29 June 2016 § Leave a comment
“It’s the instantaneous light. If you get it right then you get it in the total present tense – that’s what you’re going for, that’s eternity.” Alex Katz
The new Alex Katz exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries is a combination of two distinct series of work representing two aspects of his work – portraits and landscapes. Entering the gallery we are met with three walls each with one gigantic orange painting.
These are recent portraits of women – each given the subjects first name – Vivien, Anna and Ada (his wife, a frequent subject). They may be named and are ‘of’ somebody but that is as far as Katz wants to take us. These might just as well be still lifes, we are not invited to learn any more about these ladies and there is no narrative. We are simply encouraged to be ‘in the moment’ and the artists wants to see no more or no less that what is right before us.
The subjects are simply dressed, if indeed we see what they are wearing, almost expressionless, and return our gaze. The backgrounds a pure bright orange – they could be ‘Easy Jet’ adverts and indeed the link with advertising is there, Katz heavily influenced by billboards, his paintings characterised by their flatness of colour and fluidity of line.
The artist, now 88, came of age as an artist in 1950s New York, and developed his unique approach to contemporary representational painting during the height of Abstract Expressionism. His work is reminiscent of artists like Tom Wesselman and Andy Warhol but any association to pop art is to be avoided though as gentle and careful brushstrokes energise the caves and bring life to the faces.
The exhibitions title, Quick Light, comes from Katz’s desire to bring the image to us as quickly as possible – as in adverts – removing superfluous detail in order that our brains absorb the image with minimal delay. Like the almost totally two dimensional figures the paint is flat and he is happy to agree with the term ‘aggressive’ in respect of the quick impact that his images have upon us.
The Serpentine has also taken the clever opportunity to present a number of Katz’s landscape paintings in the leafy surroundings of Hyde Park. The central gallery is occupied by several of these, some almost abstract in appearance exemplify his life-long quest to capture the present tense in paint. The largest fill whole walls of the Serpentines sizeable walls.
Reflection is a rohrsach-style mirrored reflection water in blue and black, West 1 features illuminated windows on a black background whilst Black Brook 18, in green and black we guess must be a stream and grass.
They are enigmatic and again Katz gives no story – these are paintings simply of present ‘moments’. Regardless of their scale, he describes these paintings as ‘environmental’ in the way in which they envelop the viewer. Defined by temporal qualities of light, times of the day and the changing of the seasons.
Everything Katz does looks deceptively easy, and thats how he wants it. Seeing that Henri Matisse’s work seemingly required ’no effort’ he was inspired to paint in a similar way. The inspiration of this Serpentine show is seeing another master at the peak of his powers.
Alex Katz: Quick Light is at the Serpentine Gallery until 11 September.
For more information visit www.serpentinegalleries.org
This feature also appears on www.cellophaneland.com
5 June 2014 § Leave a comment
It does not seem many years ago that the late work of major artists was largely ignored. Large sections of an artists oeuvre were discounted as insignificant senile dabbling and considered to be critically irrelevant. There has however been a steady and distinct change to this view – largely led by the market who often looked at late works differently to the critics.
With the lack of quality pieces available to satisfy the increasing worldwide demand collectors were priced out of the market for many artists works. It didn’t take long for them to move on to, for example Picasso work in the sixties, and moving forward provoke critical reassessment from the art establishment.
The late work of Henri Matisse is a perfect example of this re-evaluation. Produced only in the last seventeen years of his life before his death in 1954 these works were initially seen as an interesting novelty only gradually being re-evaluated as being not only extraordinarily valuable but highly important.
Initially Matisse used the cut-out technique to plan his painted works, but in part due to his failing heath he turned totally to scissors in place of the brush. He had realised that he could simply create the artistic line directly with his scissors and as a result found that – like a sculptor he could literally carve his works directly from the coloured paper. This was a revelation and with the newly liberated freedom found a new era of creativity.
Indeed once he got started there was literally no stopping him. An assistant would help him arrange the cut fragments around his walls, over the ceiling, occupying his entire living spaces. Installation-like these works were all-encompassing and evolving: frequently they were re-arranged, added to or discarded.
