Posts Tagged ‘Laura Cumming’

Blackpaint 502 – What’s the Meaning of this?

July 5, 2015

Meaning in Abstraction

Jonathan Jones on Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots (Tate Liverpool) in the Guardian and now Laura Cumming in the Observer, also on Pollock, raise the question of meaning in painting.  Cumming writes eloquently about “Pollock’s leaping black lines – apparently describing nothing – as free as a bird to be purely, sheerly visual as they dance across the canvas”; she then spends much of the rest of her article spotting images in the paintings – “a massive figure powers along against a billowing yellow sky”.

pollock no.12 52

No.12, 1952

Jones, earlier in the week, also wrote about the images in Pollock’s work, quoting him: “I choose to veil the image”… and then commenting, “In other words, the image is there – meaning is there – always.  And in his later paintings it breaks out like a sickness.”

The image is there – meaning is there… so no image, no meaning.  How does this square with his recent championing of Bridget Riley and Howard Hodgkin?  She was doing “science” (opticals etc.), he was doing emotion. What about painters like Hoyland?  just decoration, presumably.

It’s irritating to read critics spotting shapes in the painting, even if everybody does – I was seeing tits everywhere in Diebenkorn’s “abstract landscapes” the other week; but worse is the implication that paintings without images from “reality” are meaningless.  The meaning is the picture, the picture is itself.

Neil Stokoe: Paintings from the 60s on. (Redfern Gallery, Cork Street W1)

What a pity that this finishes today (Sunday)!  I only discovered the exhibition (and the painter) on Wednesday, when I went looking for an upcoming William Gear exhibition at the same gallery.

Stokoe is now 80; he was at the Royal College of Art with – get ready – Hockney, Kitaj, Frank Bowling, Allen Jones, Derek Boshier; Pauline Boty was there and Caulfield the following year.  He was a friend of Bacon.  He had a canvas bought by the Arts Council in 1970 after his first exhibition and then – not very much for 30- odd years.  He went into teaching at Wimbledon, but carried on painting.

The astonishing thing is the size of the paintings he was producing – and stacking against the wall, presumably.  They are massive – “Man and Woman in Room with Spiral Staircase” (1970) is 214 x 214 cms and the others are around that size.

stokoe richard burton

 

The colours are pinks, bright blues, acid yellows sometimes set in dark surroundings, as above; in one or two, the face is “Bacon-ised” but I think the settings show more of the influence of the older painter – the spiral staircases, somehow (a recurring feature in Stokoe’s work; I count seven in the catalogue) and in “Figure with Black Couch” (1968), the couch itself provides an arena very like the rails and circles Bacon used.  Something else that occurred to me is the resemblance to Joanna Hogg’s last film, “Exhibition”.  It’s not just the spiral staircase thing, but the colours as well – that acid, lurid, neon, ice cream palette.

Anyway, I guess it’s finished now, so look him up online – there’s a great photo of him from “The Tatler”, which covered the private view of his earlier exhibition at the Piper Gallery.

All is Lost (JC Chandor)

Got this on DVD, having missed the release.  Redford is pretty good for 79, although I noticed there were a couple of stunt doubles in the credits; I’m sure that was him up the mast though.  Classic American lean, hard, nameless hero against Big Nature, not giving up, fighting on to the bitter end.  Facially, he seemed at times to be morphing into Burt Lancaster.  Great shots, particularly those of the life raft from below, in tandem on the surface with the moon’s reflection.  I wonder how many, like me,  were expecting the oceanic white tips to show up again at the end (see previous Blackpaint on “Gravity”).  Great film; awful, portentous score.

Les Enfants Terribles, Cocteau

I’ve been re-reading this because it’s thin; I was surprised to find how much it reminded me of MacEwan’s “Cement Garden” – or the other way round, I suppose.  No doubt I’m about 45 years late in making that observation.

Hepworth at Tate Britain

Had to put these torsos in – there are three in a case together, but I can’t remember who did the third; Skeaping, I think.

