Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Coincidences No.s 270 & 271 – Eat Your Heart Out

11/10/17

I go in to Eat opposite my office to have a coffee with an Irish TV presenter I’m meeting for the first time. We sit at one of the only two tables in the branch, two two-person tables side by side. The presenter asks me early in the conversation where I live. I tell him and mention that Feargal Sharkey (Northern Irish lead singer of The Undertones) also lives there. I am about to mention other music-related people in the neighbourhood, striving for a moment to recall, when I sense the person sitting diagonally opposite me, alone at the other table, perhaps four feet away, has had their attention drawn to our conversation. It turns out he had overheard reference to East Finchley. Because that is indeed where he lives too. And he is the very person I was about to name because he was in the much admired post-punk band Gang of Four. It’s nearly four years since I last saw him (when I was writing my first book). The three of us ended up having a fascinating conversation about Catalunya as the musician splits his time between East Finchley/Fortis Green (home of The Kinks) and Catalonia.

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Gang of Four

12/10/17

I go to see the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. I notice how he uses three parallel horizontal lines for E and think perhaps I’ll adopt that for my own surname.

downtown 81 basquiat E

I walk away from the Barbican and pop into the nearby Eat for a sarnie. As I walk in I notice a prominent display (Grill Club) that uses a three parallel horizontal lines symbol.

Eat Grill Club sign

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Artistic Devices: Hockney in London 2017

I was working at Chelsea School of Art in Pimlico recently and took the opportunity, after a meeting about a prospective TV programme, to nick into Tate Britain which is directly opposite and see the David Hockney exhibition.

To mark the occasion of this major retrospective, entertaining if a little rammed, I’d like to dig out my Hockney Picture of the Month, Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices, which is in the show of course.

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices - David Hockney

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices (1965)

And to add an extra something to celebrate the exhibition I’d like to highlight some other artistic devices in evidence in this show. For the significance of ‘artistic devices’ I’ll quote from my earlier post:

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.

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Sunbather (1964) – water devices (although it’s complicated – Hockney had painted lines on his pool floor)

A Bigger Splash 1967 by David Hockney

A Bigger Splash (1967) – plant devices & more water devices

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Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969) – glass devices

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy 1970-1 by David Hockney born 1937

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-1) – carpet devices

Sound & Vision: 4 of the best from Bowie’s art collection

I had a bit of an art blow-out earlier this week with three thoroughly enjoyable exhibitions in a day:

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View from a beanbag

You Say You Want A Revolution? at the V&A which looks at “records and rebels” from 1966 to 1970 – I went with my friend Kathelin Gray who was present at many of the events showcased and knew many of the people referred to, including Allen Ginsberg who is the person who first brought us together when I was on sabbatical writing in 2013-14. Walking through this excellent display with her certainly added a special, personal dimension. For a while we kicked back on beanbags to watch highlights from the Woodstock movie, including Jimi Hendrix’s era-defining rendition of the Stars & Stripes, perfect for US election day.

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Endless Highway off the beaten track

The Path Beaten at The Halcyon which for the second time in as many years brings together in London a collection of Bob Dylan’s paintings and sculpture. The images which most appealed were ones like ‘Endless Highway’ which seem of a piece with his songs and how they capture the essence of America. Also perfect for an election day when that could easily get lost.

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Sandwiched between was a visit to Bowie / Collector at Sotheby’s, a last viewing of Bowie’s personal collection (minus the stuff of sentimental value) before it went under the auctioneer’s hammer on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th November (yesterday and the day before). I went with my friend Doug to whom I picked out a single painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat as The One. As it turned out that canvas went for £7.1M, the top price at an auction which raised double the expected revenue, in this case more than doubling its top estimate of £3.5M. So I reckon I’ve got a good eye. And what that good eye spied on the day were these…

ONE Lot 22: Jean-Michel Basquiat – Air Power (1984)

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Jean-Michel Basquiat – Air Power (1984)

For all the bullshitWar(se)hol(e)hype around Basquiat, the young man was a really dynamic artist with a beautiful sense of colour. Bowie played Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s biographical movie. The canvas displays Basquiat’s usual mix of lively paint (acrylic) and fat chalky lines (oilstick) looking like the bastard offspring of a blueprint and a Brooklyn wall. The white ladder shape on the chest and body of the main figure reminds me at once of one of those bone breast decorations Red Indians wear and a railway line reaching westwards. In other words JMB seems to really capture that essence of America.

