Posts Tagged ‘Damien Hirst’

Blackpaint 645 – Bellany and Davie; Skates, Bats, Donkeys and Diamonds

May 22, 2019

John Bellany and Alan Davie,  “Cradle of Magic”, Newport Street Gallery until 2nd June

A special, supplementary blog about one show, because it’s soon to close.  This brilliant free exhibition, all works owned by Damien Hirst, has been on since February, but somehow I’ve managed to miss it up to now – and there’s only ten or so days left; so if you possibly can, you need to get to Vauxhall Gardens and see this.

Both Scotsmen, Bellany died in 2013, Davie in 2014 at 94.  Bellany was figurative, Davie abstract – yet their paintings somehow go together, bounce off each other.  Maybe it’s colour, maybe brushwork (sometimes);  don’t know.  I’ve mixed them up, as they are mixed in the gallery, although not in the same order.

Bellany’s paintings, which are enigmatic, I think it’s fair to say, bring to my mind a range of painters; Ensor, perhaps, is foremost.  Skulls, masks, hanged men, groups of solemn, dark-clad men staring out at the viewer, the disconsolate skate/ray fish in the picture below; a general sort of cartoonish quality.  Both Ensor and Bellany lived in coastal towns; Ensor in Ostend, Bellany in the fishing village of Port Seton, near Edinburgh. Others: Max Beckmann, Soutine (another skate man), Arthur Boyd (his “Scapegoat” has the donkey – AND a skate fish, in the Australian desert) and Kitaj somehow, in the drawing and breadth of subject matter.

 

Bellany – Title? Date?

The skate king on his throne.  What are they, birds or bats?  Beckmann here, I think, and in Rose of Sharon below.

 

Davie – Bath Darling, 1956

Davie was a jazz musician and a pilot as well as a painter – a youtube fragment on him (Allan Paints a Picture) shows him at the piano – I think it’s “Getting Sentimental Over You” but the chords are rather free – reciting poetry at the same time, and reminding me a bit of Ron Geesin.  Unlike Geesin, he looks pretty tough as a young man, muscular and long-bearded.  He was feted in the states by the likes of Pollock, Kline and the other AbExes, and the painting below clearly shows the influence of Pollock and maybe de Kooning.  He combined the freedom of gesture (the black sweeps in the picture below, the drips and spatters above) with rich colour and a repertoire of recurring symbols (wheels, snakes, diamonds, images taken from rock pictures by indigenous people in St. Lucia, where he lived for 10 years).

Davie – Red Parrot Jay, 1960

 

Bellany – Eyemouth 1985

The look of love or hunger from the giant seagull?

 

Bellany – Rose of Sharon, 1973

The skate again.  A hint of Mexican influence here?

 

Davie – Romance for Moon and Stars, 1964

 

Davie – Trio for Bones, 1960

 

Davie – A Diamond Romance, 1964

In all three of these Davie pictures, there is the combination of rich colour, symbol and gesture – the rough and smooth elements that sometimes suggest Bacon’s work, without the figures of course, but a potent combination.  In more recent paintings (not represented here) the symbols remain but the rough gesturalism has gone – and the paintings are poorer for it, in my view.

 

Bellany – The Journey, 1989

Very reminiscent of the Boyd painting I mentioned earlier; also a touch of Kitaj in the execution.

A rather solemn portrait from (but not of) me to finish:

Man of Sorrows

Blackpaint

22.05.19

 

 

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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 514 – Hoyland’s Cakes, The Serpent’s Egg, Auerbach’s Mustard

October 12, 2015

John Hoyland at Newport Street Gallery

hoyland1

These huge, voluptuous colour field pictures, around 40 of them, are on display at Damien Hirst’s new gallery near Vauxhall.  It’s enormous; white walls of course, lovely staircases, a line of big toilets with heavy doors as if he’s expecting coachloads of pensioners.  The paintings are from Hirst’s own collection and it’s great to see them here for free.

