Posts Tagged ‘James Salter’

Blackpaint 405 – Rembrandt’s Mother, Mating Slugs and Shipwrecks

July 20, 2013

Top of The Lake

Holly Hunter as GJ shaping up already to be the most irritating act on TV, with Peter Mullan’s as the character you would most like to see blasted with a shotgun.  Is rural New Zealand really like this?  Those two from “Flight of the Conchords” seemed harmless enough.

Bought with Love BBC4

Prog about early private collections in England.  Many astonishing paintings, but the one that stuck in my mind’s eye was the portrait of Rembrandt’s mother at Wilton House; the old woman’s face seems to be coming out of the picture towards you, while the papers she is reading stay below within the bounds of the canvas.

rembrandts mother

OK, that effect not so obvious here, but on the telly….

Uzak

It means “distance”.  2002 film by Nuri Bilge Ceylan of “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”.  Ravishing shots of Istanbul in snowstorm, especially scenes in the docks that remind one of “Red Desert” somehow.  There is a whole ship tipped over on its  side; the cranes and containers under the snow inevitably recall Brueghel, and therefore Tarkovsky – obvious tribute here, I think the video which Mahmut watches is “Stalker”; that is, until he swaps it for a porn film…  You can hear owls hooting in the night streets of Istanbul, apparently.  And I’m only halfway through…

Roberto Zabetta at the Ronchini Gallery in Dering Street

Huge, black and grey, swirling, sliding paint on canvas – “rhythmic spurts of paint and expressive brush strokes”…  like half a Rauschenberg, without the graphics.

Lun Tuchnowski at Annely Juda (next door to Ronchini) 

Fantasy metal helmets, like Lord of the Rings props, one like a Mickey Mouse Club hat, another with hedgehog spikes;  dangling, entwined, metal tubes and coils, like giant slugs mating; a wall full of giant, pouting bronze lips; a huge, plastic or fibre glass coloured wheel and bobbin, like space  escape capsule and marker buoy.

Also at Annely Juda, the Russian Club present Wonderland (?) 

Not sure exactly what this is all about – they’re not Russians; but there is a very striking video of an artist nursing his bare right leg – I think its his right – as if it were a baby.  After watching for a few moments, you do get the illusion that it is actually detached…

Bernard Jacobson Gallery, Cork Street – Robert Motherwell collages

Big, rather simple collages, usually consisting of one or two stuck-on paper components, a magazine or ticket, say, with coloured and striped background.  Reminded me somewhat of the Kitaj collages at the British Museum prints and drawing room.  Very different to the Schwitters collages, which usually consist of far more disparate elements assembled in a pictorial way – not sure that makes sense, I just mean the Motherwells are bigger and more simple.

Daughters of Mars, Thomas Kenneally

The early parts of this book about Australian nurses in WWI are riveting; Gallipoli, the sinking of the Archimedes… second half. however, while still readable, beginning to remind me of those prestige costume dramas you get on Sunday on BBC; Birdsong, maybe, or the Paradise.  Kenneally, interviewed at Hay Festival, did say one interesting thing, though; that authors (I think he meant male ones) write about sex far more than they actually get it – wonder if that applied to Salter, in his younger days of course.. he is 87 now..but then again, you never know.

 

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Blackpaint

20.07.13

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Blackpaint 401 – Manhugging at the Fair; Annoying in Chechnya

July 4, 2013

Lowry at Tate Britain

I think he’s more important as a social historian than as a painter; the old Mitchell and Kenyon films which play in this exhibition show that his particular vision was spot on.  No-one else was covering this sort of industrial, municipal vista so consistently.

As I said in last blog, I think there’s something of Brueghel in there and not just the small figures and the white background.  B documented the lives of his peasants and Lowry  is doing the same for the people of his northern towns, to an extent; the Fever Van, the Funeral, Going to and Coming From Work, the Fair at Daisy Nook (twice, at least).  His figures are less solid than B’s, caricatures really, but he does give them individual details, even if they come out looking the same.

