Posts Tagged ‘Pollock’

Blackpaint 645 – Bellany and Davie; Skates, Bats, Donkeys and Diamonds

May 22, 2019

John Bellany and Alan Davie,  “Cradle of Magic”, Newport Street Gallery until 2nd June

A special, supplementary blog about one show, because it’s soon to close.  This brilliant free exhibition, all works owned by Damien Hirst, has been on since February, but somehow I’ve managed to miss it up to now – and there’s only ten or so days left; so if you possibly can, you need to get to Vauxhall Gardens and see this.

Both Scotsmen, Bellany died in 2013, Davie in 2014 at 94.  Bellany was figurative, Davie abstract – yet their paintings somehow go together, bounce off each other.  Maybe it’s colour, maybe brushwork (sometimes);  don’t know.  I’ve mixed them up, as they are mixed in the gallery, although not in the same order.

Bellany’s paintings, which are enigmatic, I think it’s fair to say, bring to my mind a range of painters; Ensor, perhaps, is foremost.  Skulls, masks, hanged men, groups of solemn, dark-clad men staring out at the viewer, the disconsolate skate/ray fish in the picture below; a general sort of cartoonish quality.  Both Ensor and Bellany lived in coastal towns; Ensor in Ostend, Bellany in the fishing village of Port Seton, near Edinburgh. Others: Max Beckmann, Soutine (another skate man), Arthur Boyd (his “Scapegoat” has the donkey – AND a skate fish, in the Australian desert) and Kitaj somehow, in the drawing and breadth of subject matter.

 

Bellany – Title? Date?

The skate king on his throne.  What are they, birds or bats?  Beckmann here, I think, and in Rose of Sharon below.

 

Davie – Bath Darling, 1956

Davie was a jazz musician and a pilot as well as a painter – a youtube fragment on him (Allan Paints a Picture) shows him at the piano – I think it’s “Getting Sentimental Over You” but the chords are rather free – reciting poetry at the same time, and reminding me a bit of Ron Geesin.  Unlike Geesin, he looks pretty tough as a young man, muscular and long-bearded.  He was feted in the states by the likes of Pollock, Kline and the other AbExes, and the painting below clearly shows the influence of Pollock and maybe de Kooning.  He combined the freedom of gesture (the black sweeps in the picture below, the drips and spatters above) with rich colour and a repertoire of recurring symbols (wheels, snakes, diamonds, images taken from rock pictures by indigenous people in St. Lucia, where he lived for 10 years).

Davie – Red Parrot Jay, 1960

 

Bellany – Eyemouth 1985

The look of love or hunger from the giant seagull?

 

Bellany – Rose of Sharon, 1973

The skate again.  A hint of Mexican influence here?

 

Davie – Romance for Moon and Stars, 1964

 

Davie – Trio for Bones, 1960

 

Davie – A Diamond Romance, 1964

In all three of these Davie pictures, there is the combination of rich colour, symbol and gesture – the rough and smooth elements that sometimes suggest Bacon’s work, without the figures of course, but a potent combination.  In more recent paintings (not represented here) the symbols remain but the rough gesturalism has gone – and the paintings are poorer for it, in my view.

 

Bellany – The Journey, 1989

Very reminiscent of the Boyd painting I mentioned earlier; also a touch of Kitaj in the execution.

A rather solemn portrait from (but not of) me to finish:

Man of Sorrows

Blackpaint

22.05.19

 

 

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Blackpaint 639 – Irvin, Lanyon, Frink and Malle

February 20, 2019

Albert Irvin and Abstract Impressionism – RWA Bristol until 3rd March 2019 – so hurry to visit!

Following hard upon my enthusiastic review of the Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern, another positive reaction to the above; I’m sure I’ll soon find an exhibition to hate, but in the meantime, this is really very good.  Not only a great collection of huge, colourful Irvins, but also Brit kitchen sinkers (Bratby, Coker), abstractionists (Lanyon, Hoyland, Beattie, Blow) and American AbExes (de Kooning, Pollock, Jack Tworkov, Grace Hartigan, Newman, Motherwell, Sam Francis).

I’m putting the sizes of these paintings in, since size is one of the main things emphasised by all the British painters in their reaction to the exhibition of US ab exes at the Tate in 1959 – although not all the American pictures on show here are huge; a de Kooning, Motherwell’s “Ulysses”, the Hartigan and the Francis are smallish.