Torso 1928 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03128

Hepworth torso

Torso 1914 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915 Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03731

Gaudier Brzeska torso

By the way, if you want to buy a Barbara Hepworth style duffle jacket at the Tate, you can do so for £400+; a sculpting shirt will set you back £300 odd.  Bargains, I think you’ll agree.

red and blue on ochre 1

Red and Blue on Ochre – NB It’s without meaning…

Blackpaint

05.07.15

 

 

 

 

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Blackpaint 306

November 19, 2011

Leonardo

I thought Laura Cumming said something interesting in last week’s Observer; referring to the “images” (presumably both the drawings and the paintings), she says, “The line (is) controlled, incised, repeated: nothing spontaneous, everything studied”.  It’s not clear to me whether there is an implied criticism in this statement but that, for me, in essence, is why I prefer Michelangelo’s line, in paintings at least; drawing is another matter.

Again, writing about Cecilia’s stoat, Cumming refers to “the sheer strangeness of this wild thing, so impossibly still” – she’s right; the animal is aroused, looking in the same direction as the girl, as if it has just spotted a movement, yet the body lacks that tension of the predator alerted.

She shares other critics’ reservations about the Salvator Mundi, too; the stoned eyes, the fingers holding an invisible joint…  All this is unremarkable really, except insofar as there has been a concert of inflated praise for this exhibition on the TV, that makes you want to find fault.  Everything is “incredible”, the pictures show us the “souls” of the sitters, and on and on.  I suppose I’ll go to see it, but I’ll be looking to find fault.  I expect Leo will be quaking, up there in painters’ heaven.

Venice Biennale

Since this is now over, I’ll just mention three more artists that made a (good) impression:

the first is Christian Boltanski, who was the French contribution.  A huge roomful of old-fashioned printing apparatus, producing poster-sized baby pictures, which are simultaneously thrown up on screens to make composite faces, half -child, half-adult.  Digital scoreboard with ever-increasing numbers in green (births?) and red (deaths?).  If this interpretation is correct, quite a “complete” artistic statement. 

Next, the Egyptian pavilion; filmed sequences of the demos in Tahrir Square, during which Ahmed Basiouny dressed in an Alien-shaped polythene head bubble and ran on the spot for 30 days.  Ominously, the film showed him pouring fluid on and around himself on “Last Day” – since the wall info said that he had died during the demos and rioting, with no further information, we thought he might have self-immolated on film.  Thankfully, this was not the case.

Finally, the Russian pavilion had a moving record of  Andrei Monastyrski and “Collective Actions” the guerilla art group in the 70s and 80s who did pop-up exhibitions in the open air, lasting until the FSB, (or KGB were they still then?) turned up to attack them and destroy the artworks.  Also Gulag hut/bunk mock ups, snow, fur hats, vivid coloured paintings against the blinding white of the snow….

Bela Tarr

At the risk of being boring – surely not – I must mention the above again, in terms of texture.  I’m watching “Satantango” again – Susan Sonntag said it should be watched once a year, but she obviously wasn’t a real fan – and almost every shot contains texture; soaked woollen garments, scabby cladding on mouldering brickwork, rotting wooden doors and casements, seamed, creased faces, running with rain, great clods of juicy mud with mirrors of rainwater (it often rains in Tarr’s Hungary).  But the sound is also all texture, the crunch and scrape of boots on lino, a drained bottle of fruit brandy clunking to the floor.  Just fantastic -you can chew it.

Blackpaint  (Chris Lessware)

19.11.11

Blackpaint 295

September 19, 2011

Degas

Laura Cumming, reviewing the new show at the RA, says that Degas is more Michelangelo than Leonardo – what does she mean by this?  Maybe that Leo was more concerned with physical accuracy, the exact position and function of muscles, bones and flesh than Michelangelo; M was more ready to distort, exaggerate, generalise, to enhance the presentation of physical effort, posture. dramatic action… that seems fair enough comment.  She says that Degas seems to somehow project himself (spiritually, mentally) into the bodies of his ballet girls, to partake in their physical being in some way; that seems to me to be fanciful.  Surely it’s what anyone drawing a figure does, sort of, isn’t it?

