with a pink-cream base, which look like pinpricks of blood-red ink beginning to dissolve in liquid.  They could easily be Twomblys.  There is one even more massive, with indigo “ink”, in swirls that resemble comb strokes.  There are assemblages of glossy sheets, each in a different, bright colour, some folded and re-straightened – little Kleins?

Then, there are fuzzy black and white photos of a man working on  scaffolding; looks like photo-journalism, something out of Exposed at the Tate Modern, as if from a sequence.  Something is going to happen in the next frame.

 A couple of works have the scraped pattern appearance of Richters and  there is an enormous, glamorous portrait of female heptathletes at a  meet that immediately recalls Renike Dijkstra. 

The most memorable image is an unpretentious small photograph of a swimmer digging a splinter from his foot.  It’s a great shape – there’s something about the extended neck of the swimmer and his hunched figure and bent leg that recall a Figure at the base of a Crucifixion – the bleached colour photo of another swimmer apparently balancing on his right arm – or is he executing some sort of dive? – is marginally  less interesting.

There’s much more of note; flowers, parchment, electrical bits and pieces,  a cow tormented by flies, gardens, rockeries, drunks and scrapyards.  There is a desk display of magazine newspaper items relating to religious persecution of gays and women, genital mutilation and hangings in Iran. 

There is an aerial view of a huge industrial(?) complex or transport centre that I first took for a close up of a silicon chip.  On closer inspection, groups of tiny container lorries could be made out on roads and long ingots turned out to be sheds or hangars.  Big, square, empty areas give the impression of  flooded fields.  The inevitable comparison is with Gursky.

Very varied, then; painterly “art” photography, reportage, politics, portraits, huge, small, nature, industry….  No wonder he irritates critics – hard to get a “take” on, like, say, Gerhard Richter.

The Road to Mandalay

Blackpaint

27.08.10

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Blackpaint 152

June 15, 2010

Rude Britannia

This is in no particular order, as I wrote it down as I remembered it when I got home.

The first thing that impressed was the drawings of Philip Dawe of the huge, ridiculous wigs worn by Regency women.  Also the “Macaroni”, an earlier version of the Beau or dandy. 

The Hogarths, Gin Lane, Beer Alley, the Roast Beef of old England, demonstrate a difference between him and the other well-known cartoonists of the era ,such as Rowlandson – Hogarth exaggerates only slightly; it is the situations that are outrageous (the woman allowing her baby to slide from her lap) rather than the actual representation of them, which is relatively realistic.  Rowlandson, with his huge backsides, drooling lips, gobbling diners, drooling distillers, bum suckers, shit eaters and so on, is the caricaturist, forerunner of Scarfe and Steadman.

Gillray’s stuff struck me as a little tame by comparison (although Laura Cumming points out that there is more savage stuff that was not included).  There is a series of cartoons depicting the conflict between the fleshy, unkempt, bloodthirsty yob Fox and the tall, gaunt patrician Pitt.  Its pretty clear where the cartoonist’s sympathies lie.

Cruikshank’s cartoons seem to rely on lengthy captions (too much reading required in these exhibitions – can’t be avoided, if you want to understand them though).  There is also his huge allegorical painting the Worship of Bacchus; Steve Bell seems to admire it; he (Cruikshank)  strikes me as an early killjoy supporter of the BMA unit mongers.  Some interesting caricatures by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Moving on to WW2, there are Low’s cartoons and those of Leslie Illingworth, of lesser renown, but as good for my money.  Churchill donning armour while dogs marked Royal Navy and RAF attempt to hold back the dragon of Nazism; Stalingrad as a hedgehog of spears, bloodying Hitler.  Recognisably in direct line from Victorian cartoons in Punch and London Gazette.

Modern times – Fluck and Law of course, Steadman and Scarfe (always confuse them), David Shrigley’s banner holding stuffed cat, “I’m Dead”.  Steve Bell and Major’s underpants, kinnardphillips and Alison Jackson’s lookalike Blair and Bush.  Best joke was Angus Fairhurst’s cartoon of the two men clashing heads; also his ill-fitting gorilla suit video.  Most excruciating was the Bateman cartoon of the man biting his tongue off.

The bawdy bit – Donald McGill of course, and a really good Viz cartoon, parodying McGill’s style and exploding it.  Some really impressive erect penises in the work of Aubrey Beardsley and Grayson Perry.

The whole thing was stitched together with a commentary done in the Viz style, by Viz characters, but I couldn’t be bothered to read all that – apparently, it was the funniest part of the exhibition.

As always with these exhibitions, especially in the early stages, you require great patience.  There are those who stand close up to the cartoons so that no-one else can see anything until they have read every word; then they move to the next one and do the same thing.  They tend to have grey hair and goatee beards (the men), Hawaiian short-sleeved shirts and those glasses hanging from cords.  They are mostly teachers (prob. retired), as they delight in pointing out loudly to their spouses the incorrect spelling of “skillful” in the captions.  I know the type; I am one.

Listening to Mean Black Spider by Robert Junior Lockwood.

“You’re a mean black spider and your web’s all over town (*2)

I’m gonna get me a mean red spider, to tear your cobweb down”

Blackpaint

15.06.10

Blackpaint 151

June 14, 2010

Bruegel

Looking at some of the snow scenes, I realised there was a slight resemblance to Lowry’s stuff, if only in the large numbers of little people going about their various businesses.  I suppose this is true of other Netherlands painters, such as Avercamp; probably a very trite observation – sorry.

Before leaving Bruegel, I feel I have to mention Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, in which you can just make out the legs of the falling boy  following the rest of him down beneath the ocean.  A galleon passes him on its way, a shepherd gazes in ignorance at the sky, a ploughman in the foreground continues ploughing his furrow.  The picture occasioned Auden’s poem,  Musee des Beaux Arts:

“…In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster: the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure….”