Unless otherwise stated, the Irvins are done in acrylics, which he started using in 1971.  He painted with canvases either against the wall or on the floor, supported by paint cans in the corners to allow air beneath so the paint would dry more quickly.  The catalogue, with a revealing interview with Basil Beattie, a close friend of Irvin, is great at £15.

Untitled 6, 1975, 178×203

Oranges (colours, not the fruit) make a regular appearance in Irvin’s work.  Early on, he used a lot of black in his paintings in keeping with the spirit of the times – but. as can be seen, this soon disappeared, along with most earth colours, apart from the odd patch of yellow ochre, from his paintings and prints.  As Beattie says, there’s no angst in Irvin’s work.

 

Wall of early-ish Irvins

See the black?

 

Untitled 3, mid 70s, 213×305

OK, wide dark slash here – exception to the rule.

 

Kestrel, 1981, 213×305

 

Almada, 1985, 213×305

 

Irvin, Sky 1960, oil on hardboard, 122×183

Lanyon was a big influence early on, as can be seen here.  Compare it to the Lanyon below:

 

Lanyon – St Ives Bay, oil on masonite 1957, 122×183

 

Irvin, Fallen Child in Corridor, oil on hardboard, 1955, 122×77

Example of Irvin’s figurative work in the 50s.

 

Peter Coker, Table and Chair, oil and sand on fibreboard, 1955, 153×122

I love this Coker – the extreme tilt of the table. the flayed head (cow’s?) on the surface; why doesn’t it all slide off?  On the down side, there’s the lemon headed kid, reminiscent of some Mintons, Joan Eardley maybe.  I thought of Colquhoun and MacBryde too, but no, too realist and dowdy.

 

Irvin, Untitled 2, oil on canvas, 1966, 152×127

A rare oil among the Irvin abstracts – note the trickle downs, absent from the acrylic works.

 

John Hoyland, Ivanhoe 16.3.81, 1981, acrylics, 183×167

A very nice (I’m determined not to use any more hackneyed superlatives) Hoyland from the Brit abstractionist section.  Hoyland got Irvin in on an exhibition at the Hayward, from which he got his gallery, Gimpel Fils.  no photos of the Americans, I’m afraid – not allowed.  But check out the Tworkov, “Cradle”, and the Sam Francis especially.  The Grace Hartigan is not her best and I could never “get” Barnett Newman.

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Just down the road from the Irvin exhibition, this collection, containing the lovely Bouts below, with the refreshingly everyday BVM (is that a chocolate she’s about to give the baby Jesus? and what’s wrong with his left leg?)

Dieric Bouts

…and this treatment (below) of the Annunciation by Berchem, which looks as if it was done by the studio of Jeff Koons a year or two ago.  without the irony though – if Koons IS being ironic…

The Annunciation to the Shepherds, Nicolaes Berchem the Elder, 1656

 

Lanyon – who else?

Other moderns on show are Rose Wylie, Aubrey Williams and Auerbach.  More next blog.

Elizabeth Frink, Sainsbury Centre. UEA, Norwich until 24th February 2019 – so go straight from Bristol!

I thought Frink was some formidable old Iron Lady – turns out she was a ringer for Germaine Greer, so certainly not a FOIL, in the 70s anyway.  The sculptures are superlative and often funny – probably unintentionally – like the two running men, but I think the best in the show are ink on paper drawings called “Cuchulain”, a mythical Irish hero.  No images online that I could find…

Au Revoir Les Enfants dir. Louis Malle, (1987)

Rather devastating in a quiet way, film about a Jewish boy being hidden in a Catholic boarding school in WW2 France.  It seems that it was autobiographical, another take on collaboration and resistance to go with “Lacombe, Lucien”.  Essential viewing for these times.  Essential reading: “If This is a Man”, Primo Levi; essential listening: Ralph McTell’s “Peppers and Tomatoes”.

Next time, definitely Bill Viola, Ken Kiff, Don McCullin.  And Michelangelo.

To the Dream Lighthouse

Blackpaint

20/02/19

 

 

 

 

 

Blackpaint 514 – Hoyland’s Cakes, The Serpent’s Egg, Auerbach’s Mustard

October 12, 2015

John Hoyland at Newport Street Gallery

hoyland1

These huge, voluptuous colour field pictures, around 40 of them, are on display at Damien Hirst’s new gallery near Vauxhall.  It’s enormous; white walls of course, lovely staircases, a line of big toilets with heavy doors as if he’s expecting coachloads of pensioners.  The paintings are from Hirst’s own collection and it’s great to see them here for free.

