Ged Quinn

The Fall 2006
Oil on Canvas. 153 x 250cm
Saatchi Gallery, London
19 August 2010

I must admit I was a little disappointed with the Newspeak: British Art Now (Part 1) exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, there was certainly some quality work, but overall it lacked the impact of the Sensation exhibitition at the Royal Academy in 1997.

One of the artists that did catch my eye was 47 year old Cornwall based painter, Ged Quinn. Several of Quinn’s large landscapes and still lives shared a room with Sigrid Holmwood’s pastich fluorescent paintings of early Van Gogh. Quinn draws on an even earlier source of inspiration, the feathered landscapes of Claude Lorrain.

Ged Quinn The Fall 183x250.jpg

“The Fall” is based on the Claude’s Arcadian setting for his 1668 painting “The Expulsion of Hagar” to which Quinn has added poet and dramatist Antonin Arnaud falling from the sky towards a ramshackle burnt out shed. The painting is clearly layed with meaning and the references from recent history becomes “blots” on the Romantic styled landscape. The shot down Antonin Artaud, the creator of the Theatre of Cruelty, is swathed in combat-plane camouflage refers to Lucifer's fall from grace in Milton's Paradise Lost. The shed is Thomas Edison's first purpose-built film production studio, the “Black Maria”, and it is decorated with Artaud's work. I must admit to a weakness to spending time trying to work out the references in his paintings rather than trying to decipher what the whole might mean.

Black-Maria.jpg

In the Theatre of Cruelty, Artaud was trying to revolutionise theatre - figuratively burn it to the ground so that it could start again. He was trying to connect people with something more primal, honest and true within themselves that had been lost for most people. He believed that text had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language that lay halfway between thought and gesture. This has interesting parallels with the theory surrounding the death of painting and provides us with the link to the film industry, where everything is false. Artaud believed in physical expression, something lacking in Claude’s “old fashioned” picturesque landscape painting. It is typical of the mediated vision of the ideal landscape that we all have in our mind's eye and is no longer radical, any power it once had has been bled away by mechanical reproduction.

Claude_Lorrain_-_Die_Verstoßung_der_Hagar_(1668).jpg

A knowledge of the subject of the original Claude painting may provide a different interpretation, it shows Hagar and Ishmael being banished into the desert of Beersheba by Abraham. The original is set in the cool light of morning and is paired by a second painting (a pendant) set in an evening desert landscape when the archangel Michael appears to the sorry couple and leads them to a well, saving them from dying of thirst. In Quinn’s painting centuries have passed, Hagar and Ishmael long gone, the temple derelict and fragments of columns and pediments lying in the foreground, but the cool light of dawn remains. Is this the truth that Quinn wants to represent in his “Theatre of Cruelty”?

©blackdog 2010

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh
The Sower, 1888
Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 cm
Royal Academy, London
10th March 2010

Unfortunately the recent exhibition of van Gogh’s letters, drawings and paintings proved to be so popular that it was difficult to even stand still in the press of the crowds in the Royal Academy. However, there were a lot of fine paintings on display and it was especially interesting to see them accompanied by his descriptive letters.

I had gone with the intention of reviewing his portrait of the stoic and melancholic looking Madame Ginoux (L’Arlesienne, 1888) but instead I was captivated by a small jewel like version of The Sower painted in the same year. It is a theme he had addressed several times before, originally inspired by the work of Jean-François Millet, a painter who idealised the ‘monumental’ work of French peasants.

The Sower Vincent van Gogh

This version is very much his own though, and shows the influences of Japanese prints on his style. In a letter to his brother Theo from around 21st November of 1888, Van Gogh drew a sketch of the Sower and described the colours he was using “Here’s a croquis of the latest canvas I’m working on, another sower. Immense lemon yellow disc for the sun. Green-yellow sky with pink clouds. The field is violet, the sower and the tree Prussian Blue”[1] . The faceless sower works on the left of a canvas divided by a pollarded willow, a motif that had appeared in a watercolour sketch from 1882. The landscape is schematic and flat, but a strong diagonal leads the eye to the huge yellow ball of the setting sun that almost becomes a halo for the working peasant.

