Posts Tagged ‘John Berger’

Blackpaint 527 – Amy, Indian Fabric and Turner’s Dad

January 10, 2016

Paintings, not Artists

Since I started this blog five years or so ago, I’ve been writing about painters I like.   I’ve just had a startlingly obvious revelation, which is that all serious painters are capable of, and do produce beautiful paintings.  If you work at it, you’re going to produce something worth looking at, eventually – even if most of your other stuff is rubbish.   I go round art fairs, for example the London Art Fair coming up soon, and see something I like; if it’s by Roger Hilton or Gillian Ayres or someone of that stature, I remember it and maybe write about it.  If it’s by some unknown, I tend to think, well, maybe it’s not THAT good, or it’s derivative.  This goes double for abstract painters; I’m one myself and we make images (maybe an image of a plain white or black expanse) but often we don’t know if we’ve got a picture a just a load of blobs and lines or splotches.

So from now on, I’m going for paintings I think are striking, rather than just works from the canon.  And to start with – here’s a de Kooning.

interchange

Interchange

 

The Fabric of India, Victoria and Albert

Great exhibition this – if you’re into fabrics.  I’m afraid it’s like football with me; I recognise the quality but find my attention straying.  Plenty of history here, mostly from the Raj period, I think, no doubt detailing how the British all but destroyed the cotton industry in the sub continent by enforcing free trade for British exports whilst forcing out Indian imports with tariff barriers.

Anyway, most memorable piece for me was the votive flag, which looks African rather than Indian to me.  The “human” figures remind me of the demons in the Chaldon church mural – or even aboriginal rock drawings from Australia and Africa.  Can’t find a photo online, though, so you’ll need to go and see it.  While there, go and see –

Richard Learoyd, Dark Mirror,  V. and A.

learoyd

Beautiful, big photographs, made in a “camera obscura” room; not all ethereal young women – a dead hanging hare and a decapitated horse’s head in there too.  Reminds me a bit of Gerhard Richter, in Betty mode.

 

John Berger on Turner

Berger says two interesting things about Turner.  First, that his dad was a barber – and the suds and steam and general soapiness of the old barbershop influences the painter in some way.

Secondly, he says that Turner is all about violence.  Storms, avalanches, slaves being thrown overboard to the sharks, sea monsters, Houses of Parliament blazing; I suppose he’s got a point.

turner2

 

Then again, there’s Norham Castle at Sunrise…

turner1

Amy (2015) Asif Karpadia (dir)

I missed the whole meteoric career of Amy Winehouse, or at least, the music.  I blamed her for all that creaky, croaky, broken style of women’s singing that lots of young singers adopt these days; the sort where they move their hands up and down to different levels that go with the vocal stages they are croaking up or down to.  Then, I saw her doing “Love is a Losing Game” with just a guitar accompaniment at the Mercury awards in 2007, I think.  She was staggeringly good, which is a ridiculous understatement; and what a beautiful song.

great leap forward

Great Leap Forward,

Blackpaint,

10.01.16

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Blackpaint 525 – Tight Rope, Frenzy and Sex in Gothenberg

December 20, 2015

Tight Rope, White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey Street

This is a great exhibition; it has to do with artists who walk the line between figurative and abstract, I think (I haven’t read the book that goes with it yet – £20.00) – whatever, it has some lovely pictures from the likes of Guston, Bacon, Freud, Baselitz, Matisse, Duchamp et al.   It has one of the worst Picassos I’ve ever seen ( horrible, evil yellow with scrawls) and a terrific Tracey Emin figure on white over two or three panels.  My favourites below, starting with the great Bay Area painter David Park:

david park

Untitled (Portrait of Tom Jefferson), 1957

 

plessen

Magnus Plessen, Untitled, 2015

Plessen seems to have used tape which he has pulled off to get the straight lines.

 

armitage

Michael Armitage, Conservationists, 2015

 

Here’s the Emin –

tracey

Tracey Emin, I think of you all the time

 

– and here’s the Picasso –

picasso mustache

Picasso, Man with a Mustache, 1970

Despite the Picasso, there are loads of excellent pictures here.  Even the ones I didn’t like – Dana Schulz’ retina-burners, for example – made me want to go home and paint immediately; those chunky but slippery brush sweeps, I imagine.

Also on show there are Gilbert and George’s “Fuck You” posters (that’s probably not their proper title, but gives an idea of the content).  Should detain you for a minute or so, long enough to read them all.

