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tgpibp #3: Hockney

I’ve been finding this paintings-choosing business a bit frustrating, because in the spirit of the poll, I’m limiting myself to paintings in British collections, and many of the finest paintings I’ve ever seen in London were in temporary exhibitions. So you’ll just have to imagine all the El Grecos and Matisses and Whistlers I’m not including here.

Anyway, on to Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney. I think Hockney is a genuinely great artist. He’s done a lot of stylistic flitting over the years, and not all his work is equally successful, but the best of it is fabulous. The use of light, colour and composition remind me of Vermeer – they have very different palettes and rather subject matters, with Hockney generally favouring exterior scenes, but they both produce paintings of everyday scenes that have a poised, luminous quality. I went for Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, although if I wasn’t restricted to paintings in the UK I’d be tempted by various others including this one.

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Culture

tgpibp #2: Rembrandt

Another one from the National and another obvious choice. Self Portrait at the Age of 63 by Rembrandt. It’s so human. This isn’t the kind of thing people normally mean by ‘minimalist’ but I think it is a kind of minimalism. The best kind, perhaps.

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Culture

The Greatest Painting in Britain Poll #1: Holbein

The Greatest Painting in Britain Poll is being run by the National Gallery and the BBC to find the best-loved painting in a UK collection.

I’m using it as a reason to post some of my favourite paintings. No. 1: Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling by Hans Holbein the Younger, ca. 1527. It’s technically brilliant, it has cute animals in it, and it’s vaguely surreal. Why has this impassive-looking young woman been painted with a starling and squirrel? The colours don’t look quite right on either version I found. There’s a larger (but rather washed out) version where it’s easier to see what’s going on here.

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Culture

Folk Archive

A couple of days ago I went to see an exhibition called Folk Archive at the Barbican.

That website includes lots of the exhibits but the pictures are annoyingly without all the contextual information that helps make sense of them.

It was an exhibition of contemporary British folk art, but that term was interpreted extremely broadly; the exhibition includes (some of these are photos rather than the actual object): trade union banners, graffiti, prison art, modified cars, costumes from traditional festivals, prostitute calling cards, sectarian murals, shop signs, painted false nails, football fanzines, protest placards, crop circles, sand castles, flower arrangements…

The sheer range of objects makes it hard to know what to say. Many of them were complete tat – unremarkable examples of mundane objects – but seeing them all together one did get a sense of a huge wealth of amateur, unofficial creativity. I enjoyed it and found it curiously cheering.

Some mad video of people running through the streets of Ottery St Mary carrying burning tar barrels on their shoulders to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. And the Burry Man of South Queensferry. And other oddities. It made the modified car rallies and the Mods and Rockers reunion look like part of a long tradition.

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Culture

Caravaggio – the final years

No, really, that’s what the exhibition was called.

I suspect a few Caravaggio-related poems will turn up during napowrimo, because I can’t afford to waste material. It had me thinking, though, what would the poetry version of chiaroscuro be? The effect of chiaroscuro in a painting – to highlight a few points and draw the eye to them – is of course something that language does very naturally. But would there be a way of writing that be analogous to the contrasting areas of light and dark? And what would the effect be?

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Culture

Turner Whistler Monet

I went to Turner Whistler Monet at the Tate today.

The three artists are brought together because of shared interest in light, water, and shared subject matter – the Thames and Venice. Turner was an influence on the later two, as well.

It’s hard not to think of it as Turner vs Whistler vs Monet. In which case I think Whistler would win, on the basis of the paintings on display – though I have seen more impressive Turners and Monets in other exhibitions. Whistler’s ‘nocturnes’ were fab – very controlled, very simple, but absorbing. Monet came out worst; compared to the Whistlers and Turners, the fussiness of his brushwork seemed distracting, the colours bordered on the vulgar and the composition seemed a bit haphazard. Having said that, when the Monets were just right – or when I was in a more receptive frame of mind – they were lovely.

I went to have a look at the other Tate Turners later, and it’s really only the late paintings that invite comparison with Impressionists. The interest in light and atmosphere is clearly there in the early stuff, but he hasn’t developed the extraordinary colour-handling yet, and isn’t willing to let the light effects take over the painting to the point that they become the subject. It’s quite interesting that some of the late paintings that most interested the Impressionists are actually unfinished; he worked by laying down all the expanse of colours, then adding some details at the end to turn the painting into a lake scene, or Venice or whatever – but quite a lot survive which are just arrangements of colour. Even when he’d finished them, he didn’t always add very much, so it would be interesting to know what he’d think of people admiring them as paintings in their own right.

The TWM exhibition had some information about Mallarm