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TWO Lot 4: Peter Lanyon – Trevalgan (1951)

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Peter Lanyon – Trevalgan (1951)

Hot on the heals of the excellent Lanyon exhibition, Soaring Flight, at The Courtauld last Christmas, Bowie/Collector afforded an encounter with another group of Lanyon’s fresh, original landscapes, of which this stood out the most. Trevalgan is a landmark work in Lanyon’s journey of reinvention of landscape painting, tilting it up to become a fusion of map, aerial photo and abstract expressionist take on the Cornwall countryside, the horizon curved around the picture surface on which sea, fields, cliffs and sky are transformed into a gigantic emerald of England.

Peter Lanyon – Picture of the Month

THREE lot 43: Patrick Caulfield – Foyer (1973)

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Patrick Caulfield – Foyer (1973)

I’ve always had a soft spot for Caulfield as one inclined to a very graphic style in my own drawing and painting. This large acrylic captures much about modern life in a bland space of the hotel lobby variety (which is not much variety) – to get to anything of interest or colour you have to penetrate to the bar, a small bejewelled space of coloured glass and decorated alcoves, tucked away small in the background distance of the image.

FOUR Lot 101: David Jones – Crucifixion (c.1922)

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David Jones – Crucifixion (c.1922)

I suspect Bowie bought this one because the artist shares his real name, plus of course Jones was a highly accomplished religious artist in the vein of Eric Gill. This sparse, stripped down pencil and watercolour drawing captures the agony of the Crucifixion, remembering even to bloody the knees, not just the stigmata. He achieves something truly ancient and in touch with the roots of Christianity.

I felt two things as I left the exhibition. (i) There was so much of it. Too much for any one person to own. It made me feel a bit sick being amongst so much. It must have been a relief for Bowie and his family to offload All This Stuff. David Jones #1’s Christ departs with just a delicate blue loin cloth and a crown of thorns. (ii) Having gone to so much trouble assembling some very fine sub-collections among his overall Collection (mainly of the 20th Century British Art I really love) I wonder why he broke it all up again? Why didn’t he donate little groups to museums to keep them together? I suspect his family don’t really need all £33M of the proceeds.

What Bowie did give – from my little perspective – was an introduction to my ideal drawer and one of my favourite artists, Egon Schiele. I heard him talking about this artist (who I, like most people at the time, had never heard of) on Radio 1 around the time of his Lodger record, the last of the Berlin trilogy. From there a life-long love sprouted. If Bowie had any Schiele’s he kept them back from the sale. The nearest is a single Oskar Kokoschka litho and an Eric Heckel woodcut figure with long boney hands. He certainly had a heroic eye for art. (Though he could have gotten arrested by the design police for his taste in furniture.)

 

 

Whole in a Hole – Picture of the Month: Pelvis 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe (1944)

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Pelvis 1 – Georgia O’Keeffe (1944)

Reviewing Georgia O’Keeffe’s life’s work at the extensive exhibition currently showing at Tate Modern, it is clearly a journey of abstracting Nature to capture and communicate its essence.

The journey as portrayed in this retrospective has the following landmarks along the way: early experiments with pure abstraction, exploring synaesthesia and detached from figurative representation; taking the figurative edge off of cityscapes of New York; immersion in Nature in New York State; flower paintings; discovering New Mexico; bone paintings and New Mexican landscapes; last works including aerial landscapes. I pick out Pelvis 1 as the culmination of the journey.

It is the brilliant realisation that you can create a ready-made abstract of Nature through the simple device of a dried bone from the arid landscape of New Mexico. O’Keeffe used the hole in a pelvis bone to frame the brilliant blue of the Southern sky. In so doing we have both the figurative representation of a piece of sun-bleached bone and patches of sun-drenched sky; and a two-colour abstract centred on a big blue ball. There’s just enough shadow on the bone and shading in the sky to retain the literal representation of the scene and yet the execution is simple enough to read as a Modernist work of Abstract Expressionism.

