Posts Tagged ‘Master of Flemalle’

Blackpaint 262

March 21, 2011

Anselm Kiefer

In Saturday’s Guardian, a pleasing quotation from Kiefer regarding “Salz, Merkur, Sulfur”,  a recent work: “..the salt-covered U boat is my Noah’s ark as the Flood was important to alchemists,…It is made out of the base metal lead; there are seven flames because seven is the alchemical number of perfection, and so on.  It all means something.  Not that anyone needs to know this, but if I’m asked I will tell you.” Well, thank goodness for that – the implication is that the work stands, for Kiefer, on the merits of its visual power alone, without the need to read a lengthy exposition on a gallery wall (or stand in everyone else’s way, gawping, while you listen to the explanation on one of those those audios).

Kiefer is the embodiment of those artists who build a career around a big idea; the core of his has been the exhumation of German history from under  layers of guilt and willful amnesia in the decades after WW2 – a worthy and courageous work in the 60s especially.  So someone asks, “What is this work about?”  No problem; he knows –  and, if he’s asked, he’ll be able to tell you.

Miro

Miro is another one.  As Tim Adams says, in Sunday’s Observer, “He had no interest in pure abstraction…”You get freedom by sweating for it,” he believed, “by an inner struggle…”.  Whatever this second part means, Adams’ piece quotes Miro to the effect that his pictures, even the most surreal, were made up of collections of symbols representing things in the real world: “I’ve shown the Toulouse-Rabat airplane on the left; …I showed it by a propellor, a ladder and the French and Catalan flags”.  The whole display of bacteria-like shapes and squiggles swimming in an orange and yellow background “means something”; everything is representative.

I’ve always loved Miro’s work, for its colour, movement, humour – and Kiefer’s, for almost completely opposite qualities, darkness, weight, gravity of purpose. I had no idea about the Toulouse – Rabat airplane and not much specific about alchemy; but the lack of detailed information didn’t stop me liking the work and knowing more hasn’t enhanced my appreciation.

I think it’s enough to say “It’s about itself”.  Paintings that are only about visual things like image, structure, texture, colour, movement, balance – pure abstraction –  are as valid as the “hidden meaning” efforts; and you don’t have to read the spurious Artspeak expositions.

Some early paintings that I think are stunning – and no problems with meaning:

Fra Angelico

St Nicholas of Bari (1437) – look at the castle and the pink mountain with the folds.

The Mocking of Christ (1441) – disembodied head spits in Christ’s face.

Giotto

The Stefaneschi Altar, the Martyrdom of Paul – yes, the decapitated head does still wear the halo; and the Martyrdom of Peter – upside down on his cross, as if diving, an angel reading the bible to the assembled watchers, from the sky.

The Arrest of Christ, Padua. – the Judas kiss, Judas enveloping Christ in that yellow cloak.

The Master of Flemalle (Robert Campin?)

The Annunciation, Merode Altarpiece – look at the folds in the fabric of both the angel’s and Mary’s gowns; and the tilting forwards of the table – like a Bonnard or Cezanne a few years later.

Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources

Finally got round to seeing these after meaning to for years; Yves Montand (I remember him in “Z”) and Daniel Auteuil, as the Soubeyrans -great, tragi-comic pairing. For some reason, keep watching films about peasants – Provencal, Iranian and Ozark hill folk so far.

Blackpaint

21.03.11

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