Tag: painting

Starry Skies, Chapter 9: Slices of Pie

I had to tell Chockney that we are done with each other. I was trying my best but it could have taken years for him to break through the iron fortress that appeared around me whenever I was in proximity with him and he started talking about commitment. I was going to let him come over and do some building work at my flat but then I had a magical third date with Harry which made me want to save my free time for him, so that meant Chockney had to be dismissed. I tried to be nice about it. I let him go.

Harry. We looked at paintings, then we had lunch, then we sat on a sofa in the book shop and looked at books about paintings. I could say a lot of things about how I felt and what I thought. Let me try instead to recall what he was saying and doing.

  • We were sleepy after lunch and when I tired of looking at books, he put his arm around me so I could rest my head on his chest.
  • If I offer him my hand, he holds it and strokes it.
  • He put his hand on my waist when we were kissing. He’s not aggressive at all. He’s very delicate and he moves slowly.
  • He made some reference to Our First Date, like it was a thing, which it was. He said happily of our three dates so far (dinner, opera, paintings) that they were all really nice days. I’m glad he’s enjoying himself, I certainly am. I would look at paintings anyway but it is so nice when you have a young companion who kisses you and says intelligent things.
  • He said that I am the first person who has had anything positive to say about his work. Everyone else he has tried to date disapproves. But it is his job. It’s a lot easier sustaining or even starting a dating relationship when the other person isn’t dead set against your job. In subsequent text messages, he was quite chatty on the subject.
  • I invited him over to my place, he is coming on Sunday. He said ‘afternoon or evening?’ and I said ‘afternoon, but don’t book anything for the evening, we’ll go out and have dinner locally’. This reply made him look happy.

When I see him, it will be our fourth date. And that’s why Chockney had to go.

We went to see Wayne Thiebaud at White Cube in Piccadilly. I absolutely love WT, he is one of my favourite artists. American post-war painting of cakes, slices of pie, sweets, lollipops, ice creams, bubble gum machines. Brush strokes are thick. Shadows are heavy and long. Lollipops lie slain. Donuts are kept in isolation. Quite often, pairs of things appear but are not allowed to have any contact. It criticises mass-produced, synthetic, post-war, commercial food at the same time as participating in it. The items are both grotesque and strangely delicious looking. I think so, anyway. I would eat most of the things painted by Wayne Thiebaud. Harry didn’t agree on this point and I expect that’s why he’s thinner than I am. The White Cube exhibition is on until 2 July. If you can’t make it to the exhibition, I might point out that there are numerous lovely books about Thiebaud here and you should probably have one for your art library.

Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932

I went to see the Russian Art exhibition that is on at the Royal Academy.

It’s quite a large exhibition. It describes a fifteen-year period following the Russian Revolution when artists working in many different media (painting, sculpture, textiles, ceramics), representing various different schools, including a new avant-garde movement, made art for a new Russia. A post-revolutionary Russia where the old, imperialist ideas and religion were dispensed with in favour of industry, collectivism and the state. Interestingly, it seems that Stalin took art much more seriously than Lenin. He knew that, under his reign of terror, he could make individual artists disappear if they said counter-revolutionary things, but he could not reduce the impact of their work. And that is why Stalin eventually decreed that Socialist Realism was the only acceptable art form and the avant-garde was suppressed.

I was very interested indeed to see the painted cups and plates. An Imperial Porcelain Factory was founded in St Petersburg in 1744. For 150 years it produced ceramics of the highest quality which were hand-painted. These items were for the use of the monarchy and the imperial court. After the revolution the factory was seized and renamed the State Porcelain Factory and artists began to paint the plates and cups with propaganda images that would suit the new regime.

I was particularly taken with this plate, painted by Mikhail Adamovich in 1924. It shows Lenin’s mausoleum (Lenin died in 1924 which is when Stalin took over). I had never seen ceramics painted in that style before. It uses enamel paint and gilding. The exhibition features quite a lot of these ceramics and now I want to get some plain, white plates and paint them.

adamovich plate

A section of the exhibition focuses on Symbolism, a romantic and idealistic style of painting that was left over from the 19th century and threatened by the new Soviet politics. It regularly focused on religious subjects and argued for the preservation of churches and the Christian faith. While I personally disapprove of Christianity, there is no denying the beauty of Russian Symbolist paintings.

Mikhail Nesterov, Philosophers, 1917 (the philosophers are Russian orthodox theologians Pavel Florensky, in white, and Sergei Bulgakov, in black).

Nesterov philosophers

Konstantin Yuon, The Day of Annunciation, 1922

yuon annunciation

Finally, a little sport. Both these paintings are by Alexander Samokhvalov, 1932 (Girl in a Football Jersey, right) and 1933 (Sportswoman with a Shot-put, left). Before the revolution, sport was for wealthy, leisured men. After the revolution, efforts were made to extend sport to everyone, especially women. Physical education of the young was regarded as very important for producing fit and healthy Communist citizens and future soldiers.

samokhvalolv

Annual sports parades were held in Moscow’s Red Square during this period. Here’s a video of one such parade in the 1930s. The film is edited so that Stalin regularly appears, looking approving.

