Posts Tagged ‘Orwell’

Blackpaint 613- Degas, Soutine, Orwell, Proust and Brexit

January 2, 2018

Soutine again

Revisited this great exhibition at the Courtauld ; waiters, bellboys, patrons (the french kind), with those dipping shoulders, bending faces, pouting lips, supercilious sneers, rich blue and blood red backgrounds.  You can see the influence he had on de Kooning, and maybe Bacon.  That big, long red one reminds me of Beckmann.

Degas et al at the National Gallery

The Degas is free; it’s on the ground floor, in a room after a collection of beautiful small landscapes, of which more in a moment.  Most of the Degas pictures are pastels but there are at least two in oils that look like pastels.  Some lovely sturdy ballerinas, that big brown/orange one of the maid combing out the woman’s hair (usually on display in the first Impressionism room to the right of the main entrance) and a great one of racehorses with jockeys up, in a downpour; a whirl of Russian women dancers.

 

 

As for the landscapes, I thought the most striking was by Lord Leighton, a jutting outcrop against green, from an unusual angle.

Also, a couple of great Boudins, distant families on the beach, Trouville I think.  He’s a “red spot” man.

Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

Just re-read this essay, written near the end of WW2, but staggeringly relevant today (relevance is something you find pretty much every time you pick up an Orwell book).  I recognised my own mindset immediately, with regard to the Brexit “debate” and resolved to think of Orwell every time I read the Guardian.  Doesn’t work though, unfortunately; still teeth grinding and swearing.  Orwell is often spectacularly wrong; for example, he thought in the early days of the war and maybe later, that Britain was bound to lose unless the war became a revolutionary war, with the Home Guard maybe playing the role of a People’s Militia.  But there is always reason and clarity in his writing and he draws attention to his own errors willingly.

Proust 

I’m still ploughing through the books; on the fourth one now (title?).  It strikes me that the Dreyfus case, which keeps popping up in the salons of St. Germain and elsewhere, divided France in much the same way as the Brexit issue has divided Britain, perhaps not yet with the same degree of venom – but give it time…

Best exhibitions last year

Rauschenberg (Tate Modern)

Jasper Johns (Royal Academy)

Soutine (Courtauld)

Kabakovs (Tate Modern)

Holbein, Da Vinci, the Caraccis et al (National Portrait Gallery)

Best Films 2017

Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)

Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Best books 2017

The Dream Colony, Walter Hopps and Deborah Triesman

Road to Somewhere, David Goodhart

Caravaggio (Taschen)

Best TV 2017

Howards End

League of Gentlemen

Babylon Berlin

Best DVDs I’ve seen in 2017

Il Topo (Jodorowsky, 1970)

Caravaggio (Derek Jarman, 1986)

Blade Runner – the final cut (Ridley Scott, 2007)

Mahler (Ken Russell)

Mauve Nude

 

Black and White

Blackpaint

1/1/2018

Happy New Year.

 

 

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Blackpaint 453 – Making Colour, Orwell and Kafka, Rolf Harris

July 4, 2014

Making Colour, National Gallery

Exhibition of works taken from the permanent collection – nothing new here – illustrating various points about, unsurprisingly, the history of colour use in art.  The technicalities are interesting and some good pictures (see below):

 

caracci

 

Caracci – similar colours in the Veronese exhibition recently.  Love the gesture: “Yeah, straight on down and take a left – can’t miss it.”

stamina

 

Stamina – St. Margaret’ s execution.  It’s the executioner’s purple robe that is the focus for this painting.

Masaccio_StGeromeAndStJohnTheBaptist

 

Masaccio – Sts. Jerome and John.  The colours, the facial expressions and the little lion.

Thomas_Gainsborough_015

 

Gainsborough – Mrs.Siddons.  I think there’s another Mrs Siddons by G in Dulwich Picture Gallery; looks like the same dress.

 

 George Orwell – Taylor’s biography

The Bernard Crick bio is still the one of choice for me, but Taylor’s has the odd illuminating detail missing from Crick.  For example, late in his life when a collected works was being contemplated, Orwell had no personal copies of Burmese Days or Clergyman’s Daughter – he had to do a JR Hartley to get copies.  Can you imagine a modern author without at least one copy of every single edition of his/her work?  Neither can I.

Finished Nineteen Eighty – Four again; I’d forgotten what a gruelling experience the last section was.  Apparently, some prospective reviewers were unable to sleep after reading it.  I wouldn’t go that far, but its certainly depressing.  Taylor discusses the similarities to Murray Constantine’s  “Swastika Night”, and, rightly in my view, dismisses the on-line view that Orwell nicked the plot.