An innovator to the last his work frequently seemed to anticipate future trends and even late in his life Matisse had an awareness of what he was doing. “It seems to me I am anticipating things to come,” he said. “It will only be much later that people will realise to what extent the work I am doing today is in step with the future.”
Arranged largely chronologically it is hugely comprehensive and even reunites some works for the first time since they left the artists studio. This exhibition – if rather late in the day – provides a spectacular overview of the cut-outs, affirming them as his finest work – a perfect coda to a life of genius.
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is at Tate Modern until 17 September 2014
Adrian Searles review in the Guardian
Brian Sewell review in the Standard
Richard Dorment review in the Telegraph
29 March 2014 § Leave a comment
It is not often that an exhibition impresses as much as this one. The new Richard Hamilton retrospective at Tate Modern, London, is one that could genuinely make the art world reassess just how important and influential a figure was, not only amongst British artists but within 20th century art history in general. The title of Hal Foster’s excellent new book: The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter and Ruscha shows that even this hugely important critic puts Hamilton in the same league as the greatest artists of the late 20th Century and this exhibition reinforces that view.
Hamiltons greatest legacy is of course as the widely acknowledged founder of Pop Art. His collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? is considered the first work of the genre and the groundbreaking exhibition in which it featured – This is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Gallery – Pop Art’s first exhibition. The movement over the pond followed on later led by the likes of Lichtenstein, Oldenburg and Warhol and was only getting under full steam by the early sixties.
In a note to Alison and Peter Smithson he jotted the following, worth repeating in full as a brilliant example of a memorable, off the cuff, manifesto for a movement: Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low Cost, Mass-Produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big Business.
If Hamilton has, up to now, perhaps been less recognised than he should it may be because the British Pop Art scene was quickly submerged by the bigger, brasher and bolder works from the States, his time in history just a brief interlude before being overwhelmed – perhaps by mass production and big business?
The chronological hang at the Tate however allows groups of his early, and later, works to be shown together and lets us better assess Hamilton as an artist. We are first taken though rooms of pieces, often heavily influenced by Marcel Duchamp, who he admired to the point of taking two years out to oversee reproduction of the Brides Stripped Bare… (Large Glass), shown in this show and other works from the 1960 Duchamp retrospective at the Tate.
It moves on past his impressive and telling multiple Marilyn portraits on to a eclectic series of works that often incorporate and pastiche the world of advertising, such as Slip it to Me – a giant American Badge and a number of works where Richard replaces the Ricard of French Pastis fame.
Blink and you miss the tiny Just What is it… before a series of the famous Swingeing London images featuring a handcuffed Mick Jagger – Hamilton often worked in series repeating and varying works as part of his practice.
Later works, often revisiting earlier themes, are hit and miss but it is notable that right in to his eighties he produced dynamic and impressive works that still had the ability to find a target – often political – his Venice Biennale Northern Irish triptych The Citizen/The Subject/The State being particularly noteworthy.
Make sure you visit and perhaps go after 17 April to catch Henri Matisse: The Cut-outs at the same time!
Richard Hamilton is on at the Tate Modern until 26 May 2014
15 March 2014 § Leave a comment
“I want to be as though new born, knowing nothing about Europe, nothing, no pictures, entirely without impulses, almost in an original state”. Paul Klee 1902.
Klee was one of the last century’s deepest thinkers about artistic theory, the above early diary entry perhaps presenting his initial starting point. Anybody who has tried to read – or rather ‘plough through’ – any of his writings will know how much complex thought he has invested in to his art.
I here say ‘plough through’ advisedly since his writings are more like complex scientific text books that essays on art thinking. Illustrated with innumerable diagrams, sketches and graphs they present new ways of thinking about the creation of art, largely developed during his periods of Bauhaus teaching.
His Pedagogical Sketchbook for example begins with thirty pages of closely reasoned text on the significance of ‘the dot’ before apologising for brevity and moving on to ‘the line’. The published ‘notebooks’ of his thoughts and writings whilst at the Bauhaus exceed a thousand pages and feature headings like ‘The concept of analysis’ and ‘Corporeo-spatial tensions’. Every aspect of image making is pored over, analysed and scientifically dissected.
