Posts Tagged ‘The Swimmer (film)’

Blackpaint 671 – Oxlade and Lancaster, Drawing and Swimming

May 17, 2020

Roy Oxlade, Art and Instinct (Ziggurat Books, 2010)

Oxlade, Figure on Chair, 1985

I have been reading, with growing interest, this artist’s book of essays and criticism, “Instinct and Art”.  Oxlade, who died in 2014, was an alumnus of Bomberg’s 2nd Borough Group, and had a thoroughly worked-out approach to painting and drawing.  As can be seen from the examples below, his art was representational or figurative – but in some cases, only just.  The casual viewer might think that they are abstract, mostly, but with the odd bit of “real world” –  a cartoon coffee pot or lemon squeezer

 

, say, thrown in the mix.  This was a direct result of his attitude to art and to art school teaching.  To put it simply and, no doubt, crudely, three things were (and are) undermining artistic creativity: first, the art market, with all the evils of naked capitalism; second, the tendency of art schools and the public to see drawing and painting as skills-based activities in which “accurate” reproduction of the “real world” is the goal – and third, conceptual art, from Duchamp through to Hirst.

Obviously, the last has long superceded the second and had done so even when Oxlade was writing in the earliest of these essays.  As far as drawing is concerned, Oxlade says it should bear a    metaphorical, not literal, relationship to the real world – which we all know is there, so we don’t need to reproduce it.  Children, before they are corrupted by adult conceptions, are truly creative, since they see freshly and draw directly; same goes, to a lesser degree, for untutored adults, until someone (an art teacher, say) tells them they are “doing it wrong”.  Oxlade doesn’t mention CoBrA, but I guess his attitude fits in perfectly with the likes of Appel, Jorn, Constant etc.

So, he’s an odd mix; left-wing, anti-elitist, egalitarian, anti-Renaissance – and yet, very definite, almost autocratic in the expression of his views – in print anyway.  There’s a strange elitism in there somehow.  No doubt this has nothing to do with his years as a Bomberg student…  More about this when I’ve finished the book.

 

 

The Swimmer dir. Frank Perry (1968)

 

Ploughing through the DVDs during the lockdown, I watched this again and re-read the Cheever story afterwards:  I regard both the story and the film as masterworks in their own right.  Eleanor Perry, the screenwriter has added a number of scenes (the teenage babysitter, the race with the horse, the neglected boy by the empty pool and the long interplay with the ex “mistress”) which point up Ned Merrill’s sexual/class sense of entitlement, his Peter Pan naivete and the  sense of unease, mental slippage and lack of self awareness.

Some other added or developed scenes bring an element of class and race politics in, but they fit perfectly, no false notes: his crass (but well meant) comments to the black chauffeur; the confrontation with the Biswangers over the hot dog cart; and above all, the meeting with Howie and his wife at the public swimming pool.  Burt Lancaster is fantastic throughout as the affable, athletic, confident. blindly insensitive – and, it turns out, mentally ill – Neddy Merrill.  The ending, when he finally reaches his house in the storm, is devastating.

The Cheever story has two things that are striking and not in the film: firstly, Merrill is mystified by the stars- they seem to be autumn constellations, not those of high summer (the film takes place in daylight; in the story, Ned arrives home after dark); secondly, Ned bursts into tears at the end.  Hard to imagine Burt Lancaster bringing that off…

A couple of my new – well, recently adapted – paintings to end:

Black Night

 

Still Life with Red Pot

Blackpaint

17/5/20

Blackpaint 506 – Light through the Thorns, Parrots in Boxes, Budgies in Trunks

August 8, 2015

William Gear – A Centenary Exhibition, Redfern Gallery, Cork Street W1

gear redfern 1

A couple of blogs ago (Blackpaint 502), I wrote about the Neil Stokoe exhibition at the Redfern, to which I’d gone. expecting William Gear.  Now the Gear is on, until September 5th and it’s well worth the trip to Green Park tube and the heat of Piccadilly to see it.