Acrylics for the most part – there are two oils, I think.  Several maroons with orange, leaf green (ugh!), turquoise, grey-blue, reds and greys, arranged in blocks or columns; a few with scraped edges and splatters, “smoking” tops (the result of trickle- downs and reversal of the canvas).  The central section upstairs I think of as the cake room; pinks, beiges and whites, like huge cake slices smashed and splattered against the canvas.  In the last room, deep, singing blues, reds and oranges, scraped to reveal gold, like clouds of fire; colours arranged in blocks and diagonals.

For an alternative view, try Jonathan Jones online – “Why is Damien Hirst opening his new gallery with this second-rate artist?”  He makes the laughable claim that Hoyland is trying to do Rothko, or Pollock, or Barnet Newman.  Actually, the painters who came to my mind were Hans Hoffman and John Golding (a bit).  Hoyland, says Jones,  is simply “messing about with paint”.

hoyland2

The Serpent’s Egg, Bergman (1977)

Falls into that genre of films like “Cabaret” and Visconti’s “The Damned”, in which the story is set in Weimar Germany, in this case, Berlin – sleazy drinking clubs, cabarets and brothels (often combined), cross- dressing, prostitution, obscene night club turns, dwarves, smeared, garish lipstick, lost innocence, sudden shocking violence, crazed Nazi bands, wet cobblestones, sense of doom…  Bergman’s film is set earlier than the others- 1923 I think, the time of hyper-inflation- but the similarities are apparent.  It becomes suddenly Kafka-esque towards the denouement; David Carradine is chased around a mysterious underground laboratory-labyrinth and confronts a mad scientist, more Nazi than Hitler himself (who is a minor demagogue at this time, about to launch his Munich Putsch).

Unlike any other Bergman film I’ve seen; sort of a low budget feel, strangely, since it was made in Hollywood, and the sound on the DVD is terrible.  I ended up watching it with subtitles for the hard of hearing, which improved it no end.

That Obscure Object of Desire, Bunuel (1977)

The story of this great Bunuel is well-known; Fernando Rey’s pursuit of the young Spanish flamenco dancer to Seville and eventually to Paris, her continual promising and then avoiding/refusing  sex with him (in one sequence arriving naked in his bedroom – apart from an impregnable, tightly-laced corset); the gifts of money he constantly makes to her and her complicit mother, culminating in his buying her a house.  After another provocation, he attacks her; she grins up at him through her bleeding lips and says, “Now I know you really love me!”  Dodgy sexual politics, to be sure.  I had forgotten the little “surreal” bits in the film – the mousetrap that goes off during one of Rey’s intense scenes with Conchita; the sack that he lugs around inexplicably in several scenes.

Conchita, the girl, is famously played by two completely different actresses –  the elegant, glacial Carole Bouquet and the effervescent Angela Molina.  This caused me great consternation when I first saw the film.  I rationalised it along these rather obvious lines: they represent the two halves of Conchita’s character; cold and hot.  That didn’t work though.  So, they represent the two ways she responds to Rey.  But that didn’t work either, for the same reason (they both encourage and reject him, rather than “taking turns”).

Wikipedia says that Bunuel got the idea to use different women in response to difficulties he was having on set with another actress,  Maria Schneider apparently, and that it had no deeper significance than that he thought it was an amusing idea and would” work well”.

I love that phrase; I’ve heard it so many times from different artists and said it often myself, in response to those who ask “What does that represent?” or “Why did you do that there?” – the answer is invariably mundane or unhelpful; it “looked good”, or “I thought it was black and when I put it on the canvas,  it turned out to be prussian blue”.  As often, a Jonathan Jones piece is instructive; reviewing the new Auerbach at Tate Britain, Jones recycles the old “colourless 50s” cliche: “Back in the 1950s, he (Auerbach) saw very little colour in the world.  Frankenstein faces loom like monsters in his early paintings.   Gradually came the colours: blood red, mustard yellow, and eventually orange, purple, blue, the lot – a rainbow slowly spreading…”.  Auerbach himself, speaking on his son’s film about him, explains that the new colours were the result of his progressively having more money to spend on paint.

