Posts Tagged ‘Lessore’

Blackpaint 57

February 3, 2010

Greer article

A small postscript on yesterday’s comments – I checked the internet for pictures by the three women artists that Greer mentioned yesterday; Helen Lessore, Silvia Gosse and Hilda Carline.  Very little for Lessore and Carline, more for Gosse, but some of them turned out to be by Sickert!  Excellent self-portrait and an interesting abstract by Carline.  A portrait of Patricia Preece too, fully clothed and clearly older than in the Spencer nude picture, with a thoughtful and very much alive expression.

Van Doesburg

There was more stuff on the above by Adrian Searle yesterday, that I didn’t get to mention because I was preoccupied with Spencer et al.  He highlights the “Jekyll and Hyde” nature of Van D., who had another persona, the Dadaist “IK Bonset”.  When he wanted to escape(?) from the De Stijl type artist he just adopted this other identity and did what he liked.  He even got his wife Nelly to put on a false moustache and pose for a not very convincing photo portrait of “Bonset”.

What a great idea – pretty obvious I suppose, but it sounds quite liberating to me.  I’m working on my other persona now.  Maybe several….


That Greer stuff has got me thinking about “ugly” in art;  she obviously hates those pictures by Spencer, maybe Freud too, which show women’s bodies in unflattering lights, poses, and with flaws present.  I think they have a sort of beauty; that’s a matter of taste.  What about Bacon?  I find a lot of Bacons beautiful too, especially the portraits of Dyer (the one with the bifurcated head, in a mirror is it?), Muriel Belcher and Isabel Rawsthorne.  The compositions and colours are “pleasing” too, in some way.  So some of them depict violence and pain – the National Gallery is full of crucifixions and beheadings and tortures, mostly depicted in beautiful colours and settings.  I found the stuff in that “Sacred Made Real” exhibition really ugly and depressing; couldn’t wait to get out and go upstairs for some crosses under blue skies.

I think the only paintings that I’ve seen that really horrify me are those by Marlene Dumas – the dead women’s portraits and the kid with bloody hands.  I’d be really interested to know what Germaine Greer thinks about them.  Any other offers? Interesting that you can buy (rather expensively) little toys of Bosche’s monsters in the NG gift shop – they were once considered horrifying, I suppose. 


Trying to do a figurative painting, using the “fractured surface” look I did in last two paintings – it’s not going well, as can be seen below.

Listening to “Ain’t no more Cane on the Brazos”, by Lonnie Donegan.  Yes, I know he nicked it and was a Leadbelly copyist – but I like it.

“You should-a been on the river nineteen and four,

Oh, oh, oh, oh,

“You’d-a find many dead men, most every row,

Oh, oh, oh, oh.”



Blackpaint 56

February 2, 2010

Germaine Greer

In yesterday’s Guardian (sorry about the parochialism – next week will comment on art coverage in Sun and Daily Mirror), Germaine Greer came out with some surprising stuff; the headline encapsulates it: “Titian takes you to a realm beyond carnality.  Stanley Spencer doesn’t”.

It’s a review of an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge of Singer Sargent, Sickert and Spencer.  The first is dismissed as a money-obsessed society portraitist, trying his hand at landscapes which don’t come off; the other two are unfavourably compared with Titian, who, in his “Venus and Cupid with a Lute- Player”, admits you “to a realm beyond carnality.  The luminous figure is alive but poised and contained, not simply dumped amid dirty linen”.

Sickert’s nude is “saponified, her breasts and belly engorged as if with the gases of decomposition.  we look down on her from a cool distance”, like undertakers.

Spencer’s wife, Patricia Preece “could be a companion piece” to Sickert’s; “Preece’s flesh has undergone slippage, and her face is set in a staring death mask”.

So  what is this “realm beyond carnality”?  Sounds like idealism, romanticism to me.  Women’s bodies, like men’s, do undergo “slippage” as they age and flesh tone changes according to light (or so it does at my life drawing classes).  A bit of slippage, a few bulges, some muscle – it all adds a bit of interest.  Preece’s face is only a death  mask if that’s what you want to see – I think she looks bored stiff and half asleep.  Spencer looks “alive” – but he also looks scrawny and greenish, with a suntan line across his neck.  As Bacon (appropriately) said, people are meat; they may be other things too, but they are flesh.  It seems to me that Spencer’s beautiful portrait of Preece – look at the right knee, the flatness and substance and curve of the left breast – is the embodiment of carnality and all the better for it.  Bodies, both women’s and men’s, are great to paint and draw, but they don’t always have to be “luminous”.

As for Sickert, yes, his stuff is cold, sinister and nasty – carnal.  Does this mean that Sickert “is simply not good enough for the Fitzwilliam”?  Only if “good” means a “realm beyond carnality”.  I’m happy to live and work in the carnal realm and beyond it – but I don’t see the one as better than the other.

Greer’s other remarks about the sidelining of Sickert’s and Spencer’s faithful women allies (Helen Lessore, Sylvia Gosse and Hilda Carline) may, of course, be fair enough; although I’ve heard of them all, I don’t know their work – if they are as good as any of the men discussed, then Greer’s final sentence is justified; the exhibition, she says, “offers a pretty good object lesson in how women’s contribution is winnowed out of art history”.  But are they as good? You shouldn’t be entitled to an exhibition on the strength of raising two daughters and undergoing “the misery and turmoil of being married to Spencer, a mental breakdown and failed treatment for breast cancer”, as she says of Carline; it should be because you can produce something as good, or as interesting, as the Spencer painting which illustrates the article.

Listening to Neighbour, Neighbour by The Graham Bond Organisation.

“You got nose trouble, mouth trouble too,

Something bad gonna happen to you

Neighbour, neighbour, stay away from my door.”

Not my sentiments, of course.