Gear exhibited with CoBra in 1949 – he and Stephen Gilbert were the only British artists – but I have to say, I don’t think he has a lot in common with painters like Appel; his work strikes me as much more like Adrian Heath, Bryan Wynter and even sometimes Patrick Heron, than the wilder, thicker, more gestural products of Appel and Jorn.  There is one painting, however, “Le Marche aux Fleurs” (1947), which could easily have been an early Jorn.

There are several recurring features of Gear’s work, the most prominent, perhaps, being the tangled bundle of jagged, hooked, thorn-like shapes he seemed to fling across his canvases, so that the patches of bright colour seem to peep out through a thicket of scrub.  The shapes are often, but not always, black.  Gear isn’t afraid of yellow; he uses a full spectrum, but it’s the yellow and black that stay with you after the Redfern.

Triangular grids are another feature, and there are a number of works like “Black Form on Red”(1957), that comprise two or three colours used in large, simple shapes, looking rather like sheets of thin leather or felt, collaged onto the canvas – Poliakoff, maybe, or Burri.  An influence that is suggested in the catalogue is that of Nicolas de Stael – I couldn’t see that, I have to say.

gear redfern 3

Good exhibition, in association with the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, where Gear was the curator in the 60s.  There was a great black, thorny self-portrait on show at the Pallant House in Chichester recently; maybe its still there.  made me think of Tony Bevan, a bit.

gear redfern 2

Joseph Cornell at the RA

cornell 1

This is an exhibition for those, and there are many of them apparently, who like quaint objects and photographs displayed in shallow boxes.  Inevitably, there is a large overlap with the likes of Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and other European surrealists; the difference being that, whereas Ernst, for example, also painted and sculpted, Cornell stuck to the box formula permanently.  Clearly, he had a thing for parrots and cockatoos; his work goes completely against the grain of North American art of the time (40s and 50s) in two ways – it’s small and it’s in boxes.  Although there were later, feminist, artists in the states who put things in drawers and boxes to display them – not parrots, though, as I recall….

cornell2

The Swimmer, Frank Perry (1968) DVD

I think John Cheever’s short story is a masterpiece of the form, one of the best of the 20th century; hard to think of others so perfect, maybe a couple of Joyce’s Dubliners or Margaret Atwood’s Serpent’s Egg.  The film is also a work of art, though very much of its era (Hamlisch’s lush theme music, coupled with jagged Johnny Staccato jazz riffs and some eye -watering psychedelic visuals).  Burt Lancaster is brilliant as the ageing playboy Ned Merrill, in his budgie smuggler trunks, swimming home across the county, by way of the “river” of swimming pools of his “friends”.  Lancaster is by turns genuinely creepy and strangely sympathetic, despite his insensitivity. The pools are not there for freeloading swimmers to propel their sweaty bodies through.

 

The Longest Journey, EM Forster

Even though I’m currently re-reading “Finnegans Wake”, Forster’s book is the strangest, most difficult novel I’ve struggled through for ages; I had to keep going back and reading bits over again to make sense of it.  the problem is twofold – the language: very arch, ironic, riddled with Edwardian Oxbridge phraseology and slang – and the concerns; “love children”, family disgrace, inheritance, the intellect v. the physical, the prosaic v.the poetic, genetic flaws, town and country, social class… Actually, that’s quite a lot and I’m sure I missed plenty.

I was interested to see that Forster kills his characters  in an even more offhand way than Virginia Woolf; a “hurt” at football, a drowning and a steam train across the knees- the last completely unsignalled (sorry) and dispassionate: “It is also a man’s duty to save his own life, and therefore he tried.  The train went over his knees.  He died up in Cadover, whispering “You have been right,” to Mrs Failing”.  That’s it.

 

finsbury mud 2

 

Finsbury Mud 2,

Blackpaint

08.08.15