Sower with Setting Sun.jpg

The colour is laid on with short definite brush marks with all the energy of someone working hard against the clock. This energetic expressive brushwork not only adds to the vibrancy of the colour in the painting but also serves to dispense with some elements of ‘reality’ in order to highlight others, particularly the sense of twilight. The lavender touches to the fields provide a strong complimentary contrast to the sun making it jump forwards. But despite the strength of the yellow, there is a darkness to the image, as both the foreground subjects, the sower and the tree, appear as dark silhouettes. It is this combination of denial of detail and unusual colour choices, such as the lime green skies casting a sickly pallor over his homestead on the horizon that perhaps reveal a hidden truth about van Gogh’s version of reality and gives the painting its melancholic feel.

[1] Letter 772 (To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Wednesday, 21 November 1888)

 http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let722/letter.html

©blackdog 2010

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse
The Piano Lesson, 1916
Oil on canvas 245 x 212cm
MoMA, New York
21st November 1999

 

This was my first visit to MoMA and I saw so many ‘great’ paintings for the first time that I find it difficult to even remember them all. However, two paintings made such an impression that I will not forget the experience. One was Les Demoiselles D'Avignon by Picasso and the other was this painting by Magritte.

I remember being really surprised just how thin the paint was, Matisse uses a very loose scumbling of opaque paint over the canvas allowing the scrubby brush marks to be clearly seen. The result is a very lively surface although the hues are unmixed. Instead he gives striking contrasts between these rhythmically arranged flat planes of colour, that suggest an experimentation with the ideas of cubism. The colour scheme is predominantly sombre greys which combined with the sketchy brush work give the painting an ethereal melancholic air.

1916-Henri Matisse-The Piano Lesson

The painting is of Matisse's son having a piano lesson who gazes at the viewer with one eye, the other is obscured with paint. There is a woman, who might be his teacher watching him from behind. There is a balcony on the open window on the left that looks out onto a triangle of grass, and its wrought iron work echoes the music stand on the piano.

1916-Henri Matisse-woman on high stool.jpg

Painted in 1916 at the Matisse home outside of Paris, it is a combination of Matisse’s memory of a time when he was made to study the piano as a young boy and his son Pierre starting to learn 6 years earlier (his elder brother volunteered to fight in the First World War in 1916). The 'piano teacher' is actually a figure in a painting who seems to glare down upon the young pupil. It is a schematic rendition of Matisse's Woman on a High Stool that was hung in the apartment unable to be shipped to his Russian collector Schchukin on account of the war. He also painted one of his bronze sculptures in the lower left-hand foreground. This combination of his own works of art with the image of the memory of his own son playing music make an intensely personal and moving painting.

©blackdog 2009

Dexter Dalwood

Dexter Dalwood
Double Portrait Camden Town, 2013
Oil on Canvas 150 x 220cm
Simon Lee Gallery, London
20 November 2014

I have been looking forward to seeing new work by Dexter Dalwood for some time and my visit to his current show at the Simon Lee Gallery (until 24 January 2015) in London didn’t disappoint.  I was keen to see how his work has changed since his exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in 2010.  He still uses the collage technique in a similar way, not only using photographic sources, but also fragments or allusions to paintings by other artists.   This collage of ideas generates an image from which he paints an imaginary 'space', but the place in this exhibition is confined to London and the subjects are more strictly personal rather than historical moments of earlier works.

The paintings seem to be about personal memories and associations of past life and times in London.  But as Jorge Luis Borges [1] points out, memories are created in the present and meanings alter slightly with things added and taken away through each recall.  I read the paintings as referencing how this process of retrieval of memory involves thinking about a memory in a new way – rather than just being a faithful record of the past.  They are an assembly of scraps of information that reconstruct Dalwood’s memories morphed through experience rather than images of a static point in time. 

     Double Portrait Camden Town, 2013   Oil on Canvas 150 x 220cm

 

Double Portrait Camden Town, 2013Oil on Canvas 150 x 220cm

Dalwood has often said that you don’t need to get the references to enjoy the work and in a recent interview for Time Out [2] challenged anyone to try.  Whilst that may be the case, I feel that knowing the references helps both understanding and enjoyment of the work and as I like nothing better than a challenge, I thought I would make the attempt for "Double Portrait Camden Town".

