Posts Tagged ‘David Smith’

Blackpaint 233

December 22, 2010

British Museum – Drawings; Picasso – Mehretu

Total surprise, this; free alternative to spending £12 on the Book of the Dead exhibition.  And one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen this year (review of the year to follow after Christmas).

Straightaway, I have to mention Jim Dine – “The Diemaker”.  Beautiful drawing, white shirt and tie barely suggested, slumped seated pose, one hand a grey cloud, heavy shading on face and left side, which looks strangely collapsed in shadow.

RB Kitaj – “Sides”, 1976.  Three depictions of male right side, from about chin to mid thigh, chalks on yellow paper; just stunning life drawings, class of Michelangelo.  Lean, muscular body, great, sweeping curve of lower back into buttocks – fabulous.

Picasso – sketch in red chalk for “Desmoiselles d’Avignon”, an upperbody and head, and separate face, latter recognisable as a desmoiselle, former not like P. at all – heavy overdrawing, more like Rouault, say.

Matisse – “Lady in Taffeta Dress”, charcoal on paper, dress folds suggested with usual economy, fewest lines throughout – but solid.

Bonnard – “Dining Room at Cannet”, coloured drawing, 1940.  Actually a laid table, but done in perspective rather than dropped down, or forward, at this late date.  Chairlegs on right rather dodgy, though.

Anselm Keifer – “Dein goldenes Haar Margarete”, a line from Paul Celan’s Holocaust poem “Todesfuge”.  Ground level cornstalks against a blue sky, the words of the title painted across it.  The blue of the sky a surprising (to me) soft note from this artist.

Guston – Two Guston drawings, the first one of his KKK crowds, milling about in a cave, their button eyes looking somehow startled; the other, “Hooded”, a single head in a non-Klan covering, suggesting torture today, obviously.

David Smith – A drawing very like his “landscape” sculptures, a framework with dangling bits and screwed-on ratchets(?).  They remind me of those Airfix kits with the plane parts stuck on plastic frame for you to twist off.

Dorothy Dehner – Smith’s 1st wife. “The Great Gate of Kiev”, an exploded plan of a wooden structure – but it’s flying!

Kirchner – Three, I think, and interesting to hit his gestural, expressionist style first, as you pass from the little ante room with the permanent collection of early drawings, etchings and mezzotints, showing evidence of sheer, painstaking effort.  Kirchner like a draught of cold, strong wine or a release of breath.

Enough for today – rest of drawings tomorrow.


Looked at the Epifania cartoon again, in this section – I’m sure that the standing figure on the viewer’s right is a self-portrait.  The broken nose is there and it looks to me like a pumped-up version of the famous St.Bartholomew’s skin self portrait on the Sistine wall – only grinning.



Blackpaint 186

September 3, 2010

Tate St. Ives “Object, Gesture, Grid” (cont.)

The “Gesture” room presumably refers to Abstract Expressionism and its St.Ives co-abstractionists (but see previous blogs on whether Lanyon, for example,  can truly be called an abstract painter; its a convenience term).


First, a great Appel called “Amorous Dance”, the movement vaguely recalling that long jazzy Pollock in the Tate Modern.  Pollocky looping lines on basic grey, but close up the usual swirl of multi-coloured ropes of paint, so thick they look like waves and hummocks.  The painting’s under glass, maybe to hold the paint in.  It looks dingy close up, but clean and beautiful from 8 feet away.


Paul Feiler, the only living artist here, I think – that must be an odd feeling – white, grey, black and brown, scraped surface, disc, recalling the Mellis next door.  The Feiler is great but has spawned a host (argh! cliche!) of imitations in little art galleries around the country.


“Yellow Islands”, squares of yellow, peeping through swirls of white and black, on raw canvas(?).  At the edges, the black has blotted in to the canvas like a Frankenthaler.  A big blotch of black in the centre has run down.  Lose yourself in the layers, working out what he did first.


