Posts Tagged ‘Rudolf Swoboda’

Blackpaint 523 – Last Stands in Africa, Callan and Pina

December 7, 2015

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum

Some of these photographs defy belief, and I don’t mean just the ones that have been set up to do just that (the one that comes to mind is swallows flying through a hole torn in a painting set in a window frame).  To my mind, the best are the two blue sharks, the migrating geese (?) taken from above and the antelope in the dust that look like a cave painting.  Oh, and the clouds of mayflies like snow flurries around the vehicle…

cristobal serrano

Cristobal Serrano

 

Artist and Empire – Facing Britain’s Imperial Past (Tate Modern)

Another of those exhibitions at Tate in which historical and social factors outweigh, perhaps, questions of the standard of the art on show.  Laura Cumming in the Observer was scathing about the show for this reason and for “nauseating” pictures such as that of Victoria presenting a bible – “the Secret of England’s Greatness” – to a kneeling Indian prince, or “suitably grateful and genuflecting black man”, as she describes him.

Inevitably, there are a number of Last Stands heroically depicted; Isandlwana below –

 

 

isandlwanafripp

Charles Fripp

-and Major Wilson in Matabeleland below –

 

(c) Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Allen Stewart

I actually prefer the wonderful Denis McLoughlin cover of my 1956 Okay Adventure Annual (see below); It’s not in the exhibition, but it ought to be.

Wilson OKay

And General Gordon is there, defying the natives in Khartoum, and the doctor, last survivor,  just managing to stay in the saddle in Afghanistan…

The best pictures, to my mind, are those of elderly Maori warriors and chiefs by Goldie (below)

Goldie1

and those by Rudolf Swoboda (below) which Cumming tells me are “kitsch and sentimental”.  She points out that the subjects of these portraits were “brought over from Agra to perform at the Colonial and Indian of 1886” and were actually convicts, not the Indian “types” they represent.  They still look like good paintings to me, however; I presume all the women who have posed as Virgins in Old Masters were actually virgins?

There are some interesting sculptures made by the colonised subjects depicting British administrators and the like, but the best is a black wooden bust of an African in jacket and tie, with a bulging forehead; 1920s, I think.  It wouldn’t have looked out of place in Kettles Yard, with the Gaudier- Brjeskas and Nicholsons, etc.

 

swoboda1

Rudolf Swoboda

One of the paintings represents white women and children besieged at Cawnpore, in a state of collapse from hunger and despair; in the corner, the gates burst open and a horde of – British soldiers flood in!  Hooray, a rescue!  Apparently, the original plan was to show frenzied rebels, about to wreak the unspeakable, no doubt – but the artist changed it to spare the sensibilities of his viewers.

The physical depiction of the colonised peoples in this exhibition is markedly lacking in racial caricature.  There was no exaggeration of physical features to make the imperial subjects look comical, or stupid, or sinister (which, to anyone familiar with comics and cartoons from the 50s and 60s is surprising) – rather the opposite, in fact; they are exotic, but handsome and dignified in portraits.  And the bible picture described above is the only one in which a subject kneels to a British queen or her representatives.

No doubt, some on the left will detect an irony in the opening of this exhibition relating to our imperial past, as the bombers fly over Syria and Iraq and Afghan refugees, amongst others, try to get across European borders – but not I.

Anthony Valentine and “Callan”

callan-28005_2

I was saddened to read that Valentine had died; that’s him in the middle.  Older British readers will recall Valentine as Toby Meres, the ex public schoolboy foil to Edward Woodward’s chippy Callan in the 60s.  Callan worked for “The Section”, doing dirty jobs for the security of the state, paid in used notes in brown envelopes.  If caught,  he was on his own.  Fiction, of course; Callans couldn’t exist in a proper democracy like ours.  It was a great series, though.

Pina, Wim Wenders (2011)

bausch

I thought this documentary, on the choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, was mesmerising.  The sequence in which a male dancer constantly loads a female into the outstretched arms of another male, who promptly drops her (Beckett, fail again, fail better – or if not better, faster) was brilliant; she did the speeding up thing in other sequences.  She loved putting her female dancers – and once, a male – in long, flowing pastel dresses.  In addition to Beckett, I thought Fellini – and Bergman – in that last sequence with the dancers parading in a line on the escarpment.  And listening to “The Rite of Spring”, I thought it could be Vaughan Williams…

The members of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, reminiscing on Bausch, recalled that thing you come across so often with “inspirational” figures  – where a legend in a given field observes, says nothing, and then at the crucial moment, gives the performer the one word necessary, which makes all clear.  Dance, painting and sculpture, music, judo – all fields in which I have come across similar descriptions.

 

work in prog

Work in Progress

Blackpaint

7.12.15