Acrylics for the most part – there are two oils, I think.  Several maroons with orange, leaf green (ugh!), turquoise, grey-blue, reds and greys, arranged in blocks or columns; a few with scraped edges and splatters, “smoking” tops (the result of trickle- downs and reversal of the canvas).  The central section upstairs I think of as the cake room; pinks, beiges and whites, like huge cake slices smashed and splattered against the canvas.  In the last room, deep, singing blues, reds and oranges, scraped to reveal gold, like clouds of fire; colours arranged in blocks and diagonals.

For an alternative view, try Jonathan Jones online – “Why is Damien Hirst opening his new gallery with this second-rate artist?”  He makes the laughable claim that Hoyland is trying to do Rothko, or Pollock, or Barnet Newman.  Actually, the painters who came to my mind were Hans Hoffman and John Golding (a bit).  Hoyland, says Jones,  is simply “messing about with paint”.

hoyland2

The Serpent’s Egg, Bergman (1977)

Falls into that genre of films like “Cabaret” and Visconti’s “The Damned”, in which the story is set in Weimar Germany, in this case, Berlin – sleazy drinking clubs, cabarets and brothels (often combined), cross- dressing, prostitution, obscene night club turns, dwarves, smeared, garish lipstick, lost innocence, sudden shocking violence, crazed Nazi bands, wet cobblestones, sense of doom…  Bergman’s film is set earlier than the others- 1923 I think, the time of hyper-inflation- but the similarities are apparent.  It becomes suddenly Kafka-esque towards the denouement; David Carradine is chased around a mysterious underground laboratory-labyrinth and confronts a mad scientist, more Nazi than Hitler himself (who is a minor demagogue at this time, about to launch his Munich Putsch).

Unlike any other Bergman film I’ve seen; sort of a low budget feel, strangely, since it was made in Hollywood, and the sound on the DVD is terrible.  I ended up watching it with subtitles for the hard of hearing, which improved it no end.

That Obscure Object of Desire, Bunuel (1977)

The story of this great Bunuel is well-known; Fernando Rey’s pursuit of the young Spanish flamenco dancer to Seville and eventually to Paris, her continual promising and then avoiding/refusing  sex with him (in one sequence arriving naked in his bedroom – apart from an impregnable, tightly-laced corset); the gifts of money he constantly makes to her and her complicit mother, culminating in his buying her a house.  After another provocation, he attacks her; she grins up at him through her bleeding lips and says, “Now I know you really love me!”  Dodgy sexual politics, to be sure.  I had forgotten the little “surreal” bits in the film – the mousetrap that goes off during one of Rey’s intense scenes with Conchita; the sack that he lugs around inexplicably in several scenes.

Conchita, the girl, is famously played by two completely different actresses –  the elegant, glacial Carole Bouquet and the effervescent Angela Molina.  This caused me great consternation when I first saw the film.  I rationalised it along these rather obvious lines: they represent the two halves of Conchita’s character; cold and hot.  That didn’t work though.  So, they represent the two ways she responds to Rey.  But that didn’t work either, for the same reason (they both encourage and reject him, rather than “taking turns”).

Wikipedia says that Bunuel got the idea to use different women in response to difficulties he was having on set with another actress,  Maria Schneider apparently, and that it had no deeper significance than that he thought it was an amusing idea and would” work well”.

I love that phrase; I’ve heard it so many times from different artists and said it often myself, in response to those who ask “What does that represent?” or “Why did you do that there?” – the answer is invariably mundane or unhelpful; it “looked good”, or “I thought it was black and when I put it on the canvas,  it turned out to be prussian blue”.  As often, a Jonathan Jones piece is instructive; reviewing the new Auerbach at Tate Britain, Jones recycles the old “colourless 50s” cliche: “Back in the 1950s, he (Auerbach) saw very little colour in the world.  Frankenstein faces loom like monsters in his early paintings.   Gradually came the colours: blood red, mustard yellow, and eventually orange, purple, blue, the lot – a rainbow slowly spreading…”.  Auerbach himself, speaking on his son’s film about him, explains that the new colours were the result of his progressively having more money to spend on paint.

