ATA…part two

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It’s the view from the Palazzo Falier…quite something really and it takes an artist with a certain amount of chutzpah to pit a body of work against it…but its a quality you can never deny Sean Scully.  As it happens I’m a total devotee (I was once substantially responsible for putting together his first mini-retrospective) though neither of my colleagues on this occasion are quite as taken with his work.  To be absolutely frank even I felt that some of the pieces here were falling a little short.  I really love these large interlocking pictures…

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and those chosen here were as good as any I’ve seen.  These Doric paintings have all that brooding melancholy and delicious surfaces.  The Landline series pushes the simplicity of form to the outer limits for these vehicles for colour and the introduction of some lurid greens was for me a little jarring.

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And the two really large pictures that pushed together several of these broad horizontal formats looked a tad bombastic and pedestrian.

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All that said Scully is still one of the best abstract painters in the world and the best pictures are superb so I’m carping really.  When he gets it right (and thats most of the time) he’s just spellbinding…and here there were enough paintings of that quality to satisfy.  And alongside the paintings were some ravishing pastels…

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So all good in the end.  By this time we had done a fair bit of looking…time for some lunch so off to one of the city’s best bacaro’s…Gia Schiavi.  The cicchetti here are just beautiful to look at and better to eat.  The creamed cod fish is to die for.  We might have simply holed up there for the rest of the afternoon except we wanted to do a mini giro d’ombra so we made a beeline for All’Arco…expecting it to be crammed…but we arrived a little late for lunch so the pace had slackened off.

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Here I had two glasses of house Red…one to go with the cicchetti and another to celebrate the election of Jeremy Corbyn as our new leader!  We picked up the news on our mobiles as we arrived.  A little later we turned the corner to take in our third bacaro Do Mori.  By this time it had thinned out a fair bit and we could admire this gem…said to be one of the oldest in the city.  I was taken with the ceiling decor!

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As a great day out drew to a close we just had time to visit Ca’ Pesaro for the Cy Twombly show. Not a moment too soon as it closed a day later…  It was a rather patchy display overall but not without some interesting and unusual works including several early paintings and some fairly uncharacteristic pieces.

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Take for example this curious little drawing above from 1966.  Or these canvases with the swirls of high keyed colour…

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But here too it was hard not to be impressed at the sheer energy and exuberance of a major artist.  These four canvases said to be half of the last group of works he ever painted say it all really…raging against the dying of the light.  A lesson for us all maybe…

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The Cold from Hell…

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has been keeping me from here for very nearly a week…  I had hoped to post a considered reflection on the current Ikon Gallery exhibition As Exciting As We Can Make It, Ikon in the 80’s that in a very modest way I made a contribution to but it seems now that the moment has gone.  However as a tiny contribution to the celebration the picture above is the only image I have of the major Sean Scully show we mounted in 1980/1 – just a pity that it is so murky.  The catalogue for the show has quite a number of my pictures taken at the time and full credit to their team for cleaning them up to make them acceptable for publication!  The current show was quite a nostalgic occasion, meeting old friends and colleagues and being re-acquainted with work I hadn’t seen since back then.  Some pieces stood up remarkably well – a sculpture by Shelagh Cluett and a beautiful drawing by Ron Haselden flanked by a huge Terry Shave canvas; a lovely Bert Irvin (who turned up at the event still a sprightly 92!): the imposing Dennis Oppenheim piece that dominated the large rear gallery on the top floor.  Overall it’s well worth a visit – and I say so not simply because I was a very small cog in the machine from 1977 to 1981.

Gone South (part 2…the bit about the art!)

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Despite forecasts to the contrary Friday dawned very bright and sunny again…bizarrely as the news was full of the tribulations of the West coast of the UK.  We hightailed it to the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill that looked magnificent in that light.  A brisk walk along the beach, equally glorious and quite bracing (it is January after all…), showed off the place to very best effect.

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Alison Turnbull‘s exhibition in the Pavilion was interesting…she is a painter I’ve seen only very occasionally over the years.  This show seemed on the face of it well suited to the venue, indeed her interest in the modernist architecture makes it a shoo in in some respects.  That said I was less convinced by it…in part I suspect because of the way in which it was laid out.  Several differing strands of practice were dotted around the space, quite literally in the case of the ‘dot’ paintings (that I feel are the strongest), so that following the train of thought was harder than one might wish.  The elegant table cases that contained many drawings and painted paper pieces should have added to one’s understanding and appreciation of the work but for me (and my wife) there was something a little soulless about them.  Overall the show lacked a little guts and passion…at least to my taste.

Back to Hastings then as the Jerwood had now opened.  ‘Guts’ and ‘Passion’ then…and Basil Beattie could never be accused of lacking them!

