Posts Tagged ‘Ernst’

Blackpaint 532 – Brussels, Tolstoy, Magritte and those balls – what are they? – they’re Bells!

February 14, 2016

Musee Des Beaux Arts, Brussels

icarus

It’s not actually called this any more, though the Brueghel painting of Icarus plummeting into the ocean that inspired the famous Auden poem is still there; it’s divided into three, or actually four bits (the modern one is closed at the moment), all in the one huge building: the Magritte museum, the “fin-de-siecle” museum and the mighty “museum of Ancient Art” are the sections open at the moment.  The building is at the top of the “Mountain of Art”; big, freezing, windswept square, lines of pollarded trees, watch for the mouse running under the waste basket, turn right after the massive library.

the-fair-captive

The Fair Captive

Magritte first; lots of cloudy skies in window frames, mirrors and easels; skin changing into wood grain or bricks; doves made of leaves; owls in threatening groups; bowler-hatted men (of course) – and those curious metallic balls with the horizontal slots in them, that also feature, I think, in some Max Ernst paintings.  What are they, I wonder.  Looked it up – they’re bells, like you hang round horses’ necks, apparently.

magritte balls

So far, so usual Magritte, but I was interested to see some of his colourful early poster work – I had’t known he was an ad man, but it makes perfect sense; the “surrealism” is often a neat little transposition, tidily illustrated (it’s night in the urban street, dark, street lights on outside the little villas – but it’s broad daylight in the sky above the tall trees) and often he uses the same image several times, slightly adapted, with a different “surreal” name.

villa magritte

There is a startling and inexplicable style change in the 40s(?); the usual neat precision gives way to rough-drawn, pink/brown/yellow pastel colours for a few pictures.  I checked, they were still oil on canvas; but then back to the familiar style again.

the-explanation magritte

The Explanation

Fin – de – Siecle

Some terrific stuff in here: Vogel,  the awful weather painter; that is, the weather’s awful, not the paintings.  It’s always raining, snowing or maybe just grey and drizzly in his town and village streets; Van Rysselbergh,  nothing special, landscapes in lines and stipples – but what a name!  Ranks with Van Dongen and Vantongerloo in my book (yes, there is one Van Gogh, portrait of a young man); Rops and Spillaert, both with loads of paintings, as if the museum director had said “OK, get cracking, we’ll take the lot.” And Finch again!  (see Blackpaint on Helsinki, August 2015).

Some little Kollwitz etchings. reminiscent of Goya penitents, that great Bonnard of his wife stretching, standing naked against the window in the bathroom – where else? – some good Toulouse Lautrec drawings, three Gauguins (two great, one awful) – but the real surprise was Ensor.

Ensor Chinese%20Porcelain%20with%20Fans,%201880

Chinese Porcelain

There were a couple of the cartoon-y clown/mask ones, the sinister ones he’s famous for,  but several good, chunky, almost social -realist pictures and a lovely still life with a central blob of red, a dish I think.  And “The Skate” (below):

Ensor_TheSkate

Ensor boy with lamp

The Lamplighter, Ensor

The last museum, “Ancient Art”, was so rich and enormous that I’m leaving it until the next blog.

On Thursday, we walked beyond the “Mountain of Art” and a huge, depressing palace on our right, towards Jubelpark and Musees Royeaux d’art et d’histoire …..  We trudged along a grey, freezing avenue of empty office blocks and building sites, as traffic tore past, terrifyingly close to very narrow pavements.  A great, glass EU building on the right reared above us and we didn’t notice it, so intent were we on keeping to the kerb.  It was easy to imagine it empty and to let, like all the others…..

The park was pure Magritte, though; neat, tidy, squared off, depressing; someone walking a little dog (loads of dogshit around – Magritte never put that in a picture, I think).  But there were busts of people, sculpted with their bodies apparently enclosed in boxes – and their bare feet poking out at the bottom.

If you eat in the museum restaurant, don’t have the “Americain” – it’s a hefty, cake – sized lump of raw hamburger meat, served with capers, salad and chips; delicious!

Kreuzer Sonata, Tolstoy

Inspired by the TV War and Peace, I’m reading this novella, which I thought I might finish on Eurostar; no such luck.  The views expressed – not sure how far they are Tolstoy’s own; probably all – make Zvyagintsev’s taciturn male bullies look like Hackney hipsters by comparison.

latest wip

The Siege of Brussels (Work in progress)

Blackpaint

14.02.16

 

 

 

 

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Blackpaint 271

May 4, 2011

Max Ernst

Bought the Phaidon book on Ernst by Ian Turpin and was surprised by the variety of techniques and effects Ernst achieved over the years, many of which come under the heading of “oil on Canvas”.  frottage (rubbing of pencil et al over a textured surface), grattage (scraping away of paint), decalcomania (laying paper or some other medium onto an area of wet pigment and then shifting it slightly and peeling it away), this latter invented by Oscar Dominguez – as well as collage, of course.  Birds, plants, insects, plumage, jungle, psychomachinery, eyes, thin, overlapping panels of paint (colour fields, in fact) – echoes of Picabia, Magritte, De Chirico, Douanier Rousseau, Dali, even one that looks like a Chris Ofili! (“One Night of Love”, demonstrating yet another technique; coiling twine or string down onto wet paint and then removing it to leave the trail).

