Posts Tagged ‘David Hockney’

Blackpaint 595 – It’s British – but is it all Queer?

April 24, 2017

Queer British Art 1861 – 1967

There is a fair bit of great painting in this show, some of it problematic in terms of its queerness.  When you see a Tom of Finland show, like that at the ICA a while back, or Mapplethorpe photos, as in Helsinki, there are no doubts – it’s full- on queerness.  Here, it’s not so clear.  The Hockney “Physique” picture apart, none of the paintings below are queer in the sense of openly celebrating queerness.  Hardly surprising, given the discriminatory laws in force in Britain between those dates – however, what makes the Singer Sargent portrait of Vernon Lee “queer art”?  Or the Laura Knight self-portrait, of her painting a female nude?  Or William Strang’s picture of the woman in the red hat?  The answers, presumably, are that Sargent and Vernon Lee were both queer, as was Vita Sackville-West (the sitter for the Strang portrait) and Knight’s self-portrait was a conscious protest against the art school ban on women artists painting nude women models.

Anyway, the riches on offer include:

  • Three beautiful Keith Vaughans in his characteristic blue, cream and brown hues, all figure studies I think, including the one below.  Best in show (Crufts again);
  • The Laura Knight self-portrait I mentioned;
  • A couple of terrific Patrick Proctors, quite like Hockney – but different;
  • Ethel Sands – shades of Harold Gilman, Sickert and Vuillard, I thought;
  • A Lord Leighton classical theme that looks like a Bright Young Things fancy dress ball;  fine-boned, handsome youths with lower lips seemingly a-tremble;
  • Duncan Grant swimmers and divers.
  • There are Cecil Beaton and Angus McBean photographs and posters for cross-dressing music hall acts Vesta Tilley et al.

 

Henry Scott Tuke

 

Vernon Lee (author of “The Virgin of the Seven Daggers”) by Singer Sargent

 

Hockney, of course

 

Keith Vaughan

In addition, there are some interesting oddities, such as Oscar Wilde’s cell door from Reading Gaol and Noel Coward’s dressing gown.  Go and see it; interesting history – not all the art is great, because the queerness is maybe more important here than the quality – but enough is great to make a visit worthwhile.  Still not totally comfortable with the idea of using “queer” out loud, though…

Cataracticus

Blackpaint

 

Still on for another week and several paintings still unsold!

Blackpaint

24/04/17

Advertisements

Blackpaint 588 – Fundamental! Wolfie and Hockers at the Tates

February 27, 2017

Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern

Huge blown-up photos on the walls, but also desktops full of his “snaps” (and pro-Remain, anti-Brexit propaganda posters/leaflets he presumably produced).  He calls each room an “installation”, the nature of which he expounds in the booklet, to avoid explanations on the walls.  My favourite below:

 

tillmans-1

Try to see that right arm and hand as a leg and foot and you get a totally different image…

Additionally, you can see –

A drainpipe and drainhole, with water running down through soggy litter; an amazing starscape over a dark hillside; a male bumhole close-up; a close-up of a vagina which appears to be that of a transsexual, judging by the hairy legs (echo of the famous Courbet picture); several large, beautiful colour field abstracts, red and ochre mainly, recalling Hoyland or more, Diebenkorn’s desert colours combined with his Ocean Park structures; crystalline car headlight; that strange shape of the swimmer picking his foot; enormous, rather touching blow-ups of delicate weeds sprouting in his backyard – and a simple image of a man in a blue T shirt, that is startlingly clear and 3D, when looked back on through the arch, from a short distance – try it.  And, of course, those great ones of pigment threads, slowly floating and whirling in fluid.  Great exhibition; Tillmans can find beauty in strange places – drains, for example.  Not sure about the other apertures.

Hockney, Tate Britain

After the big RA Hockney exhibition of 2012, I was expecting a bit of deja-vu; there was a bit, but I was surprised at how informative and enjoyable the Tate show is.  I’ve been twice, on a Saturday and a Thursday, and both times, the Tate was rammed with white-haired, retired schoolteacher types, along with the tourists and students.  Hockney is definitely a Treasure of Middle England, comparable, I guess, to Alan Bennett in his fanbase.