The tightly cropped presentation owes something to the art of photography – O’Keeffe was married for over two decades to the photographer and modern art promoter Alfred Stieglitz.

The degree of abstraction is amplified when we consider the date: 1944. There was some heavy shit going on for the USA in ’44 and even more so for humanity and the world and yet we have here purity and tranquility. Having said that, over half of the picture area is made up of Dead Stuff (bone). Pelvis can be read as a momento mori, a meditation on the finite life of Man and Nature’s creatures in contrast to the infinity of the heavens.

O’Keeffe was consciously in search of what she termed “The Great American Thing”, a form of art as native and characteristic as, say, Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was in terms of the novel. That other Great American and lover of Nature, Henry David Thoreau, swore by Simplicity:

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.

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Mask with Golden Apple – Georgia O’Keeffe (1923)

And our own apple-lover Isaac Newton captured it well:

Nature is pleased with simplicity.

So is Art.

Another great American Modernist, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, (much influenced by Thoreau) summed it up as well as anyone:

Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.

By those measures Pelvis 1 is a masterpiece. I love it for having boiled down the essence of the Human Condition (mortality in the face of eternity) like the desert strips the rotting body down to pure white bone. O’Keeffe collected bones from 1929, initially due to Nature holding back its bounty: “That first summer I spent in New Mexico I was a little surprised that there were so few flowers. There was no rain so the flowers didn’t come. Bones were easy to find so I began collecting bones.” She began painting them from around 1931, initially mainly skulls. She painted them as still lifes; superimposed on landscapes in the Surrealist manner; integrated into the landscape sitting in the foreground. That this painting features the pelvis rather than the skull I also love because this is not about brains and thinking, this is about cohones and feeling, about instinct and the deepest-down understanding.

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Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz

* * * *

A previous Latino Picture of the Month:  Autorretrato con Chango y Loro (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) – Frida Kahlo (1942)

Frida Smith

There seems to be a connection

Patti-Smith

Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe

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Frida Kahlo meets Patti Smith

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Patti meets Frida (Wave)

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Frida as Odalisque

Rhodes Must Be Remixed

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All Rhodes lead to remix

Here’s my solution to the Cecil Rhodes statue controversy in Oxford. The Rhodes Must Fall campaign wants to have the statue of the in many ways rather nasty imperialist taken down from Oriel College, Oxford, his alma mater and beneficiary of his largesse. Rather than tearing down the statue like some dodgy authoritarian regime and airbrushing out history like a bunch of old Commies, let’s add another layer to it like the Brixton-based artist Hew Locke (son of a Guyanese sculptor and a British painter) did on the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. Or put adjacent to it a bigger statue of, say, Nelson Mandela. Let’s add and be constructive…

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Hew Locke – Edward Colston from Restoration (2006)

Locke draped Colston in trading beads, coins and other accoutrements of empire. (Or to be precise, he draped a photo of the statue in this 3D mixed media – but why not do it directly on the statue itself for good (in both senses)? )

You can see some of Locke’s works in the last room of the ‘Artist and Empire’ exhibition currently [until 10th April] on show at Tate Britain (ironically – the Tate & Lyle sugar fortune having been arguably built on slavery).

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Edward Colston naked/unremixed in Bristol city centre

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Nelson Mandela slightly remixed with bird-shit, Parliament Square, London

Hew Locke talking about Restoration [2 minute listen]

Picture of the Month: He Came He Soared He Conquered – Rosewall by Peter Lanyon

(c) Sheila Lanyon/DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Rosewall – Peter Lanyon (1960)

As we approach the new year it feels like a good moment to reflect on changing perspectives. ‘Rosewall’ is the first of Peter Lanyon’s gliding paintings. Born in St Ives at the end of the Great War and central to the St Ives Group during the 50s, he took up gliding in 1959, inspired in part by observing the flight of seabirds over his native Cornish landscape, the subject at the heart of his painting. This painting was completed in January 1960, four months after Lanyon started his glider training. Before taking up the glider, he was keen on dramatic high perspectives like cliff edges and hilltops. Rosewall is a hill in Cornwall.

