Sitting in a darkening room yesterday as evening came on, I sensed snowflakes falling beyond the window. Torn by a western wind and rain that had fallen throughout the day, the falling shards of ghostly white were the petals of the magnolia tree that stands in our front garden, planted by us thirty years ago. Every year since, its trunk has thickened and its branches have spread; and every spring before coming into leaf it has put forth its creamy-white, goblet-shaped flowers in growing profusion. This year it reached full maturity, putting on a display that has lit up our window and the entire street. Seeing this annual unfolding fills me with great happiness. Planting this tree three decades ago strikes me now as being one of the most satisfying and valuable things I have ever done. Continue reading “To plant a tree: a love song to a magnolia planted thirty years ago”
The Bluecoat is 300 years old. Miraculously, the oldest building in Liverpool city centre has twice survived the threat of destruction (post-war city planners thought it would be a great idea to replace it with an inner-city ring road) to become one of the UK’s oldest arts centres. Completed in 1725, after two centuries serving as a charity school, in 1907 the building was taken over by a group of artists determined to stimulate Liverpool’s artistic and intellectual life. Two years later they hosted the First Post-Impressionist exhibition that featured work by Matisse, Picasso and others. Today, the contemporary arts continue to be showcased in this Grade One listed building. I went down to have a look at Public View, the first in a series of events celebrating the Bluecoat’s first 300 years. Continue reading “Public View: celebrating 300 years of the Bluecoat”
In 1961, Piero Manzoni filled ninety tin cans with his own excrement. A label on each can identified the contents as ‘Artist’s Shit’, contents 30gr net freshly preserved, produced and tinned in May 1961.’ Each was numbered on the lid (the Tate owns number 004).
Yves Klein’s work, currently on display at Tate Liverpool, is prettier and, no doubt, sweeter-smelling – but just as provocative. Coming away from this exhibition with its po-faced, art-speak commentary (‘Klein’s vision was to express absolute immateriality and infinite space through pure colour’), I did wonder who was conning who. Described variously as a joker, prankster, provocateur, and ‘a dandy in a black silk suit, who dreamed of cosmic infinity,’ Klein once sold empty gallery space for gold; later (in a scene witnessed by an art critic), the buyer destroyed their certificate of ownership while Klein threw the gold into the Seine.
As a young man Yves Klein, lying on the beach in Nice, declared that ‘The blue sky is my first artwork.’ In 1949 he created his Monotone Symphony: a single twenty-minute sustained note followed by a twenty minute silence, in his view a representation of a monochrome painting. In his 1957 show, Monochrome Proposals, Klein displayed eleven identically sized blue monochromes, each priced differently, to ‘focus attention on the sensitivity of artistic expression and the role of the audience.’ Then there are the paintings which form the centrepiece of the Liverpool retrospective: his Anthropometries, works made using nude female models smothered in blue paint as ‘living paint brushes’ while Klein – dressed in evening wear – directed their movements as they transferred a ‘material imprint of life’ directly on paper while musicians played his Monotone Symphony. Continue reading “Yves Klein at Liverpool Tate: vision of cosmic infinity – or a crock of shit?”
I received an email from the Victoria Gallery & Museum alerting me to the fact that an exhibition of work by Adrian Henri was ending that day. Henri has a special place in my heart because I arrived in Liverpool just at the tail-end of that moment when Liverpool in the1960s was a focal point for popular culture. Henri was the leading figure of a multimedia scene in which art, music and writing were closely connected. Continue reading “An Adrian Henri mini-exhibition: ‘The poet in him wrote poems containing images that the painter in him wanted to paint’”
Until I have time to gather my thoughts in response to the death of John Berger – here is a re-post of my appreciation to mark his 90th birthday in November.
(Avoid at all costs the mean-spirited obituary published by the Guardian. Instead, try these two perceptive pieces:
- A Smuggling Operation: John Berger’s Theory of Art by Robert Minto in the Los Angeles Review of Books
- “I think the dead are with us”: John Berger at 88 by Philip Maughan in the New Statesman)
Paul Nash first discovered Wittenham Clumps, two ‘dome-like hills’ in Oxfordshire with a ‘curiously symmetrical sculptural form’ in 1911. Between 1912 and 1946 he would paint them repeatedly as he sought to encapsulate there and in other places (such as the South Downs and the stone circles of Aylesbury) the idea of a ‘spirit of place’. Yet his engagement with the mystery and magic he found in certain landscapes was only one strand in the rich legacy of work left by Paul Nash. In his time he was official war artist in two world wars, and a pioneering figure at the heart of a group of artists who brought surrealism into British art, a painter who utilised photography, collage and assemblage in pursuit of his vision.