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This show of large pictures (pretty much all of which have been made in the last eighteen months or so, no mean feat as you are nearing eighty I suspect) had all the trademark tropes I’ve come to expect over the near on forty years I’ve been admiring his work.  But (and in keeping with the display of Guston’s next door that I’ll come onto in a moment) with a freedom and insouciance that was at first a wee bit shocking.  It was as if he was riffing on his own motifs, so much so that they seemed sometimes almost cartoon like.

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And there were clear avenues down which the work might be taken further, new directions that must be really exciting for an older generation figure – powerful reasons to keep on working at a high energy and with plenty to say.  At the time of writing I’m still digesting the work…rethinking the one or two I didn’t think were as successful as well as reflecting on the others that I loved from the off.  No better recommendation than that really.

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In the adjacent space were a host of Guston’s prints, mainly lithos that I always feel are very nearly as good as drawings themselves, and a beautiful small canvas that complemented the print work well.  They all came from that period just after ‘the change’, that point where he shocked the art world to its core by reverting back to figuration from the earlier trademark coalescing abstractions.  Now, from a safe distance of over forty years, it all seems pretty reasonable but back in the day…  Beattie, of course, made a similar transitional journey, but now it might seem (from, say, the canvas in the near right side of the installation shot above) that maybe he could travel back again in the other direction…its the freedom now that still makes painting so fresh and dynamic despite all the other competing contrivances of contemporary art.  I can’t leave this venue without making mention of Marlow Moss, an artist who was previously unknown to me, and as the show sets out to prove, quite a few others. Its an undoubted fact that, in the twentieth century, being a woman, openly lesbian and working near to but slightly apart from an acknowledged  centre of art (St. Ives) did you no favours at all.  Although her work undoubtedly owes a debt to the leaders of constructivism (and Mondrian in particular) she also made her own contribution with on the evidence here a voice of her own.  A reassessment of this thoughtful, intelligent and pellucid artist and her work was clearly overdue and credit goes to Tate St. Ives and Pallant House whose project this is.

Time was challenging us now but, and maybe because the weather had now finally started drawing in on us, we did decide to drive swiftly westwards towards Chichester and Pallant House.  Although its a journey of nearly two hours on a Friday through by now awful rainy and windy weather I wanted to see Triptychs by Sean Scully.  Now I’ve not only seen plenty of Scully’s over the years but curated and presented his work, and am lucky enough (through his generosity) to own a work on paper.  Nonetheless this was a real opportunity to see a small but beautifully curated show centred on a theme that has re-occurances over his entire career.  And the beauty of this show (as apart from the others, except the Moss that runs till April) is that if you are quick you could still get to see it yourself (it runs till the 26th of this month – January 2014)!

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Take for example this absolutely sumptuous oil on aluminium painting Barcelona Robe, one of the recent pictures.  The use of the hard and definitive edges of the metal support against the more recognisable brushstrokes is a real triumph.  Or look at this painting from a slightly earlier period…a real beauty.

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There were plenty of others, and prints, watercolours, pastels and other drawings, all packed into three smallish galleries but in such a way that all the work was able to breathe and the viewer more than able to fully appreciate them.  It was the kind of show that hammered home his reputation as one of the leading figures of his generation at work across the globe.  Another aspect of Sean’s approach that is really refreshing is the honest and direct way of talking about abstract painting he has.  There were several well chosen quotations from him amongst the beautifully crafted and presented captions that accompanied the work (I don’t generally welcome these in galleries but here they genuinely complemented the works)…and this one struck home for me…a good place to end really.

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The Analogue/Digital debate…

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is not being conducted by my two grandsons!  But their presence in the household over these past few days has seen us out and about a fair bit (in the case of the above on the pasture at the rear of Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire). So I’ve been using what time has been available to carry on with my pastel details of the virus images.  And this morning (the family having a day out with friends) working up the images to the sounds of Neil Young and his corking early album, After The Gold Rush.

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The making of pictures by hand is often thought of as anachronistic, not least by many in the art world. I take a position alongside artists such as Sean Scully and Jonathan Lasker in thinking that making something by hand is an expression of what it means to be alive…and this quote comes from one of them (I don’t recall which but they both have spoken eloquently on the subject of why paint now?) and expresses my thinking better or at least more succinctly than I can…

” We are all, at present, more divided, less empowered and certainly far less connected to the effects of our world than we should be. It is for this reason that I am deeply involved with the textures of a medium capable of universalising so much lost intimacy”.

And in making these pictures I am listening to the music on a gramophone – ok so at a remove from the actual making of the sounds but a faithful, analogue reproduction.  And this I believe creates an intimacy and a warmth to the sounds that no amount of ones and zeros lined up will ever satisfactorily replace.