Several characters recur; a pair of drunks (?) “man-hugging”, kids, and those two dogs – probably more that I didn’t notice.  None of the figures seem to cast a shadow – indeed, they look somehow separate, even when they overlap, as if collaged.

lowry2

No dogs in this one.

When you see the paintings surrounding you, their filmic quality is obvious; you can easily imagine the figures coming to life and swarming through the factory gates towards the smoking chimneys.  I thought of that film of snow-covered Nevsky Prospect and the people  scattering under fire during the 1905 revolution.  It’s on the cover of the paperback of Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution”.

My favourite painting is uncharacteristic and one of the first in the exhibition – it’s the little brick terraced house with the flowers in the window.  Look closely at it- it’s beautifully painted, especially the brickwork.

Another interesting and uncharacteristic painting was a Welsh scene, I think called “Bargoed”; somehow, the perspectives are more conventional (his townscapes often look like two or three different photographs cut up and collaged together and the diminishing size of the figures as they recede is often “wrong”) and the whole picture has a more “muscular” feel – not better than the townscapes, but much more conventional.

lowry1

Quick visit to our favourite room, the one with Bigger Splash and the red Caro – I looked closely at the Bacon triptych and was interested to notice how thin the paint was – the weave of the canvas fabric was clearly visible.  His own remarks about the role of accident and chance in a painting and the common (mis)conception that he painted with a sort of vigorous abandon had led me to believe that the paint would be applied more thickly.

The Tony Cragg “Stack” – how did they install it without its falling to pieces?  It’s surely not stuck together and yet there is no way it could be raised – unless it was on a palette that was somehow slipped out from under it when it was in place…

Aleksandra, Sokurov

How irritating Sokurov’s characters can be.  This is the film about the grandmother who visits her army officer grandson when he is on active service in Chechnya.  She goes around being provocative, as if the presence of a matriarchal figure, overweight and with  bad legs, should be treated as completely normal by the gormless boy soldiers.  They have to help her out and keep her safe.  She meets some Chechnyan counterparts and treats them, and a young Chechnyan assigned as her guide, to a string of platitudes that, I’m sure, would have gone down really well with the population during Russia’s war on the Chechen “rebels”.

I was reminded of the diplomat in Russian Ark; he is also an irritating figure, pushy, inquisitive and  annoying to everyone in the film.  Unlike Alexandra, of course, he (the character, that is) is not Russian, but French or Swiss.  And then there is the Mephistopheles character in Faust – but its right for him to be annoying, I suppose.

Salter, “Light Years”

There’s a great scene in this, where Viri, the central male character, is at a party, getting drunk – except that you don’t know he’s plastered, until he insists on doing a costumed imitation of Maurice Chevalier, unbidden, before the guests, forgets and repeats lines, then passes out in the maid’s bedroom as the others go in to dinner.  It’s a trick that Richard Yates also uses, I think in “Easter Parade”, where the male lead instigates a punching contest with a younger character who is annoying him by being younger and having opinions…

Imagine, Vivian Meier

BBC programme on the staggering work of “amateur” photographer and professional nanny Meier, who printed only a tiny proportion of her 100, 000+ negatives and kept the rest in storage, to be sold off after her death.  She seemed to have taken pictures in just about any style, all good, many stunning.  Joel Meyerowitz made a good point about her portraits, which were often of street people; he said that using a Rolleiflex, which you looked down at while you pointed it at the subject from your midriff, meant that you didn’t have to confront people by raising the camera to your face and looking at them directly.  Maybe that helped – whatever the reason, great pictures were the result.

poor tom

Poor Tom – an old one, but I like it…

Blackpaint

4.07.13

Blackpaint 400 – Dora, Mark and Stanley in Dulwich

June 27, 2013

Dulwich Picture Gallery – “A Crisis of Brilliance”

