Posts Tagged ‘Paul Nash’

Blackpaint 575 – The Downs, the Dance, the Serpent and the Spitfire

November 11, 2016

Revisits only this week, on the exhibition front:

Paul Nash (Tate Britain) again – I noticed how Nash often places objects in close-up and often out of perspective with surrounding features (tennis ball, leaves, mushrooms, a cleaver stuck in a wood block).  This achieves a surreal effect, as it were, without anything actually “surreal” going on.  Also, how the clouds sometimes resemble flints or lumps of chalk.  Banal comments, I know; best I can do today…

Nash, Paul; Event on the Downs; Government Art Collection;

Abstract Expressionism at the RA –  again – anything else to say?  I spent more time with Clyfford Still;  the “torn strip” effect is sometimes painted, my partner tells me – that is to say, the white bits that resemble the edges of torn posters.  Sounds rather contrived for an AbEx, it seems to me.


Ab Ex discussion – We attended a discussion on the exhibition, in which three current abstract painters took part: Selma Parlour, Lisa Denyer and Gabriel Hartley.  The most common term used was “materiality”; there was much talk about which was more important,  process or outcome (both, not surprisingly) and several artists to watch were mentioned – Tomma Abst was one, Laura Owen another.  Someone asked from the floor whether Abstract Expressionism would have happened without World War II: the artists acknowledged the importance of the European refugees,  but speculated about home-grown American traits such as the huge landscapes of the “Sublime” tendency.

Three (mostly) B&W films:

Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015) – echoes of Apocalypto, Aguirre, Wrath of God (especially in the mission scenes),  and Fitzcarraldo. The relationship between the Europeans and the native peoples occasionally brings to mind Dersu Uzala; at the end , there are scenes of drug-induced hallucination which, astonishingly, remind one of Solaris (Tarkovsky’s, that is).  Colour makes an entrance here.



A Canterbury Tale (1944) – weirdness of story, woodenness of acting, especially the American sergeant, who seeks to be reading or reciting his lines – he was a real US soldier, not an actor, to be fair; the sinister glue man, Colpeper  – but the light, the scenery, the history, the hawk becoming the Spitfire…  Like most Powell and Pressburger films, it seems to have a magical quality that compels you to watch, despite the feyness.  I think it must be the cinematography, by Erwin Hillier.


Possibly the most uncomfortable scene in the film, in which Alison Smith (Sheila Sim, later Lady Attenborough) sits far too close to the self-righteous and sinister Colpeper, the secret glue smearer and unbeknownst to her, her attacker.  Colpeper is played by Eric Portman.



Soon to be a Spitfire…


The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957) – direct line to Corman (Masque of the Red Death), Ken Russell (medieval squalor and hysteria), Monty Python (same) – and any film which ends with dancers in a line against the horizon (Fellini’s “81/2”, Pina..)

The real hero is not Von Sydow’s Block, but his squire, Jon.  Amusing to see Block eating wild strawberries…  Death resembles Gielgud.


Max von Sydow (the knight, Block)



Dance of Death



Gunnar Bjornstrand (Jon)


Planet Earth II

Staggering sequences of course, but the constant music was driving me nuts – until I thought of the Subtitles and Mute functions.  I also find the quality of the photography unsettling – the way it’s in focus throughout the shot, not just the foreground.  I’m just old school, I guess.

Three new pictures to finish, on wood panels:


The Spheres 1


Spheres 2


Spheres 3




Blackpaint 574 – Cows, Trees, Sunflowers and CVs – Nash and Loach

November 1, 2016

Saatchi Gallery; Champagne Life

As often before, I got round to seeing this exhibition just before it finished on 30th October – but I would have recommended it…  The artists are all women, so I presume that was the point of it; little or no info about origins, but the names suggest that they are international.

  • Mequitta Ahuja, paintings somehow Ofili-ish, repeatedly of a cross-eyed woman in jungle surroundings, as below.


Mequitta Ahuja

  • Sohella Sokhanvari did this stuffed horse, set on a blue Jesmonite blob; no idea why, but I liked it.  The objects stuck to the wall behind are variously sized cooking pots, the work of another artist, Maha Mullah.



Sohella Sokhanvari


  • These delightful red clay cows, life-sized, are the work of Stephanie Quayle.