Looking at the painting I see two possible references immediately.  The first is that the copper coloured background with the verdigris coloured blobs is a reference to the ‘piss paintings’ of Andy Warhol.  In these works Warhol was paraphrasing Abstract Expressionism in an ironic way by randomly spraying his screen prints with urine such that the copper sulphate paint oxidised.  The painting Dalwood has used is a 1982 portrait of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat who had an obsession with Warhol and later collaborated with him. His use of a double image of the portrait is suggestive of a Rorschach ink blot used by psychologists to determine underlying personality and emotional functioning. 

  Basquiat,  1982 Black photo-silkscreen over oxidized copper

Basquiat, 1982 Black photo-silkscreen over oxidized copper

The second, if I am correct, has a clearer connection to Camden Town.  The chest of drawers at the bottom of the painting reminded me of the cheap yellow-brown dresser in Walter Sickert’s painting Ennui, 1917.  I initially thought that his Camden Town Murder paintings may be the reference but the only similar dresser I could find in this orientation was in Sickert’s Mornington Crescent Nude, Contre-Jour of 1907.  However, the connection may simply be that the location of Ennui is Sickert’s studio in Granby Street, Camden Town.

  Ennui , 1914 Oil on Canvas 152x112cm

Ennui, 1914 Oil on Canvas 152x112cm

In his Time Out interview, Dalwood tells us that the painting is partly “about where Verlaine and Rimbaud lived up in Royal College Street in Camden” [3] so Ennui may well be linked to this intention.  Ennui was a recurring theme running through French literature and poetry of the nineteenth century, both as a subject and a symptom.  It is linked with melancholia; a state of emptiness that the ‘soul’ feels when it is deprived of interest in action, life and the world and featured in Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil), first published in 1857, 16 years before Verlaine and Rimbaud moved to Camden.

  Un Coin de Tabl e, 1872 Oil on Canvas160x225cm

Un Coin de Table, 1872 Oil on Canvas160x225cm

Les Fleurs du mal marked the beginning of Symbolism, where symbolic imagery was used to signify the state of the poet's soul, as a movement in France and was developed by Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and 1870s.  The use of Symbolism in turn leads us to the two vases of flowers on the dresser.  I cannot place the source of the images for the flowers but the reference to their use may be to the painting Un coin de table, 1872 by Henri Fantin-Latour. It is a portrait of the Parnassus poetry group and shows the men are gathered around the far end of a table after a meal. Those present include: Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, but two figures are missing: Charles Baudelaire, to whom the painting was initially to have been a tribute, who died in 1867 and Albert Mérat who did not want to be painted in the company of the diabolic poets Verlaine and Rimbaud and was reputedly replaced by a bunch of flowers.

Dalwood says he “wanted to make a painting about the younger protagonist and the elder, the idea that someone is mentoring someone else” and I think that the pairings are evoked perfectly albeit differently.  He also draws parallels with the hedonistic openly provocative lifestyle of the two younger men but the connection of Warhol and Basquiat to Camden is more opaque and is probably personal the portrait of Basquiat coinciding with Dalwood’s time at St. Martin’s School of Art in London.  

So the titles provides the clue and the cool treatment leaves room for the viewer’s imagination and interpretation, but I still maintain that the experience of the work will be much richer for those viewers who can make the associations between the subject and the quotations from painting’s history - I just wish I could spot them all.

©blackdog 2014


[1] “Memory changes things. Every time we remember something, after the first time, we’re not remembering the event, but the first memory of the event. Then the experience of the second memory and so on.”

Jorge Luis Borges

[2] “There's no way any one viewer will get all the references. It's not a checklist.”

Dexter Dalwood

[3]They stayed at 8 Great College Street  (now Royal College Street), where a little plaque commemorates their stay between May and July 1873. 

James Cambell

Wilhelm Sasnal

Wilhelm Sasnal
Girl Smoking (Anka)
Oil on Canvas 45 x 50 cm
Saatchi Gallery, London
7 August 2005

I first saw paintings by Sasnal in the "Urgent Painting" exhibition in Paris in 2000 and this one was my favourite. It was a big influence both on how I wanted to paint and my choice of "Backs" as a subject. Since then I have not even been able to see a reproduction of the painting so this was a special day for me.