This is an exhibition of works by a number of British artists, connected with each other by way of the Slade, where they all studied under Tonks , and then by Bloomsbury etc., completed between 1908 and 1922.  WWI therefore features (there is the huge, rippling, faintly Kokoschka – like Bomberg of sappers under bombardment and Nevinson’s solitary, diving biplane) but does not dominate the exhibition.  My highlights as follows:

Stanley Spencer, “Mending Cowls at Cookham” – the  storm- threatening sky providing stark background to the  white of the cowls, as they are put in place.  That key shape does something too;

spencer cowls

Dora Carrington, “Soldiers at a Stream” – little painting, perfectly rendered and coloured, horses drinking, soldiers mounted;

Mark Gertler, “Pool at Garsington” – a touch of Cezanne, maybe; the L-shaped slice that seems to be collaged in, surrounding the house and tree;

gertler2

Carrington, that profile of Strachey with the stunning hands, fingers tented in thought (actually though, not- he’s holding a book).

There are some beautiful pencil drawings, hard to choose the best; self-portraits by Spencer and Carrington and Bomberg, all great (although Carrington’s, done at 16, looks nothing like Gertler’s portrait of her, done a few years later – Gertler’s is exceptionally fine, lightly but surely drawn and conveying a wealth of character; the gaze of love, presumably).

gertler1

Carrington’s heavy-hipped “standing Nude” is notable and the Gertler “Seated Nude”, done in watercolour pencils.

The clinker of the exhibition is Carrington’s “Bedford Market”, but she was very young when she did it and it’s very competent.

The exhibition is only three or four rooms, quite understated, but some real treasures.  I see I haven’t mentioned Paul Nash at all – probably because I’ve seen so much of his work lately.  The impact dulls with repetition; or does it always?  Maybe there are some painters who always grab you – for me, it’s de Kooning.  Forgot to mention Bomberg’s “In the Hold”, one of his horse-frightening geometric “abstracts”, way beyond anything else in the exhibition for experimentation and fittingly, separated from the others at the entrance.

Salter, All There Is

Finished this now, as well as “Light Years”; the writing in the earlier novel perhaps more consciously “fine”, sometimes crossing the border into pretentious territory – but I read them both, quickly for me, and am close to finishing his memoir, “Burning the Days”, for the second time.  There is a startling section towards the end of “All There Is”, when Salter’s protagonist Bowman rather forcefully overcomes the weak resistance of Anet, the young daughter of his ex-lover, takes her on a trip to Paris and abandons her there in a hotel room – an act of revenge on her mother, who had abandoned Bowman (and “robbed” him of a house in the courts).  Anet says “No” – but Bowman clearly knows she means “Yes”, and acts accordingly.  He’s right, of course; afterwards, she’s happy – until he ditches her.  Salter offers no hint of approval or disapproval; merely “describes”.  Maybe that’s what startled me about it – it’s so at odds with currently acceptable attitudes towards sexual conduct.

Almodovar, Talk to Her

This film is another case in point; it has a young woman in a coma, who is stalked – before the accident – by a pudgy mother’s boy.  He manages to become one of her carers when she is comatose, rapes her and makes her pregnant, a crime for which he is eventually imprisoned.

Unbelievably, given the circumstances outlined above, you feel a sort of queasy sympathy, rather than revulsion, for the rapist.  I’ve checked online; it’s not just me, the proper critics are united in their admiration for the film, which won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe in 2002.

So, how can this be?  Firstly, you don’t see the sex (although there is a fantasy sequence where a tiny dancer enters a rather stylised vagina).  The  surreal atmosphere of Almodovar’s films probably helps; and the rapist is portrayed throughout as a gentle, concerned character with a strong empathy for women, who is in love with (fixated on) the victim.  And he is caught, imprisoned and eventually kills himself.

