Excellent. A timely re-visiting of an era when we thought things couldn’t get worse…

IMAGE OBJECT TEXT

Gillian Wearing, Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say (Help) and (I’m desperate), 1992-3

Though Gillian Wearing doesn’t re-enact the work of a scientist to make art, arguably she does nonetheless take on another role: that of the confessor. In a number of different works, Wearing allows those she encounters – either through approaching strangers on the street or by advertising – to express their innermost thoughts in one way or another.

For the series of photographs Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say, made in 1992-3, Wearing asked people to write a sign that said something they really wanted to say and hold it up for the camera. Some of the signs comment on the wider political situation of…

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Laugh? I nearly did.

Time for a bit of froth.

Now, dear readers and fellow-bloggers, I need your help.
I’m on the hunt for Funny Art and Art Jokes. Having scoured the internet (well, the first page of a Googled search – you know how it is) I have been appalled to discover just how little of the funny stuff there is out there.

And I don’t mean Bad Art, hilarious as it often is. You will recall my delight at coming across The Museum of Bad Art and the ghastly treasures therein:

No. I want Art With A Humourous Intent.
There must be some out there.

Of course,  there’s David Shrigley. But even he doesn’t find his work that amusing.

On this he and I are as one.
(I did however find the ‘catocopter’ – very Shrigleyesque – entertaining for about a minute.

I love my cat, but that doesn’t stop me being a sicko.)

And ‘art jokes’! Where are they?
And why, with a terrible irony, considering he’s viewed as the most tragic of geniuses, do most of them seem to be about poor old Vincent ?

“Man walks into a pub and sees van Gogh standing at the bar. “Oi, Vinnie! You’re my hero! Let me buy you a drink?”
“You’re alright, pal. I’ve got one ‘ere’.”

Hahahaha. Ahem. Not really.

And then there are those dreadful ‘Van Gogh’s Relatives’:

His Mexican cousin’s American half brother — Grin Gogh
The constipated uncle — Can’t Gogh
His niece traveling the country in a van — Winnie Bay Gogh
His nephew the psychoanalyst — E Gogh

And so on and so forth.
It took me a while to even ‘get’ them. We Brits – equally egregiously, I’m sure, to Dutch ears – pronounce ‘Gogh’ as ‘Goff’.
As in:
His notorious truant Brummie nephew – Bunkin Gogh
His eternally contagious niece – Whooping Gogh   (Ouch.)
His cricketing, ‘Strictly’-winning second cousin – Darren Gogh:

Athlete supreme

I know. They’re rubbish. I’m trying here.

Oh, and for the record I don’t want ‘witty’, pointed jokes. You know what I mean:

“During World War II an inquisitive German officer was harassing Picasso in his Parisian apartment. Noticing a photograph of Guernica lying on a table he asked the artist ”did you do that?” “No, you did,” responded Picasso.”

Or this:

These aren’t funny.
Sharp, maybe. Funny, no.
Unless you’re the type who goes to Shakepeare comedies and ‘laughs’ smugly and a bit too loudly to show how erudite and cultured you are. If you are the type, know this:
I hate you.

So, c’mon guys. Help me out here.
All contributions very gratefully received.
Let’s have a laugh.
God knows, we could all do with it.

____________________________________________________

Update 17/6/2012:

I thought this recent ‘Jubilee’ work by T’Art Club member Vincent Lee was amusing:

Check out also this post by Ann Jones:
http://imageobjecttext.com/2012/02/20/in-the-bank/

Getting ’em out for The Lads: Lee Horyon

(Thursday Rant.)

Lee’s work separates the vague relationship between image and desire.”

“Vague”?
Since when has the relationship between image and desire been ‘vague’? A vast porn industry is predicated precisely on the fact that  the relationship between image and sexual desire is very clear-cut indeed. How else would pornography ‘work’?

Take a look at Horyon’s work.

Am I the only one to find them offensive?

I am reminded of the old sexist ‘joke’:
“You don’t look at the mantlepiece when you’re poking the fire”.
Dress it up in meaningless, high-sounding sophistry as much as you like; the fact remains that images of headless/faceless women in poses ranging from the titillating to ‘softly’ (ha!) pornographic are, in my opinion, offensive to at least half the human race.

