Posts Tagged ‘Van Doesburg’

Blackpaint 285

July 10, 2011

The Vorticists (Tate Britain)

Interesting to see how closely the works of the painters, at least, resemble each other; the diagonals, acute angles, elbows and zigzags.  I’d find it difficult to distinguish between Wyndham Lewis, William Roberts and Echells.  Dorothy Shakespear and Helen Saunders also using similar configurations but more adventurous use of colour – or maybe, a stronger imperative to “beautify” the work.  This may be right for the purely abstract work, but, of course, paintings such as Bomberg’s Mud Bath were done in a vivid blaze of colour…

Also interesting to me that the work often reverted to figuration during the war, and the involvement of several of the Vorticist artists in the trenches – as if, perhaps, they felt the experience required a less abstract depiction, or maybe was inexpressible in purely abstract terms??  Nevinson, however, was always figurative – his paintings remind me of Feininger, mixed with a little Delaunay (the Eiffel Tower, say).

As for the sculpture, Epstein’s driller is the first thing on view, in the form that he intended and looking rather like a robot biker.  Elsewhere, there is a relief of a woman upside-down giving birth; only realised this when I read the title. Before, I thought the emerging infant was a stylised penis going the other way .  Gaudier-Brjeska’s works mostly resemble stylised sculptural insects, smoothly and cleanly executed.

Have to mention the bombastic manifestoes and declarations in varying sizes of stark, black font on the walls, shouting  manic assertions in the true and irresistable manner of all tiny movements…. (See Blackpaint on Mondrian, Van Doesburg etc.)

Elsewhere in the Tate, there is an exhibition of photographs and newspaper articles concerning a show called “Prostitute”, put on at the ICA in 1976  by Genesis P- Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti,  that looks to have pushed things as far as possible at the time, in terms of nudity, sexual reference and general outrage – further, I guess, than you could go now in an art gallery?  There is a photo that looks as if it gave Tracey Emin the idea for that one of her naked, scooping paper money towards her crotch.  There are little boxes with shelves, on which are used sanitary towels, exhibited under Orridge’s name (did he nick it from feminist artists, or do it first?  I looked it up, and it appears it was Judy Chicago in about 1972)  The tabloid headlines on display are hilarious.  A thoroughly edifying experience and I can’t recommend it too highly.

Finally at the Tate, there’s a s0rt 0f 30’s and WW2 room with some great pictures; the white horse from the train carriage window by Ravilious, a great country lane with pink slanting lines by Edward Bawden, a spectacularly awful Nevinson with a huge, symbolic War monster crouching over the world, like a GF Watts, I thought.  Some great Sutherland Blitz damage, a Trevelyan mill town collage, hunger marchers in Humphrey Spender photos.  And posters of the green and golden- yellow fields of England, to remind the wartime populace what they were fighting for.


“Mother and Son”; it’s like Christy Moore’s “Sonny, don’t go away”, turned into a film and transferred from Ireland to Russia.  Well, not like it at all, really.  Really claustrophobic rural steppe scenery, filmed  at an angle, somehow; the son’s figure, as he carts his dying mother around in his arms, is always slanting and elongated – he looks like Frankenstein’s monster at times.  Short; only 90 minutes, but gruelling, with the Russian “Shto, shto” whispering, which grates on my ears anyway.

A reminder – look out for my book cover to Gregory Wood’s “An Ordinary Dog” (Carcanet).  There are three copies on sale in London; two in Foyles, one in Blackwoods, both in Charing Cross Road.  Mind you, I expect they’ve all been sold by now.



Blackpaint 90

March 18, 2010

What is happening?? WordPress seems to have gone nuts.  will try again tomorrow, but today unable to download pictures and system keeps logging me out.  Just words today, I’m afraid.

Asger Jorn

Writing about Jorn yesterday, it occurred to me that the Tate Modern should follow up the Van Doesburg show with something wild by way of contrast – The CoBrA lot, especially Jorn, Appel and Constant, for example.  Lots of slatched-on, swirling colours, little demon heads emerging out of the murk – would make a lovely contrast to the squares, triangles and DISCIPLINE of Mondrian, VD et al.  Or maybe some of the wilder Abstract Expressionists; Gotz, Shiraga, even Joan Mitchell…  Then again, I’d love to see some Hans Hoffmans, Eva Hesse, Helen Frankenheimer..

