Archive for the ‘painting’ Category

Adam writing in Adam library (Day 63)

kenwood house adam library restored

Went with the flow. Original plan was to get a change of scene for my writing day by heading off to the RAF Museum just a couple of miles away and write among old planes. But I had to drop the Other Half off in Holloway (near the library where Joe Orton carefully defaced covers and blurbs and got sentenced to 6 months for his trouble). On the way back heard on Radio London about Kenwood House re-opening today after two years of closure for renovation so went with it and ended up having a good, flowing writing session at the end of the Robert Adam library you never used to be able to get to (there was a rope barrier before the restoration). The gilding has been stripped away, which was a later accretion, and the beautifully lit domed room looks just right in its 18C pale pinks and blues with fine detail in pure white.

kenwood house adam library restored

Sitting on the new leather sofa on its first morning of active duty I wrote five pages of the Tony Wilson chapter, picking up from the emblematic opening scene and intro I wrote earlier in the week. It flowed easily between related moments so that it got well away from any simple chronological account and feels like something cutting the cake in a more individual way.

Lunch break in the cafe in the stable block with a newspaper – revelling in the not-at-work feeling. Then another burst of writing outdoors overlooking the lake and grounds. Plus a bit of reading about Sylvia Beach who could make a good shorter chapter for variety. So a very productive day lifted by an inspirational environment.

After the library session had a look around the restored rooms and the rest of the house. Found a full length Sargent portrait in the old rooms upstairs that hadn’t registered before. Plus a collection of Elizabethan painting which wasn’t familiar – some amazingly modern fashion such as dresses decorated with little rips. Was reminded what an amazing collection is in the house (a vague memory that it was once curated by Cambridge spy  Anthony Blunt, he certainly wrote the intro to older versions of the guidebook) – Vermeer, Rembrandt, Turner, Boucher, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and all first-class examples, nothing second-rate. It’s a special pleasure to grow up with your own local set of paintings (as Vanessa Feltz eloquently captured on the show which brought me here) and it’s striking to see how a building/place can weave itself into the fabric of so many lives over such a long time.

kenwood house

The Magic Tunnel

from Islington Library, Holloway Road courtesy of Joe & Kenneth of Noel Road

from Islington Library, Holloway Road courtesy of Joe & Kenneth of Noel Road

 

Glyptoteknocrat (Day 53)

Glyptotek Copenhagen museum gallery

Starting the day with a meeting about multi-generational space missions in closed loop systems (i.e. intergalactic travel taking many generations to complete, not even hundreds but thousands of years and more) does tend to shift your perspective so left CPH:DOX with headshifted and an ambition to squeeze the most out of my last few hours in Copenhagen. Headed to the Glyptotek which houses the art collection of Carlsberg of brewing fame, on the recommendation of both Toni Arden (who hails from the city although has been living in England since she met Paul on a Scandinavian ferry as a teenager) and Ove Jensen of European Documentary Network.

Glyptotek Winter Garden Copenhagen museum gallery

Glyptotek means a house for sculptures. You know that weird thing where you come across a word for the first time and then it crops up again the same day? Well it happened with Glyptotek – a bit Twilight Zone given how obscure a word it is. I was reading a novel by Philip Kerr, The One from the Other, a detective story set in Nazi Germany, both in the terrace café in the charming Winter Garden of the Glyptotek and again on the plane home, when the hero, Bernie Gunther, a Berlin cop moved to Bavaria after the War, meets a client, a rich blonde in a Porsche, at the Glyptothek (with an H) in Munich.

Any way I set up office in the Glyptotek (without an H), moving from the running water and palm frond tranquility of the glass-domed Winter Garden to the quiet of the antique sculpture lined galleries. More Ginsberg needless to say.

I had a sneak preview of the French painting galleries which open in their renovated form tomorrow (bad timing on my part) – the highlights of the few rooms already open were a couple of Courbets and a large scale painting of a beggar at a bourgeois door by a 19C French artist whose name didn’t ring a bell.