Edward Lucie – Smith

I’m getting a lot out of his “Art Movements since 1945” (see previous blogs); he makes the connection between Kurt Schwitters and his Merzbauten and people like George Segal and Ed Kienholz, who produced environmental artworks in the 50s and 60s – that is, works that you walk through and round.  I’d thought of him as someone who produced beautiful little collages of wood, cloth etc.

Jasper Johns

Looking at those works of his from the 60s in which he “quotes” from art history – notably the Isenheim Altarpiece (Grunewald) in “Perilous Night”, but also Leonardo, Picasso and others.  These are quotes however, rather than the “re-imaginings” of earlier works by Picasso himself (Manet, Delacroix, Velasquez) or Auerbach (Rembrandt et al).  I suppose the most recent of this school would be Dexter Dalwood – he quotes like Johns, rather than doing his own versions.

As for Johns, the works which are my favourites are the big canvases with attachments like brooms, and collaged bits, those bolts of colour, red, yellow, orange, often on a blue background; the grey curtains of thinned paint soaking down into the fabric (see  “According to What” 1964), the stencilled lettering….

Bruegel

In “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent”, according to the Taschen book by the Hagens, the fat Lord of Carnival astride the barrel represents Protestantism, while Catholicism is personified by the lean, haggard, hungry figure with a beehive on his head (no explanation of the beehive offered!).  This is a novel presentation; Prots – or rather, the Puritan variety – are more usually lean, stern killjoys, the Catholics happy to feast and keep Christmas.  I suppose this is an English, or more precisely, Shakespeareian representation.

Willem de Kooning

I’ve never seen a contrast more clear and tragic than that between his paintings of 1983 onwards, as Alzheimer’s or whatever variant it was, took hold, and those from before.  The later ones are cleanly painted snakey loops of pastel colour on empty canvas, tangled but spaced out, textureless.  Go back to 66/67, say, “Two Figures in a Landscape” or “The Visit” – splotches, streaks, swathes, bleeds and trickles, pink, green, yellow, white, blue-black, scratched, scored and worked like Appel but much more subtle somehow; rich, swarming texture… fantastic.

Larry Rivers

I love the loose way he paints figures and faces – reminds me of Jim Dine or even more, Kitaj’ s figure drawings.  See “Parts of the Body; French Anatomy Lesson”.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Reading this, it strikes me that the old film was perfectly cast.  I can’t imagine any actors better than Stamp, Christie, Bates and Peter Finch in their respective roles as Troy, Bathsheba, Gabriel and Farmer Boldwood.  And of course, Dave Swarbrick as the fiddler at the post-harvest piss up…

Blackpaint

19/09/11

Blackpaint 283

July 3, 2011

Last Year in Marienbad

Watching this, I have discovered, like thousands before me, no doubt,  the source of many parodies – especially that one where actors speak a pretentious sentence whilst gazing out at the audience and mid-sentence, the scene changes and they’re in different clothes or a different place.  This is not to denigrate the film – it’s beautiful (and so is Delphine Seyrig) and anyway, I love pretentious films; cliches and parodies are so often born from great art, n’est-ce pas?  Loved the Max Ernst feather dress, too.

It strikes me that L’Age d’Or could have been done as an “anti – Marienbad” – if it wasn’t 30 years older.  the couple in Marienbad are sort of polar opposites to the couple in the Bunuel film – stylistically anyway.. but now I’m starting to see parallels, so will stop with that…

Laura Cumming on Magritte

Last Sunday, reviewing the Magritte show at the Tate Liverpool, LC wrote in the Observer that Magritte’s work was “a sustained exploration of painting itself, how it works, what it can ever show or truly say”.  I think this is an astonishing claim for a painter who, most critics seem to agree, was no great shakes as a user of paint, but was a competent illustrator – a man who was a good commercial artist.  Surely, it’s the power of his images that makes him interesting, as well as the champion poster – shifter, apparently (or maybe it’s the most book covers).  His painting is as good as it needs to be to get the idea across – he’s a conceptual artist, who doesn’t really explore painting at all.