One of those huge black and red arch things that he did for the Seagram, and that were on display in a sort of inner sanctum in the Tate Modern a while ago.  Out of that context, I think it’s empty.  Controversial, I know.

Bryan Wynter

“Riverbed”, cream, grey, red, interlocking key-like shapes, one of which, hugely enlarged, I’m sure I saw in Barbara Hepworth’s garden later.  Also from the Tate M.

Sandra Blow 

“Vivace”, huge white canvas with a pot of paint apparently flung at it to make a big “V” shape, recalling a simplified bird in flight.  This splosh has been allowed to run down in thin trickles and then the canvas has been turned on its side.  Blow has then attached collaged strips of different colours to the right hand side.

Patrick Heron

A very Joan Mitchell- like painting – in her later, Monet-ish manner.  Dabs of bright colour, some allowed to trickle, all over canvas; then partly obscured by white, snow-like blobs.

Hans Hoffman

“Nulli Secundus” – deep red on black “floor”, cream/green toothpaste sweeps downwards.  Blocks of fizzing powder blue at the top.  how does this all work? It shouldn’t but it does.


A sculpture!  It’s small, like all the others; a foot or 18″ tall.  It’s bronze, and like a cannon, or the juggernaut – never would have guessed Twombly.


“Wreck”.  It’s like Noah’s Ark, resting on top of the soundhole of a guitar – you can see the strings.  Sea greens and lemon yellow – shouldn’t  work, but it does (that should be the title of this exhibition).

David Smith

Nearly forgot David Smith – fantastic sculpture, like a dream farm implement… What do I do with this?

de Kooning

“The Visit” – always save the best to last.  A pink woman, with her legs wide open, sweeping, gestural brushstrokes at the top, those pastel greens and yellows and red splatters…. he’s just the boss, surely.

Can’t stomach writing about minimalism tonight.  Back tomorrow, keep reading.

Listening to What Made Milwaukee Famous, Jerry Lee Lewis:

“It’s late, and she is waiting,

And I know I should go home;

But every time I start to leave, they play another song;

Then someone buys another round, and wherever drinks are free,

What made Milwaukee famous has made a loser out of me …”

Old shit one, but I like it.



Blackpaint 99

March 30, 2010

David  Smith

I’ve been reading some of his lectures on sculpture and art in general and I have to quote some of his points, since they are very close to what I think – or rather, I am very close to what he thinks: “To understand a work of art, it must be seen and perceived, not worded.  Words can be used to place art historically, to set it in social context, to describe the movements, to relate it to other works, to state individual preferences, and to set the scene all around it.  But the actual understanding of a work of art only comes through the process by which it was created – and that was by perception”.

Again, writing about his own “Hudson River Landscape”, he describes how he made sketches from the train and how he accidentally threw ink over his hand when opening the bottle – and incorporated that into his sketches by placing his hand on the paper.  That led him mentally to “other landscapes and their objects”, which were incorporated in the final sculpture.  He writes: “You can reject it, like it, pretend to like it, or almost like it, but its understanding will never come with words…”

So – that’s great for the artist; not so good for the critic or commentator.  No need to explain or expound, or defend – you either get it or you don’t.

Interestingly, when he lists the things you can do with words, he leaves out description.  I suppose there’s not much point in description without evaluation, but you could say things like “the painting consists of a series of diagonal black stripes on a sky blue background” (description) or “The use of a dark grey background tends to create an atmosphere of unease” (evaluation, sort of)…

Jonathan Jones on Michelangelo and Leonardo

In today’s Guardian, Jones writes about the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s statue of David.  Referring to the latter’s “gargantuan” right hand, he points out correctly that Michelangelo has lavished great attention to it, the knuckles and veins modelled in minute detail.  Unfortunately, he develops his argument – that this is “a body still growing and changing” – by saying that “The hand is the most radical instance of a quality that all David’s parts possess: they are separate and  slightly at odds with each other, like characters in a play.”

