Posts Tagged ‘John Cheever’

Blackpaint 522 – Cartels, Carpaccio, Cheever

November 27, 2015

Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman (2015)

This compelling documentary, about a self-defence militia in Mexico, set up by a charismatic doctor to defend his local towns and  villages against the Knights Templar cartel, is rather problematic.  There are a number of scenes that must surely be reconstructions, as the camera appears to be always in the right place to get the crucial shot and soundbite for the purpose of the narrative.  If it’s just the result of bravery, luck and brilliant editing, it’s stunning.  I’ve no doubt that the shoot  outs are genuine; at one point, someone appears to give the order on the soundtrack for a suspect to be murdered – and these are the good guys.  In the light of the beheadings, hangings, torture and rape shown and described, it’s not surprising that the “autodefensas” are likely to be merciless to the perpetrators when they catch them, I suppose.

cartel

It all goes wrong, of course; corruption sets in, the “autodefensas” are infiltrated by gangsters,  who form their own cartel within, the doctor turns out to be a sleaze who chats up young women on camera; he ends up in prison, having been betrayed by his erstwhile “officers”, who are co-opted by a corrupt government.

There is a parallel story about Tim Foley and his Arizona Border Recon, an American paramilitary force resisting incursions by “cartel members”.  Their operations seem rather pathetic, in comparison.

More from Venice

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Carpaccio, Accademia

Love those hats.

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Bellini,  Correr Museum

 

Albert Oehlen

Oehlen Hetzler

A beautiful catalogue published by the Galerie Max Hetzler of an exhibition seven or eight large paintings from 2014.  They are all on wood panels, with a white background; gestural, patches and flickering lines of fairly subdued colours, mostly including a grey cloud; no spray or computer work in these.  The trickle downs and freshness or the colours recall 60s Joan Mitchell.  And the cover unfolds into a poster of one of the paintings – pretty good for £14 odd.

John Cheever

I find his short stories just get better every time I read them; I’m on my third trip through the Collected Stories now.  They are polished, funny, often sad, sometimes shocking, sardonic, wise, brilliantly readable and they never pall, which is surprising, given the quite narrow social milieu in which they are set; New York/New England, upper middle class, servants, mansion apartments, holiday homes, leafy suburbs.  I’ve just finished “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill”.  I don’t think he’s a great novelist, however.  I’ve read most of them and the only memorable one, I think, is “Falconer”, his short prison novel.  The others just strike me as the short stories extended unnecessarily.

Finally finished a couple of new paintings:

Ospedale

Ospedale

black storm1

Black Storm

Blackpaint

27.11.15

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Blackpaint 508 – To the Finland Station

August 23, 2015

Amos Andersonin Taide Museo, Helsinki

The only art museum open on a Monday in Helsinki.  The exhibition was based on Work.  A number of OK paintings of tradesmen in a Realist style – I was going to say Socialist Realist, but that’s really anything but Realist, of course.  Blacksmiths, factory hands, supervisors, technicians, seal hunters, even two portraits of a famous conductor (orchestra, not bus) – but above all, log rollers.  A pretty big feature of the Finnish economy, log rolling, by the look of it.

My favourite exhibit was this group of workers, maybe a factory committee meeting, made of wood, each about 9 inches high:

workers

There was also a short film about an anxious young man starting work in a big factory somewhere in the 50s or 60s – a sort of “Look at Life” type thing for those who remember; he keeps getting reassuring smiles from older, experienced hands.  The result is like a sort of gay industrial promo, if there were such a thing.

Didrichsen Art Museum

A 20 minute bus ride from the centre, a Bauhaus-y building on a lake, set in a sculpture garden (Moore, Bernard Meadows), reminiscent of the Louisiana gallery outside Copenhagen, but much smaller.  Pictures by Finns painting from pre WW1, influenced by Fauves and Seurat, Symbolism and Expressionism.  Best were by Enckell, “the Awakening Faun” ( see below, rather like Duncan Grant, I think) – Ollila, “Four Women”, Ruokokoski, “Girl, 1911”, Sallinen, “Mirri” and “Landscape” and Makela, “Bridge Construction”.

Enckell 1

Enckell, The Awakening Faun

Additionally, there were paintings by the mysterious AW Finch, a painter and potter whose works showed up in several galleries and museums, but about whom there was no info.  turns out he was Belgian but of British extraction, and settled in Finland, pursuing a career first as painter, then potter, then painter again.  Here’s a Finch from the Didrichsen:

Finch

AW Finch

He normally works in short, diagonal strokes. top left to bottom right – unless he’s doing pointillism, of course.

There is also a great collection of Central and South American figures and artefacts, mostly Peruvian and Mexican – examples below:

mexicans

OK, enough Finland for today-  more next blog.

John Cheever and Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff and Donald Barthelme

I wrote last time, or time before, about “The Swimmer”; both the Cheever story and the great film based on it, featuring Burt Lancaster.  Predictably, the short stories pulled me back in and I’m ploughing through the great 700 odd page brick of the collection again.  Not that it’s in any way a chore – they are brilliant little masterpieces, polished and elegant (but not twee), undercut by humour, tragedy – “The Hartleys”, for instance – and with frequent interjections from the author to remind you that these are works of fiction, after all, and he can take them anywhere he feels like going.

