“Life Above Everything” – Lucien Freud and Jack B Yeats

Back in 2016, the Irish Museum of Modern Art secured a five-year loan of 50 works by Lucian Freud. To house these works, the IMMA set up the Freud Project in the Garden Gallery in the grounds of Kilmainham Hospital, which has previously been used for temporary exhibitions. The project involves presenting

a series of different and exclusive Lucian Freud related exhibitions, with a new programme of events and openings each year. 

IMMA website

I went to see the inaugural exhibition in this series in March 2017 and enjoyed having the opportunity to view 30 of his works. This week I’m back over in Ireland with work and caught the early boat over on Sunday to spend the afternoon visiting the IMMA as I hadn’t been there for a while. During my visit I decided I’d take a look at the latest Freud Project exhibition – Life above Everything: Lucian Freud and Jack B. Yeats – which, as is clear from the title, features works both by Freud and one of my favourite Irish artists, Jack B Yeats. As is usually the case with these types of exhibition, no photos were allowed, so the images in this post are taken from other sources.

Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website (Jack B Yeats paintings)

The IMMA website describes the objective of the exhibition

Exploring the affinities and interconnections between these two artists, this exhibition draws the work of these two stubbornly individual painters into dialogue, placing them side-by-side for the first time in 70 years. While Lucian Freud’s work has been exhibited in the past in group exhibitions alongside other artists from the ‘School of London’, Life above Everything is one of the few exhibitions to date in which Freud has been shown with a single other artist.

IMMA website

Jack Butler Yeats was the brother of the famous poet, William Butler Yeats. He was born in London and spent his childhood between London, Dublin, and Sligo, eventually returning to live permanently in Ireland in 1910. He began his artistic career, in the 1890s, as a black and white journalistic illustrator for various publications before eventually becoming a professional artist. He initially painted in watercolour, but about 1906 he began painting regularly in oil. His early paintings were rather conservative in style but in the 1920s there was a major change in his approach. He started to use bright colours and he began to paint with extremely free and loose brushstrokes with the paint thickly applied. The paintings became much more interesting, over the years becoming more and more abstract and Expressionist in style.

Although Freud and Yeats could both be considered as figurative painters, their styles were very different – particularly when referencing Yeats’ later works. So pairing the two artists in this way isn’t a particularly obvious thing to do. But it was interesting to have the opportunity to “compare and contrast”.

Apparently Freud

had a lifelong interest in the Irish painter’s work, holding a deep admiration for its force and energy. He did not cite Yeats as an ‘influence’ but instead seems to have felt a common purpose with his originality and independence, his continuous searching observation, and his sense of the connection between painting and life. A pen and ink drawing by Yeats, The Dancing Stevedores (c.1900), hung beside Freud’s bed for over 20 years.

IMMA website

The exhibition includes 33 paintings by Freud and 24 by Yeats on two floors of the Garden Gallery, with a good selection of drawings and works on paper by both artists in the basement.

Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website
Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website

I’d seen most, if not all, of the works by Freud previously during my visit to the inaugural exhibition back in 2017 – and Manchester City Art Gallery had loaned a painting I’ve seen many times before, Girl with a Beret (1951-52). However, although I’ve seen the sizeable collection of Yeats’ paintings at both the Irish National Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, I was particularly keen to have a good look at his works included in this exhibition, most of which I’d never seen before. Many were from his later period painted in his wild, colourful expressionist style where the figures of people and horses are almost just suggested. I wasn’t disappointed.

Paintings I particularly liked included one on loan from the Tate

The Two Travellers 1942 Jack Butler Yeats 1871-1957 Purchased 1946 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05660

the curiously named ‘Left, Left / We Left Our Name / On the Road / On the Road / On the Famous Road / On the Famous Road / On the Famous Road / Of Fame.’ and several paintings which included horses, a favourite subject of the Irishman, including The Flapping Meeting (1926) and White Shower (1928).

I doubt I’d have paid the entrance fee to see the Freud paintings again, but it was worth it to see those fantastic paintings by Jack B Yeats.