My current favourites are “Garden Aeroplane-Trap” from 1935, in which white, bony, plane-ish structures lie in wooden trays piled up into citadels, being crawled or grown over by pink, fuzzy, mollusc-like plants, or maybe shellfish – AND –

“The Robing of the Bride”, 1939.  A naked, elongated, high-breasted woman is cloaked in a robe of rich red feathers which mask her head and face, attended by a green feathered snake-bird man holding a big broken arrow, another long naked girl, and a four-breasted, little green Manalishi thing with a distended belly, picking its nose with a thumb.

What does it mean?  Possible sexual connotations, I would think – and the text refers to Duchamp, if that’s any help.

Phillip Taafe

At the Gagosian Gallery, Kings Cross.  Huge, high white walls, silent, suited security attendants hold the door open for you.  Various painted layers on paper attached to canvas – huge rectangular or triangular works in a range of bright colours; pink, greens, blues, reds,  oranges, often featuring masks (Noh theatre) and harem-like grilles.  Scimitar shapes, one with gold, spidery, bursting fireworks or stars, another like petals cascading down in straight lines.  Faint echoes of Ofili again, and perhaps Gilbert and George without the swearwords.  Wallpaper-ish sometimes, too.

Turner

That strange painting of Napoleon against a garish sunset, contemplating a shell – its in the Tate Britain, the one in which his reflection makes his legs look twice as long.  There’s an Ernst, “Napoleon in the Wilderness”, in which N is contemplating an encrusted, but otherwise naked woman, holding a saxophone-shaped strap thing with an odd little dragon on the end, where the bell should be.  Did Ernst know the Turner?  Turpin makes no mention.

Anthony Quinn

What a brilliant thug he makes in “La Strada”, displaying not the slightest concession to manners, politeness, normal social intercourse anywhere in Fellini’s film, beyond addressing the audiences of his strong man act as “Ladies and Gentlemen” and a nun as “Sister”.  Otherwise, he leans scowling against walls, scratching, smoking into his cupped hand, grunting, swilling wine, roaring about on his motorbike with the caravan thing attached – and fighting and beating people up, of course.  Haven’t seen him as Michelangelo painting the ceiling, but his Gauguin bore some resemblance to Zampano.  Actually, it was Charlton Heston who played Michelangelo, not Quinn (BP, 6th Dec 2011)

I love those Italian films of the early 50s, “Bicycle Thieves” and “Miracle in Milan” for example, with huge blocks of flats on wasteground, Roman ruins, people living in shacks, caves, dressed in odd bits of uniform, forage caps, greatcoats, driving odd vehicles (broomsticks in “Miracle”)…

Van Gogh

Was surprised to read that VG was barred entry to Arles, as a result of a petition by the people, shortly after the ear incident, and was locked up on grounds of public safety; up to that point in the letters, he seemed a peaceful and harmless sort of cove, apart from some mild stalking of his cousin and tiresome religious mania…

Blackpaint

3/04/11

Blackpaint 268

April 21, 2011

Rose Hilton

In one of the Cork Street galleries I blogged about, a display by the above, now in her 80’s.  She was unable to keep up her painting while married to Roger Hilton; partly due to his opposition, partly to the attitudes of the time (woman looks after the house and kids, man gets on with the artistic creativity side of things).  She apparently accepted her role while he was alive – however, he died in 1975, so pity she waited this long.

The paintings are beautiful; glowing, saturated colours, pinks, oranges, reds, a sumptuous grey.  Mostly figurative, one abstract (I think) reminding me strongly of a Diebenkorn.  The painter who comes to mind most frequently is Bonnard, one nude very like Matisse, Roger in there occasionally with the charcoal line, Feininger in one townscape.  I loved these paintings and despite the fact that this was a commercial exhibition, there was no repetition fatigue such as marred the Hoyland and Cohen exhibitions.  Go and see these works if at all possible.

“Mixed” gallery 

I don’t know the name of this gallery, but you can recognise it by the big, yellow/orange Albers on the wall to the left of the glass doors.  As well as the Albers, there is a Donald Judd shelf in aluminium and wood(?) – sleek and shiny; a very uncharacteristic Dubuffet – no scraping; a standard Ben Nicolson (standard is good – I don’t go along with the Guardian critic who compares him unfavourably with Mondrian, because Mondrian was soulful and mystical and Nicolson wasn’t;  good job too, say I) and a bunch of sculptures by Bill Woodrow.  Several of these echo Rauschenberg’s “Gluts” – see Blackpaint last August – in that they are car parts; battered doors, bonnets, fenders attached in a little tableau to a soft sculpture – a black panther in one, an Indian Chief”s headdress in another, echoing his exhibit in the Tate Britain.

