Monday, 20 February 2012

Lucian Freud Portraits

The third big art event is at the National Portrait Gallery, a major exhibition of the work of Lucian Freud, with 130 paintings on display.  See the NPG's website here.

Critic Laura Cumming writes: Lucian Freud Portraits is the final act of a prodigious career. Freud was still working on the show until his death at the age of 88 last summer. A whole floor of the National Portrait Gallery has been cleared away for the labours of a lifetime and the experience is grave, mysterious, compelling and inexhaustibly strong right up to the last portrait, where the brushstrokes simply cease mid-sentence.  What was Freud's true subject all these years? The book of his art seems to be open in this monumental show, beginning with those early portraits that appear almost Flemish in their cold acuity. Here is Freud's first wife, Kitty, with her wistful fallen rose hanging opposite his self-portrait, hawk-eyed behind the barrier of an outsize thorn.

Here is his second wife, Caroline, limpidly beautiful in 1952: are there any more shining eyes in art? But within two years he has become an anxious shadow, in the devastating Hotel Bedroom, ousted to the window's edge by the vast bed in which she lies, eyes now swollen. He looks at us, she looks away: an impasse of guilt and irreversible pain.  Continue reading:  

This exhibition of 130 of Freud’s works looks at his output from the early 1940’s up to his death last year and focuses solely on his portraits. He worked only from life and what you see here is not only the finished works, but some of the surrounding narrative, with rare photographs taken by his assistant. The subjects include famous sitters (HM the Queen), members of the public (Sue Tilly, the Benefits Supervisor), and members of his own family.

Freud once said “I could never put anything into a picture that wasn't actually there in front of me” and I can understand why some subjects were a little shocked by the results. The Queen is presented in a tiny A4 size painting, with a most severe expression. The Daily Telegraph called it ‘unflattering’ but you can now see it in the Royal Collection.

I hadn’t seen any of Freud's original work before this exhibition, and at first impression, these seem to show quite blocky or chunky faces, almost crudely executed, without apparent feeling for the subject. But after studying for a while I came to see that each face has enormous detail, with a wonderful range of colours and shades to the skin.  There are lots of his nudes, almost all at full length, usually of close friends, frequently of lovers, sometimes of the various mothers of his 14 children, and of his daughters, and even his newborn baby.  Some don’t make for easy viewing and nobody seems glamorous in the conventional sense.  I liked them but most of all I liked Freud’s self-portraits. He mainly puts himself in empty backgrounds, is sometimes seen from below, and seems a large, forbidding, threatening figure. And yet there is something quite touching about them all.

This website claims to have almost all his works, and there are more images here

There was a very interesting programme on BBC2 this last weekend, Lucian Freud: Painted Life, which is available on iPlayer until 25th February.
 Painted Life explores the life and work of Lucian Freud, undoubtedly one of Britain's greatest artists. Freud gave his full backing to the documentary shortly before his death. Uniquely, he was filmed painting his last work, a portrait of his assistant David Dawson.  The film shows how Freud never swam with the flow and only achieved celebrity in older age. He rejected the artistic fashions of his time, sticking to figurative art and exploring portraiture, especially with regards to nude portraiture, which he explored with a depth of scrutiny that produced some of the greatest works of our time.
This is another hugely popular exhibition, almost overcrowded at first.  My tip: Tickets are sold for timed slots, with entry every half hour. The result is a rush at, say, 3.30, with the first two or three rooms really crowded.  So go in 15 minutes later and you should find that it has eased quite a bit.  Lucien Freud Portraits runs until 27th May. 

To complete the circle, one of the side works at the Portrait Gallery, is a lovely photograph taken by Freud’s assistant David Dawson, of David Hockney sitting in 2003 for Freud, with DH sitting beside the completed portrait and LF also in the shot.  

By coincidence, at the cinema on Saturday I saw A Dangerous Method, a film by David Cronenberg about the relationship between Lucian’s grandfather Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (starring Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen) with a screenplay by Christopher Hampton.  And still to come in this bumper art year is Tate Modern’s 2012 big event, to coincide with the Olympic Games, a huge Damien Hirst show. It opens in April and runs to September.