A faint echo that sounded for me was the story “In the Penal Colony” by Kafka.  It will be remembered that an officer of the colony has inherited from his governor an execution machine that kills by repeatedly penetrating, ever deeper, the flesh with needles that write out the “crime” on the body until the condemned is dead.  The point (excuse pun) is that the prisoner comes to some higher understanding of the nature of his crime as he dies.

This is akin to the need of Ingsoc to go beyond just killing malcontents like Winston; first, they must be remade, by torture and brainwashing,  to see their previous ideas as errors and to love “Big Brother”.  this is a real need; to simply dispose of opposition by murder is not sufficient.  It undermines the whole point of totalitarian society to tolerate the existence of opposition, even passive dissent, even in the past.  Dissent must be changed to acceptance and the past must be restructured.

The officer of Kafka’s penal colony himself submits to the machine, because the new governor is against him and  the unnamed observer fails to see a reason for the machine and disapproves on humanitarian grounds.  In this absolutism, the officer resembles the Party in Orwell’s novel.

Jonathan Jones on Rolf Harris

In today’s Guardian, Jones (an art critic) recounts an anecdote in which he” saw Harris’ s dark side years ago” .  At the unveiling in 2005 of Harris’s portrait of the queen, Jones asked him if he seriously believed that “his portrait was a good work of art”.  This brought out the Dark Side, apparently; “anger suddenly crossed his previously beaming face”.  Well, what did Jones expect?  In my experience, creative people are narcissistic through and through and anything less than 100% adulation is unbearable – unless they’re going for shock effect, of course.  If you publicly insult someone in front of the assembled media, I would have thought it quite likely you’ll see an angry expression pass over their features.

He goes on to draw a parallel between Harris’s “determinedly inoffensive daubs” and the “banality of evil”, famously, Hannah Arendt’s phrase describing the Nazis.  “The middlebrow is inherently corrupt”, perhaps, says Jones; “Chocolate box art is a lie”.

What complete nonsense this is.  I would guess that there are some, maybe even many, conventional, inoffensive, “chocolate box” painters who don’t have Harris’s predatory sexual habits.  Some of them might even be decent citizens.  Same goes for the fans and punters – too stupid to recognise the banality of evil, maybe, but not necessarily perverts.

 

 

 

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Blackpaint – St. Clement’s

7.04.14

Blackpaint 450 – Pantomime Horses, the Royal Messenger and the Cornish Caves

June 13, 2014

Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood and Alfred Wallis at Dulwich Picture Gallery  

This follows on nicely from the exhibition at Tate St.Ives; Winifred is the star for me, in this early period, which more or less finishes when Ben began to do his geometric abstracts.  His paintings feature some rather irritating pantomime horses, not quite with the knees pointing the wrong way, but nearly.  Also, he seems to have nicked some sailing ships from Alfred Wallis.  The style is termed faux-naive, and it strikes a false note with me. for sure.

Winifred’s still lifes of flowers strike me as bearing a slight resemblance to Paul Nash, not so much content as surface and hue.  There are also two portraits, one of a family looking out at the viewer and one of a father tending to a child.  In addition to Nash, there is a hint of Stanley Spencer and perhaps, in the baby, Wallis and Gromit.

.winifred-nicholson-father-and-son-19271

Anyway, there’s a fine triangular Wallis of ships passing before icebergs, and Ben Nicholson’s rather shabby first abstraction, which has a charm of its own.  Still the best Winifred I’ve seen, though, is the Window Sill at Lugano, which is at the Tate St.Ives show.  The colours remind me of the great de Kooning poster which is in the Member’s Room of the Tate Modern.  Can’t find the DK painting in any of my books; maybe its a detail.

winifred nicholson

Winifred Nicholson

Tate St. Ives

Some paintings and sculptures from the current show that I didn’t mention last week:

Riopelle, Perspectives

Little ingots of white and black paint massed together in his usual style against areas of deep, cold blue and dark red.

Perspectives-Jean-Paul-Riopelle-1956

 

Frink

A human torso, half legs and arms, spread out like an animal carcase.

Hepworth, Torso

Beautiful bust of a heavy- hipped woman.

hepworth torso

 

Lanyon, Turn Around

One of several intriguing box-type constructions.

Turn Around 1963-4 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964

 

Niki de Saint Phalle, Dracula

Hard to describe, so here’s a picture –

niki_de_saint_phalle_dracula

National Gallery 

A couple more things to look out for in the newly opened basement gallery (wednesdays and Sundays):

The Battle of Valmy

That poor hussar lying dead on his back, with a cannonball hole in his breastplate – why has he got no boots on?

valmy

The Madonna and Child – I think it’s in the style of Duccio.

