Art Chronicles: Bonnard at Le Cannet

fruit-on-the-red-carpet.jpg!pinterestsmall
Fruit on the Red Carpet 1945

I remember being surprised when I realised that Bonnard had lived through World War Two. In my mind, he had existed in the Paris of an earlier era, when, along with Vuillard, he was one of the leading lights in the school of Post Impressionism known as Les Nabis. But he lived – and continued to paint – until his death in 1947 at the age of 80.

In 1927, Bonnard bought a house in the village of Le Cannet, close to Cannes on the Cote d’Azur, and until the outbreak of the war, when travelling became first difficult and then impossible, he moved between there and his home and studio in Paris. From 1939 onwards, he and his wife Marthe, the subject of many of his paintings, lived solely in Le Cannet, Marthe’s mental and physical health declining until, in 1942, she died, leaving Bonnard bereft. You can see this in the self-portraits he made in those years; see also, I like to think, his awareness of what he had learned of events of the war.

The following poem of mine was written after reading Bonnard at Le Cannet by Michel Terrace, with photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson (Thames & Hudson, 1988). It was first published in Poems for the Beekeeper, edited by Robert Gent (Five Leaves Publications, 1996) and re-published in Bluer Than This (Smith/Doorstop, 1998) and Out of Silence (Smith/Doorstop, 2014).

Self Portrait
Bonnard at Le Cannet

Cold here, this room you sit in, 1945;
your corner table, vase of flowers and white cloth,
grey scarf  close about your neck.
You sit and smoke, patient for cognac
warm in its glass; a white cup with gold rim,
the small black coffee she will bring.

Again and again sketched in his diary –
Saturday, February 26th; Tuesday the 15th of June –
like an otter she would ease, sleek, into the bath,
snug against the curve of porcelain.

On the radio, news of the Armistice,
a hastily articulated peace, the Jews.
The air is rimed with smoke, far echo of guns.
The small electric heater stands unplugged,
no fire in the gate.

Marthe – why does she not come?

These last mornings you have walked
between the almond and the olive trees,
gazed over red roofs toward the fullness of the sea.
You painted ochres, oranges and browns,
cupboards steeped in jars and bottles,
herbs in bunches, greengages and plums,
golden apples, persimmons.

In the studio the slow shunt of trucks,
smell of paint thick on your hands;
stiff-legged before the mirror
you blow warmth into your fingers.
Head shaved, ready, this is not so difficult,
one portrait, all that’s left.

A gash of colour for the mouth,
those veins, blue, drawn down
across the fabric of the face;
black hollows where the eyes would have been,
burnt out by bodies that lay ripening,
close=pressed between trees, their richness
leaking back into the soil, beyond reach of seeing,
stripped beneath the surface of the sea.

self-portrait-1945.jpg!pinterestsmall
Self Portrait 1945

 

Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory is at Tate Modern from today (23rd January) until  6th May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

On the Road Again …

Belated best wishes for the New Year with my first post of 2019 in the blog’s rather fine new livery.

After missing out on a number of book events last year, primarily for health reasons, I’m hoping to do better this year, starting with two occasions marking the paperback publication of Body & Soul. Again, a little belatedly, but none the worse for that.

body p'back 1

On the evening of Thursday, 31st January, at the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, North London, I shall be joined by Stella Duffy to talk about said Body & Soul, as well as Stella’s most recent publications, the suspense novel, The Hidden Room, and the Inspector Alleyn mystery, Money in the Morgue, which she completed after it was left unfinished by Alleyn’s creator, Ngaio Marsh.

34673630

 

61imrcdfuol._sx307_bo1,204,203,200_

Then, on the following evening, I shall be flying solo at another of my favourite bookstores, Waterstone’s in Nottingham. Tickets for both of these events are available now.

http://www.owlbookshop.co.uk/events/john-harvey-stella-duffy/

https://www.waterstones.com/events/an-evening-with-john-harvey/nottingham-60757

Move ahead to the spring and two events to launch the Shoestring Press publication of Aslant, which features both my poems and photographs by my daughter, Molly Ernestine Boiling. Any of you who’ve been following her work on http://whyernestine.tumblr.com will have a good idea of what to look forward to.

