Tacita Dean: Antigone 4 – It looks like we missed the sunset.

230818 - TB28aThe forth and final part of my instant drawings from the showing of Tacita Dean’s film “Antigone.”

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The other parts (if you haven’t seen them yet, and want to!) can be seen here:
Antigone 1 – Where did I get the courage to put out my eyes?
Antigone 2 – Why did it take so long? …to get from there to here?
Antigone 3 – How did I get my name?

Tacita Dean: Antigone 3 – How did I get my name?

 

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Oedipus

Part 3 of my instant sketches from the showing of the Tacita Dean film “Antigone.”

Assuming you would like to…
The other posts connected to this film can be found below:
Antigone 1 – Where did I get the courage to put out my eyes?
Antigone 2 – Why did it take so long? …to get from there to here?

Tacita Dean: Antigone 1 – Where did I get the courage to put out my eyes?

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The following sketches, and the ones I’m going to put in the next three blog posts, were all drawn at lightening speed – just a few seconds each – trying to capture the thrill of seeing Tacita Dean’s film “Antigone” that was being shown at the Royal Academy in London. Screen shots – a moment in time.

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JJ at the RA

Last weekend we visited the vast retrospective exhibition of Jasper Johns at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

“One hopes for something resembling truth, some sense of life, even of grace, to flicker, at least, in the work” – Jasper Johns 2006. Part of this quote has been used as a subtitle for the exhibition “Something resembling truth.”

It’s been said about his work, the American flags, targets and numbers amongst them, that as he didn’t have to design them, he could move beyond that in his paintings, as these were images that the mind already knew, it gave him room to work on other deeper levels. It certainly made you want to take a closer look at his work, to explore the surfaces and textures of the paintings, and to see what has got entrenched in them, as he worked. This in turn affects what you get out of them by looking.

261117 - JJ1“I am interested in the idea of sight, in the use of the eye, I am interested in how we see and why we see the way we do.” – Jasper Johns 1969. This is not just the mechanics of seeing that he is talking about, but also at the psychological level. I must admit, it took me 10 minutes looking at various versions of the American flags to realise that the number of stars varied in them. Doh! This is probably because I had it in my head that I already knew what the Stars and Stripes looked like, so I didn’t actually have to take in what I was looking at – not a straight copy – but a lot more besides. That thick textured encaustic medium that he uses, it seems to be so versatile in it’s uses. Wonderful – perhaps I ought to investigate it.

I’ve included above a little drawing I did a couple of years ago. It is not a copy of anything that Jasper Johns did (you’d probably already guessed that), but it is the closest I have. Perhaps you could view it as a take on one of his Target paintings if you wanted, or an eye, or the centre of a sunflower, or lots of bubbles on the surface of some water. Whatever you want really, I will leave it up to you to see what you want. Your eye will see it differently to mine. The only thing I would say is that I won’t be repeating the exercise – It was so very tedious to do, but once started I forced myself to finish.

This retrospective is a big exhibition with so many great things to take in. I loved the large cast aluminium “Numbers” from 2007, that not only has the various textures of the repetitive numbers, and their backgrounds, but also within the sheen you can see newspaper text coming through. So much to look at, oh and there is the impression of a foot at the top of the picture – the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham has left his mark.

Then there is the series of cross-hatching paintings called “Between the Clock and the Bed” with the obvious reference to Edvard Munch’s painting of the same name, and the pictorial cross hatching used on the bedspread. This examines the passage of time from birth to death with you stuck somewhere in between the two. (As a complete aside, I googled inbetween as I wasn’t sure whether to put that, or in-between, or in between, and this was number 1 in the charts: “You grow old and die anyway. And then there is everything you have to endure in between/inbetween: grief, loneliness, sickness” – that was courtesy of http://www.ellstackexchange.com. Munch (and Johns?) would have loved that!)

Nearby there was a much smaller pastel drawing, basically solid black with the name TENNYSON spelt out at the bottom. Although the exhibition doesn’t mention it, this for me again links Johns with Munch, echoing the lithographs “Self-portrait with skeleton arm” or even more strikingly the portrait of “August Strindberg”, or “STINDBERG” as Munch had originally misspelt it, before correcting it at a later stage. Jasper Johns’ picture doesn’t depict anyone, instead he leaves it in the mind of the viewer to either come up with their own image, or perhaps to conjure up some of Tennyson’s poetry from the great storehouse of their memory.