Jones’ review is otherwise not bad, apart from his habitual thumping overstatement and childish posturing – “My generation owes Auerbach an apology..”…

serpents egg of obscure desire

The Serpent’s Egg of Obscure Desire

Blackpaint

12.10.15

 

 

Blackpaint 362 – Squirrel Suicide and Beuys Hanging at the Whitechapel

October 10, 2012

Whitechapel Gallery

Giuseppe Penone – Giant “felled” tree, in bronze,  cut into sections and hollowed so that you can look right through it – almost; there’s a curve at one end.  The branches are naked and lopped, like the upright real trees by the same artist  in the Arte Povera bit of the Tate Modern.  But as well as being made of bronze, this one is lined with crinkly gold stuff.  So – it’s like a Bond Street version of an Anselm Kiefer, or a Damien dry run before he thought of the skull.

Maurizio Catellan

There’s a small exhibition by this artist, famous for the pope felled by a meteorite in the Sensations exhibition and for the horse halfway to the ceiling with its head stuck into the wall.  This is show is small in both senses; the famous squirrel suicide (sprawled across a table, tiny gun on floor, empty glass, possibly poison) is on the floor against the wall.  it’s tiny but then of course it is – it’s squirrel-sized.  For some reason, I was surprised;  I expected a giant squirrel.

A small man in a grey felt suit hangs by the collar from a peg on an upright trolley; slick black hair, prominent, curved nose.  I saw the felt suit and thought, “Beuys” – but unfortunately, didn’t say it to my friend.  A moment later, I read the wall blurb and it identified the suit as a reference to Beuys.  Cursed the missed opportunity to make an informed comment in a loud voice within earshot of the attendant.

A huge industrial rubble bag filled with bricks and – rubble.  Apparently, from an art gallery in Sicily bombed by the Mafia.

A large circular rug on the floor, made from the design of the label on a box of Bel Paese cheese. And that’s about it, apart from a couple of unremarkable neons.  The squirrel scenario and the hanging Beuys I liked – the cheese rug reminded me of Boetti and the maps.

Eyes Wide Shut

Watched this mildly erotic Kubrick film over several evenings, 40 minutes a hit (it’s pretty long) and was surprised it was good – I remember it being widely slated on release.  What was really striking, however, was the dialogue between Cruise and Kidman in the grass smoking scene – they both, but particularly Cruise, seem to be channeling Jack Nicholson in “the Shining”.  That thing where Nicholson, as Torrance, repeats the last thing that Shelley Duval has said in that mocking, disbelieving way – Cruise does it several times.  “The Shining” was, of course, a Kubrick film so presumably it’s the direction.  The lighting, too, at the first party, reminded me of the bar scene with Delbert Grady; very intense on the faces, enhancing the shadows and highlights.

Freedom of Expression

Having signed petitions about Pussy Riot and others banged up abroad, I was alarmed to see jail and community service sentences being handed out in the UK for posting stuff on the net that was “grossly offensive”; not life-threatening, or part of a campaign of harrassment, but grossly offensive.  How do we criticise other countries and protest about free speech issues when we start locking people up for saying or writing offensive things?  The youth who posted the “joke” about the missing girl deserves our censure and disapproval but if you start jailing people for that, you are faced with the problem of definition – who decides what’s offensive, and to whom?  The answer is the judges,of course – and we all agree with them…

 

Servan

Figure Collage

Blackpaint

10/10/12

Blackpaint 344 – Last Tango from Bela

May 31, 2012

Bela Tarr

I read in the Guardian that he is retiring to teach at a film school.  Terrible news – no more rain, mud, pigs and palinka, displaced peasants… 

Fred and Ginger

I’ve been watching the old Astaire Rodgers films again – Top Hat, Swing Time, Follow the Fleet – and ending up with a stupid smile at every breathtaking dance number; I find this is perfect to alternate with Tarr films, on the old 30 mins of Astaire-Rodgers, followed by 30 mins of Satantango or Damnation principle – they complement each other perfectly (as of course do Fred and Ginger).