Molly and I will be at (speaking of favourite bookstores) Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham on Thursday, 25th April, and at the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden for Hylda Sims’ Fourth Friday, which will also feature the excellent singer-songwriter, Liz Simcock.

Step forward just one week later and over the Bank Holiday weekend I’ll be up in the north-east at Newcastle Noir. The programme is yet to be officially announced, but it may well reveal that I’ll be paired in discussion with the formidable Norwegian author, Gunnar Staalesen.

Details of these events to follow.

Art of the Year, 2018

Well, even if I haven’t got to see everything I would have liked, it’s been a good year, especially for encountering artists I hadn’t come across before, Rana Begum for one. Her work somehow combines facets of minimalism with various kinds of patterning, some of her pieces (many?) depending for their effect on a kind of optical illusion. You thought you knew what this was? Then look again. And again. Whereas her show at the Djanogly gallery in Nottingham gave a fuller sense of her overall practice, at Ketttle’s Yard in Cambridge she filled a chapel annex with baskets you were forced to bend your way under and around, and at Tate St. Ives, in addition to a selection of small paintings, she hung painted fishing nets from the walls and filled a table with a variety of white sculptures based on different shapes and sizes of fishing floats. Fascinating.

Camden Arts Centre has a knack of presenting interesting work by lesser known artists and this year’s exhibition of abstract work by Amy Sillman was no exception. Great use of colour in the larger abstract pieces, set off against cartoon-like and politically (small p) figuration. I nearly missed Heidi Bucher at the Parasol Unit, a medium-size gallery next to Victoria Miro off City Road and was so pleased that I didn’t. Not dissimilar in some ways from the working practices of Rachel Whiteread or Anthony Gormley, Bucher [she died in 1993] made latex casts of building interiors (doors, windows), objects and clothing, the resultant ‘skinnings’ hung from ceilings or displayed on walls. Beautiful and deeply, deeply unsettling.

Just about as unsettling as the huge paintings of faces – mostly faces, overflowing flesh and faces – in the brilliant exhibition of Jenny Saville’s work at the Scottish National Gallery. I’d never seen as much of her work in one place before and the effect was close to overwhelming. But brilliant.

Caroline Walker is an artist whose development I’ve been happy to follow for quite a while now [ever since those days when I could afford to buy it!] and the paintings that comprised Home, again at Kettle’ s Yard, are amongst her best, not least for the care and dignity she gives to her subjects, all of whom are/were female asylum seekers living in London.

Finally, mention of three near-perfectly curated [to use the word in its proper sense, for once] shows : Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern, Cezanne Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and the Permanent Collection rehang at Tate St. Ives.

 

Hastings

It wasn’t until daughter Molly tweeted a notification that another batch of her New Zealand photographs had gone up to view that I remembered a batch of photos that she’d taken during a visit to Hastings in the summer. No sooner remembered than resized and on display – interesting place, Hastings, not all sunshine and shingle.

 

Webp.net-resizeimage-9

Webp.net-resizeimage-7

Webp.net-resizeimage-12

Webp.net-resizeimage-14

Webp.net-resizeimage-13

Webp.net-resizeimage-11

All photographs : Molly E. Boiling

Art Chronicles: Heidi Bucher

The final painting is invariably, to borrow Picasso’s phrase … ‘the sum of its destructions’, with numerous earlier paintings – or perhaps better to say images, forms, shapes, fragments – buried or lost beneath the surface. And whilst these moments are variously submerged, obscured or obliterated, traces remain. There is is still a presence, a memory of each of these events and objects hidden behind the image, beneath the ground. Like a sediment, a past, an unconscious perhaps – still active, still agent.

Camden Arts Centre File Note, edited by Gina Buenfeld & Martin Clark

That paragraph is about the paintings of Amy Sillman, whom I wrote about in my previous blog post, but reading it again made me think of Heidi Bucher, whose work is currently on show at the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art until December 9th.

These are not paintings, though their effects are not dissimilar, nor are they exactly sculptures (though there are also sculptures on display), they are ‘skinnings’. Latex works made by covering the surface of a chosen object – doors, windows, walls – with gauze, pressing liquid latex against and peeling it off again just before it finally dries. Peeling it off not completely clean, but bringing with it traces of the object being skinned. Streaks and patches of paint; fragments of wood or cloth; memories.

