William Blake at Tate Liverpool

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Satan smiting Job with boils

Tracey Emin’s bed was being shown as part of an exhibition which is meant to explore the connection between this controversial work and the paintings of William Blake.

According to the Tate

This new display affirms Blake’s Romantic idea of artistic truth through existential pain and the possibility of spiritual rebirth through art, shared in the work of Tracey Emin.

I have to say I found it difficult to see any real connection – if there is one it is rather tenuous. But it was great to see a significant collection of magnificent prints and drawings by Blake, most of which I hadn’t seen before “in the flesh”, displayed together in Liverpool. A real treat.

William Blake is something of a hero of mine. As well as a visual artist – a painter and printmaker – he is also well known as a poet. He was a political radical – a supporter of the French Revolution – and a religious visionary.

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(Picture source : Wikipedia)

He was also an innovator, developing a printing technique known as relief etching and used it to print most of his poetry. He called the technique illuminated printing and the poetry illuminated books. Many of the works on display in the exhibition were created using this process.

This is just a small selection of them

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Pity (c 1795)

This image is taken from Macbeth: ‘pity, like a naked newborn babe / Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim horsed / Upon the sightless couriers of the air’. Blake draws on popularly-held associations between a fair complexion and moral purity. These connections are also made by Lavater, who writes that ‘the grey is the tenderest of horses, and, we may here add, that people with light hair, if not effeminate, are yet, it is well known, of tender formation and constitution’. (Tate website)

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The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve c.1826

This work shows Adam and Eve discovering their dead son. His brother Cain, the murderer, flees the scene. Despite his evil deed, Cain, appears as an ideal male figure. (Tate website)

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Nebuchadnezzar 1795–c.1805

 

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The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy (formerly called ‘Hecate’) circa 1795

Enitharmon is an important female character in Blake’s mythology, playing a main part in some of his prophetic books. She is the Emanation of Los, and with Los gives birth to various children, including Orc. Although symbolising spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration (some critics have argued that Blake’s wife Catherine was the inspiration for the character) she is also used by Blake to represent female domination and sexual restraints that limit the artistic imagination (Tate website)

“Sprung a Leak” at Tate Liverpool

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I called into Tate Liverpool during a day out in Liverpool last week. I hadn’t been for a while so there was plenty of new exhibits to see.

Something different seemed to be going on in the ground floor gallery so I thought I’d have a look. And it certainly was different. It was

a “multi-dimensional work featuring two humanoid robots and a robot dog”

by half-Belgian, half-American artist Cécile B. Evans, currently based in London, who .

No paintings or sculptures on display but instead the room was filled with video screens and in the middle of it all two robots, plus a robot dog, whizzing around and performing a three act play

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Interviewed in the Guardian

“In its simplest form,” says Evans, “it’s an automated play about a collaboration between machines and humans against external forces that affect their wellbeing … There’s a coup, there’s an incident at a pool party, and then everyone dies.”

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Human characters were represented by three digitised pole dancers – the Users – and a beauty blogger with hands but no arms.

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The work took the form of a three act play

“about a collaboration between machines and humans against external forces that affect their wellbeing … There’s a coup, there’s an incident at a pool party, and then everyone dies.” (Guardian)

It ran for 18 minutes and then the robots repositioned and the play re-run.

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It wasn’t exactly a straightforward play – the dialogue was rather abstract but it seemed to be about the loss of liberty in society – there’s a character called Liberty in the play – very appropriate given what is happening in the world at the moment with all the worrying  Populist and Nationalist  developments. For me, another theme was how society is becoming more and more automated with humans becoming ever more dependent on machines. Perhaps these two trends are linked?

It was an interesting work that makes you think and entertaining too – watching the robots whizz around. Worth seeing again if I get the chance

Matisse in Focus? in Liverpool

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We called into Tate Liverpool last Sunday to have a look at the latest exhibitions. One of the highlights at the moment is a small (and free!) display of works by Matisse on the ground floor. The focus of the show is the artist’s large “cutout” The Snail which is usually on display at Tate Modern in London.

