IN-GER-LAND: more Mackie!

‘Twas a Happy Day when I – entirely by accident; I actually bothered to ‘View Photo’, for once – came across Mackie’s work on Twitter. So happy, I got in touch and begged permission to write a blog piece (which you can view here, and also on Mackie’s site),

So It’s with utter delight I present to you, cherished readers, his new work, A Modern History of English Football:

Oil on canvas; 1520mm x 1520mm

Past and present England football managers are gathered together, playing … subbuteo!
Now I Iove soccer. Not the grossly overpaid, hyper-sexed, racist, misogynist, show-pony proponents of the men’s game, but the game itself. Played well at the highest level, it can indeed be the Beautiful Game, a matchless display of skill and physical grace. Sport-wise, little compares to ‘your’ player hitting the back of the net with power and inch-perfect precision from forty yards out. Get in.
Unfortunately for England fans, such a display is as rare as rocking-horse crap. The last few decades have been a bloody nightmare of promise, hope, prayer, followed by gut-churning anguish as the dream disintegrated into a looped nightmare of broken metatarsals, ignominious sendings-off and dismal penalty shoot-outs.
‘Golden Generation’?
Gah.
It’s looking like our manager, whoever he is, wherever he’s from, could not, in fact, manage a piss-up in a brewery…

It’s no coincidence then, I think, that Mackie references here Caravaggio’s The Calling of St Matthew, serendipitously featured in a recent post, but, sod it, we’ll have it again:

A gang of low-life shady types are gathered in the gloomy back room of some insalubrious dive, when lo, Christ appears to interrupt their tawdry games of chance.
Roy Hodgson ( Mackie’s figure right, current England manager) as the Messiah? Haha.
But this is what we do, we England fans; we invest in the new incumbent and his team, if not exactly faith, then a kind of desperate desire, praying that he, he will be the one to finally lead us out of The Dark towards the Shining Light of Heaven that is the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

Of course, we know, really, deep-down, that he won’t. Been there, seen that, got the tee-shirt.
And this is Mackie’s gift, to once again capture that frailty, that slightly ridiculous withering of the dream even as it is being dreamt, that is the perpetual lot of the average, not just English but British, male (and female footie fan).
Knowing wryness undercut with empathy, understanding, and a blue, blue melancholy.

Like Caravaggio’s back room, the world of modern professional football can be and very often is, thanks to some of the class-free morons involved, a shamelessly tawdry cum sordid affair, but the game itself remains a fine one.
And that’s what it is: like subbuteo, ‘only a game’.
Isn’t it?
Well, that’s what we’ll be telling ourselves in 2014, as yet again we heave ourselves off the sofa and, with a deep dispirited sigh, go and put the kettle on.

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Mackie’s new work can be seen here:

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Still here, rambling on…(and some Caravaggio)

Hello, my lovelies!
It’s an age since last I gifted to the world my perspicacious insight (read “facetious ranting to minimal effect”) on matters artisitic, but to be honest there’s not been much that’s grabbed my attention.
I did consider adding my two-pennyworth on our Damien’s latest ‘Verity’ monstrosity, but the vitriolic, almost spiteful attacks against it – and him – by all and sundry have left me disinclined to jump back on this juggernaut of a bandwagon.
To wit: from today’s Guardian, Peter Duggan’s Artoon:

Too cruel.
Besides, if you didn’t think he was a cack-handed, talent-free zone twenty years ago, IT’S TOO LATE NOW, you ridiculous, fad-following, tightly-tousered numpty.

Anyways…
This post isn’t for you, it’s for me.
By complete accident/serendipity/whatevs I stumbled upon a really wonderful (to me) short but beautifully articulated talk by Ben Quash, Professor of Christianity and the Arts at King’s College, London, part of BBC Radio 3’s The Essay series on Caravaggio from a couple of years ago.
He talks about The Taking of Christ:

The Calling of St Matthew:

and about how the painter uses light, dark, space to lend these great, great works their huge emotional/religious impact; creating a kind of ‘God of the Gaps’ to which even a godless heathen like me cannot fail to respond.
Some BBC accompanying blurb:

“Tonight’s essay… maintains that in his great religious paintings such as The Calling of St. Matthew and The Raising of Lazarus Caravaggio is a master of capturing movement and the vibrancy of exchange. Furthermore, it is contended that in depicting exceptional relations between people and things in his religious works, the artist who espoused a turbulent and morally doubtful way of life, came as near as is possible in painting to representing God.”

Listen to Professor Quash (great name: In the Bathroom! With the Loofah!) here.

As I say, this is really for me: a way of keeping something rather marvellous to hand. I hope you enjoy it, but if not, no matter.
See you again when I can think of something vaguely interesting to say.

