Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

December 6, 2014

Anthony Gormley

Filed under: Art History,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Rob Adams @ 9:12 am

Another in the BBC series of “What Artists do all Day” dealt with Anthony Gormley which I enjoyed I must say. They have done comic strip artists and so forth and haven’t for the most part done the obvious genuflections to the fine art elite.

Anthony Gormley is an interesting figure. He fits almost too well into the “Modern Artist” mould. He is just of that generation where the battles were all fought and won by earlier artists and so is well placed to take his comfortable place at the table. He has taken the approved course in his career, settling on one subject and pursuing in remorselessly, indeed some might say ad nauseam.

Part of my problem with him is that I vaguely like his work, it would indeed be a challenge for anyone to dislike it. It is thoughtful, polite, quite well conceived and generally well executed. There have been a few moments of resistance to his public works, but none of his work is really going to scare any horses in the longer term. He is I suppose very safe. I could find a certain amount of criticism of him, not only eulogy, but even the attacks on him from the Guardian and the Evening Standard lack intellectual bite. More on message critics are oddly reserved about him as he really does seem to offend no one, which is in contemporary terms his weak suit.

It is I find quite hard to focus on his work long enough to form any view. His large works are large without any intellectual reason for scale. Interviews show that he hasn’t quite grasped how expansion works in the universe, (he thinks getting bigger but staying the same shape) everything moving away from everything else at the same speed from any chosen point is a mental step too far for him perhaps.

The film was based in his studio that encompassed a host of studenty elves who carry out the tedious work of manufacture. I couldn’t help but notice that almost none of the work would be a great deal of fun to make. All drudgery and not much pleasure with barely any personal satisfaction, must be their lot. He stressed an art community ethos, but benevolent, austere autocracy looked like more the actuality. I felt a little sorry for all the young folk forced to endure uncomfortably egalitarian and probably vegetarian lunches, with the great man determinedly not physically at the head of the table. It would be more courageous and sensitive, I would have thought, to occupy the physical location that reflected the actual statuses in play. I tried during the film to spot anyone over 35 but couldn’t which is a little odd. Does he live in a world as a solitary patriarch, with no one of his own generation to threaten and intrude on his monopoly of  temporal perspective?

There was a particularly funny section where people were taking, to my eye, crude 3d scans of his much observed carcass. They then rather randomly and solemnly created cubic volumes to occupy a vaguely similar space. The master stroke was then scaling these each from their centres until they became abstract intersecting forms. (Some poor bastard then had to weld them up in steel afterwards no doubt). That the scan looked to be of poor quality in the first place throws some doubt on the whole procedure, the 3D form was weak sculpturally so by adding cubes it could only improve. It was a process for its own sake, without as far as I could see any real worthwhile intellectual thought.

Another illuminating moment was when some fellow artist arrived from China on a visit. Gormley told us admiringly that the chap had been dipping a paint brush in paint every morning as a sort of ritual and it was now 30kg or so in dried paint. He seemed to think this interesting and admirable rather than risible and dull. I wondered if it was Yue Minjun as he uses figures in the repetitive way that Gormley does. Repetition indeed is Gormley’s main attribute. Other than his fondness for his own body as raw material he does that thing that so many artists do which is making a big thing out of a lot of little things. He did it once successfully with Field early on and I suppose he thinks it might work twice. Field however works because of the eyes… which he doesn’t appear to have realised, as eyes are notably absent from his work for the most part. He avoids any body part that carries any weight of character, so hands and facial features are downplayed.

I ended up feeling a little sorry for him. A large slightly clumsy and uncertain man whose mind was probably abused by priests when young (he stresses his education by monks) so as to remove too much pleasure in self worth. He looks inside himself and sees an empty void, his body  as a container that bounds an empty space rather than supporting and nurturing a personality. He tries to reach within but ends up repeatedly reaching outwards, unable to come to terms with being lost and alone in the world. He is a man, like many overly large men, who has perhaps gone through life in a slightly hunched manner attempting to come to terms with the excessive space he takes up.

