Posts Tagged ‘Satantango’

Blackpaint 351 – Ena, Betty and the Dirty Old Men

July 20, 2012

Late to publish again – sorry.

John Singer Sargent

I feel ambivalent about this painter – sometimes, I am staggered by how good he is (Mrs. Agnew, Ena and Betty Wertheimer) and sometimes he goes way into chocolate box territory (Mrs. Cazalet and her children – especially her children).  No-one, I think, can do shimmering silk in a few dozen loose brush strokes like him.  I suppose the chocolate boxes are an occupational hazard for a Society painter; you won’t get paid if you paint the kids ugly.

Betty and Ena


I’m familiar with Chagall’s floating/flying fiddlers, of course, but I have to say I was surprised by the “Fantastic Horse Cart”, painted in 1949, in which a rudimentary green horse (actually it looks more like a tapir) rises into the orange sky, supporting with its front legs a blue-faced fiddler.  If this weren’t enough, the horse is harnessed to a cart, which hangs from the horse and contains two small children.  Below is a village of old wooden houses.  Not Socialist Realism, then.

Mark Wallinger

His exhibit at the National Gallery involves peering through peepholes at  naked or “scantily-clad” women, in poses relating to the Titian  Diana and Actaeon paintings.  In a recent Guardian article,  a museum spokesperson claimed they were being plagued by “dirty old men”.  I can’t believe this – in the 50s and 60s maybe, but not now, when porn is easily accessible on the internet – so I’m told.

Art fairs

Those antique road trip progs on the telly have produced a public which wants a deal on everything.  I was at Urban Art in Josephine Avenue, Brixton last weekend.  It was all “What’s your best price?” or “How much for cash?” or “You did say two hundred, right?”  On the TV, they’re selling stuff just bought from another antique shop down the road; it’s all speculation to make a quick twenty or thirty quid.  It annoys me when people want a deal for paintings I’ve done, as if I expect them to knock me down, and price them accordingly.  Different if they say “I really like that painting, but I can’t quite afford it; is there any chance you could ….”  Might be the same thing, but it feels different to me.

Satantango, Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Finished the book now, and one thing different from Bela Tarr’s magnificent film; when Irimias, Petrina and the boy arrive at the deserted chateau, they are confronted with a vision of the dead girl – in Tarr’s film, it is simply a thick white mist, and only Irimias appears to be overawed, and falls to his knees.




Blackpaint 342 – Richter, Kitaj and Tarr; a light interval.

May 17, 2012

Gerhard Richter

Forgot to say in last blog that Richter uses no earth colours in his squeegee paintings – titanium white, ivory black, lemon yellow, cadmium red, ultramarine; that’s it (no green?).  Then, he sweeps and swerves through the paint with a big perspex scraper, leaving scrapes and skidmarks in the paint, or with his giant wooden baton, attached to the top or side and pushed or pulled across surface with apparent effort.  In one image, he pushes the wood with his shoulder across a field of grey, the paint  resisting more every inch, like Sisyphus with his boulder.

He says some interesting, and apparently contradictory things about his work and painting in general.  He says, citing Adorno, that you can’t put pictures together – they are “mortal enemies”.  Each painting, he says, “is an assertion that tolerates no company”.  BUT he paints series, the “Cage” series for example, in the Tate Modern, that seem to be designed to draw strength from, and bounce off each other.

As regards abstraction, he says the eye is always looking for something real – i.e. from the “real” world – and that is where you can start to get “a sort of meaning”.  He sees an abstract painting as containing the potentiality of an infinite number of real images – sort of, all pictures are contained in each picture.  Interesting to me, after going through that long explanation, every time someone asks what a picture is supposed to be.  Instead of droning on about image and structure and texture and contrast and movement and balance and juxtaposition, I can just say “well, it’s whatever you want it to be…  Madonna and Christ?  Well, yes, I see what you mean…”.

His assistant says, “You can’t influence the painting; if I say it’s good, leave it, he’s more likely to change it… because he’s looking for a reason”.  Cantankerous old bastard, one might think; I know a lot like him.

Watching the big squeegee or baton process on the DVD, I remarked on how a painting would appear after a sweep and then be destroyed by the next sweep.  First, a monochrome yellow, sweep, then a white cloudscape, sweep, a light horizon, sweep, a Rothko – the earth colours do emerge from the mixing process.

