WILLIAM BLAKE

TATE BRITAIN 11 September 2019 – 2 February 2020

William Blake (1757-1827) ‘Europe’ Plate i: Frontispiece, ‘The Ancient of Days’ 1827 Etching with ink and watercolour on paper 232 x 120mm The Whitworth, The University of Manchester

‘I must Create a System or be enslav’d by another Mans. I will not reason & compare: my business is to Create.’ William Blake, Jersusalem

‘Rebel, Radical, Revolutionary’, William Blake is an artist that exemplifies creative freedom and authenticity by being unmistakably himself. In the history of art there is nobody quite like him. He’s a beacon of imagination and hope in turbulent times and a brilliant counterfoil to 21st Century branded artistic production. Best known for his poetry and still a largely unsung visual artist in the UK, this timely exhibition presents the opportunity for reappraisal of his work- and what it takes to be an artist. Political, social and spiritual shackles appear symbolically throughout Blake’s work. The artist’s great legacy is breaking them, part of his unwavering belief that; ‘Poetry fettered, fetters the human race. Nations are destroyed or flourish in proportion as their poetry, painting, and music are destroyed or flourish.’If ever there was a time to be reminded of the essential value of imagination, nationally and globally, it is now.

In Blake’s time, the French revolution and the American war of Independence challenged Britain’s perceived colonial “greatness.” The Enlightenment co-existed with slavery and the beginning of mass industrialisation; aspects of cultural inheritance that arguably have never been adequately addressed as a matter of national consciousness. Despite labels of eccentricity, Blake’s work and aspirations remain potent triggers for wider discussion. A very poignant element of the exhibition is the recreation of the Broad Street space where Blake staged his disastrous 1809 solo show and the adjoining room which projects his work on a scale not realised in his lifetime. Are we any more enlightened to receive this work? is a question that hangs over the exhibition space for a new generation.

William Blake (1757-1827) A Large Book of Designs: The First Book of Urizen. Plate 7 1794 Colour printed relief etching predominantly in black, grey and pink, with hand colouring 145 x 105 mm The British Museum, London. Acquired 1856

This is the largest show of Blake’s work for almost 20 years, an overwhelming experience of colour, complexity and vision, with over 300 works including watercolours, paintings and prints. Core Tate works are joined by loans from the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, the Huntington Art Collection, California, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Cincinnati Art Museum, the Library of Congress, USA and private collectors to create a stunningly rich and memorable retrospective.  

I first discovered Blake in childhood and was instantly dazzled. I spent a lot of time in the library- not reading but poring over images in the art section. At the time I had no idea what Dante’s Divine Comedy was, but Blake’s ice and fire images of the Simonaic Pope and his kaleidoscopic Saint Peter, Saint James and Saint John with Dante and Beatrice seared themselves into my growing consciousness. His work made me intensely curious and hungry for more. Mysterious Hecate (now known as The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy), Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils and The Body of Abel found by Adam and Eve were, and still are, explosive, highly distilled revelations. The radiant energy of Blake’s distinctive line and the stylised muscularity of his figures are pure visual poetry -human imagination unleashed. He’s ‘the eye altering alters all’ personified, still living and breathing through his art. As I walked through this show, holding the hand of my younger self, the adult was no less awestruck.

William Blake (1757-1827) Saint Peter, Saint James and Saint John with Dante and Beatrice circa 1824 – 1827 Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper 365 x 520 mm The British Museum, London. Acquired 1918
William Blake (1757-1827) The Simoniac Pope 1824-7 Ink and watercolour on paper 527 x 368 mm Tate

Like his frontispiece to Jerusalem, The Emanation of the Giant Albion, (Plate 1 c. 1820 Relief and white-line etching with hand colouring on paper) Blake encourages us to cross a threshold, holding a lamp aloft to light the way. Looking at his work, there’s no doubt that he valued imagination above all else as the most divine human attribute. I love him and his work for communicating that truth, to be carried forward in dark times. In his Design excerpted from ‘The First Book of Urizen’ (1794 Colour relief etching predominantly in black, blue, grey and pink, with hand colouring) the human figure is cast between heaven and earth, feet in the clouds and hands braced against rock to break a collective fall. It’s a feat of mental and moral acrobatics rather than an illustration, frozen in time, primal and exalted. It’s the creation story of the human mind that feels like it’s predating God. While Blake illustrated many narratives from the Bible, John Bunyan’s Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer, his personal mythologies are among his most intriguing works. Seeing Blake’s illuminated books (bound and unbound) in this exhibition is one of its joys. Hand colouring defines every page as a precious, uniquely crafted work and an absolute labour of love- the most underestimated quality in all art making.