Jones’ review is otherwise not bad, apart from his habitual thumping overstatement and childish posturing – “My generation owes Auerbach an apology..”…

serpents egg of obscure desire

The Serpent’s Egg of Obscure Desire

Blackpaint

12.10.15

 

 

Blackpaint 436 – Hockney, Orwell, Beatings and Orgasms

February 28, 2014

Hockney Prints at Dulwich Picture Gallery

This is a great exhibition; loads of prints extending through several rooms.  I liked the earliest stuff from the 60s the best – “The Rake’s Progress” series on his first time in America.  In these, he’s doing those cartoon figures, reminiscent of people like Barry Fantoni; he likes fire, which pops up in several etchings, a chair burning, for instance; in fact, the red of the fire the only colour in these, apart from blue on the US flag in one, I think.

Next, he does a series based on Cavafy poems, in which the figures are no longer “cartoons” but beautifully spare, single line renditions of (usually)naked young men.  I guess from the perfection of outline, he must have selected the etching line from a number of pentimenti in a drawing, like the one of Celia Birtwell below.

Plenty more; flowers, portraits, swimming pools…  The one immediately below with the columns, trees, garden, and distorted perspective is from the latter part of the exhibition.  The colours are recognisable from his big show at the RA a couple of years ago.

Hockney Dulwich 1

hockney dulwich 2

Newsnight – the Harriet Harman interview

An innovation on Newsnight after Laura Kuenssberg pursued Harman with the Daily Mail agenda, trying to force her to apologise for being an officer of the NCCL at a time when the Paedophile Information Exchange was an affiliate to the organisation.  After the interview was shown, Jeremy Paxman, full of his usual self-regard, and Kuenssberg, still fizzing with righteous indignation, discussed Harman’s performance like sports pundits, so that the viewers didn’t have to make up their minds unaided.  I wonder if this will be a regular event whenever the press demands apologies from Labour grandees for misdeeds 30 years before.

The Hunters, Angelopoulos

A group of hunters in the snow (Brueghel again) come across the body of a revolutionary fighter from the Greek Civil War.  It’s the 60s – the war ended in 1949, but the body’s wounds are fresh.  The hunters and their companions all have guilty pasts which are revealed, as the police examine them, the body on a table in the room…  All the usual Angelopoulos magic, the mountains, the music,  the operatic scenes – but additionally, in this film, a fully-dressed actress acts a drawn-out orgasm on a ballroom floor before a large audience, who applaud politely after the climax.  Shades of Bunuel.  Later, a portly hunter, dressed in a satin Father Christmas outfit, dances rather formally with his bobble hat – shades of Bela Tarr.

Orwell  – Such, Such Were the Joys and 1984

In the Guardian last week, Sam Leith wrote about the famous Orwell essay, describing it as “a load of bollocks”.  In the essay, Orwell recalls his time at St. Cyprian’s, a prep school near Eastbourne in the years before World War One.  It includes a description of Orwell’s (or Blair’s) beatings for wetting the bed, the second of which was carried out with a riding crop which broke, as a result of the headmaster’s exertions.  There are many other examples of abuse and privation, and Leith quotes another critic, who says the essay is drenched with self-pity.

This is odd, since Orwell expressly states that he didn’t feel especially picked out for mistreatment and in fact, regarded his beatings and the rest as his own fault; as a child, he had accepted the guilt which “Sambo” and “Flip”, the headmaster and his wife, allotted to him: “Now look what you’ve done!”, as Sambo yells at him when the riding crop breaks.  One of the themes of the essay is how the pupils accept the system and internalise it.  Not surprising then that his letters home contain no hint of discontent, or that his contemporaries (Leith cites Jacintha Buddicom) say he seemed happy enough.

Anyway, Bernard Crick dealt at length with all this in his 1981 biography of Orwell – he’s not mentioned by Leith.  One thing that is interesting; Leith rejects the Anthony West theory that “1984” was Orwell’s prep school miseries writ large- he does suggest, much more plausibly, that his political analysis worked back on “Such, Such..”.  Crick thinks that Orwell exaggerated and shaped his “memories” for literary, maybe political, purposes;  to state baldly that Orwell’s reminiscences are “a load of bollocks” is surely going a bit strong, though.

The Drawing Room, Abstract Drawings

Tucked away in an old industrial building in Bermondsey, there are some startling names on show here; Jackson Pollock, Eva Hesse, Anish Kapoor, Tomma Abts, Alison Wilding, Sol LeWitt, Serra…  They are mostly small, geometrical, several on graph paper.  The Pollock is funny, because it is “fenced off” by a single wire barrier to emphasise status, presumably.  It’s not a great Pollock…  The best works are those by Hesse, John Golding, and Garth Evans (see below); like Oiticica, but not as wobbly.

garth evans

Come and see (maybe buy) my paintings at Sprout Gallery, Moyser Road, Tooting, London SW16 between  4th and 15th March – open every day, including Sunday, 11.00am – 5.00pm.

