Posts Tagged ‘Henry Moore’

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 126

May 3, 2010

Moore and Ofili revisits

Second visits are often disappointing, and I wasn’t as impressed this time by the big elm “recliners”:  however, I had a good look round Moore’s archetypal recliner (the one the cartoonists always parody) and noticed the way the hole disappears when you look at it from behind and above and the shoulders become even more massive; also, the way the light falls on the planes, emphasising the perfection of the sculpting. 

The little so-called sketches like jewels, worked over carefully in pen, pencil, crayon, pastel etc., and the pen sketch with the blots which are themselves attractive – something similar on TV last night, that thing about Warhol by Sooke; Warhol used a technique of pressing paper against the wet ink line of a drawing to get a broken, blotty line.

There was a funny little mother and child at the start in which the baby was huge, the size of a small adult (and mother’s face seemed to reflect this).  Reminded me of some of those 12th century madonna and child icons in the National Gallery etc, in which the Christ is a full-grown man on mother’s knee.

Although it might be true, as Laura Cumming asserted (see Blackpaint 80), that Moore’s subject matter is rather limited (Mothers with child, recliners, masks, helmets, stringed sculptures, the “atomic” maquette, the warrior, the miner drawings, the shelter drawings..), the varieties of material and style are wide.  African Wonderwood?  and how did he get that gleaming smooth finish on concrete?

As for Ofili, I liked it as I did first time around.  No new insights, other than the humour and the really strong sense of unity of the whole set of work – must be the colours, because he’s stopped using the elephant dung.  One thing – that exchange between Ofili and Jonathan Jones about the function of the hanging man (see Blackpaint 54, 55); the painting’s called “Iscariot Blues”, something I overlooked last time.  Best paintings still the art nouveauish “Raising of Lazarus” and the cocktail girl next to it.

Fundamental Painting

A Tate room devoted to stern, dark, minimalist work from the 60’s;  Alan Charlton (born 1948), four huge paintings in shades of charcoal grey.  The first has a long slot cut in it, the second four square holes in the corners, the third is cut into 20 equally sized “sleepers” and the last, a square, framed with a 2″ interval.  Other artists; Edwina Leapman (one all blue, one all red, slight gradations of pigmentation); Bob Laws (huge plain canvas with a black frame painted in 2″ from edge;  Alan Green, Peter Joseph (dark blocks of black, green, blue).  What’s it about?  Asking questions like “What is a painting?”

John Golding 

Born 1929, a canvas called “CV 1973”.  Two unequal rectangles, one egg yolk yellow, the other dark flesh pink.  A white frame of plain canvas all round with swipes of paint here and there – vaguely reminiscent of a landscape Clyfford Still.  My partner tells me the salient point is that the pink is layered, built up in a Rothko-type way.  Two other Goldings, one blue one green, quite different.  The blue one, “Toledo Blue”, lines across a sort of misty surface, vaguely like a Futurist painting, Boccione maybe, not much close up, but great through archways from a couple of rooms away.

I Mailed it in the Air, by Blackpaint

Listening to Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers;

“I wrote a letter, I mailed it in the, I mailed it in the – air indeed, lord,

I wrote a letter, I mailed it in the air,

So you know by that I have a friend somewhere”.

Blackpaint 03.05.10

Blackpaint 94

March 24, 2010

Paul Nash at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Got to this today; four rooms, I think, of paintings, drawings, some photographs and two collages, one of photographs, the other of wood pieces.

There was “Totes Meer”, the sea of dead German planes, “Landscape of a Dream” ( the one with the hawk),  a trench painting, which I think was”We are Building a New World” –  familiar anyway – and “Solstice of a Sunflower”, the strangely still, yellow juggernaut. The rest of the stuff was new to me, which was a surprise.

I have to say that I found the washed-out, bleached colours and the thinly-applied, dry brush strokes with occasional patches and flecks of bare canvas a bit oppressive today.  The surface of “Sunflower” ,for instance, was arid and elsewhere the paint looked sticky and dragged-on, somehow.  “Farewell” (1944) was a crooked stick against an awful, sickly lemon yellow, but mostly chalk whites, thin sky blues, light greys with here and there, as in “Dream”, a splash of plum/raspberry.  There were several empty room interiors, waiting for something to happen, with an Ernstish feel and the several “Urne Buriall”s had surrealist stock lurking about – owls, dismembered arms, birds with faces.

There was the Dymchurch stuff, purling seas on shorelines, long, slender women in long, slender 20’s dresses (in distance, back turned to viewer).  There were two early (1911 – 13) pictures called “Wittesham Clumps”, one in watercolour, ink and chalk, the other pen and ink, I believe, that were very beautiful; tree circles, very distinct but tiny, flocks of birds above them.