William Blake (1757-1827) Har and Heva bathing, Mnetha Looking in circa 1785 – 1789 Pen and grey wash on paper 183 x 273 mm © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Love permeates Blake’s creations and it’s wonderful to see the contribution of his wife Catherine, who from 1788 was printing plates and helping to colour his illuminated books, acknowledged in the show.  Ever ‘an angel’ to him, she supported and enabled his creative life. We’ll never really know the full extent of her hand in his work, but the contemporary observation that they were of ‘one soul’ can be felt in the seamless complexity of layered ink and watercolour. The epic prophecy and intimacy of Blake’s work is truly breath-taking, from the sensuous luminosity of Har and Heva Bathing, Mnetha Looking On (1785-9) from his first prophetic book, the poem Tiriel (1789), to the depth and delicacy of experimental monotypes like Pity (1795) and Newton (1795-1805). Colour and texture abound in these hybrid works, which Blake called his ‘frescos,’ initially ‘painting tacky ink on board and transferring it through pressure onto paper, enhanced with ink and watercolour.’ The highly skilled draughtsman and engraver becomes a painter, impossible to tell where one discipline stops and the other begins. As an illustrator, seeing this degree of experimentation in Blake’s work in print, tempera, watercolour and ink is exciting territory. Equally humbling are the delicate pages of his Songs of Innocence and of Experience which invite close inspection of minute detail.

William Blake (1757-1827) Pity c.1795 Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper 425 x 539 m Tate

Blake’s exact relief printing techniques, his sublime symbolism and intricate personal mythology remain largely unexplained. This is a show of tantalising clues to the artist’s identity and scope, with text and imagery entwined in the viewer’s imagination as the story of Blake’s life unfolds in each room. Arranged chronologically, the curation focuses on the conditions and patrons who enabled the artist to pursue his singular path. As a visual artist, he will always be a source of cryptic fascination, one who ultimately enables the imagination of the viewer. Multiply by each individual and the vision is infinite, such is his gift.

William Blake (1757-1827) Portrait of William Blake 1802 Pencil with black, white, and grey washes 243 x 201 mm Collection Robert N. Essick

Thought to be by his own hand, Portrait of William Blake (c. 1802–3 Graphite and wash on paper), crystallises a gaze that you cannot turn away from, uncannily present and utterly absorbing from the first room to the last. In final room of the show I was confronted by an image I hadn’t encountered before, The Sea of Time and Space (Vision of the Circle of the Life of Man (1821, Pen and ink, watercolour and gouache on gesso ground on paper), an eternal flow of life, punctuated by the full stop of Blake’s last work The Ancient of Days (1827, Relief etching printed in yellow with pen and ink, watercolour and gold body colour on paper). The interlocking design is intensely powerful, with saturated depths of smouldering colour and a God-like hand resting on the precision of a divided compass. Originally published as the frontispiece to his 1794 work Europe a Prophecy, a circle closes in this final version, in Blake’s words; ‘I’ve done all I can- it is the best I’ve ever finished.’ We could ask no more of any artist.

In a material dominated world, Blake’s work offers pure resilience in its distilled singularity and higher purpose. He’s a Romantic artist par excellence, transforming how we see through experimentation and belief in worlds beyond reason, made real in his extraordinary art.

William Blake (1757 – 1827) The Sea of Time and Space (Vision of the Circle of Life of Man) 1821 Pen and ink, watercolour and gouache on gesso ground on stiff paper 48 x 574 x 27 mm National Trust Collections, Arlington Court (The Chichester Collection) © National Trust Images/John Hammond

https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/william-blake-artist

Cut and Paste – 400 Years of Collage

29 June – 27 October 2019

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two)

Eileen Agar The Lotus Eater (1939, Collage, watercolour and ink on paper) National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. Purchased 1979.

Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage is the first survey exhibition of collage ever to take place anywhere in the world, featuring over 250 works from the sixteenth century to the present day. There is an astonishing range of practice on display, including works by Hannah Höch, Annegret Soltau, Claude Cahun, Pauline Boty, Natalia Goncharova, Valentine Penrose, Toyen, Edith Rimmington, Eileen Agar, Linder, Penny Slinger, Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, Nancy Grossman, Deborah Roberts, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, Eduardo Paolozzi, Max Bucaille, Roland Penrose, Joseph Cornell, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, John Stezaker, Christian Marclay and Terry Gilliam. Give yourself ample time to explore them and to take in the accompanying show Beyond Realism at Modern One, featuring some of the NGS’s finest Surrealist works.

In many ways this ground-breaking reappraisal of collage couldn’t have happened anywhere else. The NGS collection is blessed with significant acquisitions, long term loans and bequests from astute collectors such as Gabrielle Keiller, artists Roland Penrose and Eduardo Paolozzi, providing an excellent foundation for deeper exploration of the artform. Joined by works from the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, Stephen Ongpin Fine Art, The Mayor Gallery, The Fry Art Gallery, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, Annely Juda Fine Art, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Alison Jacques Gallery, Richard Saltoun Gallery, England & Co, a/political, the University of St Andrews and private collectors, the exhibition is a fantastic opportunity for discovery of previously unseen work. Works from the Murray Family collection, UK and USA, featuring Pauline Boty, Edith Rimmington, Max Bucaille, Franz Roh and Toyen are outstanding.

Cut and Paste isn’t about defining collage but celebrating that there are many more ways to see, revealed primarily in the work of lesser known artists who are among the highlights of the show. These previously neglected works demand greater visibility and more research. The language of ‘revolutionary cubist masterpieces’ by male artists like Picasso persists, yet in the wider context of the show, they become relative to other equally revolutionary masterworks by artists yet to enter public consciousness. Although the exhibition’s chronological layout would have been better served by collage -like juxtaposition of art from different periods confronting each other, there are so many vital examples of this art form speaking resoundingly for themselves that they cannot be ignored. It’s incredibly gratifying and hopeful to connect with pioneering works by women and other marginalised artists, doubly so in what feels like an increasingly fragmented world circa 2019. Part of what collage does incredibly well, often in testing times, is provide an unbridled form of expression and much needed protest.

Raoul HAUSMANN (b.1886) The Art Critic, 1919-20 Lithograph and printed paper on paper Collection: Tate © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

Admittedly collage is an artform close to my heart in history and practice. The process itself is liberating in its free association, formed from materials immediately to hand and permitting everything in a spirit of playfulness and experimentation. That impetus tests what could be- creatively and culturally. At its best, it’s an art of ‘disruption’ and active dissent that reminds us of how essential art is in everyday life. The grotesque central figure in Raoul Hausmann’s The Art Critic (1919-20, lithograph and printed paper collage on paper) depicts an entire society whose opinions can be bought. The artist cuts straight to the heart of an increasingly absurd displacement of power during the Weimar period, a time not unlike our own in the corruption of ‘post-truth’ politics and ‘fake news’ rhetoric. Seeing John Heartfield’s response to the rise of Nazism in 1930’s Germany affirms the power of collage as vital satire and political resistance. Equally the work of Hannah Höch, presents the viewer with counteraction to gender stereotypes. In Astronomie (1922, Collage, gouache and ink on paper, The Mayor Gallery, London) Höch uses grid elements from crochet, knitting and embroidery design as the basis for a more expanded vision of the feminine- as human and therefore equal. In Höch’s work, ideas of design, domestic and cosmic intertwine. Craft and fine art practice become inseparable in a union of ideas and technique.

Hannah Höch Astronomie (1922, Collage, gouache and ink on paper) The Mayor Gallery, London.
Hannah Höch From the Collection: From an Ethnographic Museum (1929, Collage and gouache on paper) National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

From the Collection: From an Ethnographic Museum (1929, Collage and gouache on paper, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh) is a very sophisticated example of how much simple ‘cut and paste’ can reveal and how it can be used to collectively question the status quo. The ‘other’ in this work is cultural and feminine. The head of a Nigerian Benin sculpture is radically turned, fused with the eye of a woman from a fashion magazine and a child’s body, resting on a lion’s foot of power and a contradictory stump of domestic furniture. Framed in a starkly modern, geometric space, the human form doesn’t feel accidental or randomly placed, but designed as a question mark on multiple levels. The expression of this figure, like a mythic Susannah confronting the invasive, violating gaze of the elders, challenges generations of Western Art making. This confrontation with ‘masters’ expands to hierarchies of power in relation to gender, race, cultural identity and social engineering. I’ve always thought of this small, radical figure as a powerful feminist totem of resistance.  Höch’s critical eye is sharp as a scalpel and expansively aware, beyond the individual maker.