Dubufe – the Surprise

Wonder what it is?

dubufe-surprise-NG457-fm

 

DH Lawrence, the White Peacock

I was going on last week about how Lawrence larded every page of this, his first novel, with nature description.  On reflection, I think its more than just the urge to describe; I think nature is almost another “character” in the narrative – it is stitched in to frame and echo the unfolding of the story in a way that transcends simple scene-setting; but I’m often wrong.

Orwell, Animal Farm

There’s a lovely passage in Crick’s biography, worth quoting in full:

“When Queen Elizabeth, whose literary adviser was Osbert Sitwell, sent the Royal Messenger to Secker and Warburg for a copy in November, he found them utterly sold out and had to go with horse, carriage, top hat and all, to the anarchist Freedom Bookshop, in Red Lion Street, where George Woodcock gave him a copy”.

The Killer Inside Me

Michael Winterbottom film from a Jim Thompson novel, starring Casey Affleck as a psychopathic deputy sheriff in Texas 50s and Jessica Alba as his prostitute girlfriend, who he beats to death quite coldly as part of a double murder, when it suits him.  Later, he does the same thing to his fiancee.  A horrible film, with two repulsive sequences – possibly three – which I found very compelling too; had to watch it to the end.  Maybe there’s something wrong with me.  Affleck is brilliant; you want to beat him to death.

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Cornish Cave Painting 3

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What the Landscape Became

Blackpaint 13/06/14

Blackpaint 449 – Glassy Seas at the National, Harbours and Wrecks at St.Ives

June 6, 2014

National Gallery – the Basement

There’s a “new” room downstairs in the NG, open to the public on Wednesdays and Sundays; not new at all, of course, but newly opened up.  You go through to room 15 where the Turners and Claudes are, and downstairs from there.

It’s like the “B” List; everywhere you look, you see something that looks like a copy of a famous painting elsewhere (sometimes upstairs).  My guess is that they are not copies – they’re not THAT similar – but maybe done from some sort of template that was going the rounds.

There’s so much down there that it will take a couple of blogs at least – but here are some highlights:

The Workshop of the Master of the Female Half – Lengths; St. John on Patmos.  Lovely little painting, I thought with shades of Giorgione.

master-female-half-lengths-saint-john-patmos-NG717-fm

A big, cartoon-y Signorelli, The Circumcision.  Who is the evil -looking character in the headcloth?  Dodgy eyes, if ever I saw them.  Unfortunately, can’t find a good repro on line, so you will have to visit to see what I mean.

Zanobi Strozzi’s Annunciation.  Like Lippi maybe, but with an astonishing  Expressionist floor.

strozzi-annunciation-NG1406-fm

Fra Angelico, St. Romulus – another vivid little beauty.

Then, there are the lookalikes:

Mano d’Oggiono, Virgin and Child – that fat baby leaning forwards, arms outstretched, reminded me of the Christ in the Virgin of the Rocks, the one with the unhealthy looking baby making the blessing gesture.

Gio. di Nicola, an Anthony Abbot, just like the frowning Masaccio? one upstairs.

A St Catharine with a face just like Leonardo’s St. Anne.

Venusti, a “follower of Michelangelo”; a small Holy Family with a dark green background that reminded me of that fabulous Raphael with John the Baptist and a pope…

Then, there is Clays, a Dutch painter who does glassy green, calm seas, in the way you look to Cuyp for cows.

clays-ships-lying-dordrecht-NG815-fm

Loads more; its a great visit.

Tate St.Ives -Modern Art and St.Ives, International Exchanges 1915 – 1965

First, there are a lot of “old friends” here, if you go to the London Tates much:

Franz Kline’s Meryon, the giant black bridgehead;

Gorky’s Waterfall;

Helion’s colourful little abstract;

Winifred Nicholson’s “yellow patch” abstract from Tate B;

Lanyon’s Thermal and Wreck;

Hockney’s Third Love Painting;

The big, blue Clyfford Still – you know the one;

The Rothko, that yellow-green “window” one;

Ben Nicholson, Gabo, Moholy- Nagy, Van Doesberg, Margaret Mellis, all have geometrical pieces; and there’s an El Lissitsky, which is interesting,  in that it is the only painting or construction of this lot that contains an illusory (desk-shaped) 3D image.  Some of the others have depth, but it is created by layering.

lissitsky

Here are a few of the other treasures on view – again, I’ll need another blog to do justice to the exhibition;

de Kooning, Zot – a mini “Excavation”.

