Posts Tagged ‘Paul Morley’

Blackpaint 322 – Canyons, Maggots and a lot of Trees…

January 29, 2012

Hockney at the RA

Went on Thursday afternoon and queued for only 20 minutes.  First, a couple of lovely, dour English paintings of Bradford scenes, then into the 60’s; cartoon boys tearing along in a car heading, so the caption said, from Switzerland to Italy, toothpaste colours in striped and chevrons, “An Ordinary Painting” with top and bottom balancing.

Then, some roaring red, roasted American landscapes; “A Closer Grand Canyon” (98) and “Nichols Canyon” (80) – the latter a fluorescent quilt, like that early Miro, the Farm, in the recent exhibition.  In the corner, “Garrowby Hill” and “The Road across the Wolds” (date 200?),  ribbons of road winding around hills, as the names suggest, the lower two thirds of each canvas flat , the top third a receding perspective of fading patchwork fields; really odd and effective. 

Watercolour trees and puddles from 2004, smudgy blue-grey skies – quite striking in their pallor, in the prevailing Ribena and lettuce-coloured surroundings. These must be the paintings that Alastair Sooke describes as “dull-as-ditchwater” in the Telegraph.  Welcome relief, I thought.

The hawthorn and blossoms were a highlight for me; big, square blocks of branch, the blossom squirming like bunches of white grubs on the limbs.  Ghosts of Paul Nash and maybe early Craxton hovering.

The uniform size and number of the IPad panels surrounding the room, I found a little off-putting; what stayed with me – the reflecting puddles and the swirling leaf/tree tunnels, created by multiple small strokes, the Van Gogh effect.

One thing very apparent, especially with the huge composite image of “Spring in Woldgate Woods” (2011), is the crudity of the drawing – the trunks are often just flat shapes, outlined with a thick dark line.  Flowers and leaves are simple shapes like cut-outs coloured in.   This may be the result of the enlargement of IPad drawings – I didn’t read the notes carefully enough to be sure.  However, it is even more apparent in the Yosemite pictures, which are recent and are definitely enlarged IPad images.  The only thing I really liked about these was the clouds in one of them.

There is a sequence of paintings in different styles which are versions of a Sermon on the Mount by Claude.  Hockney’s final version has Christ preaching on what looks like the top of a giant carrot.  These pictures seem somehow out of place, except for the carrotty colour.

The sketchbooks in glazed cabinets are good, but then, isolating and presenting images in this way gives them added significance – for me, the repetition and uniformity of size of the other images detracts, although it did occur to me that, if you saw many of these pictures in a gallery “on their own”, with  paintings by other artists, you might walk past them without a second glance.

BUT – having said that, a bit of distance makes all the difference.  If you stand right back, the other end of a room, say, some of them look great.  It’s obvious really; they’re made to be seen from far off.

I haven’t mentioned the charcoal drawings; they are really quite powerful – big, square cliff faces of tree at intersections and crossroads, looming like liners or huge black department stores.  One of them reminded me of an enormous black owl’s head.

To return to this thing about presentation for a moment – I saw the show reviewed on BBC4, the Review Show (appropriately).. and all the pictures looked fantastic – the winding roads and patchwork fields, the blossom maggots, the Technicolour woods, even the red-raw Grand Canyon.  Photographs, and especially television, glamourise everything drastically.  There’s no point in going to exhibitions, everything looks much better on the telly. 

 And of course, with IPad drawings there’s no texture, no lumps, bumps, trickles or ridges – just SMOOTH, how a picture ought to look.

Interesting to see the uniform chorus of approval on the prog for Hockney’s “positivity”; he has “brought the colour home” from the States; he is showing “bravery” for still doing new work at his advanced age (Leonard Cohen, too, got similar praise).  This positivity thing seems to be in the air in the art world; something to do with the Olympics, all being in it together, the Big Society – art in the service of society under the coalition.  Paul Morley, in particular, condemned any negative criticism of the Hockney and took a sneering swipe at the RA visitors as middle class, for making facetious remarks like “Too many trees” within his hearing.  Too many trees is, however, true and to-the-point. 

 One last thing – one test of a work to me is if the image stays in your mind with any sort of clarity, once you stop looking at it.  The Hockney pictures certainly do that.

Wilhelmina Barns – Graham

Just around the corner from the RA, in Berkeley Street, an exhibition of the above Scottish and St.Ives painter, showing a pleasing diversity if styles, from naturalism to total abstraction.  One glowing yellow ochre and brown harbour scene, resembling Prunella Clough’s early worker pictures; some lovely abstracts with magisterial brush sweeps of white; in a corner, a group of brilliant, brightly-coloured abstract shapes (with one terrible pink-based one, the larger one in the middle of the wall) and by far the best painting, a brown and red job that looked like a pair of pliers clenching a red-hot ingot – just like a Roger Hilton, I thought.  Great little exhibition, just right for my little British tastes.

The Russell Omnibuses on Elgar and Delius

Fantastic – the images and the music.  That avenue of  poplar trees filmed from below in a tracking shot in Elgar, the stunning acting of Max Adrian as Delius – “Are you ready, boy?   Take this down – Tan -ta-TAA, Tan -ta-TAA….”.  Russell was a great, great film-maker.

