Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Quotation: the merit of craft

“First learn to be a craftsman; it won’t keep you from being a genius.”

Eugène Delacroix

picasso-early-work Self-Portrait 1896 age 15

Picasso – age 15 (1896)

pablo-picasso-self-portrait 90 years old June 30 1972

Picasso self-portrait – age 90 (1972)

 

Picasso self-portraits chronology

Lack of Humanity

In September 2012 ‘Freedom for Humanity’ was painted by Mear One AKA Kalen Ockerman on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane. Ironically it’s the street my grandfather worked on when he fled from Nazi Germany in May 1939.

September 2012. 'Freedom for Humanity' a street art graffiti work by artist Mear One aka Kalen Ockerman on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane london

September 2012. 'Freedom for Humanity' a street art graffiti work by artist Mear One aka Kalen Ockerman on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane london

(detail)

Ockerman: “I chose to depict the likenesses of such early turn of the century Robber Barons, specifically Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Warburg, as well as Aleister Crowley who was a kind of philosophical guru to the ruling elite of that time and a well-known Satanist.”

Rothschild banker

Rothschild

Nathaniel Rothschild (1840-1915)

Nathaniel Rothschild (1840-1915) – massive bulbous hook nose, biblical beard? not so much

Rockefeller

Rockefeller

John_D._Rockefeller_1885

John D. Rockefeller Snr. (1839-1937) – more of a pointy-uppy nose really

john-d-rockefeller-jr

Maybe it’s supposed to be Jnr. – John D. Rockefeller Jnr. (1874-1960) – the suit looks right, but the nose is still a bit off (the specs have been lent to Warburg)

Morgan

Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan – more fat than hooked in the nasal department

Crowley

Crowley

Aleister_Crowley

Aleister Crowley – rather a slim nose, not much like Kalen’s effort

Carnegie

Carnegie

andrew-carnegie

Andrew Carnegie – schnozzular mismatch

Warburg

Warburg

Paul_Warburg

Paul Warburg – Kalen’s not quite captured him

alf garnett

More Alf Garnett really – it stands to reason, don’t it, you silly moo

der_sturmer_christmas_1929

Der Sturmer, Christmas 1929, urging people not to buy from Jewish shops. The caption included “Our people hung their Christ on the cross, and we do a great business on his birthday…”

Corbyn: “You are in good company. Rockefeller destroyed Diego Viera’s (sic) mural because it includes a picture of Lenin”

frida kahlo diego rivera

Diego & his missus (Frieda Kahlo)

Viera AKA Rivera: “My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life.” (1935)

Lenin: “The art of any propagandist and agitator consists in his ability to find the best means of influencing any given audience, by presenting a definite truth, in such a way as to make it most convincing, most easy to digest, most graphic, and most strongly impressive.” (The Slogans and Organisation of Social-Democratic Work, 1919)

Corbyn: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.”

4 places worth visiting in Vilnius

I was in Lithuania last week working on ESoDoc, a workshop and development space for social documentaries. The last time I worked on it was back in 2010 in Tenno, Northern Italy. We were based this time in the National Library of Lithuania and between sessions I adopted my favourite role of flâneur.

1. The National Library of Lithuania

the national library of lithuania vilnius 1919

Its classical grandeur dates back to 1919, the year after Lithuanian independence from Germany and Russia. It sits next door to the modern parliament building which stems from Lithuania’s second independence day, 11th March 1990, the first of the Baltic States to break away from the USSR.

Lithuania parliament vilnius

An important emblem of Democracy

The books in the main atrium are cleverly decorated with black covering on their spines to create the faces of various key literary/historical figures.

Lithuania national library vilnius

2. Knygynas VAGA book shop

Knygynas VAGA bookstore book shop Vilnius lithuania

Knygynas VAGA book shop

A book shop where you can get strudel – what’s not to love? Really enjoyed hanging out here. Had to speak German as the strudel lady couldn’t speak English. We struggled a bit trying to identify pumpkin.

