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Category archive: Painting

Monday October 27 2014

Next Friday, October 31st, Christian Michel is giving a talk at my home entitled, somewhat provocatively: “Soviet and Nazi Art as Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Aesthetics”.  He is certainly not the first to have pointed out the overlap, so to speak.

Here’s what Christian says about his talk (which I “LATER” (Tuesday) realised I need to insert into this posting, near the beginning):

Art does not feature high on the libertarian agenda. One exception is Ayn Rand, who declared that of all human products art is perhaps the most important. She went on to develop her own theory of aesthetics, and even attempted (as did Jean-Paul Sartre at the same time) to deliver her entire philosophy through the sole medium of literature (both failed).

In my talk this Friday I will sum up Rand’s aesthetics, her contribution to the field, and will show that it was nowhere better illustrated in the twentieth century than in the arts of National-Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. The point is not to denigrate Rand’s philosophy by that association, but to say that genuine artists find a way to convey their deepest values and sense of life, to express the highest human aspirations and struggles, whatever their circumstances, and that’s exactly what Rand celebrated.

And here is something of what I think about these kinds of things.

Just after World War 2, many an artist said things along the lines of: after Auschwitz, we cannot any longer do purely representational art.  (Similar things were said by classical composers: after Auschwitz, we can’t any longer do pretty tunes.) But the artists had been abandoning pictorial representation (and tunefulness) long before Auschwitz happened, so “Auschwitz” has the air of being a rationalisation rather than the real reason for these artistic trends.

The crimes of Soviet Communism never had quite the same effect on most of the artists, even as an excuse for abstraction, although there were honourable exceptions (Mondrian for instance).  Too many artists admired the Soviet Union, especially during and just after World War 2, during its struggle and after victory over Nazi Germany.

Realistic art had also been seriously deranged by photography.  Photography destroyed the economic foundations of your average painter of realistic portraits and realistic paintings of such things as landscapes, and turned art painting into a sort of cultural bombsite, in which (to quote the words of an early twentieth century popular song) “anything goes”, anything, that is, except realistic pictures of people and of things.  Realism, for the average artist, just made him look like a bad photographer.  Even the claim that “art” now had to be an attack on the delusional bourgeois habit of trying to make visual and conceptual sense of the world has the feel, for me, of a rationalisation.

But there is much more to “realism” than mere realism.  What looks at first glance merely realistic is often aspirational, and to abandon the field of representational art to the mid twentieth century totalitarians was surely a propaganda error, to put it no more strongly.  For the likes of Ayn Rand, this was a surrender by the civilised world that should never have happened.

To point out that Rand favoured images that resembled Nazi and Soviet art is not to accuse her of being a Nazi or a Communist.  It is to realise that she did not want the still immensely potent artistic weapon that is representational painting and sculpture to be monopolised by the totalitarians.

All of which is something of how I see (and hear) the kinds of things that Christian Michel will be talking about on Friday.  As to what Christian himself will say, well, we shall see, and hear.

Meanwhile, here is an abundance of visual clues as to the sort of aesthetic territory that Christian will be traversing in his talk.  It will be an illustrated talk.  Here, without identification or further comment, from me or from him, are the illustrations he has sent me, in the order (I assume) in which he will be referring to them.

A few of these images are small enough to fit within the 500 pixel horizontal limit that prevails at this blog, a couple being very small indeed.  But most can be enlarged (a little or quite a lot) with a click:

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Sunday October 12 2014

I have already quoted a couple of interesting bits from Bill Bryson’s excellent book, At Home.  I have now finished reading this, but just before I did, I encountered some interesting stuff about paint (pp. 453-5):

When paints became popular, people wanted them to be as vivid as they could possibly be made. The restrained colours that we associate with the Georgian period in Britain, or Colonial period in America, are a consequence of fading, not decorative restraint. In 1979, when Mount Vernon began a programme of repainting the interiors in faithful colours, ‘people came and just yelled at us’, Dennis Pogue, the curator, told me with a grin when I visited. ‘They told us we were making Mount Vernon garish. They were right - we were. But that’s just because that’s the way it was. It was hard for a lot of people to accept that what we were doing was faithful restoration.

‘Even now paint charts for Colonial-style paints virtually always show the colours from the period as muted. In fact, colours were actually nearly always quite deep and sometimes even startling. The richer a colour you could get, the more you tended to be admired. For one thing, rich colours generally denoted expense, since you needed a lot of pigment to make them. Also, you need to remember that often these colours were seen by candlelight, so they needed to be more forceful to have any kind of impact in muted light.’