The last one, with her ass in your face, is veiled, for crying out loud.
This in a world where women the world over are struggling to throw off ‘the veil’, both literally and metaphorically.

Subjecting women in this fashion, reducing them, not to ‘objects’ (all art objectifies, as I’ve argued before) but to detached, depersonalised commodities purveyed to the male gaze is, in my opinion, not something to be tolerated in the name of ‘art’. There’s no denying Horyon’s technical excellence, but art is not just about how you make it; it’s also about what you choose to make. I’m all for freedom of expression – which is why I’m having my say here – but retrograde representations like these contribute nothing; they merely perpetuate the millenia-old view of women as little more than the means to male sexual gratification.
Strip-tease, burlesque, pornography, these works: they’re all the same in their rejection of an equal relationship between ‘viewer’ and ‘viewed’, and therefore equally deleterious.

Compare if you will Rembrandt’s magnificent Hendrickje Bathing:

The National Gallery, London

This is a woman, Rembrandt’s common-law wife, who was both desired and deeply loved. She has a name and a face; she is a person, not an idealised/air-brushed cipher, and is presented to us with all the tenderness and respect that Rembrandt’s matchless painterly skill allowed.
In her complete trust and lack of self-consciousness, she is very much an equal partner in this work.

That’s what it’s all about.

Picking up the Pieces: David Halliday

We are living in a world of collage.”

The more I think about it, the truer it feels.
Maybe it’s an ‘age’ thing: the awareness that there is no over-arching narrative; there’s just stuff happening, one thing and another.
A world of jarring juxtapositions, odd contiguities; dislocation; disjunction; fractured and fragmented.

Except for the Cymbalta:

“Something is eating a hole… There are too many names in my head. PINS… And a friend. In the Nut House told me. That insanity is not all that it’s cracked up to be.”

David is Canadian, a published writer and artist; that’s about as much as I know. We ‘met’ in the blogosphere; his posts, combining haunting, surreal collage/photo montage with prose poems (micro-fictions?), struck a chord; no callow, eager-eyed youth he; here was a man who has Seen Life.

Still Wearing An Apron: Confessions of a newly divorced woman:

“At the bottom of the stairs. I used to wait for you. To come down. Head first… I can take heart ache. Who doesn’t want to find their husband. Jerking off. Over the dishes?”

His style is spare, staccato, disruptive. No ‘thens’ or ‘becauses’; nothing to imply coherence and understanding, rationalisation; just the piling up of words, phrases, sentences, their only connections being those which we, as we do, read into them.
Like a collage.

There Must Be A Special Home: Drinking buddies:

” For old men. Who still pine… I have to wonder if my liver. Would have outlived. Yours.”

Life; relationships; time itself, experienced not as linear progression, but through snapshots of memories, flitting back and forth; past, present and future commingling uneasily to form an idea of ‘now’:

“Every moment around me. An ambush. Of memory.”

Too Busy Tonight:

“I sat alone in a restaurant. Eating snitzel. And reading the New York Times. Across Church Street. She stepped out of an apartment building. Swimming. In the arms of her lover. Who looked like he’d just taken her. For a test drive.”

Pudding On Your Plate: An old man goes mad cooking dinner:

“Jesus is a wrist watch. That never keeps time. But at least it distracts you from. The point of getting older. My only concern about time. Is how much I have left… The glass is too frail to be half full. Turn my head back to the table. I thought you should know. That isn’t pudding on your plate.”

Just bits and pieces.
We, it, words, images are discrete quanta, bumping up against each other yet remaining forever separate, abstractions in a composite; and this thing we call ‘life’ is something far more grotesquely absurd, far less orderly, than we like to think.
A jigsaw that will never –  quite –  fit:

“The scars from the war. Were still waking him up. In the alley. Between those condominiums that were being renovated… The President is handsome. Aren’t they all.”

The Girl In My Heart: Melancholia:

“The condition of the world. Has sucked off my soul. And you’ve got to get over the feeling. That this has been said. Before. I leave. That the girl in my heart. Is the one. Over there. Her head on my shoulder. Her hand in my pocket.”