I picked up two Lithuanian novels in English here: Cold East by Gabija Grušaitė (“A new voice that disrupted Lithuanian lierature”) and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (a Lithuanian American, author of the very successful debut Between Shades of Gray).

3. The Republic of Užupis

uzupis republic vilnius lithuania

Border of the Republic

A hippy, bohemian quarter a bit like Chrisiania in Copenhagen. The name means “other side of the river” – it sits in a loop on the far side of the Vilnia. It declared itself a republic in 1998 – it has its own flag, currency, constitution and ambassadors (including my friend author Charlie Connelly who it turns out is their UK ambassador – I believe drink may have been involved in precipitating this appointment). They change the flag every season – it is currently blue for Winter.

uzupis flag vinius lithuania

Winter – blue, Spring – green, Summer – yellow, Autumn – red

It began life in the 16th century as a mainly Jewish area. WW2 reduced the Jewish population of Vilnius from 58,000 to 2,000. The Soviets then destroyed the cemetery up the hill from Užupis.

Now it’s mainly an artistic area, albeit a gentrified one at this point. Between the War and Independence in 1990 it was the realm of the homeless and prostitutes, very neglected. Needless to say, the artists moved in and made it cool and meaningful. Gotta love the artists. It still has a certain charm and some good street art. It seems to have been set up as an artistic provocation, to prompt important conversation. The Republic’s independence day is 1st April.

4. The Ghetto

the site of the great synagogue vilnius lithuania

Site of the Great Synagogue

Vilnius had two ghettos during the Nazi period – the small and the large. They both got liquidated (or “liquidized” as one Lithuanian tourist website has it) by Nazis and Lithuanian police shooting tens of thousands of Jews in the forests around the city. Above is the site of the Great Synagogue where 3,000-5,000 worshippers could be accommodated. It was damaged in the War but the Soviets were the ones who finished the job in the mid-50s, turning a magnificent building into an architecturally insignificant kindergarten (in the background above). I had an interesting chat with a Polish woman at this sign. She told me how poor all the Poles were before the war. Just like the citizen of Neulengbach in Austria (location of Egon Schiele’s studio) who told me how poor the Austrians were.

mural old jewish quarter ghetto vilnius lithuania

Commemorating the inhabitants of the ghetto

Despite these dark shadows I enjoyed the ghetto area in its autumn colours. I could sense the people. I sat in an open area reading a Lew Archer novel and sucking up the vibes. The city has peppered the area with monochrome murals of the former citizens, with QR codes linking to some basic information. I wonder what this fella would have made of QR codes…

mural old jewish quarter ghetto vilnius lithuania

QR codes schmoo R codes

The Girl in the Blue Dress

I’m just back from a week in the village of Glencolmcille, Donegal (Ireland) doing a painting class at the Irish college (Oideas Gael). One day there I sat next to a Catweazle-looking fella, an American academic, called Jim Duna in An Chistin (The Kitchen restaurant) and he told me about an artist who had been active locally, a fellow American. At first he couldn’t recall the painter’s name and from the clues he gave I guessed Edward Hopper. It turned out it was one Rockwell Kent. I’m not bad on my art history and that name had never crossed my path.

The next day Oideas Gael put on a screening of an RTÉ documentary from last year about Kent and the subject of his most famous painting, Annie McGinley. After our morning painting session in the village’s National School we traipsed down to the college to watch the film, ‘Searching for  Annie’/’Ar Lorg Annie’ by Kevin Magee. Kevin is BBC Northern Ireland’s Investigations Correspondent and it turns out the Gaelic film is actually funded by BBC Gaeilge and Northern Ireland Screen (which I work with often), through their Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

One of the locations used in the film is a room above the better of the two pubs in Glencolmcille, Roarty’s. The next morning, on the way through the village to the hostel (where I was finishing a watercolour of Glen Head [see below] from the vantage point of their cliff-top lounge) I snuck in through an open door and up the stairs of the pub in search of the room as I knew it contained copies of Kent’s paintings. As I walked into the room there sat Jim at his breakfast – turned out he was lodging there. I had a look at the various pictures, poor copies, but nevertheless with some of the power of the originals.

