Pablo and a few others…


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  

Probably the art world’s most important figure of 20th century,  the Spanish born artist became without question the most well known name in modern art.  Spending most of his adult life  in France he created more than 20,000 paintings and drawings, 100,000 prints and engravings, and 34,000 illustrations as well as sculptures, ceramics and other items such as costumes and even theatre sets. But it wasn’t just the scale of his work that was impressive; he had the ability to produce works in an astonishing range of styles.  In his early years his realist portraiture was highly praised but his technique for realism evolved and led Picasso to develop his own take on modernism with his famed poverty-reflected Blue period followed by a more cheery Rose period.  He then became intrigued by the aesthetics of traditional African sculpture and increasingly influenced by the native works of Cezanne and Gaugin. This blend allowed Picasso to create highly stylized treatments of the human figure abandoning traditional perspective for a flat plane. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon became his first masterpiece and it was hailed as the most innovative painting in modern art history.
Picasso’s new-found freedom of expression led to him developing the entire Cubist movement alongside Georges Braques, the abstract style which then inspired offshoots into Futurism, Dada, and Constructivism. Still restless he made his first trip to Italy and promptly began a period of tribute to neoclassical style before effortlessly combining his modernist concepts with surrealism to create his next masterpiece Guernica a frenzied and masterful fusion of style that embodies the despair of war. It is considered the most powerful anti-war statement of modern art and I’m proud to have a copy of it, a pressie from my daughter who is also a huge fan. 

