Jenny Saville & the Theatre of Self-Importance

“Most YBAs achieved prominence by recasting genuine avant-garde art in a palatable commercial form, influenced by advertising and pop culture, and served up to a credulous public largely ignorant of the original sources of the art. (Something Julian Stallabrass discusses in his book High Art Lite.) Jenny Saville was seen as one exception by virtue of the facts she studied in Glasgow, not Goldsmith’s College, and painted figures representationally in a non-ironic manner. Yet on closer study, Saville is not dissimilar to her YBA peers. Since paintings were acquired from her college studio,  Saville’s paintings have changed from billboard Lucian Freuds to hybrids of Freud, Bacon and de Kooning. Her painting rests upon adapting recent art and presenting it in a more extreme form (larger than that by the original artists), shorn of the original art’s foundations and complex origins, just as the art of other YBAs does.

“The paintings have been described as “monumental” by writers who cannot differentiate between monumental and big. Likewise, painting something from a very close viewpoint (a Saville tic) does not convey monumentality or help us comprehend the mass of a figure.  Monumentality has nothing to do with size; it has do with the impression of size, which can be conveyed through adjusting the size of a motif relative to the picture surface, elimination of detail, lowering the observer’s viewpoint of the motif, reduction of colour, simplification of form and emphasis on the mass of a motif. Picasso could achieve this concisely in modestly sized paintings and drawings  (those of the Boisgeloup period, the Dinard bathers and the Gosol figures), as can any artist who applies the principles. Painting fat figures on large surfaces tells us nothing about fatness but it reveals the painter’s insecurity, her need to bolster insubstantial depictions of bodies by expanding them to cinema-screen scale…”

Read the full article on THE JACKDAW, May 2011 here:

http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/?p=69

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Musee Wiertz, Musee Meunier, Brussels

“Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865) was born to an impoverished family in Dinant, Wallonia (later Belgium). After studying at Antwerp Art Academy, he won the (Belgian) Prix de Rome at a second try, in 1832.  His grand manner was Romantic and painterly, derived from Rubens. His subjects anticipate those of the Symbolists. Though Wiertz made his name with historical and religious compositions, the allegories and  (often gruesome) scenes of contemporary life are his most distinctive contributions to art.

“In 1850, partly in order to establish Belgian art as independent of French influence (led by the School of David; J-L David (1714-1825) spent his last years in Brussels) the newly formed state agreed to build a studio and dwelling for the benefit of Wiertz, the first truly “Belgian” artist. The initial agreement was that the artist would donate works to the state but it seems Wiertz early on had the idea of turning the studio into a permanent museum. The government drew the line at Wiertz’s proposal to fund the construction of a ruined temple in the studio grounds. Upon the artist’s death the combined house and studio became possessions of the state. Both building and grounds have remained unchanged since 1868, now a fragment of a lost age lodged under the glass towers of the European Parliament….”

Read the full review on THE JACKDAW, January 2011 here:

http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/?p=64

Islamism & Identity Politics

“On 14 February 2015 an Islamist gunman attacked a café in Copenhagen where a debate on free speech was being held. Speaking at the meeting was Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who received death threats after he drew cartoons in 2007 of the Prophet Muhammad that were considered insulting by some Muslims (and some non-Muslims). Vilks was unhurt, but a documentary filmmaker, Finn Nørgaard, was killed. A month earlier, Islamists murdered cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. On one level, the Danish attack was prosaically ineffective. On another level, it marks a new standard, where anyone associating with ‘insulters of the prophet’ can expect to be a target for extremists.

“This essay will not discuss the cartoons of Vilks and Charlie Hebdo. Instead it will evaluate what recent assaults on controversial art and satirical journalism – and the assaults yet to come – mean for the arts in the West. It is also worth considering how Islamists – some of them born and raised in wholly (or largely) secular European countries – have not rejected Western values, but have absorbed aspects of Western secular culture. This essay cannot be a full account. Though arguments and positions here are simplified, they are not – hopefully – misrepresented…”

Read the short form of the essay on SPIKED, 14 August 2015 here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/islamism-and-identity-politics-a-destructive-mix/17290#.Vd-U2fldU5k

Read the long form of the essay on THE JACKDAW, originally published in May 2015: http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/?p=1632

Paul Delvaux Museum, St Idesbald

“If you have heard of Belgian painter Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) then it is likely to have been in connection with Surrealism. He gets a couple of illustrations in thematic surveys of Surrealism, rarely more. Unless you locate a specialist publication on the artist, it is hard to get an overview of his development. Delvaux is poorly represented in British public collections.

“Born near Liège in 1897, Delvaux initially studied architecture in Brussels, though he abandoned his studies because his grades in mathematics were insufficient, transferring to the painting course.  Delvaux’s earliest pieces are landscapes composed with a naturalistic palette, later leavened by Impressionism. As is usual for Belgians of this period, the Impressionism is more a form of vivacious naturalism with vibrant lighting effects and vigorous brushwork rather than sustained application of complimentary colour theory. Throughout the late 1920s he picked up and attempted to blend a welter of (often conflicting) influences: Renoir, Cézanne, Modigliani, Ensor. After 1925 one constant emerges: the human figure, often as a nude, as the principal subject. In the late 1920s Delvaux came into the orbit of Flemish Expressionists (less bold and strident than the Germans, they evolved a dull-hued, restrained style dwelling on figures in domestic settings, clearly displaying an attachment to realism)…”

Read the full review on THE JACKDAW, March 2011:

http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/?p=66