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PS If you did enjoy it, here‘s another one by another Light of My Life and tip-top Caravaggio scholar Andrew Graham-Dixon, in which he talks about the painter’s dramatic last years: the ‘murder’, his time as a Knight of Malta… and, not least, his legacy and influence on those great artists who came after.
What’s not to love?

” ♫ Happy Birthd… ♫” SHUT IT!!

There’s a downside to following an ‘interest’ on Twitter.
On the anniversary of the birth of anyone vaguely famous, there’s a rash of ‘Happy Birthday, ____________ ! (Insert ‘Diogenes’, ‘Pliny the Elder’, ‘Hildegard von Bingen’, whatever; ‘Hitler’, not so much, to be fair.)
It drives me nuts because, guess what?
They’re DEAD!
They can’t hear you!

So today I’m bracing myself.
For on this day  in 1571 was born one Michelangelo Merisi, in the village of Caravaggio near Milan.
The idea of anyone actually knowing Caravaggio and wishing him Many Happy Returns of the Day (“We got you this card…” “Aawww, you guys…..”) without getting her/his teeth re-set in the back of her/his head is, frankly, preposterous.

There’s worse.
Certain instititions/publications will no doubt ask me how I am planning to ‘celebrate’ this Great Day.
Well, I will throw myself from a horse, pick a fight with a Knight of Malta, and round off with supper in Emmaus, all the while carrying a huge spot-lamp so that I am invariably lit from one side only.
Will that do ya?

To cap it all, someone, somewhere, with no discernible talent, will make a crappy Gimp-pimped mash-up, fatuously desecrating a majestic image. Something like this:One I made earlier; just for purposes of illustration, you understand.

How will I bear it?
“Log out of Twitter!!”
Ooooh. Reckless. I might miss something unmissable, like a hamster in tiny leathers lip-synching to L.A. Woman. (One can but hope.)
No. I shall go on as usual.
With grace, gritted teeth, and a certain amount of alcohol.
Grrrrrr.

(PS This film has STILL not been made! For shame!)

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(For you, MM. I Love You. Be Mine…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=5H1UEh30QgM )

The Art of Getting it Wrong: Caravaggio

Obviously, being me, I couldn’t let pass the discovery of 100 ‘new Caravaggios’ without comment. (See an excellent summary of the story so far on Elliott in Gotham.)
The Higgs boson, and now this.
Truly, tempus mirabilis.

There are a host of reasons to admire Caravaggio; no need to list them: we all know what they are.
But what I love, really love, about him, is that, in some ways, he sucked.
Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, one of the Milan researchers:

“…the work of the adolescent Merisi… is powerful, realistic, but still messy… Some errors were so deep-seated they reappear years later in more celebrated paintings..”

Criticisms of Caravaggio’s style and technique were rife from the off. From Bellori’s Lives of the Artists (1672):

“…They [the old painters] spread it about that,… poor in invention and design, lacking in decorum and art, he painted all his figures in one light and on one plane without gradations.”

Bellori, while recognising his ‘innovations’ and ‘influence’, agreed.
More recently, Hockney has cited (in Martin Gayford’s excellent A Bigger Message) Caravaggio’s ‘mistakes in drawing‘ (sic) as evidence for the artist’s use of the camera obscura, that being the reason for:

“…anatomical and spatial oddities: arms too far, too short or too long; crammed into a visual space that is simply too small to contain them…”

All of which is neither here nor there.
I challenge anyone to stand in front of a great Caravaggio and not be moved beyond measure. The last thing you’ll remark upon is the disegna, the draughtsmanship. The sum is always greater than the parts.

Great art, for me, does not exist in ‘perfection’; it exists on the cusp, in that fine no-man’s-land between hanging together and falling apart. It’s human, and thus infinitely humane.
Michelangelo will always trump Bernini, in my book.

So again, Caravaggio: not the greatest ‘painter’, but arguably the greatest artist.
Bellori:

“He repudiated every other precept and considered it the highest achievement in art not to be bound to the rules of art.”

That, my friends, is why.

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7 July: See the latest from Elliott here. The sceptics weigh in.

9 July: Is it all Utter Bollocks?

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.

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

“…bada bing, bada boom…”

So. The Caravaggio story gets better yet: according to the  scholar Vincenzo Pacelli, the artist did not die of malaria or of anything as dull as that; he was taken out by hitmen from the Knights of Malta in a Vatican “state-sponsored assassination”.

Crikey.

I know what you’re thinking: why isn’t someone, anyone, making a movie? (You are, aren’t you? Well, you should be.)
Relax, already. I’m on it.
All I need is my favourite director, my favourite art critic as consulting ‘expert’, and someone who isn’t sodding Julian Fellowes to turn the most thrilling, rambunctious, bloody tale in the entire history of art into a screenplay.
Here are two of the above, Martin Scorcese and Andrew Graham-Dixon, expressing their Caravaggio-love:


A perfect match, no?
And their film would be a huge improvement on Jarman’s 1986 Caravaggio, surely? A worthy enough take but mired in an effete British ‘arty-ness’ which was, for me, somewhat undermined by an 80s-coiffed Sean Bean playing ex-Spandau Ballet member Ranuccio while emoting in a Sheffield accent thick enough to spread jam on.