Ed Burtynsky at the Photographers Gallery

The exhibition is titled “Oil”.  Huge, Gursky-ish photographs; spaghetti junctions, vast Volkswagen lots, thousands of Harley bikes at Sturgis, N.Dakota (where there’s a bikers’ convention): nodding donkeys flung higgledy-piggledy across the landscape in Baku, Azerbaijan; same hardware but neatly set out in California and Canada.  Shipbreaking in Chittagong – monolithic, black “walls” of iron, dwarfed workers posing; a Philadelphia truck-stop complex, Exxon and Big Mac signs; a beautiful, painterly interior of a refinery, shining, chromed pipes; oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  In one of these photos, tiny ships spraying foam (?), the surface of the sea just like coal, as if looking at a glistening, wrinkled, solid coal wall in a mine.

Art and the State

One thing that can be said for Damien Hirst is that (so far as I know) he has not participated in any of the Olympic or Jubilee nonsense currently engulfing the UK.  Could be wrong about this – please comment if I am.  Anyway, the sight of a collection of artists, actors and various other performers, in their posh clothes, at a reception for the Queen at the Royal Academy was bizarre and faintly nauseating.  They looked, for the most part, deeply embarrassed – some, notably David Hockney, pulling faces that made them look demented.  Maureen Lipman, interviewed by Will Gompertz, acquitted herself well; she said she had no idea why they were all there and then qualified this by opining that it was all about money and networking.  Gompertz and the odious George Alagiah “back in the studio”  (Morrissey is right about him “acting out” the news) feigned amusement – the interview disappeared and a more conventional few sentences from Charlotte Rampling substituted on later airings of the story.  Well done, Maureen; disappointing, Charlotte. 

Jonathan Jones on Hirst

Something I left out when discussing Jones’ excoriating review of Hirst last week, was his side-swipe at “whimsical abstraction”.  I assume that this is the process of producing abstract work without a coherent ideological frame of reference.  If so, my improvised paintings clearly fit the bill, so I must thank Jones for supplying me with a convenient label.  Latest whimsical abstraction below.

Blackpaint

31/05/12

Blackpaint 343 – Hansel and Gretel, Staring Eyes and Jones v.Hirst

May 24, 2012

Bauhaus at the Barbican

Bauhaus to me means those Modernist white buildings with big windows and outside staircases, distinctive lettering, smoking artists with staring eyes, wearing overalls they have designed themselves…  This exhibition shows the early Arts and Crafts nature of the movement, buildings designed in wood by Walter Gropius having that Hansel and Gretel quality, or maybe Goering’s Karin hunting lodge.  Some of the early woodcuts on display, by Feininger, Itten and Gerhard Marcks, the latter two new names to me, very German Expressionist.  So that was unexpected. 

 Then there were the dolls, or puppets:  again, some of these were slightly sinister – one called the Executioner, another with a head consisting of an electrical circuit, and, the most memorable one of Paul Klee, with the staring eyes and a laboratory coat.

A set of small, colourful Kandinsky abstracts, entitled “Small Worlds”, consisting of shapes and symbols apparently flying apart, suggesting notes of music to me; of course, Kandinsky believed in synaesthesia, the perception and representation of sound, particularly music, in visual image.  Wasn’t that in Fantasia?

The Oskar Schlemmer figures, slim, androgynous, anonymous, very prevalent – and Schlemmer’s pneumatic costumes from “The Triadic Ballet”.  Furniture, Breuer chairs, nests of pastel coloured tables; teapots, tea sets and “liqueur flasks”, made from nickel silver? looking strangely fragile, awkward and impractical – the handles look difficult to hold and as if they might burn your fingers.  Probably very simple and utilitarian in the context of the times, though.

Trouble with the Bauhaus stuff is that it’s had a fair amount of exposure over the years – I remember a really big Bauhaus exhibition at the V&A, I think, a few years back, so seen all this before.  Good, though.

Damien Hirst at White Cube

An interestingly vitriolic review of these paintings by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian, entitled “A message to Damien Hirst: stop now, you have become a disgrace to your generation”.  He says that the paintings fail “to come close…to basic competence”,  that they “lack the skill of thousands of amateur artists who paint at weekends all over Britain”.  He can’t, says Jones, manage to paint an orange accurately; the “poor sphere seems to float in mid-air because of the clumsy circle of shadow below it”.