Multiplicity and heterogeneity.
No sense of things hanging together comfortably.
Pessimistic? Depressing?
Not at all. (At least not to me. Absurdity is always blackly humourous, I’ve found.)
If art –  the arts –  have one purpose it is surely not to ‘explain’ but to record in a way that we recognise and yet makes us think differently.
David’s work does this, for me.

I’ll leave the last thought to him:

God Or Not:

“There are 2 things.

If there is no God, then the universe is like a haunted house. And freakin’ scary.

And if there is a God. He’s a prick.”

_______________________________________________

See more of David’s art and writing here:
http://hallidd.wordpress.com/

Wake up, Boo!

Just a quickie to mark what feels like the arrival of a summer that knocked on the door in March, only to wander off and get itself hopelessly lost before I had the chance to say hello:

Henley Regatta by Raoul Dufy (1933):

Not the greatest artist – perhaps more correctly termed a graphic designer/ illustrator? – his works never fail to lift my spirits: sketchily light-hearted and optimistic, full of vibrant colour and airiness, to me they’re summer’s mood.

So off with clouts and cares! A glass of something long and cold?
Throw open all the windows and let the laggard in at last…

Oh, and England to win.
(On penalties. 🙂 )

Kind of Blue: Taipei moon bridge

First up, apologies to Miles Davis fiends for getting you here on false pretenses: to you I can only say So What.
Secondly, thanks to Geoff at Gorgeous Company, from whom I shamelessly nicked these images, for bringing them to my attention. They’re probably all over the internet by now, but if you haven’t seen them allow me to share the beauty and the mystery; they are by someone known only as bbe022001 on flickr.
I wish they were mine.

“A moon bridge is a highly arched pedestrian bridge, which in its wooden form may require the walker to initially climb (as one would a ladder) and also when descending… The moon bridge originated from China and was later introduced to Japan…
As part of formal garden design the bridge will be placed where its reflection is seen when the water is still. The half circle is intended to reflect in the calm water below the bridge, creating a full circle between bridge and reflection, a reference to the shape of the full moon.” (Wiki)

Now Ms/Mr Bbe is clearly someone well-versed in Chinese/Japanese aesthetics (I’m not; please feel free to correct me); she/he has used the camera to create something wonderfully, gorgeously ‘new’ that nonetheless resonates with references to ancient traditions.
That in itself is no mean feat.

At the very heart of this aesthetic is, it seems to me, an appreciation of nature, not merely of its beauty but of its changeability, its transience, both of which make it more precious. It is not ‘in your face’ fireworks; it is contemplative, subdued, melancholy even, qualities here achieved through that soft, sad, subtle blue ‘palette’; it inspires not awe but a kind of serene humility, a gratitude that for a fleeting moment you have been privileged to share something quietly, unassumingly extraordinary in its ordinariness.

The Japanese term for this ‘beautiful impermanence’, the appreciation of the ephemeral, is wasi-sabi, and it derives from Zen Buddhism; the moon bridge itself and its reflection surely reference the concept of ensō, Japanese for ‘circle’ and signifying the absolute, enlightenment, and “in Zen Buddhist painting… symbolis[ing] a moment when the mind is free to simply let the body/spirit create.” (Wiki)

None of which, of course, you really need to know.
You just have to look at the images, relax, and let them speak for themselves; there’s a lot going on and yet nothing going on: captured snippets of time in which to contemplate the timeless.

Whoever you are, bbe022001, thank you for sharing.
_____________________________________________________

Sources:
Geoff Clow:
http://gorgeouscompany.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/taiwans-gorgeous-moon-bridge/
My Modern Met:
http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/moon-bridge-by-bbe022001-taipei-taiwan
bbe022001:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/29325798@N04/6920042977/in/photostream/

Trouble at t’Tate?: ‘re-appraising’ Lowry

 “Lowry remains popular, rather than important; it’s hard to imagine Tate Britain, which has 23 Lowrys in its basement, mounting a survey of his work.”

~ Critic Philip Hensher, April 2011

“What makes Lowry so popular is the same thing which stops him being the subject of serious critical attention. What attracts so many is a sort of sentimentality about him.”