The_Beggar - Jules_Bastien-Lepage (1880)

The Beggar – Jules Bastien-Lepage (1880)

Had a final writing session on a bench beside the idiosyncratic building with its sculptural details of hippo and teeth-bearing ape heads as the sun lowered in a wash of red, then headed for home. Complemented the Chandleresque adventures in post-war Germany with some more research on Peter Cook who I feel is moving out towards the edge of the radar as the Comedy candidate, proving beggars can be choosers.

Vote for Picasso

Picasso dora mar head of a woman 1938

Picture of the Month: Is he screaming?

Going, going...

Going, going…

I’m in the office, it’s mid-afternoon and a gap’s appeared. I’ll nab it to dash across the park to Sotheby’s to take a look at The Scream. It’s a version in pastels, not oil, on board, not canvas, in private hands for years, Fred Olsen the shipping magnate, unseeable til now. I ring up to see what time they close. Half an hour ago and today was the last day of the viewing in London – it’s off to New York now. I let out a little Skrik. Bugger, bugger, bugger, I’ve been meaning to take a look for weeks. As Nietzsche would have said, you’ve got to be philosophical about it. I’m trying – but struggling. Soooo disappointed. I’ve seen most of the other versions, three in paint, my first time was in Oslo around 1987.

The Scream sold

…gone!

And then I got a second chance I never expected. I pictured this pastels version of Munch’s The Scream disappearing back into some mansion. But the new owner is evidently an enlightened person, s/he put it on public display at MoMA in New York (with which I heard s/he has a close connection). I was in NYC a few weeks ago talking at the Impact Media conference. The day after I went on a pathetically shallow quest in search of a particular watch made in New York. One of the few places you’re supposed to be able to get one is in the MoMA design shop – drew a blank there (out-of-date websites are so annoying, Nooka) – but the upside was I spotted the poster for The Scream exhibition.

The 1895 pastel on board version at MoMA

The 1895 pastel on board version at MoMA

Made a bee-line for it. It sat in the centre of a semi-darkened room. Surrounded by various works which shed some light on it, relatively minor, thoughtfully displayed. And here’s the thing…

the-scream-comes-to-MoMA

He may well not actually be screaming. It’s called The Scream/Skrik. It’s got a man in the middle of it. Somehow an assumption had fixed itself in my mind that the man’s screaming. But first and foremost he’s covering his ears to block out a scream. A scream Munch heard in Nature that evening he went out walking along the edge of Oslo fjord and the sunset turned the sky blood red. His two friends were a bit ahead and he found himself alone in the face of Nature’s infinity.

I’ve experienced that myself but in a more benign way. I used to have an album by ABC called ‘Beauty Stab’ (used to because it was on cassette, a format well capable of prompting shrieks). It was a phrase that really resonnated for me. Those moments when you’re somewhere in Nature and it’s so beautiful it hurts. Occasionally I’ve had it though where it tips into an anxiety in the face of Nature’s depths – I had that once alone in a natural pool in Jamaica. For Munch it’s angst all the way on an overwhelming scale.

Skrik was one of six paintings making up what the artist dubbed the ‘Frieze of Life’. He was responding to (German dramatist) Lessing’s assertion in Laocoon that literature could tell a story over time where painting had to rely on a single moment. Munch wanted to create what the German’s called a ‘gesamptwerk’, a total work of art. The six paintings were displayed together and offered a coherent overview of life as a human being. Wanting to keep them together explains Munch’s willingness to reproduce his own paintings, avoiding breaking up the set.

One of the four versions made by Munch between 1893 and 1910

One of the four versions made by Munch between 1893 and 1910

On a tangent my limited Norwegian vocabulary is dominated by words like Skrik, Kvinne and the like, picked up from Munch’s titles. I was actually one of only two people in my year at Cambridge doing Norwegian (for me it was a third, subsidiary language which I was studying for all the wrong reasons and without seriousness, unlike the other student who quickly left me behind like Munch’s friends on that fateful walk).

munch skrik

So I battled my way through the crowd to get a close look at this 4th version of the iconic image, displayed like an icon in a fancy frame (Munch wasn’t keen on frames, or even on canvas, often painting on board or cheap materials) in a reverent penumbra, and drank it in, left above all with the impression of the mad swirls. Pencilled on to one oil version in the Oslo Museum is the sentence (in Norsk of course) “only a madman could have painted this”. To what extent this reflected his fear of madness in his family or was a bit of a pose cashing in on the Nordic rep for depressive nuttiness is difficult to say for sure.