DeKooning, Zot, 1949,339

Alan Davie, Bird Singing; little, dirty – fantastic.

(c) Alan Davie; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Roger Hilton, Grey day by the Sea.  So simple…couldn’t find a good one online.

William Scott, Harbour.

william scott st ives

Serge Poliakoff, Abstract Composition; Blue, brown, red, yellow.

poliakoff

 

And of course the Lanyon paintings…

Wreck 1963 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964

Wreck, Peter Lanyon

Anyway, more on St.Ives and NG next blog.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Struck again by Orwell’s concept of Doublethink, the ability to believe two absolutely contradictory things simultaneously – it seems to me that this is extremely common, perhaps even universal.  I know that I’m capable of it, and even comfortable with it.  Good example in the paper today, Richard Dawkins talking about people who dismiss the idea of Father Christmas as nonsense, but profess a belief in a supernatural god figure…

 

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 Cornish Cave Paintings, Blackpaint

6th June 2014

 

 

 

 

 

Blackpaint 448 – Theory, Violence, Horror, and Nature

May 29, 2014

Theory and Non – Theory (cont.)

Since last week’s blog and my (defensively) sarcastic comments about the French and French/Algerian masters of critical theory, I have discovered Paul Strathern and his potted guides, “Derrida in an hour” etc.  Fantastic.  I’ve done Derrida, Foucault, Wittgenstein and have Heidegger lined up; what Strathern needs to do is to get his finger out and do Barthes, Baudrillard, Lyotard, Deleuze and one or two others, then I’ll be OK for my book group next time.  Trouble with the group is that if you want to hold your end up, you have to read not only the scheduled book, but every other book in the world that has any bearing on the subject.  I can’t hope to do that but maybe can fake it with Strathern’s help.

Comics Unmasked, British Library

jonah

(Not the Jonah on show, but gives you an idea)

The best work on display in my view is a Beano spread from the early 60s, I guess, of Ken Reid’s fantastic ” Jonah”.  This is so busy and full of energy that it practically moves on the page as you peer at it.  Also very striking was “Gwendoline”, and the Rupert Bear and the Gypsy Grandma  from the International Times, or maybe Oz – delicacy prevents me from description.  For some reason, R Crumb was omitted altogether??? and there was only one Posy Simmonds, a page of  “Tamara Drewe”.  Despite the graphic sex, the most shocking cartoon for me (although I have the book in which it was published) was Reg Smythe’s Andy Capp, reproduced below:

andy-capp

This was presumably first published in the Daily Mirror, before inclusion in the collection I own.  Private Eye, I remember, used to run a strip by Bill Tidy, The Cloggies, in which there was a character called  “The Blagdon Amateur Rapist.”  Can’t remember when, but I guess well into the 70s, maybe later.

There are many other treasures and I strongly recommend the exhibition. I got a great compendium of early 50s US horror comics too; “The Horror, the Horror!” by Jim Trombetta, £20 and well worth it.

DH Lawrence, The White Peacock

Lawrence’s first novel, in which the action is beset throughout by great wodges of nature description; we know at all times what the lapwings, clouds, forget-me-nots, brooks and grasses are doing.  This seems a common syndrome with first novels; Almayer’s Folly by Conrad and Orwell’s Burmese Days both have the same characteristic, not necessarily a fault, in my view; I think Orwell brings it off well.

The Lawrence has a more amusing fault; the narrator is one of the characters, yet he is “all-knowing”.  He tells us what his sister Lettie says and does explains that with her suitor George when they are off alone in the woods, for instance.  I wonder how common this error is in literature; I can’t offhand think of any other examples, yet it struck me immediately in “Peacock”.

Clark at Tate Britain

Here are the Seurats in the Clark exhibition:

seurat clark 1

seurat clark 2

I think the first one is usually in the National Gallery – but the second is new to me.

Asger Jorn – Restless Rebel

New book on Jorn, essays on various periods.  It’s great of course – below, Jorn in his studio.

jorn in studio

 

And here’s my latest effort, which turned into a landscape when I put it on its side.  I hate it and will vandalise it with green and blue paint as soon as I publish this.

