Tag Archives: drawing

Talking about Modigliani

After the usual internal, unoptimised travelling salesman calculations, I went to Finsbury Park first, to catch the last day of Beyond the Interface at the Furtherfield Gallery. On the way there from the station, I walked past a group of dog owners being trained, in dog ownership. Was the trainer using the Barbara Woodhouse approach, or is it verboten even to mention her now? Perhaps they were troublesome dogs.

As with the last time it happened, at the Whitechapel, I was glad to see Heath Bunting’s work. Here there were maps and booklets describing the requirements and entitlements of notional classes of people to various official statuses and documents. We’re all at some point along many flowcharts. In the same room on a stand was an enticing Apple power cable. Printed on the perspex case surrounding the innards from which the cable emerged was a waiver of rights, applicable if you plugged in your device to sup the power. The system grabbed images from your phone if you did connect, uploaded them to a remote server and then projected selections from them. Of course, generally we just agree that these terms and conditions are annoying and move on to what we want.

In the same room was a laptop with a connection to an instance of LambdaMOO. The cave I was in was pretty smoky, so I climbed the ladder to the next space. Staying here too long might not be wise, according to the text, and I moved elsewhere. It made an interesting point about the need to “enter a country in the right way”. It was incredibly tempting to tell Gandalf to go away, as I would have done in The Hobbit. Zach Blas’ “Facial Weaponization Communiqué: Fag Face” was a clever rumination on the prevalence and implications of facial recognition, including a pink mask which didn’t attract the tell-tale algorithmic rectangle in the video footage. Like encrypting your e-mail, this act would naturally attract a lot of attention from the authorities. To be fully effective we would all have to wear the masks. Jennifer Chan’s Grey Matter captured the gaudiness of teenage online interactions and included these comments regarding a distinction that’s sadly eliding away:

Envy is wanting what someone else has
Jealousy is not wanting them to have it at all

On the way to the station there was lots of ominous walling-off and fencing activity, obstructing the way you wanted to go. This all turned out to be in preparation for the Wireless Festival.

Flickr album.

At the Estorick Collection there were lots of people taking tiffin on the tables outside, which was unusual. Quite pleased with myself for coming one week before the closure of the Modigliani exhibition, I saw at the entrance that there was to be a tour/talk in an hour and a bit. This didn’t fit in with my original schedule, but seemed appealing. Something to consider while I walked around.

There were a few quotes from Modigliani printed on the walls:

Your real duty is to save your dream. Beauty too has some painful duties; these produce, however, the noblest achievements of the soul.

Life is a gift, from the few to the many. From those who know and who have, to those who do not know and do not have.

An observation I’ve made before and which applied doubly here was that his confidence was shown through the economy of line, capturing his models with only what was essential. As usually happens at this gallery, I went around the two rooms again, to revisit my favourites, before going upstairs to see Shaping the Image by Lino Mannocci. The manipulation of postcard-sized images was a good idea and quite funny in parts. The main effect on me, though, was to remind me of a similar project in the Gerhard Richter show at Marian Goodman last year. Boccioni, one of the artists referred to, was mentioned in passing in the Oliver Hoare catalogue. Hoare said he preferred Severini, primarily because he never allied himself with Futurism.

Almost the perfect Islington cliché moment occurred when I heard a couple mention

Jeremy Corbyn.

Yes, he was in G2.

After Furtherfield, I was conscious of the face detection features of my camera, which were activated by some of the drawings. Even though it clashed with my arrangements for later that day, it would have felt mean-spirited not to attend the talk/tour, especially when I saw the host, Richard Nathanson, trying to attract custom in the garden in the most polite way possible, adding that

“If you drift off before the end of the tour, I won’t be at all offended”.

Most of the pieces in the show were attributed to him, so either he was a millionaire collector or very well connected. After all my self-indulgent deciding process, the talk was marvellous. It’s easy to forget the pleasure of genuine knowledge and appreciation, sincerely conveyed. One of the first points he made was that Modigliani’s corrections become part of intrinsic design. There were no rubbings out in the drawings and he kept at an idea until his expression was completed. The artist’s childhood was unusual, including a strong influence from his grandfather, descended from Spinoza. A critic described him as the most knowledgeable artist he’d ever encountered.

“What I am searching for is neither the real nor the unreal, but the subconscious, the mystery of what is instinctive in the human race”

Nathanson stressed the Gargantuan labours that allowed him to draw with this freedom, addressing my naive reaction about confidence through economy. The Blue Caryatid was:

“Like a single barely audible violin note held at a perfect pitch.”

while another was “like a piece of Chinese calligraphy”. He thought that lots of meditation was required before starting each drawing, and that Modigliani made instinctive additions (such as small designs in the top corners to balance the composition), which ultimately arose from sober reflection. Referring to some of Modigliani’s relationships and encounters, he pointed back at the large photo of the artist by the entrance, and highlighted to us that he’d attempted the same outfit himself, corduroy trousers and a sweater. He was hoping for the same level of success.