On the whole I suppose I liked him, despite that irritatingly superior and deeply superficial zen manner that people who have flirted with Buddhism seem to be plagued with. I can never help suspecting (probably unfairly) that such impossibly calm people actually run around stamping and shouting if a real disaster or crisis occurs! Do I think his work worth his while? Well on the whole yes, I think he would serve his ideas better if he didn’t inflate them so much. He is trying to say something intimate in a mock heroic manner which feels a little forced. However the general idea of a body either filling, occupying or containing a void is an interesting one and streets ahead of his contemporaries.

I was more impressed with a previous artist in the series Frank Quitely who draws comic strips. Frank know exactly what he is doing and why, doesn’t expect or want our admiration and is completely absorbed in his work. He is skilled and subtle beyond the bounds of Gormley but will never attract the serious attentions of an art critic. He also has an audience far larger than the famous sculptor, but not of course made up of the appropriate sort of people!

November 28, 2014

Treasure

After the slight disappointment of the Constable I went wandering around the V&A. I only did a few rooms, any more than that and the brain shuts down! I found myself in the medieval galleries, cases full of the most exquisite metalworking and ivory carving. They are a wonder to see with untold hours of human life gone into their making. There was a Bishop’s crozier that could well have taken a whole year or more of labour. It occurred to me that making treasure was an important part of the artists remit. Not just an object that has value to those that know, but an object it is hard to imagine anyone leaving in the skip should they spot it there. I am quite fond of the skip definition of visual art. If you chucked it in a skip would anyone who looked in rescue it? If they wouldn’t then it probably ain’t art! Mt R Mutt’s urinal might well be filched but only for its plumbing possibilities!

Artists have in recent years seem to have largely avoided the treasure aspect. With a true object of desire all the desirability is bound up in the object itself it does not need any history attached. I realise that solid gold objects or diamond encrusted skulls will be whipped out of the skip tout de suite, but so would bundles of used twenties! Some of the objects in the V&A are just there because of their historical interest but by far the most are there because of the intrinsic beauty of the object. Most are unattributed so whether the maker had an ear truncation moment in his or her past or not is plainly irrelevant. The other thing that struck me was that size was an issue. Treasure in an uncertain world seemed to need to be portable. Though there are large things for the most part they fit into a display case. This would explain those buried classical statues, just too big to carry off.

So, how to imbue you efforts with the treasure quality and make them worth a passer by swiping from our skip? The object need not be made of intrinsically valuable stuff, so I will exclude such objects as they muddy the water. So perhaps just a painting in a cheap damaged frame. I doubt many mass produced prints would be rescued, but what I really want to know is will one of my paintings be spared the landfill. I suppose it would be easy to test and I am quite tempted to try.

Sticking for the moment to theory. To my eye unifying quality creating the desirability of the items in the V&A is that they display expressed human skill and more than that the joy in expressing that skill. An object of utility might well express skill but a useful and beautified object revels in it. This is plainly in large part why they survived, generation after generation have found something pleasing about these objects and preserved them.  Many of course as an expression of portable wealth, but that wealth value is caused by the object being pleasing and thus desirable.

This is why I think the skip definition works so well. Today we look to an object’s location and presentation to judge value. You might put a bit of paper with numbers over it in a dustbin and no one will look at it twice. Put that same bit of paper in a safe and it would be viewed differently. The same occurs with current art objects. Put them in the Tate Modern or a swish penthouse flat and we quickly assess them to be Art and hence of value and consideration. Scatter the contents of the Tate Modern that had no intrinsic material value into skips around the capital and I wonder how many would be still there next day? I bet if you scattered the V&A contents in the same way they would have a far larger survival rate.

So when you look at at a heap of bricks on a gallery floor and have that art feeling you are not being clever and sophisticated, you are being pleasantly deluded about both the art and the quality of your own discernment. On the other hand when you pass by a skip and spot a beautifully carved panel in an old and broken wooden chest half covered with bricks and take it home to keep and admire then you are having a true aesthetic moment. If you leave the carving in the skip and take the bricks home and arrange them on the floor you are plainly an idiot! There is of course the unlikely scenario where you spot a nice bit of carving outside a posh house and just as you were about to take it home notice that the name on the brass plate by the door is C, Andre. You would then of course take the bricks home in triumph and call the auction house. This however is love of money not art!