The attitude of collage is pivotal in that respect, ripping, tearing or cutting to heighten awareness of reality, or point to an alternative reality. Like Carlo Carra’s Atmospheric Swirls- A Bursting Shell (1914, ink and collage on paper), created in response to the first Balkan War 1912-13, the best examples of this artform are those that explode preconceptions, creating a perceptive shift of some kind. When Carolee Schneemann created Body Collage (1967, 16mm film transferred to digital format 3:30 mins) her ‘intention was not to simply collage [her] body (as an object) but to enact movement so that the collage image would be active found, not predetermined or posed.’ This is a statement against the passivity of looking (or being cast as the passive object), initiating change. As Penny Slinger (b 1947) states very eloquently, ‘collage is not just a technique; it represents an approach to reality.’

Penny Slinger I Hear What You Say (1973, Photomontage ) Penrose Collection, Sussex

Slinger’s photomontage sequence I Hear What You Say | I See What You Mean | Read My Lips (1973) interrogates our approach as viewers/ consumers by collaging parts of the body, creating contradictory frames within frames of internal reference. Initially this fleshy exposure seems to mirror the crudeness of advertising. However, these collaged elements are positioned to play with the idea of being able to read, hear, see and interpret the feminine. The ambiguity of desire and control is juxtaposed with direct means of communication. Using increasingly sexualised visual language to reclaim meaning is a tactic employed by many contemporary artists, often with momentary effect. Here the question is more subliminal, encircling the viewer in their own truth of body and mind, the possibility or impossibility of being seen, heard or understood inside the dominant culture. Linder’s Pretty Girl (1977, magazine and collage) juxtaposes images of soft-core pornography and household appliances, bringing them equally into the foreground as ‘objects of desire.’ Linder’s collage instantly makes its point, infiltrating and subverting the language of mass media consumption. This is art with something to say, above and beyond artistic persona, celebrity or brand.

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) articulated how the practice of collage redefines the artist;  ‘The medium is as unimportant as myself. Essential is the forming. Because the medium is unimportant, I take any material whatsoever if the picture demands it. When I adjust materials of different kinds to one another, I have taken a step in advance of mere oil painting, for in addition to playing off colour against line, form against form etc. I play material against material.’

That material can also be material reality. This provocation of possibility is what excites me most about this artform, from the fantastical collage novels of Max Ernst to the stitch form self-portraiture of Annegret Soltau.

Annegret SOLTAU (b.1946) GRIMA – Selbst mit Katze (der Schrei) / GRIMA – Self with cat (the scream), 1986 C-print © DACS 2018. Courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery

It’s interesting to see the pre- modern history of collage (1550-1900) including silhouette portraiture, scrapbooks, early photomontage, botanical clippings, flapbooks, boxed/ dressed engravings and tinsel prints presented in the show. The presence of these works, combining craft practices with expanding knowledge and advancing technology, inform perception of later works. This is particularly true when the idea of traditional ‘female accomplishments’ is ripped apart and reconfigured, as in Annegret Soltau’s GRIMA- Selbst mit Katze (der Schrei) /GRIMA-Self with Cat (The Scream) (1986 C-print). Pauline Boty’s Untitled (c1964, Collage, gouache on paper) is a great metaphor for this type of agency, emergent in the work of unsung female artists throughout the exhibition. In Boty’s Untitled collage, use of Victorian engravings recalls the work of Max Ernst, divided and conquered by vivid blue gouache and a female hand, sharpened by red nail polish and poised to sever the head of a female child in period dress with a pair of scissors. In the foreground a promenade of exotically lush vegetation leads the eye to a vanishing point beneath a god-like hand of action. As Boty suggests in Ken Russell’s 1962 44 min film Pop Goes the Easel, her collages often capture a moment before something is about to happen, which may be humorous or tragic. Pop Art is often packaged in the gift shop as bright and shiny, succumbing to the very forces it seeks to expose, however Boty’s work presents a different slant on a movement which she helped found in Britain. The hand shown in this small collage amplifies the authenticity of her voice, asserts the role of the artist/ activist and subverts the traditional, belittling relationship between Craft and Fine Art, female artists and male ‘masters.’