Blackpaint

29/01/12

Blackpaint 235

December 26, 2010

Banksy

Watched the Banksy-related DVD “Exit Through the Gift Shop” yesterday and was taken in for the first 40 minutes or so; then Thierry put the camera down and became Mr. Brainwash and the film suddenly looked too much like Spinal Tap to be true.  We were interested enough to check on Wikipedia though and it says there was a show by Brainwash in LA which attracted thousands – so concluded that it was cooked up by Banksy and the American with “Thierry” as the front-man.  But then it’s Wikipedia, so could be a false entry….

Banksy’s stuff is good; accessible, funny, provocative, daring and well-executed.  If he makes a few bob out of his art and stunts, good luck to him.  I think you only sell out when you join the other side and/or start criticising others who come after you – other than saying, “I did that first,” which is fair enough (assuming you did, of course).  It’s not his fault that he became the next big thing for a while.

Van Gogh

Have got a copy of VG’s selected letters, so will be able to check on comments made by Richard Dorment in the Telegraph about the letters and paintings exhibition at the RA early in the year (see Blackpaint 230, 13th December 2010).  Only just started, and already I notice a sort of prissy, bossy tone in the letters to Theo – a great long list of mostly obscure painters he (Theo) should look at.  Funny really, considering Theo ended up supporting him throughout his short life.

Paul Morley also does this – makes lists of artists, not supports Van Gogh financially –  in his Observer music column every week; personally, I don’t think this is good journalism.  I am sometimes tempted to make lists of painters I admire – de Stael, Jorn, Appel, de Kooning, Lanyon, Sandra Blow, Joan Mitchell, Diebenkorn, Heron, Hoffman, Rauschenburg, Auerbach, Kitaj, Giotto, Fra Angelico, Michelangelo – but I manage to avoid it.

Blackpaint

26.12.10

Blackpaint 232

December 20, 2010

Paul Morley

“Novelists are having a hard time, because reality is writing its own fiction”, said Paul Morley on Newsnight Review.  In the usual melee, no-one commented or asked him what he meant (presumably something like truth is stranger than fiction).

Tate Britain, again

It seems to be in a state of flux at the moment; a couple of totally empty rooms and I’m not sure if that Vaughan/Bacon/Auerbach room is even still there.  Some interesting stuff up, though:

  • Gary Hume – a grasshopper thing in enamel paint on a panel, turquoise and chocolate.
  • Bill Woodrow – an assemblage entitled “Car door, Ironing Board and Twin Tub, with North American Indian Head Dress”.  Which is exactly what it is.
  • Peter Kennard – cartoons and Pluto Press book covers.   Bunches of US and Russian missiles clenched together; The Haywain with mounted missiles, Cruise I think;  a miner with an X ray image of his chest superimposed on real chest;  Thatcher as Queen Victoria.
  • Conrad Atkinson – photos of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s, wall paintings, posters, street scenes.
  • Stuart Brisley – 70s photographs of Brisley, seated in a squalid, derelict room in semi-darkness, a record of a 17 hour installation concerned with the stripping of identity.
  • Keith Piper, “Go West Young Man” – slavery, lynching, racial phobia, fear and loathing in heavy black posters.
  • Linder – female images with paper being peeled like skin from the face of model.
  • Judy Clarke – photographic close up images of skin on feet and hands.

Interesting to see some overtly political stuff up on the walls again.

Russian Ark

Sokurov, 2002.  A film set in the St. Petersburg Hermitage, in which time is fluid (more than usual, I mean).  A French diplomat, flamboyant and rather irritating, progresses from room to room, observing and sometimes partaking in the scenes he encounters, conversing occasionally with an unseen observer.  He doesn’t know what’s happening, but takes it all in his stride.  He passes through 17th century, Napoleonic and 20th century periods, balls, soldiers, courtiers, Tsars (Peter and Catherine)..

The unique aspect of the film is that the whole thing was shot in one take.  Single takes seem to be an obsession with film makers, a bit like “modern” painters’ obsession with flatness of surface; I’m thinking of Welles’ “Touch of Evil”, for example.  Whenever it’s on, there is always an admiring reference to the long, single-take opening sequence.  I found the single take rather oppressive at first, as if you were being pulled along by the nose – became hypnotic after a while.

Interesting to me that idea of collapsing time or passing freely back and forth through centuries;  I’ve come across it several times lately; in Bunuel’s “The Milky Way”, where a couple of dodgy “pilgrims” follow the route to Santiago de Compostella and in “The Canterbury Tale” (1941) by Powell and Pressburger.  It starts with a medieval hunting party; the knight flies his falcon, which turns into a Hurricane in the sky.  The pilot turns out to be the knight, of course.

Going back to “Russian Ark”, certain styles of acting are perhaps acceptable in France and Russia, where mime and circus are still popular – in Britain, the social realism of the kitchen sink era purged  more flamboyant theatricality.

Frank Auerbach

Watched a DVD on him, made in 2001.  I’d always thought of him as a dirty brown plasterer, like Kossoff out of Sickert – in fact, a lot of his paintings are done in blazing yellows, blues and greens, with great crimson worms crawling across them in thick oils – the Phaidon Art Book says “like peanut butter”.  Fantastic, jagged stuff, both the portraits and cityscapes; he does the best building sites.

Blackpaint

20.12.10