 

John Berger on Rembrandt and Goya

I’m reading Berger’s “Portraits – John Berger on Artists” and I find him insufferably precious at times – “It is remarkable how, for those who suffer a desire for art, so much does begin and end in it” (the National Gallery).  He also tends to make confident assertions about doubtful things.  There are examples throughout, but here’s one: “Goya lived and observed through something near enough to total war to know that night is security and that it is the dawn that one fears”; is that really right?  It fits his argument..

However, his comments on Rembrandt’s late self-portraits are interesting; he suggests that R. painted himself from memory, rather than using mirrors – thus avoiding the theatricality that Berger says always creeps in when artists do mirror SPs.  Have a look at the Courbet SP “The Desperate Man” to see what he means.

courbet

OK, it’s an extreme example.  Berger also suggests that Goya painted “the Naked Maja” from imagination – he simply did the clothed Maja without the clothes.  In evidence, he offers the breasts; falling unnaturally to the sides as they had done when she was dressed.  That’s what Berger says, anyway.

Frenzy

Hitchcock’s murder film on TV the other night; the cast was staggering, straight off the Shakespearian stage of the 70s – Jon Finch, Anna Massey, Billie Whitelaw, Clive Swift, Barry Foster et al.  The lewd conversation between barristers and the pub landlady about rape comes as quite a shock to contemporary ears and there is a very nasty rape sequence later.  Great bit in the back of the potato lorry, however.

Star Wars – film critics

They’ve all abandoned their critical faculties; not worth listening to (as I write, Mark Kermode is on TV, shouting and waving his arms about).

Casanova

Fellini, Donald Sutherland in the title role, having sex with a mechanical life-sized doll in Gothenburg, a debauched Dudley Sutton playing a harmonium halfway up a wall…  Now, that’s what I call a film.

 

dirty protest2

I’ve finally finished a picture – here it is; it’s called

Dirty Protest

Blackpaint

19.12.15

Blackpaint 520 – Bellini, Bruegel, Bosch, Berger, Bromden, Bergman

November 16, 2015

Giovanni Bellini again

Returning briefly to Venice,  I have to post a few of Bellini’s Virgins; it’s so obviously the same young girl modelling the BVM and the same child too, I think – ginger hair and normal proportions.

bellini1

virgin1

virgin2

Definitely a different child in this one though.. or much younger.

virgin3

In the new John Berger collection, “Portraits” (Ed. Tom Overton, Verso 2015) , Berger says that Bellini’s Virgins represent a journey towards the open air; they start in dark interiors and progress towards open meadows.

Portraits; John Berger on Artists

Two more startling insights – well, I found them startling – on Bosch and Bruegel:

pieter-_bruegel-

The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562)

“…Bruegel’s paintings are more relevant to modern war and the concentration camps than almost any painted since.”  I find that hard to contest, looking at the “Triumph”;

hieronymus-bosch-triptych-of-garden-of-earthly-delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch (1500 – 5)

Berger compares Bosch’s vision of Hell to “a typical CNN news bulletin, or any mass media news commentary.  There is a comparable incoherence, a comparable wilderness of separate excitements, a similar frenzy.

“Bosch’s prophecy was of the world-picture which is communicated to us today by the media under the impact of globalisation, with its delinquent need to sell incessantly.”

Overstated no doubt, but apart from the last bit about selling, I thought this was pretty close to right, as regards the coverage of the Paris murders on Friday night.  Sky, Euronews, France 24 all overstated the numbers of dead, as if they weren’t bad enough; BBC repeated some story on Twitter about the jungle camp at Calais being on fire (why do they repeat this shit on “social media”?); it seemed to me that Al Jazeera came closest to getting casualty numbers and other details right at the time.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

ratched

I was roundly criticised by women friends for praising this “misogynist and racist” film when it was first released back in 1975 – and no doubt some of the criticism was justified.  Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) is the embodiment of controlling, malignant authoritarianism; the thuggish, cynical guards are black, the mental patients are white (exception being Chief Bromden, played by Will Sampson) and the anti-hero McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) treats his girlfriends as chattels, to be smuggled into the institution for sex – with himself, Turkle the corrupt guard (the brilliant Scatman Crothers) and, disastrously, with Billy (Brad Dourif).  McMurphy comes close to strangling Nurse Ratched near the end, so violence against women too.

