Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Bigger Splash

After watching this film with the bf I was tempted to entitle this post "Significant people, huh!", a quote from Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece 'Brideshead Revisited'.  The narrator (the painter Charles Ryder) and Lady Julia Mottram are dining with a curious assortment of American grandees on a transatlantic liner. The dinner does not go well and the grandees are left with a poor impression of their English counterparts.  At one point one Senator Stuyvesant Oglander 'looked at his wife as if to say: 'Significant people, huh!''.  Which is really just a long winded way of saying the bf thought all the 'characters' were in 'A Bigger Splash' were somewhat dull.  I couldn't help but be disappointed with his response, not only because the film is important to me as it reflects a little of that social sphere inhabited by David Hockney et al, wonderfully reflected in that fabulous book by Peter Schlesinger, 'A Checkered Past' that is a deep fascination for me, but because it was hard to refute his opinion. The bohemian lives depicted here seemed somewhat domestic and trivial, leaning perhaps a little too much to the boring. Perhaps it is the crippling self-consciousness that they all display before the camera that's to blame.  There is but one moment of transcendence when the artist, the charming Patrick Proctor forgets the presence of the camera, but really that is it. We are given two all-too-brief scenes of a wider bohemian life: an Ossie Clarke fashion show (chaotic) , and 'The Alternative Miss World Competition' (more chaotic still).  Would there have been more of those scenes.  Fascinating too were the fashions and interiors.
Anyway I'm rather leaping ahead here.  'A Bigger Splash' dates from 1974 and is work of British cinematographer Jack Hazan.  His first full length film - a semi-fictionalized documentary with the 'stars' playing themselves.  It is named after a Hockney painting of 1967.  The result is visually beautiful, sometimes striking, but often confused in narrative structure. Since getting the dvd, way back in September, I've watched the film five or six times, being both attracted, as I've said, to the subject and slightly confused about the narrative.  There is a lot to sort out, to 'unpackage'.  The film ostensibly documents a three year period in Hockney's life in the early Seventies when he was living in London. The central event of the film is break-up of his relationship with Peter Schlesinger and the repercussions the break-up has for his art, particularly on the creation of the painting 'Portrait of an Artist'.  A painting, an earlier version of 'Portrait of an Artist' is destroyed in the process, which sounds quite dramatic, but without the overly melodramatic score by Patrick Gowers would be quite trivial an event.  It's not as though we actually see the canvas being destroyed, just the fragments (depicting Peter Schlesinger) lying on the darkened studio floor.  We see another canvas being destroyed earlier in the film.  They should not be confused. It isn't the same image.   For the trouble with this film is really simple: its narrative has been constructed after the event, in the cutting room, with the available material.  The continuity between shots can be laughable, and some of the seems were either too long and needed a swift editing, or were verging on the pointless.  However that is not to neglect or denigrate its importance in the depiction of gay guys like me living life that is normal as opposed to one that is problematic, or filled with sorrow beyond that of the ordinary.  A brave attempt then, and one I cannot totally dismiss.  Nor would I want to.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Own work: Life drawing XXXXVII

Back to the life room of an absence of a fortnight.  Two poses each of an hour long, media: pencil-crayon.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Own work: Sketch Book

Just a few pages from my latest sketch book.  Mixed media one and all.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Ss Peter and Paul, Tickencote

I consider myself very blessed to live close to some very beautiful towns, villages and countryside.  Yesterday on a brilliant Autumn day I made a return visit to Tickencote in Rutland.  I hadn't been there in years, since in fact I was a small child.  It really is an exquisite place, a small stone built village, with a marvellous church. The visit only confirmed that the local oolitic limestone looks better in slanting Autumn light.  It seems then to posses a beauty that makes my heart ache.
St Peter and St Paul is jewel of a church.  Small, neat and perfectly formed.  It is the work of two periods hundreds of years apart - Norman and Georgian.  Both are worth seeing on their own merits, but the Norman work steals the show with some pretty spectacular architecture for a humble village church. The exterior is however Georgian.  Not classical but Neo-Romanesque, the work of Samuel Pepys Cockerell.  The chancel is a restoration of the original Norman, the nave and the tower & vestry (which project like transepts from the e end of the nave) are wholly the design of Cockerell and are built of the smoothest Neo-classical ashlar.  All of dates from the early 1790s when Cockerell was called into restore the dilapidated Medieval church by Miss Eliza Wingfield.  Cockerell swept away all the later Medieval work, retained the sumptuous Norman chancel and attempted in his new work to harmonize with the Romanesque. The result is at times extraordinary if not bizarre such as the arch into the porch under the tower.  His plan, I think, owes a lot to Cormac's Chapel on the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland.
Cockerell's interior is simple and rather noble, making no attempt to compete with the Norman chancel which is on a scale and sumptuousness that is more suited to a cathedral rather a remote country church.  An embarass du richesse.  The chancel is vaulted with a sexpartite vault (that is six ribs and six webs) - a rare thing for its date, but what stays in the imagination is the incredible chancel arch, not only is it on a gargantuan scale, with the most wonderful enigmatic carvings it has buckled and deformed with the years.  Extraordinary, and a treasure.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Own work: Life Drawing XXXXVI