I reckon there are about ten or twelve different “sections”, some of them being distinct phases in his painting, others different areas of activity; here’s my breakdown of the show:

  • The earliest real Hockneys from the early 60s – textured, splashy paint, cartoon boys, areas of raw linen, words and letters (cf.Johns), jokey content – Boys Together, Typhoo Tea, toothpaste, the boys speeding towards Italy (see below).  I can’t get away from seeing a similarity to Bacon in the brushwork, splatters and bare surfaces here, if not the content (although one of the shower ones could be).

hockney-italy

Flight to Italy

  • Next, the Kitaj-like ones, where Hockney makes well-drawn, naturalistic figures, often alongside flat cartoon characters (see below).  Various palm tree and pyramid pieces, chaps in pants on bed or in shower.

Hockney, David; Man in a Museum (or You're in the Wrong Movie); British Council Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/man-in-a-museum-or-youre-in-the-wrong-movie-176794

Man in a Museum (You’re in the Wrong Movie)

  • Swimming pools, snakey surface reflections, Bigger Splash of course.
  • A roomful of drawings, from early “cartoons” through beautifully, sparingly executed portraits, Kitaj, Kasmin etc.
  • Raw red USA desert canyons and Yorkshire Dales – hills and winding roads, flattened against invisible glass of the surface, shining with vivid colours, which I thought were a bit much in 2012, but I see from a TV film on Hockney last night are pretty accurate.  That one of hawthorn trees with maggot blossoms and the Van Gogh pink and grey sky..
  • A room of beautifully drawn but underwhelming drawings of woodland scenes.
  • The static portraits of Ossie Clark, Celia Birtwell, Henry Geldzahler, Hockney’s parents  et al; they recall della Francesca in the respect that the characters appear self-absorbed, or at least, uninvolved with each other.  There is a della Francesca on the wall behind Geldzahler, Baptism of Christ, I think.
  • Piercingly psychedelic verandahs, blue with red flowerpots, overlooking fiercely green lawns.  Those flowerpots really cut through.
  • A roomful of his composite videos of wood and meadowland in different seasons, taken by a battery of cameras from a moving car.
  • Ipad drawings and pictures he has worked up from them.
  • The psychedelic woods and landscapes from the 2012 exhibition.

I like the early stuff best, but it’s an impressive body of work, to understate the case.

To finish, a series of quick life drawings done with a brush and black acrylic.  Picasso at Barcelona next time.

 

woman-with-fan1

 

woman-with-fan2

woman-with-fan3

 

woman-with-fan4

 

woman-with-fan5

 

woman-with-fan6

Woman with Fan, 1 – 6

Blackpaint

26/2/17

 

 

 

Blackpaint 563 – Khakhar, Sutherland, Malick and Corbyn – Solicitors

July 22, 2016

Bhupen Khakhar, Tate Modern

khakhar tiger

Tiger and Stag

X 8

Man with Five Penises Suffering from Runny Nose

Douanier Rousseau, Chagall (a bit), Ben Nicholson in his panto horse phase, that big fresh green hill in the Dora Carrington painting in Tate B.  Maybe Hockney in his cartoony  “boys together” phase, but without the painterliness – or maybe that’s just the gay subject matter.  Man with five penises (all arising from same area) quite an arresting image – not sure if it’s anatomically correct, though..  There’s a portrait – not sure if it’s a self portrait – that’s very reminiscent of Lowry.

khakhar2

Man in Pub (that’s a glove he’s holding)

Graham Sutherland

Writing last blog about Georgia O’Keeffe, I was rambling on about how I didn’t like her skull and antler paintings, because they just replicated the correct details of same, against a pastel background.  Looking at a book of Sutherland’s work, I see what can be done with objects like skulls and bones beyond anatomical accuracy, and also with landscape:

Horned Forms 1944 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1966 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00834

Horned Forms 

sutherland2

Twisted Tree Form

 

sutherland3

Stone in Estuary

 

sutherland clark1

Sunset between Two Hills

The main thing is that they have some texture and weight and they don’t have that awful smooth Lempicka finish, like Athena Reproductions (are they still going?  Probably not – you would need to be old enough to remember the tennis girl walking away…).

tennis girl

The Tree of Life, 2011 (dir.Terence Malick)

After watching Sorrentino’s “Youth” last week and comparing it stylistically to Malick’s film, I thought I should check the source again.  I think the comparison holds (although Malick’s is the superior film) – but I was even more struck by the similarities of Malick’s to Tarkovsky’s style.