Any way, I made my way literally round the corner to bump into another display of mad swirls. Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. (MoMA is like that, a too-rich mix of masterpiece after masterpiece, difficult to consume much of in a sitting.) What an illuminating face-off that was – Skrik vs Starry Night. Munch drew inspiration for his expressiveness from Vincent’s quickly growing impact in the wake of his death in 1890. But Vincent’s nightswirls are expressions not of madness and the chaotic expanse of Nature but of the raw energy of its infinity. Van Gogh’s image is the culmination of the 19th century in wonder and dynamism. Munch’s is the quintessence of the 20th century in its anxious horror.

Van-Gogh-Starry-Night

The face at its focus is simplified, universalised in the way Klee stripped back his imagery to a powerful child-like lingua franca. In this way it is the head of Everyman, almost back to the skull beneath the skin, and that is the secret of its power – it is a kind of blank canvas, like Room 101, where we each impose our own meanings onto it. A scream at the horror of the holocaust. Despair (its original title) at the godless world post-Nietzsche. A cry for sanity as we pollute the waters, the countryside, the sky – tearing the earth to bloody pieces. A shriek at the advent of the A-bomb. A man screaming …who isn’t.

abc beauty stab

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord – the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The colour shrieked. This became The Scream.

Munch’s diary – 22nd January 1892

The last Picture of the Month

Son of a Beach – Picture of the Month: Joie de Vivre – Picasso (1946)

I’m writing this post on a Mediterranean beach in Greek Cyprus as that is the essence of this painting: Mediterranean light and sensuality, Classical culture, family fun and frolics. It is the beating heart of the Picasso Museum in old Antibes, the single work which captures the spirit of the collection based in a beautiful grand old house overlooking the sparkling sea.

The Musee Picasso in the Marais of Paris is a wonderful collection cutting across the great man’s lifetime of work (I consider Picasso alongside Bacon as the greatest of 20th Century artists). This collection is far more specific, capturing a brief period after the war when Picasso was in effect artist in residence on a floor of the Chateau Grimaldi, which in 1966 was renamed the Musee Picasso, Antibes. This month was my third visit – I was hooked by the vibe of the place when I first visited about a decade ago with my other half. I was back again last year when I walked over the hill from Juan Les Pins whilst over for the International Digital Emmys. I was back again for those and a speaking sesh at MIP this year and spent a marvellous Sunday there. As I walked up the hill from the old covered market I coincided with the Palm Sunday congregation exiting the resonant ochre church opposite the museum, carrying a variety of symbolic, palm-related plants including woven crosses of palm. I sat myself down on the stone bench in the square separating the church and the Chateau Grimaldi, a stoney canyon giving on to the sea between high walls and blocks of shadow, and sketched the view from the sail-boats flowing across the waves to the students sitting looking out to them, bathed in the bright Mediterranean light.

Without having done any biographical research, I get the impression Picasso was recharging his batteries here after the war, delighting in the Simple Pleasures, from fish to music, from sea urchins to women in all their complexity, from good food and wine to friendship. The photos beside his studio floor by Michel Sima show him with Francoise Gilot, mother of his children, with Paul Eluard (Surrealist poet) and Nusch Eluard (his wife, Surrealist muse), in local restaurants along this bit of coast, working away in the cool shadows of the top floor of this building in sandals, bare torso, bullish like his Minotaur characters who seem confounded, in the line drawn illustrations on display, by the naked women in their lives and their own hairy nature.

The painting depicts a scene from the Classical age of the Mediterranean. It is part of a process Picasso seems to have been going through to extract the essence of the Classical past for his modernist age, to reinvent it for a world post A-bomb, post-Holocaust, post-Guernica, post-mechanisation and industrialisation, to use it to reconnect with the Simple Pleasures and the world of light.

The scene is centred on the family, with a nuclear family of the average 2 point whatever kids cavorting on the beach. The colours are the muted earth colours of Mediterranean pottery, a not too distant relation of the five earthy colours of ancient Egyptian tomb art which were picked up by Bridget Riley in the late 80s (I was fortunate to attend a lecture by her in Cambridge in about 1986 when she talked through her process of adopting that ancient palette, then I saw them for real in tombs along the Nile to Aswan the following decade).