Keith Haring at Tate Liverpool

Last Saturday we travelled over to Liverpool to take a look at the latest exhibition at the Tate on Albert Dock. It’s had a lot of good reviews so I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was about. I didn’t know a great deal about the artist, Keith Haring, but had seen some of his works, probably most notably his large canopy was hanging in the ceiling of the stairwell in the grand hallway of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam during a visit last year. He’d painted it for a solo exhibition at the museum in 1986.

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So, the extensive Tate retrospective was a good opportunity to find out more about the artist. The exhibition was busy (but not crazy busy like some of the blockbusters held in London), so it was clearly popular. But there was plenty of space to allow us to take time to look at the paintings and reflect on them.

The Tate exhibition website tells us

A part of the legendary New York art scene of the 1980s, Keith Haring (1958–1990) was inspired by graffitipop art and underground club culture.

Haring was a great collaborator and worked with like-minded artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. All were interested in creating art for the many. Haring designed record covers for RUN DMC and David Bowie, directed a music video for Grace Jones and developed a fashion line with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. In doing so, he introduced his art and ideas to as many people as possible.

Tate Liverpool website

The exhibition covered the whole of the top floor of the Tate and there were a large number of works on display from the whole of his career, including these two early works when he was influenced by Walt Disney cartoons. And cartoon like figures and symbols were prominent in his work throughout his career. Unlike most Tate paid exhibitions photography was allowed.

When he moved to New York, he became known for chalk drawings he produced on the black paper on empty poster spaces in subway stations; drawing quickly as people walked past and stopping to watch him. There was a video in the exhibition of him doing just that and then getting arrested! The pictures became popular that they were taken away almost as soon as they were finished. There were a few examples in the exhibition, although they were difficult to photograph due to reflections in the glass protecting them.

He’d paint on almost anything he could lay his hands on, like this Yellow Taxi bonnet (or “hood” as our American friends would say!)

and quite a few works on display were painted on tarpaulins – a lot cheaper than canvas.

A number of icon like symbols recur throughout his works, including a crawling baby, a dog, a figure with a whole in its stomach, a cross, computers and some others. Most of his work contain one or more. There’s a good discussion of the symbols and what they represent here, and the Tate provide a key in the free booklet you’re given as you enter the gallery.

He was a political artist and many of his works carry a message, whether about nuclear energy, South African Apartheid, gay rights, racism or drugs.

And, as a gay man living in New York in the 1980’s, he used his art to raise awareness of AIDS. He himself was diagnosed with the disease in 1988. His poster Ignorance = Fear refers to the challenges people who were living with AIDS faced. 

Here’s a few more examples of his work

Before the visit, I was a little sceptical about the exhibition. I knew about his cartoon like paintings and thought it would be fun, but that I’d have tired of it after seeing a selection of them. But that wasn’t how it worked out. Despite the apparent simplicity of his style, there was a lot more depth and complexity than I expected.

There was a lot to see – besides the paintings there were a number of videos about his life and work – so there was too much to take in in one visit. One advantage of being Tate Members is that we can hopefully go for another look before the exhibition finishes in November.

Louise Bourgeois in the Rijksmuseum Gardens

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Spider (1996)

If you’re scared of spiders, it’s probably best if you keep away from the Rijksmuseum Gardens at the moment! For the last few years there’s been an exhibition of works by a noted sculptor in the gardens, and this year they have works on display by Louise Bourgeois, who is well known for her bronze sculptures of giant spiders,

When we’d looked around the Tassel Museum we wandered along the canals, grabbed a bite to eat and then made our way to the Rijksmuseum. We expected that there would be an exhibition in the gardens and we knew we’d have time to have a look before we got the train back to Haarlem. And, unlike the main part of the museum, entry is free! We hadn’t checked out what was on but as soon as we spotted the first sculpture, we knew who the artist was! Luckily spiders don’t scare me, as several of the arachnid monsters are on display! !

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Crouching spider (2005)

The gardens themselves are very attractive and popular on a sunny day – and the sun kept breaking through the cloud while we were there.