Valentine Penrose La Strategie Militaire /Military Strategy (c1934, collage on paper) Penrose Collection, Sussex

The subversive nature of collage also leaps from the open page of Surrealist Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’s Aveux non avenus- Disavowals (1930). It’s a text that reimagines the autobiography / artist memoir in a non- linear way, fluidly testing ideas of gender and identity. Valentine Penrose’s collage book Dous des Feminines / Gifts of the Feminines (1951) is displayed in the same section, a deliberate counterfoil to Max Ernst’s collage novels on the part of the artist, centring on female relationships, sexuality and experience. Her nearby collage, La Stratégie Militaire / Military Strategy (c1934, collage on paper) sees the head and torso of a classical marble statue positioned inside a piece of ridiculously Baroque furniture, as if sitting in a bath. Hovering askew over a mountainous chasm, with the fragment of a map dangling from one finger, the traditional embodiment of power is rendered precarious, attended by a blank faced figure in robes gazing upwards towards authority. The composition lampoons its subject, but it is also a very knowing refraction of absurd inequality in the real world. Here, Surrealism isn’t escapist male fantasy, but heightened reality, exposing truth.

Edith Rimmington The Family Tree (1938, Photomontage with gouache) The Murray Family Collection, UK and USA

The Family Tree(1938) by British artist, poet and photographer Edith Rimmington (1902-1986) is another illuminating dreamscape in that respect. The use of photomontage and painting is seamless, delivering a powerful perspective on generations, extending to infinity on a jetty over dark, primordial waters. A snake is entwined around the left-hand line of a double link metal chain, not so much bound together as lain side by side. The presence of the serpent feels like an ironic reference to Eden’s mythic fall, male and female bound together in ‘the’ singular family tree of humanity. The eclipse which lights our way could be sun, moon or a pinhole camera, in a timeless progression of darkness and light. It’s an incredibly strong, mysterious composition that ignites the imagination and provokes curiosity about Rimmington’s oeuvre.  Given the year it was created, and the spirit of unrest prevalent in the whole image, this iron chain feels prophetically encoded. Disarming beauty and essential protest permeate this show and it’s an absolute pleasure to see so many works by relatively unknown artists announce themselves. Rimmington subverts expectations of the title/ subject to a remarkable degree, with an enviable command of the artform. Any backward notion of feminine accomplishment is eclipsed entirely by this work. The artist’s sense of agency, intuition and determination is palpable. That’s the joy of this show- reconnection with art empowered, in spite of the spin that surrounds us.

Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage Exhibition Catalogue. National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2019. Front cover Max Bucaille (1906-1996) Alice au pays de poissns et des marguerites, 1947. The Murray Family Collection UK and USA.

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/cut-and-paste-400-years-collage

#NGSCutPaste

ARTIST ROOMS: Self Evidence Photographs by Woodman, Arbus and Mapplethorpe

6 APRIL – 20 OCTOBER | SCOTTISH NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

FRANCESCA WOODMAN (1959-1981) Francesca Woodman, Untitled, 1975-80 Photograph, gelatine silver print on paper, 15.60 x 15.60 cm (paper 25.20 x 20.30 cm) (framed: 45.80 x 40.20 x 2.00 cm) ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 © Courtesy of George and Betty Woodman

‘If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.’ Diane Arbus

In the 21st century, the Selfie has become an extended form of advertising and validation, increasingly in step with corporate interest. People are the app for 24hr addictive consumption of who they aspire to be, driven by market demand, or perhaps more accurately, corporate engineered desire for the next upgrade. Rapid fire clicking and scrolling is the order of today, in how photography and images of self are consumed, liked and followed. The idea of ‘self-evidence’ in this Artist Rooms exhibition is extremely compelling and timely, examining ‘three of the twentieth century’s most influential photographers’ and reactions to their work from a younger ‘Snapchat’ generation. It’s a moment to take stock of the extraordinary work of Woodman, Arbus and Mapplethorpe, what photography is in human terms and what it really means to take a shot.

Continue reading

9th Hippodrome Silent Film Festival

20 – 24 MARCH 2019. HIPPODROME, BO’NESS

Forbidden Paradise (1924) Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Above all else, the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema is a joyful celebration of film and music. Speaking to other audience members, who had travelled far to Bo’ness for the unique atmosphere and live experience, it’s clear that the festival and this small town, delivers something very special. Home to the oldest cinema in Scotland, it is also a centre for national and international cinema heritage. This year’s programme offered thrills, chills, laughs, unexpected discoveries and truly memorable performances from some of the world’s finest accompanists. I arrived for the third day of the festival, staying until closing night and was delighted to see many films for the first time, introduced in the best possible way.

