New Year’s Day and, wanting to get out after all the festivities of Christmas, we walked to Tate Britain to see ‘Impressionists in London French Artists in Exile 1870-1900’. A fascinating exhibition. Besides learning a lot about the Franco-Prussian war, which was so dreadful, with each side losing 100,000 people and later around 20,000 more women & children. The show was of the artists who fled to London. James Tissot stayed as a stretcher bearer in the National Guard. His very beautiful painting ‘The Wounded Soldier’, a soldier with his arm in a sling, seemed to me to portray the mindlessness of war. Another painting by Claude Monet, ‘Meditation (Madame Monet Sitting on a Sofa)’, I looked at for some time, fully imagining sitting beside her – its atmosphere created quietness & contemplation. Camille Pissarro’s paintings of South London, fascinating as they are all areas we are familiar with. Monet’s paintings of a foggy Thames and a painting I have always loved because of it’s heightened colour is Andre Derain’s ‘Charing Cross Bridge’.
Having recently watched a programme about the gallery owner Paul Durand-Ruel, I learnt that because of his supporting these artists, we have so much to thank him for as, unlike those who ridiculed these artists at the time, he saw something he really liked which means we have these painting to enjoy today.
James Tissot Claude Monet
Camille Pissarro Andre Derain
Our second trip out to galleries.
‘Basquiat Boom’ at the Barbican. Not a building I enjoy going to – so vast, brutal and unattractive. Once inside I was annoyed, as were others, that I couldn’t take my handbag into the show & had to carry my purse/credit cards around by hand. Once inside the show we may as well have been in a school playground, the noise and out of control children so distracting. I could only think Basquiat’s childlike imagery and graffiti had parents thinking their children would relate to it. In fairness some did seem to be looking quite intently, but the majority were obviously bored. Basquiat is self-taught, and there is a freedom to his mark-making and colour. Lots of social and political references and his love of boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, jazz musicians Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and many more. His collaborative paintings with Andy Warhol I didn’t respond to, finding them very contrived & lacking the spontaneity of his own work. How sad someone showing so much commitment and enthusiasm to his work died at such an early age of 27.
Our third trip out to exhibitions.
‘Aspects of German Art’ at the Ben Brown Gallery. I particularly liked Max Beckman’s work. It’s not attractive and quite frightening, depicting life in the First and Second World Wars, the rise of Nazism, his exile in Amsterdam and finally his emigration to the U.S.A. Exaggerated dark, distorted human features, strong colour, extremely personal and memorable. Also Sigmar Polke – he showed lots of experimentation with materials and processes, especially with colour, using stains, blemishes, pigments, solvents and resins. Looking at his work I get a feeling he so enjoyed the act of creating. Finally I liked Albert Oehlen. I enjoy the processes he seems to be able to show, I find myself not looking at the finished work but fascinated by various close-up textures and effects, possibly because of my years of textile designing.
Albert Oehlen, Sigmar Polke & Max Beckman
What we had really come to see today was Peter Doig at the Michael Werner Gallery, an artist who seems to be revered by so many art critics. Thinking I must be missing something, I keep hoping to be convinced. The gallery is yet another private Georgian house in Mayfair. I cannot imagine why such a place would be suitable for an art exhibition of this style and size – the rooms so distracting to the work. Once we had managed to open the ridiculously heavy door we were confronted by a woman instructing us which rooms we could enter. Sitting the other side of her desk were two women embroidering with their coloured silks in a line on the desk…. was this part of the exhibition? It’s hard to know these days! Inside the first room, what a shock to see so many visitors. I have so many mixed views on the work. Doig now lives in Trinidad and his work, according to the notes, covers personal memories, photography and historical paintings. In some of the works I like the gestural marks he makes, but find the results too busy as if it cannot be resolved and he’s given up dissatisfied. Apparently some of it is meant to be dreamlike, but I have always had problems with dreams as subject matter. My final thoughts are that something’s missing (which in many of the paintings is the feet!). If I had to pick one of his paintings that held my interest and liked, it would be of his Trinidadian friend Emheyo whom he shared a studio with. We left the Gallery with the embroidery being packed away – we will never know if this was part of the show, somehow I think not.
On the 18th of this month we celebrated our 11th anniversary with a lunch at the River Cafe. I should add we have been together for 51 years, quite a record – thank you Tony for your patience.