Hockney: A Big Splash

I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of the work of David Hockney, but my guess is that it was in the early 1970’s.  It would almost certainly have been through the Sunday Times Colour Magazine, which in those pre-Murdoch days was my choice of reading on sundays.  Hockney was an ideal subject for the colour magazine as he was by then living in California, his work depicting the bright west-coast lifestyle.  Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy was the first painting I remember. (The Mr and Mrs of the title were fashion designer Ossie Clark and textile designer Celia Birtwell, painted after their wedding where Hockney was best man; Percy was one of their cats).   See it here

I came closer to Hockney’s work when living in Leeds.  Jonathan Silver opened the 1853 Gallery at Salt’s Mill, at Saltaire near Bradford, and gave over one enormous floor of this giant old mill complex to the work of Hockney. We were quite regular visitors. Paintings, prints, posters, books, anything to do with Hockney was here – and so was the man himself, occasionally.

That is all by way of a pre-amble to the huge show at London’s Royal Academy - David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, which crowds are flocking to in their thousands, around seven thousand people on one day recently.  I’ve always been impressed by Hockney’s enthusiasm for new technologies, his willingness to explore new things.  Some have been tried, and then passed over. Others have become part of his oeuvre.  Photo-collages, shot with Polaroid Instamatic cameras, the use of fax machines, photocopiers and printers; digital cameras; art made on an iPhone, and now the iPad.  I was keen to see these in this exhibition.

The Royal Academy exhibition occupies all the main rooms, and much of the work was done by Hockney knowing it would be shown there.  The works on display are largely his new series of landscapes of east Yorkshire (he has now moved back to England to live in Bridlington) and the scale is enormous: several pieces are over 12 metres across.  He describes it as " seeing England through a Californian filter" and the views are certainly done in very vivid colours.  It is a very "dense hang" - in one room I counted 77 paintings.  In the largest room he has created an installation "The arrival of spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty-eleven)” a mammoth work, which fills the whole wall, and is complemented by 50 iPad drawings, enlarged from the Pad screen and printed on paper. 

photo: the Guardian

There is a lot of this large-scale, bright and colourful, images of Yorkshire landscape, and on my second visit I began to feel that the whole thing was like a big meal, a banquet perhaps, where it’s all excellent food, but you find you are full midway through the main course.  For me, there is a bit too much to absorb of the same kind of work.

Reputedly Hockney was the first person in the UK to have an iPad, and the show includes a display of his paintings done on that device (priceless endorsement for Apple). These are well worth seeing.  There is also series of new films produced using 9 hi-definition cameras, mounted on the front of a car, which are displayed on multiple screens and provide a fascinating journey through the lanes of East Yorkshire, at various seasons of the year.  At the end of the landscape film comes an even more enjoyable short dance film, created with dancer Wayne Sleep, shot from above, with wonderfully witty choreography, music and design. Possibly the best thing in the whole show.  So my advice would be to accelerate through some of the middle-order rooms and give yourself plenty of time in the last three rooms, which are fascinating.  It is here that Hockney has his iPad paintings. Printed onto paper, and much larger scale than the iPad, this follows an earlier exploration of drawing done on the iPhone  

I found this lovely video of Hockney painting on an iPad in the café of the Louisiana Museum in Denmark.  

There is short video here of Hockney discussing the films  (taken from a BBC Countryfile programme).   

I can’t do justice to the volume of work on display, but read this piece from the RA Magazine.  

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly to 9th April, tickets can be bought online, with extended hours on Friday and Saturdays, last entry at 23:30

The da Vinci Crowds

These last few months have been a bumper time for the national art institutions in London, with enormous crowds flocking to see three major exhibitions:  Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at the National Gallery, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy, and the Lucian Freud Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

The Leonard da Vinci closed at the beginning of this month, after a packed twelve weeks, and was hailed "One of the exhibitions of the century" by Roy Strong in the Telegraph.  It was certainly the hottest ticket of the year, with Reuters reporting tickets bought at £16 re-selling online at £300.