~ Chris Stephens, Head of Displays, Tate Britain, 2011

How times change! And so quickly!
Tate Britain show to reappraise Lowry” (Daily Telegraph, this week).
In 2013.
It’s not difficult to suggest a reason for this sudden volte-face: like Tate Britain’s up-coming, ridiculously pitched Pre-Raphaelite show, a Lowry exhibition demands little more than a quick trip Up North to Salford Quays with two big lads, a wheel-barrow, and a van.
It’s cheap.
‘Reappraise’? What they probably mean is ‘repackage’. Tate Britain are surely showing Lowry precisely because, like Rossetti and his mates, he is popular, and will, they hope, set the cash registers ringing; will it have anything at all to do with genuine, critical ‘reappraisal’?

It’s all very well to state (Guardian) that the exhibition will examine the influence on Lowry of artists like Pissarro and Utrillo (and, one certainly hopes, of his teacher, Valette), but if it were to be a true ‘reappraisal’, the gallery would have to confront, head-on, the very basis of of Lowry’s much-vaunted popularity – this absurd notion of ‘a sort of sentimentality’.
Lowry’s words:

“To say the truth, I was not thinking very much about the people. I did not care for them in the same way a social reformer does. They are part of a private beauty that haunted me. I loved them and the houses in the same way.. “

(My emphases.)

There is nothing genial and altruistic here.
And this is why I, descendant of clog-shod generations of West Riding mill-workers, have never cared a jot  for the ‘matchstick’ paintings: I never believed them. Far from being paeans to the ‘Grim-Up-North-but-Salt-of-the-Earth’-ness that brings a nostalgic tear to the eyes of otherwise hardened northern hunks, they are detached, gimlet-eyed works (nothing wrong with that; the vast majority of art works are), and thus the very  opposite of ‘sentimental’. Any ‘warmth’ in them is supplied by you, the viewer, reacting to that browny/red-toned palette, itself a fib; if you’re as old as I am you’ll remember the mucky, murky blacks and greys of smoke, soot and more soot. And reacting also to that faux-naïf style, which for me grates horribly: it lends a simple (simple-minded?) ‘folksy’ feel, but in truth that very self-conscious stylisation has a dehumanising effect which in the end is not only, as Lowry admits, unsympathetic, but downright patronising.

So how will Tate Britain ‘sell’ these works? Just by bigging-up, as with the Picasso/British Art show, the influence of much better European artists? (So what? All art is referential.) Will they focus on the ‘northern myth’, Kinkade-style, in the hope of shifting a shed-load of tea-towels, mugs and prints to a heart-warmed, grateful public? And if they do, how will they give due weight to the ‘real’ Lowry, the actually quite interesting stuff? Stuff like this, a self-portrait from 1938:
And this:

Hidden until after his death, this series of drawings sheds a somewhat different light on the public, ‘cosy’ Lowry. If the people of his industrial scapes are rendered as less than human, his girls/women here are fetishistic dolls, trussed-up, sinister automatons (his favourite ballet was Coppelia, allegedly), fantastical puppets, easily controlled; this private Lowry reminds me of no-one so much as one Everard Cunion, familiar to those of you who read the weekly ‘womags’ as the owner of a dozen life-size sex-dolls, dolls being much less “trouble” than real women, and one of which he ‘married’:

Disturbing, whichever way you look at it; some might say bordering on the sociopathic.

Of course it’s no secret that Lowry was a, troubled, lonely man with, thanks in no small part to an overbearing mother, a not entirely healthy attitude to women; I’m just wondering if and how Tate Britain will deal with this ‘darker side’ honestly and informatively, because that’s the only way a full-scale exhibition of this, to my mind, decidedly second-rank artist could possibly be worthwhile.
If the show does turn out to be just another re-hash of ‘nice’ Lowry, simply another cash-cow that doesn’t lift the artist out of our comfort zone, then frankly the gallery will have altogether failed at anything like ‘reappraisal’.