Miro at the Tate Modern

Went to this the day after it opened, in the evening.  Got in straight away, no queue, no struggling masses, despite the hype.

The first room contained a number of paintings that reminded me of patchwork quilts with deep blue skies above.  There were two yellow abstractions (although how abstract any of Miro’s work is, is open to question), one called the Hunter, I think; unmistakeable Miro, little microbes and other entities connected by lines, swimming about all over the place.

There were some collages with gouache, very effective, I thought, and a number of small, electric coloured tubular entities on black background, Daliesque –  hated them.

Several paintings linked by the theme of the Catalan peasant – one very much like Ernst, a washed-out blue and washed-out red for the hat; you’ll see what I mean.

A line of maybe 20 drawings in ink on white, potato head entities that reminded me of Jorn’s little people – line like Stirnberg.

Loads of those little ones with red, white and/or blue entities swarming on metallic looking grey-black backgrounds.  The famous one is the “Escape Ladder”.

Up to now in the exhibition, nothing that was new to me, apart from the quilt ones at the beginning.  Touches of Klee, Dali, Tanguy, Gorky and Ernst – Gorky as well in the long titles, eg the Girl with the blonde armpit etc.  Now, getting to the 60s and the influence of Abstract Expressionism and they get BIGGER.  Suddenly, three are filling a room.  The orange one with the thick black loop is the harbinger; then the burnt canvases, looking like metal remnants on their supports.  Twombly-like scribbles and meandering lines; the condemned cell one with the white paint tipped on and streaking down; the black fireworks at the end.  Needless to say, I loved all these, the usual precise little drawings on defined backgrounds having given way to size, roughness, violence – texture.  Not really what Miro is about though – Escape Ladder et al far more characteristic.

Have to say, it seems absurd to try to make a case for Miro as a committed political artist – he went to France for the duration of the Spanish Civil War, when volunteers from all over Europe were making their way (with difficulty) to Spain to fight for the Republic – and in some cases, for Franco.  Then, when WW2 came along, he relocated to Spain and managed to work under Franco’s rule.  One poster done in France and one painting in 1974, recording (protesting?) the execution of Puig Antich isn’t much.

I think to call Miro “political”  is a bit of an insult to Ai Weiwei, a truly political artist, still missing in China, and whose work remains on display in the Tate, still with no comment from the gallery on his current plight.

Ray Smith

RIP Ray, of Ray’s Jazz, late of Shaftesbury Avenue.  Many happy Saturday afternoons spent there, listening to and sometimes buying, some arcane stuff on the advice of my mate Bob Glass.  It’s where I was educated, really.  Now Bob and Ray are gone – left us here to carry on.

Blackpaint

20.04.11

Blackpaint 263

March 25, 2011

Burning Backs

In “A Prophet”, the ghost of the Arab that Malik is forced to kill has a burning back in a dream sequence – and in “Shutters Island”, the ghost of deCaprio’s wife has a burning back – in a dream sequence.

Neither of these facts mean much, except, perhaps, an interesting case of convergent imagery – but they do bring me quite nicely to surrealism.

Surrealists

I used really to love surrealism, but now find the pictures rather boring, for the most part.  I think the problem is the lack of painterly qualities inherent, or required by the concept. There are no surfaces; since the purpose is to explore and exploit the subconscious, the skills required are those of the imaginative illustrator.  The juxtaposition of unlikely objects demands the ability to depict those objects as clearly as possible – hence, the realism in surrealism.  With a few exceptions, the attraction of the paintings and objects rests in the mystery and atmosphere created by the images – the empty, night-time squares and porticos of de Chirico, the nudes on escalators of Delvaux – not in the qualities of the painting itself. The exceptions that occur to me are Gorky, Matta, Lam, Tanguy and Dominguez in Decalcomania mode.  You could make a case that the first three are hardly surrealists at all.  What about Miro and Picasso?  They passed through the movement on their way elsewhere.  Dali?  Staggering draughtsman, fantastic, memorable images but fits the above description, surely.

Anyway, for interest’s sake, my top ten surrealist pictures (or objects) in order of preference:

1.  Joan Miro – Person Throwing a Stone at a Bird (1926).  The one with the blobby figure, huge foot and line showing stone’s flight.  I’m not even sure it’s surreal – but it’s a great image.

2.  Max Ernst – Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924).  Tiny construction, man fleeing across a chalet roof – dreamlike, touch of menace.

