A weekend of parts. Finally to Paris for the Bartabus spectacle, storm damaged railtracks notwithstanding. The prospect is tantalising as this show is themed to a Tom Waites soundtrack, and with Bartabus's penchant for the dark side it should be memorable.The spectacle this year is a cause celebre as Tom Waites is suing Bartabus for half a million euros. He claims no proper permissions were sought and his artist's rights are being subverted, going to be no winners there then!
Well the winners were those who got to Aubervilliers. Angels descend from the heavens to bareback mounts and cossack leap through a snowstorm, rattling skeletons gallop helter skelter, a careering Percheron carries half a dozen hoop jumping anges, high wire acrobats teeter precariously above a somnambulist herd of greys. Between these breathtaking passages Bartabus performs poetic vignettes, on a succession of superb horses he demonstrates the most complex and skilful dressage riding. This is all accompanied by full tilt Tom Waites and a carnivali band that could give you nightmares. Dustbowl soul, the man in black Johnny Cash is in their somewhere, probably waltzing with Rebecca Horn. Oh, I nearly forgot the turkeys, brilliant.
I was aware of Tyson, the Artmachine, the Turner Prize, the Large Field Array and he was unlikely to be an artist that would speak to me, to be honest I had him down as another over ambitious, celebrity, turbine hall tosspot. I probably still do but I had a thoroughly entertaining hour with his drawings. I suspect I have been slightly drawing starved, it was such a joy to see so much expended effort.
The drawings are raw, uneven in quality and studied in their unselfconsciousness, the quasi science is interesting tosh, and a hook to hang on, I'm old enough to have lived through the heady days of ley lines, anyway I really enjoyed them. The drawing here is not typical, Tyson claims he produces the drawings as one would use a sketchbook, interesting claim, and the ideas and techniques just proliferate.
This is probably the most appropriate week ever to be looking at Sargent's 1919 masterpiece 'Gassing'. It is not, however, for remembrance that I have sought out this harrowing, beautiful and hypnotic image. Imagine being in a classroom with thirty fourteen year olds, you can't, nobody can, it's too much, that's an imagining too far. So let's get real, not a roomful, two or three, manageable and little likelihood of hostage taking. You are going to talk about man's inhumanity, suffering, futility, all that stuff. Well these youngsters are the absorbent tissues of our time, surrounded on all sides by imagery, it's an entirely visual world, screw the text give us the pictures, and they get them. Phones, tablets, games, movies, laptops, televisions spewing forth shock and horror it's unremitting. Everyone is an artist these days but for sure everyone is a photographer. In every corpse strewn street, bombed bazaar, railcrash, murder scene there are a dozen desperate dipsticks, hopeful Mcullin's, eager to keep the insatiable web supplied with carrion, and the bleeding and battered babies just don't cut it anymore, barely a wince. So how to proceed with our eager beavers, let's move on from the voyeuristic, journalistic, hapchance and seek out something more considered, perhaps a more subtle approach. The 'Gassing' could get you to the start line. This powerful image has been, in it's making, through the intellectual riddler a dozen times. Nothing here is unconsidered, nothing here is accidentally included, all has been rigorously reasoned, the colour range, harmonies, tones, compositional structures, all has been done to draw you gently in and when you have entered it's world it will ask the questions and the more you understand about painting the clearer the answers become. So here is stuff to be learnt, a language no less. A language with a great history, of great antiquity but which is still evolving, a complex language full of symbolism, metaphor, chemistry, geometry, heart and soul and so on. Last year 830 students who had had a stab at learning a little of this language were examined on their knowledge, not entirely a bad thing, but they could well be amongst the last to suffer this appalling trial. The AQA examination board, the only board offering History of Art A level has decided to drop the subject. In line with the Government instructions to take a fresh look at A level syllabuses, AQA had designed a new course with a broader focus than the previous course, encompassing world cultures, a multi ethnic approach, was there ever a time when this was more appropriate. AQA have now axed the course for economic reasons, they say ''it is challenging to mark and award because of the specialist nature of the topics'',' and they have ''difficulties in recruiting sufficient experienced examiners''. Give us a break, AQA are trying hard not to say,''there's no profit left in this.'' Brilliant, you just know this is the legacy of that prat Gove. There is an online petition, go to change.org. You would assume outrage amongst those remotely involved in art education, check out the Donald Trump of art critics in the Guardian. Mr Jonathan Jones, staggering under the weight of his gigantic chip, he is happy to kiss A level Art goodbye as it is an 'elitist' subject, talk about insecurity or what, I am not going to persist with this it will get vitriolic. You can of course always rely on Courbet for the apposite comment, brilliant.
From my breather I look across the tilled hectares to a distant red roofed ruinous farmhouse, punctured barns and deserted well, but for this image my lane in it's splendour could be anywhere in Northern Europe or Angleterre, but this architectural litter roots it in Normandy. It's a question of scale, in little England all has become commutable, renovation, restoration, retreat from the city but here there is enough to be careless, farms are abandoned, families retreat, banished in the face of John Deere and land consolidation. So the morning air has a slight whiff of mortality, how many more seasonal bedtimes are in the script, perhaps not the fingers on one hand, what better to conjure then, than a descent, a deposition.
For me there are only two great descents, the Beckman and the Caravaggio, there is a processional deposition which I like, by the Swiss artist Ciseri, but it's really about something else. Beckman, brilliant, he will discomfort you at every turn, of all the modern masters, Beckman took on the big Renaissance themes with gusto and bashed them into a contemporary language. I love him, but I'm not sure I could live with him. This painting was made in 1917, it rivals the great religious paintings of medieval Germany but it's not it's backward glance that troubles, it is the premonitory nature of the images, here is the nightmare of the camps, Buchenwald and the unmentionable rest. No careful descent then, no gentle lowering on winding sheets, this is a dismantling, the bruised, unsightly, scabrous corpse full of rigor is being disposed of in a totally irreverent and very workmanlike manner, a piece of work this. Well peel away the layers, the myriad of allusions, decipher the symbols, this is genius. If any doubt lingers then go to Beckman's 'The Night', that could really stop you sleeping. To maximise on this wonderful stuff you should enjoy it in the company of Leonard Cohen, that's a really interesting combination, because like Max, Leonard has premonitions, he's seen the future and it's murder. I was going to tell you how much I love Saint Nicodemis and Sutherland's 'Carrying the Cross' but enough fun and frivolity, I'm off up the lane to kick leaves.
AGED AND AWKWARD