This piece is not authored by myself but consists of extracts from a conversation I had with a friend and which I felt were fascinating and deserved a wider readership, so his thoughts on the Blue/Green dilemma.....
French preserves this as a hybrid, from the Greek 'glauque' [ Homer describes the sea as glaukos], in English you hardly ever hear the term 'glaucous', other than in the condition of glaucoma, which implies a certain cloudiness, or opacity, even greyness glaukommatos, grey-eyed..........
.............There was a scene which had Van Gogh staring into a glass of absinthe, It was only commented upon in the drama in relation to the effects of alcohol on an unstable mind, but the vision would surely also have been experienced by Vincent [as by other artists pretty much from Monet onwards] as a colour phenomenum: the swirl of the 'louche' as the sugar releases the herbal essences - before the 'green fairy' emerges.....
The English term 'louche' conveys this idea of shadiness, whose moral associations are transferred from from the French [notably in that rather 'shady' field of late nineteenth-century criminology which extrapolates from physical to psychological attributes] but without so much the ocular substrate: 'loucher' in French means 'to squint' and derives from the Latin 'lusca', feminine of luscus, 'blind in one eye'. [i.e. people who squint are dodgy].........
New Order's 1982 track 'Temptation' has a refrain which goes,
' Oh you've got green eyes....oh you've got blue eyes.....oh you've got grey eyes'
Which echoes a lot of the really obsessively repetitive rhythms of the Belgian symbolist poet Maurice Maeterlink, which foreshadows Beckett and which, like so much else, comes straight out of Baudelaire, notably his poem 'Ciel Brouillie', [Cloudy Sky].
Van Gogh with absinthe: Toulouse Lautrec Angel Fernandez de Soto: Picasso
Cloudy Sky: Charles Baudelaire. [first verse]
One would say that your gaze was veiled with mist;
Your mysterious eyes [are they blue, grey or green?]
Alternately tender, dreamy, cruel,
Reflect the indolence and pallor of the sky.
This poem has always struck me as the perfect symbolist precursor because of the way the observation is heightened by analogy: so the eyes give way to mood, environment, and finally a kind of lethargy.
Thanks to J.W.
I explained to my grand daughter that I had been awake since the end of the Second World War and it was in fact very probably time I was asleep. Not dissuaded she spent half an hour explaining that I might be awake but I was not yet 'woke'. This was not entirely a waste of time as I realised that had I been 'woke' I would not have so readily dismissed the 2021 Turner Prize winning entry as a piece of third rate flim flam.
The piece is intended to reproduce, replicate, conjure the interior of a 'Sibin', a Northern Irish bar. It was produced by a Northern Irish activist group, the Array Collective. The Collective are clearly very woke. The jury admired the lightness of touch, play, conviviality and sense of carnival along with the hidden messages about sexuality and identity. The problem with having been around for so long is that one has been immersed in art for over half a century and 'woke' or not one can spot the fatuous a block away. Beyond a superficial relevance to societies ills one expects artistic rigour. I presume none of the Turner Prize jurors have ever visited the Beanery!
I 'dropped' into the Beanery on a visit to the Stedelijk some twenty years ago. Ed Keinholz created the Beanery in 1965, a scaled replica of Barney's Beanery, a bar Keinholz knew well. It is considered one of the most memorable and important works of the late twentieth century. Visiting the Beanery is a singular and challenging experience, you are instantly immersed in one man's disturbing and provoking vision of American society. It's values and politics are laid bare. Much has been written about this work, it is full of anger, satire and compassion, created over half a century ago, it is now in the world of QAnon and Trump's Republican America, more relevant than ever.
So fifty years hence where will the flimsy, whimsy that is the 'Sibin' be, Stedelijk or skip.
Phillip King died on the 27th July, he was 87 years old. He has been an inspiration for more than half a decade. In 1956 he attended St. Martins where Anthony Caro was the main man, within a year he was on the teaching staff. He was an integral member of the 'New Generation', a group of British artists forging a new sculptural language in the 1960's. His trajectory was set, an illustrious career unfolded, an international reputation, exhibiting worldwide, sculpture in all the major collections, President of the Royal Academy, Professor Emeritus at the Royal College of Art, Trustee of the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery and so on, all the trappings. He is considered by many to be one of the most important British artists of the past half century.