Of course the treasure aspect is not the only factor. Most of my paintings are experienced for free by people on line. By the feed back some have a pleasing experience when looking at them. Value or treasure does not come into it. This is, I freely admit, a circle that is hard to square. If I do not sell the pictures then I am just supplying free entertainment to others. Either as an act of generosity, need for attention, hope of future gain or most likely a mix of all. This is partly why I am going to try to exhibit more, and the first toe in the water is on this month when I am exhibiting with my friend Graham Davies for a couple of weeks. The details are below! PS be sure to check any skips in the area… you never know!

 

Exhibition

I am showing 20 or so London paintings mostly local to the area where I live. There that’s the promotion done now for recent paintings!

 

Strand, London, bicycles, oil painting

This is a moment I definitely could not have captured en plein air! We are looking West up the Strand. As I waited to cross the road a seemingly endless parade of holiday cyclists passed before me. It look oddly joyful and I snapped away like mad to try to catch the moment. As is often the case the photos looked very disappointing once looked at at home. If I just came across them a year from now I would hardly have set out on a big painting based on them. However I wanted to attempt to recapture some of the moment as I recalled it so this is my attempt. I’ll put my reference photo below so you can see what I have kept and what I have changed. I took several sets of cyclists and rearranged them to set the mood. The shape is a triple square which I hadn’t deliberately tried before. 12in by 36in oils. I have since toned down the blue T shirt!

 

Strand London

It was the wonderful shadows as much as anything that attracted me.

 

Dorset, Shroton, Watercolour

Now for something different. I was due to paint with the Brass Monkeys in London so in order to find out how it was to go up to London and back in the day I set off to Gillingham Station. I had left home early intending to take photos of the morning which was gorgeous with sun and slowly clearing morning mist. Near Shroton on my way I saw this and could not resist. I got everything in bar the sheep who only had their shadows present. Time had passed and I came within a few minutes of missing my train. The picture had to wait a week before the sheep were reunited with their shadows!

 

Royal Exchange, London, plein air, oil painting

In order to promote and exhibition for the United Society of Artists at Bankside I painted with Michael Richardson at the Royal Exchange. It was a wet day but I love London in that sort of weather. This is the Bank tube entrance. 10in by 12in Oils.

 

Royal Exchange, London oil painting, plein air

Next I took on a wider view looking up Cornhill. It was great fun to do this and I kept it all as loose as possible. Only a sketch really but might well be a big picture eventually. 10in by 16in. Oils

 

South Bank, Bankside, London, Thames, oil painting

The day of the private view I painted outside the gallery. In tried again not to define too much, not really a finished painting but it catches a little of the feel of the day. 10in by 16in oils.

 

bankside, thames, London, oil painting

I then did this very fast 20 min sketch as the light faded. Our efforts were hung on a “wet wall” in the main show which seemed to garner some interest but no sales! 10in by 12in but cropped here. Oils.

 

Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Rd, oils painting

The next Brass Monkey day was on an extravagently wet day in Knightsbridge. The Met office forecast the previous day was covered in yellow warning triangles so I came prepared! I only took my tiny 5in by 7in Pochade and painted with my umbrella handle stuffed down one trouser pocket and gripped under my painting arm. With the other hand holding the pochade I had plenty to contend with and was glad the panels were only 5 by 7! This is just outside the V&A. The tones and reflections were absolutely gorgeous.

 

Knightsbridge, London, Plein air, oil painting

After having visited the Constable show I painted this which was so much fun, I loved the puddle in the foreground. Each of these took about twenty minutes as my arms started cramping from the effort of holding everything. 5in by 7in oils.

 

Knightsbridge, oil painting, plein air, london

This was only the drawing out and a few establishing turpsy washes when the cramps hit again and I had to stop. Once home I felt it was worth finishing. 5in by 7in oils.

 

Lewisham, nocturne, oil painting, london

A month or so ago I had bought some cheap clip on lights for reading in bed. I clipped one to illuminate my palette and held the other. I haven’t done a nocturne in a while so this was great fun. The rain kindly let up while I painted which made life easier. One of the great things with city nocturnes is that the light is not going to change so I spent well over two hours on this. I had the usual thing with colour though, despite trying to predict the change I was still surprised when I got it home and looked at it in decent light. Above is how it actually looked at home below is how I imagined it might look.

 

lighting

Only a very rough Photoshop adjustment but it gives an idea! Hopefully some landscapes of Dorset in the next instalment.

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