The problem is that I now have to read the different, but equally brilliant Carver stories again – the one about the boys who catch the fish and cut it in half so they can both take it home, or the one about the carpet cleaner salesman that was referenced in “Mad Men”… Then of course, there’s Tobias Wolff – closer to Carver than Cheever, but a voice of his own (why hasn’t he published more lately?)  And Donald Barthelme; I think I caught a whiff of Barthelme’s light mania in one or two of the Cheever stories.

Stalker

As for films, I’m back in the Zone again, with Tarkovsky’s nervous guide throwing his nuts around in a sling, as the water pours down in the tunnel and the great black dog watches, while the Writer disobeys instructions.  Half an hour at a time is the way to watch Tarkovsky.

 

bloody wakefield

Bloody Wakefield Revisited

 

spider's song

Spider’s Song Again

Blackpaint

23.08.15

 

Blackpaint 506 – Light through the Thorns, Parrots in Boxes, Budgies in Trunks

August 8, 2015

William Gear – A Centenary Exhibition, Redfern Gallery, Cork Street W1

gear redfern 1

A couple of blogs ago (Blackpaint 502), I wrote about the Neil Stokoe exhibition at the Redfern, to which I’d gone. expecting William Gear.  Now the Gear is on, until September 5th and it’s well worth the trip to Green Park tube and the heat of Piccadilly to see it.

Gear exhibited with CoBra in 1949 – he and Stephen Gilbert were the only British artists – but I have to say, I don’t think he has a lot in common with painters like Appel; his work strikes me as much more like Adrian Heath, Bryan Wynter and even sometimes Patrick Heron, than the wilder, thicker, more gestural products of Appel and Jorn.  There is one painting, however, “Le Marche aux Fleurs” (1947), which could easily have been an early Jorn.

There are several recurring features of Gear’s work, the most prominent, perhaps, being the tangled bundle of jagged, hooked, thorn-like shapes he seemed to fling across his canvases, so that the patches of bright colour seem to peep out through a thicket of scrub.  The shapes are often, but not always, black.  Gear isn’t afraid of yellow; he uses a full spectrum, but it’s the yellow and black that stay with you after the Redfern.

Triangular grids are another feature, and there are a number of works like “Black Form on Red”(1957), that comprise two or three colours used in large, simple shapes, looking rather like sheets of thin leather or felt, collaged onto the canvas – Poliakoff, maybe, or Burri.  An influence that is suggested in the catalogue is that of Nicolas de Stael – I couldn’t see that, I have to say.

gear redfern 3

Good exhibition, in association with the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, where Gear was the curator in the 60s.  There was a great black, thorny self-portrait on show at the Pallant House in Chichester recently; maybe its still there.  made me think of Tony Bevan, a bit.

gear redfern 2

Joseph Cornell at the RA

cornell 1

This is an exhibition for those, and there are many of them apparently, who like quaint objects and photographs displayed in shallow boxes.  Inevitably, there is a large overlap with the likes of Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and other European surrealists; the difference being that, whereas Ernst, for example, also painted and sculpted, Cornell stuck to the box formula permanently.  Clearly, he had a thing for parrots and cockatoos; his work goes completely against the grain of North American art of the time (40s and 50s) in two ways – it’s small and it’s in boxes.  Although there were later, feminist, artists in the states who put things in drawers and boxes to display them – not parrots, though, as I recall….

cornell2

The Swimmer, Frank Perry (1968) DVD

I think John Cheever’s short story is a masterpiece of the form, one of the best of the 20th century; hard to think of others so perfect, maybe a couple of Joyce’s Dubliners or Margaret Atwood’s Serpent’s Egg.  The film is also a work of art, though very much of its era (Hamlisch’s lush theme music, coupled with jagged Johnny Staccato jazz riffs and some eye -watering psychedelic visuals).  Burt Lancaster is brilliant as the ageing playboy Ned Merrill, in his budgie smuggler trunks, swimming home across the county, by way of the “river” of swimming pools of his “friends”.  Lancaster is by turns genuinely creepy and strangely sympathetic, despite his insensitivity. The pools are not there for freeloading swimmers to propel their sweaty bodies through.

 

The Longest Journey, EM Forster

Even though I’m currently re-reading “Finnegans Wake”, Forster’s book is the strangest, most difficult novel I’ve struggled through for ages; I had to keep going back and reading bits over again to make sense of it.  the problem is twofold – the language: very arch, ironic, riddled with Edwardian Oxbridge phraseology and slang – and the concerns; “love children”, family disgrace, inheritance, the intellect v. the physical, the prosaic v.the poetic, genetic flaws, town and country, social class… Actually, that’s quite a lot and I’m sure I missed plenty.

I was interested to see that Forster kills his characters  in an even more offhand way than Virginia Woolf; a “hurt” at football, a drowning and a steam train across the knees- the last completely unsignalled (sorry) and dispassionate: “It is also a man’s duty to save his own life, and therefore he tried.  The train went over his knees.  He died up in Cadover, whispering “You have been right,” to Mrs Failing”.  That’s it.

 

finsbury mud 2

 

Finsbury Mud 2,

Blackpaint

08.08.15