Ships and Suns

Quentin Blake: The New Dress; Roy Oxlade & David Bomberg; Roy Oxlade: Shine Out Fair Sun; Tal R: Eventually All Museums Will Be Ships (Hastings Contemporary)

About a decade ago, the Jedward Foundation brought culture to Hastings. Hastings was having none of it, it would appear, preferring a coach park in the Old Town. And now what appears to be a dark wood clapperboard gallery has rebranded as Hastings Contemporary and the splendid collection of rather brown British twentieth century paintings has vanished. This is a shame, but the excellent Paula Rego exhibition will be mirrored by one by her late husband, Victor Willing. In the meantime, we have an Israeli Danish artist I’d never heard of, a mid century British artist I’d never heard of and the latter’s tutor. And a bonus room by Quentin Blake, who lives around the corner and remains prolific as ever. His drawings of Her New Dress are as charming as you’d expect.

But it is David Bomberg who steals the show and inevitably comes off better than his pupil Roy Oxlade in the same room. His art seems to be from an elevated perspective — Tower Bridge and the streets of London from a rooftop, the great bridge (aqueduct?) of Ronda from a distance, an odd perspective on a Ronda cathedral. He had dabbled in Vorticism, even before there was such a thing, but it is the perspective and diagonals that he keeps. Meanwhile there’s a hint of Walter Sickert in the colour range. More brown.

I kept recalling (and miss) the paintings of Palestine I saw at Towner — payed for by the Zionist Organisation in the 1920s — of a curiously unpopulated Jerusalem and environs from on high.

In the 1950s, impoverished and suffering from ill health, he worked in a bakery at Borough and taught art, with students including Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Roy Oxlade. I didn’t know Oxlade’s work, and inevitably I compared his paintings to the heavily contoured palimpsests of the other two. His work sometimes also includes a three dimensionality of layered paint, but not as heavy as Kossoff’s. His figures are curiously isolated, stripped of a spatial context, hanging in space. Whilst this isn’t always the case, he has a habit of naming his paintings Colour Object — White Back, Yellow Lamp and so on. He can draw a reclining nude, but not the supporting couch or bed, substituting abstract backgrounds. Presumably his Two Cherries are on a table, but you wouldn’t know it.

He wrote that “Paintings need the personality of a ‘face’, things, points of focus, without them they are like heads of people with eye-sockets.” I confess I struggled to find that personality but I think he needs more attention. At his best, his work reminds me of Cy Twombly, but Abstract Expressionism isn’t quite the right label. He claims to be reaching for a sense of authenticity, interested in “things, trees, houses, cats, people.” I wanted more cats.

Tal R was also new to me, and the title inevitably makes you think of the boats piled on the shingle visible through the first floor windows of the gallery. The ships are tall cruisers, a striking blue, but the main room is dominated by dozens of crayon drawings which are rough landscapes. In his canvases, the colours are scarcely less subtle, and they reward a slow looking. He’s an Israeli born artist, long resident in Copenhagen and I am assuming he’s Jewish, but the exhibition doesn’t state this. This becomes relevant with the boy in striped pyjamas and mask, who I took to be stood by a bed, Masken (2019). I wonder know if I misread the perspective and it’s oartway down a staircase. At first sight it seems naive, but perhaps is an inmate of a concentration camp. And then there’s Red House (2019), where the flat red colour echoes Munch’s red ivy covered house and the painted wood of Sohlberg, although they are Norwegian rather than Danish.

 

Also striking is Lords of Kolbojnik (2002-2003), that last word a kibbutz used term for the rubbish left over from communal meals. It is a colourful collage, leaning towards Pop Art.

E8D3DF4C-6E7E-47C9-93EF-7574285E0033So an interesting start as the gallery enters a new phase — Hastings will still get culture, even starved of some favourite images.

 

 

The Peter Unprinciple

David Hare after Henrik Ibsen, Peter Gynt (Directed by Jonathan Kent, Olivier Theatre, National Theatre)

Several things occurred to me whilst waiting for this play to start: the auditorium was not much more than half full; I probably hadn’t been here since the Dench/Hopkins Antony and Cleopatra; and I had no idea what this play was about.

Continue reading →

Exhibitions for Expotitions — October Editions

I used as various times to maintain a Googlesheet of exhibitions I might possibly interested in going to — then life intervened repeatedly, and it got out of date. Over the past few months I’ve been updating it and there are still a few venues missing, but it’s a l-o-n-g list and I need to work out a decent format still. I have a list sorted by closing date and by venue, and below is opening soon.

Information presented in good faith — a lot of mistakes came to light in this update — and check website before travelling. There’s a south eastern bias, plus major cities in Wales, Scotland and Ireland (I still haven’t been to Northern Ireland). Additions welcome. Continue reading →

Des Chats comme Félix

Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet (Royal Academy of Arts, 30 June—29 September 2019)

I had a grumpy wander around the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern, but it wasn’t doing much for me, or the crowd were getting in the way. Bonnard was part of a group of French artists, Les Nabis or The Prophets, who had mostly been to the Académie Julian in the late 1880s, and who were fans of Paul Cézanne and Paul Gaugin. Other members included Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel and Édouard Vuillard.

Continue reading →

Household Tales

Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance

I think I first saw a Paulo Rego work at the Anthea Turner Gallery, a drawing of a back street abortion in the Youth exhibition which was the first of their shows to make a splash. It was simultaneously fascinating and painful, heartbreaking. There was an exhibition in Hastings of some recent work, inspired by a Spanish book, Hélia Correia’s The Boy Who Loved the Sea and some self portraits, made after a fall. There was a fairy tale quality to them; indeed I later saw an exhibition of fairy tale inspired pictures by chance at the Marlborough Gallery. She also showed up at a late room in the predominantly make Painting From Life exhibition at Tate Britain. Continue reading →

Per Aspera

Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

This is a bit spoilery in some of its gestures.

You know that you are going to be in for a bumpy ride when the near future setting epigraph to a film crossfades from a line about humanity’s future lying in the stars to the title Ad Astra, in case we can’t translate the Latin. Then the film goes into voiceover, wannabe Blade Runner, but the point of a voiceover is surely to mess with the visuals not to mesh with them. There is no point in him telling us that he is looking for a door and then showing us a door — later he tells us that he feels that he in the dark, holding onto a rope, as he is in the dark, holding on to … well, you get the idea.

Trust the audience.
Continue reading →

The Dull American

Joseph Kanon, The Good German (2001)

I’m not sure why I bought this, although this edition ties into a Steven Soderbergh which I recorded off the telly and still didn’t watch. It has been kicking around for five or six years, and went to America and Ireland and back, with no more than eighty pages read.

So it’s the dying days of the Second World War and the journalist Jake Geismer returns to Berlin in search of a final story and an old girlfriend, Lena, whose husband is a rocket scientist and engineer who both the Americans and Russians want on their side. When a young American is found shot dead in the river in the Russian zone, Geismer begins to investigate who is behind this. And then a female press photographer is shot dead, with Geismer suspecting he is the intended target.

The Guardian compares it to Graham Greene’s The Third Man, a novella about a tenth of the length dealing with some of the murkier business of the war, and a classic film full of memorable moments. This book is, alas, unmemorable, whose titular German I had to double check the identity of. Whilst Geismer is in every scene, it is written in the third person and the shocking revelations seem rather flat. We know the ambiguity of Werner von Braun, and have since before Tom Lehrer satirised it. Here, however, I just wanted them to get on with it. I think this will go back to a charity shop.