Photographs – tennis ball (which cropped up again in a large painting, “Event on the Downs”), standing stone, cottage, ploughed land, again with painting nearby and “Monster Tree”, a typical Nash photograph of a strange-looking natural phenomenon.  It looked to me as though the fallen tree might have been shifted a little to create the desired effect, but no doubt I’m wrong.

There was some Nicolson-ish stuff from 30 – 31 – “Opening” and “Kinetic Features” and “Nest of the Siren”, which was unremarkable except that the colours were richer and more thickly applied than the others, highlighting the general thinness and dryness elsewhere.  Another nest, this one “Nest of Stones”, worked wonderfully, because the texture of the stones was perfectly reproduced by Nash’s approach.

In the last room, larger paintings, deeper colour at last!  In “Swan Song”, a huge fly agaric mushroom with its white spotted, red cap lies broken in a wood; next to it, “Chestnut Waters” – an avenue of trees reflected in the surface of a lake; and the giant tennis ball on the Downs.

The title of the exhibition is “Elements” – a fair amount of landscape, seashore, trees, flowers, I suppose; but really the exhibition is mostly his surrealist stuff.  I suppose on another day, in another place (atmosphere at Dulwich I find rather starchy), I would have enjoyed it more – today it was washed-out, bleached, chalky, dry and thin, the titles pretentious.  So there we are; a couple of weeks ago, I was criticising Laura Cumming for having a similar beam in her eye with regard to Henry Moore.  Sometimes – but not often – the “Britishness” is too much!

Listened to Muddy Waters, “Long- Distance Call”; great antidote to Dulwich.

“I hear my phone a-ringing, sounds like a long-distance call, (*2)

Pick up my receiver, party say “Another mule kickin’ in your stall”.



Blackpaint 91

March 19, 2010

Hooray, hooray – computer seems alright today


Must be the influence of Ad – I’ve started covering, or nearly covering canvas in black paint, thick, with short horizontal and vertical interwoven brushstrokes.  Unlike Ad – my purpose and focus is not as clear as his – I then add lighter colours such as ochre and white/grey.  It’s different; but is it good?

Not like this – I did this one ages ago – but like this

Apart from Reinhardt, there has been a bunch of painters who have done black paintings: Malevich of course, Franz Kline (they look like black on plain canvas, but actually black and white), Pierre Soulages, Frank Stella and Rothko – actually dark grey, but look black.  Amongst British painters, William Scott .

Henry Moore

Lovely Culture Show programme last night, with that great colour shot of the freight train travelling across the American (or maybe Canadian) prairie with a huge, knuckly Moore in two pieces, lashed onto a flatbed freightcar.  The Laura Cumming’s reference to his “knitted tie” (see Blackpaint 80) was sort of explained; he was apparently never without a tie.  There was a television DIY man in the 50s called Barry Bucknall, who always wore a collar and tie, sleeveless jumper and shirt with sleeves rolled up high – Moore reminded me of him.  Also, Michael Hordern; the absent-minded expression maybe – and, oddly, a meek Ted Hughes, if that’s not a contradiction.  Probably because they were both Yorkshiremen.

Listening to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult – horrible words encouraging suicide, but a compelling chord sequence and hypnotic harmonies.

Blackpaint, now painting it black,


Blackpaint 80

March 2, 2010

Henry Moore – A Tale of Two Reviews

I can’t let this show go without commenting on Hilary Spurling’s excellent review in Saturday’s Guardian and Laura Cumming’s very hostile and dismissive review in the “new” Observer. 

Reflecting on the show, I have to say that it’s one failing for me was that it lacked humour.  Some of the pieces were funny for sure, but I don’t think that was Moore’s intention.  And on that mother thing, strangling the angry bird-child – I realise that it reminded me of herring gulls with the red spot on the beak, that the chick has to peck at before the mother will disgorge the fish stew.  True, gulls don’t have hands to strangle with, but you can push an analogy too far.. Nice change from caring, nurturing mummies and babies, anyway.

Back to the reviews.  Spurling’s was full of interesting info and insights.  She pointed out that for Moore, “timelessness, monumentality and permanence were essential qualities… He must have been the last major artist to see sculpture in these terms”.  However, she also remarked on the exhibition stopping in the late 50s – after that, apparently, he produced work made out  of “cheap, flimsy materials”, as well as the production line of civic bronzes.  

She referred to Moore’s confinement to a tiny British avant garde until he was in his 40s, and the opposition and hostility he met from parts of the British art Establishment well into the 60s.  None of this was covered in Laura Cumming’s piece, although she had clearly read up on Moore in Wikipedia first.

