Enough Already…



Yes…Madrid is lovely…and I could write a great deal more on our last full day…but I’m over egging it – if you know it you’ll know what I’m raving about, if you don’t go and see for yourself.  A couple coda points…Spain is suffering – especially the young people and I guess especially the young artists.  Us old guys can suggest some ways forward – Vicenc Torres is my age but his work at Conde Duque in the Sediments exhibition used a cheap material – cardboard to good effect…


and lastly sometimes too much art makes you very reactionary – after a few hours on this last day the classical lines of the Sabatini garden looked so appealing…




And on Day Two…



On Day Two we headed straight to the Prado.  There’s not much I can add to the story told in one of the world’s great galleries.  We made a beeline straight to the far corner of the ground floor where the extraordinary Black paintings by Goya are located.  Walking in I was instantly riveted by The Drowning Dog.  If you leave aside the facture in this smallish picture the image is startingly contemporary – the stark minimal ground in two colours with that small, almost dashed off, number of very few brushstrokes of the dog’s head.  And the rest of those haunting paintings fill the room with amazing images that are nothing short of pure genius.  From that room you pass through another space before entering the room with the 2nd and 3rd July pictures – both larger than I had expected but just as spectacular.  The Velasquez’s are just as staggering, Las Meninas of course is the stand out but there are so many others.  Then the Garden Of Earthly Delights by Bosch – surely still one of the craziest pictures ever made…some of that imagery I swear could only be the result of an encounter with an alien race!  And there are so many other great paintings to swallow up, a clutch of top notch El Greco’s, a marvellous Titian (one of several) and a stunning Fra Angelico.  We did four hours…by which time I was getting ‘picture blind’ and so the rest of the afternoon was resting up our critical faculties in the lovely Parque del Retiro…a great location to relax in and unwind from the ‘masterpiece’ overdose.


In one part of which is this pavilion..a ‘loose’ copy of the Crystal Palace in the UK, the one that burnt down, that was hosting yet another contemporary art installation by a Czech artist called Jiri Kovanda.  Entitled ‘Two Golden Rings’ it comprised a twine that circled the inner space of the pavilion wrapping itself around the central pillars.  From only a few yards away the ‘piece’ was pretty much invisible…once inside it ‘revealed’ itself.

IMG_2410The picture above gives you the ‘jist’ of it.  For a few minutes as I wandered around the outer side of it I got to thinking that it was but one ‘golden ring’ but then…just off to the central ‘dog leg’ of the building there were a gaggle of folk and an attendant…



gathered around a rounded off ‘cube’ of matting.  Ah ha! the second ‘golden ring.  And the blurb says that he “proposes a poetic reflection on questions such as existential precariousness, the sense of loss, the tendency towards entropy or the notion of impurity.”  Oh dear…

And I shall refrain from any comment on the show by Heimo Zobernig in the superb spaces of the Palacio de Velázquez.  Suffice to say that the back half of the afternoon was a far cry from the joys of the morning.



Dinner at the wonderful Casanis – pretty much a sensation…a Bouillabaisse of exquisiteness, followed by a Turbot dish worthy of a two star Michelin joint.  Washed down with a decent white from Bordeaux.







My wife said I’d love Madrid and she was so right.  I want to say so much about the experience of the last three days that I’m going to have to break it up to into separate entries – it really really is a ‘painter’s paradise’.

Having arrived pretty late on Thursday evening (and turned the first corner out of our hotel into the lovely square above for some marvellous tapas) we began in earnest on Friday.  A brief walk around the Botanical gardens was followed by a visit to the extraordinary rail station that resembles nothing as much as a huge indoor jungle repleat at the business end with a small pool containing more terrapins than I imagined might be assembled in one location.



Truly there are times when I wonder what art can do to cap nature and of course in many respects it simply cannot…we can only as sentient creatures seek equivalences and observations on the glories of life – or as so often in what’s to follow the depths that the human condition can sink to and how we can find yet other ways to express our sorrow, outrage and hopefully sometimes optimism that we may rise above it.

So then across the road and straight into the Reina Sofia.  The very first things we are confronted by is a row of Goya etchings from the Disasters of War series…very definitely underlining the tone of what we may expect in these monumental venues we have come to visit.  We drift through the first few galleries, inspecting one or two works more closely but in truth very conscious of the thing we have really come to see.  So suddenly and without a great deal of discussion we both find ourselves hastening towards Guernica.  You can hear the hubbub from a couple rooms away…and suddenly we are in jostle to get pole position before it.  After a few moments the gaggle of primary children sitting scribbling notes in front of the work moves on and we get front row, centre stage.  Its a much flatter painting than I’d imagined from repro…and the subtlety of the tonal adjustments, especially in the off whites is quite remarkable.  Although of course there are many preparatory studies you kind of get the feeling that the actual canvas (and it was as enormous as I’d imagined it to be) was painted at a lick…and this, something I’ve observed many times with Picasso, takes your breath away with the sustained energy required to make such a picture.

So what else detained us in the huge beautiful spaces of this gallery?  I remember a stunning little synthetic cubist painting by Diego Rivera…with a relief cigar in the foreground!  There was a stunning early cubist picture by Braque…and of course Picasso was represented from the same period but, as I think the late great Robert Hughes said, Braque’s paintings are all about love whilst Picasso is always angry.  I got to see not one but two fine examples of Clyfford Still’s pictures (someone I’ve admired my whole life but whose work is a rarity in the UK) and a very fine late Guston.


One of the current shows by Juan Perez Agirregoikoa was noteworthy,  lovely vigorous charcoal drawings of dogs and human relations…something that is very much a part of madrid street life.  Richard Serra has a whole wing devoted to a single work in a room that is just one of the sensational spaces.. four of his trademark hulking brutes of corten steel aligned in an immaculate manner. . Serra very much a man after the Spanish sensibility I think.


But of the current work on show the large exhibition by Cristina Iglesias titled Metonymy was the scene stealer.  I missed her large 2003 show at London’s Whitechapel in 2003 but quite a few pieces reappeared here from that outing with other newer works added into this display.  It seemed that everything she makes has a rich layer of authority despite quite often composed of simple means.  Presentation and lighting help establish spaces that have a wealth of alliterative meanings…and I especially loved the large screen printed panels that featured blown up drawings and altered photographs of mock ups of the sculptural installations, and of these, those on metal had a particularly intense imaginative visual presence.


Phew! what a day’s art experience – and The Prado to come tomorrow!


IMG_2343Friday night dinner at Le Trucha,  grilled trout and asparagus tips…with a delightful white rioja!



Not of the picture above  – I wish!  My feeling is this one has a way to go…  But rather of another youthful ambition to go see all the ‘greats’ of painting.  My wonderful wife, the painter Sarah R Key is taking me off to Madrid as a kind of extended Valentine’s Day treat for a long weekend so I get to see Guernica, Goya and Velasquez as well as plenty of other painters whose work I’ve admired or been intrigued by for years.  So no posts until midweek now.




I am beginning to see a way to bring the surfaces to life and inject stronger colour into these pieces without creating the same factor as before – that simply didn’t look right on the aluminium.  It’s good to retain the fluidity and be less slavish to the imagery whilst still searching for the spirit  of the source material.  Though just as I’m building a good head of steam I have a teaching session tomorrow followed by a long weekend break – but that’s a joy as we are off to Madrid.  Expect lots of black to start creeping into the pictures come next week!