Posts Tagged ‘Spencer’

Blackpaint 231

December 16, 2010

Norman Rockwell

Wrote about him in last-but-one blog (Blackpaint 229) and now I hear there is an exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, on now.  I compared him to the Soviet Socialist Realists, in regard to his presentation of American life – fine and dandy, the American Dream – just as the communists portrayed life in the Soviet Union.  Jonathan Jones in the Guardian, however, recalls his 1964 painting of the black girl Ruby Bridges, going to her school, defying the rotten vegetables thrown at her by southern whites opposed to desegregation.  So I was being a little unfair to Rockwell; the Dulwich show leaves this picture out, according to Jones, and sticks to the conservative stuff prior to 1964.  In these Evening Post covers, American life is shown in a glowing, nostalgic light.

Doris Seidler

She has died in the US, aged 97.  Never heard of her until I read the Guardian obituary and saw that beautiful, rectangular, black, ochre and grey collage entitled “Comp with Etched Fragment”, they used to illustrate it.  Its a shame to find out about these artists only when they die.  Not much on the web, either.

Sandra Blow

On the other hand, there are several great paintings by the above, if one goes to Google images.  Right in the middle of page 4, however, there is an interesting image that has nothing to do with the artist, but clearly relates to her surname; there are more throughout the rest of the entry.   Lovers of abstract art should not be deterred by this.

Tate Britain rehang

Some of the rooms have been reorganised on chronological lines.  In the Sickert “end of the pier” room, there is one of the geometric Bombergs entitled “Ju Jitsu” – can make out the interaction of the fighters, but not what the moves are.  There is a nude Spencer on a bed with his nude wife and a joint of lamb, I think – could be beef, though.  Also, his remarkable “Woolshop”, in which the hanks of wool seem to intertwine with the women’s hair.   There is a four panel Eileen Agar, shades of Miro a bit, something to do with the development of an embryo; and a lovely Tunnard, mustard yellow, geometric, entitled “Fulcrum”.  Finally, a picture by Winifred Knights, called “Deluge”, in which women and girls are doing some sort of slanting eurythmic dance.  All vthese pictures are very distinct from each other, the beauty and drawback of a chronological approach.

A large Keith Vaughan in the next room attracts the attention; There’s a reclining and a standing figure, rather featureless and flabby pink – it’s Theseus and the Minotaur, although can’t see it myself.  Not a patch on his de Stael – type pictures.  There’s an Alan Davie, “Black Mirror”, in which the brushwork is very like Bacon’s, say, on his black ones with writhing figures and metal rails; a Hockney pyramid and giant palm in front of it; and a beautiful Auerbach building site in jewel-encrusted orange.  There’s a Heron, one of those in which he uses straight white lines to delineate figures and a Bacon dog, a little, fizzing grey ball of energy, in a frame of course.


Adjoining these rooms, there is a Blake room, with Nebuchadnezzar crawling, Newton measuring and the Good and Bad Angels, all instantly recognisable and fantastic (in every sense).  There are also several paintings that formed illustrations for Dante’s “Divine Comedy”.  Plutus, the guardian and tormentor of those who have committed sins of avarice, has distinctly Jewish features says the label – although I must say, I couldn’t make this out clearly.  Apparently Blake had an interest in phrenology, which was fashionable at the time.  Thieves are being tormented by snakes, one of which appears to be emanating from a woman’s vagina (this is not just me; the label points it out) – a reminder of Michelangelo’s linkage of snakes and sexuality on the Sistine wall.  There is Brunelleschi being tormented by a 6 footed serpent and a barrator (political power broker) having his skin torn off in lumps; all good stuff – but dodgy on the phrenology front.





Blackpaint 56

February 2, 2010

Germaine Greer

In yesterday’s Guardian (sorry about the parochialism – next week will comment on art coverage in Sun and Daily Mirror), Germaine Greer came out with some surprising stuff; the headline encapsulates it: “Titian takes you to a realm beyond carnality.  Stanley Spencer doesn’t”.

It’s a review of an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge of Singer Sargent, Sickert and Spencer.  The first is dismissed as a money-obsessed society portraitist, trying his hand at landscapes which don’t come off; the other two are unfavourably compared with Titian, who, in his “Venus and Cupid with a Lute- Player”, admits you “to a realm beyond carnality.  The luminous figure is alive but poised and contained, not simply dumped amid dirty linen”.

Sickert’s nude is “saponified, her breasts and belly engorged as if with the gases of decomposition.  we look down on her from a cool distance”, like undertakers.

Spencer’s wife, Patricia Preece “could be a companion piece” to Sickert’s; “Preece’s flesh has undergone slippage, and her face is set in a staring death mask”.

So  what is this “realm beyond carnality”?  Sounds like idealism, romanticism to me.  Women’s bodies, like men’s, do undergo “slippage” as they age and flesh tone changes according to light (or so it does at my life drawing classes).  A bit of slippage, a few bulges, some muscle – it all adds a bit of interest.  Preece’s face is only a death  mask if that’s what you want to see – I think she looks bored stiff and half asleep.  Spencer looks “alive” – but he also looks scrawny and greenish, with a suntan line across his neck.  As Bacon (appropriately) said, people are meat; they may be other things too, but they are flesh.  It seems to me that Spencer’s beautiful portrait of Preece – look at the right knee, the flatness and substance and curve of the left breast – is the embodiment of carnality and all the better for it.  Bodies, both women’s and men’s, are great to paint and draw, but they don’t always have to be “luminous”.

As for Sickert, yes, his stuff is cold, sinister and nasty – carnal.  Does this mean that Sickert “is simply not good enough for the Fitzwilliam”?  Only if “good” means a “realm beyond carnality”.  I’m happy to live and work in the carnal realm and beyond it – but I don’t see the one as better than the other.

Greer’s other remarks about the sidelining of Sickert’s and Spencer’s faithful women allies (Helen Lessore, Sylvia Gosse and Hilda Carline) may, of course, be fair enough; although I’ve heard of them all, I don’t know their work – if they are as good as any of the men discussed, then Greer’s final sentence is justified; the exhibition, she says, “offers a pretty good object lesson in how women’s contribution is winnowed out of art history”.  But are they as good? You shouldn’t be entitled to an exhibition on the strength of raising two daughters and undergoing “the misery and turmoil of being married to Spencer, a mental breakdown and failed treatment for breast cancer”, as she says of Carline; it should be because you can produce something as good, or as interesting, as the Spencer painting which illustrates the article.

Listening to Neighbour, Neighbour by The Graham Bond Organisation.

“You got nose trouble, mouth trouble too,

Something bad gonna happen to you

Neighbour, neighbour, stay away from my door.”

Not my sentiments, of course.