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Louise Bourgeois grew up in a suburb of Paris, in a family of antique tapestry dealers and restorers. In 1938, following her marriage to the American art historian Robert Goldwater, she emigrated to the United States. It took a long while before her work was acknowledged, as it was quite different from the type of art popular in America at the time. and she only started to become popular in the 1970s when she was in her 60’s.

Her work often represents aspects of her life. the spiders, for example, are influenced by her protective mother who, although she didn’t spin webs, was a weaver and by the familie’s tapestry repair business.

I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bask into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it

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Spider couple (2003)

This was probably the only one of the 12 sculptures on display I wasn’t so keen on. It rather reminded me of the monsters that used to appear in Doctor Who in the 1970’s – perhaps that’s why!

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In and Out #2 (1995-6)

This was the earliest work on display. It’s quite different from the others and rather like the works of Brancusi. It’s apparently meant to be a self portrait of the artist surrounded by her 3 children.

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Quarantania (1947-53)
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Welcoming Hands (1996)

This rather moving group of bronze sculptures displayed on rough stone pedestals, represent friendship and solidarity. They were originally displayed in New York on a site with a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where immigrants first arrived in America, although they are now normally sited in the Tuilleries in Paris. Their message has a contemporary resonance with all the movement of people trying to escape war and poverty, looking for a better life. Some people show friendship and solidarity to them. Sadly, in these cruel times, too many don’t.

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This sculpture of a child’s hand was particularly touching (emotionally, that is, of course)

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Fountain (1999)
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Untitled (2004)

These two high-gloss aluminium sculptures of Untitled (2004), hanging from the branches of the great wingnut tree, refer to her father’s habit of storing chairs by hanging them on roof beams in the attic of their home

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Inside the museum entrance atrium there were four seats in the form of giant eyes

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Source: https://www.azquotes.com/author/18216-Louise_Bourgeois

Natalia Goncharova at Tate Modern

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My meeting in London finished earlier than expected and as I’d booked an Advance ticket on the train I had a few hours to kill before I could set off back home. I wasn’t too far from Tate Modern and as I hadn’t been there for a while decided I’d wander over and see what was on.

Taking advantage of my Tate membership I decided to have a look at the temporary exhibition devoted to a Russian artist from the first half of the 20th Century, Natalia Goncharova. Not someone I’d heard of before and I don’t recall seeing any of her works previously. The exhibition has had good reviews in the press, so I was interested to find out more.

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Self portrait

Goncharova came from a family of “impoverished aristocrats”, and grew up on the family estate in Tula, 200 miles from Moscow. I don’t know what the Tate mean by “impoverished”. They were certainly considerably better off than the peasants who worked on their estate. So it’s perhaps not so surprising that although her art was radical she wasn’t a supporter of the Russian Revolution. She’d left Russia and went to Paris on April 29, 1914 Goncharova came from a family of “impoverished aristocrats”, and grew up on the family estate in Tula, 200 miles from Moscow, but they moved to the capital when she was 11. I don’t know what the Tate mean by “impoverished”. They were certainly considerably better off than the peasants who worked on their estate. So it’s perhaps not so surprising that although her art was radical she wasn’t a supporter of the Russian Revolution. She’d she left Russia Paris in April 1914, stayed there during WW1 and didn’t return after the events of 1917.

The Tate’s website tells us that

Goncharova found acclaim early in her career. Aged just 32 she established herself as the leader of the Russian avant-garde with a major exhibition in Moscow in 1913. She then moved to France where she designed costumes and backdrops for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. She lived in Paris for the rest of her life, becoming a key figure in the city’s cutting-edge art scene.

Goncharova’s artistic output was immense, wide-ranging and at times controversial. She paraded the streets of Moscow displaying futurist body art and created monumental religious paintings. She took part in avant-garde cinema, experimented with book designs and designed for fashion houses in Moscow and Paris.

The exhibition spread over 10 rooms and featured a wide range of paintings, sketches, costumes and other items.