Cartoon Museum – Steve Bell  

This is in a little street opposite the front entrance of the British Museum and contains a great exhibition of Bell’s work.  I was surprised at how well some of his characters stand up after a few years (Bell turns his politicians into characters, for example the Iron Lady and Major with the underpants, Blair with the mad eye, Cameron with the condom head); I remember them seeming a bit crude and even silly to me, when he first did them.  Now, they strike me as epic.  Then, there are the variations on famous paintings; my favourites are Major’s underpants burning on the Thames (after Turner), Blair about to be inundated by an overcurling tidal wave of shit in the form of Gordon Brown (after Hokusai) and Brown as a boxer, flat on the mat, punching himself in the face (I think that was a Bell original).

There is also the French artist, the penguin, the monkey, the sheep, the chief inspector….

There’s a fascinating video of Bell going about his work at party conferences and doing his own commentary.  As you would expect, he finds a physical peculiarity and develops it – Cameron’s smooth cheeks and a certain wateriness of the eyes that suggest a fishiness to him; Osborne’s slightly bulging neck and, especially, the bum nose-end.  Go and see it, after the Australian prints and drawings in the BM.

Whitechapel Gallery 

Here, for free, is an exhibition of some of the art works that have been chosen by various politicians and diplomats to decorate their offices and reception rooms.  The one I particularly liked was a photograph by David Dawson of Lucian Freud, painting the queen.  She’s sitting there, in a plain plastered room (presumably in Buck House?? – no; St.James’ Palace ) with a crack running across one wall, in a very ordinary-looking coat – with her crown on.  More of this exhibition tomorrow, along with Vorticists, Twombly and others.

Blackpaint

02.07.11

Blackpaint 266

April 11, 2011

Susan Hiller

Revisited this exhibition, and found several whole rooms I missed the first time.  In one, a series of different films were playing, each showing a young girl – I think they were all girls – displaying psycho-kinetic powers; moving things until they fell off tables, causing things to burst into flames (think I recognised Drew Barrymore in “Firestarter”).  Then,  a burst of what the catalogue calls white noise and everything changes place.

The fact that they were all girls or young women is interesting; I suppose Stephen King appropriated the idea with Carrie and then Firestarter.  The first example I remember, however, was a short story about a boy with such powers, who destroyed or “rearranged” things horribly when he heard his family or neighbours complaining – so they had to spend all their time saying how good everything was.  Can’t remember the author – Ray Bradbury maybe, or Richard Matheson.

The next room was another video display, this time of characters from Punch and Judy shows, blown up and slightly blurred, to the soundtrack of “Night of the Hunter” – the bit in which Robert Mitchum delivers a sermon based on the “love” and “hate” tattoos on his fingers.

Finally, there was a video of tourists and shoppe rs passing through a number of Juden Strasses in Germany or Austria.  The bright, chilly blue skies, shops, strolling tourists, backpackers.. generally, everyday, banal scenes make a powerful comment on the vanished history implied in the street names.

So, some memorable images – but I still found, on looking at the catalogue, that I’d missed most of it!  Get this more and more, the feeling that I’d been to a different exhibition to the one described.

Emil Kusturica, Underground

Exhausting, full-tilt charge through from WW2 through to the civil war(s) and the break-up of Yugoslavia – comic, surreal, tragic by turns and the source, perhaps, of that Balkan Brass/turbo-folk style that you hear all over the place, from the Django festival at Samois to that manic gypsy band  on “Later”, to the trumpet-based buskers by the Millennium Bridge.  At the end, all the dead come alive again underwater, climb out onto Yugoslavia island and float off together into memory.

Four great under (fresh)water sequences – L’Atalante of course, Underground, Atonement (the fountain and Balham underground station) and Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (the flooding of the valley).  Saltwater – Jaws of course, Tabu, Gallipoli …

Laura Cumming’s Watercolour top ten

In the Observer;  The Turner, Palmer, Melville and Blake all good choices.  Ravilious boring – a greenhouse? – Gwen John OK.  Cumming’s number one was the Hockney self-portrait; not particularly watercolour, could have been oil or pastel, but a great SP – that intense stare that you get when you try to do a likeness of yourself.. like those descriptions of murderers – “But what I remember most, Officer, was his staring eyes”…

Michelangelo

At the time of his death, Michelangelo was still working on the Rondanini Pieta, now in Milan.  In it, the body of Christ is supported by the Virgin Mary – but it looks, in fact, as if she is being carried on the dead Christ’s shoulders.  In addition, Christ has a free-floating right arm, done in an earlier phase (the sculpture was begun in 1552 or 3), indicating a much bigger Christ figure.  It looks strangely modern, like a Rodin perhaps, and with a lovely, curving, downward sweep – echoing at the end the apparent modernity of Matthew, done in 1506.