Nathanson kept wanting to refer to the relevant pages in the catalogue, and when he had some difficulties someone in the audience shouted out the page number. He came to rely on her assistance and relied to the “very kind lady with the page number”. Even though the drawings betoken a very intimate relationship between the sitter and the artist, Nathanson said that Modigliani “needed distance” and mainly composed his drawings at home, by candlelight. He had to “draw back from the immediate characters to find their angel spirits”, creating a “fusion of primordial quality with the mystery and beauty of human beings”. The most surprising revelation for me was the artist’s interest in Egyptian art, which was indeed very clear in some of the drawings. Apparently he wanted his art to accompany souls into the next world like Egyptian art surrounding the sarcophagus of a king. This explains in part why he didn’t engage with the art world movements of the time (Cubism, Fauvism etc.). He saw himself as part of a timeless tradition, within which these stylistic fads were irrelevant.

Our guide was able to add lots of biographical detail about the artist and the sitters, including one “cat-like lady”, who seduced Jean Cocteau, the latter writing a virulent piece about her afterwards, in revenge. Nathanson thought that obscuring a single small feature on one of the drawings, such as by holding your finger over it, would radically change the balance, indicating how carefully composed they were. One portrait of a “jeune fille” was only included because of an encounter at a dinner party, when he was discussing his preparatory work on the show. As a result, it wasn’t in the catalogue.

Estorick Collection 21st June 2015 - Jeune Fille

Other memorable comments were that “happiness is an angel with a grave face” and that the markings on one drawing were like those of a “slow burning Catherine wheel”.

A few people were speaking to him afterwards in front of the portrait of Dr François Brabander, which was is part of the permanent collection at the Estorick. The eyes looked on the verge of tears, showing the man’s compassion, while the tension created by the unusually high starched collars reflected the man’s suffering.

Estorick Collection 21st June 2015 - Jeune Fille

It was a very entertaining and enlightening talk, and there was a big queue outside the small Estorick shop afterwards, including me.

Flickr album.


Lilting Void Aurora

The day after the Thurston Moore Band, my ears were ringing quite loudly. However, what with some complications next week, Friday night seemed to be the best time to see LIlting, about which I’d heard on Radio Four. The Pullman seats in screen 3 at Curzon Victoria are indeed rather decadent, with a little platform for your wine and a space beneath that served as an umbrella stand, though may prove to have a different intended purpose. Ben Whishaw was as good as I’d heard, while the actress playing his dead boyfriend’s mother was dignified even as she rapidly shifted between froideur and crossness. The figure of the unexpected translator, more of a UN observer unable to resist intervention, was a nice disturbing force, too.

The next day I saw the last day of Mirror at the Frith Street Gallery. The best thing in that show was the short reading by Samantha Morton of a description written about her by the artist who’d painted her nude, the first time she’d seen the text. After that, to Carroll/Fletcher for Pencil / Line / Eraser. They nearly always have something covering the wall on the right as you enter, and in this case it was a well-executed faux architectural piece by Justin Hibbs. The funniest contributions were by John Wood and Paul Harrison, including the paper trapeze between two fans and the battle between a pencil and an erasing pencil downstairs. While watching the latter, I could hear the operation of the machinery in the adjoining room, chattering away. When I went in there, the plotter, which was laying out patent applications, had stopped, for a rest. I also liked Evan Roth’s outline views of web advertising schematics, another of which was on show at the Project Space, about five minutes’ walk away.

It was a brief trip from there to the Barbican. For the second Saturday afternoon running, I was seeing a film in their “eye popping colour” season. Last week, it had been Written on the Wind, a startling piece of Douglas Sirk hysteria, with the unusual casting of Lauren Bacall. This time it was the uncut version of Enter The Void, which I hadn’t seen at the time of release. One of a couple in the armchairs just outside the screens returned from the bar just before with some wine.

Rather large wine glasses for a small cinema,

commented the recipient.

There were just a few of us for the Sirk, while the screen was nearly full, including what you’d have to call a younger demographic, for Gaspar Noé’s attack, which started abruptly after the Barbican logo with the barrage of titles. It’s hard to think of a more Freudian film, even though it claims to be a hazy realisation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and in some ways a much more sophisticated take on alienation in Tokyo than Lost in Translation. An unsettling combination of Nihilism and life affirmation. For all his frequent revelling in obnoxiousness, you have to admire Noé’s dedication to the disturbed systems he creates.