Stephanie Quayle

Other works include:

  • Julie Wachtel – big panel screenprints with those dots (benday dots, is it?) of glamour celebs like Monroe, each set containing one panel given over to a cartoon character, presumably offering a comment on the work;
  • Sigrid Holmwood – old folksy paintings, done on a screaming fluorescent orange ground;
  • Mia Feuer – dead Jerusalem donkey with a twist of rope tied round ankle.  I think this one is a construction, rather than stuffed like the horse on blue blob;
  • Jelena Bulajic – huge, detailed close-up portraits in B&W of very wrinkled old women;
  • Suzanne McClelland – white-grounded, splashy, textured abstracts with scrawled sentences taken from “wanted” circulars, referring to domestic terrorists in the US.  These reminded me of Albert Oehlen in their combination of white, abstraction and text;
  • Seung Ah Paik – vast, wall-size drawings filled in with ochre paint, of bodies; hands, limbs, toes, breasts – but they don’t match up, as if the sheets they are drawn on have been stitched together in the wrong order.  They suggested Brett Whiteley’s horrific but brilliant Rillington Place drawings to me, but I’m sure that was not the intention…


Seung Ah Paik


Suzanne McClelland


Paul Nash, Tate Britain

  • Some early pen and ink and watercolour wash drawings in B&W, of trees and Blake-ish figures; they look like etchings.  I’d never seen them before, although one or two are in a previous Nash catalogue I have:
  • Several  “Withenham Clumps” paintings and the “sculpted” group on the hilltop below:


Wood on the Downs

  • The fabulous Event on the Downs, with the stump and tennis ball:

Nash, Paul; Event on the Downs; Government Art Collection;

Event on the Downs

  • The curving coastal wall at Dymchurch I think – shades of de Stael, but so thinly painted:


The Shore

  • Repeated versions of the stones at Avebury, with those “bruise” marks in brown, red, pink, mauve; there’s one like a human torso, and this one below with that slightly urine-y yellow – what is it, a red underneath, ochre on top?

Nash, Paul; Landscape of the Megaliths; British Council Collection;

Landscape of the Megaliths

“Event” is one of several done with more intense, vivid colour – like a cold drink of sparkling water after the anaemic dryness and thinness…



Eclipse of the Sunflower

All the usual favourites – Flight of the Magnolia, Building a New World and the other trench paintings, (the one with the hunched, overcoated figures and the “tepee” of light in the centre),  the dead planes of Totes Meer, the Equinoxes, the sunflower juggernaut wheels, the Battle of Germany, the surrealist efforts with a few by Wadsworth, Eileen Agar and Tristan Hillier; there seems to have been a bit of a penchant for starfish and other beach detritus in close-up.  The only one missing is Battle of Britain, the one with the looping clouds and the Thames estuary – presumably that’s still in the Imperial War Museum.

I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach) 2016


Everyone will know by now the subject of Loach’s latest film, the nightmare rigidity of the sickness “benefit” system, the stoppers you can fall into (canoeing term – tumbling water that you can’t get out of) – Catch 22, if you like, I didn’t want to use the cliche – someone said Orwellian, I think more Kafkaesque, or maybe Dickens.  Loach is maybe the new Dickens, without the caricatures and funny names and with a consciously socialist politics.

The standout scene for me is the CV workshop, in which the self-regarding tutor – ex FE, I reckon – barks “Fact!” to preface each of his points about how necessary it is to make an impression on the CV, to Stand Out from the Crowd – “Fact!” (thinks: “they’ll like/respect me for telling it like it is…).

Loach’s naturalistic approach is famous – use of non-pros, surprising the cast members, improvised dialogue (sometimes).  Some would say he’s a social realist; I think he has a romantic, optimistic view.  Strange thing to say, given the outcome of the film; however, I think I can back it up.  The portrayal of the working class people is both optimistic and romantic.  They treat each other warmly, there is respect for the old from the young, there is no racial prejudice; “Blake” is saintly, skilled, kindly, resourceful, patient with Katy’s non-communicative son, breaks through to him in short order.  Maybe they are like that in Newcastle – or perhaps Ken wanted to avoid bad stereotypes.  The job centre staff are not all monstrous, although some are, “Sheila” in particular.

One scene – Blake’s graffiti protest outside the job centre, in which he is immediately “taken up” by passers-by, notably a hen party and a drunken Scotsman – is pure Agitprop.

The famous food bank scene, which reduced Mark Kermode to tears, left me unmoved, which worries me slightly – I couldn’t help thinking of Oscar Wilde’s remark about the death of Little Nell.  This morning, I became misty -eyed, reading Kipling’s “Gunga Din”, which is more worrying.