261117 - JJ2I would wind up this review of a great exhibition (which I have merely touched upon), by sharing my thoughts on a series of states of the Aquatint called “Regrets” (16 of them in total) on display in the last room, which come from an old photograph of Lucien Freud commissioned by Francis Bacon. Wonderful as they are and great to see the progression, I must return to earlier rooms to see some works that depict the cosmos above us, a late Untitled painting from 2016 clearly depicts the Big Dipper or Ursa Major if you prefer. The only reason for taking you back here is for the selfish reason to finish up with 2 further sketches of my own from 2015. The first was drawn rapidly on a freezing clear morning before dawn which showed a magnificent line up of the Moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter all in a row. You can’t get much better than that, and you have to take the opportunity to sketch them when you can. I make no apologies for the roughness of this, it just shows the immediacy of the spectacle.

The second sketch drawn a few days later shows as it says the moon trying to break through some cloud. A failure it suggests (try again), but I can’t remember if that referred to the drawing (probably), or the moon (unlikely), or both. I think I will leave that up to you to decide. It could be that “one hopes for something, resembling truth, some sense of life, even of grace, to flicker, at least, in the work.”

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Chocolate teapots in the studio

Way up in the attic of the Royal Academy of Arts in London at the moment is a studio I wanted to visit, although I wasn’t sure if the artist was going to be at home or not.

First possible mistake: I took the frosted glass stairway up. This was disorientating to my aging eyes and I took a step that wasn’t there much to the amusement of the children who nimbly followed me up. I bet the Queen took the lift when she opened the Sackler Wing in 1991. Sensible girl!

The front door was open, and in we went – Matisse in the Studio. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this exhibition; I knew that it tried to marry up Matisse’s work with the various objects that he acquired and he used as props that appeared, and re-appeared, in his paintings and sculpture throughout his life. Immediately I am confronted with a green vase – with it’s hands on hips. What is it I want? I could see it was slightly contorted in it’s hand-blown (mouth-blown / hand-made) state. It wasn’t my eyes, or Matisse’s, or necessarily the way he depicted it – it really was like that. Green vases, all with hands on hips, looked back at me from the walls. Although more of them, they had lost their aggressiveness, I saw through them, and marvelled at the art instead.

The rooms that followed were arranged by themes: The Object as Actor; The Nude in juxtaposition with African Sculpture; The Face with Masks; The Studio as Theatre; and the last room was Signs where the late cut-outs adorn the walls in a triumph of colour and shape overseen by a Chinese calligraphic panel given to Matisse by his wife. You can see the link.

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Matisse’s Chocolate Pot

But, having moved around the rooms I sneak back past the green vase, who’s attention had been diverted by other visitors. The star of this show is undoubtedly the Chocolate Pots in the Object is an Actor room, and to mis-quote Bob Dylan: ” There is no actor anywhere better than the Chocolate Pot!” So much so, Matisse has 2 of them! Perhaps one was an understudy for when the principal was ill. A more likely story, is the first was a wedding present from his first marriage, and as that marriage disintegrated the first Mrs Matisse understandably held onto this Chocolate Pot, and Matisse full of bereavement and loss had to replace it. What beautiful objects they are! The wonderful large bulbous pot-belly of the silver supported on 3 tiny legs that don’t look strong enough for the job. The spout to pour the frothy hot chocolate out (you have to imagine the contents), and a lid to flip up and peer in (if you were allowed – hence imagination required). Best of all though is this great wooden appendage of an arm that sticks out perpendicular to the whole contraption. The pot must be hot I guess, and this is to aid the picking up and pouring. Matisse’s depictions of this are manifold. An early predecessor of the cut-outs on the wall next to the pots shows how it got moved about, and eventually, literally, pinned down in position as shown finally in the painting “Still Life with Seashell on Black Marble” on the wall by it’s side. My attention was more drawn to a small insignificant colour chart on show where dowsed with various colours the coffee pot appeared several times upstaging simple sketches of herons that also appear rather bizarrely. What a delight. It is great to see these snippets that show how the artist is really thinking.

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Our Teapot

This exhibition that focuses on the sources for Matisse’s work, does ultimately depress me when thinking about my own work. In Matisse’s time, it wasn’t that long ago, mass production was not at the forefront of everything. There was not the straight-lined perfection of some machine, but hand produced objects that had character and love already built into them with their imperfections and wonkiness that captured your heart. When I got home I looked at our teapot. I drew our teapot. It wasn’t the same. “About as useless as a chocolate teapot” as the saying goes, but that would be far better than what we have. Perhaps I need to start searching the second-hand shops and auction rooms (and chocolate shops!) for my own objects to train up as actors and appear in my artistic dramas.