Think I’ll do paintings in poetry, when I can get round to the research.

Rude Britannia

Went round this yesterday, and it was great; will do it tomorrow, but just to remark on the critics briefly, who clearly don’t like it.  Laura Cumming in Observer and Richard Dorment in the Telegraph both criticised the excessive range, as they saw it, of stuff on offer, that didn’t somehow go.  The historical bits, the “bawdy” stuff, the conceptual art stuff… again, I think it’s because wide range and tenuous connections make an exhibition difficult to review, though they might make it more interesting for the punter.  Dorment commented that the Tate had mistaken a book for an exhibition.

Three other new things at the Tate worth seeing:

Anthony Wishaw  

80th birthday painting (actually called Landscape drawing, in acrylic with some form of composition); grey and black, like a Lanyon landscape in a Hitchens shape, beautiful and substantial.

Gillian Ayres 

Three big paintings, two of which can be seen through the archways of the other rooms; one at the end of the Fundamental Painting room, making a splash of reddish-brown and yellow colour at the end of a dark tunnel.  The best is Break Off (also  the earliest, 1961) in which, on an ochre/buff background, 5 or 6 floating objects resemble breakfast items, to me anyway.  Phaethon is a huge, crude, coloured plaque of pink and yellow and blue and white, with zig-zag patterns gouged in the thicknesses of the paint.  Sang the Sun in Flight is the one at the end of the tunnel. 

Francis Bacon, early works

From his “first career”, the period with Eric Hall and Roy de Maistre, paintings and furnishings.  There is a dark tree trunk like a Paul Nash (quite crudely painted); three Picasso-esque rugs; a screen with black, Leger-like shapes; a painting called Figures in the Park, with a tree, a very rudimentary dog(?) thing, and a squareish sort of figure; it’s alternative title is “Herman Goering and his Lion Cub” which, on close inspexction, makes sense.  It’s not clear whether this was Bacon’s idea or someone else’s interpretation.  On the end wall is the famous “figures at the foot of the crucifixion” tryptich.

Blackpaint

14.06.10

Blackpaint 41

January 17, 2010

Boltanski again

Another review of B’s Paris installation, this time Laura Cumming in the Observer.  I’m ashamed to learn that “he has long been considered France’s greatest living artist” – I’d seen his stuff before, I remember a dimly-lit corner (shrine) of photographs of Holocaust victims, possibly in the Bilbao Guggenheim; but I had no idea of his status.  Nor had his French nationality registered with me; because of his name, and  because of his work on the Holocaust, I’d (ironically)assumed he was Polish.  Given his previous work, it’s not surprising that Cumming refers to  “Auschwitz, Srebrenica, Rwanda”, when looking at the assemblages of anonymous clothing.

This piece, however, as Cumming  points out, goes further.  “You do not imagine these clothes to be those of murdered people so much as humanity en masse, flattened like biblical crops”, she writes and describes the repetitive action of a giant mechanical claw, picking up articles of clothing from a giant pile – and dropping them again, in a blind, random and ceaseless process.  A suitably solemn review, the tone of which was for me undermined by the headline, “A monument to everyone and no one” – yes, Clouzot, pathetic isn’t it?

By coincidence, I have just re-read Ray Bradbury’s story, “the Scythe” from “The October Country”.  An impoverished mid western family in 1938, heading to California, come across a well- kept farm in the midst of wheatfields.  A dead man is inside; they bury him and settle down in the farm, which is well stocked with food, and the man finds a scythe and begins to cut the ripe corn.  Strangely, it rots as soon as it is cut.  Also there are some patches that are still green, others ripening, others ready for the scythe… you can guess the rest.

Mad

I’m afraid I suggested in yesterday’s blog that Boltanski might be mad (before I knew he was France’s greatest living artist); that was prompted by the revelation in Searle’s Guardian article that he is compiling an audio library of people’s heartbeats that will be stored on a remote Japanese island.  I should say that I don’t consider madness in artists to be necessarily a bad thing – indeed, doing apparently mad things has been shown repeatedly to be the only way that art “advances” (although I don’t believe it advances – goes in cycles, maybe).

Sistine Chapel – Original Sin and The Last Judgement

Been looking at the Taschen “Michelangelo” again, and I was really struck by how close Eve’s face is to Adam’s penis in the apple scene.  The caption reads blandly; “The juxtaposition of a supposedly female face and masculine genitalia is a common feature of Michelangelo’s work”, and goes on to give other examples.

Then, there is the hilariously phallic right hand lunette of the “Last Judgement”, described as “angels lifting up the column of flagellation”.  Sorry to indulge in these base observations.

Bicycle Thieves – De Sica

Fantastic film – Coppola was surely informed by it, when he made The Godfather.  The music for one thing; and Ricci’s friend, the dustman-ganger who helps him look in the markets, reminded me of de Niro’s young house-breaking companion in Godfather II – but then, so did Bruno!  I love the shambolic picture of postwar Rome; everything half-built or crumbling, improvisation, old bits of uniform being worn..

There were a couple of scenes that seemed straight out of Cartier – Bresson; where the camera follows two street urchins along a dazzling white wall, as they beg from a suited and hatted gent with a briefcase – and the German(?) clerics with their circular hats and cassocks, sheltering from the cloudburst with Ricci and Bruno.  I must immediately get hold of “Miracle in Milan” again.

Listening to “Davy Lowston” by Martin Carthy.

“Our captain John McGrath, he set sail, he set sail,

Oh yes, for old Port Stanley, he set sail;

He said “I’ll return, men, without fail”,

But he foundered in a gale,

And went down, and went down, and went down”.

Blackpaint

17.01.10