Hippfest’s traditional fancy-dress Friday Night Gala is always great fun, inspired this year by the glamour and military moustache twirling of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1924 Romantic Comedy-Melodrama Forbidden Paradise. This new restoration from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was vibrantly accompanied by Jane Gardner (piano), Roddy Long (violin) and Frank Bockius (percussion). The trio complimented the tone of the film brilliantly and heightened its pace, enhancing the tension of court intrigues and Lubitsch’s characteristic brand of knowing comedy. Channelling the passion of Pola Negri as vampish, authoritarian ruler Czarina Catherine, it was an enjoyable, crowd pleasing caper, well suited to the whole occasion. Pre-screening period music by The Red Hot Minute Band, accompanied by fizz and canapes, added to the party atmosphere.

Continue reading

Glasgow Film Festival

20 February – 3 March 2019

February means Glasgow Film Festival, the joy of connecting with the world on screen and joining some of the best audiences on the planet.  The opportunity to see retrospective classics, discover emerging filmmakers and cinematic rarities is always a draw, but there is a special buzz around Glasgow, a combination of people and programming that makes it unique. As a visitor, staff, volunteers and audiences make you feel welcome and the additional bonus of introductions and Q&As from filmmakers add considerable value to the whole experience. The Pioneer strand of films by first and second feature directors was particularly strong this year with Border, Complicity, Float Like A Butterfly, The Man Who Surprised Everyone, Woman at War and Werewolf among my overall festival highlights. Regardless of the subject matter, there was something about each one of these films that made me feel hopeful. It is always exciting to discover artists whose work you want to follow in future and seeing the ways filmmakers are responding creatively to man-made chaos, past and present, was thoroughly inspiring!

Continue reading

Christian Marclay : The Clock

Tate Modern 14 September 2018 – 20 January 2019

Installation View.Tate Modern. Christian Marclay, The Clock 2010. Single-channel video installation, duration 24 hours. Tate Photography (Matt Greenwood).

Being eclipsed, suspended and enslaved by time is our real-time immersion in modern life, moving inevitably towards eternal midnight.Christian Marclay takes what it is to be human and winds it into the mechanism of TheClock so seamlessly, with such artistry and grace, that words like ‘genius’and ‘masterpiece’ are entirely justified. After experiencing three-and-a-half-hoursof this work, I was profoundly moved, elated and frustrated that watching the full 24hrs wasn’t an option during my visit. There aren’t many works of “NOW” I’d want to spend that kind of time with, but The Clock is something else. It’s a work of art you enter into and become part of, rather than passively watch. Marclay has managed to create a work as addictive as the multidimensional concept of time and existence it encapsulates, an unrelenting and strangely beautiful meditation on time running out for us all. Despite its modern materials and contemporary masterwork status, Marclay’s Clock transcends the time it was made. It speaks of universal human experience through sound and image in a compelling, urgent way. I place ‘sound’ first, because Marclay’s craft and foundation as an artist is making objects from audio. The Clock is a highly distilled example drawn from a lifetime’s exploration, which is the real source of its genius.Fortunately for the UK, one of six limited edition copies of The Clock has now entered the Tate collection, jointly purchased with the Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Originally commissioned by The White Cube, London, where it debuted in 2010, The Clock is an incredible artistic achievement in its union of concept and craft. A montage composed of over 12,000 clips, spanning 100 years of film and television,screened over 24 hours in real time may sound like a work tailor-made for film geeks. (And I won’t lie, part of my irrepressible joy in this work stems from that.) However, the way that Marclay handles this material brings wider frames of reference and association brilliantly into play. Although it is an epic work of art, film and human history, The Clock is also a very intimate experience, where your own projections/ narratives meet those of the maker(s). I heard quite a few people on exit reminiscing with friends and family, delighted, thoughtful and wondering in awe about how it was made. Marclay was aided by six assistants in finding and sorting suitable material over three years. However, the vast amount of footage needed to construct The Clock isn’t as impressive as the skill required to create cohesion and expanded meaning in the final 24 hr edit. The most powerful sense of identification inside this work isn’t ultimately based on how many film-clips you recognise, entwined with your own viewing/ life history, but with the collective human orientation towards understanding. Wonder and curiosity are as much a part of the projection as the threat of advancing time and fear of death. In human terms The Clock is an admission and a creative act of defiance, a monument to human perception and memory that makes us who and what we are.

