Monday, 18 May 2009

A Long Journey

I think I was about 16 or 17 years when I first became aware of the work of Richard Long. I was at school taking my A Levels, English, History and Art. For me, at that time there was only art. The other two exams were simply there to help me get to University to study art. Long's work was a revelation. I knew very little about modern art. I had visited the Louvre, the Uffizi and a few other galleries but art was either figurative sculpture or painting. This man did something completely different. Most of all the work seemed accessible in a way that classical art was not. It did not seem strange in any way. It was a kind of elemental drawing and I loved drawing. The work presented all the forms that appealed to my young eyes: lines, spirals, circles. He used mud, snow, stones, rocks. All things that did not need to be paid for. The very idea that a walk was a piece of art was wonderful. I walked, I walked everywhere (we had no car). On Sundays I would escape home and walk with my friend Andy, these became our tribute to Long.
Looking back over thrity years his work still moves me. It generates a sense of longing for the isolated places, the wilderness, that he so often occupies. I have been increasingly pre-occupied by an anxiety that so much modern art requires the industry of dangerous chemicals, factory workers, factory budgets etc. to convince us whilst Long has been the most environmentally conscious artist of our generation, shunning complex methods of production in favour of a gentle footprint that disappears not long after his departure. There is a simple record that he was there.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Guns on Film

Having just watched for the first time "No Country for Old Men" I am now more convinced than ever that the portrail of murder in the style of this film can be of no good to no man. I find it sad that this film obtained four Acadamy awards. For what? I guess there is one perspective on the film that it is a "moral tale". I cannot agree with this. The hero, the killer, for that is what he is whether you like it or not, is portrayed in such a way that he becomes aspirational. The end of the film is a tribute to his strength. Why make films like this? To make money, that's why.
When I compare this film with another I have seen recently, The Lives of Others, there is no comparison. No Country is a traditional plot with a predictable path. The killing, the body is count, is sufficient for a Tarantino film and yet I above all if felt let down by the film. It was as empty as it is possible to be. Is this an astute reflection on American Society? Possibly, but it reminds me of the quote of the art critic Peter Fuller when he described some modern art as presenting the pornography of despair. Shame on the acadamy for celebrating a film that does nothing to move us forward but did everything to line their pockets.

Monday, 20 October 2008

We need to talk about Rupert Murdoch

I have just finished Lionel Shrivers extraordinary novel, "We need to talk about Kevin". I found the book extremely thought-provoking. It made me recall a conference that I attended many years ago on Attachment Theory at the Tavistock Institute in London. This conference too was very thought-provoking and I remember discussing with a friend of mine the nature of delinquency and who as a society we concentrated our attention upon when considering this issue. It seemed to both of us that society tended to focus on individuals who fit into the category of generally socially estranged, low income youth who commit acts of petty violence or vandalism. These acts clearly have a great impact on those who are directly affected and through the lense of the media they become a concern to all of us. However, for my friend and I there were other kinds of delinquents who escape in this way the attention of the media. Indeed, in one specific case they are the media. Reading Shrivers book makes one wonder why a boy turns into a mass school playground killer, is this nature or nurture. I want to ask the question as to why certain individuals grow up to become individuals with enormous power but seem to pass below the radar of this kind of analysis. The impact of Kevin is direct and visceral. The impact of other well known figures in our society is more blurred and perhaps less amenable to the kind of analysis Shriver undertakes for Kevin but I am convinced that "We need to talk about Rupert Murdoch."

