Posts Tagged ‘Martin Carthy’

Blackpaint 437 – Platypus, Nest Eggs, Algerians, Burmese Days

March 7, 2014

Brett Whiteley

I’ve been looking at this artist’s work again, and I must say I love the way he draws – sometimes!  he has a bold, clean line when he wants, and it mixes with areas of tangled line that have been erased and sometimes picked out with ink or pencil.  He’ll elongate and distort as the fancy takes him, like a cartoonist, Scarfe maybe.


A lot of his work is in dubious taste (I don’t mean porny, that’s fine as far as I’m concerned); for instance, the Christie drawings and paintings, based on the 10 Rillington Place murders, that he actually mixed with zoo drawings, for example “a Cheetah at Ten Rillington Place” – good painting, though.

I love some of his Lavender Bay verandah-scapes and the series of landscapes he did with an “S” shaped river included.  he’s also notable for the number of different objects he stuck on his canvases; birds’ eggs (often in nests), birds, his own ginger hair on a self-portrait, coins, a brain, a duck-billed platypus (stuffed)…..

The boxing and cricket paintings reminded me of Francis Bacon, as did the Zoo paintings.

whiteley 2

The Brits Who Built the Modern World (Rogers, Foster, Shuttleworth etc.) BBC4

TV progs about these; thought some of their stuff was brilliant, for example, the Pompidou Centre, for which they claimed there wasn’t even an overall drawing existing when they excavated the vast hole in the middle of Paris for the building – yeah, hippy architects, cool…  They, well, Rogers anyway, claim to have been lefties in the 60’s, building workers’ recreation projects and the like.  Now, however, they do prestige airports and such for the Chinese, which is much better in many ways, because they carry long-term projects through, being a dictatorship.  Over here, you have to worry about democracy; governments, and hence plans changing, unions being a pain, people refusing to move….  The Chinese can guarantee you a cleared site for your shiny project, no problem.  And they’re communists, Chinese gov. that is, so it’s all in the Peoples’ interest.

Good Men (Ismael Ferroukhi)

Great film (2011) set in WW2 Paris, concerning Algerians.  It stars Tahoor Rahim, the young gangster in Audiard’s “A Prophet”, doing a similar turn; he’s a black marketeer and informer, naive, poorly educated, amoral (to start with), ducking and weaving, an eye to the main chance; slowly, he acquires a conscience and a loyalty to his compatriots.  There’s something of Pontecorvo’s “Battle for Algiers” to it – I suppose it’s the similarity of Rahim’s character to that of Ali la Pointe, and their “journey” towards activism.

The music in the film is staggering; I had the volume low on the the first song and couldn’t hear the words – it sounded like a ballad done by the Watersons or Martin Carthy.

Burmese Days

Just finished the Orwell book and of course, now I’m going to have to read the lot again – Clergyman’s Daughter next.  I thought it a much cruder portrayal than Passage to India, but of course, Orwell was an officer in the Burmese police while Forster was a visitor to India, so maybe Orwell’s first-hand knowledge of the Burmese and the ex-pats was superior.  I thought the characters of Verrall, and Elizabeth were beautifully drawn.  From reading the Crick biography, it appears that the incident in which Ellis attacks the students with his stick might have been suggested by a similar incident in which Orwell, or Blair, himself laid into a Burmese youth at a railway station.


RK Back – An old one, I’m afraid.



Blackpaint 342 – Richter, Kitaj and Tarr; a light interval.

May 17, 2012

Gerhard Richter

Forgot to say in last blog that Richter uses no earth colours in his squeegee paintings – titanium white, ivory black, lemon yellow, cadmium red, ultramarine; that’s it (no green?).  Then, he sweeps and swerves through the paint with a big perspex scraper, leaving scrapes and skidmarks in the paint, or with his giant wooden baton, attached to the top or side and pushed or pulled across surface with apparent effort.  In one image, he pushes the wood with his shoulder across a field of grey, the paint  resisting more every inch, like Sisyphus with his boulder.