Over the years there have been several exhibitions looking at Leonardo as a scientist and inventor. This claimed to be the first to focus on him as an artist, to and look at his aims and technique.
In the Observer, Laura Cumming’s review started:  
Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, the National Gallery’s once-in-a-lifetime show, is a revelation from first to last. It contains more than half of all the surviving paintings, so fragile and rare, begged and borrowed from around the world. These are sparely presented, one or two to a room, and with lighting superbly matched to that of the pictures themselves, with their pale figures looming out of the darkness like night creatures, held fast in knife-edge contours and sealed off by an almost alien perfection. The show is dazzling, mysterious and disturbing.   Continue reading here

I loved this exhibition, and felt privileged to see these works.  Leonardo painted only 20 works in his career, of which just 15 are known to survive and 8 were on display here. You have to remind yourself that these were created in 1480-1490.  That is, you are looking at eight paintings and fifty drawings over 500 years old, delicate, fragile, most of which have traveled to this exhibition under the strictest environmental and security conditions.  I wonder how the NG managed to secure the loans.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Broadgate Tower, London

I don’t particularly like the look of this building, designed by architects Skidmore Owings and Merrill, which stands at the northern boundary of the Square Mile.    However, in the second shot, taken from due east on Commercial Street, it seems more acceptable. Perhaps the setting against a rich blue sky helps.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Banksy and King Robbo

This graffiti is on the corner of Clipstone St and Cleveland St in central London. I believe it is by the artist Banksy, and the perspex covering would suggest somebody has decided it is worthy of protection. You have to step up quite close to read the additional message, scratched on the perspex. "Fuck Banksy - Team Robbo 4 Life"

There is a long-running rivalry between the two artists and their supporters, documented on King Robbo's Wikipedia page, here

Monday, 6 February 2012

Batsmen and Snowmen

London Fields, photographed from the same spot

June 26th 2012

February 5th 2012

Mark Kermode rates Tyrannosaur

The always-interesting Mark Kermode had a powerful column in The Observer yesterday about the British film Tyrannosaur, my own best film of 2011.

One of the very few major disappointments at this year's Bafta nominations was the lack of a best actress nod for the brilliant Olivia Colman. While Oscar voters tend to prefer their British thespians to play royals rather than real people, Colman's portrayal of an apparently happy-go-lucky charity shop worker with a dark domestic secret in Tyrannosaur (2011, StudioCanal, 18) deserved to wow British voters.

An assured and deeply personal feature debut from writer-director Paddy Considine, this tough but elegiac drama throws together two displaced souls: Colman's covertly abused wife (the mercurial Eddie Marsan plays her tormentor with horrific conviction and guile) and Peter Mullan's borderline psychotic drunk who opens the movie by kicking his faithful dog to death in a fit of impotent rage. It all sounds unbearably tough and certainly there is much here that challenges even the most sympathetic viewer to flinch and turn away. Yet beneath the battle-scarred, world-weary exterior lurks something altogether more uplifting – the sense of an unlikely emergent bond that gradually breaks the boundaries of the down-to-earth drama.

While each of these characters may be variously damaged, none of them is quite what they appear at first glance, least of all Colman's furiously resilient Hannah. What starts out as a grimly believable example of slice-of-life miserablism mutates into a covert treatise upon transcendence in which both religion and reality play a part.

Plaudits are due to actor-turned-film-maker Considine who handles the difficult material with confidence and grace and proves himself to be as much of a force of nature behind the camera as in front of it. Bravo.

Notwithstanding Mark Kermode’s jab at Bafta, the film has received some recognition in the UK. At the 14th Annual British Independent Film Awards in December it won Best Film, Best Debut Director, and Best Actress for Olivia Colman. If Paddy Considine’s name doesn’t ring any bells, his Wikipedia entry here may help. Peter Bradshaw’s review of Tyrannosaur in the Guardian says “ really is a tough watch” and it is, but don’t be put off by that. The film is now out on dvd, available at Amazon and elsewhere.

As well as those named by Kermode, there are notable performances from Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell, and Samuel Bottomley as the young boy next door, Sian Breckin plays his mother.

A list of all the awards Tyrannosaur has received worldwide, and pending nominations, is here. Next up is the Evening Standard Film Awards, to be announced this evening, 6th February, where Tyrannosaur is nominated for Best Film, Best Actor (Peter Mullan), Best Actor (Olivia Colman), Best Screnplay (Paddy Considine)

The Bafta Film Awards will take place next Sunday 12th February. Here is the list of nominations.