None of Kent’s paintings reside in Ireland. He painted 36 in the Glencolmcille vicinity in in 1926. The most famous and resonant is this one, entitled ‘Annie McGinley’.

annie mcginley rockwell kent painting glencolmcille donegal ireland

‘Annie McGinley’ by Rockwell Kent (1926)

The painting now resides stashed away in a private collection in New York. It should be an icon of Irish painting. This reproduction doesn’t really do it justice. The location remains unchanged to this day. The day after the documentary screening some of the people on the Hill Walking course recreated the pose in the exact spot. The cliff-top is a couple of valleys over from the tranquil, resonant glen of Glencolmcille.

The subject of the painting is the eponymous Annie McGinley, a local girl, about 20, daughter of one of Kent’s local friends. Her father kept Kent’s drying oil paintings in his house as the barn where Kent and his new American wife lived was not dry enough. This is Annie’s father carrying his poitín still away at night to evade the authorities, punningly titled ‘Moonshine’.

Moonshine rockwell kent painting

‘Moonshine’

The documentary was funny in the way it skirted round the core of the painting. People kept using words like “sensual” and “curvy” when it is clear that the painting revolves around Annie’s bottom. It’s a very sexy image – Kent’s wife would have been right to be concerned. Annie in later life denied even posing for the picture. But as another curvy young woman later said: she would, wouldn’t she.

In my opinion it is the ‘Olympia’ of Ireland.

Edouard-Manet-Olympia 1863 painting

‘Olympia’ – Edouard Manet (1863)

Someone should make it their mission to get the painting back to Ireland and into the National Gallery in Dublin for all to enjoy. It is as much a part of the national heritage as Paul Henry’s ‘Launching the Currach’ (which sat above the fireplace in my mother-in-law’s good room) and Jack Yeats’ ‘The Liffey Swim’ (subject of my recent Picture of the Month).

Paul Henry 'Launching the Currach' painting (c.1910)

‘Launching the Currach’ – Paul Henry (c.1910)

Kent painted a number of pictures during his year in Ireland which could be considered masterpieces. Another one is ‘Dan Ward’s Stack’, men at work during harvest in Glen Lough, an inaccessible valley two north from Glencolmcille, lead by Kent’s friend, Dan Ward (on top, left), neighbours helping like in ‘Witness’ (Peter Weir, 1985, with Harrison Ford).

rockwell kent dan wards stack painting haystack

‘Dan Ward’s Stack’ (1926)

This one ended up not in the USA, to which New Yorker Kent returned after his Donegal sojourn, but in The Hermitage in Moscow. Kent, something of a lefty, was invited to Moscow to be the first contemporary American artist to have a solo show in the Soviet Union. He left 80 canvases to the Russian state after the exhibition, including this one. The Rusky’s loved it for its depiction of collaborative work. Kent’s socialist leanings got him into trouble with the US authorities, got him hauled up in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee under McCarthy (whose mother was from Co. Tipperary), and generally stifled his career. Hence my not having heard of him.

Now my guess of Hopper was not that far wide of the mark. Rockwell Kent was born in June 1882 in New York (of English descent). Edward Hopper was born the next month, July 1982, also in New York. The other painter who came to mind on first seeing Kent’s work was Nicholas Roerich who was born 8 years earlier in St Petersburg, in October 1874. Roerich I first came across in a little museum dedicated to him way up Manhattan island, on W 107th St. The style of Roerich’s landscapes and skies are very reminiscent of Kent – or vice versa. Similar palettes and graphical technique.

path to shambhala nicholas roerich painting 1933

‘Path to Shambhala’ – Nicholas Roerich (1933)

Nicholas_Roerich_-_Monhegan._Maine_(1922) painting

‘Monhegan, Maine’ – Nicholas Roerich (1922)

So Roerich was doing very similar landscapes at much the same time.