??????????

Work in Prog

Blackpaint

28.02.14

Blackpaint 376 – Naked Wallowing and a Brown Smudge

January 10, 2013

A Bigger Splash at Tate Modern

Second review of this exhibition, which I only got half-way round the first time.  I wrote then about Yves Klein orchestrating his women body-printing on paper and the film of Jackson Pollock painting “Summertime”.  Niki de Saint Phalle, looking beautiful as she fires a rifle at her white plaster dummy to release dribbles of brilliant paint; Pinot Gallizio’s loom with the long random print spooling out; photos of Shiraga preparing to bombard his huge canvas with paint bombs and the thickly plastered, surprisingly effective result of one of his missions; the “shocking” photos of Herman Nitsch, Otto Muhl and their associates in the Viennese Actionists, wallowing naked in animal blood, fake(?) ordure, slithery piles of – organic matter; Stuart Brisley, doing something similar but in a more acrobatic fashion against the wall and floor in the corner of a house or studio (the result looking quite good – like to have seen it for real).

Then the women and drag artists who transform their faces and bodies and adopt personas:  Valli Export ,Cindy Sherman and others, mugging at the camera, painted and disguised to exhibit themselves as art objects.  Thus far, I made it last time.

The second half of the exhibition is about the creation of environments and performances within these.  The most striking exhibit is the Cocteau bedroom, a sort of sky-blue, dreamlike room, created by Marc Camille Chaimowicz, and fitted out with paintings and objects that Cocteau might have liked(!) – Vuillard, Duncan Grant, but also a Warhol electric chair print.  Very camp but probably right for Cocteau.  In the same vein, Karen Kilimnik’s “Swan Lake”; a bedroom, dressing table bathed in electric, mauve-ish light, objets again, recording of Swan Lake on a loop and, for some reason, an overpowering musty pong around this exhibit; part of the exhibition or left by some other visitor?

There are more such exhibits from Joan Jonas, Guy de Cointet and others.

It felt to me like two different exhibitions stuck together – the action stuff at the beginning and the theatrical rooms and sets in the second bit – with, maybe, the self-transforming crew providing a bridge between the two.  Hockney’s inclusion initially mystified me; not only “inclusion” really, given the title of the exhibition!  The explanation in the little free booklet you get is that “Hockney’s paintings – hung in homes and galleries – act in the film (Jack Hazan’s documentary “a Bigger Splash”) as a provisional stage set.  They create an environment that seems to encourage the self-consciously flamboyant behaviour of the artist and his associates…”.  I’m not convinced by this, but it’s a rich exhibition, lots of interesting spectacle and there is enough content for several visits; pity it’s not free.

Jonathan Jones and Titian

A startlingly upbeat and assertive report in the Guardian on Tuesday from the above critic, about a portrait of one Girolamo Fracastoro, which the National Gallery has owned for years, but has just decided  is definitely a Titian, and not just an “attributed to”.  Nicholas Penny, the director of the NG, has no doubt it is a Titian – neither does Jones, it appears.  If it is a Titian, it means the NG now has “the finest collection of Titians in the world”.  Jones refers to discoveries in the restoration lab about “the canvas and  technique” which “blaze the name of Titian”.  The only detail of these discoveries that Jones describes relates to the fur collar: “we are feasting our eyes on a flecked mist of white, gold, brown and black, a virtuoso, nearly abstract(?) performance which has all the magic of Titian.  With joyous freedom and a casual command of fluffy gossamer colours, the master sensualist has recreated the richness of a lynx fur on Fracastoro’s shoulders”.  After this flight, reminiscent of Daily Telegraph advertising, Jones has this bathetic quote from Penny: “The great thing about the lynx is that it has got this brown smudge as well as black and white”.

I was at an exhibition just about a year ago, at the National Gallery, which was entitled “Fakes”.  It highlighted works that had been wrongly attributed, cut up and stitched together or were outright  fakes and quoted surprising estimates of the number of errors and fakes undetected in galleries and museums worldwide.  Big change in outlook at the National Gallery, then, and Jonathan Jones obviously approves.

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Blackpaint

10/01/13

Blackpaint 349 – Malevich, Stalin and Fred and Ginger again

July 6, 2012

Sorry, a day late publishing, owing to basic idleness.