King entered my world in 1963, the Studio International arrived on my doorstep and Genghis Khan blew me away, the first sculpture of the 'New Generation' that stirred my novice imagination. The segmented cones of this time were intriguing and challenging works but Rosebud was a work of genius, sublime in colour and form, a truly poetic and contemplative piece of sculpture, eventually finding it's way to Moma in New York.
Throughout his long career he challenged our perceptions, endlessly innovating, constantly using new and often untried materials, great work was produced, his intellectual rigour and humanity lifted him from the ranks of his contemporaries. Rosebud and Genghis Khan caught me at a particularly receptive moment, they imprinted themselves on my artistic psyche, they are everything I ever thought contemporary sculpture should be. A bright bulb has been extinguished and the room is slightly dimmer but his work will continue to show a way through.
Like hundreds, possibly thousands of 'Etrangers' living in France I journeyed to my administrative centre, in my case Alencon, to complete my application for residency in France. I had thought it a simple straightforward thing to do but providing photographs and having my fingerprints taken was a more disconcerting and reflective process than I had anticipated. I had been, up to a few months ago, a European, a situation I was very happy with, proud of I suspect. Now I had become a foreign resident in what had become a foreign land. How narrowing are the nationalistic notions of much of the population of my native country. So, still British, no longer European but now determinedly Continental. Walter Sickert, one of the fathers of contempory English art had been resolutely Continental. Camden and Dieppe had been twin inspirations, he keenly chronicled life in both and felt an Etranger in neither.
Sickert had close links with Dieppe from his childhood, a regular visitor for over 40 years and a resident from 1898 to 1905. This French connection set him artistically and culturally apart from his contempories in England. Dieppe had a large British expat community and hosted visitors, writers and artists from across the channel all the year round. Rothenstein writes, " Smithers, Symons, Beardsley, Dowson and Conder used often to run over to Dieppe, with it's harbour and quays, it's beautiful churches and dignified streets it had long attracted artists............. I remember Beardsley, Condor and Dowson starting off from the Crown one night, wandering about London, and taking the early boat-train to Dieppe without any luggage......... Beardsley and Dowson coming back a few days later looking the worse for wear. Conder stayed on."
Sickert had been a long time visitor and in 1912 he bought a villa, ten miles from Dieppe, the war of course interrupted his French life but he returned in 1919 with the intention of settling permanently, this time was dogged by his wife's ill health and untimely death. He returned to England in 1922.
In Dieppe, influenced by Degas and his friendships with painters like Monet and Pissarro he developed and honed his own individual style and practice. His open mind and continental connection helped elevate him to greatness. We must hope that the jingoistic mood that pervades the sycophantic Tory right in England will at some point dissipate and the shared cultural heritage we have always enjoyed and benefited from will be fostered once more.
The inmates of the artistic hothouse that was New York in the 1950's were energetic, noisy, narcissistic and in a few cases highly talented individuals. Sometime in the mid-fifties a coterie of gallery owners, investment bankers and curators on the make got the keys to the asylum and let the inmates out, undreamed of wealth was their prize. When I sit to put down a few thoughts I am always conscious that I might be going on a rant so I feel I must preface this piece by saying that I am a great fan of the New York school, Johns, Rauschenberg, Pollock. but with all groups and movements there are those who ride on the bus without a ticket. They are the opportunists who hang in the right bars or climb in the right beds, it's the way of the world. In the foundry when bronze is poured from the crucible into the mould the impurities in the metal the dross or slag which gathers on the surface of the molten bronze are held back to prevent impurities getting into the mould and marring the cast. It appears now that everyone wants to do the pouring but few want to deal with the dross. Where am I going with this, Cy Twombly is where I am going. Twombly is everywhere labelled as a hugely influential artist. This expression should read like a health warning when applied to artists, it gives the impression that all influence is a good and beneficial, it isn't.
Running naked through a shopping precinct with a feather up your bottom could be described as an act of self expression, it could be an influential event for many, how you would measure it's beneficial influence could be problematic. If our naked runner was declaiming Shakespeare as he waggled his feather about we might feel inclined to applaud, admire the choice of text, the angle of the feather, the jetes, the pirouettes or we might just call security! Twombly demonstrated to us the importance of scribble, any child development practitioner will second that notion, then came the daub and the dribble and the scratch and the scrape and the unintelligent scrawl.