After watching it again on DVD, I have to say that it was even better than I remember; the fishing expedition, the after-hours orgy and the rousing ending were the highlights.  They don’t make them like that any more; tried to think of something similar and the best I could do was Mark Rylance as Rooster in Jez Butterworth’s play “Jerusalem”.

chief

I was sad to read on Wikipedia that Will Sampson died of scleroderma at only 54, after a heart and lungs transplant.

Ingmar Bergman

I wrote last week that a lot of Bergman’s films seem to be set on islands; I did a bit of research and found there are at least seven, starting with “Eva” in 1948 to “The Passions of Anna” in 1969.  Bergman moved to the Swedish island of Faro in the early 60s and founded a studio there – but there were already three films that were wholly or partly island -bound. Something to do with isolating the characters and developing the tensions or attractions between them, maybe; or, as in “Shame” (1968), watching the effect of the outside world bursting in on them – civil war in this case.

shame

Bergman was arrested for tax evasion in 1976; although the charge was dropped, he closed down Faro and said he would make no more films in Sweden.

I was going to write something about Kitaj, but since he doesn’t begin with a “B”, it would mess up my title – so next time.

life2,

 

life6

A couple of life drawings/paintings – yes, I know, but I can assure you the model is alive – or at least, he was when I did it.

Blackpaint

16.11.15

Blackpaint 171

July 24, 2010

Michelangelo

His St. Matthew statue, emerging from the marble, brandishing a bible in left hand and with a curious square structure in chest region, looks like some sculpture from the 1910’s or 20’s – Gill maybe, but rougher of course; Epstein? Not really, but that era.  Later, I’ll be looking at something Michaael Craig-Martin said about drawing, how it can bridge the ages whereas sculpture and painting can’t; I think this is an exception.  It was  made as part  of the grandiose Julius Tomb project, which led to furious rows between Julius II and Michelangelo, and a flight from Rome to Florence by M.

Drawing

My moaning in Bp.170 about the Adrian Searle article was caused by the fact that articles exalting the process of drawing often go on to use it as an opportunity to attack Abstract Expressionism (carefully excluding de Kooning and a few others) on the grounds that they have to do abstracts because they can’t draw.  William Boyd, I think, was the last one I read putting this view forward.  Robert Hughes, in his diatribes against Basquiat and Schnabel, dismissed a later generation of artists on these lines, but would not include the earlier Ab Exes, whose integrity and importance are manifest.

The tone of this precious stuff about the supremacy of drawing can at times reach amusing levels – try the correspondence between John Berger and Leon Kossoff in the Penguin Book of Art Writing;   no doubt, they are both most sincere in their mutual praise, but even so, it’s a bit much…

Michael Craig-Martin

What he said was that drawings of great artists from  all ages can “speak directly to each other” in a way that paintings and sculpture cannot.  “The drawings of Rembrandt can speak directly to the work of Beckmann or Guston, …Leonardo to Newman or Andre, Michelangelo to Duchamp…”; paintings are more rooted in historical values, have a “cultural as well as  a physical density” that it is hard to transcend.

I suppose this boils down to “Some drawings look as if they could have been done yesterday or a thousand years ago, because techniques of shading etc. haven’t changed that much”.  That sounds fair enough, but the rest of the assertions need clarification, at least;  HOW exactly do Leonardo’s drawings speak directly to Newman or Andre?  We’ll never know, because this is art writing.

Barnett Newman

Since I’ve mentioned him, I have to refer to his appearance on “Painters Painting” DVD I blogged about in 170.  Drink and smoke in  hand (like all the rest), a bit tearful, looking like  anything but an  American Ab Ex in his tight suit and thick  moustache.  In the Penguin art book, he makes the wonderful, wild assertion that the creative, artistic  urge came before anything else for primitive man.  The whole article is a statement of pride really in his “calling”, although I’m not sure he would have called it  that.  Anyway, after reading that, I saw  his green zip painting in the DVD – anything you say is right, Mr. Newman.

Tom McCarthy

While we are on assertions, lovely one in the Guardian Review today from the above; in Blake’s Tyger, Tyger the beast represents the Industrial Revolution.  Blackpaint says: No, it doesn’t.  I thought the stuff on Finnegans Wake was interesting, though, containing as  it did assertions with which I agree.

Work in progress, by Blackpaint

22.07.10