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’”
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”
While I was in London, I went to the V&A to see the exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970. I had expected to be confronted with a mass of memorabilia, images and text. What I discovered was one of best executed and clearly articulated exhibitions that I’ve ever seen. In large part this was due to someone’s brilliant idea of utilising the magic of (I presume) Bluetooth headphones which offered a contextual soundtrack that changed as you drew near to a particular display or video. Continue reading “You Say You Want a Revolution? A brilliant V&A exhibition brings the Sixties to life, and questions the decade’s legacy”
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”
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”
Passing through London on our way back from the David Jones show in Chichester, I decided to take a look at the current exhibition at the British Library: West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song. It’s an ambitious survey of literature, art and music from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to expressions of rapid cultural and political change across West Africa in recent decades. Continue reading “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song at the British Library”
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’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.