Frank Bowling

Good to see an article in the Guardian on Bowling’s poured paintings at the Tate Britain.  I knew him only by the single flag painting in the “Migrations” exhibition, which is not at all typical of his work.  He tends more to a sort of abstract Expressionism and uses colours that remind me of John Hoyland – although he doesn’t mention knowing Hoyland; Hockney was one of his art school contemporaries.  I’m going to see the Tate thing again tomorrow.

Paul Jenkins

My Australian blogger/painter friend Paintlater posted an item about this US AbEx artist, again unknown to me, who has just died.  Fantastic, large canvases with swathes of paint unfurling across them, guided with a knife apparently.  A little like Morris Louis – the paint looks as if it has been hurled but it doesn’t spatter – a bit like huge silk scarves, although not in the one below, which is untypical, but nice.

Malevich

Been reading Boris Groys’ book “The Total Art of Stalinism”, which is a reading of the the Russian avant garde and it’s relationship with the Stalinist state and Socialist Realism.  Malevich’s famous Black Square of 1923 was, according to Groys, a “Ground Zero”, painted by M as a sort of barrier of nothingness designed to put an end to further proliferation of art movements in Russia, enabling the mobilisation of artists for the construction of a real, unitary “work of art” – the socialist state itself.  Groys sees this as the self-imposed task of the Russian avant garde.

Unfortunately for the AG, their formalism was not seen as useful by either Lenin or Stalin, who disengaged with the AG in favour of the proponents of Socialist Realism – which was handier for propaganda purposes.

I’d always thought of the Russian avant garde as vaguely libertarian and radical; radical they were -but libertarian, no.  Totalitarian, more like.

Groys’ book is about Soviet Russia (published in 1987), so it largely ignores the similarities (and differences) between Socialist Realism and Nazi and Fascist art.  An interesting book to be written there – no doubt, it already has been.

 

Critics

Barnett Newman famously said that the relationship of critics to artists was like that of ornithologists to the birds – the birds do, the ornis watch and interpret.

Seems to me that this is right – artists (Bacon, Pollock, de Kooning)are great on the processes of production but are often vague and reluctant to analyse deeply what they do – in case the magic goes away, presumably.  I think its for the artist to do and the critic to analyse; its a pity that some of the critics insist on mystifying the work by “reading” it in an arcane vocabulary that is spoken only by other critics.

Fred and Ginger

“Swingtime” has got to be the best; “Pick Yourself Up” is just an unbelievable joy, when Fred does that saunter – sudden kick thing, and later swings Ginger over the barrier.  But then there is “Never Gonna Dance”, a perfect little ballet quoting all the previous numbers.  Ginger’s back in that dress is the third great back in art history; Veronese’s “Unfaithfulness”, Kitaj’s wonderful drawing are the other two (see previous Blackpaints).

Some old ones to end-

 

Blackpaint

06.07.12

Blackpaint 309

November 30, 2011

Bacon – the Sylvester interview

I’ve been watching that amazing sequence on the Bacon Arena DVD, where Sylvester, lighting one fag from the butt end of another, questions Francis in a probing manner whilst the two of them are lying on a divan bed – Sylvester in one of those white detective raincoats!  There’s plenty of space between them, but Sylvester keeps moving closer and blowing smoke around Bacon’s face.  Just like Peter Cook or a Python sketch.

In an odd way, Bacon’s painting sometimes reminds me of De Kooning – the pinks and oranges, maybe, and the brushwork sometimes.  We use a Duccio postcard as a bookmark in the De Kooning book and it matches perfectly, as far as colour goes.

Pollock – Art of America;

Andrew Graham-Dixon’s new series on US art (America means North America, in this case); he looked at Lavender Mist, I think, and a few others, and said something like; “It’s all very well to look at Pollock’s paintings and admire them – but we have to explain them”.  Why??  He then went on to say that he saw chaos in them – but that’s nonsense, isn’t it?  They are full of harmonies, the colours and shapes recur and echo each other in all the “drip” paintings; there’s surely an overall impression of control in them – he said that there was virtually no accident in them, he mastered the dripping and the only chance element occurred in the fall of a few inches between the end of the stick and the surface of the canvas.  I suppose they looked like chaos at the time, but not now.

Rosenquist

Interesting that James Rosenquist, who started in advertising, painting billboards, said in Art of America that he hated the images he produced for adverts – the images that he used in his artworks were supposed to demonstrate the emptiness of advertising and hence his contempt.  Strange that the slick images and finish that he uses in his huge pictures are the thing that he is prized for.