Ad Reinhardt

A while back, I quoted Reinhardt’s aphorism: “Art is art.  Everything else is everything else”.  That was in 1958; in the early 60’s, he expanded the original – “Art is art-as-art.  Everything else is everything else.  Art-as-art is nothing but art.  Art is not what is not art.”  From 1954 until his death in 1967, he painted in various shades of black, so, writing as Blackpaint, I have to declare Reinhardt as a hero.  I fear I will never achieve his focus and clarity of purpose, however.  And his brother Django was a brilliant guitarist, of course.

I can’t see whether this picture has downloaded properly, but will publish anyway.



Blackpaint 69

February 15, 2010


Since I wrote on Gorky yesterday, I’ve read Laura Cumming’s review of the exhibition and I think I was a bit sniffy about it – under the evil influence of Brian Sewell, no doubt.  Maybe I missed the radiance a bit; if de Kooning thought he was the business, who am I to be critical?  And he must have been the only painter in the USA doing this stuff in the early 40’s, so the importance of the link with European abstraction…

Van Doesburg

Got to visit this again, and as always, there was stuff that impressed 2nd time round that I’d barely noticed the first: Huszar’s “Composition with Female Figure”; a fantastic Schwitters with one of those long titles full of numbers – it began with “Merz”; the paintings of Bortnyik, Maes and El Lissitsky that all used perspective, a rarity in  this exhibition; and a Futurist machine picture in black, white and red by Victor Servranckx, who gets 2nd prize for great name, after Vantongerloo.  I was puzzled by Jean Gorin’s “No.3 emanating from the equilateral triangle” – couldn’t see a triangle for the life of me.  I presume it was implied.  Cesar Domela had three lovely pictures, one a tilted square with corners coloured and finally VD himself, “Simultaneous Counter Composition”, in which the coloured squares (tilted of course) appear to be sliding apart under a thin black frame.

Richard Hamilton

Interview with Rachel Cooke, in which he claims that a teacher at the Royal Academy described Picasso et al as “a load of fucking dagoes!”  The art schools of the 40’s and 50’s sound like a nightmare; I remember reading that Terry Frost once spent 6 weeks on a painting without a comment from his teacher.  When Frost felt he was finished and asked for a comment, he was told, “If I were you, I’d scrape it all off and start again.”


Going two ways at the moment; doing Mondrian- style stuff freehand, so its messy (childish, but even messed up, it looks OK) – and flinging paint on flat canvas and spreading it with the edge of a postcard.  Really messy.

Listening to” That’ll be the Day”, Buddy Holly and the Crickets (of course):

“When Cupid shot his dart, he shot it at your heart,

So if we ever part then I’ll leave you..”

For decades, I thought it was “When Cupid Charlie starts…”: again, makes no sense, but I still prefer it.



Blackpaint 61

February 7, 2010


Reading about the above after the Van Doesburg et al exhibition yesterday, I find that, for a period around 1929, he was cutting his black dividing lines off just before they reached the edge – so as not to foster the notion of their continuance into the Beyond (i.e. beyond the canvas).  Unfortunately, the illustration in the Taschen “Abstract Art”, of Mondrian’s “Composition No II.  Composition with Blue and Red”, must be badly cropped since the black lines definitely do reach the edges.  You would have thought they’d check – still the repros are beautiful for about seven quid.


I may have given the impression by my ceaseless and tiresome habit of irony that I disapprove of the sort of fanatical zeal shown by Mondrian in support of the four-square against the diagonal tilt.  This is not the case; art movements should be fanatical.  They should produce fierce manifestos, making grandiose and sweeping statements; they should have rows and splits, refuse to speak for years, occasionally, perhaps, visit violence upon one another.  They should be prepared to provoke  fury, ridicule and incomprehension.  That’s what moves art forward and that’s what provides the bedrock range of work that predatory individuals can sieze on and “adapt” (cannibalize) for their own ends – unlike myself, of course.

