Posts Tagged ‘Max Ernst’

Blackpaint 506 – Light through the Thorns, Parrots in Boxes, Budgies in Trunks

August 8, 2015

William Gear – A Centenary Exhibition, Redfern Gallery, Cork Street W1

gear redfern 1

A couple of blogs ago (Blackpaint 502), I wrote about the Neil Stokoe exhibition at the Redfern, to which I’d gone. expecting William Gear.  Now the Gear is on, until September 5th and it’s well worth the trip to Green Park tube and the heat of Piccadilly to see it.

Gear exhibited with CoBra in 1949 – he and Stephen Gilbert were the only British artists – but I have to say, I don’t think he has a lot in common with painters like Appel; his work strikes me as much more like Adrian Heath, Bryan Wynter and even sometimes Patrick Heron, than the wilder, thicker, more gestural products of Appel and Jorn.  There is one painting, however, “Le Marche aux Fleurs” (1947), which could easily have been an early Jorn.

There are several recurring features of Gear’s work, the most prominent, perhaps, being the tangled bundle of jagged, hooked, thorn-like shapes he seemed to fling across his canvases, so that the patches of bright colour seem to peep out through a thicket of scrub.  The shapes are often, but not always, black.  Gear isn’t afraid of yellow; he uses a full spectrum, but it’s the yellow and black that stay with you after the Redfern.

Triangular grids are another feature, and there are a number of works like “Black Form on Red”(1957), that comprise two or three colours used in large, simple shapes, looking rather like sheets of thin leather or felt, collaged onto the canvas – Poliakoff, maybe, or Burri.  An influence that is suggested in the catalogue is that of Nicolas de Stael – I couldn’t see that, I have to say.

gear redfern 3

Good exhibition, in association with the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, where Gear was the curator in the 60s.  There was a great black, thorny self-portrait on show at the Pallant House in Chichester recently; maybe its still there.  made me think of Tony Bevan, a bit.

gear redfern 2

Joseph Cornell at the RA

cornell 1

This is an exhibition for those, and there are many of them apparently, who like quaint objects and photographs displayed in shallow boxes.  Inevitably, there is a large overlap with the likes of Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and other European surrealists; the difference being that, whereas Ernst, for example, also painted and sculpted, Cornell stuck to the box formula permanently.  Clearly, he had a thing for parrots and cockatoos; his work goes completely against the grain of North American art of the time (40s and 50s) in two ways – it’s small and it’s in boxes.  Although there were later, feminist, artists in the states who put things in drawers and boxes to display them – not parrots, though, as I recall….

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The Swimmer, Frank Perry (1968) DVD

I think John Cheever’s short story is a masterpiece of the form, one of the best of the 20th century; hard to think of others so perfect, maybe a couple of Joyce’s Dubliners or Margaret Atwood’s Serpent’s Egg.  The film is also a work of art, though very much of its era (Hamlisch’s lush theme music, coupled with jagged Johnny Staccato jazz riffs and some eye -watering psychedelic visuals).  Burt Lancaster is brilliant as the ageing playboy Ned Merrill, in his budgie smuggler trunks, swimming home across the county, by way of the “river” of swimming pools of his “friends”.  Lancaster is by turns genuinely creepy and strangely sympathetic, despite his insensitivity. The pools are not there for freeloading swimmers to propel their sweaty bodies through.

 

The Longest Journey, EM Forster

Even though I’m currently re-reading “Finnegans Wake”, Forster’s book is the strangest, most difficult novel I’ve struggled through for ages; I had to keep going back and reading bits over again to make sense of it.  the problem is twofold – the language: very arch, ironic, riddled with Edwardian Oxbridge phraseology and slang – and the concerns; “love children”, family disgrace, inheritance, the intellect v. the physical, the prosaic v.the poetic, genetic flaws, town and country, social class… Actually, that’s quite a lot and I’m sure I missed plenty.

I was interested to see that Forster kills his characters  in an even more offhand way than Virginia Woolf; a “hurt” at football, a drowning and a steam train across the knees- the last completely unsignalled (sorry) and dispassionate: “It is also a man’s duty to save his own life, and therefore he tried.  The train went over his knees.  He died up in Cadover, whispering “You have been right,” to Mrs Failing”.  That’s it.