The Tate’s website tells us

Due to the delicate nature of the work, this is your only opportunity to see The Snail outside of London, as this masterpiece will not tour to other venues in our lifetime.

I have seen it several times when visiting Tate Modern, but it was good for people outside of the capital to have the opportunity to view this iconic work. A pity, though, that the way it was positioned, directly opposite the entrance, and the reflective glass in the frame meant that there were significant reflections that distracted from teh work somewhat.

As well as The Snail, there were a number of other works by Matisse on display.

I was familiar with these two, which have been displayed at Tate Liverpool

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Nude Study in Blue (c1899-1900)

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The Inattentive Reader (1919)

I can’t recall seeing this colourful later work before

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Draped Nude (1936)

And two works quite different in style with more subdued colours

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Reading Woman with Parasol (1921) and Cap d’Antibes (1922)

There were also four large sculptural reliefs on display The Backs

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Back IV (1930, cast 1955–6)

Although Back I had been exhibited in 1913, the series remained almost unknown until 1949–50 when the plaster Backs I, III and IV appeared in exhibitions in Paris and Lausanne. Back II was only rediscovered after Matisse’s death, while an even more naturalistic first version is now only known from a photograph. All were cast posthumously in bronze. (Tate website)

The patination (surface treatment) of these works was very dark and homogeneous. So it was difficult to see the detail. They looked very “flat” and were particularly difficult to catch on a photograph. There are better photos on the Tate website.

Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots

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On Sunday we went over to Liverpool to visit some of the latest exhibitions, including the show of works by Jackson Pollock at the Tate.

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The Tate have had one of Pollocks large scale drip paintings, Summertime: Number 9A (1948) on display in the gallery for a while and this had been transferred to the exhibition.

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It’s on display in the first room along with some of his other, similar paintings from the same era.

It’s very typical of the works for which Pollock is most well known where he drips paint from a container, swinging over his substrate placed on the floor. Seems easy. “Anyone could do that”. Randomly applying paint to his canvas. But it isn’t so simple. The randomness is subject to constraints. The artist determines the area where the paint drips, the size of the area, the size of the drips, how fast the container swings and where. There’s more than one colour and he decides which colours to use and in which order they are applied. There’s a lot of decisions he makes and although the pant is randomly applied it is done in a controlled way with the artist setting the boundaries. So, in reality, it’s a controlled process and it takes skill to make something that works. Pollock was clear about this

“I control the flow of the paint. There is no accident, just as there is no beginning or end.”

It’s like real life in many ways. That consists of many random events but within the constraints people choose and apply. And that’s how nature works as well. Atoms and molecules move randomly but there is an overriding order which can be influenced by the constraints humans apply.

Many of the paintings on display were from the later part of his career, a few years before he died in 1956, and, unlike his earlier works, they are predominantly black with the paint applied heavily, thrown on using turkey basters and thickly brushed on to the canvas, creating patterns that are less delicate than in his earlier work. They reflect the turmoil of a life addicted to alcohol and feeling self pity.

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Yellow Islands 1952 (Source: Tate website)

There were figurative elements in these works too nd some of these reminded me of  some of Picasso’s works.

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Portrait and a Dream 1953 (Sorce: Tate website)

It was interesting to be able to compare and contrasts these later works with his better known earlier paintings. They are similar, but different. They show that his style evolved and changed, although with the same underlying approach – the control of randomness.

A good show and we’ll be visiting again before it finishes in October.

György Kepes at Tate Liverpool

György Kepes Leaf and Prism

György Kepes was a Hungarian-born painter, designer, educator and art theorist. In 1930, he moved to Berlin, and later joined the studio of László Moholy-Nagy, the Hungarian photographer who had taught at the Bauhaus Dessau. Moholy-Nagy left Germany to escape the Nazis, moving to Amsterdam, then London and then finally settled in Chicago where he set up the “New Bauhaus”. Kepes followed him and was invited to work at the new art school as head of the  department of Colour and Light.

