Well after a bit of fun doing the postings on, firstly, the albums, then, the films that have meant something to me over the years, I had a couple of cool chats with my old friends Shay and Simon. Not really about the selections but more about what I hadn’t included and so on. Then I got on to mentioning my next intended topic, libraries, which produced lots of laughs and comments about my pretentiousness. Moi? Anyway I’m not put off but I’ll return to the theme later because I’ve decided to stay grounded and keep it street by doing a posting on modern art.
Now I was going to pick my favourite artworks but figured I’d never get remotely close to a top 10. Anyway I’d kinda done something along those lines in this posting. talking about the single piece I would try and buy given the opportunity. Then I considered my fave galleries and museums that I’ve visited but I did that way back in this posting (in case you’re interested). So I thought I’d just talk about the artists themselves – those whose work I’ve admired most and why. First up the daddy…
Picasso 1881 – 1973
His most celebrated image is arguably Whaam! now on display at Tate Modern. The painting depicts a fighter aircraft firing a rocket into an enemy plane, with a red-and-yellow explosion. The cartoon style is heightened by the use of the lettering Whaam! The picture is large in scale, measuring almost 14’x 6′. Now I’ve seen the real thing lots of times but the first time I saw a representation of it was back in my schooldays again when on my first day at grammar school I saw it displayed on a corridor wall full size. An older lad, who I subsequently got to know, had reproduced it in the art room and there it was proudly displayed as an example of pupil-produced artwork. Imagine the impact upon me – a quiet 11 year old from a local primary school whose previous artistic knowledge amounted to staid images of the Queen. And here was Whaam! 84 sq ft of aerial combat destruction in vibrant red, yellow, black and white. Wow. It blew me away and still does in many ways…
Artist, film director, and producer who was a leading figure in the pop art movement of the late 50’s/60’s. His work explores the relationship between artistic expression, advertising and celebrity culture spanning a variety of media including painting, silkscreening, photography, film, and sculpture. His life and work simultaneously satirized and celebrated materiality and celebrity. On the one hand, his paintings of distorted brand and celebrity images could be read as a critique of a culture obsessed with money and fame. On the other hand, his own taste for wealth and celebrity, suggests a fascination with the very aspects of American culture that his work criticised.
After exhibiting his work in the late 1950s, he began to receive recognition as an influential and controversial artist. His New York studio, The Factory, became a well-known gathering place for musicians, intellectuals, drag queens, celebrities, Bohemians as well as wealthy patrons. His work celebrated a cluster of cool icons he gathered around himself and he is widely credited with coining the expression ’15 minutes of fame’ which in many ways was his mantra.
In 1962, he exhibited the now-iconic paintings of Campbell’s soup cans. These small canvas works of everyday consumer products created a major stir in the art world, bringing both Warhol and pop art into the national spotlight for the first time…
His private life was complex. He lived openly as a gay man before the liberation movement but others claim he was celibate and just flirted with homosexuality. He was shot at by a former assistant and recovered but after suffering from gall bladder problems died of heart complications at just 58.
As with many premature artistic deaths his wealth and fame has exploded since and many of his works have become some of the most expensive paintings ever sold…
And finally an artist I’ve actually met and had a few drinks with…
Patrick Caulfield 1936 – 2005
Now when I was heading up BT’s sponsorship activity one of our principal partnerships was with Tate and their online capability which BT was empowering. One of the ideas we had was to get some BT vans liveried up with some original artwork commissioned from a top artist. Tate suggested Patrick Caulfield, an English painter and printmaker known for his bold canvases. His work typically incorporated elements of photorealism within a pared-down scene.
I went to meet Patrick and he offered me a glass or two of very nice red wine and we discussed the project. A week or so later I popped by to see him to see how his thinking was developing and took a very decent bottle of red with me. He was very appreciative and we had a very pleasant hour or so discussing all sorts of things, mostly female related. He was lovely and great fun and weeks later he delivered his art designs which we created into a vinyl wrap for the vehicles. It got us loads of media coverage and I’d established a very nice relationship with a hugely talented and engaging guy. The red wine was a mutual friend who regularly visited.
Sadly he passed away a little while later but I’ve always felt a fondness for him and his great art. You’ll probably recognise his very distinctive style …
So there it is, a top 10 of something at last. Hope you enjoy it and let me know of any artists who have moved you in some away.