Questioned on how he knows a painting is finished – the big question – he says the following; “I feel less free with each step; I carry on until nothing is wrong any more”.  It implies dissatisfaction with every work; you don’t stop when you have achieved what you want, but when you can’t find a recognisable fault.  I suppose this is implicit in an improvising approach – but it could have been something like; “I stop when a completed picture jumps out at me”.  He’s obviously too honest to come out with rubbish like that, unlike some other abstract painters. 


That drawing of a seated woman’s back – I suppose it’s Sandra – it’s breathtaking, like a Michelangelo.  I’ve said this before. but it’s amazing how different his two styles are – the cartoonish, “Cecil Court” style and this classical, Old Master look.  I note how “fleshy” his colours, especially whites and reds, are in the cartoony ones – I don’t mean flesh tones but thickness and richness.

Young Musician of the Year

What is the title of that recorder piece played with only a drum accompaniment by Charlotte Barbour – Condini ?  It is played by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick to close out “Arthur MacBride” but the only info given is that the tune is French.

Bela Tarr

The novel “Satantango” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai is out in a translation by George Szirtes; I have it and am hoping it is as uncompromising as the Bela Tarr film.  Only 274 pages, but no paragraphing.  It has punctuation, which is rather conventional I agree, and will lack the accordion music – but I have high hopes.  Next week, will review Turin Horse.



Blackpaint 306

November 19, 2011


I thought Laura Cumming said something interesting in last week’s Observer; referring to the “images” (presumably both the drawings and the paintings), she says, “The line (is) controlled, incised, repeated: nothing spontaneous, everything studied”.  It’s not clear to me whether there is an implied criticism in this statement but that, for me, in essence, is why I prefer Michelangelo’s line, in paintings at least; drawing is another matter.

Again, writing about Cecilia’s stoat, Cumming refers to “the sheer strangeness of this wild thing, so impossibly still” – she’s right; the animal is aroused, looking in the same direction as the girl, as if it has just spotted a movement, yet the body lacks that tension of the predator alerted.

She shares other critics’ reservations about the Salvator Mundi, too; the stoned eyes, the fingers holding an invisible joint…  All this is unremarkable really, except insofar as there has been a concert of inflated praise for this exhibition on the TV, that makes you want to find fault.  Everything is “incredible”, the pictures show us the “souls” of the sitters, and on and on.  I suppose I’ll go to see it, but I’ll be looking to find fault.  I expect Leo will be quaking, up there in painters’ heaven.

Venice Biennale

Since this is now over, I’ll just mention three more artists that made a (good) impression:

the first is Christian Boltanski, who was the French contribution.  A huge roomful of old-fashioned printing apparatus, producing poster-sized baby pictures, which are simultaneously thrown up on screens to make composite faces, half -child, half-adult.  Digital scoreboard with ever-increasing numbers in green (births?) and red (deaths?).  If this interpretation is correct, quite a “complete” artistic statement. 

Next, the Egyptian pavilion; filmed sequences of the demos in Tahrir Square, during which Ahmed Basiouny dressed in an Alien-shaped polythene head bubble and ran on the spot for 30 days.  Ominously, the film showed him pouring fluid on and around himself on “Last Day” – since the wall info said that he had died during the demos and rioting, with no further information, we thought he might have self-immolated on film.  Thankfully, this was not the case.

Finally, the Russian pavilion had a moving record of  Andrei Monastyrski and “Collective Actions” the guerilla art group in the 70s and 80s who did pop-up exhibitions in the open air, lasting until the FSB, (or KGB were they still then?) turned up to attack them and destroy the artworks.  Also Gulag hut/bunk mock ups, snow, fur hats, vivid coloured paintings against the blinding white of the snow….

Bela Tarr

At the risk of being boring – surely not – I must mention the above again, in terms of texture.  I’m watching “Satantango” again – Susan Sonntag said it should be watched once a year, but she obviously wasn’t a real fan – and almost every shot contains texture; soaked woollen garments, scabby cladding on mouldering brickwork, rotting wooden doors and casements, seamed, creased faces, running with rain, great clods of juicy mud with mirrors of rainwater (it often rains in Tarr’s Hungary).  But the sound is also all texture, the crunch and scrape of boots on lino, a drained bottle of fruit brandy clunking to the floor.  Just fantastic -you can chew it.

Blackpaint  (Chris Lessware)