He says some interesting, and apparently contradictory things about his work and painting in general.  He says, citing Adorno, that you can’t put pictures together – they are “mortal enemies”.  Each painting, he says, “is an assertion that tolerates no company”.  BUT he paints series, the “Cage” series for example, in the Tate Modern, that seem to be designed to draw strength from, and bounce off each other.

As regards abstraction, he says the eye is always looking for something real – i.e. from the “real” world – and that is where you can start to get “a sort of meaning”.  He sees an abstract painting as containing the potentiality of an infinite number of real images – sort of, all pictures are contained in each picture.  Interesting to me, after going through that long explanation, every time someone asks what a picture is supposed to be.  Instead of droning on about image and structure and texture and contrast and movement and balance and juxtaposition, I can just say “well, it’s whatever you want it to be…  Madonna and Christ?  Well, yes, I see what you mean…”.

His assistant says, “You can’t influence the painting; if I say it’s good, leave it, he’s more likely to change it… because he’s looking for a reason”.  Cantankerous old bastard, one might think; I know a lot like him.

Watching the big squeegee or baton process on the DVD, I remarked on how a painting would appear after a sweep and then be destroyed by the next sweep.  First, a monochrome yellow, sweep, then a white cloudscape, sweep, a light horizon, sweep, a Rothko – the earth colours do emerge from the mixing process.

Questioned on how he knows a painting is finished – the big question – he says the following; “I feel less free with each step; I carry on until nothing is wrong any more”.  It implies dissatisfaction with every work; you don’t stop when you have achieved what you want, but when you can’t find a recognisable fault.  I suppose this is implicit in an improvising approach – but it could have been something like; “I stop when a completed picture jumps out at me”.  He’s obviously too honest to come out with rubbish like that, unlike some other abstract painters. 


That drawing of a seated woman’s back – I suppose it’s Sandra – it’s breathtaking, like a Michelangelo.  I’ve said this before. but it’s amazing how different his two styles are – the cartoonish, “Cecil Court” style and this classical, Old Master look.  I note how “fleshy” his colours, especially whites and reds, are in the cartoony ones – I don’t mean flesh tones but thickness and richness.

Young Musician of the Year

What is the title of that recorder piece played with only a drum accompaniment by Charlotte Barbour – Condini ?  It is played by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick to close out “Arthur MacBride” but the only info given is that the tune is French.

Bela Tarr

The novel “Satantango” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai is out in a translation by George Szirtes; I have it and am hoping it is as uncompromising as the Bela Tarr film.  Only 274 pages, but no paragraphing.  It has punctuation, which is rather conventional I agree, and will lack the accordion music – but I have high hopes.  Next week, will review Turin Horse.



Blackpaint 241

January 10, 2011

Van Gogh

Interesting to read in the Taschen VG the symbolism of his painting of April 1885 of the Bible and Zola’s “Joie de Vivre”, which he called “Still Life with Bible”.  The bible represents his father (solidity, authority, religion) and the dead candle signifies his recent demise.  The Zola volume is VG himself.  Zola’s story asserts the value of life and the life force in the face of sufferings, whilst the bible is open at Isaiah 53, which exalts those who suffer.  This sort of reading is more familiar to those who have read the Hagens’ interpretations of Renaissance paintings, which abound with symbolism, but it can still be used with more modern artists. I don’t have Van Gogh’s complete Letters, but my selected Letters doesn’t include such an analysis by VG himself – I imagine that it is the (plausible) effort of the authors, Walther and Metzger.


In the Uffizi guide, the Santa Lucia dei Magnoli Altarpiece.  That green and rose pink background remind me of Fra Angelico (Man of Sorrows) and maybe Duccio.  The really memorable aspect, however, is the rough, vigorous peasant face of John the Baptist, staring out at the viewer.  Nobody in the picture – two other saints and the Virgin and Child – is looking at anybody else; it’s like a room full of statues (the flesh tones on the V and C are pretty stone-coloured too).  Oddly, it seems to increase the picture’s power, in the same way that della Francesca’s figures sometimes do.