At the centre of the picture is a woman with big knockers. So far, so Picasso. She’s suitably distorted/multi-angled though well beyond the Cubism – she’s Cubist plus 1920s Classical phase plus a sprinkle of Blue Period, all simplified towards Klee territory. Not only are those big bazookas symmetrical but so are her legs and locks so she is very much the centre line of the composition. To her left are the kids (literally – half goat) and a musician with ancient Greek pipe thingies – again, child-like in Klee style, fat fingers and circle head. To her right is a musical centaur, perhaps the Great Man himself in his combination of animal passion and artistic sensitivity. With his bestial four legs he’s that bit smaller than the woman. But it’s all pretty tension free, music, dancing, Mediterranean fun and frolics at the seaside. Those two vertical halves are divided into thirds horizontally – land / sea / sky – dominated by blues which are the hues of peace and infinity. The earth and ocean are a collagy style of painting, direct descendants of his Cubism. The sky is dominated by a classic sail boat in Vermeer blue and yellow. It’s pretty big in the greater scheme of things and for me represents Picasso’s escape route and back-of-the-mind sense that fun and family, luxury and high life by the Med are all well and good, but he has other stuff to go out and explore…

I’m finishing writing this post a couple of weeks later back in London with a print of Guernica as reimagined by Pure Evil on the wall behind me. As far as that Paphos beach is from this North London suburb, so is this Joie de Vivre from the explosive hell of Guernica – separated by a monstrous war and yet in the forms and techniques, the animal imagery, the faceted design, they are not that far apart. Under a decade separates the two (9 years) – by road 9 hours or 900 kilometres (an almost straight line through San Sebastian, Bayonne, Toulouse, Montpelier, Nimes, Cannes; a gently undulating line like the horizon of the ocean in the painting). The son of a beach would really have had the feeling that time heals all wounds.

Guernica to Antibes

Previous Picture of the Month: Portrait surrounded by Artistic Devices – David Hockney (a huge Picasso fan)

Picture of the Month – Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices (1965)

Exactly a week on from the Oscars triumph of the very English ‘A King’s Speech’, I’ve just been re-watching Colin Firth’s first on-screen stammering in Pat O’Connor’s ‘A Month in the Country‘ (1987) and reveling in the bucolic portrayal of deepest Yorkshire, also a reflection on the art and craft of painting, so my choice this time out is a painting by one of Yorkshire’s greatest sons, David Hockney, and the theme of Hollywood runs through this.

My first job out of college was for film production company Buzzy Enterprises. One of my bosses there was Roger Deakins, pipped to the post last week for the Best Cinematography Oscar by Wally Pfister (for ‘Inception’), Roger’s work on the Coen Bothers’ ‘True Grit’ recently earned him the BAFTA. One of Roger’s partners was Jack Hazan, director of the landmark British cinema verite film ‘A Bigger Splash‘ (1973) featuring Hockney and his circle, including fashion designer Ossie Clark; his wife, textile designer Celia Birtwell; Peter Schlesinger and Henry Geldzahler. The latest user-generated review of it on IMDB is none too flattering but brings me nicely to my picture, Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices (1965). This is what Jaroslaw99 of Michigan makes of the film: “Why was the naked swimmer pressed up to the “window” while two others ate dinner, obvlious? Sometimes I think just because the “critics” or “art aficionadoes” can’t understand art or film, they think it is “deep”. That is what I think of David Hockney (the art was mostly one dimensional like grade school children’s) and the same for this film.”

Portrait Surrounded is very much about dimensions (two and three), representation in art and the border between figurative and abstract painting.

The two things I always liked about Hockney is his profound respect for Picasso (in common with Birtwell whose prints were strongly influenced by Picasso and Matisse) and his cheeky sense of humour. I rank Picasso with Bacon as the two greatest artists of the last century. In this painting the use of the phrase “artistic devices” and their very literal depiction in the painting typify Hockney’s playfulness and deflation of the stuff of “critics or art aficionadoes”.