Brad Pitt’s performance as the father is very good; decent, talented, sensitive, loving – but with a streak of cruelty, wilfulness, self-pity, self-righteousness and self-regard.  you see him through his children’s and his wife’s eyes and feel the weight of his benign oppression.

pitt

And beautiful, troubled Jessica Chastain, always cuddling the boys and hanging up billowing washing, it seems – reminds me of the wife in Bo Widerberg’s “Adalen 31”, tearing up her dead husband’s shirt to polish the windows…

Jeremy (Corbyn, of course)

Apart from a couple of minor disagreements over Trident and Brexit, I’m a great admirer of Corbyn; he always seems reasonable and unruffled and polite and never more than a bit tetchy, considering the unrelenting shower of abuse he’s getting from Labour MPs and the media.  The other day in the Trident debate, he sounded remarkably sane and May sounded barking mad.  I agree with May, but I could well be mad too.

corbyn

But who are these women in their long summer dresses with the beatific smiles who seem to drift along behind him in the photo?  Very disquieting – touch of Manson about it. And they should ditch the “Momentum” tee shirts and Jeremy should stop clapping with them when they applaud him – looks like North Korea.  Actually, that’s a bit strong; everybody does it on British quiz shows now, don’t they?  They clap themselves for getting the answer right, or for being “absolutely brilliant contestants”…

Life Drawings 

Haven’t finished a decent (or indeed, any) painting for weeks, so I’m reduced to posting my life class efforts again.

male nude back

Jeremy Corbyn, back view – no, not really….

sad man nude

Sad Man Sitting

 

fat man nude

Fat Bloke Nude

That’s it for now; no political comment next time, I promise.

Blackpaint

22/7/16

 

Blackpaint 493 – Whitechapel, Faust, Finnegan, Krapp

May 3, 2015

Christopher Williams at the Whitechapel Gallery

There are four striking photographs in this exhibition; two are reproduced below – the other two are a white cockerel in profile, and a close-up clutch of large red apples on the bough.  As can be seen, the colours are saturated and intense and the images have the glamour of advertisements.

There is more to it than this, of course; Williams is saying something about the process of photography – there are many other photos of cameras and photographic equipment – and probably much else.  I find from reading the critics Sean Hagan and Laura Cummings that one of the apples is dented (i.e. imperfect) and this is significant.  Similarly, the colour sample in the “turban” pic below does not contain yellow; also significant, perhaps.  I can’t be bothered to work out, or read about the significances, however.  I tend towards the philistine notion that the picture should really stand alone; don’t like reading reams of stuff on the wall or listening to a commentary on headphones.

christopher williams2

 

christopher williams1

There are also some photos of President Kennedy – these are apparently more significant because they were taken not long before his assassination.  In one, he is walking away from the camera into the distance…  I’m not sure about this  – a picture of a football pitch looks the same, whether or not we know there is a mass grave below it – the difference is in our mind.  If we know, we see it differently.

Lynette Yiadom- Boakye curates at Whitechapel

My favourite selection is the Gary Hume giant hand below.  There is also

  • Peter Doig – big orange and green painting
  • Warhol – Cow’s Head
  • Hockney – Sunflowers
  • film of an Estonian artist, dancing to Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child” at his father’s gravestone (artist’s father, not Hendrix’ father)

 

Gary-Hume

 

Faust, Murnau (1926 )

I got my VCR – that’s a video player – working again the other day and was able to watch my video of this great expressionist film for the first time in several years.  I sat and watched the whole thing through in one sitting, unusually for me (short attention span).  It’s main strength is the fantastic Emil Jannings as Mephistopheles (see below); but also there is the dark expressionist doorways and windows and the cityscape – Feininger, surely.

faust

Krapp’s Last Tape, Samuel Beckett

So then, I dug deeper into the video collection, blew the dust off, and found, after an old “Brookside” episode, this great treasure; Patrick Magee in “Krapp”.  Brilliant play, iconic actor, profoundly depressing content for anyone, like me, who is a compulsive diarist.  “Spool” is a great word, however, and bananas are a wonder food.  Magee sweats expressively – and impressively- throughout.

NPG x127343; Patrick Magee as Krapp in 'Krapp's Last Tape' by Ida Kar

Finnegans Wake

If, like me, you read a few pages of about ten or twelve different books a day – I’m retired, not rich – you find that, when you switch over, the last author’s style stays with you for a few moments and you sometimes get a sort of mental blending, or corruption even, of the latter text.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this effect is strongest with “Finnegan”; for several lines, your mind continues to expect Joyce’s dream language and you don’t immediately recognise plain English.  Most disconcerting.

