Posts Tagged ‘Olivier’

Blackpaint 361 – Bronze, Snow and Fire

October 4, 2012

Bronze, Royal Academy

This exhibition fulfils one of the most important criteria for me – there’s not too much to read.  In the half-light of the RA, this is quite a relief.  if you want to learn about the processes, you can; but the technical stuff is in a section of its own that you can pass by, without feeling that you’ve missed out.

The most impressive exhibit confronts you as you enter.  It’s a statue of a dancer (one leg missing) that was dredged up from the sea bed off Sicily, I think.  There is speculation that it is the work of Praxiteles, but this is probably hype, I would guess.  The motion frozen, the roughnesses of the surface, and the unfussy perfection of the modelling are something to see.

Then there is the long Etruscan Shadow Spirit, smiling to itself, the image of a Giacommetti figure – except smoother.  Then there is the Greek horse’s head, very like the Elgin one in the British Museum, the Etruscan Chimaera, the Scandinavian chariot of the sun and the Austrian carriage nearby – and the beautiful Benin and Ife heads…  I’ll stop now, before I list the lot.

The main impression it left me was the contrast between the beauty of the rough, or unpolished, or sparely decorated surfaces of artefacts of ancient civilisations (apart from those of India, Burma and China – no-one could call them unadorned): and the hideous, often huge, dark brown, highly polished contortions of the Renaissance : there is, for example, a huge wild boar that I think is the ugliest sculpture I’ve ever seen, although made with consummate skill and no doubt perfectly accurate in every detail.

There are exceptions, of course:  Cellini (well, of course) for one.  Interesting to see one of de Kooning’s Clamdiggers, like something risen from a bog clothed in clods of mud in a Harryhausen film, and the Jasper Johns beer cans, another dK connection (he gave Johns the idea).

Anna Karenina

This film, starring Keira Knightley in the title role, came as a surprise in that it moves back and forth between the stage, the theatre and naturalism.  In this respect, it is the descendent of Olivier’s “Henry V”, made during WW2, which starts and ends on the stage, but changes with great subtlety throughout.  The other work it recalls is “Oh What a Lovely War!”, which moves back and forth between the battlefields and Brighton Pier.  As reviewers have remarked, the choreographing of movements and the stage settings in Karenina lead you to expect the actors to do a song at any moment.

There are a few other film and art references:  the ball scene has a bit where the minor characters disappear and Anna and Vronsky are dancing alone (cf. West Side Story);  the beginning of the horse race sequence has echoes of My Fair Lady Ascot scenes; Anna and Vronsky wound together in white bedsheets reminds one of a Lucian Freud painting and there are touches of Renoir and Manet too.  Keira Knightley, certainly beautiful, and outstanding in this role, has a way of stretching her long throat forwards and thrusting her chin that gives her an almost insect-like appearance at times – like a praying mantis.  I thought she was too vivid for Vronsky at first, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s weakness, in his toy soldier white uniform, proved actually just right for the character.  The horse race scene is the outstanding moment.

Although reviewers have praised the cinematography, and the film is flushed with luscious reds and crisp snow whites, I missed a certain sharpness in the detail.  At the end, raindrops fall on oak leaves in extreme close up – they haven’t got that crystalline Bela Tarr look.  Maybe it’s easier to do in black and white.

Rita Ackermann

At Hauser and Wirth in Piccadilly.  Eight huge blood-red and blue abstracts under the title “Fire by Days”.  Actually, they look as if they might be human figures going up in flames.  Very impressive, and intriguing, in that it looks as if she has used sand to texture them here and there, although the leaflet only says oil, spray paint and acrylic.  She seems to have painted creases in the canvas on one at least (first on left, top left of canvas) whilst another has a thick seam running down the left side, as if two canvases joined.  Apparently, she worked out from a paint spill in her studio.  In the basement are blue skeins of oil on paper titled “Fire by Day Blues” and in the upstairs gallery, a series of distorted portraits of the same face – Fire by Days The Fool.  I think the red ones are great.  I looked through her book (£40.00) and found resemblances to Albert Oehlen and other German Expressionists of the 80s.