I must admit I was a little disappointed and felt it lacked the impact it had first had. This may have had something to do with the hang - in Paris it was part of a group of his paintings and was hung in a very dynamic way - here it was one of a group of three similar works conventionally hung in a small side room.

Able to get much closer here, and deduce how it was painted. Clearly drawn beforehand as the sketch is just visible in parts.

74 Wilhelm-Sasnal-Anka.jpg

Worked back to front, with the figure painted last. Medium thick paint and the brushwork can be seen. Edges are very sharp on the figure and the treatment of the hair is very good. I would say the face was dry before the hair was done. More fuzzy with blending of edges in the background, which gives a good sense of depth. Not frightened of using and showing shorter brushstrokes in difficult area eg between the chin and the shoulder.

Never thought of it at the time, nor made the connection since, but this painting is in effect a miniature Alex Katz. It is also pretty much a one off for Sasnal, most of his work being monochrome and derived from Luc Tuymans' style. Crucially, this brightness of the palette works against the inherent sadness of the image giving us a feeling of anticipation and hope, whereas his usual approach would have changed the mood completely.

2001-Dominika-33x33.jpeg

Another painting in the same group Girl Smoking (Dominika) 2001, Oil on Canvas 33 x 33cm, is much closer to his usual style of painting and the references to Black and White photography are clear. Also the colour scheme seems to reinforce the use of the burning cigarette as a metaphor for transience and slow decay.

© Mike Newton 2018

Adrian Ghenie

Adrian Ghenie

Dada is Dead 2009
Oil on Canvas 220 x 200 cm
Haunch of Venison, London
23rd May 2009


This was the first time I had seen work by this young Romanian painter and it certainly was well suited to the Haunch of Venison’s new home in the old Museum of Mankind in Burlington Gardens, behind the Royal Academy. The show was rather obliquely titled “Darkness for an Hour” referring to the protest about global warming earlier in 2009. As the body of work revolved around two themes; Dada and the custard pie comedy of Laurel and Hardy, I couldn’t see the connection. However, the work made up for it and the paintings were sympathetically hung over four rooms. This allowed the twin themes to develop an interesting dialogue between the seriousness of the works related to Dada and the absurdity of Hollywood slapstick film stars.

2009-adrian-ghenie-dada-is-dead-220x200.jpeg

The painting I have chosen is based upon a surviving documentary photograph of the First International Dada-Fair which was held in the Galerie Buchard, Berlin in summer 1920. This “exhibition” was both the climax of the Berlin Dada movement and its last public event. The organisers exhibited 174 "products" that they proclaimed "Anti-Art" ignoring traditional distinctions between original works and prints, and displayed provocative poster-manifestos on the walls.

1920 Dada Fair.jpg

The large political paintings by Otto Dix, "The War Cripples (45% Employable)" 1920 and George Grosz, "Germany, a Winter’s Tale" 1917 that were subsequently destroyed during the National Socialist period, can be seen on the left and right hand walls respectively. The suspension from the ceiling of a figure with the head of a pig and wearing an officer's uniform was taken as an insult to the honour of the Ministry of Defence of the Weimar Republic and the resulting court case, which could have ended in a death penalty, fortunately only resulted in a small fine.
 

2009 dada-is-dead study 52x42.jpeg

Ghenie’s working process has been to use a large copy of the image and then abstract it by painting over areas, adding in what could be another Dada reference; Joseph Beuys’ coyote from his 1974 action piece “I like America and America likes me”, or maybe a wolf signifying the ghost of the National Socialism that is caught prowling the room biding his time. In the finished painting the last vestiges of the gallery goers have been replaced by a work that definitely wasn’t in the 1920 exhibition, “Black Cross” 1923 by Kazimer Malevich.

Although the work is given a definite melancholy air by its subject matter and reference points, I couldn’t help smiling at the irony in the image. Instead of painting becoming obsolete as predicted by Marcel Duchamp, the inventor of the “readymade” and the high priest of the “anything goes” art, we have the death of Dada being depicted in a painting almost a Century later. The pendulum will no doubt swing against painting again but it is a measure of the confidence in the medium that a young artist can paint with such vigour, have the nerve to use appropriation to make pronounce the death of the very movement that proposed it as a valid artistic strategy. But then as Marcel Duchamp says “the title is just another colour; it just doesn’t come out of a tube.”