Finally, I was wondering if Ken puts in a sly ref to the Two Ronnies in the scene where Blake builds a makeshift stove from clay pots and “four candles” – maybe not.


Rubens Blue

Done a couple of fauvist – style pictures on wood panels, for a change; one below:





Blackpaint 490 – Geometrics in Fulham, History at the Hayward, Missile on the Verandah

April 12, 2015

Remembering Poetry

I’ve been reading the Four Quartets for the first time (why did Eliot call them that?  They’re each in five parts.  Is it that there are four of them and they go together to make a whole?  But then they would be one quartet, surely…).

Anyway, after reading them through a couple of times with the assistance of the notes of Hermann Servotte and then reading them again right through, I set out to write down what I remembered.  It went something like this:

The briar and the rose….brown edges of swimming pool….wounded surgeon….ruined millionaire…..dove…..Pentecostal fire…….frost and fire……”Yet being someone Other”……..broken king…….”Zero summer”…..blah, blah, blah….brown baked face…..jaws of sea……tin leaves……winter lightning….. You get the point; what you remember in the first instance is concrete images, plus a few memorable phrases (which might stick, like “zero summer”, because you’ve no idea what they mean).

I should say I loved the poems and thoroughly recommend them – I’m sure this TS Eliot will go far.

“From Centre”; Loud and Western building, 65 Broughton Road, London SW6, until 26th April

A pop-up exhibition of clean-cut, texture-free geometric abstract painting and sculpture.  The great venue, an old works of some sort, being converted into flats, I should think; very white, wooden staircases, lovely balcony and some great abstracts.


from centre 1

No.317, Fold, 2012 – Rana Begum 

Paint on powder-coated mild steel.


from centre 2

 Polymorph, 2013 – Natalie Dower

For some reason, I thought these were young artists; then I checked the biogs.  Natalie Dower is 84; others include Tess Jaray (b.1937), Trevor Sutton (b.1948), Peter Lowe (b.1938)… Begum (b.1977) is a mere child.  Some fantastic work from major artists, and free.  We paid a voluntary fiver for the excellent booklet.

“History is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain (Hayward Gallery)

Actually, six different takes, since the Wilson sisters go together.  It’s really more like journalism or history with a lot of art objects, than an art exhibition.  There’s a Bristol Bloodhound surface-to-air missile on the verandah, for instance; where would you see something like that in an art exhibition?  Well, there were Fiona Banner’s planes in the Tate a couple of years ago…

The artists are Simon Fujiwara – a group of objects of significance to the artist, including a huge slice of coal, Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher costume from a film, a Hockney Ipad enlargement;

The Wilsons – political conflicts, including Greenham Women, Northern Ireland, social and political movements – look out for Penelope Slinger’s surrealist feminist photos, Stuart Brisley’s cage of gloves (looks like it should be about Auschwitz – actually, each glove represents 66,000- odd unemployed) and the Pasmores;

stuart brisley

Stuart Brisley

Roger Hioorn – BSE/CJD and Scrapie; horrifying subject, mostly film and newspaper reports, with some rather tangential stuff, for example, a Lygia Clark sculpture that just happens to resemble a prion;

John Akomfrah – film, including Gilbert and George, Francis Bacon and Barbara Hepworth;

Hannah Starkey – photographs, notably Chris Killip, Bill Brandt, Martin Parr.

Richard Wentworth – great wartime, Festival of Britain, 50s and 60s stuff – Paul Nash, Paolozzi, Ben Nicholson, Tony Cragg, Eagle Annuals, early Penguins and Pelicans.

tony cragg

 Tony Cragg

Britain from the North


Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)

OK, I understand she (Scarlett Johansson) is an alien lifeform, acquiring skins from unwary Scottish blokes; but who is the motorcyclist and how did the Tesco man escape, if only temporarily? and why did she have to kill the Czech man in the wetsuit?  Horrible attempted rape scene.



Getting nowhere except the Slough of Despond with my current effort – maybe I’ll chuck some bright paint on the canvas and ride my bike over it, and call it Aphrodite at the Waterhole…except Tony Hancock’s already used that (see “The Rebel” – essential viewing for artists).

work in prog 1

Work in progress???







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.


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.



For Derrida



Blackpaint 411 – Decorum Returns; Iron Man, Sky Walks and Erasure

September 13, 2013

Ray Howard Jones

I’m in Tenby, Pembrokeshire to support my son in the Iron Man Wales Triathlon.  At the local museum, an exhibition of this artist, who turns out to be a woman.

ray howard jones

Rather like a less washed out Paul Nash, maybe.  I mean “washed out” in a good way, of course.  Also in this great little museum, a David Jones,  A couple of John Pipers and some lovely Gwen and Augustus Johns – and Winifred, the other sister, of whom I had no knowledge.  Augustus and Gwen both draw beautifully. of course; but Gwen is the one with taste.  I love those melancholic portraits.