 

phil3

 

Phil on Fire

Blackpaint

03.05.15

Blackpaint 436 – Hockney, Orwell, Beatings and Orgasms

February 28, 2014

Hockney Prints at Dulwich Picture Gallery

This is a great exhibition; loads of prints extending through several rooms.  I liked the earliest stuff from the 60s the best – “The Rake’s Progress” series on his first time in America.  In these, he’s doing those cartoon figures, reminiscent of people like Barry Fantoni; he likes fire, which pops up in several etchings, a chair burning, for instance; in fact, the red of the fire the only colour in these, apart from blue on the US flag in one, I think.

Next, he does a series based on Cavafy poems, in which the figures are no longer “cartoons” but beautifully spare, single line renditions of (usually)naked young men.  I guess from the perfection of outline, he must have selected the etching line from a number of pentimenti in a drawing, like the one of Celia Birtwell below.

Plenty more; flowers, portraits, swimming pools…  The one immediately below with the columns, trees, garden, and distorted perspective is from the latter part of the exhibition.  The colours are recognisable from his big show at the RA a couple of years ago.

Hockney Dulwich 1

hockney dulwich 2

Newsnight – the Harriet Harman interview

An innovation on Newsnight after Laura Kuenssberg pursued Harman with the Daily Mail agenda, trying to force her to apologise for being an officer of the NCCL at a time when the Paedophile Information Exchange was an affiliate to the organisation.  After the interview was shown, Jeremy Paxman, full of his usual self-regard, and Kuenssberg, still fizzing with righteous indignation, discussed Harman’s performance like sports pundits, so that the viewers didn’t have to make up their minds unaided.  I wonder if this will be a regular event whenever the press demands apologies from Labour grandees for misdeeds 30 years before.

The Hunters, Angelopoulos

A group of hunters in the snow (Brueghel again) come across the body of a revolutionary fighter from the Greek Civil War.  It’s the 60s – the war ended in 1949, but the body’s wounds are fresh.  The hunters and their companions all have guilty pasts which are revealed, as the police examine them, the body on a table in the room…  All the usual Angelopoulos magic, the mountains, the music,  the operatic scenes – but additionally, in this film, a fully-dressed actress acts a drawn-out orgasm on a ballroom floor before a large audience, who applaud politely after the climax.  Shades of Bunuel.  Later, a portly hunter, dressed in a satin Father Christmas outfit, dances rather formally with his bobble hat – shades of Bela Tarr.

Orwell  – Such, Such Were the Joys and 1984

In the Guardian last week, Sam Leith wrote about the famous Orwell essay, describing it as “a load of bollocks”.  In the essay, Orwell recalls his time at St. Cyprian’s, a prep school near Eastbourne in the years before World War One.  It includes a description of Orwell’s (or Blair’s) beatings for wetting the bed, the second of which was carried out with a riding crop which broke, as a result of the headmaster’s exertions.  There are many other examples of abuse and privation, and Leith quotes another critic, who says the essay is drenched with self-pity.

This is odd, since Orwell expressly states that he didn’t feel especially picked out for mistreatment and in fact, regarded his beatings and the rest as his own fault; as a child, he had accepted the guilt which “Sambo” and “Flip”, the headmaster and his wife, allotted to him: “Now look what you’ve done!”, as Sambo yells at him when the riding crop breaks.  One of the themes of the essay is how the pupils accept the system and internalise it.  Not surprising then that his letters home contain no hint of discontent, or that his contemporaries (Leith cites Jacintha Buddicom) say he seemed happy enough.

Anyway, Bernard Crick dealt at length with all this in his 1981 biography of Orwell – he’s not mentioned by Leith.  One thing that is interesting; Leith rejects the Anthony West theory that “1984” was Orwell’s prep school miseries writ large- he does suggest, much more plausibly, that his political analysis worked back on “Such, Such..”.  Crick thinks that Orwell exaggerated and shaped his “memories” for literary, maybe political, purposes;  to state baldly that Orwell’s reminiscences are “a load of bollocks” is surely going a bit strong, though.