The last session before the half-term break and two poses.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

A Saturday in Cambridge: Edgar Degas and Ivan Mosjoukine

To an unbelievably busy Cambridge on Saturday afternoon.  Our first stop was the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Degas Exhibition.  It too was crowded.  Coupled with the richness on display I'm inclined to make a return visit on a weekday.  The work of Degas needs does some thought, some contemplation; he was a painter, printmaker, sculptor and poet.  He also studied photography.  A complex artist then with a proper breath of interests.  A restless, enquiring mind too one would guess. In 1855, abandoning a law degree, he entered the studio of Louis Lamothe, who had been a pupil in turn of Jean-Auguste-Dominic Ingres, his great hero, enrolling also in the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  Although easy to see the Beaux Arts system as stultifying it did give students a thorough knowledge of the craft of drawing and painting.  Without such a background it seems hard to conceive of Degas producing the work he did. Politically he was an ultra conservative, Royalist and reactionary, with a deep distrust, like Auguste Renoir, of Modernity and Socialism.
'Drawing', wrote the late, great Peter Fuller, 'was key to Degas's art.' And the emphasis of this exhibition, which is laid out sequentially, is on work on paper, in the main drawings, and the female form.  Less space is dedicated to Degas, the painter of horses and of landscapes, and to Degas the sculptor but there is a copy, in bronze, of the decidedly creepy 'Little Dancer of Fourteen Years'. Enough really to give a rounded portrait of Degas the artist. There are also a small number of oils dotted around the exhibition, including the terrible 'Art of Warfare in the Middle Ages', young Degas's attempt at a history painting.  However there are, in the 2nd gallery, a small group of oils of a completely different quality which Degas painted of women in some kind of communication or other. They are exquisite in the manner in which they capture a fleeting moment of contact between two people. This group of oils form a hinge, as it were, in the exhibition, a moment of transition leading to the 3rd and largest gallery which is given over to Degas's drawings of ballet dancers and solitary bathing women.  Reading up for this blog I've come across critics saying that Degas wasn't interested in his subjects as people merely as a vehicle for his interest in colour, form and movement. After seeing this exhibition I really begin to question this. The interplay of people in these paintings and drawings seems just as important to me as any play of light or colour.  I have to confess I didn't much like Degas's drawings of solitary bathers, with exception of the woman drinking coffee beside her bath. Subsequently I found a quote from the film maker Jean Renoir, son of August Renoir, that perhaps has resonances with the work of Degas.  Renoir fils recalled hearing his father talking of 'that state of grace which comes from contemplating God's most beautiful creation, the human body.'
One of the aims of the exhibition is to place Degas within an art historical context, and to this end the work of his contemporaries, particularly those he admired, punctuate the exhibition; and there is some very interesting work on display, mostly small scale and some rather jewel like.  Those rich nineteenth century colours are wonderful.  In addition to a bright paintings of apples by Cezanne, look out for the Corots, a beautiful group portrait (in pencil) by Ingres, and two monumental life studies by Cezanne and David.  Both the convey the deep beauty and heft of the male form.
The final section demonstrates his influence on subsequent British art.  There is work (amongst others) by Moore, Auerbach, Sickert, Bacon, Freud and Hockney - a lovely pencil-crayon drawing of Celia Birtwell.  The Freud was stunning and I liked the Bacon more than I thought I would.
The out the door and up the street.  It is the Cambridge film festival, but in our chronic inability to be organised we only saw one film.  It was however a real corker: 'The Loves of Casanova'.  It starred the Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine.  Mosjoukine (French transliteration) was part of the culturally rich and important Russian émigré community that formed in Paris after the 1917 Revolution.  Think, music, theology, literature and theatre and cinema.  The director was another émigré: Alexander Volkov.  It is a lavish historical epic. I'm almost inclined to call it a romp, but such a word wouldn't do it proper justice. The highlights for me, at least, were the crowd scenes filmed on location in Venice.  Superb.  The hand coloured scene set upon a Venetian canal full of condolas - breath taking. In all very satisfying. Look out for actress Diana Karenne with her haunting fin-du-siècle looks, as though she had stepped out from a painting by Ferdinand Knopf.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Own work: Life Drawing XXXXV

Last week's drawings - a rare three drawing day.  Two half hour poses, followed, after the coffee break by a single hour long pose.