Marx Reichlich

Recently, re-visited the Courtauld in the Strand; there was a portrait by the above in there, as good as a Holbein.  He was Austrian, 1460 – 1520,  and his work is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna – I wonder if Thomas Bernhard’s character Reger gets round to dismissing him as “kitsch” in “Old Masters”?

(c) The Courtauld Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

It’s fantastic isn’t it?  I think it’s called “Woman with Lily-of-the-Valley”.


I was on about this last week; Joanna Hogg’s masterpiece, set on Tresco in the Scilly Isles.  The cast is a mix of pros and amateurs – the painter Christopher Baker is just that, a painter not an actor – and that seems to have worked brilliantly in making the dialogue sound authentic; but the pro members, most notably Lydia Leonard as the passive-aggressive, uptight daughter are also great.

The most noticeable trope of the cinematography is the use of long framing shots, through windows, doorways, courtyards and particularly on a bend in the staircase, by the newel post.  when I say “long” though – there’s long and there’s Bela Tarr, so maybe these are medium long.  Some great shots – a beautiful, grey/blue granite cave, a laughing herm (I think that’s the term) in the tropical gardens.  I was gratified to hear on the voiceover extra that Hogg was influenced by Hammershoi interiors.

Man on Wire

It’s easy to see how Petit’s personality could overwhelm certain individuals and compel them to assist in his escapades; he seems rather like a dizzying drop himself – draws and repels.  What I found mystifying is how much relevant film footage was around from the planning stages of the WTC walk and the earlier stunts on Notre Dame and Sydney Harbour Bridge; it was as if it had been shot with a view to making “Man on Wire” about 35 years later.  And then, to have no moving footage of the actual walk…

Or rather, walks – he did it eight times, back and forth.

Butcher’s Crossing and Augustus

Reading both of these novels by John Williams, of “Stoner” fame.  They’re OK – Butcher’s Crossing is about a C19th buffalo hunt, Augustus an epistolatory novel about Augustus Caesar – but nothing whatever, so far as I can see, makes them identifiable as the work of Williams.  I can’t think of any other author whose work is so diverse.


I did a couple of life classes recently; the results were depressingly poor.  Turned them into something that looked a bit more classy by smearing and rubbing out the duff bits and getting stuck in with oil pastels on the other bits.  Some results below.



Here’s a more conventional one to finish with – except it’s unfinished…



Work in Progress


Blackpaint 400 – Dora, Mark and Stanley in Dulwich

June 27, 2013

Dulwich Picture Gallery – “A Crisis of Brilliance”

This is an exhibition of works by a number of British artists, connected with each other by way of the Slade, where they all studied under Tonks , and then by Bloomsbury etc., completed between 1908 and 1922.  WWI therefore features (there is the huge, rippling, faintly Kokoschka – like Bomberg of sappers under bombardment and Nevinson’s solitary, diving biplane) but does not dominate the exhibition.  My highlights as follows:

Stanley Spencer, “Mending Cowls at Cookham” – the  storm- threatening sky providing stark background to the  white of the cowls, as they are put in place.  That key shape does something too;

spencer cowls

Dora Carrington, “Soldiers at a Stream” – little painting, perfectly rendered and coloured, horses drinking, soldiers mounted;

Mark Gertler, “Pool at Garsington” – a touch of Cezanne, maybe; the L-shaped slice that seems to be collaged in, surrounding the house and tree;


Carrington, that profile of Strachey with the stunning hands, fingers tented in thought (actually though, not- he’s holding a book).

There are some beautiful pencil drawings, hard to choose the best; self-portraits by Spencer and Carrington and Bomberg, all great (although Carrington’s, done at 16, looks nothing like Gertler’s portrait of her, done a few years later – Gertler’s is exceptionally fine, lightly but surely drawn and conveying a wealth of character; the gaze of love, presumably).


Carrington’s heavy-hipped “standing Nude” is notable and the Gertler “Seated Nude”, done in watercolour pencils.

The clinker of the exhibition is Carrington’s “Bedford Market”, but she was very young when she did it and it’s very competent.