The effect is now repeated at Monticello, where several of the rooms are of the most vivid yellows and greens.  Suddenly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come across as having the decorative instincts of hippies. In fact, however, compared with what followed they were exceedingly restrained.

When the first ready-mixed paints came on to the market in the second half of the nineteenth century, people slapped them on with something like wild abandon. It became fashionable not just to have powerfully bright colours in the home, but to have as many as seven or eight colours in a single room.

If we looked closely, however, we would be surprised to note that two very basic colours didn’t exist at all in Mr Marsham’s day: a good white and a good black. The brightest white available was a rather dull off-white, and although whites improved through the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1940s, with the addition of titanium dioxide to paints, that really strong, lasting whites became available. The absence of a good white paint would have been doubly noticeable in early New England, for the Puritans not only had no white paint but didn’t believe in painting anyway. (They thought it was showy.) So all those gleaming white churches we associate with New England towns are in fact a comparatively recent phenomenon.

Also missing from the painter’s palette was a strong black. Permanent black paint, distilled from tar and pitch, wasn’t popularly available until the late nineteenth century. So all the glossy black front doors, railings, gates, lampposts, gutters, downpipes and other fittings that are such an elemental feature of London’s streets today are actually quite recent. If we were to be thrust back intime to Dickens’s London, one of the most startling differences to greet us would be the absence of black painted surfaces. In the time of Dickens, almost all ironwork was green, light blue or dull grey.

Famously, the rise of the Modern Movement in Architecture was triggered by, among many other things, a revulsion against the excesses of Victorian-era decoration, especially architectural decoration.  Decoration became mechanised, and thus both much more common and much less meaningful.  What did all this mechanised decoration prove, what did it mean, when you could thrash it out with no more difficulty than you could erect a plain wall?

What the above Bryson quote strongly suggests, at any rate to me, is that something rather similar happened with colour.

Why is the overwhelming atmosphere of Modernist architecture and architectural propaganda so very monochrome, still.  Part of the answer is that it was only recently learned how to do monochrome.  Monochrome looked modern, from about 1900-ish onwards, because it was modern.  Monochrome was the latest thing.  Colour, meanwhile, had become much cheaper and had been used with garish nouveau riche excess, and there was a reaction to that also, just as there was to excessive decoration.

Thursday September 18 2014

Alert readers of this blog will long have known that I have a soft spot for interesting vehicles, often because they are old.  (In general, the aesthetic nature of cars and of our response to cars interests me more and more.)

So, here is an amusing matching pair of vehicles:

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The full size Mini was photoed not far from my friend Perry‘s home.  The mini Mini was, as you can probably see for yourself, in a tourist crap shop window.  Only the two white stripes on the bonnet of the mini Mini spoil the identicalness.

Friday September 12 2014

The Guru was finally able to deliver God/Godot this evening, but he only just finished, so time only for a quota cat, photoed by me in Tate Ancient yesterday:

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More about that picture here.  It’s by David Hockney.

I didn’t know that you are allowed to take photos in the Tate, but I did so with increasing confidence.  There were official looking people well able to intervene and stop me, if they had wanted to.  But, they didn’t.  Interesting.  Was that always the rule, or is it only recent, in response to an irresistible tidal wave of students taking notes with their iPhones?

Sunday August 31 2014

The weather in London today was particularly fine.  The light was bright and washed clean by recent rain, and the atmosphere was neither too hot nor too humid.  There was bright blue sky, but there were also plenty of clouds.  I had a bank to visit and electrical items to obtain, all doable on Sunday if you are in Tottenham Court Road, and then I and my companion went south towards the river.

I photoed tourist stuff, hereinafter termed touristuff.  I love to photo touristuff.  It changes from year to year, and it is arranged in hightly photogenic clumps such as you could never enjoy if you merely bought a single touristuff item:

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Those queens seem now to be very popular, but popes less so.  But those decapitated lady bottle openers are a new siting, for me.  It’s amazing what can look sexy, even after being guillotined.

I photoed books, under Waterloo Bridge.  Books in large and sunlit clumps, and particular books, with particular titles:

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It seems that the Conan The Barbarian books were written not by just the one writer, but by a team of writers.  I did not know this.  I wonder how that was organised.

I photoed Art.  I photoed a lady all in white, photoing Art under the Queen Elizabeth Hall.  That’s if you reckon middle of the range graffiti to be Art.  Is this a possible future for brutalist architecture?  Painting such concrete relics would surely make sense.