Still perusing the Uffizi guide and Altdorfer’s “the Martyrdom of St. Florian” strikes me.  Florian, with a massive white millstone chained to his neck, kneeling on the rough logs of a pier or bridge with a great throng of people behind him.  Several of them look surprisingly solicitous, taking his cloak, gesturing towards the water, as if assuring him that its not too cold.  Florian looks unpersuaded.  Things are not looking good for him.


His early painting (c.1480) of St. Hieronymus contains the first really credible picture of a lion that I have seen in the early Renaissance.  Durer’s efforts, for instance, seem to me to flounder when it comes to the eyes; his lions have human eyes, if somewhat large.  The Hieronymus lion, although unfinished, has the unmistakable profile of a genuine African male.


In the Sickert picture “Ennui”, what is the old boy at the table doing?

Listening to Martin Carthy, “Newlyn Town”:

“I robbed Lord Golding, I do declare,

And Lady Mansfield in Grosvenor Square;

I shut the shutters and bid them goodnight,

And home I took my loot,

And home I took my loot to my heart’s delight…”



Blackpaint 112

April 16, 2010

Blog Vocabulary

I’ve decided that in future I won’t be using meaningless vocabulary when describing or discussing art – either mine or other artists’ work.  From now on, then, the following words are banned from my blog, unless quoted or used in a reader’s comment : beautiful, amazing, wonderful, ravishing, breathtaking, stunning, fabulous, brilliant, etc., etc., etc.  I will continue to use ugly, crappy, shitty, however, in the interests of accuracy, fairness, moderation and the fine traditions of blogging.  Readers are requested to comment immediately on noticing any use of the specified words or similar ones,  in any context other than that outlined above.  Thank you.

Treeless in Gaza

Michelangelo didn’t do  trees.  Yesterday, I discussed the painting that an expert suggests is by Michelangelo (see Blackpaint 111).  The painting shows John the Baptist preaching to an attentive audience amidst a parkland  scene – sylvan is a better word.  It’s full of trees anyway.

Now, there are several reasons why I think he’s wrong about Michelangelo, but at the risk of seeming slightly mad (unusually  for a blogger) I want to emphasise this point.  I’ve been through all my books on M. and all the images on Google and I can find only THREE trees in all his known work: the tree  up which the serpent winds (presumably the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) in the Adam and Eve picture and two dead trees in the Flood; all of them on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Even in those pictures where M. does some landscaping, it’s always barren or rocky, or both.  I think he didn’t like doing trees because they bored him – no juicy musculature.

So, either he put all except three  of  his trees in this disputed picture – perhaps  someone had pointed the deficiency out to him – or it’s not a Michelangelo.  Actually there  is a third possibility; someone else may have done the trees and the rest of the background, and then M. did  the figures – and the rocks, he often did rocks.  But that doesn’t seem likely to me.

I have to say that, in the fifteen minutes I spent researching this theory, I was delighted to look again at some of the most beautiful, ravishing art in human history.  it was utterly breathtaking.

There we are, then, my hare-brained theory escapes to haunt the web and confound the experts (or probably  not).  Back to normal, possibly, tomorrow.  Have a lovely weekend.

Listening to “The Trees They Grow So High” trad., arr. Martin  Carthy.

“Oh the trees they grow so high, and the grass it grows so green,

And many’s the cold winter’s night my love and I have seen;

On a cold winter’s night, my love, you and I alone have been;

Oh, my bonny boy is young but he’s growing…”



Blackpaint 41

January 17, 2010

Boltanski again

Another review of B’s Paris installation, this time Laura Cumming in the Observer.  I’m ashamed to learn that “he has long been considered France’s greatest living artist” – I’d seen his stuff before, I remember a dimly-lit corner (shrine) of photographs of Holocaust victims, possibly in the Bilbao Guggenheim; but I had no idea of his status.  Nor had his French nationality registered with me; because of his name, and  because of his work on the Holocaust, I’d (ironically)assumed he was Polish.  Given his previous work, it’s not surprising that Cumming refers to  “Auschwitz, Srebrenica, Rwanda”, when looking at the assemblages of anonymous clothing.