 

finsbury mud 2

 

Finsbury Mud 2,

Blackpaint

08.08.15

 

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Blackpaint 381- Cutting Edge Stuff

February 14, 2013

Photographers Gallery

Fittingly, with Schwitters on at the Tate Britain, the Photographers Gallery has three exhibitions on, all of which involve collage.

First, there is Laura Letinsky.  Large, pastel-tinged photos of halved fruits, cakes and pastries, spoons and forks, cut out and reassembled on large, thick sheets of knife-edged paper.  The effect, from a distance, is rather like those early drawings by Richard Hamilton, of household goods and machines on cream paper.

laura letinsky

Next, Geraldo de Barros.  A Brazilian art photographer, de Barros’ work, all in black and white, varies from shots of alleyways and doorways in sharp contrast of shadow and light, swarthy – textured walls, crumbling in decay – is “swarthy” the right word?  It has the right sound, like running your hand over rough plaster – to simple monochrome planes, crossed by what looks like masking tape, to make striking minimalist images.

de barros

This minimalist strand falls into the somewhat surprising Brazilian tradition of artists like Oiticica, making art from cardboard boxes, crates and other detritus.  Why surprising?  I suppose because it’s Brazilian – think jungle, sunlight, colour, effusion, exuberance, all that stereotypical stuff.  Beatriz Milhazes, maybe, does the sort of art I would expect from Brazil; effusive, exuberant, blinding colours – not cardboard boxes, black and white minimalism.. but she’s not in this exhibition.

milhazes

Milhazes

Finally, at the PG, there is a floor of other photographic collagists, one of whom is Anna Parkina, also showing recently at the Saatchi Russian exhibition.  I liked Parkina’s work, and the marine – themed collection spread out on the floor.  Had my fill of collage for a while now…

Pacific Standard Time; Los Angeles Art 1945 – 1980

Great Tate book, got it at TM in a sale recently.  It’s got stuff on the artists featured in “The Cool School” film; but I haven’t got to that yet.  I was interested in the row at Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1947; the director, James Byrnes, put on a show of local moderns, AbExes and others and the museum was picketed by hundreds of excluded “traditionalist” artists from the area.

Later, Byrnes was allowed to buy a small Pollock for the museum – on condition that he didn’t show it!  He ignored this condition, and was forced to resign, after refusing to sign a McCarthyite loyalty oath. Another artist, Rex Brandt, was investigated after someone discerned a hammer and sickle device on the sail of a yacht in his picture “First Lift of the Sea”.  Interesting to read about this identification of abstract and “modern” artists with communism, given the later connections made between the Abstract Expressionists and the CIA.

Holy Motors

I can see why the fuss; it’s wild, stylish, fast-moving, and with the feel of anarchy of something like Themroc (without the politics).  Leos Carax comes across as annoying, greying, punky git, which is fitting, of course.  I’d thought that the beautiful Modernist building where we first see Oscar was the Corbusier Villa Savoye; wrong, it turns out to be the Villa Paul Poiret, by Robert Mallet – Smith (1925).  Have a look at it online – the Corbusier as well.

The other building featured is the derelict Samaritaine store, where “Oscar” and Kylie meet.  And that cemetery – is it Pere Lachaise?

No doubt it’s full of film references; the only one I got was Les Yeux Sans Visage, when Edith Skob puts the mask on.  She starred in “Visage”, so it’s not much of a spot.  I  think I recognise Oscar’s wife from a recent documentary.

La Belle et la Bete

I’m watching Cocteau’s version of the story, in which the influence of Max Ernst seems clear to me – the Beast strongly resembles the massive, feathered, owl-or hawk-headed striding figures from his Surrealist paintings and collages.  So there we are, collages again; full circle.

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The Lake District

Blackpaint

14.02.13

Blackpaint 379 – Respect, Abe; Straight Lines, Kurt.

February 1, 2013

Lincoln

It IS sentimental and over-respectful; too many adoring gazes from black servants, soldiers quoting the Gettysburg Address, heart-rending “freedom chords” at strategic points, telling you how to feel, as Adam Mars-Jones puts it.  Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant and does “disappear into the role” (Kirsty Wark, I think) and it’s fun to play spot the actor in the supporting cast; there’s Shane out of “The Shield”, Layne out of MadMen playing Ulysses Grant – sorry, spoiler there – and that elderly, white-locked bloke who has been in everything since forever, playing Preston.  Tommy Lee Jones is great and Sally Field as irritating as ever.