The person portrayed is partly obscured by a pile of (obviously painted) cylinders. Above his head is a shelf on which are a selection of large brushstrokes. The cylinders are crude 3D representations, obvious devices or techniques, which stand out as abstract in a still figurative world of suits and rugs and shelves. The shelf is just a 2D line. The strokes on the shelf are more flat, abstract components of painting, exposing the technique and undermining the illusion. The pile of cylinders is actually painted on a sheet of paper glued to the canvas to leave the viewer in no doubt as to the artifice, physical materiality and flatness of the endeavour.

Cezanne, one of the fathers of Modernist painting, was keen on the simplification of natural forms into their geometric basics – to “treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone” (letter to Emile Bernard 1904). Portrait Surrounded is part of Hockney’s on-going questioning of the received wisdom of Modernist painting in the wake of his spell at the Royal College of Art (with the likes of RB Kitaj) and his struggle to find the right balance between abstraction and figurative art.

The person portrayed in this picture is Hockney’s father and the artist is playing out a battle in it between the technical demands of representing the three dimensions of the physical world and the desire to capture the greater depths of emotion and sentiment, like the feelings one has for one’s parents. In his autobiography Hockney wrote: “the thing Cezanne says about the figure being just a cone, a cylinder and a sphere: well it isn’t. His remark meant something at the time, but we know a figure is really more than that, and more will be read into it… You cannot escape the sentimental – in the best sense of the term – feelings and associations from the figure, from the picture, it’s inescapable. Because Cezanne’s remark is famous – it was thought of as a key attitude in modern art – you’ve got to face it and answer it. My answer, of course, is the remark is not true.”

His observation is typical of the cycle of revolts and reactions of art (as well of teenagehood) – I believe Cezanne was actually referring to landscape not figures so Hockney is actually refuting something created through the Chinese whispers of art education. But that doesn’t really matter, it helps him ‘face and answer’ a key issue for his practice.

In the summer of 1960 the Tate held a large exhibition of Picasso’s work which Hockney visited over half a dozen times and recalls as “a very liberating influence”. He found in it permission for the painter to experiment and move through styles in his artistic journey. Earlier that spring he had visited a one-man Bacon show at London’s Marlborough Gallery.  In that he saw a strong stand against pure abstraction whilst retaining an emphasis on directly affecting the guts and nervous system through paint. Bacon’s devices like leaving bare large expanses of canvas to literally expose the workings of painting soon became incorporated in Hockney’s work. His pure abstracts of 1959 (the year he entered the RCA as a post-grad) gave way to the combination of abstract and figurative, and the revealing of the techniques and devices of painting to make clear that painting is not a description of the world perceived through the senses but an interpretation and expression of it in all its complexity, not least of the messiness of emotion. Partly obscured behind the pile of cylinders and partly flattened by his collagey suit, the point of depth of this picture is in the father’s flesh, his Baconesque hands and more still his face and eyes – in fact the two dark points of his eyes, the two one dimensional parts of the painting are the deepest (so Jaroslaw99 of Michigan and I can agree for a moment on the single point of one dimensionality).

In the 3D world I’ve only crossed paths with Hockney fleetingly – both times when reviewing exhibitions in the early 90s, once at the site of that influential Picasso show and the other time round the corner from the Marlborough at the Royal Academy (1995). He projected an attractive combination of Yorkshire homeliness and Californian glamour.

He moved to California the year I was born and in 1965, just after Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices, he made a set of lithographs entitled ‘A Hollywood Collection’. Conceived of as ‘an instant art collection’ for a Hollywood starlet, it includes prints like ‘Picture of a Pointless Abstraction Framed Under Glass’ for which he draws not only the pointless abstraction but the frame and even the reflections on the glass, more playing around with artistic devices in the quest for that sweet spot between the abstract and the figurative where deep feeling and insight reside.