Monday, 6 October 2008

Acting The Part

We live in strange times. Authenticity is a key aspect of the current Zeitgeist. I have only watched about ten minutes of "Big Brother" and this was enough. It bored me to pieces. I didn't get it. Why? The thing that struck me immediately was that these supposed "real people" were clearly acting. Now I have never been a great theatrical fan. I have seen some wonderful productions but I have also seen things in west end theatres that have made me want to cringe in my seat. I do however love cinema and in this context the performance of the actors is critical to the emotional experience. But there is something curious going on here too. The bigger the name of the actor (with some exceptions) the less I am impressed by their performances. I think this is partly because we see these "actors" in the media to such an extent that it becomes difficult to separate their persona from the part they are playing. Another thing is the obsession the media seems to have with, already well known personalities, taking part in TV shows where they are doing something other than what they are essentially known for. Whether this be dancing, cooking, surviving, or whatever, they are are playing another role for our supposed entertainment. It could be said that one reason why this obsession with "reality TV" has emerged is because it is cheap television but another factor is that personalities have become more important than expertise. We want to see the people that we know as personalities undertaking almost anything so long as they are there. I must say that for my taste this is unsavoury. I think I could finally say that it would be the end of the world as we know it if David Attenborough was seen on some reality TV programme learning how to cook or garden or something.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Old Enemies

Damien Hirst's recent decision to sell some of his work directly through auction at Sotheby's rather than through the more traditional means of galleries brings up the old question of old enemies. In my experience there is always going to be a friction between artist and gallery. Having run a gallery and as a practising artist I feel that Damien may be being a touch too sensitive about the "snotty" gallerists, after all, at an earlier stage in his carreer they were essential to him. Indeed, one of the criticisms that might be levelled at Damien Hirst is that he is the product of the gallery world. I do not think that his work has come to the public attention as cream simply rising to the surface. For good or for bad galleries make artists in this day and age. I happen to be quite a fan of some of his work and can understand why he would rather Robert Hughes leaves him alone. There is good and bad in the ouevre of Hirst but this also so true of many other great artists, Picasso being a very well known example. By the by, anyone interested in this question should read the Success and Failure of Picasso by John Berger. A great book.
I discovered as a gallery owner that the maxim that "if the work sells this is because the artist is great and if it doesn't sell, it is the fault of the gallery."

Friday, 30 May 2008

Cy Twombly and the rain

Cy Twombly I do not get. The name is magnificent. The work has never touched me. I know many people who would disagree with me but the majority of his work leaves me stone cold. I wonder why? I mean that. Is it that I can't get in touch with some part of me? Is the problem me and not the work? I don't think so. For me his work is essentially vacuous in that it leaves no trace on my memory. I cannot recall in my head a Cy Twombly moments after having looked at one. For me I like an image to sear itself into my memory. For example, there is a painting by Howard Hodgkin with a title something like "After Rain". The first time I ever saw this painting I almost cried. It did not represent a physical image but contained everything in the feeling. I feel as if Cy Twombly is trying to tell me something but the language that he uses is in itself confused. I think it is work that deludes rather than illuminates. This of course may be its purpose but I doubt it. I am sure that he is earnest but I suspect that those that are around him might be less so.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Gehart Richter and Duality

Richter is one of the great living artists. His work is sometimes astonishing. I have often shown people his figurative paintings and they cannot believe that these are paint and not photography. And yet of course they are photography translated into paint. That is why he is so interesting. He is still working on this complex relationship between the eye of the camera and the eye of the artist. But if this were all I think it could be argued that Chuck Close maybe made this theme his own with the great paintings of the 60 and 70s. I remember standing in a gallery in Frankfurt and there was this huge Chuck Close on the wall in front of me. Some Japanese came up to me and asked whether the image was a large photograph or a painting? In the end does it matter? Well I guess it does for some reason. We love to think that the hand of person can achieve what a machine can achieve. Such a strange game, like a machine conducting an orchestra. We have always battled with machines. We probably always will. But Richter has a dual personality. Along with these extraordinary figurative images comes the "abstract" work. Paintings that are about pushing paint across a surface. Some people think these images are soulless as they are about the mechanics of paintings. They resemble the pallet of the artists at the end of work. Smudged paint that is often more beautiful than the image on the canvas. Perhaps this is it. Both the work from photographs and the abstract paintings are just the result of an artist at work who knows that at the end of the day, the image is all but the hand of the artist is the genius.