No, Caravaggio doesn’t need ‘arty’ or effete, he needs foul-mouthed, brooding, trigger-happy grit.
He needs The Sopranos, where, just as in the shady back-streets of Baroque Rome, everything is a point of ‘honour’ and a ‘funny look’ will get you your face sliced.

So there’s our writer: Sops creator and and script-man-in-chief, the estimable Mr David Chase. Imagine if you will a scene exactly like this, in italianate ‘Noo Joisey’ accents, but with tights and a horse:


Works for me.
I’m also tempted to audition Christopher Moltisanti (can’t think of his real name. Who cares?) for the role of the man himself, but if I’m honest he’s second choice. Top of the list (it’s my film, remember) is Aidan Turner, most well-beloved for his Byronic turns in Desperate Romantics and Being Human:

Like Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, he looks fabulous in black.

Finally, of course, I need a capo dei capi, an alpha male whose authority is unquestionable, a wiseguy with a finger in every pie who’d have you topped as soon as look at you: I need a ‘Pope’.
Yup, in the absence of Brando, and with sincere apologies to Gandolfini, there can be only one: Big (not literally) Al:

Seems to me I’ve done all the hard work.
So c’mon, Martin. What’re you waiting for?
A little ‘persuasion’?

(Still working on a title: all suggestions gratefully received. Try to include the word ‘badass’.)

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Nick Squires’ Telegraph article on Pacelli’s theory:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/9181383/Caravaggio–was-killed-by-the-Knights-of-Malta.html

Yet another plug for AGD’s totally marvellous life of Caravaggio:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Caravaggio-A-Life-Sacred-Profane/dp/0241954649/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334139698&sr=8-1

Giving a horse’s ass: Carracci vs Caravaggio

Now, if you know me at all you’ll know that I cannot go more than a week without mentioning Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, or this quote:

“There was art before him [Caravaggio] and art after him, and they were not the same.” ~ Robert Hughes.

(I am nothing if not predictable.)

We are, of course, all aware of Caravaggio’s pervasive influence on visual artists from Rubens, Rembrandt and Velasquez through to Scorsese and Mapplethorpe; only this week I was ‘treated’ to an article on a MA graduate who had taken it upon herself to ‘re-imagine’ Caravaggio. (Don’t get me started. Such a cliché.) And anyone who does loves him has, at least to some degree, bought into that most romantic of ‘art’ myths, that of The Rebel (wonderfully sent up in the Tony Hancock film of the same name: my favourite ever art movie.)

Conversion on the Way to Damascus, Caravaggio, 1600-01, 2300mm x 1750mm

Annibale Carracci, on the other hand, has long been consigned to Art History, but it should be remembered that in his time, and for decades after his death, he too was considered an innovator and a paradigm, someone to be admired and learnt from. So when the two artists were awarded the commissions for the decoration of the new Cerasi Chapel in the Santa Maria del Popolo in 1600, it was something of a showdown, a Rumble in Rome, if you will:
“In the Blue corner! Beauty, idealisation, light, academic ‘rationality’, draughtsmanship, preparation, Euclidean! Seconded by Raphael , Michelangelo, Titian !
In the Red! Dirty feet, naturalism, gloom, peasant ‘superstition’, painting ‘alla prima’, fractal! No seconds!”
(Although Tintoretto may have been ringside, cheering him on.)

Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Carracci, 1600-01, 2450mm x 1550mm

Of course, Carracci won on a technicality. The altar-piece, the ‘purse’,’ went to him, the two side panels to Caravaggio.
But it was the latter who really landed the knock-out blow: can it possibly be a coincidence that the Conversion was hung to the right of the Assumption, so that that enormous horsey backside points directly towards it?
Maybe, but I don’t – won’t – think so. I love it too much.

Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

Caravaggio: volatile, rambunctious, by all acounts a bit of a nob. Never the greatest painter, but arguably the greatest artist. You gotta love him. How can you not?

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Caravaggio’s other painting in the Chapel is Crucifixion of St Peter:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_of_St._Peter_(Caravaggio)

Anyone with an interest in Caravaggio, or indeed art, should check out Andrew Graham-Dixon’s labour of love: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Caravaggio-A-Life-Sacred-Profane/dp/0241954649/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331467574&sr=1-1

Finally, very nearly gratuitously and entirely for your entertainment, a clip from the masterpiece that is The Rebelhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jfM05c3Rqg