Interestingly Roerich is described as a “painter, writer, archaeologist, theosophist, philosopher and public figure” – Kent as a “painter, printmaker, illustrator, writer, sailor, adventurer and voyager” – both seem to have been multidimensional characters. Much like Richard Burton, the subject of my last post.

railroad-sunset edward hopper 1929 painting

‘Railroad Sunset’ – Edward Hopper (1929)

I’ll have a poke around to see if Kent, Hopper and/or Roerich crossed paths as they were all clearly active throughout the 20s.

It’s not too often I come across a painter as good as Kent out of the blue these days so I feel blessed that Glencolmcille chose to reveal him to me.

Here’s one of the poor copies from the hallway beside the room above Roarty’s

copy of annie mcginley painting by rockwell kent

And here’s one from the bar below

copy of annie mcginley painting by rockwell kent

Also in the bar below was this photo linking me back to home

shane macgowan road building at brent cross

On the right is Shane MacGowan, later genius songwriter of The Pogues. He spent his early childhood in Co. Tipperary. On the left is a local from Glencolmcille. Brent Cross is in my manor in London.

Here’s a woman on cliff-top sketch I did my first day in Glencolmcille, before coming across Rockwell Kent

water colour sketch by adam gee malin beg donegal

Malin Beg, Donegal

It’s above Tra Ban (Silver Strand) in the next village from GCC. The crouching woman is a fellow painter, Pamela from Eindhoven, Holland, taking a photo with her phone to use back in the studio.

This is my watercolour painting of Glen Head from the hostel vantage point

Glen Head Glencolmcille watercolour painting by adam gee

Glen Head, Glencolmcille

This oil, by Kent, is probably just over that headland

"Irish Coast, Donegal," Rockwell Kent, oil on canvas, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Russia.

‘Irish Coast, Donegal’ – Rockwell Kent (1926) [The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Russia]

Kent became very enamoured of Donegal and the Glencolmcille area (as well, I suspect, of Annie McGinley). It weaved his magic on him – he was living in Glen Lough to which no roads lead (til this day), no electricity runs, some kind of Eden. Farmer Dan Ward lived down there with his wife. They survived in the wild landscape and trekked into church on Sundays. Kent tried to buy their farm when they became too old to run it. He couldn’t get over to Ireland to make the purchase because the US government withdrew his passport because of his left-leaning sympathies. He took them to court and eventually won. Regained his passport. And secured a victory which has held – the US authorities are not allowed to withhold a passport in the way they did with Kent right until today.

The magic worked on him and it did on me. I found the whole experience meditative. I have never had the opportunity to stay put in one place and paint it over and over from a multitude of angles. The afternoon after completing Glen Head above I went for a walk with two new friends, Micki a muralist and graphic designer from Ohio and Colm a retired economist from Dublin, around the religious sites of Glencolmcille associated with St Colm Cille/Columba, one of the three patron saints of Ireland. As we were walking through the landscape below Glen Head, near the ruins of St Colm’s chapel, I realised I recognised particular rocks and patches of land from having painted them earlier. It was a deep, focused relationship with a place the like of which I haven’t experienced before.

watercolour painting of glencolmcille by adam gee

A God’s eye view of Glencolmcille – a watercolour painted with reference to Google Maps on my phone, my last picture of this trip

Picture of the Month: Live & Direct from Dublin

‘The Liffey Swim’ - Jack Yeats 1923

‘The Liffey Swim’ – Jack Yeats 1923

I think this is only the second time I have written a Picture of the Month right in front of the picture itself. The first time was in Buenos Aires in front of a Frida Kahlo self-portrait with monkeys. As I referred to this Jack B. Yeats painting [‘The Liffey Swim’ 1923] in my last post I thought I’d pick up the baton with it, here in the National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square, Dublin.

I spent a bit of time yesterday along the Quays and looking at the Liffey, and had a chat with my son about the notion of swimming in this river. He had been watching a documentary about swimming the channel between Scotland and Ireland just before. I mentioned this painting as evidence that people were known to brave the Liffey.

