Posts Tagged ‘Vasari’

Blackpaint 202

October 6, 2010

Michelangelo’s God (Sistine Ceiling)

I find it amazing that the brain – my brain, anyway –  seems not to register things that should be obvious and impossible to miss.  God animates Adam with the famous touching finger, reaching out from his seat in the brain – shaped thing (see Blackpaint 165) .  Don’t look – is he alone in there?  I thought so, but I was wrong – the deity is surrounded by a group of attractive young persons of indeterminate sex, presumably members of a high order of angels, seraphim maybe.  The touch, of course, is also Michelangelo’s invention – Genesis speaks only of god breathing life into Adam.

All this stuff – about the Flood, Adam and Eve and the serpent, etc. –  is trivial, I suppose, but it does illustrate how freely M. took liberties with the text and got away with it.  I think it was only the nakedness that led to problems.  When you think that printers had their ears cropped for little errors – “thou shalt commit adultery”, for example – although that’s a bad example, because it’s quite a serious mistake…..


I’ve been reading the story “the Unknown Masterpiece”, in which the painter Frenhofer believes he has created a masterpiece in his portrait of Catherine Lescault, “the beautiful courtesan”.  He invites two fellow painters in to see; what they see is an unintelligible mass of paint, with only a human foot recognisable in a lower corner of canvas.  Meanwhile, Frenhofer raves about the light falling on the hair, the flesh of the bosom quivering until he hears one of his friends remark that there is nothing on the canvas.  At this, he collapses in tears and self-pity, which rapidly turns to defiance and the assertion of his own mastery, which others are too small to recognise.  Typical artist.

Open House

The point of the above is that it reminds me of the reactions of some visitors when they come over your doorstep and see abstract paintings.  No doubt their hearts sink (cliche, sorry) and they try to think of something to say.  A frequent response is, “Well, there’s certainly a lot of paintings; you’ve been very busy.”  After an interval of, say, five minutes they leave, thanking you politely and heading for the next house on the list .  Fair enough, of course; there’s nowhere to go with abstract art, people are either pleased and/or excited with what you have done with the paint, repelled and appalled –  or it’s nothing.  A bad figurative painting is still a bad painting of Something. 

Still, sold five – a big one, a middle one and three small ones; not too bad and another weekend to go.


Last blog, I was looking at Gilles Neret’s little coffee table Taschen on angels; today, the companion on devils – which he interprets very loosely to include satyrs, fauns, pans, demons.  The sexual content is frank and startling and demonstrates clearly that these illustrations must have acted, perhaps unconsciously, as a safety-valve in medieval times and pornography in the 19th century.

My favourites are:

1.  Fra Angelico’s “Last Judgement”, in which the damned appear to be in a series of S and M parties in a block of flats, opened up to the viewer;

2.  Georgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, “Punishment of lechery”, in which burning torches are being thrust by demons into vaginas and anuses (ouch!); and

3.  Hieronymous Bosch, “Last Judgement”, in which the various fantastical monsters have that luminous and translucent appearance that one associates with recent photographs of deep-sea creatures.

Gone but not forgotten.



Blackpaint 199

September 26, 2010

Giotto again

“The Renunciation of Possessions”, one of the St.Francis frescos in San Francesco, Assisi – Francis with a dubious looking bishop holding up a towel(?) around Francis’ midriff.  Francis’ father, like an assistant in a clothes shop, trousers over his arm, looks on.  God’s hand poking down through the sky; quaint angles of columns, steps and canopies on the buildings – or bits of buildings – nearby.

“Judas’ Betrayal” – Judas receiving his bag of gold, with a bearded, completely black devil peering over his shoulder.  Two bystanders discuss Judas, one pointing over his shoulder at Judas, as if to say, “Who is his mate?”

Vasari’s “perfect circle” story; Giotto proves his artistic prowess to the pope’s representative by drawing a perfect circle in one movement, but moving only his wrist, not the whole arm; quoted in the Penguin Book of Art.  I think Giotto was certainly in the genius zone, but for his use of colour and for his compositions and emotional power.  The idea of him as some sort of master of drawing technique, or “magic hand” may be true, but is misleading.  that’s more Michelangelo, somehow.

Sam Francis

been looking at his stuff from the late 50s, 56 and 58 – usually called “Untitled” irritatingly – so like some of Joan Mitchell’s stuff (again, who first, Joan or Sam?) – the flaring colour lozenges, the dribbling paint lines, the spatters… except that Francis uses those vivid blues and orangy reds.  Hold on – back to Giotto again! Actually, not really, Francis’  blue is more like a Klein blue than Giotto’s greenish one.

Huang Yong Ping

“The History of Chinese Art …. after two Minutes in the Washing Machine”.  done in 1987, this is a pile of pulped paper in a trunk, with sheets of glass and Chinese writing on the lid.  The pulp is the remainder of two books, “The History of Chinese Art” and “A Concise History of Modern Art”.  Dada of course, but impressive in the context of China in 1987.  Needless to say, his work is censored in galleries and shows at home.  Wonder how he is doing – must look him up on Wiki.

Nicolas de Stael

No apologies for writing yet again about this great painter.  “Countryside” – yellows, oranges, reds, brown, cream, in scraped ingots with roughened and sometimes blackened borders.  Beautiful, abstract work.

Second to Last Judgement (WIP) by Blackpaint


Blackpaint 189

September 8, 2010


Vasari points out that the figure of Jonah on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is actually leaning backwards, against the direction of the vault on which it is painted, giving the trompe l’oeil effect by means of foreshortening.  Amazing, when you consider the difficulty of painting quickly, onto wet plaster, big drop below from the rickety scaffolding, looking upwards, one hand stretched and working above his head, paint dripping back into his face and eyes.  This is how he sketched himself at work, not lying on his back as in the film.  How could he have done it, without checking it from a distance to make sure the proportions were right?  (imagine, do a leg, down the ladders to check, shit, too short – up again to change it quick before it dries – shit, too late). 

Presumably, he’d sketched it out on paper or linen (?) and pricked it, held against the curve of the vault – couldn’t have done it without pre-prepared sketches, surely.

The St.Ives Artists by Michael Bird, Lund Humphries 2008

Didn’t credit this great book properly the other day, when I repeated the Terry Frost pissing story (Barbara Hepworth rang a little bell when she wanted her labourers to make themselves scarce).  It’s full of other stories about this remarkable wild bunch – Lanyon punching other artists out, trying – allegedly –  to run down Sven Berlin in his car – but is also great on the movement, if it could be so called, in general and its links to the US Ab Exes and European Abstractionists and Tachistes.  My advice is to buy it immediately.  No, I am not Michael Bird, nor do I know him.

Fiona Rae and Ernst Wilhelm Nay 

Latest in “slightly like” series: actually, think I’ve compared FR to someone else before – anyway, check out her “Untitled (yellow with circles I)”; very like many Nays, in her use of sweeps and circles.  Hers look like 45 rpm singles, his are usually painted discs.  Superficial, and hardly worth a mention – but take a look at both on Google, if only to see how wrong I am; that will be worth it.

Black Prints by Blackpaint

Listening to The Welfare Line, by the Highwaymen;

“So pass around the bottle, boys, let’s talk about old times,

Night’s closing in, it’s cold as sin,

Here on the welfare line”.