This piece, however, as Cumming  points out, goes further.  “You do not imagine these clothes to be those of murdered people so much as humanity en masse, flattened like biblical crops”, she writes and describes the repetitive action of a giant mechanical claw, picking up articles of clothing from a giant pile – and dropping them again, in a blind, random and ceaseless process.  A suitably solemn review, the tone of which was for me undermined by the headline, “A monument to everyone and no one” – yes, Clouzot, pathetic isn’t it?

By coincidence, I have just re-read Ray Bradbury’s story, “the Scythe” from “The October Country”.  An impoverished mid western family in 1938, heading to California, come across a well- kept farm in the midst of wheatfields.  A dead man is inside; they bury him and settle down in the farm, which is well stocked with food, and the man finds a scythe and begins to cut the ripe corn.  Strangely, it rots as soon as it is cut.  Also there are some patches that are still green, others ripening, others ready for the scythe… you can guess the rest.


I’m afraid I suggested in yesterday’s blog that Boltanski might be mad (before I knew he was France’s greatest living artist); that was prompted by the revelation in Searle’s Guardian article that he is compiling an audio library of people’s heartbeats that will be stored on a remote Japanese island.  I should say that I don’t consider madness in artists to be necessarily a bad thing – indeed, doing apparently mad things has been shown repeatedly to be the only way that art “advances” (although I don’t believe it advances – goes in cycles, maybe).

Sistine Chapel – Original Sin and The Last Judgement

Been looking at the Taschen “Michelangelo” again, and I was really struck by how close Eve’s face is to Adam’s penis in the apple scene.  The caption reads blandly; “The juxtaposition of a supposedly female face and masculine genitalia is a common feature of Michelangelo’s work”, and goes on to give other examples.

Then, there is the hilariously phallic right hand lunette of the “Last Judgement”, described as “angels lifting up the column of flagellation”.  Sorry to indulge in these base observations.

Bicycle Thieves – De Sica

Fantastic film – Coppola was surely informed by it, when he made The Godfather.  The music for one thing; and Ricci’s friend, the dustman-ganger who helps him look in the markets, reminded me of de Niro’s young house-breaking companion in Godfather II – but then, so did Bruno!  I love the shambolic picture of postwar Rome; everything half-built or crumbling, improvisation, old bits of uniform being worn..

There were a couple of scenes that seemed straight out of Cartier – Bresson; where the camera follows two street urchins along a dazzling white wall, as they beg from a suited and hatted gent with a briefcase – and the German(?) clerics with their circular hats and cassocks, sheltering from the cloudburst with Ricci and Bruno.  I must immediately get hold of “Miracle in Milan” again.

Listening to “Davy Lowston” by Martin Carthy.

“Our captain John McGrath, he set sail, he set sail,

Oh yes, for old Port Stanley, he set sail;

He said “I’ll return, men, without fail”,

But he foundered in a gale,

And went down, and went down, and went down”.



Blackpaint 19

December 18, 2009

My Paintings

Painted a lot today and I’ve finally got something that looks halfway decent – a light grey at the top with a sort of curved spear of black, green, white and charcoal poking up through it.  Another spear of reddish brown poking up on right, into a big area of ochre (that might be going lighter tomorrow, when I can buy more white).  Bottom half of canvas is a complex mass of shapes in reds, ochres, grey, black and blue, criss-crossed with charcoal lines – looks a bit landscapey.

This one goes well with two previous, the striped one that ended up looking like a Heron and the pink, orange, green and black patchy one.  Nice to have done some paintings I actually like; haven’t done that for weeks.

I think I’m going to stick some of my pictures in this blog – I’ve realised the obvious, that its not interesting to read descriptions of pictures; why do the paintings and then describe them in words?  I’ll have to charge the camera batteries up first, however. 

Short blog today, since I’ve done a lot of painting.

Watched “Carefree”, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, with a brilliant swing dance song, called, of all things, “The Yam”.  Written by Irving Berlin, I think (the music, not the film, which is nonsense).

Listening to; Byker Hill, Trad, arr. by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick

“If I had another penny I would have another gill,

I would make the piper play “The Bonnie Lass of Byker Hill…”

Blackpaint 18.12.09