The Drawing Room, Abstract Drawings

Tucked away in an old industrial building in Bermondsey, there are some startling names on show here; Jackson Pollock, Eva Hesse, Anish Kapoor, Tomma Abts, Alison Wilding, Sol LeWitt, Serra…  They are mostly small, geometrical, several on graph paper.  The Pollock is funny, because it is “fenced off” by a single wire barrier to emphasise status, presumably.  It’s not a great Pollock…  The best works are those by Hesse, John Golding, and Garth Evans (see below); like Oiticica, but not as wobbly.

garth evans

Come and see (maybe buy) my paintings at Sprout Gallery, Moyser Road, Tooting, London SW16 between  4th and 15th March – open every day, including Sunday, 11.00am – 5.00pm.

??????????

Work in Prog

Blackpaint

28.02.14

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 340 – Dustmen, Chlorine and Gerhard’s Enormous Squeegee

May 3, 2012

Orchestra Rehearsal, Fellini

Is this film just reactionary?  Takes me back to my student days in the early 70s (chanting slogans, sitting in, exaggeration, graffiti, posters, charismatic, long-haired, moustachioed student leaders speechifying in apocalyptic terms, gazing into the socialist future with shining eyes, seeing themselves as Leon, or Che, or Makhno,  sitting in….  sorry, back to the film.

There are gibes at the unions’ demands on  demarcation and tea breaks and Fellini clearly identifies with the maestro, who is scorned and abused.  The old caretaker, however, reminisces to the audience about the good old days, in which the maestro’s word was law and the musicians would accept physical punishment for playing a bum note or coming in late – sounds like fascism to me and Fellini steers clear of wishing for that, I think.

At the height of the “anarchy”, a wrecking ball comes through the wall (representing what?  The philistinism of  contemporary culture?  Television?); it kills the harpist and the musicians “come to their senses” – like good pupils, they submit their individual wills to the maestro and proceed to make music together, sheltering in their common pursuit from the external enemy – but the maestro’s angry rebukes soon begin once more…

Paintings that Smell

Not literally, of course – Stanley Spencer’s “The Lovers” comes to mind first; the dustmen, worshipped by the housecoated women, the rubbish – old cabbage leaves, tea leaves, tea pots – the picture smells of Jeyes’ Fluid to me, disinfectant with decay underneath, and a suspicion of armpits.  Maybe it’s because I used to be a dustman for a short time, many years ago, before black plastic bins and bags.  The maggots and seafood restaurants were the worst – and that cold trickle of liquid down the back of your neck as you hoisted the tin bin onto your shoulder; what was it – rose water, maybe? Probably not.

Secondly, Hockney’s “Bigger Splash”; chlorine, of course.

De Kooning Retrospective, Thames and Hudson

Fabulous paintings, but something of a tedious text, which seems overconcerned with delving into the crowded abstracts and retrieving identifiable bits and pieces of images – door, ladder, mouth, teeth, penis, vagina, window, chair…  This approach soon palls and threatens to undermine the magic of works like Gansevoort Street, Easter Monday, Interchange and the rest.  Pictures are mouth-watering, though.

Tate Modern

That corner in the surrealism bit is where I go now – Appel yellow wooden plaque next to Motherwell’s Ulysses; swing right to Joan Mitchell’s huge grey painting and further right to the Dorothea Tanning…  BUT still missing my Franz Kline black bridgehead with the two Asger Jorns facing it; Proud, Timid One and Letter to my Son – I want them back as soon as Damien Hirst is over.

Gerhard Richter

I watched the new DVD on Richter last night and was fascinated to see him dragging his enormous wooden squeegee down and/or across the painted surfaces of his canvases, blending, covering or scraping off the pigment.  Several times when he did it, I thought “Great!  Now leave it!”  But he didn’t – he dragged it again and wiped the image out.  The film left me with the impression that it’s really difficult to paint with someone pointing a camera at you while you do it.  Richter said as much, politely; he talked about painting being a secret (private) activity.

That squeegee is a bit of a WMD, really; he uses a big brush to modify after it has passed over – but I would have thought he’d be moving on soon as regards technique, if he hasn’t already.

Work in progress (note Baselitz influence)

Blackpaint

2.05.12

Blackpaint 328 – Raw, Astonished Ranks

March 1, 2012

de Kooning

Interesting to read in the Retrospective book that DK had a problem doing hands; in his figurative pictures, they are either concealed in some way, or presented as stylised, jagged interlocks of fingers.  Doesn’t matter, of course – but it’s nice to find out that even the geniuses have their weaknesses.   Durer, for instance, couldn’t do rhinos.