3.  Man Ray – Gift  (1921).  The iron with the nails on the bottom.  Simple, elegant, funny, dripping with irony.

4.  Meret Oppenheim – the furry cup, saucer and spoon (1936).  As per Man Ray.

5.  Giacometti – The Palace at 4.00am.  Like a birdcage – there is a bird in the top section.  I love the title; I always get it confused with the Max Ernst Nightingale.

6.  Toyen – Silken Feasts (1962).  There’s a lot of sex and fetishism in surrealism, of course, since it deals with the subconscious (see Bunuel and footwear); this is one of the sexiest and most fetishistic works.

7.  Richard Oelze – Expectation (1936).  A crowd in 30s hats and raincoats stare at gathering black clouds across heathland – waiting.  I’ve not heard of him other than this, but I found, when I thought of doing this, that this picture sprang to mind before any other.

8.  Paul Delvaux – The Iron Age (1951).  A naked woman (surprisingly) sits, legs stretched before her, while in the night-time background, a goods train bears down on her from the marshalling yards.  Penguin used the background for the cover of Celine’s “Journey to the End of the Night”; even without the woman, it still somehow has a surreal eeriness.

9.  Dali – Sleep (1937).  The long, sleeping head, propped up on sticks.  There could of course, have been several more; the soft watches, the elephants, the crouching figure by the egg, the figure ripping itself apart – but this one came to mind instantly.

10.  Magritte. There has to be a Magritte, since he was the most consistent and faithful surrealist in the sense of the juxtaposition of unlikely objects – but I really hate the way he paints women’s nipples, red and angry as if infected.  Puts me off him totally; I suppose the one with the broken window, in which the fragments are pieces of sky….

The Killing

I think its Morten, Troels’ researcher.  Find out tomorrow.

Listening to Jelly Roll Morton, Sidewalk Blues.

“You’re so dumb, you should be president of the Deaf and Dumb Society!”

“Sorry, Boss; but I’ve got the Sidewalk Blues” – a non sequitur fit for a piece on surrealism.

Sorry – no new paintings yet.

Blackpaint

25.03.11

Blackpaint 219

November 14, 2010

Eraserhead

This was on TV last night, and I had forgotten that it was  unique in cinema in its creation of a dream atmosphere.  This had to do with the sound, the constant muted industrial racket, the gaps in the dialogue (a long, bemused pause after every cliche’d phrase – “So, Henry, whaddaya know?” – long pause – “Oh..not much of anything,”) and the way in which the utterly bizarre was treated as normal – the bleeding, moving chicken, the mother’s fits, the baby thing.

Ididn’t notice when I first saw it – 25 or maybe 30 years ago – the Bacon references.  When Henry’s head falls off and the baby’s emerges from his shirt collar to take its place (dream within the dream), you are confronted by one of Bacon’s besuited screamers, with an obscured or eroded face and just an anguished mouth in focus.  The baby itself, in its tight wrappers of dingy bandage, is nearly a Figure at the Base of a Crucifixion.  The little thrippets of flesh that keep popping up or falling down and flipping about are out of Tanguy, I think, or maybe Ernst.  And the frozen grin on the face of the father brought to my mind Lloyd Bridges high on glue in “Airport” – not an art-historical reference, I’m afraid.

Can’t end the subject without mentioning the dough-faced singer pausing and squishing the things dropping onto the stage, without losing the ingratiating simper…

Leonardo da Vinci 

And so to some proper art, if not proper art criticism.  Which of the two Virgins of the Rocks would Leo consider the better?  One is in the Louvre, the other (later) one is in the National  Gallery.  The latter has the better background – the blue of the gap in the rocks is more satisfying – and is lit more dramatically, faces paler, especially Mary’s, and more strongly shadowed; the blue of Mary’s gown is more intense.  On the other hand, Christ baby has the halo and baby John has the staff, both of which look faintly ridiculous and the faces of the babies are better in the French one.  Christ in the NG version looks as if he has dropsy.  Also, Uriel’s gown in the Louvre version is a pleasingly rich red.

I at first thought that Uriel in the Louvre version had no wings – they are certainly more distinct in the NG version.  In both, Uriel resembles a girl.  So, on balance – they come out even, for me. 

Appel

After writing about Leonardo, you turn back to abstractionists with a sort of trepidation; how can they stand up to these geniuses of the past?  Answer: Karel Appel, “Flying Heads” 1959.  Great, thick crusts of paint, slatched on with a knife or trowel, white, green, yellow, orange, red, black, grey; scored, scabbed, scratched.  It looks like two, or even three breasts whirling about in thick, white and grey clouds.  The text in Dietmar Elger’s “Abstract Art” (Taschen) describes it as a “veritable whirlpool of thickly applied masses of paint.”  It looks good enough to eat.

Quiz

Who filmed Pollock at work on Long Island in 1950?  (must make these a bit harder).

Blackpaint 14.11.10