A4 Gouache on Paper 27/05/14

Untitled 1
Gouache on black paper

The Picasso Problem

Nu couché au lit bleu 1946

About fifteen years ago I took a holiday in Antibes on the Cote D'Azur. So, knowing that it's a good place to see Art both old and new I decided to go back this year.  In nearby Biot, a medieval hilltop village, there is the Musee National Fernand Leger, which I visited before but didn't this time as there is so much more to see in the area.

In Antibes there is the Musee Grimaldi, a Roman fort, rebuilt in the 14th century, this is where Picasso stayed and worked briefly and dedicated works produced there around 1945 - 1949. It's now called The Musee Picasso.

Picasso said "Anyone who wants to see them will have to come to Antibes" and I would say that's a pretty good excuse to take a holiday there, so I did. Whilst inside, sitting down and looking at one of his works, a man sitting next to me started a conversation about Picasso. He asked me if I liked him and I said I wasn't sure, that I had changed my mind about him several times in my life. The man went on to talk about what "a bastard" he was to women, but I found myself defending Picasso because I felt that as he was one of the rare examples of a prolific artist who was both rich and successful in his own lifetime, who subsequently had many women, probably due to that success. However, I felt that women were superfluous to him because he was totally focused on his work and if you think about it, he had to be to produce and innovate as much as he did.

I felt that Picasso, often photographed in later life in his shorts with next to nothing on, didn't give a damn about anything, that's why he could be photographed like that. If you visit you will see many photographs of him in just his shorts, taken by his friend Michel Sima. Picasso was successful but he pissed off a lot of people who got close to him, mostly women who were involved with him. I suspect he mainly needed women for sex. His celebrity status meant he could be rich fodder for the press, much like celebrities today. Stories would be written about his private life, and the women in his life. He had the mainstream attention many other artists would never have had.

By the time he was an older man the sexual revolution was happening and feminism was on the up. Picasso was now seen to be a bit chauvinistic and misogynistic, a little out of fashion. Add this to his rather extreme abstraction in many of his paintings of women and we can interpret this as a way of brutalising women.

This is why I found myself saying that I didn't like Picasso for years, but I've changed again, because I now feel he was an artist before anything else. Art was probably more important to him than his women, children, money, clothes and socialising.This is one of the reasons why he was so prolific and such an innovator, he didn't let anything get in his way.

He is credited with being the first to apply paper with words on to a painting, thus leading to movements rich in this idea like Dada. Here's an example from 1908 which proves how early he was using this technique.

The Dream

Also, the Russian Constructivists were heavily influenced by him after returning from visits to Paris. This is apart from movements he is known for such as Cubism.

Many times artists, sometimes musicians, have been disliked for their behaviour or their politics. It brings to mind Hitler's liking for Wagner's music, which meant that many people subsequently dismissed a great composer, which I believe is a shame. I now think that I'll let Picasso's work speak for itself. I will not let his celebrity reputation influence my opinion of his art.

I will be writing on other places to visit and see art in the area of Antibes soon.

Women In Art, or should I say, Women Out of Art

Pauline Boty
Rosalyn Drexler
Idelle Weber
Letty Lou Eisenhauer
Jann Haworth

After watching the BBC programme 'Pop Go The Women: The Other Story of Pop Art' - A Culture Show Special I wanted to know more so I watched it again.  This programme is about the female Pop Artists who were brilliant but have generally been ignored since their heyday. In the succeeding years they were not considered important or good enough to be written about, or shown in galleries amongst their male counterparts.  At the time they struggled to be shown, some even refused to show women artists at all due to the huge weight of Art being traditionally a male domain. Because of this tradition men could generate more money so women suffered at the time and they suffered after too.

It's sad that such talent has been neglected, but at the same time, it's great to know that there is more to the Pop Art movement that we can discover if only curators and writers and the Art establishment would give them a chance.  Quite frankly, it gets a bit boring when we keep seeing the same old mega names like Lichtenstein and Warhol. It's great when you are a new student, a fan, or new to Art History, but a bore if you've been around looking at this stuff for a while. It's limiting us all in not representing a balanced understanding of the times.  Basically, women were there too, so let's see the whole picture.

If these works were for sale today they would be a lot cheaper than an Andy Warhol, which isn't a bad thing. I'm not saying that they would be cheap by any means, but less expensive.

Many people would rather buy an inferior work by a big male name than a good work by a smaller female name, but just because that male name goes for an absurd amount of money does not make it necessarily great. We need to see beyond the picture and look at the whole Art market to understand why this is really happening.

This programme was about Pop Art specifically but of course this gender problem in Art has a long history, sadly. The further one goes back the more we can understand where this absurd idea that women could not paint came from. They were simply not allowed to do it except to paint pretty pictures of flowers and such and would not have been allowed to be part of any kind of promotion of themselves. Women were there to look after others.  This way of being was still around in the 50's and 60's. Despite the sexual revolution (which benefited men) women were still in the dark ages.

I hope this programme, presented by Alistair Sooke, starts to change the one-sided view that still exists today. We need to be less ignorant of these prejudices and start to ask more questions when women aren't represented properly and not be afraid to challenge the established way of thinking. Because it's still happening right now.