Fellini

Which brings me yet again to “And the Ship Sails On”.  Hockney mentioned it to Andrew Marr in the film about his RA exhibition; he said that the film was about the difficulties of perception, I think, or something like that:  it makes sense, in view of the deliberate undermining of illusion in the film.  The rhino, as I said, is too big and obviously polythene; the smoke from the funnels of the battleship spreads out like a ridiculous Ascot hat and doesn’t disperse; the rolling sea across which Freddie Jones rows the rhino is clearly a glittering, artificial blue-green fabric – and at the end, the camera rolls back to reveal the whole film crew at work behind a monstrous rocking platform, bearing the “ship”.  Jones, incidentally, looks for an instant, during the ash scattering scene, exactly like Fellini’s wife – something about the wistful smile and sideways glance.

Poetry 

I suppose this is obvious, but I was struck this week by the way some lines stick hard in your head, whilst others immediately sink into nothingness, even though you try to recall them.  I was trying to learn Kipling’s “Edgehill” and the phrase “raw, astonished ranks” has stuck fast.  the rest I can retain for minutes only.  I would guess that’s the case with paintings too; you remember an aspect, a patch of colour, a gesture, whatever, and retain only an impression of the rest.  This is proved to me by the number of times I’ve described a picture in this blog, then looked at it again and found I’d got it badly wrong.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Just finished reading this again and found it for the most part a tiresome experience – as opposed to seeing it done, of course; there is one notable aspect of it though, and that is the character of Parolles, who, like Toby Belch, has similarities to Falstaff – with the possible exception of Bloom, the richest character in world literature.  Parolles is a boaster, a coward, and basically everything contemptible in Elizabethan society.  He is exposed and humiliated cruelly by his soldier “comrades” – but instead of endorsing his downfall, Shakespeare gives him an almost defiant speech in which he accepts his nature and affirms his right to be as any other:  “Captain I’ll be no more;  But I will eat and drink and sleep as soft As captains shall…There’s place and means for every man alive.”

Auerbach and de Kooning

Interesting that both these artists had a high regard for the work of Chaim Soutine, the flesh painter; I wonder if Freud – yes, in the Taschen Freud, it says that he admired Soutine’s paintings of dead animals and reproduces a 1919 Soutine painting of two pheasants, which is similar to Freud’s Dead Heron of 1945.  Not really the same thing, though; I was thinking of Freud’s later naked humans.

Robert Hughes

I’ve been dismissive of Hughes’ pompous attitude to some artists, but I must say, he writes beautifully about painting; in his Auerbach, he refers to “E.O.W” (Stella West) as being “carved from a block of butter-like substance” in one picture and of figures and things being stuck like flies in jam on Auerbach’s surfaces.

Hedda Sterne

The woman at the back – and the only woman – in the famous photo of the “irascibles” , including de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, Still and others; a presence that, sadly, she appears to be famous for, rather than her excellent and varied paintings.  Died last April, another one I missed – must have been away.  Well worth a look on Google.

A couple of pictures from my life class, and a proper one below.  Any reader in vicinity of Dartford (Kent, UK) may care to drop in to the What if..Gallery over the next 10 days and see some of my pictures, along with those of Marion Jones and Chris Grice.

Blackpaint

1/3/12

Blackpaint 326 – Proper Painting and Fucking

February 20, 2012

John Hoyland

Must have missed the death of the above in 2011; one of the most colourful British abstractionists with those fluorescent colours – only Albert Irvin is as bright that I can think of.  I’ve a book of his paintings and prints on cotton duck; they’re blinding, especially the greens and blues.

Lucian Freud

BBC prog on him mentioned two incidents that I find interesting in terms of the sort of bloke he was;  he made his wife, Kitty Garman (Epstein’s daughter) sit facing the wall while he worked; and he ran up £2.6 million debts with the bookies.

William Feaver, one of the pundits on view, kept referring to” proper painting”, meaning figurative painting that attempts to render reality more intensely, and painting “that is any good” being perpetually in a state of transition…  I love that art critic thing of making definitive assertions  that are really contentious. but that sound obvious because of the arrogant certainty with which they are delivered.

Another example – John Richardson, another pundit, used the word “fucking” several times (in its verb function) in that clipped, upper-class, English accent, asserting that, to Freud, painting and “fucking” were somehow the same, Freud approached both activities in the same way – interesting, since he often painted his numerous daughters at all ages, as well as the queen.