Almodovar is clearly a follower of Bunuel in his anarchistic, surreal tendencies and his insistence on exploring the “unacceptable” faces of sexuality – fetishism and illness are prominent themes in the work of both.

What makes Almodovar’s film less jarring than the incident in Salter’s book?  I’m not sure.  To be continued.

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Blackpaint

27.06.13

Blackpaint 399 – A Failure to Whack; Paulie, Christopher and Landy

June 20, 2013

The Pine Barrens

Brueghel’s “Hunters in the Snow” at the end of the episode, as Christopher and Paulie thaw out in Tony’s car after failing to kill the Russian;  the black tree trunks stand out against the snow and Cecilia Bartoli sings; the first Brueghel of the blog, more to come.  The Sopranos was  better than The Wire, the characters more rounded, the tonal range wider, the satire more biting, the acting better, no irritating “Fuck!” episode, no Steve Earle (great singer, world’s most annoying actor) and no spurious analysis by Zizek – as far as I know.

The Ladykillers

I watched a beautiful print of this film on TV; the first time I’d seen it, I’m ashamed to say, it looked as if it was brand new (directed in 1955 by Alexander MacKendrick).  Guinness, Sellers and Lom, but above all, Katie Johnson as the Lady all great – the shots down onto the railway line as the steam boiled up from the locos.. I watched it almost without a smile, gripped.  I know crime wasn’t allowed to pay in the 50s, but all five villains dead in a comedy is some going – although I suppose there was “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, with a bigger body count.

Ekcovision adverts cropped up again; reminded me of the ghost of Roberts, now a pizza place, in Bedford Hill.

Michael Landy’s Saints Alive at the National Gallery

Well, only three alive when we went.  A short queue on Saturday, but still a twenty minute wait for a token to get in, because they control the numbers.  Around the walls, collages of bits of saints stuck together like Duchamp or Picabia, plus some big drawings by Landy of derelict Catherine wheels in a derelict landscape.

The working models were:

St.Francis – he whacks himself in the forehead with a big cross when you put a coin in the slot;

St.Jerome – he whacks himself on the chest with a rock when you step on the pedal (but you have to wait for it to charge up);

St. Multi-Saint – head of St. Peter Martyr, with curved knife on crown, St.Laurence’s grill, St.Michael’s lion leggings and winged devil from Crivelli and a couple of tiny souls in torment – Adam and Eve? – who jiggle up and down in the pan of a set of scales when Multi-Saint is working.  When it’s working, the knife whacks him repeatedly on the head.

So: whacking with implements is the norm; Doubting Thomas has a gouging finger which no doubt probes the hole in Christ’s side, when he’s working; St. Apollonia has a pair of pliers which she pokes, I presume, into her mouth – when she’s working.  The machinery appears improvised and scavenged – pram or go-kart wheels, that sort of thing – but most of the wheels and cogs seem to function on each model.

I thought it was a laugh; can’t see that it had any of the spiritual resonance that Laura Cumming detected in her Observer review.  I did see a know -all type, dragging his wife over to the various paintings in the NG that were illustrated in Landy’s models, so some fun to be had tracking them…

Other Paintings at the National Gallery

These should be checked out:

The Master of Osservanza

osservanza

Ercole de Roberti

de roberti1

Fabulous little pictures.

Lowry and Brueghel

Jeannette Winterson, in the weekend papers, quite reasonably goes on about repetition, mass society, mass production and the age of industrialisation in her appraisal of Lowry’s work;  I have to say, though, that it seems to me Lowry individualises his little figures.  They have different clothes, hair colours, ages, attitudes; definitely not identical figures.  What they remind me of are Brueghel or maybe Avercamp; the skating scenes probably, because of the white.  I love Brueghel – I find Lowry depressing.