And I photoed people sitting on Art, in the form of giant green chairs, next to the Imax Cinema roundabout near Waterloo station

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Apparently these big green chairs used to be down in that strange circle of pedestrian space that surrounds the bottom of the Imax Cinema, inside the roundabout.

If my walkabout this afternoon is anything to go by, Art is becoming less about Deep Significance (of the sort that has to be explained with Art Bollocks essays next to the Deeply Significant Art), and more about fun.  Bring it on.

And bring on the day when they have exhibitions of Touristuff in Tate Modern.  I hardly ever go inside Tate Modern, but I bet that would be more fun than what they put there now.  And it might also be more Significant.

Thursday May 22 2014

Amazing:

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Old car factories had a harmful impact on the environment, releasing toxic chemicals into the air, land and water. But it wasn’t all ugly. Oddly enough, one of the by-products of car production was Fordite, also known as Detroit agate. The colorful layered objects take their name from agate stones for their visual resemblance. But instead of forming from microscopically crystallized silica over millions of years, Fordite was formed from layers of paint over several tens of years. Back in the day, old automobile paint would drip onto the metal racks that transported cars through the paint shop and into the oven. The paint was hardened to a rock-like state thanks to high heats from the baking process. As the urban legend goes, plant workers would take pieces home in their lunch pails as a souvenir for their wife or kids.

Since then, car production has modernized and Fordite has been rendered a relic of the past. Artisans have been using the colorful material for jewelry but it’s not a stretch to imagine a future when these pieces sit behind glass in a museum. The colors can also be used to judge how old they are because car paint was subject to different trends. In the 1940s cars were mostly black or brown enamel while the 1960s ushered in an age of colorful lacquers.

Something tells me the 3D printers will have something to contribute to processes like this.  I tried googling “fordite 3d printing” but all I got were lots of pieces about each but, so far as I could see, none about both.  Give it time.

Sunday May 11 2014

Outside Brockley railway station last Friday afternoon:

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The sky, with all that blue and white and grey, adds to the pictorial pleasure, I think.

The blue bit can be observed in more detail, here.  Another angle here.

Rival wall artists have left it alone, but time is taking its toll.

Monday April 28 2014

Indeed.  It was a rather grey and grim day, but at least I didn’t get part of the Big Blue Cock in sunlight, and the rest in shade, as I did when I visited the Big Blue Clock earlier, when it was sunnier:

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This being the sculpture beneath which Goddaughter 2 and I met up the other day.  I think you will agree there can be no doubt about you having got to the desired spot, if the desired spot you have selected is: beneath the Big Blue Cock.

I include the sign under it so you can find out all about it, if you wish to.

What I like about the Big Blue Cock is that it is an undistorted cock, rather than a cock that some artist has played silly buggers with the shape of.  In other words, I like it for the same kind of reasons I like the Gormley Men.  Only the blueness is a strange.  But then again, you often get oddly coloured animals, such as in toy form.  And anyway, making a cock in an exactly realistic colour would probably be too hard.

Although, I don’t know why this is not done more often.  We could surely now make statues of notables, and get the colours exactly right.  Why do statues have to be in only one - very unrealistic - colour?

Big Blue Cock photos
Painted people
Lego bridge in Germany
Temporary art made of brightly dressed people
Good question
Popography
Bad and good in bad weather
Edwin is a bad person
Billy Fury Way
A scaffolder likes Jeremy Clarkson
Wedding photography (6): The Wedding and the Reception
Views from the Hackney Wick station footbridge
So painters also used to “take” pictures
Lunch at Gessler at Daquise
Art without Artists
The graffiti says he won’t get his keys back
If you can’t beat them hire them
Everyone?
Spray can girl in Leake Street
One child poster
Everybody draw Mohammed every day!
Abstract satellite expressionism
The Min-Kyu Choi folding three point plug
Strange purple cat with four eyes
Of lists and distant totally photorealistic skyscrapers
The concrete monstrosities of the South Bank may be about to get colourful
Is the contemporary art bubble bursting?
If it’s not Art it can be rather fun
Painted Billion Monkey!?!
It only takes One Rich Lunatic
Two adverts in the tube
Photos are better
Church covered in church pictures
Classic car thinness
Underground art
The bridge that was going to make Westminster a fine city and London a desert
Photo-ing Venus
Russian weirdness for the Anglos
At the dogs
By the rivers and canals of East London with Goddaughter One
Deceiving the eyes of Paris
Venus undistorted
Venus by the river
Also no relation
Tube photos
Dye hard
Rubens massacre of innocents and an innocent
And I know him as well
Skies
Some art to be linked to from elsewhere