There was time once that had finished, to contemplate what to do next, while I read more Turgenev. Last year, on a whim one Sunday I’d gone to LSO St. Luke’s to see the Aurora Orchestra. Because I’d enjoyed it, I signed up to their mailing list, and as a result I’d received their message this week saying that if you only saw them once this year, it should be their appearance at the Proms late on Saturday. Given the proximity, I went to the Digital Revolution exhibition again, and was pleased to see that some of the exhibits that weren’t working the first time were doing now. Fearful of complications and queues, I set off nevertheless by bus. Upstairs on the 9, I witnessed a near-tragedy when the occupants of two of the front seats descended. A boy two rows in front of me stood up, hoping to take that prime tourist seat, but a much younger child and his mother were already heading towards that space. The parents of the older boy warned him off, and the young boy gave him a powerful look that combined outrage with dejection at the idea of his triumph having been imperilled. One of the flimsy arguments against attending this Late Night Prom was that it was extremely close to my place of work, but at least the route there was an unusual one. People rushed from the bus towards the Albert Hall, and I wondered whether there’d be a long queue and lots of angst. There was hardly any queue at all, and the man who sold me the £5 ticket was particularly cheery, given how poky was his kiosk. Unlike for my first ever Prom the previous week, the Arena and Gallery weren’t available, so Prom tickets were allocated in the Circle, an arrangement that suited old people like me. I overheard one of the staff explaining how to find their places to people twice as I approached, so I indicated to him that I knew what I was doing, to save him from the extra repetition.

You’ve got the gist, jolly good.

Three rows in front of me were being kept clear, an injunction which some people didn’t seem to recognise, leading to a few awkward ejections.

Aurora Orchestra

Unusually the stage didn’t have any chairs or music stands, which made sense when I remembered from the e-mail that the first piece of the night, by Mozart, was to be played from memory, which they did very impressively. It added something to see them moving about more expressively and naturally as they played, without the interference of the score.

Aurora Orchestra

Next was a short, rather fragile piece for violin and hurdy-gurdy. The two performers were crammed in by the keyboard of the Hall’s organ.

Aurora Orchestra

During the latter piece I had noticed players filing in one by one on the Gallery level above and opposite me. The main part of the evening was to be a premiere of Meld by Benedict Mason. Many claims had been made for this, and by the end of the evening I thought they’d been more than justified. It began with two lines of musicians walking out, one from each side of the space behind the upper organ pipes, above the stage, joined by a small bunch of string players who had already arranged themselves in the Gallery, above and behind me. This set the standard of pleasing unsettlement that was maintained throughout the evening – you were always moving your attention around to hear and see what was going on where. It seemed like conjurer’s tricks of misdirection were being cleverly used. More musicians started playing in one of the lower circle levels, having suddenly appeared while I’d been looking elsewhere, with others singing and clicking their fingers from the open hallways of the level above them.

Aurora Orchestra

Eventually a full line of players took up one of those levels, and notes would visibly flow from one end of the horseshoe to the other, from one person to the next. This was a very clever and rather delightful spectacle. I could see people around me smiling in wonder at it all.

Aurora Orchestra

Men with rattling bandoliers around their necks walked along the row in front of me, transmitting their signal in sequence, as the full line had done, doing the same with their tubular bells. Later some flautists and woodwind players did the same, and I noticed that they had earpieces, which explained in part how they were all coordinating so well, without an ostensible conductor. Some of them had Go Pro cameras on their heads or on their instruments, which I hope means there will be a video of this performance, in time.

They made good use of the Arena, showing athletic abilities I don’t think are normally asked of an orchestra – running around hitting bells against the wall, forming rotating people rings, gymnasticising and chanting, making a big circle then concentric circles.

Aurora Orchestra

There were little teams of musicians in some outposts, who kept playing while the others ranged around the venue, plus a couple of trumpeters on either side above the stage. In fact, there were very few areas throughout the venue where someone didn’t appear at some point and play, including the steps emerging from beneath the Arena.

Aurora Orchestra

At the end, most of the players emerged in the Gallery again and the two phalanxes stepped slowly back whence they’d originally appeared, quietly completing the music. In fact, it seems invidious to comment on one aspect of the performance, because it all (the music itself, the performance, the choreography, the visual impact of it all), did seem to resonate together extremely well. I hope the performers had as good as time as I think they did, and as I did.

I loved it, I absolutely loved it,

was one couple’s verdict as they were leaving afterwards.

Aurora Orchestra