 

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 Blackpaint

29.05.14

Blackpaint 447 – Ken Clark’s pictures, Theory and Non-Theory, Capitalism, Fellini and Orwell

May 23, 2014

Kenneth Clark Collection at Tate Britain 

This is an astonishing exhibition; four and a bit big rooms of great art, most of it actually owned by Clark.  Some of the treasures on show listed or shown below:

pasmore clark 1

Victor Pasmore

A couple of portraits and nudes by Pasmore that are new to me, along with the more familiar river side pictures like Hammersmith and “Evening Star” in which, unlike the Turner of the same name I saw the other week at Margate, the star in question is readily visible.  The rear view nude on the bed (which I can’t find a picture of) looks like a fore-runner of Uglow.

sutherland clark1

Graham Sutherland, Sun rising between two Hills

A number of great Sutherlands, landscapes, foundries, Blitz damage, portraits (of Clark himself); also Pipers on similar themes, and Paul Nash – especially his magisterial “Battle of Britain” with it’s vapour trails making a great, plant-like shape in the sky above the Thames and the coast.

bell clark1

Graham Bell, Brunswick Square, 

A new one on me – love that violet blue.

Just too much to list really – Cezanne drawings. Coptic tapestry figures from the 5th – 7th century AD, a Lippo Lippi Moses striking the rock, a couple of Nolans, one horrible the other fantastic, a couple of great Seurats, a Samuel Palmer, Cornfield by Moonlight and Evening Star (again), Henry Moore in the shelters and the mines, oh, a couple of Leonardo drawings…  It’s amazing that one man could have amassed all this in the 20th century.

Theory

I attended a symposium at UCL a couple of weeks ago, on “Real Abstraction”.  A series of distinguished academics, who discussed matters like materiality in very abstruse terms, assuming familiarity with the terms on the part of the audience (many of whom looked as if they were up to speed on the topic).  All the speakers, I think, mentioned Adorno; Capital also made an appearance in every presentation.  It was soon clear to me that the real subject was how abstraction in art could be accommodated by Marxist theory of the Frankfurt school – for the first speaker anyway.  We listened to six of the speakers and none of them made any attempt to define what “Real Abstraction” was. We listened quietly, applauded politely and visited Habitat in the lunch hour, buying a nice glass flask for £8.00.

More Theory

My painting has always taken account of “theory” – Foucault, Barthes, Derrida, Baudrillard, Deleuze – I suppose it’s obvious from the content.  At my book group the other day, I discovered from one of the academics that there are “theory” and “non-theory” people in the universities; the latter would be traditionalists, liberals or conservatives, using analytical processes not determined (although perhaps informed) by the writings of the above and their followers.  Glad I’m not one – now I can add Adorno to the list too.

Orwell, Eileen and 1984

Perhaps the ultimate non-theory person; I was interested to read in the great Crick biography that Orwell’s wife Eileen worked for the Ministry of Food during the war, persuading the people to eat whatever vegetables were currently plentiful – one month, she might be stressing the health benefits of potatoes; the following month, there may be a shortage, and she would switch to pointing out how fattening potatoes were.  Crick suggests plausibly this filtered into Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Fellini, The Ship Sails on

Watched this again and was freshly impressed by the performance of Freddie Jones  as the reporter-narrator, who ends up in the rowing boat with the rhino (you have to get the DVD and watch it, too complicated to explain) and Barbara Jeffords as the suppressed operatic diva.  Fantastic.

 

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For Derrida

Blackpaint

23.05.14

Blackpaint 444 – Matisse, Soutine, UKIP and Exhibitionism at the ICA

May 2, 2014

Matisse Cut outs, Tate Modern

Brilliant colours, some fantastic images – but occasional hints of custom wallpaper and, for ex – art teachers (my partner tells me), the memory of those lessons when you would grab a wad of coloured paper from the cupboard and get the kids to cut out Matisse-like patterns and images and collage them.  The highlights, for me, are:

Memory of Oceania

oceania

 

Zulma

matisse zulma

 

Blue Nude

matisse blue nude

 

The top two are very large; Oceania smaller than the Snail, but not by much, I think.  The blue nude is one of three or four, slightly different – I like this one best.  It sounds odd, but the charcoal or pencil marks on Oceania make a big difference for me; don’t quite know why.  Maybe they add interest, add a bit of roughness – same for Zulma.  I  loved the stained-glass window “sketches” too.  Perhaps it’s because the whole exhibition is too brilliantly coloured and light-suffused.  There’s plenty of black, but it’s brilliant black, not dirty, grey/brown black.  That’s it – dirt.  I want a bit of dirty texture in among the bright colours; de Kooning or Jorn or Appel.  Pity there were no paintings – but then it wouldn’t be “the cut-outs”…  Still, great exhibition.