I won’t quote more from the review as it can be read online, no doubt, but the tone interested me; Jones wrote a similarly savage review of an exhibition by Mark Leckey a while back; like Hirst, once praised and admired by Jones (see Blackpaint 276).

Some of the paintings are reproduced in the Guardian; they don’t look that bad to me, I have to say; the orange looks like an orange and doesn’t seem to me to be at any worse odds with the tabletop than some of the fruit in Cezanne or Bonnard paintings (Hirst seems to be playing about with the picture plane by using a grid of dots in “front” of the table).  OK, they wouldn’t merit an exhibition if they weren’t by Hirst – but not that bad, on this showing.  Have to go and see it now, to see if it really warrants the Jones blitzing. 

Bram Bogart

Obit. in Guardian.  See the book “Intensely Dutch”; he uses paint applied inches deep, even thicker than Appel, great slabs and billows of single colour, white, yellow, red.

And an old one of mine to end with, just gone to a new home;

Brother Angels

Blackpaint

24/05/12

Blackpaint 337 – Orgreave, Iscariot and “The F-Word”

April 16, 2012

Jeremy Deller at the Hayward

Collection of his various projects in which he has played the role of interviewer or organiser or visionary – a term not too strong for the “Battle of Orgreave” re-enactment.  The exhibits include:

the flattened car from Iraq that was previously exhibited in the Imperial War Museum (see earlier Blackpaints) and was toured through the States;

Adrian Street, the “flamboyant” Welsh wrestler, his costumes, fights on video and struggles with machismo in the Valleys;

Deller’s “Open Bedroom”, with jokes copied from the walls of the British Library toilets;

The reproduction of Valerie’s Snack Bar, open and functioning, in which the customers looked like living sculpture exhibits the day I went.  Maybe they were particularly theatrically clothed (very arty crowd that day) – or maybe that’s always the effect.

Overshadowing, or maybe drowning out everything else. however, was the Orgreave video and photos that went with it.  Somehow, he got redundant miners who were there, together with military re-enactment groups and at least one policeman, interviewed on film, to reconstruct the “battle” – more a mounted assault, really – and won the 2004 Turner Prize with the filmed record.  Staggeringly realistic and powerful to those who remember the events, now back in the news, linked to the Hillsborough disaster.  The South Yorkshire force was responsible for order on both occasions and lawyers for the families of the Hillsborough dead allege similar tactics of lying and cover-up.

The film of Thatcher at the end, in tight-lipped, glaring, defiant mode brought back vividly her stance at the time; black and white, all or nothing, strikers were the “enemy within”.  She clearly knew nothing about, and cared nothing for the mining communities involved in the strike and this was her great asset – “Ignorance is Strength” (1984, Orwell).

David Shrigley (also at Hayward)

The Orgreave exhibit totally wiped out the David Shrigley exhibition for me – couldn’t be bothered with the little jokes, cartoons, insects with cannons, stuffed dogs…  Very unfair, of course; the leisure centre made me laugh out loud and so did a couple of other things, but the miners’ strike sucks the emotional oxygen out of the surroundings every time for me.

Damien Hirst

On TV Friday night, I glimpsed a shot of a young Hirst in front of his first dot painting, (the one that had run), hung or maybe painted direct onto a scabby, disintegrating, white tiled wall (shades of Deep End).  It looked great and revealed to me what was missing from his show – textural grime. 

Sounds odd, considering the rotting cow’s head, the blood, the massed dead flies, the stink, the disgusting fluid streaks down the walls in the butterfly room… but yet, it’s all too cleanly encased and clinical and glassed in.  Even the huge, black, circular cake of dead flies was neat and tidy.  For some reason, everything looks more exciting to me when it’s half-destroyed – for instance, those giant imitation stained glass windows, made from butterfly wings; destroy the pattern, leave it intact only here and there, bring a bit of entropy in – I think it would look better, might say more.  Then again, he’s the millionaire (billionaire?)…

Incidentally, on the same programme  (the Review Show, BBC2), the presenter Martha Kearney was clearly uncomfortable when one of the reviewers used the word “farking” , quoting Irvine Welsh’s take on how the English say “fucking” – she also panicked when another guest referred to some incident in Welsh’s new book; it was clearly deemed not fit to be repeated.  This is on a cultural review on BBC2, going out after 11.00pm.  Nursery school?  I hate all the bleeping you get on TV and especially the use of the formulation “The C-word”, “The F-word” and “The N-word”.

