Archive for the ‘hockney’ Tag

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

50 people who buggered up Britain (and 20 who saved it)

A free hairstyle

A free hairstyle

An up-tight hairdo

An up-tight hairdo

Having given the Daily Mail a hard time recently with my Fear & Death analysis of its content and my highlighting how at odds it was with its own readership over The Sex Education Show / Sexperience, I’ve decided to take some inspiration from the rotten rag in the form of its political sketchwriter and theatre critic Quentin Letts and his new book Fifty People Who Buggered Up Britain. I haven’t actually read it but I have read a review which got me thinking about my own list – I’ve only just started really and could definitely use some help so feel free to join in. The timeframe is the last 5 decades. I thought I’d also counter Mail miserableness by adding a list of 20 inspirational figures in Britain from those same 50 years who helped counter-balance the malign influences. I’m hoping to have the full 50 (+ 20) in place by the New Year so do chuck some ideas into the pot… [names added post 2008 have the date added in square brackets]

Buggered up Britain:

1 Ashley Cole – stands out as the most unpleasant character in the Premiership and that’s no easy feat

2 Rupert Murdoch – brought vulgar anti-culture and arrogant anti-democracy to the country in equal measure – I vowed many years ago to throw a big party the day he shuffles off his awful coil and you’re all invited

3 Viscount Rothermere, co-founder of the Daily Mail which published his editorial on 15th January 1934 entitled ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’

4 Ian Paisley – spent his whole toxic life saying No!

5 Doctor Richard Beeching – killed our (relatively green) railways

6 Lord MacAlpine – the Tory treasurer whose family’s firm vandalised Battersea Powerstation, ripped its roof off in the service of…

7 Margaret Thatcher – brought so much misery into Britain in such a short time – I’ll leave this one to Elvis Costello:

I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign
A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain
She spills with compassion, as that young child’s
face in her hands she grips
Can you imagine all that greed and avarice
coming down on that child’s lips?

Well I hope I don’t die too soon
I pray the Lord my soul to save
Oh I’ll be a good boy, I’m trying so hard to behave
Because there’s one thing I know, I’d like to live
long enough to savour
That’s when they finally put you in the ground
I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.

When England was the whore of the world
Margaret was her madam
And the future looked as bright and as clear as
the black tarmacadam
Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isn’t
haunted by every tiny detail
‘Cos when she held that lovely face in her hands
all she thought of was betrayal.

Notice the link to MacAlpine via Tarmacadam. Notice the link to Murdoch via lively celebrations of the passing of a big bugger.

8 Simon Cowell – for spreading the corrosive myth of instant fame

9 Oswald Mosley – married to one of the Mitford whores in Goebbel’s drawing room with Hitler present as one of only 6 guests – nuff said (do we detect a residual anger in my tone? give me another 50 years and I may start getting over the Nazis …but I doubt it)

10 Stock Aitken Waterman – for devaluing music, torturing us with the likes of Rick Astley and Jason Donovan

11 Howard Shipman – undermined trust in GPs and the NHS in a rather extravagant way

12 The Queen Mother – epitomised how anachronistic royalty and aristocracy are, and how unhealthy reverence of royalty can be. [This choice inspired by Adam D's suggestion - House of Windsor]

13 Erno Goldfinger – typifies the brutalist school of architecture [not sure this is exactly the right culprit but the notion, of Practical Psychologist, is spot on]

14 Victoria Beckham – “She succeeded in her desire to be ’more famous than Persil Automatic’ and is as about as interesting as a box of it. I think she has created such a one-dimensional aspiration for the young. Success can now be measured by vacuity and the meaningless.” [Practical Psychologist] Her husband by contrast captures some positive values such as leadership, commitment to a passion/skill-set and rehabilitation.

15 Reggie & Ronnie Kray – for the misguided hero-worship they have subsequently inspired and inspiring Guy Richie innit [courtesy of Practical Psychologist]

16 Steve McClaren – humiliated himself and England simultaneously under that umbrella with his stupid fucking biros and spiral-bound notepads. Saw him once in a hotel in Manchester (with Anthony Lilley) and there was no question who was the centre of the group… not him, but El Tel.

17 Paul Dacre – Mail supremo who reckons (vis-a-vis the Max Mosley case, son of #9 of course) distinguishing between ‘a sick Nazi orgy’ and ‘people having sex in military-style uniform’ is “almost surreally pedantic logic”

18 Melissa Jacobs – the mad bint who screwed up England’s World Cup 2018 bid for the sake of some Mail on Sunday pieces of silver [16.v.10]

19 Rebekah Wade (now Brooks, for a while at least) – sups with the devil, not with a long spoon, not even a short one, with a tongue in his mouth and up his other orifice from which much the same stuff dribbles [2010]

20 Edward VIII – a proven traitor and Nazi-sympathiser [2012]

21

22

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25

Counterbalanced the buggers:

1 David Hockney – picked up where Picasso left off

2 Bob Marley – brought some Jamaican colour to the grey London of 77

3 Joe Strummer – with The Clash helped British musicians discover the honest energy of DIY

4 Tommy Cooper – just makes me laugh (could equally have been Eric Morecambe in this slot)

5 Francis Bacon – one of the two greats of 20th century art (alongside Picasso)

6 Hannah Billig, the Angel of Cable Street – too busy looking after people to collect her MBE (she asked them to post it)

7 John Peel [courtesy of Adam D “…fades in quietly” ]

8 Tony Hart: “We’re sorry we can’t return your pictures” [courtesy of Adam D] what nobler calling than bringing art and inspiration to children

9 Tony Wilson – for bringing together shining talent in a bold, rounded way – Martin Hannett, Pete Saville, Ian Curtis et al – and showing how to champion your hometown

10 James Bond – [courtesy of Practical Psychologist, in his words...] “overcame the stereotype of the sexually repressed Brit who liked a cold shower before having his bare bottom spanked by a tart” – those Pan edition covers certainly captured my young imagination

11 Michael Young – for the Open University and other progressive policy [courtesy of Practical Psychologist and in memory of Naomi Sargant, first Head of Education at Channel 4, appointed by Jeremy Isaacs in a more adventurous, imaginative age]

12 John Betjeman [courtesy of Practical Psychologist, in his words...] “he saw what we were doing to our land and tried to stop it”

13 Joe Orton – for reviving the Comedy of Manners and finding humour in the black stuff

14 Lennon & McCartney – for taking pop music up a gear or three. PP’s view below: “we led the world in something for the first time in a long time”

15 Geoff Hurst – for scoring that goal

16 Jonny Wilkinson – for scoring that try and creating a Perfect Moment

17 Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger – for bringing Technicolor British Romanticism to the big screen

18 Rabbi Hugo Gryn – for his efforts in uniting the faiths and demonstrating how to survive to do good, a true Mensch

19 Steve Redgrave – for being a model of commitment, plus his work on dyslexia & education

20 Humph (Humphrey Lyttelton) – for combining the quintessence of Englishness with jazz

Bubbling under: [date added]

Danny Boyle – created something of once-in-a-lifetime specialness in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, making us reflect in a fresh way on what Britishness actually is [2012]

Tony Benn – doing his best to show what politicians could be like {courtesy of Scanner, Adam D and Overthewire} [I'm not sure about this one, keep wavering]

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