Harry’s advent calendar of paintings, day 23: Goya

This is The Straw Manikin, by Goya. It’s actually a cartoon for a tapestry, according to the blurb at the Prado.

It’s a great image: fun, surprising, silly and a little bit creepy. I suppose that creepiness might be my masculine response to the fact that it’s ‘a clear allegory of women’s domination of men’. Or it might be that the slightly contorted, limp figure with the fixed smile and blank eyes is firmly in Uncanny Valley territory.

Ham

I cooked a ham. Looks good, innit:

Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to taste as good as it looks, because I trusted the man who sold it to me when he said it didn’t need to be soaked before cooking, and the little bit I trimmed off to taste was VERY SALTY. Which is irritating, because it was quite an expensive chunk of meat. Ho hum.

It probably didn’t help that I steamed it instead of boiling it, but that’s how I cooked last year’s (after soaking it) and it was fine.

I also made an Italian Christmas cake thing called pangiallo, which was mildly stressful because of the not-very informative recipe and turned out to be a pleasant but completely unremarkable fruitcake of the kind I don’t like very much.

Bah humbug.

CHRISTMAS EVE HAM UPDATE:

I cut a few slices, and it’s certainly saltier than I would ideally like, but it’s not unbearably, mouth-shrivellingly salty, which I thought it might be after the little test bit I cut off. So let’s call that a partial win!

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Harry’s advent calendar of paintings, day 22: Ofili

Contemporary art is incredibly obsessed with ideas, and with the idea of ideas — when you read the exhibition blurb, it’s always full of stuff about the conceptual background to the work, and the ideas the work is supposed to provoke in the viewer.

I don’t have a principled objection to art based on ideas — a lot of it is crap, that’s Sturgeon’s Law for you — but it’s slightly odd, really, that it has become such an apparently essential element of art. Art is fundamentally tied to the physical reality of made objects*, and to suggest that those tangible objects are not enough to justify themselves, that they need to be dressed up in abstract ideas, almost seems to show a lack of confidence. As well as sometimes having a whiff of Emperor’s new clothes about it.

Chris Ofili can certainly do ideas with the best of them — his work engages in various interesting ways with blackness, Africa, religion, the canon and so on — but those ideas are expressed via exciting, beautiful objects. They have colour and texture, they are attractive at a distance but have fascinating fine details that draw the eye. Big paintings, leaning on the wall supported by varnished lumps of elephant dung, the way they are displayed emphasises their physical presence.

To quote the Tate:

No Woman, No Cry is a tribute to the London teenager Stephen Lawrence. The Metropolitan police investigation into his racially motivated murder was mishandled, and a subsequent inquiry described the police force as institutionally racist. In each of the tears shed by the woman in the painting is a collaged image of Stephen Lawrence’s face, while the words ‘R.I.P. Stephen Lawrence’ are just discernible beneath the layers of paint.

But it doesn’t need that context to work: in 200 years time, when the name of Stephen Lawrence is a historical footnote, it will still be a beautiful painting.

* yeah, I know, it’s more complicated than that.