Posts Tagged ‘Leonardo da Vinci’

Blackpaint 610 – French migrants, Polish exiles and the Hole in the Ceiling

November 20, 2017

The Impressionists in London (Tate Britain, until May 2018)

Strange exhibition, since a lot of these pictures – I’m not sure about the sculptures – don’t seem to be Impressionist at all.  The idea behind it is to showcase the French artists in exile in England after the fall of the Paris Commune and the massacres and oppression that followed it.  The booklet points out that there were no restrictions placed on these migrants and no quibbles over refugee or economic migrant status; apparently, there were no restrictions or limits on migration to Britain at the time – anyone could come.

There are a lot of pictures that are rather familiar from the Tate’s permanent collection; most of the Tissots and some Pissaros (Norwood, Sydenham) I’m sure have been moved downstairs.  The Tissots, for my money, are the most enjoyable but they are surely not “impressionist”, if that means passing effects of light and shade and all that; they look more like Millais, doing Singer Sargent subject matter.  The Whistler bridges and Monet’s series of Parliament in the last room, I think, are actually badly served by being all lumped together; great on their own, all together – too much.

Tissot

Also of interest, the Fantin-Latour double portrait; again, not impressionistic, more like Clausen or maybe Repin.  There is  social realist picture by an Italian (didn’t get the name) of loafers on a bridge under an orange sky – and the roomful of Derains at the end is great.

Fantin-Latour

Melancholia, a Sebald Variation (Inigo Rooms, Somerset House until 10th December)

The main piece in this exhibition is a 54 minute film by a Dutch artist, Guido Van der Werve.  It interweaves three elements: the first is the artist swimming, cycling and running the equivalent of three triathlons, being the distance between Chopin’s heart (in Poland) and the rest of him (in Paris).   he kicks off playing the piano in a Polish church, wearing a wet suit, while a choir sings a rather beautiful, melancholic piece.  Off he goes, into the river, and some rather beautiful but surely speeded-up film of him swimming.  He continues, at intervals, switching to bike and then running, leaving his wet suit and then bike with a waiting woman…

But I’m telling the story!  Enough.  The other elements are 1. Sites relating to Alexander the Great’s career, and 2. More musical interludes, in which orchestras are revealed playing in a house and by a canal.  Dada-ish things happen; a man walks past on fire and dives into the canal  and glass smashes, explosions happen…  It’s about exile (Chopin, Alexander) it seems; “a melancholy meditation on the theme of not being able to return home”, the booklet says.

The Dada stuff threw me for a while, since humour is not something I readily associate with WG Sebald.  And indeed, there is none elsewhere in the exhibition, which contains work by Durer (of course), George Shaw, Tess Jaray, Dexter Dalwood, Anselm Kiefer and others, as well as Sebald’s own darkened, enigmatic photograph collection.  The theme is melancholy and whether it is an “unproductive form of mourning” or a spur to creativity.

Kabakovs again (Tate Modern until 28th Jan 2018)

 

It occurs to me that there is a similarity between Sebald’s use of photographs etc. in his books and the Ilya Kabakov exhibit “Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album” in the current show at TM.  You walk through a series of dimly-lit rooms, with pages of a scrapbook pasted to the walls; blurry photos of pastoral scenes with memoirs of his mother in Russian and English.  At first, you try to read them but you soon give up – the light’s too dim.  It’s all about the nostalgia of the photos and the atmosphere.

Incidentally, the first time I visited this exhibition, I looked at “The Man who Flew into Space from his Apartment” and completely missed the catapult and the hole in the ceiling.  It was pretty crowded in there, but still…

 

Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi

I’ve more to say, but will save it for next time.  But I think that Leonardo is a Luini (as it was originally though to be).  It’s just not good enough for Leo.  Then again, great painters often do crap Christs; Veronese, for instance.  Maybe it’s some sort of cosmic dread, or maybe the Church stopped them being too human with Christ’s face.

Next time, Soviet posters, October (Eisenstein) and Walter Hopps.