James Salter

Reading “All There Is”, his new novel, and re-reading “Light Years” and “Burning the Days”.  The prose is limpid, rather chilly and distanced, compared to, say, Richard Yates.  The Korean flying sequences in “Burning the Days” are great; he describes the dirt in the bottom of the cockpit floating down around him as he rolls his plane in combat.  The sex is somewhat relentlessly wonderful, however; it’s too stupendous and usually leaves the women and sometimes the men on the point of expiry.  He shares that American obsession with the bad teeth of the British.

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Work in Progress

Blackpaint

20.06.13

Blackpaint 396 – Mummy Goes to the Tate

May 30, 2013

Tate Rehang

A couple of dozy errors last week – obviously getting old.  first, Gainsborough.  I said there was a picture by G that looked just like a Hogarth, and nothing like the feathery, impressionistic portraits that characterise Gainsborough.  But of course, G did “Mr and Mrs Andrews”, which is similar in style to the family group in the Tate, and which I’d forgotten about.  So, Gainsborough changed his style between 1750 and 1780; not very earth-shattering.

And Fiona Rae – I wrongly located her next to Frank Bowling and opposite the Anthony Caro red metal sculpture.  She’s actually in a different room, opposite Peter Doig. It’s Peter Blake’s portrait of David Hockney with coloured balloons that is near the Bowling.  So what? you ask – well, the room with the Caro, Bowling and Blake is by far the most attractive room in the whole Gallery when viewed as a whole from the archway at the end; and I said as much last week.

Rose Wylie

There is a whole room full of Wylie’s huge, rough, cartoon-y paintings, reminiscent (a bit) of Guston and cartoonist Barry Fantoni; they look like they are done on board or cardboard by a punky youngster – Wylie is 77 years old, a trained artist and ex-lecturer.  I like them, especially her Nazi generals (see below), a painting inspired by the Tarantino film “Inglorious Basterds”.

wylie

Why are they there, though?  There seems no obvious reason why her pictures should get a room in the Tate rather than any other artist – apart from the fact that, being huge, they look good.  Maybe the answer lies in Germaine Greer’s support.  In 2010, she wrote a big puff for Wylie in the Guardian, pointing out that she had deferred her painting until her children were raised, Greer had bought a couple of her pictures and that there were others available.

Greer began her article by saying that in Wylie’s house, there were two working artists.  She then wrote exclusively about Wylie, not naming Roy Oxlade, Wylie’s husband.  Why say there were two artists, then write about only one?  Pathetic.

Mummy

At Tate Britain, with my 90 year old mother-in-law, ex- 1st violinist with Amsterdam Philharmonic and Liverpool Philharmonic, bit deaf but as sharp as a razor – addressed by the attendant as “Mummy”… “Shall I get Mummy a wheelchair?”  Thank goodness she didn’t hear him.  I suppose he was being kind, but still…

James Salter

Reading three Salters at once; “Light Years” and “Burning the Days” I’ve read before.  I’m interested to find that the new book, “All That Is”,  is actually an easier read than the first two, despite the fact that Salter is now 87 years old; maybe he’s more interested in getting the story told now, than in coming up with surprising and original metaphors.  All three are beautifully written, though.  I read a short story by him in the Saturday Telegraph Review – about a long affair and its end.  Only two pages long. but halfway through, Salter states that the woman let her lover whip her once.  Why?  Seems odd just to bung a whipping in gratuitously….  Maybe it went on more in Salter’s younger days….

Dan In Real Life

This Steve Carell/ Juliette Binoche vehicle on TV the other night; one of those US films, usually set in New England (this one’s Rhode Island), where there’s a huge. talented, odd, kind, musical/theatrical/literary family, all living with their precocious kids in a huge, rambling, ramshackle mansion, bitter-sweet, working out issues, playing games, being lovingly eccentric.. I hate them with a burning hatred and blame John Irving of “Garp”, if he founded the genre, as I think he did.  Mind you, sounds a bit like Dickens, when you think about it.

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Headlong

Blackpaint

30.05.13