Kings Place – “Abstract Critical – Newcomer Awards”

Five lovely canvases by Iain Robertson, white base, faux-clumsy, slapdash figures, sweeps, circles, triangles, crosses in glowing, burning colours – a lot of Gillian Ayres, more than a touch of Albert Irvin, CoBrA peering through…

A couple of huge (and hugely priced) colourful, feathery swatches and tangles like Albert Oehlen by Gary Wragg. both entitled “Rue Gambetta”, one of them a cool 40 grand.

These were the selectors, however – of the selectees, it was Dan Roach’s pictures in oil and wax on paper that stood out, recalling Clough and Ian McKeever, somewhat.

National Gallery

Some random observations:

Only the Constable sketches look good to me – the wagons and little boys and rainbows spoil the finished paintings.

Guido Reni – “Europa”; what a duff painting.  The bull is terrible and so is the cherub.

The Veronese “back” in “Unfaithfulness” – fantastic.  Also Veronese – the size of that horse in the right of the picture of Alexander!  Maybe it’s on a step?  Also the big heads on the left and the “ghosts” wafting about in the centre.

The Titian Vendramins – the figure on the left has a head just like a French soldier at the time of the Dreyfus case.

The Campin Virgin with the improbably long, straight nose and the Van der Weyden Virgin – those fabric folds!

The Duccio pinks and the Giotto Pentecost legs, like spindly insect legs under the square bodies.

A grey-bodied Jesus as the Man of Sorrows, with massive chest and shoulders like a body builder.

Tree of Man and Pasolini

I was a bit hard on this the other day – called the beginning and the end “crap”.  Not so – it was the air of religiosity that I found unbearable, all that holy, churchy choir stuff and white floating linenLast weekend, I watched “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” by Pasolini – that’s the way to do religion on soundtrack; Bach, Blind Willie Johnson, Congo Mass; and the faces, particularly the young and old Marys and Judas Iscariot (Pasolini look-alike?), and the angry, intense, studenty Jesus.

Work in Progress (I know – too much brown).

Blackpaint

16/04/12

Blackpaint 336 – Tree of Life and the Leaking Pupae

April 10, 2012

Deep End

No wonder it sounded like a foreign film dubbed (see last blog); apart from main actors, most were German and it was filmed in Munich!  I wonder if that goes for the baths – I always thought in was an old public baths in the East End of London, Hackney or Tower Hamlets.

Jonathan Jones in the Guardian

Last week, this critic was saying that, with the Lucian Freud, Hockney and now the Damien Hirst exhibitions, women artists weren’t getting a fair share of showings in London.  Hard to sustain this argument, I would have thought; in the last couple of years or so, we’ve been to Roni Horn, Susan Hiller, Rachel Whiteread, Kusama,  Tracey Emin, Joan Mitchell, Lygia Pape, Mary Heilmann, Nancy Spero, Isa Genzken, Pipilotti Rist, Vaida Caivanho, Cecily Brown, Rose Hilton…  OK, the three blockbusters were all men – but Freud just died, Hockney has done a whole body of new stuff in his 70’s and Hirst is the world’s priceyest living artist.

Damien Hirst

At the Tate Modern.  All the expected stuff is there; the swirl paintings (impressive, I thought);  the shelves of packaged drugs (I was surprised how many of them I know by name – it’s part of modern life); the sharks, looking pretty shrivelled now, like flesh under water too long; the beef head with the blood puddle and the fat black flies dying in droves on the insectocutor; the cows and calves sawn in half (spine and gut street maps, if you queue to walk between the two halves);  the crematoria of stinking fag ends; the anatomical models and variations on same; but the butterflies were new.  That is to say, I’ve seen the wings before and the “stained glass window” type patterns assembled from them – but not the butterfly room.