Yeats-Liffey-Swim 1923 painting national gallery ireland

The painting has a real sense of event around it, with spectators filling the bottom left half beneath the strong diagonal that bisects the composition from top left to bottom right. We see a mixed gender crowd (a bare-headed blonde woman prominent near the front) filling the pavement, filling both decks of a bus or tram, filling the bridge and the opposite quay. This is 1923 (or at least painted that year), the first half of which was the time of the Irish Civil War, so to see a crowd united in a joyous occasion must have been resonant.

The image and composition remind me of an early 20th century English painting of an East End music hall (perhaps Sickert? or was it Bomberg?? – I’ll try to find it another time*). And the overall style has something of the Camden Town Group about it – a muddy palette and loose, free brushwork. Yeats was not born in Dublin but in London in 1871, so was 52 at the time of painting this.

The swimmers are swimming crawl in what gives the impression of a strong current. One of the brightest colours is the orange in the part of the water closest to us. The figure nearest to us, a cap-wearing man leaning on the wall to look down into the river, is sliced in half, only his cap, a bit of hair protruding at the back, his neck and shoulder visible, cropped in a photograph-like way.

We can see the face and open mouth of one swimmer as he takes a crawl breath – it has something of Munch’s ‘Skrik’ (Scream) about it though is probably more about the breath of life than anything dark.

No Dublin rain in sight – the skies are blue with some high white clouds.

Apparently this swim was an annual event from 1920. [My brother-in-law Des subsequently informed me that it is still an annual event.] As the War of Independence raged from 1919-1921 at least one, possibly two of these races took place in wartime which indicates life must have gone on during the conflict. It ended in July 1921 so if the race happens in July or later and the one depicted was 1922 not 1923 this would be the first one free from British rule in the capital of a modern sovereign Irish state.

For all I know Yeats may have had little political intent – he was known to be interested in sporting themes (horse-racing etc.) – but I am going to take this as a depiction of joy, hope, energy and freedom.


* It was Bomberg – a painting from the Ben Uri collection, from just three years earlier

david bomberg, ghetto theatre, 1920, ben uri

‘Ghetto Theatre’ (1920) – David Bomberg, [Ben Uri collection]

Art Vandals 2: La Pietà

Weapon: Geologist’s Hammer

Reason: Religion, religious delusion

La Pietà,by Michelangelo (1499) sculpture

La Pietà by Michelangelo (1499)

The exquisite Renaissance sculpture La Pietà by Michelangelo was attacked with a hammer in 1972 in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican where it resides. On 21st May a man with a professional interest in stone, geologist Laszlo Toth (then 33), hit the statue 15 times while exclaiming: “I am Jesus Christ, risen from the dead!” Toth was a Hungarian-born Australian who moved to Rome in June 1971, knowing no Italian. He  wanted to be recognised as Christ. He was born into a Roman Catholic family. He sent letters to Pope Paul VI and tried to meet him, without success.

He chipped the Virgin’s head, nose, left eyelid, neck, veil and left forearm. The forearm fell off and the fingers broke on the ground. Most of the fragments were saved and collected but a few were taken by tourists.

Toth was subdued by other tourists (the good kind), including American sculptor Bob Cassilly, who hit Toth several times as he dragged him away from the Pietà.

The sculpture was repaired and is now shielded by bulletproof glass.

Toth was not charged with a crime (due to his evident insanity) but was sent in January 1973 to a psychiatric institution in Italy for two years. On his release in February 1975 he was deported to Australia. He died in September 2012.

geologists hammer

Art Vandals 1: Ivan the Terrible & His Son Ivan

Weapon: Metal pole (2018) / Knife (1913)

Reason: Politics (2018) / Aesthetics (1913)

ivan the terrible & his son ivan by Ilya Repin (1883 - 1885) russian painting

Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan by Ilya Repin (1883-1885)

The full title is: Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581. It was painted by the Russian Realist painter Ilya Repin between 1883 and 1885. It shows grief-stricken Russian ruler (first Tsar of Russia) Ivan the Terrible cradling his fatally wounded son, Ivan Ivanovich. The father dealt the fatal blow to his son in a fit of rage. It is considered one of Russia’s most famous paintings. It resides in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

It has been vandalised twice – first in 1913 and again in May last year.