Below, my cover for Greg Woods’ new collection, “An Ordinary Dog”, to be published by Carcanet Books this coming June.

New Rose

Blackpaint

11,04.11

Blackpaint 258

March 9, 2011

Cumming on Spero

Laura Cumming on Nancy Spero at the Serpentine in Sunday’s Observer says the following: ” She did not paint with oil on canvas – the canonical male medium – and she did not sculpt.”  Instead, Spero used paper as a feminist statement.  I assume that the words “the canonical male medium” are Cummings’, since they are not in parenthesis in the paper.  It’s nonsense, isn’t it?  All of the women artists that I can think of paint with oils on canvas at least sometimes.  Ayres, Mitchell, Clough, Blow,  Frankenthaler, Krasner, Dumas, and on and on…..  Canvas is not “gendered”, as far as I can see, and neither are oils.  It’s OK – desirable, really – for Spero to have been a bit mad; she was an artist, after all.  Critics surely should maintain a – critical stance.

Having said that, the exhibition sounds worth a visit – “Men and women wheel through the air, impaled on helicopter blades.  Scorched bodies, the colour of burnt bacon…” – sounds like” Salo” without the shit eating.

Greer on art in the Guardian

Interesting article by Germaine Greer on above, in which she concludes that graffiti artists are true artists.  The sentence that caught my eye was this one: “(the graffiti artists) are working within a demanding tradition that requires the sequence of execution to have been worked out in detail in advance, before any mark can be made.”  This may well be so; it reminds me of Richard Dorment on Van Gogh, how (according to Dorment) VG worked out every colour and mark before starting a painting.  What a dispiriting thought!  No improvisation, no accidents, no going with the development, no errors and corrections, no intuition, no flying by the seat of the pants – sorry, cliche – what IS flying by the seat of the pants, anyway?  Sketches are usually better than worked-up paintings, anyway; more life, more fun.

Van Gogh

Probably mentioned this already, but I was struck by the description of his shading marks in drawings as being like iron filings arranging themselves around a magnet.  Read it in the Taschen double volume, but can’t  remember the source; good though.

Turner

A while back, I mentioned how there’s an obvious figure in Lanyon’s “Lost Mine” (in the Tate Britain), but I couldn’t see it for years until someone pointed it out.  Same with Turner’s “Sea Monsters” – I’d always seen it as one big fish face, staring out at the viewer; now, after reading the Taschen (I know, still no shares),. I can’t see it as anything but two fishes side on, sort of jumping at each other.

Entrance fees for London galleries and museums

Tristram Hunt’s bad idea.  Someone said to me its mostly foreign tourists who go – they expect to pay and can afford it.  Even if this were so, it seems to me to be something of a cheek to charge them on this basis; if they’re Greek, Iraqi, Iranian, Egyptian, Turkish, Afghan, Indian etc., they would be paying to see treasures that our forefathers disassembled and shipped home in dodgy circumstances.  We nicked most of it, didn’t we, one way or another.

Blackpaint

Shrove Tuesday

 

 

 

Blackpaint 253

February 22, 2011

Susan Hiller

At the Tate Britain.  Three or four things stuck in my mind, but I’m going again because I’m sure there’s more to it.  Trouble is, you have to read the artspeak explanations to fully understand – and life is too short.  Anyway, this is what I saw (and heard):

A large collection of sepia to Eastman colour postcards of huge waves crashing over British promenades – some of these may have been altered by artist; not sure.

Recordings of one line phrases in dying languages, by the last living speakers.  Several First Nation tribes of the Americas – Welsh Romany caught my eye and ear.

A collection of Victorian memorial plaques to people who had died trying to save others; lots of fires, drownings, falls through ice, traffic accidents (horse-drawn).  Lots of children trying to save siblings.