©mike newton 2018

Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville
Voice of the Shuttle (Philomela), 2014-15
Oil on Canvas (dimensions unknown)
Royal Academy, London
29 January 2015


In "La Peregrina" at the Royal Academy in London, Jenny Saville RA has curated an exhibition to show the influence of Rubens on 20th and 21st century artists ranging from Picasso to Sarah Lucas.  As part of this personal response she has included a new painting of her own called "The Voice of the Shuttle (Philomela)" based on a myth depicted by Rubens (“The Banquet of Tereus”, 1636-37 Museo Nacional del Prado).

 

The large canvas is dominated by two decapitated heads, named Tereus and Pandion, floating above a tangle of limbs in the foreground of a blasted landscape.  Closer inspection reveals the words “jug jug” amidst the bodies in a spidery charcoal script and a child’s head on the ground to one side.  There are a few sparse abstract painted marks in the centre of the canvas in blue, brown and crimson but the majority of marks are monochrome in either charcoal or paint.  The background of the painting contains some random stains of very dilute paint.

In conversation with Tim Marlow, Director of Artistic Programmes at the RA, Saville explains that the work doesn’t directly quote from the Rubens painting but instead uses the source text from Ovid’s Metamorphoses for her inspiration.  This tells the myth of Philomela, a daughter of Pandion I of Athens who goes to visit her sister, Procne wife of the King Tereus of Thrace.  Tereus accompanies her on the journey but instead of protecting her, rapes her and when she threatens to tell her father he cuts her tongue out.  Imprisoned, Philomela weaves a tapestry that tells her story and sends it to Procne.  Horrified, Procne takes revenge by decapitating their son Itys and serves him to Tereus at a banquet.  When she reveals the head of her son, Tereus takes up an axe to kill the sisters, but the Gods transform them into birds and they take flight.  Procne is transformed into a swallow and Philomela a nightingale, because of course in nature the female nightingale is mute and only the male sings.
 

Without the title it would be difficult to decode the imagery in the painting, because although Saville uses text within the painting to reinforces her theme, e.g. the words Tereus and Pandion, we get no clues from the heads themselves.  They are actually from a photograph of the heads of two notorious brothers, Abel and Auguste Pollet, guillotined in 1909 for crimes including robbery and murder (no mention was made of rape). The words “jug jug” make an additional literary reference, this time to T S Eliot who in turn directly referenced the myth of Philomela in his epic poem “The Waste Land” and evokes of the call of the nightingale. 

The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
"Jug Jug" to dirty ears.

Eliot, T(homas) S(tearns). "The Waste Land" (Faber & Faber: London, 1972) lines 99–103

E01220.JPG

The final photographic source is the landscape, taken from a photograph of gaunt bare tree trunks in the devastated Chateau Wood, a portion of one of the battlegrounds in Ypres taken in 1917, which gives structural depth to the painting and provides a contemporary context.

Saville comments on the rarity of images in art to do with rape and how when talking about art “the issue of rape, the abduction of a woman’s body is never discussed”.  She acknowledges the difficulty of depicting rape in a painting and in this work uses a variety of sources to support her theme.  Perhaps best known for painting monumental close-ups of large nude women, Saville dispenses with any Rubenesque fleshy paint to savour, keeping the mood of the painting as grim as its subject.  The style adopted is a continuation of her relatively recent experimentation with pentimenti. These altered marks found in a traditional painting usually suggest that a correction of a pose was made in the under-drawing for the work.  Here they are clearly visible on the canvas and work in a totally different way depicting elapsed time as the artist strives to resolve the image and evoking the violent struggle in the tangled bodies on her canvas.  Although the face of the male perpetrator is hidden in melée of body parts, Saville has included as historical avatars the Pollet brothers, executed for their guilt 100 years earlier. This ensures the rape is not seen as a sexual impulse that has got out of control but as an aggressive and violent manifestation of sexuality. The introduction of the battlefield reminds us that rape was seen as an unpleasant but inevitable by-product of war that only recently was deemed a severe a breach of conventions.

©Mike Newton 2018

La Peregrina was showing as part of the exhibition Rubens and his Legacy at the Royal Academy, London, WC2, until April 10, 2015.


(44-020-730- 8000; www.royalacademy.org.uk)