For me, there are two outstanding pieces in this fascinating exhibition, one on the ground floor, one the floor above.

DSC00792
Libellenkleid (Dragonfly costume object), 1976. Textile, latex & mother-of-pearl pigments. 246  x 295 x 15cm

Bucher’s dragonfly costume is fixed to the centre of the upstairs wall of the gallery, with large plate glass windows to the sides looking out onto the trees of the garden at the rear. An extravagant, almost impossible costume for some wild and wonderful gala evening; a giant insect that has pullulated to fleshy, iridescent abundance.

 

DSC00788
Libellenkleid (Dragonfly costume object), 1976 [Detail]
DSC00791
Libellenkleid (Dragonfly costume object), 1976 {Detail]

In a dominant position to the left as you enter the main room of the gallery, hangs what is perhaps the quintessential Bucher art work – and the one that harks back most obviously to the quotation in opening paragraph, with its references to the lingering presence of memory, to a unconscious, mainly hidden past.

Dn2EEtCXsAUqwly
Kleines Glasportal, Bellevue Kreuzlingen (Small glass portal, Bellevue Kreuzlingen), 1988.

The Bellevue Kreuzlingen was a psychiatric sanitarium in Switzerland, the one to which Freud sent one of the patients, Anna O, the subject of one of his first case histories, to be treated. A short film showing at the gallery shows Heidi Bucher in the act of making this work, this skinning; tearing away the vast sheet of latex from where it has been clinging to the surfaces of wall, wood, window and glass and, as it is freed, covering herself with it as she crouches beneath it, smothering herself in it as if to inhale the air, the vestiges of breath that still cling to it, as if to hear the kaleidoscope of whispered conversations, troubled minds. In a later moment from the same film, she runs along the corridors of the building, pulling the latex skinning behind her like a shroud; like a wedding dress with its heavy, flowing veil – some half-mad Miss Havisham caught up in the fevered consciousness of others.

HB_Kleines-Glasportal-Bellevue-Kreuzlingen_1988
Kleines Glasportal, Bellevue Kreuzlingen (Small glass portal, Bellevue Kreuzlingen), 1988.

Heidi Bucher : Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, 14 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW, till December 9th, 2018.

Amy Sillman : Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London, NW36DG, till January 6th, 2019.

Art Chronicles: Amy Sillman

If you’re in North London and looking for something to do of an artistic nature – looking rather than making, though making happens there as well – Camden Arts Centre on the corner of Arkwright and Finchley Roads is a good bet.  Even if whatever’s showing doesn’t do it for you, there’s always the good little café with an adjacent two-tier garden. And, more often than not, the work in display is, at the very least, interesting. Sometimes, a lot more than that, with the bonus of discovering artists whose work you weren’t previously aware of, even if you should have been.

Such was the case when I came along with my daughter, Molly, last year and we were introduced to the work of the 90-year-old Romanian artist, Geta Bratescu – 90 and still working. And so it was this week, when my partner, Sarah, and I went to see Landline, an exhibition by the American artist, Amy Sillman. Enthralled. Delighted. Excited. “Wow!” from one room to another.”Wow!’ Just, I mean, “Wow! Look at that!”.

Back of a Horwse Costume
Amy Sillman : Back of a Horse Costume, 2015-16

The Lie Down
Amy Sillman : Back of a Horse Costume [detail] 2015-16
With the help of a zine [The OG. Fall-Winter 2018-19] put together by Sillman especially for this show [she’s into zines in a big way] and an Arts Centre File Note, edited by Gina Buenfeld & Martin Clark, our responses did become a little more articulate.

Aside from a large and rather beautiful animation based on Ovid’s Metamorphosis, showing on video in the central space between the galleries, Sillman’s work here divides into two main categories: paintings, oil and/or acrylic on canvas, and acrylic, ink and silkscreen works on paper. The former, mostly quite large – 190.5 x 167.5 cm, around there – seem more considered and while individual, wear their abstract expressionist legacy with ease. There’s Guston there, clearly – those heavy lines – [Guston in the works on paper, too] – a notion of de Kooning, perhaps – and in one piece, Avec, the greens and rectangular shapes have a hint of Diebenkorn. One of the articles we browsed in the Reading Room suggested Joan Mitchell as an influence, but I didn’t see it myself. [I’d have plumped for Grace Hartigan.] And besides – what does it matter, all this naming? Hints of this person, that person. [It’s the curse of once having done a History of Art course at Birkbeck.] Sillman is who she is.