Firestorm

Blackpaint

20/11/17

 

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Blackpaint 226

December 3, 2010

Jay Defeo

I came across her story in “The Beats; A Graphic History”,  ed. by Paul Buhle (Souvenir Press, 2009).  She was a San Francisco abstract artist, sort of AbEx, who spent eight years working on one painting, “The Rose” (presumably doing others at the same time).  Like the one painted in the garage by the dad in “Malcolm in the Middle”, it got heavier and heavier over time, as she added all sorts of metallic and other things to the surface.  Eventually, she had to move and the window and sill had to go, to get the painting out.

Anyway, she died in 1989, of cancer contracted, so the comic book says, as a result of sucking her brushes to get a point and ingesting the paint thereon.  I went to Google to check out her work, and was staggered by it.  It’s great – go to and have a good look.

Cass Art

For those readers living in London – what’s happened at Cass in Charing Cross Road?  I went there yesterday after a gap of a few weeks, and the staff appear to be all new.  Not a single one of the lovely, friendly old people – well, the old young people – were there.  Presumably they’ve all been promoted (as they deserve); they can’t possibly have been got rid of, surely.

Michelangelo

I am just looking at a drawing by M. (a reproduction, alas) entitled “Scherzo, or the torments of the flesh”, that is kept in the Vatican Museum – “well – hidden”, according to the little Taschen by Neret.  The reason for this is that it is a drawing of a man’s profile and he wears a cap in the brim of which, over his left ear, is an enormous, engorged penis, curved and pointing skywards.  The book describes this as a self – portrait, but the profile of the face bears no resemblance to M. as far as I can see.  Perhaps Neret is referring to the penis.

Leonardo

From Michelangelo to Leonardo, and I’m looking at the red chalk “Study for the Last Supper (Judas)”;  again in profile ( no penis this time), the portrait shows an elderly, strong muscled, firm-jawed man with a long Roman nose and wide-eyed, surprised but not dismayed.  Odd that there is no hint of “evil” in the expression, or even weakness, given that it’s Judas.

Quiz

Which US painter, known as an associate of the AbExes etc., painted George Washington crossing the Delaware river?

Blackpaint

3.12.10

Blackpaint 222

November 22, 2010

Miro at the Tate Modern

From reviews, Miro’s show at the Tate Modern, like Picasso at Liverpool recently, seems to be an attempt to portray Miro as a political artist.  This claim largely rests (it appears) on the poster he did for the Republican cause (see Blackpaint 26, Jan 2010) and on a surreal painting  “Still Life with Old Shoe”, in which he shows an enormous fork, about to plunge down into an apple – apparently a subliminal reference to the impending outbreak of the Spanish civil war, according to curator Matthew Gale.  Gale says this shows he is not just about “whimsy”.  He also made a work which was a response to the execution by garotte of an anarchist activist, Puig Antich – in 1974.  I remember that horrible event – the victim is strapped to a board and a metal noose tightened around his neck until the spinal cord is severed – you didn’t have to be an activist to be horrified – everybody was.

Any Miro exhibition is good news, but why bother to transform someone plainly more interested in the politics of the psyche – in his art, anyway – into a political painter?  Miro doesn’t need the justification.

The Last Supper

I’ve checked on Google, and although most Last Suppers take the da Vinci form ( table lengthwise across picture, Christ central, disciples seated behind table in a line) there are a number of exceptions.  Tintoretto’s table slants from lower left to upper right and includes a number of servants in the lower right area, Palma de Vecchio, Dieric Bouts and Simon Vouet all show disciples round the table.  In Bouts’ stunning, serene picture, Christ sits at the top of the table.  This arrangement is used in Russian icons, one of which, from 1497, shows a round table.

I was rather surprised to come across a version by Andy Warhol, based on the da Vinci.

Caspar David Friedrich

I’ve been told I’m too kind to painters and should be more critical, so I’ve cast round to find one I really don’t like, and I’ve come up with the above.  After all, he’s dead and I’m hiding behind anonymity, so I can say what I like.  I saw Andrew Graham – Dixon’s item on Friedrich on the Culture Show last week, which was clearly an advert for AGD’s forthcoming series on German art and it confirmed my aversion.  Country crucifixes in the snow,  misty mountains, purple –  orange – green skies, thrown – away crutches, heroic/romantic figures staring out over mist-filled chasms or oceans, deserted, ruined monasteries, graveyards….