Why “unfortunately”?  Because I was aware of the hand – now when I look, it seems to me that the neck is too thick and long and the legs a little too short and thin…   Only trying for cheap controversy, of course.

The picture below is not a Leonardo, nor a Michelangelo – but I’m sure you will notice certain similarities to them

Listening to Do Re Mi by Woody Guthrie.

“If you aint got the do-re-mi, boys, if you aint got the do-re-mi,

you’d better go back to beautiful Texas;

Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.”



Blackpaint 79

March 1, 2010

Henry Moore

Drizzle, cold, grey, Sunday afternoon, concrete, windy, open spaces between office buildings – these are a few of the favourite things I think of, when I think of Henry Moore.  Clearly, I’m not alone, since all the commentators I’ve read or heard on the new exhibition at the Tate Britain have said the same.  The surprising aversion that everyone on the Review Show expressed on Friday night probably reflects similar memories.

the other thing that Moore suffers from is the use of his work, or caricatures of it, to stand for “Modern Art” in magazine and newspaper cartoons for the last 50 years or so.  Bemused man gazes at a Moore statue (hole in the middle, huge body and limbs, tiny – or no – head) and then glances at his wife/mother-in-law… 

As in most stereotypes, there is a nugget of truth – there is a whole room of “Mothers with child”, dozens of Recumbent or Reclining Figures, loads of holes, tons of little heads, very few men except in the war drawings.  But what comes across is not a tired repetition of easily churned -out motifs but an obsessive return to the human form, as customised, simplified, adapted by his particular vision and the properties and limitations of the stone and wood (and plaster and metal).

Strange to me, since its hard to imagine the sheer physical effort that these things must have demanded to bring them into being – not like painting, where you can get it down on canvas in a relatively short time, see it taking shape in front of (or beneath) you.  I suppose that goes for all monumental sculpture, not just Moore.  But his stuff has that quality of looking shaped and moulded by his hands without tools, a feel of immediacy.

Some of the early ones are of Cumberland alabaster, which sounds to me like the aural equivalent of the sculptures themselves.  The first ones show an obvious Aztec influence, African later.  there is one with what looks like painted on eyes, maybe different stone.  There is the little fat thug baby, like Khruschev maybe, squatting on his mother’s shoulders.  There is the skinny mother, strangling the bird head baby that is biting her head – oh no, its a breast; the head is further up, just a set of sharp studs.  There are the helmets, the atomic globe thing, the collection of strung sculptures, like Gabo and Moholy Nagy and Hepworth – I bet Moore did them first, haven’t checked.  It just looks as if he tried it once and then thought “I wonder what that one would look like with string”, and kept doing them until he got fed up.

there is a whole set of skinny plaster recliners, grooved, with dirty looking pigment rubbed in like rough tattooing.  One big figure has an intricate pattern of string glued on in impressive geometric lines; like old bones or scrimshank.  there is the blade headed woman with the turtle back, some have symbols scratched into them and marks that look like fossils, the helmets, the humps and whorls and scoops and holes and hummocks.

There is the room full of massive elm recliners done over 30 odd years.  Walking round these, I realised something incredibly obvious but I’ll say it anyway – a sculpture in the round is like an infinite number of paintings, because its different from every angle.  That may be why his “sketches” are so fully and beautifully developed – pen and ink, washes, crayon, scraping, pastels.

The other drawings – the miners, air raid shelters, heads – are equally stunningly good; very familiar to War Museum veterans like me, but none the worse for that.  Finally, there is that Meadows-like sculpture of the three points nearly meeting, that for some reason, I can’t get out of my mind. 

Go and see it, the critics are talking shit to be controversial, this is a genius exulting in his skill and vision  -I can imagine him in the middle of all these like David Smith at his outdoor sculpture park, with his toys all around him.

Private view after, in the heart of Deptford.  Sold nothing, but some good old friends showed up.  Home drunk on train and painted.


Sunday 28th Feb – !st March 2010.