Cezanne et al at the Ashmolean Museum Oxford, 

I wrote in  last blog about the “Cezanne and the Modern” at the Ashmolean, but forgot to include some of the great Soutine paintings that were in it – so here are a few:

soutine 2

soutine selfie

soutine1

 

I think he’s a stunningly good painter; only really knew him for the sides of meat before.  Why isn’t there a Taschen on him?  Next blog, the Ashmolean permanent collection, which is also great.

Exhibition, Joanna Hogg

Saw this on Sunday, and I have so much to say that I’m leaving it to next blog too.  Unlike Unrelated and Archipelago, it focuses on a couple, rather than a family and friends;  it’s set indoors mostly and these two factors make it rather claustrophobic to watch; might be more comfortable to watch on DVD.  Still very highly recommended  though.  Be prepared for a lot of masturbation (on the screen, that is).

Orwell, Fascism and Racism

There was a wonderful example of the sort of political writing that Orwell ridiculed in the Guardian on Monday; Owen Jones, attacking UKIP, referred to its supporters “vomiting” racist remarks, and to the one who attacked Lenny Henry, as “dragging his knuckles”; this stuff is clearly not working, if it’s meant to hurt UKIP. During the Spanish Civil War, Orwell and his fellow fighters in the POUM were attacked as Fascists by the Communist movement and fellow travellers of the day – first, they were “objectively Fascist” (i.e. unconsciously supporting Franco by differing from the proper Communist position) – that soon slid over into really Fascist (secretly in the pay of Franco).

UKIP is not the POUM and Farage is definitely not Orwell; UKIP clearly attracts a lot of support from people with racist views; however, there’s no reason to think most of its supporters are racist. For years, any misgivings about immigration, positive discrimination or “positive action” for example, have been attacked as racist by campaigners.  All the mainstream parties have recently claimed to want an “open debate” about immigration; now that UKIP is attracting a lot of support, they want a cross-party campaign to freeze it out and undermine its support by labelling it racist.  Not many people want to be called  racist, or identified with fascists and Nazis, so the accusation has been powerful in the past (interesting to see the ethnic Russian militants in eastern Ukraine using it against the  government and its supporters); now,though,  concern in the UK about border control and numbers appears to be growing among earlier generations of non-white immigrants as well as the white population, so that might be sticky for any anti-UKIP cross-party coalition.

There’s no doubt that there is a strong swing to the right in parts of western (and eastern) Europe; if there is a danger to liberal democracy, it is obviously from the extreme right and not the left.  In the UK, however, simply shouting Racist! at UKIP and abhorring the indiscretions of their supporters won’t be enough; even the Guardian seems to have “clocked” that.

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Fall From Grace

Blackpaint

2.05.14

Blackpaint 441 – Giants and their Weapons, Orwell and the Sweet Life

April 11, 2014

Future Map, ual (University of the Arts London)

This was an exhibition at SPACE, Mare Street in Hackney, showing (to quote the booklet) “the finest emerging visual arts from  University of the Arts London. Now in its 16th year, Future Map has a well-earned reputation for exhibiting the next generation of artists who will define our visual landscape”; I went last week, meaning to write it up but got bogged down with Orwell et al – and now the exhibition’s finished.  Still, these were the the works that I found memorable:

  • Jack Wilkinson (the winner) – “Untitled”, an assemblage of marked and spattered off-white boards, recalling those early panels of Richard Hamilton, interspersed with black, upright rectangles.
  • Sean Lavelle – “Glassrack Green and Orange”; a wooden framework, draped with a transparent green plastic fabric, drawn on to resemble green bricks, and with snake- like forms writhing across it.  I thought of it as “worms on a frame”.

lavelle

  • Han Byul Kang – “Dawn”; several objects, one a halved rocking chair, inverted, an occasional table and a giant cotton reel – or maybe, one of those big spools around which cable is wound, all of which were highly decorated in brightly coloured designs.

Kang

  • Bethe Bronson – “Hidden Exposure”; a video installation, in which a solemn, seated woman stares out at the viewer, whilst a younger, teenage(?) girl stands at her side; both in Victorian dress.  The girl, at first still, moves her head and eyes towards the older woman and then away from her, in a series of stop-time movements.

bronson

  • Abigail Booth – sculptures, one a large silver splat! of mercurial molten metal, which turns out to be “Chrome”, not mercury; the other, a block of granite, its surface marked in quarters, titled “Quartered Granite”.

These are the works that stuck in my memory, not necessarily because they were great…  The booklet, however, is superbly produced by the University of the Arts London.  It’s huge and makes all the works look fantastic.