All of these aspects of Paul Nash’s work are explored in depth in Tate Britain’s vast and definitive exhibition which we saw while in London. It is a huge show of more than 160 works which convincingly presents Nash as not only a war artist of great importance, and a pioneering figure of the British avant-garde in the 1930s, but also as a romantic in the tradition of William Blake and Samuel Palmer, who, like them, created visionary landscapes drenched in symbolism and painted as if in a dream. Continue reading “Paul Nash at Tate Britain: searching for a different angle of vision”
We approached Forest, Field & Sky: Art out of Nature, last night’s documentary on BBC Four presented by Dr James Fox, with great anticipation since its subject was a form of art that has inspired us both – and provided the subject of many blog posts here. Fox didn’t disappoint, focussing on just a few brilliant examples of what is often labelled Land Art – art that is made directly in the landscape, from natural materials found in situ, such as rocks, tree branches or ice. Travelling across Britain, he discussed artists whose work explores our relationship to the natural world such as David Nash, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Long, and James Turrell, in some cases watching the artist in the process of creating a new work. Continue reading “Forest, Field & Sky: Art out of Nature”
After encountering the artists of the Hague School in the Rijksmuseum, I walked across Museumplein to the Van Gogh Museum where I found further evidence of the connections between these painters. There is so much to absorb at the Van Gogh Museum, and elements of the story are so familiar, that I focussed on the early years of Vincent’s career during which he painted darker landscapes and studies of peasant life in the countryside that reflected his admiration of the Brabizon realists and the influence of members of the Hague School.
Later, in the rooms dedicated to his work in Provence, I felt as if I had emerged into sunlight and colour. Continue reading “Van Gogh: from the dark into the light”
I guess we’re all familiar with the way in which the French Impressionists shook up the art world in the 1870s by depicting landscapes and scenes from modern everyday life often painted outdoors using bright, pure colours applied with rapid, often visible brush-strokes.
What I didn’t know – until I found some of their paintings in the Rijkmuseum last month – was that at the same time a group of Dutch painters were similarly intent on representing the changing modern landscape of their country and daily life of its people; artists who, like their French counterparts, were keen to capture the sensation of the moment, and shifting patterns of light on the landscape by working in the open air.
The key difference lay in the Dutch artists’ initial preference for muted colours. Painting under the grey skies of the Netherlands the group became known as the ‘Grey School’, then later as the ‘Hague School’. Continue reading “Out and about with the Hague School”
It’s one of my favourite paintings. A view of ordinary houses in an ordinary street, the weathered brickwork, window leads and wooden shutters finely detailed, and a few incidental details of everyday life – two children at play, a woman sewing in a doorway, while another is glimpsed in a side passage reaching into a barrel.
In Amsterdam on my way back from the Bosch exhibition in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last month, losing my way in the Rijksmuseum, I chanced upon it in a distant side-room where it was the centrepiece of a small but fascinating exhibit: Vermeer’s Little Street Discovered! Continue reading “Vermeer’s ‘Little Street’ Discovered!”
The first picture that you see when you enter the exhibition, Hieronymus Bosch: Visions of Genius, at Noordbrabants Museum in the painter’s home town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch depicts a careworn traveller making his way through the kind of landscape you can still see if you step beyond the town’s medieval battlements. Continue reading “Hieronymus Bosch: visions of Hell and earthly delights in an astonishing exhibition”
After dark in the old town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, it’s easy to imagine that I am walking in the footsteps of Hieronymus Bosch. For even though he died 500 years ago, the street plan is unchanged from the lanes and alleyways with which he was familiar in the last decades of the 15th century. The painter lived here all his life, walking daily from his home on the Markt to his workshop nearby, and if he returned now, a wayfarer in time, he would still be able to find his way around.
And in a way he has returned. Banners fluttering over the city streets welcome Bosch back home to a year-long celebration the likes of which will almost certainly never be repeated. I’m here in this provincial Dutch town to see the remarkable exhibition which the director of the small museum has managed to assemble to mark the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death. Improbably, he has convinced major museums around the world to lend nearly all of the 50 or so surviving paintings and drawings by the artist, at the same time attracting money from the Getty Foundation to pay for research and restoration work. Continue reading “Hieronymus Bosch back in his old home town”