Cumming’s Observer review was strangely reminiscent of that by Brian Sewell, of the current Arshile Gorky show in the Evening Standard.  In both cases, the reviewers chose to praise the drawings, rather than the main focus of the exhibition (Gorky’s paintings, Moore’s sculpture) offsetting hostile assertions with a bit of “balance”; in both cases, the reviewers damned the subject as a copyist, with no original “content” of their own on offer.

Cumming says “I freely admit to almost total aversion” ( again, this sounds to me just like Sewell) and goes on to assert that Moore’s work is assembled from ideas stolen from Picasso, Arp, Dali and Giacometti “with no feeling for affinities, still less significance”.  This is surely an incredible assertion – one only has to see the work on view to explode the notion that Moore just copied proper, Continental artists.  Influences, yes, maybe one or two pretty close to Picasso’s “bones on the beach” in the 30s; but the drawings alone surely demonstrate an original artistic vision and the elms,  if nothing else, prove it.

Just think; we are being asked to swallow the idea that Moore hoodwinked a generation of art commentators into worshipping him, while all along, he was just nicking stuff from Picasso et al.  Odd that nobody noticed.

Cumming asserts that “these are “multiple versions – as opposed to variations” of the same thing.  Variation in expression there most certainly is, as well as materials, dimension and so on.  Besides, plenty of artists spend their artistic lives working a couple of ideas over and again, far less successfully than Moore.

She asserts that her aversion is not because “his sculpture is so lacking in beauty or grace” (a neat way of saying it is, whilst not sounding too conservative) but because of the “homogeneity” – it’s all the same. 

The first thing you notice, I agree, is that there is a lot of Reclining Figures and “Mothers with Child”s – but the second is the surprising range of styles, moods, dimensions and materials. 

The review derides the grand claims made for the work by the curators and asserts that the work is all form, no content.  I don’t know what claims Moore himself made for the work, but artists themselves are often the worst commentators – that’s why they paint and sculpt and others critique.  And isn’t the distinction between form and content redundant in a lot of cases with art that tends towards the abstract? 

Finally, there is the knitted tie.  “It is certainly true that Moore was there, in his knitted tie, among the French surrealists”, Cumming remarks.  What does this mean?  British middle class buffer, mixing with the cool Continentals, breathing in the Gaulois, pretending to be a proper artist?  Desperately trying to be friends, looking for ideas to steal – a sort of Tony Hancock, looking for inspiration for his Aphrodite at the Water Hole.

I think the knitted tie gives the game away.  Moore is British – by definition, marginal, insular, second-rate, a bit embarrassing, – he’s middle class and he was hugely successful.

I also think this review has to be seen in the context of the Observer’s desperate relaunch.  Controversy is everything now; the reviews will have to toughen up to match the Rawnsley “revelations”.  The logic is , of course, that you might as well get Brian Sewell himself to do the job properly; no doubt they can’t afford him.

Listening to Johnny Cash, “Highway Patrolman”:

“Yeah, me and Frankie laughing and drinkin’,

Nothing feels better than blood on blood,

Taking turns dancin’ with Maria,

While the band played “The Night of the Johnstown Flood”; 

I catch him when he’s swaying, like any brother should;

Man turns his back on his family – he ain’t no good”.



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.

Blackpaint 78

February 27, 2010

Fra Angelico

I’m thinking of this picture that he did on the walls of that monk’s cell in Florence.  It’s San Marco, cell 7, and its the “Mocking of Christ”.  The most strange picture for the time – there’s a disembodied head with a Robin Hood hat blowing on Christ, a couple of disembodied hands, presumably slapping him, and another disembodied hand holding a stick, forcing down the Crown of Thorns on his head.  And Jesus has a white mask painted over his eyes!  The background is a beautiful pastel green.  That’s like a wall painting, with two figures sitting in front of it: Virgin Mary on left and St Dominic, enjoying a good book (prob. THE good book) on the right.

It’s just beautiful and very weird, and the colours are mouth-watering.  Also see “St Nicholas addressing an Imperial Emissary and saving a Ship at Sea” – who or what is that in the sky, behind the ship’s sails? Yes, must be St. Nick.   sorry, can’t find a picture on the net – it’s in that Taschen by the Hagens, “Fifteenth Century Paintings”.

Henry Moore

Can’t believe the concerted slagging I’ve just heard on the Review Show (BBC2) for the Henry Moore exhibition at Tate Britain – they all weighed into him as if he was the most boring (laughably so) artist in British history.  The price of success, I suppose.  His work is only a cliche because he had a strong and consistent vision, thoroughly realised time and time again.  Another example of how the ever-growing need for extreme opinions and controversy is warping all comment on TV.  Anyway, going to see it tomorrow – no doubt I’ll change my mind and agree with them as usual.


Yes there’s no doubt, always best to paint when you are drunk.  Results might be crap but great fun, and you get a sense of integrity, which lasts all the way until the hangover next morning.


Friday night,  telly broken.