This was overheated, of course, and painted white or hung with white canvases.  The walls were studded with a variety of strange pupae or chrysalises, which appeared to have exuded vertical streaks of coloured fluid down the walls.  The mature butterflies tended to the huge, and the highly coloured, iridescent blues predominating, I think.  On a table in the middle of the room, bowls of fruit, pineapple, melons, etc. were studded with insects, drunk on the fermented juices.  The experience was faintly nauseating, like the stink of rotting flesh and fag ends from the other exhibits.

We didn’t bother queueing to see the diamond-crusted skull, since images of it abounded – and to queue reminded me of lining up to see the saints’ relics in Santiago di Compostella and other Catholic shrines.  And the Crown Jewels in the Tower, of course.

Is it worth a visit?  It’s conceptual art; in this case, seen it once, no point going again – you probably won’t get anything new.  You don’t look at these things and think that’s great, I didn’t see it like that before.

Tree of Life

Terrence Mallick, just watched it.  First thought – he’s been watching Tarkovsky.  Next – when is all this religiosity going to stop?  The choirs, the heavenly music. the wafting white linen, the chubby babies…  Then, it’s “2001”; we’re in the galaxies, there’s the sea from Solaris, back on Earth, origins of life, Disney, Blue Planet, Imax, Jurassic Park….  Then, it suddenly gets better – we’re back in Texas in the 50s with Brad Pitt and the kids.   Then, 10 minutes from the end it becomes indescribably bad again.  Ditch the crap at the beginning and the end and it would have been fantastic.

Blackpaint

Easter Monday 2012

Blackpaint 325 – Fabric Penis Stalactites

February 16, 2012

Yayoi Kusama

This artist now in her 80s, has an exhibition at the Tate Modern at the moment and I went, expecting not very much.  From what I had heard, she was a performance artist from the 60s who now lived voluntarily in a mental institution in Japan, and tended to cover everything in sight with coloured spots, from tiny to huge.  True, but much more, it turned out. 

First, there is are some surrealist drawing/paintings, resembling vaguely threatening dragons or snakes, and then some quite beautiful small drawings/collages/paintings in vibrant colours; moons, bacteria, some that reminded me of Hartung, dots, lines, fish (deep-sea phosphorescent)… terrific.

Then, the “Infinity Net” paintings, huge, white, covered with little bobbles of paint, with maze-like patterns just visible.  There are nine or ten of these, and I must admit they don’t look that great in the exhibition book – better on the wall. 

Then, you come to the bit where she covers a variety of things – a rowing boat, sofa, armchair, ladder, cabinet, women’s shoes – with sewn and stuffed little bags in the shape of penises.  An old-fashioned kettle hangs from one.  By way of variety, flowers and macaroni are used to cover shirts and coats and there is an attractive “Bronze Coat”, covered with sewn bags like horse dung.  The echoes of Oppenheim’s fur cup and the jacket covered with glasses (Duchamp?) are obvious.  I thought the penises looked like some mineral growth of little stalagtites – very pleasing.

Then. you come to the dark room, covered with little reflecting coloured discs that show up in one of those fluorescent lights –  and then to the reflecting mirror room, in which hundreds (?) of little coloured lights succeed each other in casting reflections into the surrounding mirrors and shallow pools of water, creating ever-receding pinpints of light.   Careful here – one chap stepped unwittingly into the water.  In the photos, this room resembles a Peter Doig painting somehow; but not in the “flesh”.

There’s much more, but it should be seen, not described.  I have to say, I didn’t see anything here that indicated she was more mentally ill than any other artist – obsessive, maybe, but most artists are, really.  After all, doing art is essentially playing.  Academies have been set up, rules laid down, techniques set in granite,  critics like Robert Hughes intone solemnly on the practices of Auerbach, say, working every day, 10 hours a day, covering everything in charcoal dust, taking 2 years on every portrait – it has to be done properly.  Then, along comes someone who breaks all the rules, sticks up two fingers to tradition, and becomes a huge success.  I love it – long live Damien and Tracy, and Julian Schnabel, who Hughes doesn’t seem to like much.  Play away, make (more) shedloads of money.