David Hockney (2007) with portrait of his father in the background (My Parents 1977)

Picture of a Pointless Abstraction Framed Under Glass

Picture of a Pointless Abstraction Framed Under Glass (1965)

Previous pictures of the month: Mark Gertler / Manet

Picture of the Month: E for Enigma – A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Un bar aux Folies Bergère

Un bar aux Folies-Bergère - Edouard Manet (1882)

The most striking thing for me about Un bar aux Folies-Bergère, the last masterpiece by Édouard Manet, painted in 1882 for exhibition at that year’s Paris Salon, are the green booties. What on earth are they doing up there? What kind of night club were they running? Some wild place that they’ve got trapeze artists flying about overhead and no-one gives a monkey’s – no-one is even bothering to look up at them. Circus Circus 90 years ahead of its time. That pair of bright green booties top left and the pink leggings – some kind of surreal joke on the part of M. Manet? Always gets a wry smile out of me. You can see this painting in the Courtauld Collection in London’s Somerset House, London.

I’m currently reading Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge (appears on a lot of people’s Books That Changed My Life list so thought I’d give it a bash) which includes a scene of a visit to the Folies in post-Global Economic Meltdown Europe i.e. the early 30s . It’s in the context of a bit of a night crawl where a bunch of posh folk trawl the nighttown for thrills from the rough. The sense of classes colliding is strong in this picture, questions of power balance looming large.

Looking and not looking seems to be a preoccupation of Manet.  The barmaid stares straight out at you the viewer – the last of a long line of such enigmatic stares. Olympia gives a challenging enigmatic stare in the eponymous painting [below]. As does that cheeky naked picnicker in Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe [below] (a quick tribute here to recently, dearly departed Malcolm [McLaren] who had fun with Manet’s woman in his Bow Wow Wow period). Manet gets his female protagonists to give as good as they get from staring males, no matter how much at a disadvantage they are (e.g. a bit light on the clothes front).

Now in this picture, Manet puts us, by a bit of mirror jiggery-pokery, in the position of said staring male. You, evidently, are that moustachioed, top-hatted, red-nosed chap reflected in the right-hand corner. Whether you’re more interested in the young barmaid or a bottle of Bass Pale Ale (spot that familiar logo, Britain’s first trademark) is debatable. But she is evidently giving him a run for his money on the gazing front, much like naughty, bold Olympia and the naked picnicker (though interestingly not the woman on The Balcony [below] who is altogether elsewhere – this barmaid’s stare is not quite as bold as picnic woman, not as insouciant as the odalisque, a tad more vulnerable and a little bit less there. That is where my fascination for Manet resides – it’s all in the eyes, eye and eye, and I and aye, what a rich mix of stories contained in the women’s eyes, looks and stares.)

Also in common (and common is the operative word – to reiterate, there’s a lot of class stuff going on around here) in common with Olympia is the fact that the barmaid is wearing a black ribbon. Why is Olympia wearing just the ribbon and the odd adornment – a bracelet, a hair ribbon, slippers? The answer can be found in the writing of poet Charles Baudelaire, a contemporary of Manet, just some ten years older – he had a conviction that Nature is much enhanced by Artifice – whether that artifice (Paradis Artificiels) is a ribbon or a reefer doesn’t much matter, it is the contrast which enlivens.

Interest in Manet should be livelying up in certain quarters with the announcement this week that one of the only two self-portraits of Manet (Self-Portrait With A Palette) was put up for sale this coming June, also staring in the mirror but without quite the enigma of E. Manet’s women…

Olympia-1863

Olympia (1863)

Manet Picnic on the grass

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863)

Le Balcon (1868/69)

Enigmatic Malcolm, you done good

Last Picture of the Month: Merry-Go-Round

Picture of the Month: Merry-Go-Round

Merry-Go-Round by Mark Gertler

Merry-Go-Round by Mark Gertler (1916)

With The Hurt Locker vying for the Oscars and a new offensive under way in the dragging out war in Afghanistan, Mark Gertler’s Merry-Go-Round seems an apt, timely starting point for this occasional series. I first came across Gertler at the Ben Uri Gallery in Dean Street, Soho in the mid-80s, such an old school collection that I was shown around the wooden racks in the backroom where Gertlers and valuable masterworks of other prominent Jewish artists lay idle, waiting for space in which to be brought to light. The collection, which I believe had origins in the East End – like Gertler himself – has since moved to St John’s Wood. This painting had only recently been acquired by the Tate when I first came across the collection – it was purchased for the nation in 1984. Back in 1916 D.H. Lawrence (with whom I share a birthday) had written to his friend Gertler: “Get somebody to suggest it be bought by the nation – it ought to be”. It took seven decades for Gertler to be recognised in this way, he is still not widely known and this, arguably his masterpiece, got little recognition at the time, other than from the likes of Lawrence.

