Archive for the ‘art’ Tag

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

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

I vote

I made this to mark the announcement of the results of the European elections

picasso portrait vote election

Inspired by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Berkow. He went to Finchley Manorhill school which was on the same site in North Finchley as The Compton where one of my boys went.

Art Vandals 5: Indelible Marx

Weapon: (1) Hammer (2) Red Paint

Reason: (1 & 2) political

tomb of karl marx highgate cemetery london

Three miles down the road from where I am writing is this North London landmark – the tomb of Karl Marx. Buried beneath this grizzly bust are Marx, his wife (Jenny von Westphalen) and other members of his family, all gathered together there in 1954 after having been buried elsewhere in Highgate Cemetery (about a hundred yards away). The tomb has been listed since 1974, elevated to Grade I in 1999.

The monument was attacked for a second time in a month a week ago today (15th-16th February). The first attack was on 4th-5th February. Whether this fully constitutes Art Vandalism is a moot point – it is not the sculpture that has been targeted but, firstly, the plaque with text and, secondly, the pedestal.

Karl_Marx_tomb highgate london

The tomb (as it is generally referred to) was designed by English sculptor and artist Laurence Bradshaw. He was for a while assistant to Frank Brangwyn who in turn was assistant to William Morris, creating a resonant Socialist chain of heritage.

The memorial was officially unveiled on 15th March 1956 at a ceremony led by Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The party funded the tomb.

The tomb is topped by the bronze bust of Marx. It sits on a marble pedestal. The words top front on the pedestal – Workers of all lands unite – are the final words of The Communist Manifesto. The central panel – target of the first attack – comes from the original 1883 grave and lists those interred, which include Marx’s housekeeper Helene Demuth. The text at the bottom comes from the conclusion of Marx’s Eleven Theses on Feuerbach.

Marx was a political exile in London, arriving in June 1849. There are various Marx-related London landmarks including at 28 Dean Street, Soho

blue plaque karl marx dean street soho london

2nd floor, 28 Dean St.

and in Maitland Park Road, South End Green/Belsize Park, where he moved in 1875 and remained until his death in 1883. The house there was replaced by a Camden Council housing block in the 50s due to bomb damage from the Blitz.

karl marx brown camden plaque Maitland Park Road belsize park london

site of 41 Maitland Park Road

He wrote Das Kapital in our city, famously using the British Library reading room at the heart of the affluent thinking territory of Bloomsbury.

This month’s attacks are not the first. There were two bombing attempts in the 1970s, including a pipe bomb set off in January 1970 which damaged the front of the memorial.  And there have been numerous other incidents of vandalism ever since its unveiling in 1956. It has had paint daubed over it before. The bronze bust has been dragged off the plinth with ropes.

karl marx tomb vandalised highgate cemetery

Hammer attack on the panel from the original grave

The weapon of choice earlier this month seems to have been a hammer, a rusty one. The words targeted seem to be centred on the second occurrence of his name.

karl marx tomb vandalised at Highgate Cemetery in north London

The second assault was with ironically Communistic red paint.

karl marx tomb vandalised at Highgate Cemetery in north London

The daubed words include “doctrine of hate”, “architect of genocide” and “memorial to Bolshevik holocaust 1917 1953 66,000,000 dead”.

Morgan: a suitable case for treatment karl marx tomb 1966 movie film

Morgan: a suitable case for treatment – David Warner as Morgan

One of my first encounters with the tomb was as a teenager getting deeply into cinema, watching the 1966 film Morgan: a suitable case for treatment directed by Czech-British director Karel Reisz. He was a child refugee from the other more famous Holocaust, rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton along with 668 others. Both his parents died in Auschwitz.

Morgan: a suitable case for treatment karl marx tomb 1966 movie film

The Friends of Highgate Cemetery called the hammer attack “a particularly inarticulate form of political comment”. Suits the times.

After the first attack the Metropolitan Police said: “Initial enquiries have been completed and at this stage the investigation has been closed. If any further information comes to light, this will be investigated accordingly.” Another sign of the times.

Officials from the cemetery are getting in touch with the tomb’s owners, the Marx Grave Trust (based at the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell). The monument is uninsured. They are to discuss the possibility of installing CCTV around it.

After the second attack the Metropolitan Police said they had received a report of criminal damage at around 10.50am on Saturday. “There have been no arrests. We would appeal to anyone who has any information to contact us.” The Met spokesman also confirmed no arrests had been made over the 4th February attack.

The quality of political debate in this country is about on a level with the effectiveness of an over-stretched police force. Morgan would love it.

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

 

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.

302124d5e9e2e722cf5e21ff02f37687

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

david-hockney-henry-geldzahler-and-christopher-scott-1968

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

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