A dark room full of a forest of hanging ear phones; voices telling stories in a number of languages, the one in English I listened to was about UFOs.

A series of vivid red and yellow photos under glass, of faces blurred and faded – all female I think (?)

So, dying, fading, becoming extinct, blurring, failing to communicate, haunting …..  Now to read the booklet and find out what it was really all about.

Fellini’s Eight and a Half (How do you do fractions in figures on a keyboard?)

Fantastic film, of course; Mastroianni as a preening, but harrassed, film director, pursued by adoring and demanding lovers, scorned by an inexplicably bitter wife, tortured by the idea that he may just be superficial and have nothing to say.  He wears his overcoat over his shoulders and has a floppy, wide brimmed fedora as he saunters through the film, greeting, blowing kisses, politely stonewalling..  It ends with a startlingly affecting sequence in which the entire cast parade down an open staircase into an arena, led by  marching troupe of musical clowns.  Reminiscent of the closing sequence of Russian Ark (see Blackpaint 232).

Franz Marc and August Macke

German Expressionists, both killed in WWI, I’d tended to conflate their work – but they are actually quite distinct.  Marc’s colours are darker and glow more intensely; Macke’s are fresh, bright and lighter.  Think I prefer Macke, at the moment; I love those women with the ankle length skirts and no feet, like bowling pins.

Turner

Andrew Graham -Dixon made an interesting observation on the Culture Show, that maybe Turner needed the medium of watercolour, its propensity to spread and run of its own accord, to achieve the sort of freedom he showed in “Ship on Fire”.  Maybe, but when you see what he could do in oils, the Petworth paintings, Sea Monsters, the storm at the harbour mouth with the long title – you know the one …

The Taschen is good on Turner’s perspective “problems” in “House of Commons on Fire” – check the far end of the bridge in relation to the fire – and in the one of Raphael in Rome – the balcony.  Does it matter? Of course not, but interesting.  Also, there is the recurring woman, rear view, leaning forward, in the Petworth and “bivalve” paintings.

“Fig Leaf” – Obscured Objects of Desire

A couple of things popped up on this survey of sculptural censorship on TV last night that were new to me.  First, the Greeks used to paint their statues.  Apparently, this is common knowledge to the decently educated, but was news to me.  Does that mean the Romans did too?  I would guess it does – which implies a break with tradition, on the part of the Renaissance sculptors.

Second, an explanation for the diminutive genitals on Greek statues; a small penis was a sign of “control and restraint – of good citizenship”, according to Stephen Smith, author and presenter of the programme.  This explains the small penis displayed by David – Michelangelo was following the tradition.  I’m glad to have an answer to this question, which I have touched on in earlier blogs.

The Risen Christ

Smith featured the above sculpture, in which Michelangelo presented Christ naked, with one arm around a cross.  It was attacked with a hammer by a monk in the 17th century and now wears a bronze loincloth affair.

Laura Cumming on Watercolour

Excellent review in Observer, except that she seems to share Searle’s inexplicable dislike of Blow’s “Vivace”.  Cumming describes it as “hugely inflated” – so it is, but in a totally good way.  Sometimes it’s right to blast away the understated, quietly magical, wonderfully executed, minutely observed, immensely subtle….  Chuck a great big bucket of red over it.

Blackpaint

22.02.11

Blackpaint 216

November 7, 2010

Ai Weiwei

Unbelievably, the Chinese have demolished his studio and now placed him under house arrest, presumably because of his support for dissidents and general refusal to toe the line.  His installation, which got such a lot of bemused comment in the British media because of the porcelain dust business, is still “on” in the Tate Modern, our main showcase of modern art to the world; the current campaign of intimidation against him should be headline news, surely.  The Chinese government are also trying to stop ambassadors from attending the Nobel Prize award to Liu Xiaobo.