Bela Tarr

Last blog, I mentioned an interview in which he was asked why he liked ugliness (landscape, buildings, above all, faces):  again, I can only see beauty – the derelict buildings, the rain, mud, darkling skies, bare trees against the horizon, peasants’ faces grained with dirt and tiredness, unshaven, peering through the rain with a cigarette disintegrating in the mouth, and the men too, just as downtrodden; those long, receding, glimmering tarmac roads, the figures trudging to the vanishing point in endless takes, the accordion music repeating melancholy phrases…. beautiful.

Ken Russell

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I watched Women in Love again recently and was bowled over by its brilliance as an adaptation; Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed (especially) and Alan Bates perfect casting.  Reading the book, I was surprised to find that Ursula was the older sister; Lawrence draws her personality in much stronger strokes than is presented by Jenny Linden – Lawrence gives her an obstinacy that maddens both Gudrun and her father, but which is lacking from the Russell film.  Doesn’t matter – masterpiece anyway.

Blackpaint

29/11/11

Blackpaint 302

October 31, 2011

Tarkovsky

I mentioned that Bunuel was deaf in last blog, and that may be why music was apparently not so important in his films; watching Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice” last week, and his use of, for instance, Bach’s Matthew Passion, it’s clear that Tarkovsky is the opposite of Bunuel in this respect – as also in the total lack of humour in any of his films (T., not B., that is, of course).  One other thing in “Sacrifice”; the painterly, bleached, interior scenes, are surely based on Hammershoi.  It was filmed in Sweden, after all.

Middlemarch

Exchange of literary opinion on the North Downs Way last week:  “How you getting on with Middlemarch?”

“More than half way through.”

“Anything happened yet?”

(Pause..) “No.”

Venice Guggenheim

Was transported to Venice as a birthday present, so expect many Venetian entries in blogs to come.  The Guggenheim has a bunch of Miros, Ernsts (Bride stripped bare, for instance), Picassos, Braques, Kandinskys, Klees..  I’ve picked four of the most striking paintings:

El Lissitsky

Beautiful, clean, geometric, shades of Malevich.

Motherwell

I think it’s called “Personage”.  Again, clean, clear colours, bit dirtier, more painterly than the El.

Schwitters

Little collage this one, with a corroded metal disc (or that’s what it looks like) and a butterfly.

A great transparent cyclist by Metzinger and a portrait of the painter Frank Burty Haviland by Modigliani, early, utterly unlike his almond-headed nudes and portraits.  And, a load of early Pollocks, including one of those Synasthaesia ones (see earlier Blackpaints on Pollock).

Incidentally, have been given the Taschen on Modigliani and I’ve revised my opinion of him drastically.  I’d thought of him as a sort of Lempicka, doing tasteful pin-up nudes in an endlessly reproduceable, stylised way; but the portraits are great, the styles more varied, the flesh surfaces unexpectedly painterly (hate that word, won’t use it again) – look at the surface, for instance, of the Courtauld Gallery nude…. the problem for me is the pretty faces. The bow lips, demurely downcast eyes, long lashes, come-hither looks would be OK on a biscuit tin, though not sure about the naked bodies.

More Venice, including the Biennale, in the week.

Blackpaint (Chris Lessware)

28.10.11

Blackpaint 284

July 7, 2011

Cy Twombly and Poussin at Dulwich

Went round this last Sunday – then came news of Twombly’s death.  The obits always cast a faint sanctimonious glow over the dead; luckily, I wrote notes before the news, so can avoid the solemnity.

As always now, I try to avoid reading anything on the wall at an exhibition, or booklets, until I’ve had a good look at the art – so all I really got was that he used a lot of classical references (knew that already) as did Poussin, and presumably that provides the link.  They certainly don’t look much like each other, not even colours or forms.

The first room had a couple of large canvases in odd shapes, as if a giant ace of clubs were stuck onto the usual rectangle.  I recall a great, dark, grey-blue-green tumbling from top left to bottom right, with a froth of white against a creamy pink haze – like a huge ocean wave crashing down.

In the corridor, large rectangular canvases, some covered with Twombly scribbles and swirls in pencil, or pastel crayon, some with the white dribbles like semen, rough sketches of penises among other dubious items and thick clots of paint splashed on to harden; lines of poetry or names scrawled on canvases.

In the end room, the famous Four Seasons, in raspberry, acidic yellow, Prussian Blue, dark green.  One has Autumn scrawled on it, but they all looked like summer to me.  The smears and trickles and smashes of colour suggested Joan Mitchell a little to me.