Although he didn’t consider himself a photographer (he was a painter, a designer and a film-maker), he worked in the medium and produced some excellent images. The Tate exhibition shows 80 of his photographs, photomontages and photograms produced during his time in Chicago, around 1938-42

There were some conventional photographs, although not the subject matter was not entirely mainstream

György Kepes ‘Ear (AN 514)’, c. 1939–41
© estate of György Kepes

Ear (AN 514) c. 1939–41 (Source Tate website)

He also shot “still lives” using scientific apparatus, sometimes in conjunction with natural objects.

But many of the images on display were photomontages and photograms. A photogram is a photographic print made by laying objects onto photographic paper and exposing it to light. It was a favourite technique of Moholy-Nagy who began experimenting with them during the 1920’s.

The Tate website tells us

Kepes’s photograms, made without a camera, were instead produced in the darkroom by arranging and exposing objects directly on top of light-sensitive paper. The subjects – such as leaves, eyes, feathers and cones and prisms  – reflected Kepes’s varied interests and included scientific and mechanical items alongside objects from the natural world.

There’s a good review of the technique here, which includes a discussion of Kepe’s work

György Kepes ‘Hand on Black Ground’, c. 1939–40
© estate of György Kepes

Hand on Black Ground c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

György Kepes ‘Leaf and Prism’, c. 1939–40
© estate of György Kepes

Leaf and Prism c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

With it’s surreal images, the exhibition complements the Leonora Carrington exhibition also showing at the Tate. It also ties in with LOOK/15: the Liverpool International Photography Festival. This is the third biennial photography festival held in the city and there are photographic exhibitions showing at venues including the Walker Art Gallery, the Bluecoat and the Open Eye Gallery.

Leonora Carrington at Tate Liverpool

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About 18 months ago I visited an exhibition about the Surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. I’d never heard of her at the time and was surprised that she’d been born in Clayton-le-Woods, just outside the town where I grew up. She didn’t find fame in her own country through. Rebelling against her upper class background she ran off the Paris with the Surrealist Max Ernst and then, during the war, following a series of events which included spending some time in an asylum in Spain, she ended up in Mexico, where she remained for the rest of her life and where se is recognised as an important artist.

The Tate in Liverpool currently have an exhibition of her work and we went to see it on Saturday. Their website tells us:

The exhibition explores Carrington’s diverse creative practice, taking a selection of key paintings made throughout her career as its starting point. A prolific painter, the exhibition explores how Carrington established her distinctive take on surrealism.

The Dublin exhibition was a major retrospective of her work. The Tate’s is more modest but still has a good number of her works, a few of which I’d already seen in Dublin. The majority were from her time in Mexico although there were some earlier paintings and etchings in one of the rooms, including some paintings of the “Sisters of the Moon”, painted when she was a teenager and which illustrate her early interest in fantasy,  magic and the occult.

It was notable that most of he works on display where from private collections rather than from major public galleries. I think this reflects her “status”. In Mexico she is considered to be a significant artist but she is relatively unknown elsewhere and overshadowed by more well known Surrealists who worked in Europe.

One aspect of her work featured in the Liverpool exhibition that hadn’t been covered in Dublin was her work for the theatre – including masks, costume designs and sketches. I particularly liked the three masks on display created for a production of the Tempest. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any pictures of them on-line and, of course, photography wasn’t allowed in the exhibition.

After visiting the Dublin exhibition I commented

I think I’d like seeing a small number of her paintings and other works but there were too many for me here to take in. To use a metaphor, her paintings were a little like rich food – good but too much at one go can make you feel sick and nauseous.

For me, the Liverpool was just right and I came away feeling satisfied rather than overwhelmed.