Well, there are two I like; the wreckage on the ice floe, forced up into the Tatlin tower shape and the little man on the beach with the great, threatening wall of fog or cloud rolling towards him.  It makes me think of John Carpenter’s “The Fog” – are there undead pirates concealed in it?

Leonardo

I like the way he illustrated the predicted effects of his war chariot, in the drawing of it with the blades on the wheel hubs; he has drawn dismembered bodies scattered around.  Well, yes, I suppose it would have that effect, wouldn’t it?

Quiz

Who painted himself as “a Tyro”?

Blackpaint

22.09.10

Blackpaint 221

November 19, 2010

The Nabis

It means prophets in Hebrew.  This group was made up of Bonnard, Serusier, Maurice Denis, Vuillard, Ranson and others.  Why I mention it is the amazing story of “The Talisman”; this was a panel painted in 1888 by Serusier, under the guidance and instruction of Gauguin, who they regarded as their master.  Serusier brought back the painting, entitled “The Bois d’Amour a Pont – Aven”,   like Moses with the tablets of stone, and it was treated as their guiding star by the rest of the group.  It is a highly stylised landscape, with a large yellow colour field, an orange-red bridge leading to a blue house with bright blue river and patches in background; very flat surface.  The flatness of the picture plane was of the essence, as was the intensity of the colours. 

I love these obsessive little movements with their fixed ideas and absolute rules (see stuff on Mondrian and van Doesburg in Blackpaint 60 and 61, February 2010). 

Also of interest about Bonnard is that he won a poster competition for France – Champagne and his poster apparently influenced Toulouse Lautrec; TL subsequently painted habitually in this style, whereas Bonnard abandoned it immediately.  The Bonnard poster is really like a Lautrec – you would assume it was one, if you were not told otherwise.

Before leaving Bonnard (for today – he’s too interesting to neglect for long), I must mention “White Interior”; there’s a table corner in it, which he maybe positioned wrongly, or maybe just wished to show with different articles on it, so he painted it again, further to the right – and left the first one in.  Looks OK; why change it?

Leonardo

I’ve been looking at his wonderful portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, the one of the demure young girl with the ermine.  In Leonardo’s day, the ermine was a symbol of purity because of its fastidious ways;  apparently, it didn’t like getting its fur dirty.

How times have changed; an ermine is a stoat, which is a close relative of the weasel.  What would we now make of a portrait of a young woman fondling an alert and rather predatory looking weasel?  Not purity, I would think, even if the fur was white.

Quiz for today

Raphael also painted a lady holding an animal symbolising virtue, though this one was mythical; what was it?

Angel of Mons by Blackpaint

19.11.10

Blackpaint 220

November 16, 2010

Leonardo

Taking a break from Michelangelo for a week or two – not that I’ve exhausted him as a topic, but “What do they know of England who only England know?”, as someone – Kipling, was it? – once said.  So, following on from the “Virgin of the Rocks”, I thought I’d look at Leonardo’s “Last Supper”, in the Refectory (appropriately) at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

Jesus has just announced to the diners that one of them will betray him and there is general consternation.  In any Last Supper, of course, the two main characters are Jesus and Judas; Jesus is, I think, always portrayed centre table and in Leonardo’s, Judas is two seats to his right – although Peter is leaning across to talk to John, making Judas effectively third on Christ’s right.  I wonder, is there some convention about the seating of the disciples, or do they go wherever the painter decides?  And has there ever been a depiction of the scene looking from one end of the table, with the disciples around it and Christ at the top?

Anyway, Judas has to be prominent, so that his guilt (a moneybag usually, and some positional difference from the others) can be signalled.  Leonardo’s depiction was the first in post-Medieval times to have Judas behind the table with the others.  He is clutching his bag of silver and recoiling in shock –  apparently in the act of reaching for a bread roll.  I read somewhere that he was sometimes depicted with red hair, to distinguish him as the betrayer.  From the poor state of repair of the fresco, I can’t tell whether or not Leonardo has followed this convention.