Arthur Melville

One of the Glasgow Boys, current exhibition at the Royal Academy, this is the painter who has a little picture at the NG of Scotland in Edinburgh that appears to be as near to abstract as makes no difference (see Blackpaint 139, May 24th).  This surely makes it the earliest abstract in Western art (?).  Laura Cumming, in her review of the show, mentions it and points out that it is actually an impressionistic rendering of a scene at the Moulin Rouge, but rightly says it is more like Abstract Expressionism than any other movement around at the time.  Melville’s  more conventional paintings are hugely impressive too; the one in the Observer reminds me of something by Brueghel, big red-flanked mountains, a U shaped lake at the foot (no serpent, unfortunately) – that is, until you notice the brushwork.  Haven’t been to the RA yet, so don’t know if the Moulin Rouge pictures are in the show – I suspect not, or they would have been reproduced in the Observer article.

Zoe Leonard

Should have included her in my list of artists using strange materials (see Blackpaint 162, July 5th): she has made baseballs (must be – she’s from New York) out of orange and grapefruit peel, stitched in sections and a purse out of banana skin with zip fastener attached; “unzip a banana”, as the advert used to tell us.

Mariotto Albertinelli

A strange “Creation and Fall” in the  Courtauld collection by this artist;  Eve is emerging from the sleeping Adam’s side, assisted by an angel supporting each elbow.  To the right of sleeping Adam is Adam awake, receiving the fruit from Eve, who stands by the Tree.  The serpent’s human (but sexually indeterminate) head appears to be whispering in her ear – and a thin twig from the tree, or maybe a foot of the serpent, appears to be tickling her pubic hair.

Blackpaint’s Quiz

A new feature, the result of inexorable dumbing-down pressures on the writer.  Correct answers will be included in Comments, of course – and that will  constitute the prize.

Q.  Who painted a plaster head, a green ball and a glove (looks like rubber) in the same painting?

St.Dorothy by Blackpaint

6.11.10

Blackpaint 195

September 18, 2010

Rachel Whiteread

At the Tate Britain, only a fiver.  These are mainly drawings and were described as “unnerving” in one of the weekend broadsheets, the Telegraph I think; who do they get to write this stuff?  A hooded figure coming towards you in an alley with a knife is unnerving – a picture of a light green door on slightly darker graph paper is not.

Many of the drawings are on graph paper (see Blackpaint 194); sometimes Whiteread has used the grids to plot the drawings, sometimes she’s ignored them and drawn freehand.  The first section shows tables and chairs; executed in caramel coloured varnish which has run at the edges.  According to the leaflet, “thick drops of condensed varnish recall bodily fluids and emanate a visceral materiality”.  If the writer were discussing the beds and mattresses section, fair enough; in fact, there is a stain on the biscuit-shaped mattress which definitely recalls bodily fluids – but tables?

Floors

She broadens the media used – pencil, oil crayon, correction fluid, ink  and varnish.  Interlocking parquet floors, a bit monochrome Sean Scully, uneven, wobbly, one in black with tippex, a couple of white ones.  The black one looks like a snakeskin.

Beds and Mattresses

The drawing described by Laura Cumming as like a Tuc biscuit, this is the one with the stain.  Could be tea, I suppose, rather than “bodily fluid”.

Baths and Slabs

I have a note, mysteriously titled “Lib and Hole”(??) which says “ink on card – a proper drawing!  coffin shaped.”  By “proper drawing”, I mean one with shading to indicate depth and volume – not being dismissive, it’s just that the others have none.  I think this must be in this section, because the leaflet refers to the cast of a mortuary slab.

House, Room, Stairs

Photographs of the site of Whiteread’s “ghost house”, with the house blocked in in white.  A drawing in Tippex on black paper of a flight of steps, endlessly ascending and descending.

Doors, Windows, Switches

The door, which does not look like an exclamation mark (see 194), and “Twenty four Switches Both on and off”, in silver leaf and ink.  The switches are only really visible from the sides, when the light catches them.

There are various drawings of and from Whiteread’s other sculptural projects, the Holocaust memorial (some bright, sharp reds and yellows here surprisingly), the Water Tower and Plinth; the section Torso and Heads, which are picked out in circles of raised white on white paper, like long, embossed worms. 

That’s about it, apart from a vitrine containing her collection of stimulus articles, spoons, shoes, wooden feet (lasts, presumably) bone- like bits of wood or wood-like bits of bone, skulls, a toy taxi.. cuddly toy..