Blackpaint

4.10.12

Blackpaint 290

August 26, 2011

More from the Guggenheim Bilbao

Kenneth Noland – “April Time”; a huge yellow ochre colour field with pastel green, orange and toothpaste borders.  Also “Time Shift”; equally huge blue and green chevron on white field.

Frank Stella – Orange and pink, airbrushed ? half wheels, in fluorescent paint, cut to shape.  Check out Stella in the 60s in the DVD Painters on Painting – he’s like a young Woody Allen, with a strong sense of grievance.

Morris Louis – “Saraband”; acrylic resin on canvas.  Stripes of dulled colour, oranges,  crimson, greens,  dulled by layering over darker pigment.

Helen Frankenthaler -” Canal”; poured acrylic on unbleached canvas, blue/orange, staining to blue  , then to grey.

I think I’m right in saying that there are only three women painters amongst the abstractionists on show: Frankenthaler, da Silva and Elaine de Kooning (a lovely painting like a sheaf of highly coloured leaves).  There are more female sculptors and conceptualists, however, in the sections entitled (for some non-luminous reason) “The Luminous Interval”:

Kiki Smith –   a group of body sculptures; body with scarf “entrails” dangling; pile of heads, legs, arms linked by a chain; severed, bloody forearms, palms up, on a cushion “bed”; a leaden man bent double as if touching toes, a great scab of slag enclosing his backside; tiny black bacon rasher-like things, on tiny tables; a man-thing crouching half way up a wall with a long strip of black shit emerging from the anus – title: “Shitbody”.  So, some fairly physical items there.

Annette Messager – An enormous exhibit of dolls, gloves, stockings and a multitude of other fabric-based bits and pieces, hanging from red threads to make a sort of tree thing.

Louise Bourgeois – hands and forearms entwined on a stone block, in a cage, surrounded by large circular mirrors.

Mona Hatoum – room-sized, open “crate” made of shelving, containing light bulbs going on and off.

Rachel Whiteread – Flat-bottomed, amber coloured wax bath mould; white bookshelves with whited-out books and white boxes on platforms.

Marina Abramovic – her strangely sexy – maybe it’s just me – video of her scrubbing the skeleton (sounds like an Australian metaphor), previously described at the Whitechapel Gallery.

Wanguchi Muti – Darkened room with a wall of fox(?) pelts at one end, scores of upside-down wine bottles dripping onto a long table.  Strong smell of stale wine.

Common elements – use of whole rooms, body parts, hanging things, bodily functions, cages. 

Last word on Gug next blog.

Alexander Nevsky

You can see that Olivier saw Eisenstein’s film before making Henry V; there’s the baggage train, the shower of arrows, the charge (across ice instead of green fields), even the single combat between Alexander (Henry) and the Grandmaster of the Teutonic Knights (Constable of France).  Branagh’s 1991 remake of Henry V owes more to Welles’  “Chimes at Midnight” than Olivier’s Henry – especially the mud and blood and  slow motion in the battle scenes, as well as Robbie Coltrane’s brief turn as Falstaff.  One place where Olivier’s version still stands way above Branagh’s is the speech before the battle; Olivier didn’t see fit to ruin it by having “stirring” music swelling behind Shakespeare’s words. 

Conversations with Fellini, edited by Costanzo Costantini (Harvest,1995)

A fascinating book, in the sense that the questions are shaped to appear tricky, demanding, sometimes aggressive – but which Fellini fields with self-deprecation, humour and beautifully turned metaphors.  The book is fraudulent, therefore, but the fraud is clearly  part of the Fellini package, so it rings true to the man.  Mastroianni was clearly born to play Fellini’s alter ego.

Blackpaint

25/08/11