Lawrence also wrote: “This is the first picture you have ever painted. …it is the best modern picture I have seen: I think it is great, and true. But it is horrible and terrifying.” Of course, it was not literally Gertler’s first painting, he had been painting since his teenage years and had trained at the Slade with a great generation, the one that crashed into the Great War, including Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash (currently being exhibited at the Dulwich Picture Gallery), Richard Nevinson, William Roberts, Dora Carrington and Edward Wadsworth – but it was his coming of age and his passage to modernity.

The scene is infused with the spirit of Futurism. It was Gertler’s friend and rival in love Nevinson who had most fully embraced the credo of Futurism preached by the Italian Marinetti. But the spirit of it is here in the grinding mechanisation of the fairground attraction, spinning, speeding up, going nowhere fast. Gertler lived in Hampstead and seemingly took inspiration from the annual funfair which still takes place there. (I too found it very striking as a child when my father, who grew up beside the Heath opposite where Ruth Ellis shot her lover and next to the pond with the V1 crater at its edge, drew back his arm to fire the wooden coconut shy ball and whacked me on the head. With funfairs as with art – always think about where you stand.)

Gertler stands at a disorienting Cubist angle, the top is front on but the circular base simultaneously from 45 degrees. The overwhelming sense is of circularity and uniformity – literally, red-blue-yellow in three of the four groups of servicemen. The faces look more like those fairground stalls where you have to fire something into the mouth than normal faces in all their variety – these uniform uniformed men screaming in excitement or terror, who knows which, not even they themselves.

I’ve always found it slightly disturbing that the soldier on the right, coming straight at us, looks like Corporal Hitler. Talking of whom, I don’t think the horse’s arse is an accident. This was a generation being lead by donkeys or horses’ arses into a manic mechanical war which in 1916 – the year of the Somme, 20,00 British lost on Day One, 400,000 British casualties by the time the offensive was abandoned five months later in November, no progress made, a circular campaign of winning and losing ground to no net effect beyond death and destruction of a generation of young men – was grinding. to a. halt.

Gertler had a similar fight on the home front – a can’t live with her, can’t live without her love affair with fellow Slade artist Dora Carrington aka Carrington, her preferred form of address indicative of such a striving to be treated on a par with men that her femininity became confused. She loved Gertler but somehow couldn’t give herself in love, frozen by a highly conservative bourgeois background and the donkey in a carrot field effect of having men falling for her left, right and centre – Nevinson, author Gilbert Cannan, Lytton Strachey et al. Canaan wrote a roman-a-clef (Mendel) depicting Gertler and Carrington’s crazy love before the war drove him into madness himself.

Gertler and Carrington were drawn into the vortex of Bloomsbury, boarding the merry-go-round of Garsington, Lady Ottoline Morrell’s country house salon satirised mercilessly by Aldous Huxley in Chrome Yellow (after having of course enjoyed her hospitality, such being satirists). The Bloomsbury circles were broadly pacifist in inclination so this painting by Gertler is very much in line with their thinking.

So as we watch the bodies cycling back through Wootton Bassett, as we hear the radio report we hear over and again that the family has been informed, as our children level up in Call of Duty and our politicians reiterate the party line that our security depends on some God-forsaken patch of foreign land that is forever being fought over – Britain/Soviet Union/USA Blue/Red/Yellow – Gertler’s picture can remind of where all this ultimately gets us…

That was the week that was

Golightly

Golightly

Gowest

Gowest

Not the easiest of weeks as I walked around half deaf and drowning in my own snot but here we are, Friday evening, made it. And it had its moments. Highlights included two awards ceremonies. Last night I presented the Multi-talented Award at the friendliest awards in town – the 4Talent Awards – to Oli Lansley who combines acting, writing and directing in the theatre and on TV in a way full of energy and promise (“that dirtiest of dirty words” – just been watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time, Holly Golightly is my beloved sister-in-law Bronagh, right down to the take-out cwofee). I judged this category with Dan Jones of Maverick TV – we have both been building  4Talent (formerly Ideasfactory) since the early days, over the last 6 years painstakingly developing it across the UK with James Estill and the dedicated crew to the point where it has the warm, creative vibe that was suffusing the room yesterday evening. Oli has a new series going out on ITV2 early next year called FM based on the Comedy Lab he did for Caroline Leddy at C4 in 2006. He also has a series in development at the Beeb with Matt King of Peep Show called Whites. On top of all that, he leads his own theatre company called Les Enfants Terribles who did a show entitled The Terribles Infants at Edinburgh this year and last, due to tour it in 09. So a multi-talented, multi-channel man to keep an eye on.