To end on a more positive note, because I know that very many of you will love and adore Lowry and disagree with me vehemently, here’s one of his seascapes, many of which I hope will feature; these I do admire for their almost minimalist near-abstraction, and for me, truth:

I have been fond of the sea all my life, how wonderful it is, yet how terrible it is. But I often think … what if it suddenly changed its mind and didn’t turn the tide? And came straight on?”

My thoughts and fears exactly.
On this and this alone, LS Lowry and I are as one.



We need to talk about Baby: Marlene Dumas

Nothing, but nothing, scares the bejaysus out of me like ‘Evil Kids’: the Grady Twins in The Shining; Toshio in The Grudge; The Exorcist‘s Regan when she’s at that ‘awkward’ stage between ‘normal’ and head-swivelling, mushy-pea-spewing grotesqueness which, while horrible, does not inspire ‘horror’.

‘Horror’ for me resides in what Freud viewed as an aesthetic quality and termed ‘Das Unheimliche’: the ‘unhomely’, the discomfiting, the ‘not talked about’; it inspires “dread and repulsion”; its essence is the uncanny, ambiguity, the awareness of the alien within the all-too-familiar; the sense that Something is Not Quite Right. And is there anything less ‘heimlich’ (cosy, familiar), more ‘dreadful’, more disquieting than an ‘Evil Kid’? Anything more against what we believe to be ‘nature‘?

Not for me.
Which is why Marlene Dumas’ Die Baba (The Baby, 1985) has been etched on my brain since I first saw it at the Saatchi Gallery some years ago.

Oil on linen, 130cm x 110cm

One of the four pieces which make up the series First People, the painting has been described as ‘repellent’. Why? because it subverts, trashes even, every cliché we hold dear about our beloved children and our relationship with them: it’s Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin (great novel, not so great film) in one deeply unsettling image.

As always, the devil is in the detail.
First off there’s the scale – ‘man-size’ – so we’re already way beyond contemplating dandling this little treasure on our laps like a plaything; in fact, we’re not being asked to contemplate him as a ‘thing’ at all, but as a person (First People), not merely a self-indulgent version/extension of ourselves, the ‘parents’. This is a sentient, willful being who engages us directly through eyes which seem to have seen just about everything ever and not been entirely thrilled about it: the casually presumed ‘innocence’ of childhood is replaced with a confrontational ‘knowingness’, in that horribly arched eyebrow, that looks right through us, and, more disturbingly, judges us.

So used are we to being presented with images of happily gurgling, tousled-haired darling moppets, that the sight of a tight-lipped (what is that smeared on his mouth? Chocolate? Or something much, much worse?), Hitler-haired mini-man is a shock to the system. No bouncing, rosy-cheeked cherub this: the greeny/yellow-tinged palette is sickly and alienating, just plain wrong,  and, for me, it exactly conjures up what Freud was getting at.

Of course, Dumas is not out to simply scare us for scariness’ sake; she has a very serious point to make, like Shriver’s novel, about the clashing dichotomy between personal and societal expectations of parenthood and the actual, lived experience of it: the little angel can be just as often the little monster; sometimes we hate, or at least resent, our children, but it would never do to say it out loud, in public. What kind of parent would that make us?
In this brave, brilliant painting fear of the child is reflected back on us as fear of ourselves, of what we, supposedly rational, caring grown-ups, are both capable and incapable, despite what we like to believe, despite the images and conventions with which the world at large surrounds us.

Now there’s something to be scared of.

What a beast, what a man! Meet Mackie, artist

Looking at contemporary art is like panning for gold: once in a while, amidst the drift and dribble, you stumble fortuitously on the shiny stuff, on someone like a Katie Paterson or a George Shaw, say.
On someone like Mackie.

Romeo’s Return, oil on canvas, 153cm x 92cm

Mackie’s subect is “the very average man”, “the frailty and silliness of everything”. There is black humour aplenty: his world is peopled by what look like distinctly shady types but are in fact just men, caught in the act of simply being themselves, ‘blokes‘ ”: the innate slobbishness; the casual aggression; the tribalism; the testosterone-fuelled menace; the unconsidered lusty lip-curl of a lecher. But, as with all work of any worth, it cannot be reduced to simple cartoonish mockery; there is an empathy at play here, a fellow-feeling, an all too honest recognition (in himself?) of the ‘manly’ foibles and ‘frailty’ he so ruthlessly and starkly depicts.