Continue reading

Bringing Silent Film Home

New Silent Film restorations Little Annie Rooney (1925) and Fanchon the Cricket (1915) produced by the Mary Pickford Foundation and released by Flicker Alley.

Mary Pickford in Little Annie Rooney, DVD Image courtesy of Flicker Alley.

‘No role she can play on the screen is as great as the role she plays in the motion picture industry. Mary Pickford the actress is completely overshadowed by Mary Pickford the individual.’

Herbert Howe in Photoplay, 1924.

When I look around at the brightest, most popular female stars in Hollywood today, I can think of no one you could repeat Howe’s phrase about- at least not yet, while we are in the process of reclaiming our inheritance. The more we discover about the early history of cinema, the more it seems that successive generations have been duped into believing that female roles, behind and in front of the camera, have always been secondary. Surprisingly, when the artform was still in its infancy there were many more prominent women working in the industry at all levels, including Lois Weber, Ida May Park, Cleo Madison, Dorothy Arzner, Mabel Normand, Nell Shipman, Dorothy Davenport, Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. It shakes the contemporary view of linear progress to find examples of female stars like Pickford, with superior earning power to today, studio governance and creative control, writing, producing, acting and directing. As we grapple with the cumulative effects of gender disparity in the film industry- and the wider world, making the work of female pioneers of early cinema visible is an imperative.

Sadly, it is estimated that over 80% of all Silent Films are irretrievably lost. We can only see a mere fraction of what was created, an experience further reduced in quality by inferior online copies, which is why new restorations are so vitally important. Mary Pickford’s Silent screen career is inspirational, setting an example of what can be when women are able to shape their professions from the ground up. As a co-founder of United Artist studios with D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, Pickford ‘the individual’ was blazing a trail in the motion picture industry before the studio rule book as we know it was written. She forged a career with enviable creative control as a producer, a tide now finally turning in the world of Film and TV circa 2018.

New restorations of Pickford’s Fanchon the Cricket (1915) and Little Annie Rooney (1925) are very timely releases, not only in broadening our understanding of Pickford as an artist/producer, but as part of a wider reappraisal of women in film, integral in the history of World Cinema. These new deluxe, dual disc Blu-ray / DVD editions from the Mary Pickford Foundation, released by Flicker Alley, are ‘the first of a planned series of her films’ and what a delight it is to see them!  The care taken in both restorations has delivered clarity of vision, crisp tonal definition, exquisite colour tinting and a seamless flow of storytelling. Sensitively accompanied by new scores, there’s a fresh, exuberant spirit in how these films are presented, perfectly in keeping with the intelligence, empathy and wit we see in Pickford on screen. Big screen cinema/ live musical accompaniment experience aside, you won’t find a better introduction to Pickford’s work for contemporary audiences.

Continue reading

16th Inverness Film Festival

7-11 November, Eden Court Theatre and Cinemas

Namme, Directed by Zaza Khalvashi

In the 21st Century entertainment industry, “On Demand” is sold as a self-gratifying concept. We’re fed the idea of how powerful we are, handed a remote control to watch what we want, when we want, in the confines of our individual homes. Armed with devices we use daily to take endless shots of ourselves, we can even shape our own content. But ‘on demand’ can also mean the desire to see alternatives, driven from the ground up, joining a collective audience and driving change. In that respect, independent cinema has never had a more vital role to play in our world.

As IFF Director Paul MacDonald- Taylor suggested in his introduction to this year’s festival, ‘some of the greatest films come from countries that don’t have English as their primary language, we just have to be open to the idea of subtitles and an entire world will open up to us.’ This year’s IFF programme was the perfect antidote to the ‘divisive’ state of current affairs, a powerful, celebratory reminder of all the ways we share experiences through film. The Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky once said that ‘relating a person to the whole world… is the meaning of cinema’ and I felt that so strongly this year, more so than any other. Standing back and reviewing what I’ve watched over the last five days, my IFF18 highlights seem to reflect an urgent need for a sea change in how we relate to Nature, the world and each other. Whilst I was thrilled by Maurice Tourneur and Clarence Browns’ 1920 Silent Film The Last of the Mohicans, laughed along with Canadian teen comedy Don’t Talk to Irene, was incredibly impressed by Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife, and completely dazzled seeing Powell and Pressburgers’ The Red Shoes on the big screen, new world cinema features Capernaum/ Capharnaüm, Namme, Foxtrot, Sunset /Napszállta and Sidney and Friends had the most significant impact on me. This year’s IFF Audience Award winner Capernaum would seem to indicate that I’m not alone in taking the cinematic road less travelled and appreciating the ride.