Ian Hislop, “the Olden Days” BBC

Hislop’s first prog in the series happened to include a “prehistoric” stone circle that had actually been made in the 1850s, copied or inspired by the genuine stone ring at Avebury.  This led to a mild dispute with a friend about the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex, who I thought was Bronze Age and he thought was Victorian.  Turns out the best guess is 16th or 17th century.   So, of course, I had to look up all the other chalk horses and the  Cerne Abbas giant – and only the Uffington horse in Oxfordshire, by the Ridgeway, is genuinely Bronze Age or earlier.

wilmington

Wilmington

cerne abbas

Cerne Abbas – also 17th century (spot the difference – yes, that’s right, the weapon)

uffington

Uffington – the real thing, and also the most beautiful by far.

Orwell and anti-semitism

Still ploughing on through the collected works and the biographies; finished “Coming up for Air” and well into “Down and Out in Paris and London” (started with the novels; that’s why I’m out of synch).  I have to say that there are a number of very dubious references to Jews peppered throughout the works – he makes no outright anti-semitic statements, but the portraits and anecdotes involving Jews are always derogatory.  Flory, in “Burmese Days”, opines that the British Empire is run in the interests of the Jews and the Scots.  Flory is a fiction, and not necessarily the bearer of the author’s own opinions, but you feel it chimes with the prejudices of the Orwell of the period.  I think he probably changed as his political views developed, and I’ll be interested to see if I remember right as I drive on through to Nineteen Eighty Four.  I think the anti-Jewish prejudice was pretty typical of Orwell’s social background and education – but you expect better of someone as questioning and self-examining and fair minded as Orwell.

La Dolce Vita

Watched this again to see if I recognised the Rome I ran in the other week to Fellini’s Rome; and no, it looked completely different (except for the Trevi fountain and St. Peters).  I’m sure the image of the little boy in the raincoat and hood in the “miracle” sequence popped up years later in another film set in Italy – Venice this time; “Don’t Look Now”.

Sue Townsend

Sad news about the above – I took Adrian Mole’s diary as a style template for this blog.

 

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Work (still) in “progress”

Blackpaint

11.04.14

Blackpaint 440 – Veronese and Orwell; Vanilla Halos, Bugs in the Milk, Sick in the Porridge..

April 4, 2014

Veronese at the National Gallery

This is basically a big collection of the most beautiful, huge paintings in which the characters fall to their knees, raise their arms imploringly, recoil in fear, awe, astonishment, gesture to each other in the most theatrical manner, watched by reverential servants, docile horses (huge) and other people and animals.  The colours: that washed-out Veronese blue; a much deeper blue that I associate with Titian; rose pink; cloaks in billowing orange; the pale green and grey of the Allegorical paintings, “Scorn”, “Unfaithfulness”, and the others; subtle, pale flesh tones of the putti.

The compositions are also stunning; for my money, the finest are “The Anointing of David” and “The Family of Darius before Alexander” (part of the permanent collection at the NG).

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The Anointing of David

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The Family of Darius before Alexander

There are, however, some weaknesses:  In the small painting, “The Conversion of Mary Magdalene”, Christ has a giant left hand and an appalling vanilla ice-cream halo.  Generally, his Christs are insipid and unconvincing, compared to the less exalted characters.  In fact, several of the paintings contain rather sketchily drawn faces, shown up by the excellent draughtsmanship elsewhere in the same pictures.

veronese mary magdalene

The Conversion of Mary Magdalene

(Halo doesn’t look too bad in this repro – believe me, it’s bad)

A few random things of note:

The line around the head of St.Helena in “The Dream of…”; it reminds me of the line around superimposed photo images in the work of Surrealists, Man Ray, for instance;

The snake-like ripple of muscles in the back of the assailant in “the Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot”;

Terrible, insipid Christ in “The Supper at Emmaus”

The fantastic back in “Unfaithfulness”.

veronese unfaithfulness

George Orwell

Had to read DJ Taylor’s biography of the great man, which he has called “Orwell – The Life”, unlike Bernard Crick’s earlier one, which was only “A Life”.  There is a discrepancy between the two, regarding the memoir “Such, Such Were the Joys”, about St Cyprian’s, Orwell’s Sussex prep school;  this is the essay that Sam Leith described as a self-pitying “load of bollocks” in the Guardian recently.  According to Crick, Henry Longhurst, the golfer and writer, who was at the school at the same time as Orwell, was of the bollocks view (although he expressed it more moderately); he felt Orwell exaggerated and even lied about being beaten for bed-wetting.  He describes an incident in which he (Longhurst) was sick into a bowl of porridge and was then forced to eat it (he’s supposed to be defending the school! ).  Taylor, however, ascribes this account to Alec Waugh… Who is right?