One might think that somebody who analyses art so deeply would be far too ‘bogged down’ in theory that they would find it all but impossible to produce any appealing art. Surprisingly though this show at the Tate proves the opposite. This deep thinking stimulated him into production of a wide variety of interesting work within relatively short time bands.
The Tate’s chronological approach successfully shows the twists and turns of his style as well as his great early confidence. From the start, despite unfavourable reviews from his first solo show, he was already precisely numbering and cataloguing each work. A Constructivist period leads in to his time with the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group, where the influence of Kandinsky is strongly visible. Cezanne, Bracque, Picasso, Matisse and especially Delaunay were further influences before Klee threw himself in to a decade of teaching at the Bauhaus.
The exhibition repeatedly surprises as successive rooms show the depth of his talent. Oil, watercolour or oil-transfer are given equal prominence and plenty of space to shine. An early realisation that there is much more to Klee than you thought you knew leads to an acceptance that this really is a master of modern art. Repeated innovation, prodigious in production and immensely talented a relatively early death in 1940 surely deprived the world of much, much more.
Paul Klee Making Visible is at Tate Modern until 9 March 2014
11 September 2010 § Leave a comment
Have you ever looked at a painting and wondered what might happen next? What about if the sun set a little or the model turned around? OK – I know that moving pictures have long been with us – the current Muybridge exhibition at the Tate giving early insight in to its origins – but Dutch artist Jacco Olivier, whilst combining the arts of animation, film and painting does actually create projected works that owe more than usual to the traditions of painting.
Using bold colours and free brush strokes Olivier repeatedly reworks initial paintings, the photographs of each stage in its development ultimately becoming an, often multi-layered, animated narrative. In his impressive painting style one glimpses the freedom of Matisse and the colours of the Fauves. Their semi abstract nature and emotional treatment of light evokes Howard Hodgkin, the abstract qualities often resemble those of Gerhard Richter.
There is little consistent theme to the works. Instead we are given a window in to a world where we glimpse what seem to be random, informal and seemingly insignificant scenes – simple scenarios from everyday life taking place in their own dreamlike environment. In the past Olivier has shown us such modest events as a plane flying overhead, a frog attempting to cross a road or whale lazily swimming by. He has said that his works represent someone “looking at the things outside, mixing them with his own memories and desires” although he does add “that’s all I need to make it work in my head, but is not necessarily something the viewer sees, or even has to see.” We do see a narrative, but it is just a part of the whole – we are still left to ponder on what is to come. There are no beginnings, no middles, no ends – no neat conclusions.
In the latest exhibition at Victoria Miro Olivier has become slightly less intimate than in the past. The works are larger in scale and have less emphasis on story-telling; the paint becomes more noticeable, the animation less so. His subjects, at least in Miro’s downstairs gallery, are traditional – the portrait, still life, landscape and the bather – the figures, where they appear, almost passive. A central family group is dwarfed as the landscape morphs about them (Reflection), a bather casually dries herself (Bath), a man slowly walks in to a pool of water (Transition), an aerial view of the countryside rolls uneventfully along (Landscape).
Upstairs is the impressive, twenty-four minute Revolution – a huge work that occupies the whole rear wall of Miro’s not insubstantial gallery. A day-in-the-life of an imaginary universe which, rotating slowly, reveals fantastical galaxies, clouds of gas and even a wiggling organism. The scale brings a physical presence as it evokes anything from Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey ‘light tunnel’ to electron-microscope images or Hubble supernovas.
One occasionally yearns for the continuously morphing images to pause for a moment. There is a desire to sink more deeply in to the works and admire their painterly qualities; to perhaps absorb their aesthetic beauty at a more leisurely pace. Despite this one must admit that Olivier has undoubtedly created work with unique charm. Lying part way between painting and film, beautiful, intriguing, enigmatic and strangely hypnotic this is a world that I very much enjoyed being part of. Now perhaps if I cleared out the spare room and painted the wall white….?
- London – Jacco Olivier’s New Works (09.07.10 – 10.02.10) (hustlerofculture.com)
- Victoria Miro | interview (guardian.co.uk)