Posts Tagged ‘Ruskin Spear’

Blackpaint 540 – Bacon, Bela, Berlin and Dental Horror

April 9, 2016

Russian Portraits, National Portrait Gallery

Went to this again last Wednesday and it was thronged; while I was standing looking at the Vrubel portrait of Mamontov (see below), one of the two women in front of me declared “It’s just like a Francis Bacon!”  This seems to be a common observation to make about anything which isn’t a straightforward “realistic” representation – bit of smudging round the features? “Just like Bacon”; limbs a bit oddly positioned? “He’s doing a Francis Bacon”.

Russia Vrubel

It’s not like Francis Bacon, is it?  Or maybe I’m missing something…

bacon nude 2

This is like Francis Bacon.

My partner, however, says that I’m just as wrong in comparing, as I did last week,  the Vrubel to Sickert or to Ruskin Spear – she says it’s more like Braque.

Whoever, if anyone, is right, it’s a brilliant exhibition.  A painting I didn’t mention last time is Repin’s Rimsky Korsakov; the hands again and that “fleshy” paper (can’t see it properly below – you need to go to the exhibition).

Repin Rimsky

Repin is like Adolph Menzel, the painter who nearly fills the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin (Blackpaint 473) ; history scenes, portraits, pastorals, scenes from plays, Repin does it all, much more than competently.

Autumn Almanac (DVD), Bela Tarr (1984)

bela tarr

The melancholy Miklos Szekely (tight-lipped, sour featured) is present, on the right in the photo above.  It’s claustrophobic, intense, violent – a man gets a beating (actually, nothing by today’s standards; more like a roughing up) which is filmed from below, through a glass floor, like that film of Pollock painting.  Like other Tarr pictures, notably Damnation, the characters speak to each other in undertones, smiling all the time even when angry, abusive or threatening; in one scene, the two women in the film fight, each smiling into the other’s face the whole time.

It strikes me that, unlike the great Tarr  films based on the books of Krasnahorkai ( Satantango and The Werckmeister Harmonies), and even The Man from London (taken from a Simenon story), Autumn Almanac shows violence and corruption developing out of the situation itself, with no need of an outside catalyst – in this, it resembles Damnation.  In Werckmeister, the cataclysmic violence arrives with the travelling show, the Prince and the whale; in Satantango, the “community”, such as it is, is destroyed by the arrival of the satanic pair, Irimias and Petrina.  In “London”, the agent of disturbance is the case of money which Maloin sees flung into the harbour when the murder takes place.

I’m not absolutely sure about this; you could argue that the schoolmaster in “Almanac” is an outsider and his ejection allows the others to achieve a sort of twisted, corrupt equilibrium.. or maybe not.  It’s Tarr anyway, so worth seeing, and uniquely for him, in colour (pretty dark, though).

Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women, Selected Stories (Picador)

First heard of this book when it was reviewed before Christmas; her stories were compared to those of Raymond Carver and you can see why.  There’s a similar economy (she often dispenses with verbs), a conversational tone and the settings and subject matter are “dirty”, as in Dirty Realism; alcoholism, abortion, dysfunctional families.  The second story, “Dr. H.A.Moynihan”, is a groin-shrivelling tale of manic dentistry that is the most horrific piece of fiction I’ve ever read – that’s if it IS fiction.  The stories appear to be strongly autobiographical.  I think she differs from Carver, in that he is maybe more experimental with point of view.  he writes as a female character in several stories, “Fat”, for example, and successfully, I think.

Anyway, the blurb on the front says her stories “are electric, they buzz and crackle”.  They don’t, but they are a great, if occasionally gruelling, read.

Actually, I’ve just thought of a piece nearly as physically wrenching (literally) as Berlin’s story – Ted Hughes’ poem about de-horning bulls.

I’ve done no new paintings since last time, so here’s an old one for now, appropriate to Berlin and Hughes perhaps;

Close of a long day

Close of a Long Day

Blackpaint

9.4.16

 

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Blackpaint 230

December 13, 2010

Van Gogh

Richard Dorment, on the Royal Academy exhibition “Van Gogh, the Artist and his Letters”, which took place earlier in the year, writes in the Telegraph: “We learnt (from the letters) that even if it only took Vincent an hour or two to paint a picture, before his brush touched  the canvas he had chosen and mixed his pigments, and knew precisely where he would place every touch of colour” (my emphasis).

Can this really be so?  Precisely? Every touch?  I find this hard to believe – no element of chance at all, no revising, no improvising.  Many other painters and artists of every kind claim there is an  element of re-working, revision, spontaneity, change of some sort during their working process.  The idea of a painter following a pre-determined plan with precision sounds like painting by numbers – which doesn’t sound likeVan Gogh.

I didn’t see the show, so I can’t comment on the match between particular letters and paintings; if VG described the process after doing the painting, maybe he did some unconscious editing, “tidying up”.  Maybe not; must read the letters, so until then, will say no more on VG and stick to Dorment’s comments.

It is interesting to me that Richard Dorment equates this preparedness and precision with “consummate professionalism”.  I’m sure he’s right, but a bit of spontaneity, improvisation and chance properly acted on can be professionalism too, surely; otherwise, a lot of great painters are amateurs.  Then again, one purpose of the exhibition was, I believe, to demonstrate a rational and controlled approach on Van Gogh’s  part, as opposed to the popular view of him as “the madman touched with genius”, so perhaps Dorment’s comments must be seen in this light.

He finishes: “The brilliance of this show was that it forced us to see what is really there and not what our imaginations add to it”.  This opens wider a giant plastic bin liner full of live eels with almost every word – but I’ve gone on too much already, so will change the subject.

Sandra Blow

Lovely, but short, DVD (the Eye, Illuminations) on the above done in 2006, the year she died.  She lived with Burri in Italy after the war and acknowledged that she got the idea of using sacking in her paintings and collages from him – not often you hear artists confirm their “borrowings” so freely.  She mentioned two other important sources of influence – the Underwood book on African art and the work of Ruskin Spear and Walter Sickert on her “brown” phase.  I’m still very taken with her “Vivace”, which I saw at Tate St.Ives a few months ago and which, in its spontaneity, was untypical of her work.  She put wellington boots on to hurl red paint across the huge canvas, making an enormous “V”.

Quiz

Who put a zebra and a parachute in the same picture?

Lambton Worm

Blackpaint

13.12.10