So ‘Rosewall’ was his first work to benefit directly by this new aerial perspective. We are used to the sky sitting blue at the top of the landscape but here it is what frames the whole experience. And the experience is a vortex of air, light and wind. Swirls of white air between us and the green grass and brown earth.

I’m not big on totally abstract painting – I prefer the kind with vestiges of the figurative – grass, earth, sky, clouds, the components of landscape, but combined with the feelings it provokes – vertiginous spectacle, thrill and fear, soaring freedom. Abstract expressionism of a rooted kind. While its head is in the clouds its feet are on the ground. At once airy and earthy.

Lanyon explained his motivation for gliding: “…I do gliding myself to get actually into the air itself; and get a further sense of depth and space into yourself, as it were into your own body, and then carry it through into a painting.” He linked his practice at this time to Turner and saw himself as part of a core English tradition of landscape painting. I love the notion of making possible for yourself a physical expereince so you can subsequently capture it in paint.

For the first time ever a comprehensive collection of Lanyon’s gliding paintings is now on show – in an exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House, London (running until 17th January 2016). Filling just two rooms, it’s a small but perfectly formed show, well worth catching to experience the ambitious scale of the artworks. This 6′ x 5′ painting normally resides in Belfast in the Ulster Museum.

Lanyon was taught by Victor Pasmore at the Euston Road School and Ben Nicholson in Cornwall. Nicholson was a contemporary at the Slade of Paul Nash whose aerial paintings like Battle of Britain (1941) would seem to be not-so-distant cousins of the Gliding Paintings. I love the landscapes of Nash for their combination of modernity and deep-rooted tradition, as much in the spirit of European Surrealism as in the heritage of English Romanticism. Lanyon is a worthy successor and deserves to be better known.

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Peter Lanyon in his glider (1964)

***

Previous Pictures of the Month.

Best of 2014

20,000 Days on Earth

20,000 Days on Earth

Film:

20,000 Days on Earth

Selma
Boyhood
The Theory of Everything

Male Lead:
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

David Oyelowo – Selma

Nicholas Cage – Joe
Tom Hardy – Locke
Benedict Cumberbtach – The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes – Grand Hotel Budapest

Female Lead:
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl

Male Support:
Tim Roth – Selma
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Tom Wilkinson – Selma

Female Support:
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Sienna Miller – American Sniper

Director:
Richard Linklater – Boyhood

Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard – 20,000 Days on Earth

Christopher Nolan – Interstellar
Pawel Pawlikoski – Ida
Paul King – Paddington
Yann Demange- ’71

Writer:
Paul Webb – Selma
Paul King – Paddington
Wes Anderson – Grand Hotel Budapest
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything

Production Design:
Grand Hotel Budapest

Visual FX:
Interstellar
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Michael Franti & dancer

Michael Franti & dancer

Single:
(John Newman – Love Me Again)

Album:
Morning Phase – Beck
Tribute – John Newman

With The Artists – Rhythm & Sound
Liquid Spirit – Gregory Porter
(WomanChild -Cecile McLorin Salvant)

Gig:
Van Morrison on launch night of Nell’s Jazz & Blues Club

Michael Franti & Spearhead – Islington Assembly Hall (with D)

John Newman – Empire Shepherd’s Bush
ABC – Lexicon of Love – Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Peter Gabriel – So – Wembley Arena

Play:
A Taste of Honey – Shelagh Delaney – National Theatre, Lyttleton

Fiesta – adapted & directed by Alex Helfrecht – Trafalgar Studios
Oh What a Lovely War – Joan Littlewood & the Theatre Workshop – Theatre Royal Stratford East (Joan Littlewood centenary – with D)
Fings Ain’t Wot They Used to Be – Frank Norman – Theatre Royal Stratford East

Art Exhibition:
Egon Schiele drawings: The Radical Nude – Courtauld

John Craxton – Fitzwilliam, Cambridge
Richard Hamilton – Tate Modern
Abram Games: designing the 20th Century – Jewish Museum, Camden Town
MALBA – Buenos Aires
Museum der bildenden Kunste – Leipzig (with N)

Book: (that I read this year)
Rabbit at Rest – John Updike

Sport:
Germany crushing Brazil at the World Cup (7-1 semi-final)