Continue reading

Klimt / Schiele

Drawings from the Albertina Museum, Vienna
Royal Academy of Arts, London
4 November 2018 – 3 February 2019

Egon Schiele, Seated Female Nude, Elbows Resting on Right Knee, 1914
Graphite, gouache on Japan paper, 48 x 32 cm
The Albertina Museum, Vienna
Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London and the Albertina Museum, Vienna

Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit. / To the age its art, to art its freedom. (i)

The day before the Klimt / Schiele preview, I saw a London Underground billboard advertising the exhibition. Three naked figures with a banner collectively preserving modesty declared this work too shocking for public display, even in 2018. Potential offence and outrage are ever present in contemporary life, lived mostly online, with critical discussion and reflection harder to find. Coming face to face with humanity, warts and all, is a given with this exhibition and it would be a shame to expect anything less. Unmasking the nature of provocation and social propriety is unavoidable when following the drawn line of both artists. Although the official PR images don’t come close to representing it, the viewer is consistently arrested, having to psychologically, morally and ethically grapple with where they stand, often in relation to taboo subjects.

As the first exhibition in the UK to focus on the drawing practice of both artists, Klimt / Schiele presents a rare opportunity to see over 100 delicate works on paper from the Albertina Museum, Vienna. Among these are some of the finest examples of life drawing I’ve ever had the privilege to see, sublime, assured and intensely beautiful. Equally I loved this exhibition for the disquieting, uncomfortable questions it raised and for the timeless radicalism of both artists which positively sings, howls and scratches its way off the walls. The drawings are on an intimate scale and arranged thematically to highlight each artist’s creative process, explore relationships between them and engage with the confrontational nature of their work in juxtaposition. Together with this insightful visual survey, the centenary of the deaths of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Egon Schiele (1890-1918) provide a timely focus for questions about art and censorship in our own time.

Continue reading

Revisionism and the Art of Decay

“Poetry fettered fetters the human race. Nations are destroyed or flourish in proportion as their poetry, painting and music are destroyed or flourish” William Blake

Detail J.M. Waterhouse Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) Manchester Art Gallery.

In July I attended the opening of the Emil Nolde- Colour is Life exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the subject of a previous post. It’s an exhibition that has remained in my mind ever since, for the issues it raised as much as the art. When the show first opened in Dublin, The Independent ran with the headline; “Can you enjoy great art created by a Nazi? New Emile Nolde exhibition explores this dilemma.” William Cook’s article suggested that; “the big question for our times is whether you can condemn someone’s sexual conduct, and still enjoy their art. In the case of painter Emil Nolde, can we delight in his work even though he was an enthusiastic supporter of Adolf Hitler?” This question has been compounded by reports of wider historical revisionism in the press throughout 2018. Some based on well-meaning curatorial or civic actions, all begging further investigation.

The renaming of a 1929 Emily Carr painting by the Art Gallery of Ontario, the removal of a 19th Century nude painting by J.M. Waterhouse at the Manchester Art Gallery, the recent controversy of boycotted music by Richard Wagner aired on Israeli radio and the removal of an “Early Days” racist colonial statue in San Francisco are all potent examples, worthy of their own article.  Each one is an act of historical revisionism that raises essential questions about who owns culture. Who has the right to alter or remove historical documents, artefacts or art objects from public view and under what circumstances, if at all? In my profession all art is political, whether consciously nailing its colours to the mast or not. The expression of ideas can certainly be dangerous, depending on the ideological intent of the maker and the lens of hindsight / historical context we use to examine it. However, reading a book, seeing a play, film, art exhibition or listening to music doesn’t mean you agree with the content or the opinions of the artist(s) who created it. You have free will (as long as you live in a place that hasn’t banned the means of expression) to make up your own mind. At what point did we need to be protected from that process and for whose benefit?

Continue reading