The great paintings made an appearance – the Auerbach head, the naked woman with her arm arching over the mass of bed linen, the Leigh Bowery’s, the Big Sue’s, Harry Diamond in the sweater, the Irishmen, the big man’s head, the back garden, the sinks with running taps, the fantastic self portraits…

There was a fascinating bit of film in which Freud demonstrated that insane stare, where he suddenly widened his eyes like an owl – perhaps explaining why he frequently got into fights on his night expeditions.

Picasso and Modern British Art

At the Tate Britain.  Loads of Picassos, crying woman, triangular jug and candle, women of Algiers, Meninas – a few early ones that are Impressionist in style – a race meeting,  flowers – that you would never guess were Picassos.

A couple of real clinkers, in my view – a woman with arms above her head that looked like a parody; her body exploded into large parts and stuck back together at random, but each fragment carefully and sculpturally painted.  Also, a “homely” woman with her features and spectacles distributed randomly, for no reason I could discern – when I saw a photo of this painting in a newspaper, I assumed it was an awkward imitation by an English admirer.

General impression of the Picassos – unbelievable creative energy and inventiveness, constant innovation, no interest in surface texture (when did that start. I wonder?  Fautrier, de Stael, Burri, Tapies, Dubuffet..? thesis there for someone, no doubt already written).

As to the Brits –

The Duncan Grants are decorative and colourful, much better than you’d think from the crits; Wyndham Lewis shows only the most general signs of influence  – I love those grotesque faces and the long, cut-out woman; Henry Moore, yes, definitely copied The Source for Reclining Figure, but in a different medium, so that’s alright somehow; Sutherland didn’t seem to me overly imitative; Ben Nicholson, yes, definitely!  One Nicholson, dark grey with white sratched lines, contained that profile  that Picasso hid in the Three Dancers.  It looked like a Picasso drawing before he opened his paintbox and coloured in.  Bacon; the crucifixion shapes again recalled to me the Three Dancers, and I suppose those bulbous shapes at the Base of the Crucifixion resemble, as Laura Cumming points out, the Dinard Picassos – but not overmuch imitation.  One of the Bacons reminded me strongly of a Tunnard, though.  As for Hockney, his paintings were more of a tribute to P. than imitation or influence – presumably he was included to bring the thing up to date and to chime with his exhibition at the RA, maybe.

Migrations, Tate Britain

Returned to this for a bit of peace after the crowd at the Picasso.  Forgot to mention Gustav Metzger’s little film before – set on the South Bank, Metzger destroys, with acid, a canvas or linen work – actually, not sure if it was painted-  opposite St. Paul’s, which appears regally through the rent.  The growing holes in the linen resemble, first, Fontana slashes, then feathery plumes and laddering that brought Kirchner’s insect women to mind,  then, those amoebic psychedelic light shows at Pink Floyd gigs at the Roundhouse and Middle Earth (reference for the elderly).

Then, the Tissots – I think the Norman Rockwell of his day – those lovely Victorian girls, lounging against the ship rail; you can hear them in your mind… “Yeah, it was really, really nice?  And then we, like, went on to Boujie’s, and it was totally, like, packed out?”

The Mondrian in the show  is not square – the left-hand side is roughly cut and slants slightly to the left in the frame.  How did he let that happen?  I thought he was a Poirot when it came to symmetry.

John Cassavetes

The recent death of Ben Gazzara and the photos of him with Peter Falk and JC reminded me of Johnny Staccato, the New York jazz pianist/private detective played by Cassavetes in the 50’s – and in particular, its great theme music, composed and played by Elmer Bernstein; Staccato’s Theme, backed with the Jazz at Waldo’s,  one of the first 45’s I owned.  Still got it, still play it.

Trying to do some more conventional stuff, and not pulling it off – but trying.

Blackpaint

20/02/12

Blackpaint 322 – Canyons, Maggots and a lot of Trees…

January 29, 2012

Hockney at the RA

Went on Thursday afternoon and queued for only 20 minutes.  First, a couple of lovely, dour English paintings of Bradford scenes, then into the 60’s; cartoon boys tearing along in a car heading, so the caption said, from Switzerland to Italy, toothpaste colours in striped and chevrons, “An Ordinary Painting” with top and bottom balancing.

Then, some roaring red, roasted American landscapes; “A Closer Grand Canyon” (98) and “Nichols Canyon” (80) – the latter a fluorescent quilt, like that early Miro, the Farm, in the recent exhibition.  In the corner, “Garrowby Hill” and “The Road across the Wolds” (date 200?),  ribbons of road winding around hills, as the names suggest, the lower two thirds of each canvas flat , the top third a receding perspective of fading patchwork fields; really odd and effective. 