Here’s Orwell in “Down and Out in Paris and London”, describing the little disasters that befall when you are broke: “you have spent your last eighty centimes on half a litre of milk, and are boiling it over the spirit lamp.  While it boils a bug runs down your forearm; you give the bug a flick with your nail, and it falls, plop! straight into the milk.  There is nothing for it but to throw the milk away and go foodless.”  No, George, you fish the bug out and use the milk.  I don’t think George, or Eric as he was at St.Cyprian’s, would have eaten the porridge.

Juste Avant la Nuit – Chabrol

Great old film from the 70s, in which an advertising exec murders a woman with whom he is having an SM affair.  He is tortured by guilt, confesses the crime to both his own wife AND the widower of his victim (a close friend) – and they both refuse to condemn him and say he shouldn’t confess.. Shades of Bunuel; the murderer’s wife is played by Stephane Audran, gleamingly beautiful and another reminder of Bunuel.

Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green

Went round this, saying “I had one of them!  Yeah, I remember that, we had one just like it!” BUT – there are no toy guns, except a couple of space guns.  When I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, I had loads of toy guns, that were pretty good facsimiles of the real thing; Colt .45s, a bolt action plastic rifle that fired plastic balls, a tommy gun, flintlock pistols in moulded plastic, an automatic that fired pellets.. also a toy crossbow, knives with retracting blades, rubber tomahawks.  I know these toys are now considered undesirable and dangerous, but surely they should be in the museum.  To omit them distorts history.

 

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Work in (not very much) progress.

Blackpaint

4.04.14

 

 

Blackpaint 438 – Hop Picking in Orwell, Sudden Death in Woolf, Lurking in Sprout

March 14, 2014

Orwell – A Clergyman’s Daughter

Re-read Burmese Days and of course, was immediately hooked again by Britain’s most readable author, journalist and writer in general; so now I’m on Clergyman’s Daughter, racing through.  Some terrible stereotypes and dodgy dialogue, it’s true; but the scenes in the hop-picking areas of Kent are memorable and visual and strike one as accurate.  The section in Trafalgar Square and the cafe in Charing Cross Road, which Orwell has done as a play is clearly inspired by the Night Town sequence in Ulysses; the character of Mr. Tallboys, the unfrocked parson, continually reciting and distorting biblical passages and prayers, for example, is very reminiscent of Joyce.  At one point, Orwell seems about to tip over into surreal fantasy like Night Town –  but draws back at the last moment, and turns it into a dream.

To the Lighthouse

Suddenly, after a hundred pages or so (maybe – I’m reading it on a Kindle, so can’t tell exactly), Woolf starts killing off the characters in a line or so each, as if bored with them; first, Mrs Ramsay, then Andrew (blown up by a shell on the Western Front), then Prue  (in childbirth)… all three within a few pages.  Reminded me oddly of BS Johnson’s Christy Malry – Johnson gives him cancer and kills him quite suddenly, ending the book in what feels like midstream.  Like real life, I suppose, which was Johnson’s point.  Now I think, sudden death has happened in all the Woolf books I’ve read so far – The Voyage Out, Jacob’s Room, Mrs Dalloway, Lighthouse – the only exception is Night and Day.

Bay Area Painters

I know I’ve written about them before, but must mention Frank Lobdell, Nathan Oliveira and Joan Brown, who took part in life drawing sessions with Diebenkorn in his figurative period.

oliveira

 

Oliveira

lobdell

 

Lobdell

Sprout Exhibition  

Haven’t been to any exhibitions for the last two weeks, having been stuck in the Sprout Gallery, trying to lure rare passers-by in to sell them paintings.  Sold three; here are two – can’t find photo of the other.

the young horseman

The Young Horseman

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Oxlade Nude

The Family Friend, Sorrentino

This film contains the most disgusting anti-hero in cinema – he’s an old gangster, money lender, hypochondriac, wears an anti-migraine bandage on his head, a dirty old plaster cast on one arm, gobbles chocolates greedily, lives in a dark, stinking flat with his incontinent, invalid mother; he forces himself on a beautiful young bride on her wedding day…. and she (apparently) becomes fixated on him and comes back asking for more…  Like all Sorrentino films, it features old men dancing; this time, country and western dancing, with big stetsons and fringed jackets.  All it lacks is Tony Servillo.

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And here’s the latest painting – Blackfriars to Nine Elms

Blackpaint

14.03.14