The 4Talent Awards  were hosted with great aplomb by stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall, talented well beyond his 19 years, with fine comic judgment. Other entertainment came from the versatile jaw of Beardyman.

Winners were a rich mix ranging from Hollyoaks’ Emma Rigby for Dramatic Performance to Rose Heiney for Comedy Writing, from Dan & Adrian Hon of Six to Start for Multiplatform to Robert Glassford & Timo Langer for Directing (this last presented by my colleague Peter Carlton of FilmFour with whom I had a lovely rabbit before the presentations, the two of us equally infectious so no danger of adding to overall global germ activity).

To start the week I had the pleasure of attending the announcement of this year’s Turner Prize winner at the Tate. I arrived with Jan Younghusband, fellow Commissioning Editor for Arts & Performance TV, who introduced me to the ITN team that was shooting the event live for Channel 4 News. The looming gothic cowboy with the handle-bar moustache who walked by me with his looming gothic girlfriend was Nick Cave. He first entered my life with the Bad Seeds on The Firstborn is Dead over two decades ago now. On this night he passed by in the flesh like an extra from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (which I watched again recently – fabulous film, Kris Kristopherson was perfect as the Jim Morrison-style gunslinger-cum-rock messiah).

A while later another messiah, model for that humungous roadside crucifixion that is the Angel of the North, Antony Gormley introduced me to Grayson Perry who was wearing a fetching art student-designed post-it note dress. Not too often I get the chance to say stuff like ‘Antony Gormley introduced me to Grayson Perry’ or spout my theories about avant-garde art 1900-1970 to two luminaries of that world but we had a great chat and a consensus on how difficult it has been to innovate in the wake of that huge Modernist arc that went to the roots of every aspect of painting and art over those seven decades.

That was, of course, the Biggie but other chats included John Woodward of the UK Film Council (who agreed, through not quite gritted teeth, that FilmFour has had an awesome year with its string of Irish tales of waiting), and TV types like Roy Ackerman of Diverse and Michael Waldman (Operatunity). Art critic Richard Cork (The Listener – why on earth don’t they bring it back?), Alan Yentob of BBC’s Imagine (the Woody Allen of British TV, gets to make whatever he wants, quietly, no questions asked), Hans Ulrich Obrist of the Serpentine, were all swilling around. Enjoyed the walk home past the neon courtyard of the Chelsea College of Art and through the rainy backstreets of Pimlico

A final high point of the week takes us from art to architecture. I was having a meeting with RDF, who make Secret Millionaire, and Zopa, the interesting online finance service (interesting and finance – not words I often invite out to the same sentence). The fella from Zopa was asking about the Channel 4 building as we headed up the particular red of the stairs (the colour is lifted from the Golden Gate Bridge which is a delightful thing to think about every morning) – were Channel 4 the first occupiers? was it purpose built? etc. – I told him what a fine building it was bar a few flaws which I’d love to pass on to the bloke who designed it, like there’s no Gents on the side of the floor I work on, two Ladies instead. The delicious irony was that the RDF rep was Zad Rogers, son of Lord/Richard, the architect of C4 HQ in Horseferry Road – we revealed this after a while of course as – as in that essay on Iago by WH Auden in The Dyer’s Hand (Joker in the Pack) which velvet-jacketed Mr Fitch (RIP) drew our teenage attention to – there’s no satisfaction in a practical joke without the final revelation.

to be or not to be?

Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanel

What kind of pencil shall I use?

Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
I’ll draw a sketch of thee,
What kind of pencil shall I use?
2B or not 2B?

Painting: Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889)

Poem: by Spike Milligan (1918-2002)

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