The 3rd room had a large number of works from a retrospective of her work held in September 1913 in the Art Salon in Moscow. There were more than 800 works in a vast range of styles. The Tate tells us

it was the most ambitious exhibition by any Russian avant-garde artist to date

and that

The term ‘everythingism’ was coined by Larionov and the writer and artist Ilia Zdanevich to describe the diverse range of Goncharova’s work and her openness to multiple styles and sources. 

These are just a small proportion of the works on display

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In another room there were a number of lithographs – Mystical Images of War was published in autumn 1914 – created in response to WW1. To me they largely glorify the war (they’re certainly not critical images) and, at least to some extent, see it as a patriotic and religious “crusade”

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She was clearly religious and another room was devoted to religious paintings. I wasn’t so keen on most of them, but did like these fourApostles

The Evangelists (1911) The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg. Gift of A.K. Larionova-Tomilina, Paris 1966 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

Like many Russian artists in the early 20th Century, she was influenced by Futurism. She developed her own approach which was known as Rayonism . This painting was my favourite from this room and probably from the whole exhibition.

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Cyclist 1913

Another room featured works created while she lived in Paris. I particularly liked this painting of a Spanish woman

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The final room was devoted to sketches, costumes and set designs from several ballet productions. Goncharova had worked with Russian composers, dancers and artists for Diaghilev  Ballets Russes creating an ‘exotic’ vision of the east . I particularly liked the costumes on display that she’d designed for a production of Le Coq d’or

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I enjoyed looking around the exhibition. Goncharova was a talented artist and although I didn’t like everything I saw, there was plenty to keep me interested. It’s always good to discover a “new” artist (well, new to me!) so I wasn’t disappointed that I had a few hours to kill before my train.

Later that afternoon I received a text from Virgin Trains to tell me my train had been cancelled. Fearing the worst – that there was major disruption – I was relieved to find that it was due to the train breaking down. Arriving at Euston a little early I was able to transfer on to the train before and managed to get home half an hour earlier than expected. So all worked out well in the end!

Mary Swanzy the IMMA

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After a busy day on Saturday,I was up early the next morning to drive over to Holyhead to catch the boat to Dublin as I’m back over working in Naas this week. The boat arrived at the port just after midday, so I had an afternoon to do a few things rather than just spend the whole day travelling.

I decided I’d drive over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art out at Kilmainham as I hadn’t been there for a while and I quite fancied seeing the exhibition of work by the German photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans. 

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To reach the Tillmans exhibition I had to pass through several rooms devoted to the work of an Irish artist, Mary Swanzy . She was born in Dublin to a prosperous Protestant family – her father was a distinguished eye surgeon – and grew up around Merrion Square in the south side of the city but during her long life relocated several times and travelled widely. From viewing the exhibition it’s clear she was an accomplished artist, but isn’t well known, no doubt because she was a woman. As she herself is quoted as saying on the exhibition website

 ‘if I had been born Henry instead of Mary my life would have been very different’.

It was the last day of this exhibition and it was clearly popular with the Irish public as it was very busy and the catalogue had sold out. She was born in 1882 and worked right through to her death in 1978. She trained in Dublin and then in Paris and was influenced by the styles that emerged during the early 20th Century. So it was interesting to see her work having just visited the Fernand Léger exhibition at Tate Liverpool the previous day as both artists are particularly known for their Cubist and Futurist paintings, but also created works in other styles, such as Surrealism.

In her early work in Paris, she adopted a Post Impressionist style, as in this portrait of her sister

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Portrait of Miss Muriel Swayzey (1907)

She later adopted the Cubist style

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Young woman with white bonnet (1920)

Besides portraits, her subjects included landscapes and flowers

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Cubist landscape (1928)

In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, she left Ireland travelling through Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Hawaii and Samoa. One of the rooms was devoted to paintings from this period, which have similarities with Gaugain’s work from his time in Tahiti.