Jonny May’s try for England against the All Blacks at Twickenham

Event:
Philae probe from European spacecraft Rosetta landing on a comet

Dearly departed:

Joe Cocker
Jack Bruce
Tommy Ramone

Egon Schiele - The Radical Nude

Egon Schiele – The Radical Nude

Best of 2013

Best of 2012

Best of 2011

Best of 2010

Best of 2009

Pictures of the Month

Autorretrato con Chango y Loro (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) – Frida Kahlo

frida kahlo painting artist painter

Skrik (Scream) – Edvard Munck

munch skrik

Joie de Vivre – Picasso

Joie de Vivre - Picasso (1946)

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices – David Hockney

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices (1965)

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices (1965)

Merry-Go-Round – Mark Gertler

Merry-Go-Round by Mark Gertler

Merry-Go-Round by Mark Gertler (1916)

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère – Edouard Manet

Un bar aux Folies Bergère

Un bar aux Folies Bergère – Edouard Manet

Picture of the Month: Autorretrato con Chango y Loro (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) – Frida Kahlo (1942)

Self-portrait with monkey and parrot frida kahlo 1942

I’ve never written a Picture of the Month in situ before but it’s a rainy Spring afternoon in Buenos Aires and I feel so inspired by this painting in the Malba gallery that I feel compelled to get a bit of energy out of the system. I’m dedicating this one to Una who would love this painting.

Worth making the trip to Buenos Aires for this alone

Worth making the trip to Buenos Aires for this alone

What’s unusual is that in many ways it’s a very simple painting, not much to work with – the artist, a monkey, a parrot and a background of wheat. Usually I pick images with more complexity to focus on in Picture of the Month.

I’m about 20 inches away from it now, phone in hand to jot this on.

It draws people to it

It draws people to it

The eyes (woman, monkey, bird) make an equilateral triangle which is the heart of the composition. Frida’s look slightly left like she doesn’t give a monkey’s about the viewer. Her lips are tight. Her cheeks red. There’s a bit of anger or disdain or probably defiance there.

The parrot looks straight out with both of its side-mounted eyes looking directly at the viewer – the only one of the three doing so. I saw a green parrot like this yesterday up in the trees at the bird sanctuary across town by the port, the Costanera Sur ecological reserve at Puerto Madero. Incongruously some distant relatives, also bright green, hang out occasionally in the allotments beside my house.

The monkey is looking out of the frame to the artist’s left – only one black eye visible like a Jack of spades.

Frida’s hairband is green and yellow like the parrot. Her hair is black like the monkey. She is integrated with them. Are they two aspects of her? Talking and thinking or feeling? Her parents? Her children? Two people she knows? Two aspects of Mexico? No clues really – maybe they are just two animals or familiars.

The parrot sits on her shoulder. Not much sense of its weight. The yellow and maroon dress she is wearing is flat and unruffled, making the parrot not quite of this world.

The monkey is embracing her, an arm behind her back and one on her shoulder. They look close whoever he/she is. It’s got a little quiff. Its face is at once baby-like and old, more the latter.

His (why do I keep thinking it’s a male?) fur links to her amazing gull-shaped monobrow through the shared colour and her unflinchingly portrayed moustache. She has black eye-liner echoing those eyebrows. The lip hair reflects them. So some strong X-shaped geometry is the focus of her face.

The background of wheat reminds me of Van Gogh. The yellow is related to his sunflowers. The tendrils at the top suggest growth and something of the jungle. The shapes also remind me of Rousseau’s vegetation.

…on reflection, I don’t think it’s wheat. I think it’s some kind of exotic jungle plant. So we’re in a Latin-American jungle world albeit of a light and limited kind, no sense of enclosure by trees.

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After 20 minutes standing here what do I take away about this beautiful picture? It’s more for Frida than for us – or at least she’s giving us only so much. The rest is hers.

A touch of defiance?

A touch of defiance?

Never looking directly at you

Never looking directly at you

What's with the monkeys?

What’s with the monkeys?

...And the feathered friends?

…And the feathered friends?

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frida kahlo painting monkeys

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Here’s the last Picture of the Month – as you can see the series title has a touch of irony about it.

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