Binge Drink, oil on linen, 100cm x 70cm

This empathy reveals itself formally.
With a background in illustration and design, it comes as no surprise that Mackie’s working process is painstaking, involving detailed preliminary sketching and 3D modelling before committing oil to canvas. His claim to classical Flemish influence is backed up by his realism, his measured palette, his meticulous attention to detail, his observation, his refusal to idealise or romanticise, his concern with the world as it ‘is’: he is a Bosch, or, perhaps more so, a Pieter Bruegel for our times.

Whose Round Is It? oil on canvas, 150cm x 90cm

All of which raises the work, as I said, above mere cartoon or caricature. What we are dealing with is not the stereotypical but the archetypal; a huge difference: moralising versus moral. (Easter Island heads, anyone?) Rather than putting on show a gallery of grotesques, Mackie is, perhaps, asking us to look within. And that includes you too, lady. You may not visually present, but you’re there by implication, in every single time you’ve looked at him and thought, “Bloody idiot!”. Men without women revert effortlessly to type.

A Convenient Streetlamp, oil on canvas, 153cm x 92cm

But what I really like about Mackie is that he loves art, he knows art. The references in his work are myriad, yet completely subsumed and assimilated, made totally his own: the Flemish, yes, but what about surrealists like de Chirico, film noir, Otto Dix (as a very percipient friend, Paul, suggested)? And, of course, with his spot-lighting, his ‘down and dirty’ naturalism, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio? I can’t and won’t speak for the artist, but this is what I see, and I love it.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, Giorgio de Chirico

A final word: Mackie may love art, but the modern art world is, maybe,  something else. His take on Champaigne’s Last Supper (1648) : Simon Cowell as Christ, and from left to right, Lucien Freud, Dinos Chapman, Richard Hamilton, Francis Bacon, David Hockey, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Jack Vettriano, Rolf Harris, Banksy, Grayson Perry, and Edouard Paolozzi: the Big Boys, the Money Men. A scathing diatribe against the ‘celebritisation’ of culture? Or just a world-weary acknowlegdement that this is simply how things are?

Who’s Judas: The Final 12, oil on canvas, 184cm x 122cm

Vettriano (gah!) appears to come in for some serious flak: see this subversion of (or perverse homage to?) Vettriano’s  Billy Boys, itself a ridiculously romanticised, glamourised, even sexualised take on tribal macho posturing:

Silly Boys, oil on canvas, 168cm x 127cm

The Billy Boys, Jack Vettriano

So there’s Mackie: a man with something to propose and the skill, knowledge and honesty to do so.
I hope you like him as much as I do: he doesn’t give pat answers, he asks questions,  and the ambiguities in his work allow us to take from them what we will: recognition, outraged censure, amusement, or, if not quite pity, at least a kind sympathy for these ‘blokes’ who, amidst the modern pressures of ‘political correctness’, fail so epically at being anything other than their ‘unreconstructed’ selves.
In today’s art scene that makes Mackie, it seems to me, a rare ‘beast’ indeed.

_________________________________

Mackie is showing at Hayhill Gallery, 5a Cork Street, London W1S 3NY, until 28 April 2012.
Mackie’s website: http://www.mackieart.co.uk/

Definitely not for burning…

Following on from my last, vaguely controversial post:
I would crawl over hot coals to save this lad’s bed from a Naples-style inferno before anything in Antonio Manfredi’s gallery, and certainly before anything created by Damien Hirst.
An Iraqi orphan, the child – how old is he? Seven? Eight? – has drawn a picture of his lost mother to cuddle up to.

Are you moved?
You should be.
This image works on many levels. Unbearably poignant as it stands, the fact that the child is described as Iraqi raises questions, for me at least, about how his mother died; about the ‘collateral damage’ that is inflicted on the innocent during a ‘just war’ and its aftermath. Of course she may have died from entirely natural causes but the inferences are there to be drawn.
How can they not be?

Two works in one: the photographic image, and that terrible, beautiful bed.
Beautiful because it’s True.
A solace and a provocation.
This is Art.