Back in 1981, I visited Mormon HQ in Salt Lake City.  They had a series of life – size dioramas portraying the history of the Mormon religion. At times, “Lincoln” reminded me of this, especially towards the end.  However, one shouldn’t be too critical – it’s hard to see how Spielberg could avoid paying his respects, given Lincoln’s stature and the issues involved.  I suppose if someone over here did Churchill in WW2 it would be as respectful – or maybe not?  One last, obvious comparison: The West Wing.

Schwitters at Tate Britain

I can’t think of an exhibition I have seen in the last few years which had a higher ratio of successes to duds than this one.  The fabric and paper collages, though many were tiny, were great, for the most part.  Age helped, maybe, in that most were slightly browned and faded, softening the colours to pastel; fragments of words and numbers, for some reason, work well – maybe because they provide a sort of ready-made motif.  Easy to overdo, though, and he rarely overdoes.  I didn’t like the ones where he used cutouts of people; I thought that he strayed into surrealist, Max Ernst territory when he did this; one or two were almost like Stezaker.

Generally, Schwitters is best when he sticks to straight lines, unless he’s sticking a round object straight on; the ones with curves or painted circles I thought were less successful.  That goes, in fact, for the paintings in general.  There are some unremarkable portraits,  a couple of dodgy seascapes, some quite bad feathery abstract efforts and an especially bad “Madonna and Child”, like a wave with two rings on the crests.  often, the colours are too garish.

I loved the sound poetry – half recited, half sung, with the “words” on the wall.  Still, for me, the best of the large collages is the one that was in the “Migrations” exhibition a while ago – “Picture with Spatial Growths – Picture with Two Small Dogs”.  That great, convex sweep from top left to just right of centre at the bottom, on the area of black – from a distance, it looks like a painting.  Highly recommended; I’m definitely going again, soon.

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Turner

Before the Schwitters, I took a walk through the Turner galleries; there are two new seascapes that caught my eye immediately – “Rough Seas” and “Rough Seas with Wreckage”.  Both very “abstract”, especially the first; superficially, from a distance, with your eyes half-closed, it looks Twombly-ish.

Sprout Gallery

Readers in UK and Europe might want to drop in to the above gallery in Moyser Road, Tooting, London SW16 6SE to see (maybe to buy) my paintings, or those of my partner, between Tuesday 5th and Sat 16th Feb, 11.00am – 5.00pm.  For those in the Americas, Middle and Far East and Australasia, I realise the journey may be a little too much but you never know…

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Blackpaint

1.02.13

Blackpaint 275

May 21, 2011

Bela Tarr

In  “Satantango”, his three DVD, 7 hour film, Irimias and Petrina sleep together, like Morecambe and Wise, in a little cubicle, in their overcoats.  Petrina covers the sleeping Irimias with a blanket.

When the charismatic Irimias is not there,  his disciples lose faith – rightly, of course – and only the faith of Lajos’ wife is unshaken; she does them the disservice of talking them round again.  Only Futaki, with his grim, thin, vinegary face, is unconvinced and strikes out alone.  I haven’t seen the end yet, however; maybe he comes around again.  Another hour or 90 minutes to go.

I’m seeing shades of Beckett and Bunuel in Tarr’s work.  I was going to say he stands at the opposite pole of my other obsession, Fellini – but then there are the whales, in “Satyricon” and “The Werckmeister Harmonies”…  I suppose what I really like about Tarr is the complete lack of pretension in his work.

An Ordinary Dog, by Gregory Woods

“Jerome”, one of Woods’ poems in the above collection, is clearly based on a painting of the eponymous saint; I can’t decide which one, however.  Woods mentions Jerome resting his slippered feet” on the upholstered ribcage of a dormant lion” – I thought the Durer, but no slippers and the lion is a foot or so away from the saint’s feet.  Maybe I’m being too literal; one of my many faults.  The last line – “Call me trivial but I can hear his stomach rumbling” – reminds me of that poem in Penguin Poetry of the Thirties, “The Progress of Poetry” by Christopher Caudwell:

“In evening’s sacred cool, among my bushes

A Figure was wont to walk.  I deemed it an angel.

But look at the footprint.  There’s hair between the toes!”

