Thursday, 29 January 2015

Jack of Diamonds

Jack of Diamonds - Early 20th century Russian Avant-Garde Art at the Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House.
Jack of Diamonds was an exhibition that opened in Moscow in December 1910. A stated objective was 'to offer young Russian artists who find it extremely difficult to get accepted for exhibitions under the existing indolence and cliquishness of our artistic spheres, the chance to get onto the main road'. Subsequently the title was adopted by a newly formed artistic society in Moscow and soon after the group became the largest and one of the most significant exhibition societies of the early Russian avant-garde. Their activities effected a qualitative shift in Russia of the 1910s: a democratisation of the art society in Russia, amongst other things. The combination of European innovation and Russian national traditions was a distinctive feature of this group.
When the exhibition opened in Moscow the show was considered 'a slap in the face of public taste'. Critics dismissed it as youthful 'hooliganism'. Kazimir Malevich on the other hand compared it to the 'eruption of the biggest volcano'.
Dr Natalia Murray who has curated the exhibition at the Courtauld notes that 'by allowing their brave creative experiments to break into the very essence of artistic life, Russian avant-garde artists changed not only the historic development of Russian art, but the face of European modernism of the early 20th century'.

Mikhail Larionov, Bathers at Sunset, 1909 

A. Lentulov, Flowers, 1913

Mikhail Larionov, Rayist Painting, 1913

Between 1912 and 1914 Larionov and Goncharova experimented in non-representational painting, exploring the optical qualities of refraction and the dynamics of light. They called this technique Rayism. Impressed with scientific discoveries, including x-rays, as well as contemporaries ideas of a Fourth Dimension, Larinov started creating paintings representing networks of interweaving rays.

Natalia Goncharova, Magus (costume design), 1915 
This costume design for the astronomer Magus was created for an unrealised ballet called Liturgie that Goncharova worked on between 1915-17.

Alexandra Extr, Greeks, (Costume Design), 1916

Vivid colours inspired by folk art from the artist's native Ukraine.

Olga Rozanova, Queen of Diamonds, 1915 

Natalia Goncharova, The Little Station, 1912 
Time, space and movement are compressed and flattened to create a moment that encapsulates the sensation of 'passing through'. We are once inside and outside the train: bits of words and numbers flash by. Figures rush along the platform, and faces are reflected in the window of the carriage. A celebration of the dynamic, fragmented experience of the modern world.

Vladimir Burliuk, Landscape, 1913

Influenced by Paul Cezanne and Cubism, Burliuk often fractured his paintings into interlocking irregular segments, as if translating the principles of stained glass into painting.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Apelsinia by Natalia Goncharova


Apelsinia by Natalia Goncharova, at the Courtauld Gallery.

I went to see the Jack of Diamonds exhibition on the strength of this painting as it struck a chord with me the minute I saw it.

Goncharova was a Russian avant-garde artist, painter, costume designer, writer, illustrator and set designer. Her early Impressionist period was succeeded from 1906 by a synthesis of the influence of modern French painters such as Gauguin and Matisse with the indigenous traditions of Russian folk art and Byzantine icons. She also designed sets and costumes for a number of Diaghilev's ballets, and became one of the most celebrated designers for the ballet.

She shocked society with her cross dressing and wrote that 'if I clash with society, this occurs only because the latter fails to understand the bases of art and not because of my individual peculiarities, which nobody is obliged to understand'.

This painting is the most expensive work of art by a female artist in history which sold for £4.9 million at Christies in 2007.  It was originally displayed in Goncharova's solo exhibition in Moscow in 1913 as Apelsinia, a place-name she invented. It echoes Gauguin's Tahiti paintings but it's the colours that are so distinctive and give it its dreamlike atmosphere: delicate, pinkish hues evoking a sunset, the women's costumes suggesting scenes of Ancient Greek mythology. I found it very evocative and was touched by it.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Peder Balke

Peder Balke, at the National Gallery.
Balke was one of the first artists to venture to the vast, untrodden plains of the North Cape, the wall of rock on the edge of Norway, where he was overwhelmed by 'opulent beauties of nature and locations delivered to the eye and the mind'.  
There are hardly any people in these paintings: just mountains, coasts, sky and sea. The grandeur of the landscape, and the artist's subjective, emotional response to it, is the main theme, and in this, they are reminiscent of the work of Caspar David Friedrich as well as Edvard Much's paintings of Norwegian seas and skies. 