In his later years he continued to be a visionary creating many outstanding pieces laying the groundwork for the Neo-expressionist movement. Not to be ignored he was also incredibly skilled and groundbreaking in sculpture, ceramics and plastics. I personally cannot see anyone ever achieving the same degree of fame or show such incredible versatility as Pablo Picasso has in the art world. He is a genius on Shakespeare’s level and his free spirit, eccentric style, and complete disregard for what others thought of his work and creative style, make him a hero of mine.
Henri Matisse  1869  – 1954
Not easy to follow Picasso but I may as well try with his contemporary Matisse, another influential figure of the 20th century who’d have an important  impact on future movements and works. But who for me produced the single piece of modern art which took my breath away as a schoolkid. More of that later.
The French artist, known for his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship studied art in Paris. He was a proficient painter delivering landscapes and the odd still-life in a traditional style. It’s clear he wanted to learn from others (he went to London to study the paintings of J. M. W. Turner for example) and went into debt from buying work from painters he admired like Gaugin, Van Goch and Cezanne.
His fondness for bright and expressive colour became more pronounced after he spent the summer of 1904 experimenting with neo-Impressionism in St. Tropez. Sounds positively delightful doesn’t it?  In the early 1900’s, Matisse became part of a group of artists known as Fauves but his work continued to be regarded as so-so until he became influenced by Moorish art. The effect on Matisse’s work was a new boldness in the use of intense, unmodulated colour. Dance became his most celebrated piece; the audacious nudes and the crudely applied colours gave the artwork a native character which some thought a little too primitive. Then again, it does now hang in the Hermitage…
Around the same time he palled-up with Picasso, the two becoming life-long friends as well as rivals. They are often paralleled and a few years ago I saw a fab exhibition at Tate Modern (I think) comparing and contrasting their styles. They liked to paint women, nude women, a lot. But whereas Matisse painted from nature, Picasso was much more inclined to work from imagination and thus more instinctive imho.
In 1941, Matisse underwent surgery and became wheelchair-bound but if anything it spurred him creatively. He set about creating cut paper collages, often on a large scale, called gouaches découpés. And this is where my school days are recalled. At grammar school I took a liking to art classes alongside my very old mate Dave F – we were probably the only two in a class of around 30 to have much interest. For the first couple of years all the lads were pretty respectful of the art teachers, who were quite gentle souls. But by the third year art classes were just excuses for everyone to flick paint around, apart from Dave and I. We got to pore over the art teacher’s personal collection of art books (and I’ve been a collector ever since) and allowed to choose what we wanted to paint/sculpt/craft and get on it, with loads of encouragement. Now I can remember flicking through one of the books and came across a page where the image just about took my breath away. It was of a woman and just solid blue but it didn’t look painted. And it was just two-dimensional though incredibly curvaceous. It was of course one of his Blue Nudes series featuring the technique he called ‘painting with scissors’. They demonstrated his ability to blend an eye for colour and geometry. The image was utterly simple but incredibly powerful. Dave and I tried to emulate the technique free hand and it was impossibly difficult. That’s the mark of a great artist. Carol bought me a copy of the Blue Nude image a while ago and I love it as much today as I did more than 50 years ago…
Van Goch 1853 – 1890
Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous and loved post-impressionist artists yet he’d have absolutely no appreciation of it. He only took to painting in the last 10 years of his life and in his brief career he sold only one painting, lived in poverty, malnourished and overworked. The money he had was supplied by his brother, Theo, and was used primarily for art supplies, coffee, cigarettes and possibly the occasional prostitute.
The son of a pastor and brought up religiously, Vincent was highly emotional, lacked self-confidence and struggled with his identity and direction.  He worked unsuccessfully as a clerk in a bookstore, an art salesman, and a preacher in Belgium.
He began to study art and in 1880 he finally decided to become an artist. His early art is quite somber-toned, like his Potato Eaters. It’s not a bit like his later work which is full of vibrant colour. It’s not quite a Blue Nude is it…
In 1886, he went to Paris to join his brother Théo, a gallery manager. He met several Impressionist painters, tried to imitate their technique by lightening his very dark palette and to paint in their short brush-strokes style. He wasn’t very good at it. So he developed his own more bold and unconventional style and in 1888, just two years before his death, Van Gogh moved south to Arles. He hoped his new friends would join him and help found a school of art. Gauguin did but with disastrous results. Van Gogh was a difficult companion and within months Gaugin had left and in a fit of temper Van Gogh sliced a portion of his own ear lobe off. He worked on alone, suffering from terrible mood swings whilst delivering some wonderful work..
Vincent ending up being sent to an asylum for treatment. Two years later he seemed to be recovering but died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound shortly after being released.
It’s amazing really; his finest works were produced in less than three years whilst he was in a state of mental turmoil and exhaustion. His distinctive technique grew more and more bold in brush stroke, colour, movement and distinctive line-shaping. But without knowing it he left a profound and lasting impact on the world of modern art. And the only artist I know who had a beautiful chart song written about him and his most famous painting…
Time for some English influence…
JMW Turner 1775 -1851
The ultimate English Romantic landscape painter whose expressionistic studies of light, colour, and atmosphere were unmatched in their range and sublimity.
Turner entered the Royal Academy schools in 1789 and soon began exhibiting his watercolours there. His early work is traditional in technique, imitating the best English masters by depicting places accurately. From 1796 Turner exhibited oil paintings as well as watercolours at the Royal Academy and in 1802 he became a full academician. His private life, as depicted in the recent film on his life, was secretive and a little odd. In 1798 he entered into an affair with a widow/housekeeper who probably bore him two children. In 1800 Turner’s mother became hopelessly ill and was committed to a mental hospital. His father went to live with him and devoted the rest of his life to serving as his son’s studio assistant and general agent. Also about 1800 Turner took a studio in Harley Street and shortly after a private gallery, where he continued to show his latest work for many seasons. He was by this time overwhelmed with commissions and highly successful.
Turner’s painting gradually became increasingly luminous and atmospheric in quality.  In works such as Snowstorm: Hannibal Crossing the Alps (1812), Turner used the power of natural forces to lend drama to historical events…

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 allowed Turner to travel abroad with trips to Waterloo, the Rhine and to Rome, Naples, Florence, and Venice. During his journey he made about 1,500 drawings, and in the next few years he painted a series  of pictures which showed a great advance in his style, particularly in the matter of colour, which became purer and more multi-hued…
Despite his classical training Turner became, probably, the greatest landscapist of the 19th century by becoming a pioneer in the study of light, colour, and atmosphere with a concentration on the dramatic aspects of sea and sky.  He anticipated the Impressionist movement in breaking down conventional forms of representation. His late works are expressions of important subjects: the relationship of man to the environment, the majestic and terrifying power of nature as pictured in the terror of the storm. This was expressed chillingly in his study of Snowstorm, Steamboat Off A Harbour’s Mouth a great swirling vortex of sea, snow and sky with a steamboat struggling in the eye of the storm, sending up distress flares. It depicts the graphic peril, from the viewpoint of another ship , obviously close to danger itself, and disturbingly Turner is said to have had himself tied to the mast of a ship in order to observe such a storm first-hand. Talk about suffering for your art…
It still looks magnificent. I came across many opportunities to study Turner’s work during my time at BT when I handled our relationship with Tate. Happy times. But one regret has been the fact that I’ve yet to visit Turner’s former home at Sandycombe Lane in E Twickenham. It’s where he escaped the London scene and provided a home for his father for a time. It’s fully restored and literally just round the corner from my daughter R’s home. It’s on my list to visit once this blessed cv-19 pandemic is over. 
Lucian Freud 1922-2011
Berlin-born but nationalised Brit artist Freud is regarded as one of the foremost 20th-century portraitists and specialists in figurative art. Freud was intensely private and guarded and his paintings, completed over a 60-year career, were mostly of friends, family fellow painters, lovers, children.  They are generally sombre and thickly painted often set in unsettling interior . He was part of the ‘School of London’ group alongside the likes of Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach. 
From the 1950s, he began to focus on nude portraiture and developed a free style using large hog’s-hair brushes, concentrating on the texture and colour of flesh, working with a more limited palette in which greasy whites and meaty reds predominated and using much thicker paint. Girl with a White Dog, is an example of a transitional work in this process. He also started to paint standing up, which continued until old age. After this the flesh becomes increasingly highly and variably coloured…
Freud’s portraits often depict only the sitter, sometimes sprawled naked on the floor or on a bed. He produced a large number of portraits of the fleshy performance artist Leigh Bowery and muse Henrietta Moraes.  A series of huge nude portraits from the mid-1990s depicted the very large Big Sue – my particular favourites. This one is entitled Benefits Supervisor Sleeping. You can see the change in technique from the earlier picture.

