Wednesday, 7 March 2012


...and Modern British Art is Tate Britain's current blockbuster exhibition. This show examines both Pablo Picasso's visits to Britain and the work he created here, coupled with the influence that the modern master had on the art of some of the finest British artists of the Twentieth Century (including Wyndham Lewis, Henry Moore and Francis Bacon).

As the rooms in the show flip between his visits and his influence, I feel it would be too easy and obvious to state how much more accomplished an artist the Spaniard was in comparison to his British contemporaries. What I think is more interesting is to assess as to whether or not these Britons stood out from the shadow of Picasso's influence to then develop their own style, whether or not they became great artists themselves.

My highlights of this excellent exhibition include:

The Frugal Meal (1904 & 1913), Pablo Picasso


Girl in a Chemise (1905), Pablo Picasso

A Reading of Ovid (Tyros) (1920-21), Wyndham Lewis

I have always liked Wyndham Lewis' work. With its subject matter, sharp angular lines and browny hues, Smiling Woman Ascending a Staircase (below) initially reminded me of Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 that Marcel Duchamp painted a year later.

Smiling Woman Ascending a Staircase (1911), Wyndham Lewis


The Theatre Manager (1909), Wyndham Lewis


Female Nude with Arms Raised (1907), Pablo Picasso

I always get the feeling that Picasso had fun with his sculptures, such as the witty and whimsical Tete de Toro (Bull's Head) (1943) made of just a bicycle handlebar and seat. Still Life (below) reminds me of this feeling.


Still Life (1914), Pablo Picasso

Nude Seated on a Rock (1921), Pablo Picasso

Despite being a big fan of Henry Moore's work, such as Reclining Figure (below), the exquisite little Picasso painting Nude Seated on a Rock (above) stood out for me the most in this room shared by both their artworks.

Reclining Figure (1931), Henry Moore


Before Picasso's The Three Dancers (1925) ends the exhibition, Tate explores some of David Hockney's work in the penultimate room, including his photomontage Paint Trolley, LA 1985 (below).

Paint Trolley, LA 1985 (1985), David Hockney


The interesting Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Tate Modern (that opened last month) explores the whole careeer of this influential Japanese artist, with work on show that spans the full 60 (plus) years of her career. According to the accompanying booklet: 'Kusama is perhaps Japan's best known living artist' and that 'in the 1960's and 1970's she became a major figure in the New York avant-garde, associated with key developments in Pop [Art], Minimalism and Performance [Art].'

In terms of her 2-Dimensional work, my favourite rooms are the first two in the exhibition, which include (the aptly named) Lingering Dream (below) thats hung directly in front of the visitors as they first enter the show.

Lingering Dream (1949)

In the second room, there are a series of exquisite small paintings using watercolours, pen and inks. One of these is Rain in a City (1952) that reminds me a little of the work of Miro or Klee.

In Room 4 there are the series of Accumulation sculptures (below) that consist of (painted) everyday objects, such as chairs, with phallic shapes or other objects protuding from them. I like Silver Dress (1966) in the top right hand corner of my photo.

Accumulation sculptures (Room 4)

Continuing with the 'phallic shaped theme' is Aggregation, One Thousand Boats Show (below). This is a rowing boat painted white and covered with similiar shapes presented in a room with wallpaper that has the repeated motif of a photograph of this boat taken from above. A good effect is achieved by the black background of these surfaces coupled with the spotlights pointing at the boat. When first displayed in 1969 this installation may have influenced Andy Warhol's screen-printed wallpaper repeats that he started to create soon after?

Aggregation, One Thousand Boats Show (1963)

On entering Room 8 straight in front of the visitor is the eye-catching Phallic Dress (1968), this time in 'volcanic colours' with the dress being a dark pink and the shapes grey.

In the 1970's Collage room the work that stood out for me was I Who Committed Suicide (below) that uses a variety of media (and rubbings of leaves) to great effect.

I Who Committed Suicide (1977)

In Room 13 there are a series of brightly coloured recent paintings that neither have the delicate touch of her early works or the detail of the intricately painted Yellow Trees (below) thats shown a few rooms before. In between these two rooms of paintings is the I'm Here, but Nothing room. This is filled with everyday objects covered in dots that are lit up by only ultraviolet light and a television screen showing a video of Kusama herself singing.