The Mountain Range, Trolltindene, about 1845


Seascape, 1860

North Cape, 1860s

North Cape, 1840s

North Cape, 1840s

Landscape from Finland with Sami and Reindeer, about 1850

Moonlight View of Stockholm, 1850.

Across the landing is Maggi Hambling's Walls of Water exhibition which offers parallels to Peder Balke's view of nature and which you can see here .

Friday, 23 January 2015

Walls of Water, Maggi Hambling


Walls of Water, Maggi Hambling, at the National Gallery. 
Eight paintings which Hambling began after watching gigantic waves crash on to the sea wall in Southwold, Suffolk, during a storm in 2010. 'It is a very genteel place and then suddenly nature was there like a primeval force... I've never seen waves like it, it was extraordinary. It was very beautiful but terrifying... It was life and death at the same moment I suppose, which I think any art that's worth having a go at is about. I'm trying to paint death with as much life as I can'.


This exhibition offers parallels with a display of works by 19th century Norwegian artist Peder Balke, (post to follow) which is on at the same time. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

The fourth plinth

On first view, the intense ultramarine blue of Katharina Fritsch's Hahn or Cock,  on the fourth plinth, in Trafalgar Square dazzles.

Seen against a blue sky on a sunny day however, it makes sense and it looks wonderful.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Winter colour

Jephson Gardens in January.

The dogwood is at its best.

The hellebores are starting to flower


the buds just starting to open



and the first snowdrops have appeared.


Friday, 16 January 2015

In the Shadow of War, at the Djanogly Art Gallery


In the Shadow of War, at the Djanogly Art Gallery,

Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham.

Anticipating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the exhibition features the work of a generation of artists who rose to prominence in post-war Britain. The exhibition includes work of figurative artists who made allusions to the trauma of conflict be it Nazi imagery or the Holocaust. It also includes work of British sculptors that was dubbed 'the geometry of fear' referring to its iconography of despair or defiance.

Head of a Woman, 1950  (image taken from here )

Francis Bacon, Figure in a Landscape, 1945  (image taken from here)
This painting was exhibited for the first time in April 1945, just as the war in Europe was drawing to a close. The painting is mysterious and deliberately ambiguous. It features a headless suited figure sitting astride a garden chair in an attitude that might in another context suggest leisured informality. To the right, what at first sight looks like a machine gun reveals itself to be a dismembered mouth apparently shouting into a pair of microphones. The image of a shouting or screaming mouth recurs frequently in Bacon's work of the late 40s and 50s.

Keith Vaughan, Assembly of Figures, 1952  (image taken from here )
During the war Vaughan was a conscientious objector. His time as a non-combatant in the Pioneer Corps, and later in a POW camp, gave him ample opportunity to study and draw the male figure, a subject that was to preoccupy him for the rest of his working life.
This painting is the first of a series of large-scale oils comprising groups of male nudes. In these compositions which lack any explicit narrative or meaning, he attempted to achieve a sense of pictorial order and harmony. Elsewhere in his writings he hints that the conscious search for such stability in art was made more urgent as the real world became increasingly chaotic and insecure.


Henry Moore, Falling Warrior, 1956-57 (image taken from here )

In the 1950s Moore produced a small body of works related to the theme of warfare which include a series of helmet heads and two warriors. Warrior and Shield depicts an apparently mutilated figure holding its shield as if to deflect a blow from above. He said that he wishes to depict 'a figure in the act of falling... emphasising the dramatic moment that precedes death'.

Ceri Richards, Return of the Patient, 1953 (image taken from here )

L.S. Lowry, The Funeral Party, 1953  (image taken from here )

Eduardo Paolozzi, Shattered Head, 1956  (image taken from here )

Photography was not allowed in the exhibition so I've had to download the images. I could not find satisfactory images for some of the works that I really liked which included: Marilyn Evans' The Execution; Elisabeth Frink's Bird; or Lynn Chadwick's The Seasons.