Marginally interesting you might think but when the images become linked to the Greek myths, the works of Homer, the poetry of Rilke and John Keats, they acquire a whole new status, they become intellectually invested and consequently influential, more pretention more profit. More importantly they become mega investment opportunities, no one held back the dross, no one called for security. In all honesty I am not as concerned by the works as I should be, what get's me is their legacy, their far from benign influence, the dross that no one calls out that fills our galleries and allows those who didn't buy a ticket to run amok on the upper deck of the bus. A bit of rant then!
I have been reading Lachlan Goudie's 'Story of Scottish Art' and reached the section of the book that deals with William Gear. I have written about Gear before, often referred to as 'the artist that Britain forgot', so no secret that he rates highly with me. What I didn't know about Gear was the fact that during his war service he had become one of the 'Monuments Men'. The officers of the Monuments and Fine Arts division were European and American historians, art experts and curators who were tasked with scouring war torn Europe to save and recover the masses of artworks, cultural and religious artifacts that had been stolen from all over occupied Europe and stock piled by the Nazis in secret locations. Many of these treasures were in danger of destruction by the defeated and retreating Nazis and the search to save them was often a race against the clock. The story of these men was turned into a highly entertaining and successful movie.
Billeted in a German castle with a horde of rescued art and artifacts Gear came across works by artists such as Klee and Kirchner which made a lasting impression upon him, also to make an impression was a visit to the nearby concentration camp of Bergen- Belson. His responses to this experience can be detected in many of the paintings produced in his early post war period. In Germany Gear came into contact with, and was able to help, many artists who had suffered under the Nazi regime. One of these artists was Karl Otto Gotz, who in time joined Cobra, an influential European art movement with which Gear was associated. Weeks before his death Gear received an award in Germany which recognised his work for ' democratic art and artistic freedom'. A citation which encapsulates his lifetime attitude to art and his own career.
I admired William Gear as an outstanding and innovative abstract painter, brilliant colourist, influential teacher and curator, but as with most men of this calibre there is usually a fascinating backstory.
The Maggi Hambling sculpture celebrating the life and work of Mary Wollstonecraft is truly problematic. I celebrate the decision to go with a challenging, thought provoking piece of work, the alternative it appears would have been another bland, safe wax work from the likes of Martin Jennings. So in theory, the choice of an artist capable of producing a meaningful contemporary monument was a brave one. So it's a plus, well no, unfortunately this is simply a really bad piece of sculpture, truly a third rate effort. I fear the response to this work will feed into the mannequin minded and challenging works are going to find it harder to get a place on the plaza! There you go, I have just had a notification that a crowd fund raiser is being organised to raise 15,000 pounds for a Jennings jobbie to be erected on another site, well begger the bourgeois, this is another bad week for public art.
Grayson Perry made the news last week, well intentioned thoughts that produced instant uproar in some quarters of the art world. If you are a national treasure your perusals will always attract attention, and frankly Grayson has a glorious reputation for courting controversy. In an interview Grayson stated " I think every part of life has probably got a bit of fat that needs trimming, a bit of dead wood.......It's awful that the cultural sector has been decimated but I think some things needed to go....... Too often, the audience for culture is just the people making it.......exhibitions put on to impress other curators..." Well I certainly know where Grayson is coming from, and some sympathy with the views expressed, it just seems a little crass to hitch your views about the contemporary artworld to the coronavirus wagon. The pandemic mainly wipes out the poor, those at the bottom the ladder, the well heeled are holed up safely in their country retreats or ivory towers. The dead wood that needs a prune isn't on the shady lower branches of the tree but on the well established growth at the top, basking, bankrolled, in the sunshine. Grayson has since attempted to clarify his thoughts but they're out there now, it's not easy being a treasure.
I have been unmoved by the alter ego, the punditry, the television shows, the panel game appearances but I am going to be ever thankful for the pottery. After fifty years of ash glazes, raku firings, beards and denim clad hand throwers, Grayson grabbed the world of pottery by the throat and took it to new place. Pots could be beautiful again, glazes vibrant, decoration intricate and detailed, and even more it could transmit ideas, make social comment and still get gilded, fantastic. Grayson took pottery from a sad, gloopy boring place and has produced art of great relevance, that's the real treasure.
AGED AND AWKWARD