25 May 2018

Igor Podporin (37) attacked it with a metal pole, smashing the security glass around the painting. It was one of the security poles used to hold the rope to keep visitors at a distance. He told police he attacked it after drinking vodka. In court he added that he had done it because the painting was “a lie”. Some Russian nationalists believe Ivan the Terrible was not so terrible and his name has been blackened unfairly. (Russian leader depicted as murderous – who’d have thought?)

The canvas was torn in three places though luckily not near the faces and hands of the two characters. The artist had used a heavy canvas so the painting was able to withstand the attack relatively well. The damage was still “serious” and a special group of art experts have been charged with planning and executing the restoration, which is expected to take several years. They have Repin’s notes from the first attack which may help with restoration work.

16 January 1913

Abram Abramovich Balachov attacked the painting with a knife, making three parallel slashes above the faces of the two characters. The then director of the Tretyakov Gallery, Ilya Ostroukhov, resigned. The curator of the Gallery, the landscape painter Georgy Khruslov, was so upset about the attack that he threw himself under a train.

Repin returned to Moscow from Finland to restore the work. Repin thought the attack motivated by extreme dislike of his adopted artistic style which some considered very old-fashioned. He suspected the attack was “the result of that monstrous conspiracy against the classic and academic monuments of art which is daily gathering momentum”.

Balachov’s vandalism was applauded by Symbolist poet Maximilian Voloshin, who published an essay On the significance of the catastrophe that befell Repin’s painting and lectured on the subject, sponsored by Futurists at the Moscow Polytechnic Museum. Repin himself was in the audience and came up to the podium to respond.

At the time of the attack Balashov was removed from the scene shouting: “Enough blood! Down with blood!”

Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan by Ilya Repin (1883 - 1885)

Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan by Ilya Repin (1883 – 1885)

Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan by Ilya Repin (1883 - 1885)

The three slashes of 1913

Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan by Ilya Repin (1883 - 1885)

The pole marks of 2018

Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan by Ilya Repin (1883 - 1885)

 

Quote of the Day: Body’s Light

Egon Schiele : The Embrace (The Loving), 1917

The Embrace [The Loving] by Egon Schiele (1917)

Bodies have their own light which they consume to live: they burn, they are not lit from the outside.

Egon Schiele

to mark my visit to ‘Klimt / Schiele’ at The Royal Academy of Arts, London

More on Schiele & me here:

On the Trail of Egon Schiele

More Egon Schiele

Bowie & Schiele

 

Quote of the Day: Resolution

'Helmet Head No.1', Henry Moore OM, CH, 1950

‘Helmet Head No.1’ (1950) by Henry Moore (1898-1986)

“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.”

Henry Moore

Picasso’s menagerie

picasso bull guernica

Bull: Guernica (1937)

horse guernica picasso

Horse: Guernica (1937)

Fauns and Goat 1959 By Pablo Picasso

Goat: Faun and Goat (1959)

the-rooster 1938 picasso

Cock: The Rooster (1938)

dove-of-peace picasso 1949

Dove: Dove of Peace (1949)

Pablo Picasso — Cage with owl, 1947

Owl: Cage with owl (1947)

picasso bull 1945

Bull (1945)

Boy Leading a Horse (1906) picasso

Boy Leading a Horse (1906)

picasso the goat 1946

The Goat (1946)

Woman with a Cock (1938) picasso

Woman with a Cock (1938)

Child with dove (1901)

Child with dove (1901)

Picasso and owl (1947) photographed by Michel Sima

Picasso and owl (1947) photographed by Michel Sima

 

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