Watercolour trees and puddles from 2004, smudgy blue-grey skies – quite striking in their pallor, in the prevailing Ribena and lettuce-coloured surroundings. These must be the paintings that Alastair Sooke describes as “dull-as-ditchwater” in the Telegraph.  Welcome relief, I thought.

The hawthorn and blossoms were a highlight for me; big, square blocks of branch, the blossom squirming like bunches of white grubs on the limbs.  Ghosts of Paul Nash and maybe early Craxton hovering.

The uniform size and number of the IPad panels surrounding the room, I found a little off-putting; what stayed with me – the reflecting puddles and the swirling leaf/tree tunnels, created by multiple small strokes, the Van Gogh effect.

One thing very apparent, especially with the huge composite image of “Spring in Woldgate Woods” (2011), is the crudity of the drawing – the trunks are often just flat shapes, outlined with a thick dark line.  Flowers and leaves are simple shapes like cut-outs coloured in.   This may be the result of the enlargement of IPad drawings – I didn’t read the notes carefully enough to be sure.  However, it is even more apparent in the Yosemite pictures, which are recent and are definitely enlarged IPad images.  The only thing I really liked about these was the clouds in one of them.

There is a sequence of paintings in different styles which are versions of a Sermon on the Mount by Claude.  Hockney’s final version has Christ preaching on what looks like the top of a giant carrot.  These pictures seem somehow out of place, except for the carrotty colour.

The sketchbooks in glazed cabinets are good, but then, isolating and presenting images in this way gives them added significance – for me, the repetition and uniformity of size of the other images detracts, although it did occur to me that, if you saw many of these pictures in a gallery “on their own”, with  paintings by other artists, you might walk past them without a second glance.

BUT – having said that, a bit of distance makes all the difference.  If you stand right back, the other end of a room, say, some of them look great.  It’s obvious really; they’re made to be seen from far off.

I haven’t mentioned the charcoal drawings; they are really quite powerful – big, square cliff faces of tree at intersections and crossroads, looming like liners or huge black department stores.  One of them reminded me of an enormous black owl’s head.

To return to this thing about presentation for a moment – I saw the show reviewed on BBC4, the Review Show (appropriately).. and all the pictures looked fantastic – the winding roads and patchwork fields, the blossom maggots, the Technicolour woods, even the red-raw Grand Canyon.  Photographs, and especially television, glamourise everything drastically.  There’s no point in going to exhibitions, everything looks much better on the telly. 

 And of course, with IPad drawings there’s no texture, no lumps, bumps, trickles or ridges – just SMOOTH, how a picture ought to look.

Interesting to see the uniform chorus of approval on the prog for Hockney’s “positivity”; he has “brought the colour home” from the States; he is showing “bravery” for still doing new work at his advanced age (Leonard Cohen, too, got similar praise).  This positivity thing seems to be in the air in the art world; something to do with the Olympics, all being in it together, the Big Society – art in the service of society under the coalition.  Paul Morley, in particular, condemned any negative criticism of the Hockney and took a sneering swipe at the RA visitors as middle class, for making facetious remarks like “Too many trees” within his hearing.  Too many trees is, however, true and to-the-point. 

 One last thing – one test of a work to me is if the image stays in your mind with any sort of clarity, once you stop looking at it.  The Hockney pictures certainly do that.

Wilhelmina Barns – Graham

Just around the corner from the RA, in Berkeley Street, an exhibition of the above Scottish and St.Ives painter, showing a pleasing diversity if styles, from naturalism to total abstraction.  One glowing yellow ochre and brown harbour scene, resembling Prunella Clough’s early worker pictures; some lovely abstracts with magisterial brush sweeps of white; in a corner, a group of brilliant, brightly-coloured abstract shapes (with one terrible pink-based one, the larger one in the middle of the wall) and by far the best painting, a brown and red job that looked like a pair of pliers clenching a red-hot ingot – just like a Roger Hilton, I thought.  Great little exhibition, just right for my little British tastes.

The Russell Omnibuses on Elgar and Delius

Fantastic – the images and the music.  That avenue of  poplar trees filmed from below in a tracking shot in Elgar, the stunning acting of Max Adrian as Delius – “Are you ready, boy?   Take this down – Tan -ta-TAA, Tan -ta-TAA….”.  Russell was a great, great film-maker.

Blackpaint

29/01/12