What the Axe Knows 1
Amy Sillman : What the Axe Knows, 2018

What the Axe Knows 2
Amy Sillman : What the Axe Knows [detail) 2018
The paintings are striking – and the hang gives them room to be so – striking in their immediate overall impression, and then again when you give them time, standing with them, moving close, standing still, moving away, interesting in a more complex way. It’s useful what the File Note has to say …

All of her paintings are long and often arduous exercises in accumulation and excavation, aggregation and erasure, coalescence and collapse. Over many weeks and months, surfaces are work and reworked, abandoned and returned to, scraped back and covered over.

So that what we see in the final painting is a sum of all the images, the marks that have been there before and partly obscured, painted over, nudged, shifted, changed. Change, that seems to be the key word for Sillman. As if, even though she has had, finally, to accept that a work is finished, it’s only finished against her wishes. Against her aesthetic.

We’re committed to something scrappy but good, earnest but smart, ironic and not cynical, a strange FORM! … We haven’t figured it out but we love art that offers change above all: insistent, unremitting change that won’t resolve into finality or finesse. We want to know what happened before and after. We can’t stand the knowingness, the smugness, of a goddamn good painting.

Amy Sillman. The OG#11. Metamorphoses. 2017

In an slightly earlier sequence of drawings shown here – the Pink Drawings from 2015-16, using acrylic, charcoal and ink on paper – a large display of them spread along one wall – the pleasure comes from the vitality of the colour, the vigour of movement, the swiftness of the marks, the solidity of the black.

Pink Drawings 2
Amy Sillman : Pink Drawings, 2015-16
Pink Drawings 1
Amy Sillman : Pink Drawings, 2015-16

The most recent of the works on paper are more instant, direct and disturbing – one series was started in response to Trump’s election. In some there is a single figure on his or her knees, vomiting, shouting, screaming …

Rebus for Camden
Amy Sillman : Dub Stamp, 2018 

… in others there is a swift overworking of line and colour not dissimilar to the technique used in the paintings.

Dub Stamp 2
Amy Sillman, Dub Stamp, 2018

The powerful double-sided pieces that comprise Dub Stamp in its entirety  hang in a line across Gallery 3, the more immediate, predominantly black and white figures along one side – the one that presents itself first – shifting on the reverse to a mixture of brightly coloured abstraction and strongly inked irregular shapes and lines.

Dub Stamp 4
Amy Sillman : Dub Stamp, 2018
Dub Stamp 3
Amy Sillman : Dub Stamp, 2018

As you walk round, the images cluster against one another, coalesce for a moment and then divide. There’s an ugliness here and a hint of beauty: faced with the horror that underlies much of modern life, how might an artist respond? You can’t pin the answer down, it’s always shifting, changing. Try covering up the ugliness, the truth, and it will still show through.

Let me say again, this is a terrific show and it continues until January, 2019.

 

Art Chronicles: Jenny Saville

I first encountered Jenny Saville’s work, alongside that of Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili, Damien Hirst and others, when she was included in the newsworthy, even notorious,  Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997. More recently, two of her canvases were shown at Tate Britain as part of All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a century of Painting Life. One linked her with that loose agglomeration of mainly young and controversial artists short-handed as YBAs; the other positioned her within the broader tradition of representational painters of the human figure – the body. Only with the survey that forms the major part of the current NOW show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One) in Edinburgh, did I have the opportunity to see as broad a selection of her work in one place – seventeen pieces ranging from the 1992 “Propped” to “Aleppo” from 2017/18.