The exhibition is only three or four rooms, quite understated, but some real treasures.  I see I haven’t mentioned Paul Nash at all – probably because I’ve seen so much of his work lately.  The impact dulls with repetition; or does it always?  Maybe there are some painters who always grab you – for me, it’s de Kooning.  Forgot to mention Bomberg’s “In the Hold”, one of his horse-frightening geometric “abstracts”, way beyond anything else in the exhibition for experimentation and fittingly, separated from the others at the entrance.

Salter, All There Is

Finished this now, as well as “Light Years”; the writing in the earlier novel perhaps more consciously “fine”, sometimes crossing the border into pretentious territory – but I read them both, quickly for me, and am close to finishing his memoir, “Burning the Days”, for the second time.  There is a startling section towards the end of “All There Is”, when Salter’s protagonist Bowman rather forcefully overcomes the weak resistance of Anet, the young daughter of his ex-lover, takes her on a trip to Paris and abandons her there in a hotel room – an act of revenge on her mother, who had abandoned Bowman (and “robbed” him of a house in the courts).  Anet says “No” – but Bowman clearly knows she means “Yes”, and acts accordingly.  He’s right, of course; afterwards, she’s happy – until he ditches her.  Salter offers no hint of approval or disapproval; merely “describes”.  Maybe that’s what startled me about it – it’s so at odds with currently acceptable attitudes towards sexual conduct.

Almodovar, Talk to Her

This film is another case in point; it has a young woman in a coma, who is stalked – before the accident – by a pudgy mother’s boy.  He manages to become one of her carers when she is comatose, rapes her and makes her pregnant, a crime for which he is eventually imprisoned.

Unbelievably, given the circumstances outlined above, you feel a sort of queasy sympathy, rather than revulsion, for the rapist.  I’ve checked online; it’s not just me, the proper critics are united in their admiration for the film, which won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe in 2002.

So, how can this be?  Firstly, you don’t see the sex (although there is a fantasy sequence where a tiny dancer enters a rather stylised vagina).  The  surreal atmosphere of Almodovar’s films probably helps; and the rapist is portrayed throughout as a gentle, concerned character with a strong empathy for women, who is in love with (fixated on) the victim.  And he is caught, imprisoned and eventually kills himself.

Almodovar is clearly a follower of Bunuel in his anarchistic, surreal tendencies and his insistence on exploring the “unacceptable” faces of sexuality – fetishism and illness are prominent themes in the work of both.

What makes Almodovar’s film less jarring than the incident in Salter’s book?  I’m not sure.  To be continued.




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 193

September 14, 2010

Jeremy Deller

Article on above’s new work  by Jonathan Jones in today’s Guardian.  It consists of the hulk of a private vehicle, blown up in a car bomb explosion in Baghdad in 2007.  Deller acquired it and it is now on display at the Imperial War Museum.  Jones approving article compares it favourably with Mark Wallinger’s display of Brian Haw’s anti-war stuff in the Tate Britain a while ago; Wallinger’s exhibit, says Jones, was home-grown, concerned with domestic attitudes to the Iraq war, civil liberties here – Deller’s work brings the war directly to us, it’s “not rhetoric, but reportage”, it’s up to the punter to interpret. 

There’s something unsaid here,  surely.  The sense in which Deller is being an artist here is the same sense in which he is a reporter; he chooses.  He could have chosen some other example of destruction, a damaged British or American armoured vehicle or articles of bloodied uniform or equipment (no doubt, there are practical reasons that might have prevented that, but I make the point for the sake of the argument); that would have sent a different message.  Reportage can sometimes do the job of rhetoric, but it claims to be The Truth. 

Jones is, clearly, perfectly aware of this and says, “Anyone is entitled to interpret what it means”;  he’s not primarily concerned with possibilities of bias, but with the nature of “war art” – its immediacy or otherwise. 

My main point is to question whether this is art.  I have no problem with the concept of ready -mades, but by displaying the vehicle in the Imperial War Museum, he gives it the status of a historical document, not a work of art (unless it was up in the gallery bit, with the Orpens and Nashes – but Jones says it’s in the main hall).   Down on the ground floor, with the Tiger tanks and T34’s and mini – subs, it’s another interesting historical document.  Indeed, that is how Jones describes it – “A historical document, dragged from hell..”.  You could argue it’s different,  because the rest of the stuff is in pristine condition, showing little or no sign of violence – it’s still documentary, though.

Take Fiona Banner’s warplanes in Tate Britain.  She has decorated them and chosen how to display them, but had she not, they would still be works of art, to be judged as such, by virtue of being displayed in an art gallery.  Context is everything.