He fell out with everyone apparently and few people speak well of his character. He’s also said to have fathered between 13 and 40 children most via mistresses.   Indeed Freud’s soured romances were said to have left him with a contempt for women that made him paint them as a voyeur. He was accused of being cruel in his representations, treating subjects as a pathologist rather than a painter. Either way I think there’s no-one better at capturing fleshy skin tones better than Freud.

David Hockney  1937 –

Yorkshire-born Hockney was an important contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960s, and  is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. He is perhaps our greatest living artist. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Hockney featured in the exhibition Young Contemporaries alongside Peter Blake and moved to California shortly afterwards and began painting scenes of the sensual and uninhibited life of athletic young men, depicting pools, palm trees, and perpetual sunshine. His semi-abstract paintings on the theme of homosexual love before it was decriminalized in England in 1967 became highly collectable and his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for a then world record $90M. Personally I loved his Bigger Splash…


 

 

 

 

 

Hockney has always returned to painting portraits throughout his career. From 1968, and for the next few years, he painted portraits of family, friends, lovers, celebrity contacts and relatives just under life-size in a realistic style as well as over 300 self-portraits. This portrait of his folks is much admired and hangs in Tate…

He experimented with photography in the mid-1970s, going on to create his famous collages with Polaroids and snapshot prints arranged in a grid formation, pushing the two-dimensionality of photography to the limit. A versatile artist, Hockney has produced work in almost every medium—including full-scale opera set designs, prints, and drawings using cutting-edge technology such as fax machines, laser photocopiers, computers, and even iPhones and iPads.

His return to painting wooded Yorkshire landscapes at Woldgate was vibrantly Van Goch-like  and showed that he’d lost none of his artistic power…

And now some American greats…

Edward Hopper 1882-1967

I’ve already declared my hand via the link in the second paragraph by declaring that this picture, Hopper’s Nighthawks would be the single piece of artwork I’d most like to own for a period of time…

His paintings are all so evocative to me and you just can’t help asking yourself what’s going on here? It could equally be the first scene of a movie or the final scene. But something feels like it’s about to happen, or has just. if you took away the hats it could almost be a metaphor for the very final scene in the Sopranos don’t you think?

Anyway I won’t burble on about Hopper. I saw exhibitions of his work in London and in Oxford they were wonderful. I especially liked his images of Cape Cod area where I think he and he is wife spent their holidays…

Roy Lichtenstein 1923 -1997
During the 1960s, along with Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, New York born Roy Lichtenstein became a leading figure in the new Pop art movement. His work was inspired by popular advertising and the comic strip and rendered in a style mimicking the crude printing processes of newspaper reproduction. These paintings reinvigorated the American art scene and altered the history of modern art. Lichtenstein’s success was matched by his energy, and he went on to create an oeuvre of more than 5,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, murals and other objects celebrated for their wit and invention. He spent years in the Army then teaching art at various schools and universities but in 1962 Lichtenstein had his first one-man show and the entire collection was bought by influential collectors before the show even opened.

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…



Andy Warhol 1928 – 1987

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.

pp

2 thoughts on “Pablo and a few others…

  1. 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)

  2. 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

    pp

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