Albert Irvin

I’ve just discovered Tate Shots on YouTube, which are short films on artists, talking about their work, and watched the one on Albert.  The paintings (which I hated at first) are now so beautiful that, if I weren’t a working-class boy from South London, would make me weep with ecstasy.  No, not really – but they are good, especially that one with the great, diagonal sweeps of purple with little splats of blue.  Nice bloke, too.  Fiona Rae’s film is good as well – she has a little gizmo for squeezing all the paint out of a tube; must get one.

Flodden, Albert Irvin

Fellini

I’ve just bought the DVD of “the Ship Sailed On”, by the above, but haven’t yet seen it; I am intrigued by the book I have on Fellini, in which he avoids answering the question “What is the significance of the rhinoceros?”  Needless to say, … well it’s needless to say, so I won’t say it.

Can’t decide which way up this should go, so here’s both until I make my mind up.

OR…

Blackpaint

16.02.12

Blackpaint 320 – The Shire, the Sunset and the Pequod

January 19, 2012

David Hockney

His new show at the RA seems to be dividing the critics somewhat, so I am eager to go see.  Some seem to be casting him as Grand Old Man of figurative painting, upholding traditional old English values (that thing about drawing, a sort of fetishism I think) against the conceptuals, the empty, sensationalist Hirstites. His grumpy old squire-ishness and eccentricities about smoking and the calendar assist in this, I suppose.  Some reviewers are writing in awed tones about beauty and soul – enough to make you sick, or me anyway.

Martin Kettle in the Guardian expresses this identification with traditional values – he chucks in Yorkshire pride too, no nonsense in Yorkshire – most strongly; he writes that “Hockney and his art express and address the kind of people and country that he and we wish we were”.  What does this mean?  That we are  people who love landscape painting, hate abstract and conceptual art, admire the “useful”, despise the frivolous, can draw really, really well?  All sounds deeply conservative to me, as if Hockney’s art was made to chime with Cameron’s current version of Thatcherism.  He’s probably right about many people living in Britain today – when times are hard and uncertain, you tend to cling to what you see as safest.  Not sure he’s right about Hockney, though.

Hockney’s tree pics and landscapes strike me as so oddly coloured that I think of them almost as cartoons – the repros I have seen remind me of the graphics that you used to see in pre – CGI animation; not so much East Yorkshire as The Shire.  That bright green, the beetroot – to – mauve colours he uses for paths; it all lacks the denseness and richness and subtlety of trad English landscape.  So what – he’s using trees and landscape to make pictures and if the pictures don’t look like the landscape, it shouldn’t be a problem.  The only question is, do you like the pictures?

Giorgione

Was in the National Gallery today, and I came across a couple of paintings by this mystery man of Venice.  The first, Il Tramonto, the Sunset, had a lot going on in it as well as the sun setting; St. George killing the dragon, St.Anthony waving out of a cave, St. Roch (maybe) getting his leg bound up, and a pond with a very humpy monster sitting in it.  What is the relationship between all these?  Like the Tempest, in the Venice Accademia, no-one has much idea what’s going on.

The other picture was the Adoration of the Kings, that little panel with the groom crossing his legs and looking down at his feet, way off to the right out of the main action of the picture, but stealing the attention completely.  The glowing yellows and reds are up to Raphael standard.

Catena

Why does Catena have partridges wandering about in both the pics on display next to the Giorgiones?  there they are, in both a St. Jerome in his study (lion with very human face) and in an Adoration (baby Jesus with head like a cannonball).

Travelling Light

At the Whitechapel, the latest government pictures selection, by Simon Schama this time.  Best pictures; Roger Hilton’s fabulous Pequod (thought it was a big Alfred Wallis, from across the room); Bomberg’s Jerusalem Armenian Church, and Marta Marce’s “Scalectrix” loops.  There’s that great portrait of Byron, done up like a Greek soldier, but looking very soft – not like the mad satanic near rapist portrayed in Ken’s “Gothic”.  Once again, fantastic booklet, made for bloggers so they don’t have to take notes.

Blackpaint

19.01.12