Kurt Schwitters

Just done another umber, alizerin, grey and black panel that looks (intentionally) a bit rough and rugged, like something from the beach at St. Ives, a chunk of sunk rowing boat maybe.  I thought of sticking some real wood to it, making it a sculpture or collage at least – then, flicking through an art book, came on Schwitters’ stuff done in the 20’s and a host of others, of course – Burri and Tapies with the sacking – and thought I’d better leave it.  There is nothing new under the sun, as I keep finding out – anew every day.

Max Ernst

His sculpture “Capricorne” , of a seated, bull- headed (Minotaur?) figure, flanked by a standing “wife” (Tanning) with a fish-shaped head – actually, the fish looks more like a hammer about to crash down on the bull’s head – holds in his right hand  – what?  It  looks to me like a giant toothbrush, which of course is entirely possible in Ernst’s work.  It’s now destroyed, anyway – book doesn’t say how.

The Minotaur

Must be one of the most frequently recurring images in art; I can think of Ernst, Picasso of course, Keith Vaughan, GF Watts… Actually, that’s about it.  I’ve just checked and, apart from a load of fantasy comic illustrations and figurines, a Greek vase and a Canova sculpture, I can’t find any others.  In film, there’s “Oedipus Rex” and “Satyricon”, of course.

Blackpaint

21.05.11

Blackpaint 94

March 24, 2010

Paul Nash at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Got to this today; four rooms, I think, of paintings, drawings, some photographs and two collages, one of photographs, the other of wood pieces.

There was “Totes Meer”, the sea of dead German planes, “Landscape of a Dream” ( the one with the hawk),  a trench painting, which I think was”We are Building a New World” –  familiar anyway – and “Solstice of a Sunflower”, the strangely still, yellow juggernaut. The rest of the stuff was new to me, which was a surprise.

I have to say that I found the washed-out, bleached colours and the thinly-applied, dry brush strokes with occasional patches and flecks of bare canvas a bit oppressive today.  The surface of “Sunflower” ,for instance, was arid and elsewhere the paint looked sticky and dragged-on, somehow.  “Farewell” (1944) was a crooked stick against an awful, sickly lemon yellow, but mostly chalk whites, thin sky blues, light greys with here and there, as in “Dream”, a splash of plum/raspberry.  There were several empty room interiors, waiting for something to happen, with an Ernstish feel and the several “Urne Buriall”s had surrealist stock lurking about – owls, dismembered arms, birds with faces.

There was the Dymchurch stuff, purling seas on shorelines, long, slender women in long, slender 20’s dresses (in distance, back turned to viewer).  There were two early (1911 – 13) pictures called “Wittesham Clumps”, one in watercolour, ink and chalk, the other pen and ink, I believe, that were very beautiful; tree circles, very distinct but tiny, flocks of birds above them.

Photographs – tennis ball (which cropped up again in a large painting, “Event on the Downs”), standing stone, cottage, ploughed land, again with painting nearby and “Monster Tree”, a typical Nash photograph of a strange-looking natural phenomenon.  It looked to me as though the fallen tree might have been shifted a little to create the desired effect, but no doubt I’m wrong.

There was some Nicolson-ish stuff from 30 – 31 – “Opening” and “Kinetic Features” and “Nest of the Siren”, which was unremarkable except that the colours were richer and more thickly applied than the others, highlighting the general thinness and dryness elsewhere.  Another nest, this one “Nest of Stones”, worked wonderfully, because the texture of the stones was perfectly reproduced by Nash’s approach.

In the last room, larger paintings, deeper colour at last!  In “Swan Song”, a huge fly agaric mushroom with its white spotted, red cap lies broken in a wood; next to it, “Chestnut Waters” – an avenue of trees reflected in the surface of a lake; and the giant tennis ball on the Downs.

The title of the exhibition is “Elements” – a fair amount of landscape, seashore, trees, flowers, I suppose; but really the exhibition is mostly his surrealist stuff.  I suppose on another day, in another place (atmosphere at Dulwich I find rather starchy), I would have enjoyed it more – today it was washed-out, bleached, chalky, dry and thin, the titles pretentious.  So there we are; a couple of weeks ago, I was criticising Laura Cumming for having a similar beam in her eye with regard to Henry Moore.  Sometimes – but not often – the “Britishness” is too much!

Listened to Muddy Waters, “Long- Distance Call”; great antidote to Dulwich.

“I hear my phone a-ringing, sounds like a long-distance call, (*2)

Pick up my receiver, party say “Another mule kickin’ in your stall”.

Blackpaint

24.03.10