Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool: The Snail’s last outing

Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool: The Snail’s last outing

Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool brings together fifteen paintings from the Tate collection to provide an overview of the artist’s work across five decades. Its centrepiece is The Snail, the largest and most popular of Matisse’s cut-out works; after this show closes, it will never travel outside London again. Continue reading “Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool: The Snail’s last outing”

David Jones: Vision and Memory at Pallant House

David Jones: Vision and Memory at Pallant House

There’s a self-portrait David Jones painted in 1931 when he was in his mid-thirties. In Human Being he depicts himself almost as a boy, an unworldly youth with a thoughtful, quizzical look in his eyes who radiates a sense of inner strength. His hands are delicate, sensitive, almost feminine.

At Pallant House Gallery in Chichester last week I stared at this memorable image for some time, trying to figure out the man who is the subject of Vision and Memory, a major exhibition of his work showing there until February. There was much about Jones that I found a strange, complex and difficult to understand – whether in terms of the historical, religious and mythological allusions that fill his paintings (and his poems) – or in the sense of knowing the human being behind the work. Continue reading “David Jones: Vision and Memory at Pallant House”

Ai Weiwei at the RA: Everything is art. Everything is politics

Ai Weiwei at the RA: Everything is art. Everything is politics

Ai Weiwei’s work is not unusual in drawing upon the artist’s own life experience for inspiration, but there is none of the solipsism of Tracey Emin’s Bed in his art. Ai Weiwei’s installations, sculptures and videos – which I saw last week in his powerful, moving and deeply serious exhibition currently at the Royal Academy – affirm his  unwavering commitment to human rights and freedom of expression.

Everything is art. Everything is politics.

Continue reading “Ai Weiwei at the RA: Everything is art. Everything is politics”

Celts: Art and Identity

Celts: Art and Identity

The other day I received an email advising me of the line-up for the next Celtic Connections in Glasgow. But who were the Celts – these people who now lend their name to a festival that ‘celebrates Celtic music and its connections to cultures across the globe’?

Hoping for an answer to this question, a few weeks back I watched the BBC 2 series The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice with Alice Roberts and Neil Oliver. Yes, that was the full title of the series, and, though Roberts and Oliver (as you would expect) presented some serious archaeology, what with all the dramatic reconstructions of blood, iron and sacrifice I was left as confused as I had been at the outset. Were the Celts one people who shared a highly sophisticated culture? Or were they barbarians from the western fringes of Europe as the BBC’s dramatised battle scenes strongly suggested?

Looking for answers to these questions, I visited the British Museum’s current exhibition, Celts: Art and Identity, ‘the first major exhibition to examine the full history of Celtic art and identity’. Not surprisingly this stunning show presented a much clearer account of a story that begins over 2,500 years ago, with the first recorded mention of ‘Celts’.  But, the story the curators give us is one in which Celtic identity has been revived and reinvented over the centuries – across the British Isles, Europe and beyond. The exhibition articulates the currently-accepted view that ‘Celtic’ has had many different meanings over 2000 years, identities that have been reinvented time and again, and are cultural not genetic. Continue reading “Celts: Art and Identity”

Peter Lanyon: Soaring Flight

Peter Lanyon: Soaring Flight

During the 1950s, the small harbour town of St Ives in Cornwall played host to an astonishing group of painters that included some of the leading modern artists of the time. Among them were Alan Davie, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron – and Peter Lanyon. Of them all, only Lanyon was actually Cornish.

He died too young – a fact underlined by Soaring Flight, the superb exhibition currently showing at the Courtauld Gallery which gathers together a considerable number of his paintings inspired by gliding, the pastime which ended up taking his life.