The best works for me were two smaller ones in the corridor; Venus and Adonis, and Bacchanalia.  The first had a pad of pink that reminded me of the Osborne bum nose. The second was a rolling scrawl of black, grey and brown pastel like a brown wave rolling in, or maybe a tangle of wire.  Full of movement, lovely picture.  Both of these had pictures stuck to the top part of   canvas; the first an illustration of a rhubarb leaf (!) from an old book, the second a classical engraving of a number of figures.  When I skimmed through the book of the exhibition, I found that Twombly had done four or five of these Bacchanalias, for different months from March to November (the one on show).  They looked pretty similar to me.

As for the Poussins – two types; several dark, brownish, varnished look, like Sickert’s ancestor, the others the sort more familiar to me – the brighter colours, the big cast of parading or dancing characters, the reddish tinge of the undercoat.  The compositions are great, the figures wonderful – a Veronese back in one – but the faces crude.  An inappropriately serene Goliath’s head being carried on a stick like a huge toffee apple; a herm with a red face, which the wall labels (read after) linked to the Twombly rhubarb leaf, and which I thought was pushing it a bit.

So it’s great, if not huge.  Twombly’s pictures demanded a new way of looking that now is part of the orthodoxy, to go with Pollock’s spiralling drips, Rothko’s arches and all the others – we have Twombly’s scribbles too.

Tarkovsky

The boxed set is now out.  I’ve only managed Ivan’s Childhood so far – black and white, pretty conventional WW2 story line, but a couple of striking dream sequences and some great night time shots in the marshes (Pripet Marshes?) with flares arcing in the sky and dropping into the water.  Started watching, resigned to ploughing through a boring early work, but fairly gripped by the end.

Blackpaint

07.07.11

Blackpaint 229

December 9, 2010

Art and Propaganda

Wrote about this some time back (see Blackpaint 26, Jan 2010), but I really only mentioned Spanish Republican posters (Miro) and Socialist Realism (workers living in and loving an idealised Soviet Union).  I also mentioned Nazi art, statuary and paintings and posters, which are strikingly similar to Socialist Realism and demonstrate the convergence of approach under totalitarian regimes.

Abstract Expressionism

I didn’t discuss the way the US government used the AbExes to publicise the cause of free enterprise and democracy.  Ironically, since Ab Ex was widely regarded as nonsensical in the West, abstract art was championed as evidence of individualistic freedom by the Congress for Cultural Freedom (a CIA front organisation).  It put on a series of exhibitions in West Germany, starting in 1945, and taking place every few years, under the title “Documenta”.  I’m not sure how much  the individual painters, initially Motherwell, Pollock, Calder and the critic Greenburg, were aware of the way they were being used; will look into that.

The huge irony is that the Socialist Realist style would probably chime much more with the tastes of the “masses” in the capitalist world than the efforts of the abstractionists, which they rejected and ridiculed in large part as incomprehensible.  Indeed, there is a strong Socialist – Realist resemblance in the work of Norman Rockwell, the popular American painter – tables weighed down by big Thanksgiving turkeys, shining-faced, healthy kids, kindly shopkeepers, postmen, policemen, etc.,etc.

Shigeko Kubota

I wonder what the American public would have made of the above Fluxus artist, who in 1965 attached a brush to her crotch and ,crouched above a sheet of paper, swung it about loaded with red paint, to create her “Vagina Painting”, thereby “dismantling the seemingly never-ending mythology of Pollock’s virile painting performances with a single, scandalous gesture” (chapter on Fluxus, “Art since 1900”, Thames and Hudson 2004).

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t show the painting, only an interesting photo of Kubota producing it.  However, I doubt that she achieved the beautiful results that Pollock did.  He argued, reasonably, that his drip method allowed for the intervention of an element of chance in his otherwise rather controlled,  or at least guided works.  Apart from the rather misguided statement “I am Nature” – maybe he was joking; don’t know the context –  I’ve found his remarks on his work really straightforward, sensible and informative.  Rather like Francis Bacon (although Bacon often twisted the truth somewhat) and unlike, say, Rothko. 

And his nickname – Jack the Dripper – though meant unkindly, has to be the best painter’s nickname.  Better, even, than Blackpaint.

Quiz

Which playwright did Sutherland paint, seated in front of a yellow wall ( playwright, not Sutherland(?

Blackpaint

10.12.10