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Afterwards she moved to London before relocating to Dublin at the start of WW2

Her style changed over time, becoming more figurative and in some cases adopting the Symbolist

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This is portion apart (group of sorrowing women) (1942)
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Potato Famine (1940)

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Female nudes with horse and viaduct (1930’s)

After the war she returned to London. The works from her later years, displayed in the final room, are quite different and difficult to classify. Many of them feature caricatures of people and animals. As the exhibition guide tells us

This strange assembly of characters make the images appear like scenes from the world of science fiction rather than deriving from an art historical lineage

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Revolution (1943)
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Reading employment offer column (1972)
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Opera Singer (1944)

One of the paintings from the 1940’s was a portrait of her sister. Quite different to the one she’d painted early in her career, really illustrating the evolution of her work.

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Portrait of Muriel Swanzy Tullo (1942)

Art and about in Liverpool – Part 1

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Last Saturday we drove over to Liverpool as we wanted to have a look at a couple of exhibitions. It was a fine day and quite pleasant for walking by the waterside to the Tate Gallery on the Albert Dock.

First stop was the exhibition at the Tate of works by the Fench artist
Fernand Léger (1881 – 1955) . There were over 40 works on display, including paintings, collage, book illustrations and film spanning his career. He’s an artist I was familiar with, but hadn’t seen many of his works, so the exhibition was an opportunity to learn more.

Some early works were influenced by his experiences in the First World War between 1914 to 1917 , when he fought on the front-line at Argonne and Verdun, including an abstract Cubist style painting of soldiers playing cards.

The part of Chart, 1917 - Fernand Leger
La partie de Carte (1917)

His early works were Cubist and Futurist and he had his own approach dominated by cylindrical shapes earning the moniker “tubism”. But, as with many artists, his style changed over time

Léger’s work was heavily influenced by his surroundings and his experience of modern life. Included in the exhibition are his collaborations with architects Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand. Also on display is his experimental 1924 film, Ballet Mécanique.

He dabbled with Surrealism, often combining Surrealist and Cubist styles.


Leaves and Shell (1927)

He often used bright primary colours,particularly in his later works.

Two women holding flowers (1954)

Politically on the left, fleeing the Nazis he lived in the USA from 1940 to 1945 but returned to France after the war when he joined the Communist Party. Many of his later works were influenced by his politics.

He believed the primary purpose of making art is to enrich the lives of everybody in society. In order to bring art into people’s everyday lives he worked on posters and murals as well as on the easel. His paintings depict construction workers and people enjoying leisure activities. These everyday scenes are reflected back to us in a new light and the characters are given dignity in their normality. (Tate website)

In the next room to the Leger retrospective there was a free exhibition of works by two South Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho. It was centered on a new film commission Anomaly Strolls 2018, largely shot in deserted alleyways and pubs across Liverpool with some scenes shot in Korea. 

Extending their project News From Nowhere 2009, the artists use science fiction to question the role and importance of art to our present day society. As they have said: ‘Sci-fi is always the fable of the present. By employing a way to look at the future instead of the present, we wanted to address current issues, especially in relation to what art is and what art could be.’   (exhibition website)

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The exhibition also includes Moon and Jeon’s 2012 film El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World).

On separate screens, we see different points in time: a man remains committed to creating art as a global catastrophe unfolds, while a woman goes about a sanitised life in its aftermath. Documenting relics of the past, she comes across a strange object the man had incorporated in his artwork. The encounter triggers profound new emotions in the woman, and her strange discovery connects our two protagonists across time. (exhibition website)

Video installations are not my favourite type of art, but sometimes there’s a work that captures my interest. This was certainly the case with these two works. They weren’t too abstract, telling a story, and I’ve also been a fan of science fiction.

There was much more to see in the Tate, and there had been some changes to the free exhibitions since our last visit. But we moved on as we needed to grab a bite to eat and there was another exhibition we wanted to see at the Walker Gallery.

An autumn day at the YSP

A few photos taken during our visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last Saturday.

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Black Mound (2013) by David Nash
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Large Two Forms by Henry Moore, in the distance
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Wilsis (2016) by Jaume Plensa
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Square with Two Circles  by Barbara Hepworth
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Albero folgorato by Giuseppe Penone
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A new work by Peter Randall Page Envelope of Pulsation (For Leo) 2017
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Square with Two Circles at sunset