The Sperm Pipe

The second work by da Vinci to draw my attention today was the drawing of the act of sexual intercourse, in which the side view of the male in section shows a tube running from the brain directly to the penis.  The male is shown as a person (see below) whilst only the female sexual parts are depicted.  It was thought at the time that sperm was produced in the brain and flowed from there down to the penis by way of this pipe.  Given that images arising in the brain contribute to the erection of the penis, this seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable hypothesis in the absence of physical evidence and can therefore be cited as an early example of Blackpaint’s Law of Spurious Plausibility (Blackpaint 217 and 165).

Bram Bogart

Looking at his “Untitled” 1956, ink on watercolour paper, couldn’t help noticing resemblance to those Chinese gunpowder paintings by Cai Guo-Kiang – it’s in “Intensely Dutch” by Hendrik Kolenberg, Art Gallery NSW 2009.

Van Gogh

While I’m on Holland, ploughing on through the Taschen 2 volume, complete VG.  In 1885, he painted portraits of 19 peasant women in white caps, 15 peasant women in dark caps, one in a red cap, two in green shawls, one in “greenish lace” and 11 with bare heads.  Only four portraits of men, though – two in caps, one with a pipe and one with a cap and pipe.  That’s just the portraits – others show work and eating, for instance, the famous “Potato Eaters”.

Blackpaint

16.11.10

Blackpaint 219

November 14, 2010

Eraserhead

This was on TV last night, and I had forgotten that it was  unique in cinema in its creation of a dream atmosphere.  This had to do with the sound, the constant muted industrial racket, the gaps in the dialogue (a long, bemused pause after every cliche’d phrase – “So, Henry, whaddaya know?” – long pause – “Oh..not much of anything,”) and the way in which the utterly bizarre was treated as normal – the bleeding, moving chicken, the mother’s fits, the baby thing.

Ididn’t notice when I first saw it – 25 or maybe 30 years ago – the Bacon references.  When Henry’s head falls off and the baby’s emerges from his shirt collar to take its place (dream within the dream), you are confronted by one of Bacon’s besuited screamers, with an obscured or eroded face and just an anguished mouth in focus.  The baby itself, in its tight wrappers of dingy bandage, is nearly a Figure at the Base of a Crucifixion.  The little thrippets of flesh that keep popping up or falling down and flipping about are out of Tanguy, I think, or maybe Ernst.  And the frozen grin on the face of the father brought to my mind Lloyd Bridges high on glue in “Airport” – not an art-historical reference, I’m afraid.

Can’t end the subject without mentioning the dough-faced singer pausing and squishing the things dropping onto the stage, without losing the ingratiating simper…

Leonardo da Vinci 

And so to some proper art, if not proper art criticism.  Which of the two Virgins of the Rocks would Leo consider the better?  One is in the Louvre, the other (later) one is in the National  Gallery.  The latter has the better background – the blue of the gap in the rocks is more satisfying – and is lit more dramatically, faces paler, especially Mary’s, and more strongly shadowed; the blue of Mary’s gown is more intense.  On the other hand, Christ baby has the halo and baby John has the staff, both of which look faintly ridiculous and the faces of the babies are better in the French one.  Christ in the NG version looks as if he has dropsy.  Also, Uriel’s gown in the Louvre version is a pleasingly rich red.

I at first thought that Uriel in the Louvre version had no wings – they are certainly more distinct in the NG version.  In both, Uriel resembles a girl.  So, on balance – they come out even, for me. 

Appel

After writing about Leonardo, you turn back to abstractionists with a sort of trepidation; how can they stand up to these geniuses of the past?  Answer: Karel Appel, “Flying Heads” 1959.  Great, thick crusts of paint, slatched on with a knife or trowel, white, green, yellow, orange, red, black, grey; scored, scabbed, scratched.  It looks like two, or even three breasts whirling about in thick, white and grey clouds.  The text in Dietmar Elger’s “Abstract Art” (Taschen) describes it as a “veritable whirlpool of thickly applied masses of paint.”  It looks good enough to eat.

Quiz

Who filmed Pollock at work on Long Island in 1950?  (must make these a bit harder).

Blackpaint 14.11.10