Unlike Cumming, I think that her brilliant sculptures are her real contribution and this material is arid on its own.  It’s the sort of stuff that you would get to back up an exhibition of sculpture which, because of  the nature of the work she does, would be impossible to mount.  Laura Cumming, the booklet, and whoever called this work “unnerving” are massively overstating the case.

Turner

Upstairs in the Romantics exhibition, looked into that room with all his airy, foggy, shimmering, light suffused canvases done in the 1830’s and 40’s, contrasting with the immense, ornate set pieces he did in more formal mode – I pictured the Academicians in their top  hats and waistcoats and wondered just what they made of them back then.  They may even have been genuinely unnerving – although I imagine incomprehension would be more likely. There were people looking at them yesterday and shaking their heads in bafflement, before fleeing to the reassuring history paintings like the Battle of Trafalgar.

The Beanfield by Blackpaint

18.09.10

Blackpaint 192

September 13, 2010

Rachel Cooke on Ed Ruscha

Rachel Cooke seems to be pioneering a new form (or rediscovering an old form) of art criticism.  Some time ago, she referred to the artist Conrad Shawcross as “adorable”;  in the Observer yesterday, she writes about Ruscha in the following terms: “at 72, Ruscha .. is a devastatingly attractive man …. He has a gravelly voice – the kind that invites you both to move your head closer to his and to keep your eyes firmly on his lips ….  The luxuriant grey hair, the flinty eyes, the soft blue shirt… sitting with him is like sitting with an old-school American movie star…” 

 Actually, to be fair, it’s billed as an interview – but  I can’t help thinking a male reporter on the Observer wouldn’t get away with this stuff any more, if he was interviewing a woman artist.  Or maybe he would if she was 72 – is that it?  You can drool on about their physical attractions as long as they’re old; they’ll probably be pleased, rather than annoyed at being patronised.

Later in the article, she makes some reference to his art and his “trademark” use of words: “Ruscha used words as linguistic readymades; he painted them not because he liked what they meant, but because he liked the way they looked..”  This is an intriguing idea, but I think it can only work fully if the words are in a foreign language, better still a foreign alphabet.  I’m thinking of Malevich, Goncharova, was it, Rodchenko, who put Russian words or letters in their paintings sometimes, which work purely visually for non – Russian speakers.  when Ruscha paints “Standard” or “Boss”, you can’t  – or its really difficult to – look at it just as shapes or colours.  Interesting idea, though and I suppose it doesn’t matter if you can’t carry it through completely.

Rachel Whiteread drawings

This is reviewed in the Observer as well, by Laura Cumming.  It’s not an interview, so we don’t find out how attractive Whiteread is, or what she is wearing, but we do get a pretty good idea of what the drawings look like and what Cumming thinks of them (good, better than the sculptures, which labour the “one big idea”).  And she’s right; the “Untitled (Double Mattress Yellow)” does look “like a stale yellow cracker flat on its back, its buttons forming Tuc biscuit holes”. 

I wonder what the attraction is with graph paper?  I was writing about Eva Hesse at Tate St. Ives last week and now here are several more drawings on graph paper in a major exhibition.  Ready- made background, handy for straight lines, cheap, giving an air of spontaneity… Cumming says “the images mutiny” against it, stand out  better – a door “looks as abrupt as the exclamation mark it strangely resembles”.  Doesn’t to me, but I’m going by the photograph in the paper; maybe it does from across the room.  Find out when I go.

Elizabeth Neel

I’ve been looking again at “New Abstraction”, the Phaidon book by Bob Nickas  (it’s orange with a big white circle on the front – buy it).   This artist’s stuff is highly uplifting.  She does paintings that look like AbExes, but teeter on the edge, really; they’re full of thick, mud colours, scrawls and swirls, scratches and squirts and dribbles, blood smears, hanging flesh, glimpses of human forms.  She looks for photographs and images on the Net, of  “accidents, violence, decay” (sounds like Bacon).  Fantastic paintings – google her and you’ll see.  She’s Alice Neel’s granddaughter.

Skinningrove by Blackpaint