Last word on Mondrian and Van Doesburg – it should have been the absence of green, not the ubiquity of white, that I looked for yesterday.  Mondrian famously avoided using it because it wasn’t a primary colour – but, apart from the very earliest paintings, VD’s “Cow”, and the little collages of Rinsema and, I think, Schwitters – and the stained glass – not a lot of green about.

Listening to “Hey Hey”, by Big Bill Broonzy

“Hey hey, lost your good man now (*2)

You had me fooled but I found it out somehow”.

Rudimentary words, but the most driving guitar accompaniment in the history of recording (apart, maybe, from some Reinhardt).

Blackpaint 60

February 6, 2010

Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde

Got to this this afternoon at the Tate Modern.  It’s massive; 11 rooms, some subdivided into three sections – took about an hour to go round.  some highlights to look out for as follows: in room 2, little pictures by Marthe Donas, particularly “Child with Boat”. 

In room 3, what I call the “blip” paintings by Bart van der Leck – look like genetic coding to me – and VD’s cow; I thought it was a house at first.  Also Georges Vantongerloo, great squares, great name. 

Room 6 is the Dada/ Bonset room – definition on wall by VD: “Outlook on life opposed to anything we imagine to be of vital importance”.   A few beautiful, Picabia -like fantasy machines in singing blue and rhubarb colours by Jean Crotti; also in this room, some tiny, lovely collages in yellow and red by Thijs Rinsema.

In room 7a, the perfect  model “Kiosk” by the Hungarian artist  Lajos Kassak.  In 8, two lovely red based squares by Peter Keler called De Stijl Flat Compositions, I think, and a sharply defined yellow diamond shape by Karl Peter Rohl.

Then there’s room 9, architecture, with Rietveld’s great Schroder House – love to live in that – and the Sophie Tauber-Arp squares.  The last couple of rooms have several of VD’s diagonals as well as Mondrian’s squares – as if glaring at each other, shouting “Square!” “No, diagonal!” like Big Enders and Little Enders in Gulliver.

I got an idea that only VD did a squares painting with no white, looking at Counter Composition X (grey, red, dim glowing yellow), so went back through – there were actually only about four “squares” paintings with no white.  then of course, I discovered that one of Mondrian’s most famous paintings has no white, so another theory blown.

All in all, a brilliant exhibition; just, after an hour – too many squares and triangles!  wanted a nice, big, splatty, drippy CoBrA or Joan Mitchell or de Kooning to mess it up a little.

Listening to Dallas, by Johnny Winter –

“You know that I ain’t evil,

I’m  just having fun,

So much shit in Texas, Lord, bound to step in some –

Goin’ back to Dallas, take my razor and my gun;

Anybody lookin’ for trouble, oo-hoo,

Sure gonna give ’em some”.

I think he would be a diagonals man.



Blackpaint 47

January 23, 2010


Mentioned him yesterday in relation to drawing ability and Robert Hughes, and behold, he’s on the TV last night, on Sky Arts, I think; putting up massive pictures in a gallery in Italy (or at least, a number of Italians were putting them up, under his orders).  Several commentators and I think Schnabel himself, spoke about his huge self-confidence as his great asset.

Van Doesburg

The preview by Simon Mawer in the Guardian today, of the above artist’s coming exhibition at the Tate Modern, points out his apparently contradictory allegiance to both De Stijl and Dada.  Mawer describes a Dada event in Holland in 1923: “On stage, wearing a monocle and with his face whited up, Van Doesburg would recite from his recent pamphlet Wat is Dada???, while Schwitters, incognito at the back of the auditorium, would interrupt the lecture by barking like a dog.”

Apparently, this sort of thing sometimes led to riots and violence.  I remember at my school in 1960, prefects performing a similar routine with piano and assorted farmyard noises; they were imitating the Goon Show.  No riot ensued.

Abstract Expressionism

Last night, painting, I found I had produced  a tame looking, pseudo-surrealist painting, utterly lifeless, with a sort of dusky reddy, yellowy brown background – I was overcome with nausea. 

A darkness descended on me and I can only surmise that I worked through out the night in an unconscious frenzy to destroy the monstrosity I had created.  As the sky lightened and the birds began to sing, I calmed down and surveyed the result – a genuine abstract expressionist painting, representing accurately my intense emotions at the time.