Continue reading “Peter Lanyon: Soaring Flight”

Antony Gormley: Being Human

Antony Gormley: Being Human

Alan Yentob’s film for the BBC’s Imagine strand last week made a powerful case for Anthony Gormley being one of the most original and profound of British artists at work today. In Antony Gormley: Being Human, Alan Yentob followed the sculptor to recent exhibitions of his work in Paris and Florence, and explored the influences that have shaped his life and work. Continue reading “Antony Gormley: Being Human”

Jackson Pollock at Tate Liverpool: wrestling with a blind spot

Jackson Pollock at Tate Liverpool: wrestling with a blind spot

Well I tried, didn’t I? I have to admit, I’ve always had a blind spot where Jackson Pollock’s concerned. So I was not that keen on seeing Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots at Tate Liverpool. But I was persuaded by my daughter – who was blown away by the Pollocks she saw in MoMA a few years ago – to give it a go. I came away still unconvinced. Continue reading “Jackson Pollock at Tate Liverpool: wrestling with a blind spot”

York Art Gallery: a bit potty

York Art Gallery: a bit potty

I went over to York last week to visit my sister, and while I was there we popped into York Art Gallery which recently reopened to the public after an £8 million revamp. However, my sister and a good number of York residents are justifiably outraged by the fact that it now costs £7.50 to visit the gallery. Compare this with Leeds Art Gallery or the Tate and the Walker in Liverpool where entrance to the permanent displays remains free. Continue reading “York Art Gallery: a bit potty”

In pursuit of Breugel: Madrid and The Triumph of Death

In pursuit of Breugel: Madrid and <em>The Triumph of Death</em>

Don DeLillo’s massive novel Underworld opens with a prologue called ‘The Triumph of Death’.  The title comes from the Bruegel painting that hangs in the Prado in Madrid – the first Bruguel we ever saw in the flesh (so to speak), visiting there on an Easter break in 2003. As spectators watch the closing minutes of the famous Dodgers-Giants 1951 baseball league final, a piece of paper drifts down and sticks to the shoulder of J. Edgar Hoover sitting in the stands. It’s a page torn from that week’s issue of Life magazine, a reproduction of Bruegel’s painting, that illustrates an article about the Prado. Continue reading “In pursuit of Breugel: Madrid and The Triumph of Death

In pursuit of Bruegel: Berlin and Two Monkeys in chains

In pursuit of Bruegel: Berlin and Two Monkeys in chains

It’s only a small painting – barely seven inches by nine – yet (though I know such comparisons are invidious) if I were asked to list my ten favourite artworks this would be one of them. Pieter Bruegel’s Two Monkeys is haunting, mysterious and profound.

Two Monkeys is one of two Bruegel paintings that we found in Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie – another way-station in our pursuit of Bruegel through the museums of Europe. The other couldn’t be more different: Netherlandish Proverbs is large (4 feet by 5), populated by a vast crowd of people engaged in all kinds of activities and social interactions. One is deeply meditative, even pessimistic, while the other’s vast canvas celebrates the complexity and richness of  urban life. Continue reading “In pursuit of Bruegel: Berlin and Two Monkeys in chains”

Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah

Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah

Just as the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass asks, ‘What do you suppose is the use of a child without any meaning?’ so the question might arise, ‘What is the use of art without meaning?’

Richter Pärt
Richter/Pärt at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery

Should a person enter the room at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery in which the work of Gerhard Richter is currently on display, and should that person have read no advance publicity about the Richter/Pärt show of which it is a part, they would find themselves confronted by four large abstract paintings in which thick layers of paint have been squeegeed across the surface – scorched black on white, smears of bloody red, and patches of disintegrating green. They might then ask, ‘What does this mean?’ Continue reading “Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah”

Bruegel in Vienna, part 3: ‘Peasant’ Bruegel

Bruegel in Vienna, part 3: ‘Peasant’ Bruegel

So far this in this series of posts celebrating the Bruegel room in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, I have looked at Bruegel’s paintings of the seasons and the works which share a preoccupation with religion, politics and war. In this final post I want to explore examples of the kind of work that resulted in the artist coming to be known, misleadingly, as ‘Peasant Bruegel’. Continue reading “Bruegel in Vienna, part 3: ‘Peasant’ Bruegel”