Then again,  it can be given context, separated  from the “historical documents”, by a plaque with a title, “Baghdad, 5th March 2007” and Deller’s name, as artist.  That would make it a work of art, because it would tell the public that’s what it is, or what is intended.  I’m going up to the museum today, to see if that’s what’s been done.

I’ve visited the museum; the exhibit is right at the front of the hall.  There is a folder of photographs from Baghdad, centreing on the bombing that smashed the car, but with no pictures of bodies, blood or body parts, or injured people in distress.  There is some background history to the Iraq war and of the booksellers’ district where the bombing happened. It’s described as a display, I think, although that might refer to a number of videos under Deller’s name, relating to the war, which I didn’t see.  The exhibit is at no time referred to as art.  It’s clearly NOT art: it’s reportage, as Jones says, with some interesting contextual background.  There IS an interesting contrast with the brightly painted and polished guns and tanks around it.

I referred to the car as being “smashed”; actually, it is more crushed as in a compacter – except that it is a uniform rusty orange/brown and looks as if it may crumble to the touch, like a brick of burnt paper.  I didn’t experience the visceral, horrified reaction that  Jones describes – I think photographs might have done more to convey the horror.


14th September 2010

Blackpaint 127

May 4, 2010


Down to the pub at the bottom of the road, which we will call the Dick Turpin.  Many weeks ago, I left a number of my paintings there to be displayed in the restaurant area when it was up and running.  The decoration has been complete for several weeks, but there always seems to be a problem; the chef has let them down is the current one.  I have given up really, but since it is costing me nothing, I’m leaving the paintings there for the present, hoping against experience and reason that they will eventually go up and well-fed customers will buy them.


I’m looking at three postcards from the Paris Musee national d’art moderne, lined up on the mantelpiece.  They are, left to right, “Nu a la bagnoire”, “L’atelier au Mimosa” and “Nu de dos a la Toilette”.  They were done in 1931, 1946 and 1934 respectively, but I can detect no major difference in style.

The first thing is that from a distance of 10 feet or so, they look like abstracts – which doesn’t detract from their beauty at all.

Secondly, there is no depth in them.  Everything is upfront; the perspective is accurate but there is no sense of the background receding; the floor in “Nu..baignoire” is given the same value as the bath, the chair and the woman’s leg.  There are no shadows to emphasise perspective; the mimosa leaves in the second painting appear to be plastered directly onto the windowpanes.  The room appears to be shimmering, as if burning in yellow, orange and pink flames. 

Finally, there is an almost Klimt-like appearance to the patterning on the floors, chair back etc.

According to Brassai (Penguin book of Art writing, ed. Martin Gayford), he worked on several paintings at once, canvases pinned to wall, loading his brush and applying the colour to more than one canvas, wherever he thought it might fit.

Paul Nash

I was about to contrast the Bonnards with the washed-out Downlands and chilly blues and greens of Nash – then I had  a look at the latter’s work.  Yes, steely, chilly blue skies, but the browns and yellows of “Landscape of the Moon’s Last Phase” and “Michaelmas Landscape” are actually the same as “Mimosa” and “Nu..Toilette”.

Incidentally, I said in Blackpaint 114 that there were no good, cheap books on Bonnard.  I was wrong; there is a Thames and Hudson and another small book – but although the colours are good, the illustrations are only postcard size and too many are black and white.



Blackpaint 95

March 26, 2010

Paul Nash and other War Artists (see Blackpaint 94)

It strikes me today that Nash is part of a group of British artists that all use a similar range of colours and tones: Eric Ravilious, Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden and Nash himself.  All of them have that chalky, milky, washed-out look to their colours – and all of them, of course, were war artists.  Nash and Ravilious shared similar settings (the Downs, Dymchurch).

You could perhaps put these war artists in one group as regards colour, and the following into another: Graham Sutherland, Leonard Rosoman, John Piper and Henry Moore – darker settings, more vivid colour (Rosoman’s salmon pink aircraft in the War Museum, for example, or his wall collapsing on two firemen; the depictions of Blitz wreckage by the other three).

Then, I suppose Eric Kennington and Laura Knight go together stylistically, in their more conventional, “realistic” approach.


I just had to mess with it – I couldn’t leave it alone for just one night.  Out came the black paint and on it went, a great, fat sweeping slash that unbalances the whole thing and will require drastic surgery in the morning, when the paint is dry and repairs can be done, I hope.  Still, if you don’t take risks you might as well leave the canvas blank – they’re perfect like that.

Here’s another old one-