                                Figures in Motion
                                Rosalyn Drexler
                                Her style recently appropriated for the opening credits of the Mad Men Series.


BLACK AND WHITE: JOSEF ALBERS at Waddington Custot Gallery

Waddington Custot Gallery,
11,Cork Street,
London W1

Born: 1888 - Germany
Died: 1976 - USA
Taught: Bauhaus and Yale
Wife: Annie Albers (Woven and Graphic Art)
Pupils: Rauchenberg, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland
Book: Interaction of Colour 1963
Worked on 'Homage to the Square' for a period of 25 years.

This part of town I don't find myself in very often, it's Bond Street, but, here I am with Robin heading down to the Cork Street Galleries to see a small exhibition of the work of Josef Albers, but first we take ourselves off down a side street for a coffee and a bit of lunch and straight away we discover a perfect little nook just tucked away behind the main street, a very nice spot to find yourself even without the galleries.

Once at the gallery I'm struck by the space, it's a fair size, but not too big, with one large and two small rooms.  As soon as you get in the door your confronted with a superb painting, 'Movement in Grey' 1939 and two similar but smaller works from 1945. Beautiful, soft, creamy greys and whites in a simple geometric composition, the oil paint on masonite is applied with a little texture and not completely flat.

This work gives way to the geometric style Albers is famous for, his 'Homage to the Square' 1966, but here in similar soft greys and creams.  These works are usually three or four squares of solid planes of variable colours or tones and were the vehicle for his colour studies.

Then, all of a sudden, around the corner, I'm in a room with total colour.  This is what I would expect, what I've seen in the Art History books. He's known for these studies, the square theme and now with full chromatic spectrum colours, very pleasing after all the monochromatic work.  There is a second geometric theme now as well called Variant or Adobe and this I learn is a shape based on the houses in Mexico and in the American South-West where he spent some of his life.  They are a bit rougher round the edges than I thought they would be but I like this as it seems to make them easier to relate to.

So, as if coming down from a high I'm led back to the monochrome world in the main gallery.
Strangely though it's the tonal work that leaves a lasting impression on me, it's so calming and harmonious to look at.  Grey can have negative connotations, for example, grey and gloomy weather, like we were having on the day, but here, in a positive light, it's soft, light, creamy and even sensual.

More intense black and white is used in the glass and vinylite pieces.  'Steps' (Interior A&B) 1929 are on sandblasted opaque flashed glass and these lead to the next room where I feel the best work in the exhibition hangs.  Three works called 'Structural Constellation Transformation of a Scheme' 1951 - 64 are exquisite machine engravings on black vinylite. These works are highly reflective, with white geometric lines cut into the surface, some areas have an opaque finish that reveals a softer blackish brown.  I think they are divine and if money were no object they would be mine.

After this highlight we have some 'Graphic Tectonic' studies on graph paper, some tonal studies in gouache called 'Treble Clef' 1930 and a small selection of photographs.

It was Josef Albers' exploration with Black and White that led him to explore and understand colour, with his tonal pieces he explored warm and cold contrasts and light intensity. Very Inspiring. Recommended and free to get in.

Check out the cultured arachnid!

The Years of La Dolce Vita at the Estorick Gallery

Today I entered a magical, romantic world when I took myself to see The Years of La Dolce Vita at one of our favourite haunts in Islington, The Estorick Collection.  We've been (that's my partner and I) a few times before to this small house which contains a collection of modern Italian art.  This time to see a small selection of black and white photographs of the rich and famous out and about in Rome in the 60s.  Marcello Geppetti and Arturo Zavattini capture the glamour and romance of their time but also the exquisite style of the glitterati.

They're all there, Liz T, Richard B, Bridget B, Raquel W, Frank S, Anita E, Sophia L, Jackie O, Jane M, Audrey H, all enjoying the delights of the city.  Some are not so happy to have their privacy invaded, there are great action shots of paparazzi being attacked.  One group of three photo's shows Anita Ekberg outside her home launching an attack with a huge bow and arrow. There she is without her shoes on but still resplendent in a fabulous dress and with really big hair, taking aim at the pesky paparazzi.

I realise from the information provided that the term paparazzo was taken from Fellini's film, La Dolce Vita (1960), being the name of a character inspired by a number of real-life photojournalists working in Rome.

The collection branches out and covers some pop stars such as the Beatles and Nico, but to me the really big stars shine out. Certain people crop up frequently such Alain Delon, who seems to be out on the town a lot, often with a different woman. Bridget Bardot  is captured time and again, as you would expect.
There is a large staged photo of her as you walk in but we liked a small photo of her leaving a crumbling Italian building, her figure merging with her surroundings beautifully.

One of my personal favourites here is Joan Crawford by Marcello Gepetti.  You get everything you would expect with this, the big eyebrows, weird-shaped lipstick, over the top jewellery and bizarre eye-liner, the faded glamour of an ageing star but still powerful and magnetic. Another is Raquel Welch dancing on a table with Marcello Mastroianni looking on, capturing the style of the time perfectly.

The Estorik is always enjoyable, you can get good food in cafe, the garden is good space to eat it in, a little book shop and and a permanent collection of modern Italian art.  Very enjoyable.