The exhibition continues until 17 April.

America After The Fall: Painting in the 1930s

America After The Fall is an exhibition that is currently on at the Royal Academy in London. The Fall refers to the period of economic depression that followed the stock market crash in 1929. People lost their jobs, homes and savings and there was massive poverty, despair and social upheaval. People who stayed in rural areas watched wheat and cotton prices falling, meaning that they needed to produce more crops for the same money, and they over-farmed the land until it turned to dust and could give no more. Share-croppers, people who did not own the land they worked on but took a small percentage of profits, found themselves in a poverty trap where they couldn’t make enough money to survive or to move. People with a little bit more money migrated to the cities to look for work and meanwhile city-dwelling, newly unemployed workers in construction and heavy manufacturing moved back to rural areas to work the family farm.

People looked to the government to somehow rescue the situation and voted in Franklin Roosevelt, who introduced The New Deal, an economic stimulus package that created hundreds of jobs for people including up to 10,000 artists as a result of commissioning public art. This was also the very beginning of the golden age of Hollywood cinema, as the technology developed to produce ‘talkies’ rather than the silent films of the 1920s, providing a cheap form of entertainment for millions of people – a ticket cost about 20 cents.

This well-curated exhibition tells the story through 50 paintings, organised into themes such as city life, the country and heavy industry. I will not attempt to recount the entire story here but I will point out a few of the works that particularly struck me.

Edward Hopper, Gas, 1940

gas

A typical Hopper painting. A solitary human is both participant and observer. A brightly-illuminated interior and a dark, rather mysterious exterior. Liminal spaces – is this the road between the city and the country in which impoverished, Depression-era migrants were travelling in both directions? What awaits them?

Grant Wood, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931

wood revere

Revere was an American patriot who was involved in the American Revolution in the 18th century. He is remembered for his epic horse ride in New England in 1775, in which he warned American militia of the approach of British forces. I was captivated by the birds-eye view which allows you take in so much of the town and country and also by the toy-like architecture of the houses and the church. In fact,  the whole thing looks like a model village or even a picturesque video game.

William H Johnson, Street Life, Harlem, 1939

johnson street life

A well-dressed African-American couple step out for the evening in Harlem. I wish any of my dates were ever that stylish.

Joe Jones, American Justice, 1933

jones justice

Meanwhile, in the Deep South. The ironic title of this painting communicates the absence of justice. The woman in the foreground has had her house burned down and is about to be hanged and of course the white, hooded figures are Klansmen. Needless to say, these were extra-judicial, unlawful killings and virtually no-one was prosecuted.

America After The Fall is on until 4 June, so you have plenty of time to go and see it.

South Africa at the British Museum

This exhibition is on until 26 February, so you still have time to go. It was highly relevant for me because I was just in South Africa a few months ago, learning as much as possible about the country and culture.

Items in the exhibition include some very ancient artefacts but the aspects I found the most interesting were the political items from the 1980s and 90s and then the contemporary art.

I want to point out several things without writing a blog post that’s the length of a book. See how many of these things you can spot.

  • A black cherub with an AK-47 and a red nose. The red nose was made famous by British charity Comic Relief, which has been criticised for investing the money it raises in oppressive companies and industries in the countries it claims to help. Artist Johannes Phokela says: “Once I bought a red nose and it fell off when I tried to fit it on to my nose. That’s when I found out that the noses were not designed to be worn by someone with a flat nose like mine.”
  • A maid in a Victorian dress. When I was in South Africa, I saw cleaners in shops and also domestic maids wearing dresses that were not much better than this, just with knee-length instead of floor-length skirts. Sculpture by Mary Sibande.
  • A conspicuously white person absurdly inserted into a black African soap opera (Candice Breitz).
  • A sangoma (a shaman, a healer) holding a consultation (Siyazama Project).
  • Human figures with horns (Jane Alexander).
  • Steve Biko, who died in police custody (Sam Nhlengethwa).
  • A 1994 ballot paper, showing both Nelson Mandela (ANC) and F W de Klerk (National Party).
  • Black workers sleeping on a bus (David Goldblatt). Public transport is important in South Africa. When apartheid was introduced, black people were evicted from their homes and forced to relocate to designated areas which of course were in undesirable and inconvenient locations on the outskirts of cities. Therefore the cleaners and domestic workers who I mentioned above, who aren’t being paid a whole lot, are travelling very long distances for the privilege of getting to these demeaning jobs. A significant amount of their time and their money is sunk into bus travel. The workers in this picture are sleeping because they do not get adequate time for sleeping at home.