Hi Paul. I always knew you were bright and intelligent (and good looking – so some say from a historical perspective!), but I didn’t realise that this extended into the world of art! Very impressive piece of writing and very interesting and informative. Can’t say I’m into the modern stuff as much as you, far more of an impressionist era man myself – Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir & Degas in particular. Do like some of the older masters as well, particularly Rembrandt, Constable and Canaletto. I think the only one on your list that would be in my top ten is Turner. I must go back to the posts you did on films and albums and give you my thoughts on them, although I know that they are far more aligned to my favourites than the above artists. I hate to offend but I think the worst art gallery/museum that I have been to is the Tate Modern! – Sacrilege I hear you cry. Give me the National Art Gallery and Portrait Gallery any day of the week! Mind you, this is coming from someone who can paint walls and ceilings, but couldn’t get an Art O level – but, as they say, “I knows what I likes”. Sky Arts Landscape and Portrait Artist of the Year are amongst our favourite programmes at the moment, although we sometimes think the judges are on a different planet to us at times.Take care and keep safe. Phil (& Lynne x)
Hi Phil (and Lynne)
Many thanks for checking in as ever mate and for the great (and kind) comments. I’m not sure about the historically good looking thought; that sounds like a euphemism for ‘but now you’re a fat old bald git’, ha! Harsh but true. Anyway I’m a fan of modern art (well at least a bit of it) but also a big fan of the Impressionists and earlier artists. I do get a bit turned off by all those 15 – 17th c portraits but that’s just me. I am a big fan of NPG and used to do a lot of activity there. The BP and Sky Portrait Artists of the Year projects are my favourites too so not as far apart as things may seem.
Even so it’s sad you dislike Tate M so much. But I know where you’re coming from. Appreciating some contemporary art is a bit like being in an exclusive club. If you’re on the in, you feel a little superior. And if you don’t get it, it’s, well, rubbish. This was the attitude I faced when I took over BT’s sponsorship of Tate which was focused on supporting the permanent collection. At the time BT’s finances were heading south and shareholders were asking why we were wasting money on some pieces of art. It was a reasonable question. I mean what was the relevance between a telecoms company and high art? To make sense of it I instigated a change in our relationship away from the artwork itself towards empowering all of Tate’s online capability. With our broadband and technological platforms we could help find a way to illuminate what the art was all about. To explain it. And help broaden understanding. We could help progress the digitalisation of the collection (and that did help make all the 100,000’s of hidden pieces publicly available) but just putting all the artwork online was a problem because that simply transformed huge artworks (like Whaam!) into postcard-sized images, thus reducing their majesty. We had to come up with stuff that made the art accessible. Art for all if you like. We did get some resistance from Tate at first but after some great work by my web/filmic colleagues at BT we gradually started to build an audience.
Some of the stuff we did was quite groundbreaking; interactive interviews with artists, painting up some BT vans with a famous artist’s concept – taking art onto the street via a very mundane medium etc. One of the ideas we delivered was inspired by the Matisse/Picasso exhibition and partly by my own experience of art lessons at school. We went to half a dozen of the grittiest secondary schools in the North East and invited/convinced them to approach the exhibition as an art challenge. The kids had to use online (ie BT technology) to find out all they could about the various ways the two artists developed different painting techniques (cubism, surrealism, collages etc) and then take a subject close to them eg Alan Shearer, the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough etc and capture it in a way that Picasso or Mattise might have done. There were something like 200 pieces of artwork produced. Our pledge was to display the artwork on Tate’s online site ie alongside all the greats as well as to host an exhibition of the work for a period at the piazza in the Metrocentre in Gateshead where the local community could view it – and they did in their 1000’s. As you could imagine the project was an amazing success and teachers told us this was the first time ever that the majority of the kids (and their families, social circles etc) had absorbed the concept of modern art. We’d used our capability to allow people to get what the art was all about and lots of the kids’ output was stunning.
That was the trick to making our sponsorship succeed – to allow people an understanding so that they didn’t feel alienated or excluded. It was about giving people insight. So they could go to Tate Modern and more fully appreciate perhaps what was being displayed. When we started,Tate was attracting 100,000 unique visitors per month which was exceptional for a gallery. By the time I’d left it was 1,000,000 virtual visitors per month – more than double who went through the doors. Da dah!
You might appreciate this bit as a Turner fan. We used to get some special benefits as a partner like private viewings before a major show with the curator. I always remember being shown around the Turner in Venice show which was wonderful – an expert explaining the background – a rare privilege. One bit of insight stood out for me. It was a picture of the Grand Canal or San Marco or some other famous view that Canaletto had painted many years before and Turner had visited Venice and re-painted the scene in tribute to one of his artistic heroes. It was exactly the same viewpoint that Canaletto had used but some 30 yards apart, just to ensure it wasn’t regarded as a copy or pastiche. Ok I thought, interesting but not particularly insightful. Until the curator pointed out a little purple splodge on the painting on the pavement area of the scene. Guess what this is, he asked. No idea I said. It’s Canaletto who always used to wear a purple cloak whilst painting. Turner knew this and this is his homage – it’s saying you painted this scene before me and whilst my effort is decent, it’s nowhere near as good as your original. You’re the daddy. Wow. Suddenly I got it.
Now after that I had to tell our guys (and the Tate people) that this is the stuff that people need to know about, to make that painting meaningful. We didn’t go public so now you know, that purple splodge is the secret to the painting.
love to all mate