Yellow Trees (1994)

The exhibition ends on a memorable note with the Infinity Mirror Room. Several spherical lights, that are suspended from the ceiling by wires, change colour on a continous timed loop that starts/ends with temporary darkness. The walls are mirrors, the floor has a path that vistors walk through which is flanked on both sides by shallow water. The reflections in the mirrors and water create the illusion that there are an endless amount of these lights that provide illumination for far more than this installation space.

Infinity Mirror Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life (2011)

The visitors reaction to this room is often one of initial amazement and perhaps this has helped to keep this show busy through word-of-mouth, as opposed to Kusama being a household name outside of Japan or the contemporary art world.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

'Portraits' the current Lucian Freud exhibition that opened at the National Portrait Gallery last month. This is an excellent examination of the late masters whole career, focusing on portrait painting for which he was most famous.
This thorough show explores Freud's portraits roughly chronologically from his stylised early work right through to his last painting, Portrait of the Hound, that Freud was working on just before he sadly died last year.

This very early work below, Peter Watson (1941), was painted when the artist was just 19 and is unique in this exhibition in terms of its style. It has an almost cartoon-like quality, on both the figure in the foreground and on the artwork in the background. Also there are small (human and animal) figures that Freud has scratched into the oil at the base of the work that could be a kind of graffitti on the chair(?) that the subject stands behind, although this is hard to see in my photo below.

Peter Watson (1941) (Oil on canvas)

Another work that was painted in a flat 2-Dimensional way that also gives it a cartoon-like quality is Woman with a Daffodil (below).

Woman with a Daffodil (1945) (Oil on board on canvas)

Along with the previous two works, I like the style of these next three paintings that depict Freud's first wife Kitty Garman (the daughter of sculptor Jacob Epstein). I find it interesting that Freud paints the kitten looking at the viewer with Garman looking away in Girl with a Kitten.

Girl with a Kitten (1947) (Oil on canvas)


Girl in a Dark Jacket (1947) (detail) (Oil on panel)

Girl in a Dark Jacket (1947) (detail) (Oil on panel)

The sheer brilliance of Freud's ability to capture detail using more simple medium is evident in these next two works:

Christian Berard (1948) (Black and white Conte on Ingres paper)

The Painters Father (1970) (Pencil on paper)

The eyes of Freud's subjects are often prominent in his portraits, as is the case in these next three 'soft' paintings that all have just the right amount of colour and detail in them:

Girl with Beret (1951-52) (Oil on canvas)

Head of a Child (1954) (Oil on canvas)

Girl in bed (1952) (Oil on canvas)

The two works immediately above and below are of Freud's second wife Caroline Blackwood. I wonder if the obvious 'distance' between Freud and Blackwood in Hotel Bedroom was a reflection of the trouble they were to have with their marriage?

Hotel Bedroom (1954) (Oil on canvas)

Aside from sometimes painting self-portraits with other people in the artwork, Freud also used interesting compositions to depict himself (such as in these next three works):


Interior with Hand-Mirror (Self-Portrait) (1967) (detail) (Oil on canvas)

Interior with Plant, Reflection Listening (Self-Portrait) (1967-8) (Oil on canvas)

Reflection with Two Children (Self Portrait) (1965) (Oil on canvas)

This work above also includes two of Freud's children (Ali and Rose Boyt).

Reflection (Self-Portrait) (1985) (detail) (Oil on canvas)

Again reflections are used in these two self-portraits (above and below).

Self Portrait, Reflection (2002) (Oil on canvas)

(Although it is hard to see in my photo above) Freud applied many thick layers of paint to make this work extremely textured, especially in the painting(?) in its background.

These next three works return to portraits of others:


The Painter's Mother Resting (1976) (Oil on canvas)

Large Interior, W11 (After Watteau) (1981-3) (Oil on canvas)

I prefer other large paintings by Freud, such Large Interior, W11 (After Watteau) (above) and Two Irishmen in W11 (below), to his later works depicting big naked people.

Two Irishmen in W11 (1984-85) (Oil on canvas)

I would highly recommend this exhibition, even for those who dont generally prefer portrait paintings. Along with the 'Picasso and Modern British Art' show currently at Tate Britain, these two are my must-see exhibitions of this year so far.