Posts Tagged ‘The Swimmer (story)’

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Obviously, the last has long superceded the second and had done so even when Oxlade was writing in the earliest of these essays.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