DSC00640 (1)
Jenny Saville Fulcrum 1998/99

The effect is to be – let’s step aside from any art speak here – gob-smacked, slapped into consciousness. First it’s the size – these are big canvasses and in this perfectly hung exhibition they are granted the space they deserve; then its the paint – the thickness, richness of the paint – and the flesh, the flesh of female bodies, faces – flesh that is almost overwhelming, overwhelmingly real, faces that are torn yet tender.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Saville studied anatomy, that she has or had a particular interest in plastic surgery, that the many images she has collected range from those illustrating war wounds to the physical abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Pain manifests itself in some of these paintings, cruelty even. And yet there is a tenderness here – call it love, even – sympathy, affection.

Hyphen
Jenny Saville Hyphen 1999 [detail]
Hyphen - close up
Jenny Saville Hyphen 1999 [detail]

I came to see the material of paint as a kind of liquid flesh I could mould in my hands.

Astonishing, that’s what these paintings are, astonishingly real. Look, look away, look again; look up close at the sworls and gouges of paint, paint dragged across the surface of the canvas, the surface of the body. Women’s bodies.

The history of art has been dominated by men, living in ivory towers, seeing women as sexual objects. I paint women as most women see themselves. I try to catch their identity, their skin, their hair, their heat, their leakiness.

Fulcrum - close up
Jenny Saville Fulcrum 1998/99 [detail]
Fulcrum - detail
Jenny Saville Fulcrum 1998/99 [detail]
NOW is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art until September 16th.

Art Chronicles: Rana Begum & Mark Dion

I wouldn’t have known about the art installation by Mark Dion at St. Ives’ Porthmeor Studios, if my partner, Sarah, and I hadn’t fallen into conversation with the invigilator in the small gallery at Tate St.Ives currently housing work by Rana Begum under the title, A Conversation with Light and Form – and which in itself we’d only stumbled on by chance, moving between the rooms showing work from the Tate’s permanent collection and the current exhibition devoted to Patrick Heron.

Lucky day!

Begum is interested in the interplay of colour and light and the effects of repetition; in taking the everyday and presenting it in such as way as to encourage us to look at it afresh. Here, acknowledging that St. Ives was a fishing village long before it became primarily a holiday destination [the story of Cornwall writ small] she has taken two of the staples of the fishing industry – nets and floats – and ‘remade’ them. Nets, painted in a variety of colours – red, green and blue – hang, overlapping, from one wall; plaster moulds in different shapes and sizes, the size and shape of floats, are arrayed together on  a stand. The ordinary made art for us to take pleasure in and enjoy, while pointing up its original form and function. From artefact to art and back again.

DSC_0035

Having talked very interestingly about Begum’s work and how it was made, the invigilator mentioned, almost as an afterthought, an installation by Mark Dion just a short walk away that we might be interested in. Only open to the public one day a week, he thought. Maybe Wednesdays? So it proved. Wednesdays from 10.00am.

Dion is an American artist who is also interested in the everyday; in his case, specifically, the way knowledge – history – is collected and presented; interested in the process as well as the finished presentation or display. In 1999, for instance, to coincide with the opening of Tate Modern, he used volunteers to comb the shores of the Thames outside Tate Modern and Tate Britain for whatever objects and fragments of objects they could find; these were then cleaned, as far as possible identified, and finally placed on display, together with flow charts and photographs, in a large glass-fronted mahogany cabinet.

During his time in St, Ives, Dion, like Begum, found his inspiration, to a large degree, in the artefacts and livelihood of fishing; more specifically, with relation to Porthmeor Studios, in the harmonious ways in which the working fishermen and working artists have come to occupy the same space. Originally built for the pilchard industry, fishermen still use part of the building for storing gear and setting nets, while much of the rest was converted into artists’ studios which have been home to the likes of Ben Nicholson, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Patrick Heron.

Commissioned to make a work which would mark the completion of the restoration of the Studios, Dion followed his normal practice, using a group of students from Falmouth University, to source as many artefacts from the local fishing industry as possible; these Dion carefully arranged on one side of one of the cellars below the building, with artists’ tools and paraphernalia on the other.  The resulting work, The Maritime Artist, remains on display and is well worth seeing – but remember, on Wednesdays only, after 10.00am.

DSC_0070

DSC_0069

DSC_0068

 

NB There’s a fascinating exhibition of Rana Begum’s work in the Djanogly Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham, until the end of September.

Begum