Evie Hone (1894 – 1955)

Though primarily regarded as one of the most outstanding stain-glassed designers of the 20th century, Evie Hone was also a talented painter. An extremely devout artist who tended more towards the unreal within her brushwork.

Abstract Study (1930)

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There is a sheath, a skin to this work. An overwhelming presence of blue that itself seems unsteady in the frame. The image plays with ideas of images, the outer limits of the canvas painted on as if wood.

Striking first is the many shades and variation of the colour. It is a blue holding formations and currents beneath, their designs piled on as stencils laced. At the center there comes a sense of a torrent, the shapes in the outer reaches seeming to begin to curve whilst those in the middle conforming utterly to a circle. It is as if the aforementioned sheath is pulling backwards to a determined, gritty difference between the two. A pearl in the oyster.

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This crystallised centre. Intricately measured and judged as bricks of colour from bold, powerful strokes. As orientation is easier down here, it allows a sharper appreciation of the sense of movement and distance between the two areas of the image. The exterior expanses far more sluggish and broad, the heart so varied.

Canal Bridge

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An intelligent balancing act of a painting. In ‘Canal Bridge’ we see all the pieces fitting together smartly: from the disembodied leaves on the top left mirroring as dapples on the water, to the eponymous bridge itself which smiles back in a positive hum. Our view is both teased further and cut off shortly through these catoptric surfaces. There is a sense of being tugged back to the image as you try to spy further into it through its echoes.

It is both modern and engaging, and postcard. There is no depiction bar the very technique that realises the bridge. A theme common throughout Hone’s painting.

The palette overall is far rougher than ‘Abstract Landscape’, with the tempo of the work both urgent yet calming. Everything comes in bold strokes, the water itself seemingly translucent and absent through the build of different responses of the landscape rather than the employment of depth.

Perhaps her fundamentals within stained-glass influenced this crystallised sense of her image. Her goal more to reverent iconic pieces rather than suggestions and prods. Within Hone there is a peculiar silence build from a beguiling, stilling technique.

Want to explore more works? Click HERE to see a list of all the art analyses on Kweiseye to date.

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Odilon Redon (1840 – 1916)

All but unknown for the first fifty years of his life (a period in which the artist drew near exclusively in black and white), Odilon Redon came to fame with the publication of J.K Huysman’s celebrated novel A rebours in 1884. Typical of its decadent period, the book details the life of a perverse, disenchanted aristocrat who collects Redon’s paintings. He being drawn to them through their strange, amniotic creatures – designs themselves which would later bear influence on Edgar Allan Poe.

In his elder years the formally monomaniacal monochromist experimented widely with colour, heralded for his flower work from as high as Matisse. There is a wide gamut of mythic troubled emotions to be found here, Redon’s imagination as vibrant as his palette.

Breton Village (1890)

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There is no real extravagance on display here, yet ‘Breton Village’ is a disquieting, intriguing piece from the off. Amid its gentle hum of colour the world feels slightly apart from itself. A feeling fostered through the distant perspective that Redon employs. The namesake village not only shown squeezed above a tide of shrubbery and below vast, opaque sky – but from an exterior angle too. Through positioning the viewer at the end of the outcrop, Redon gives us no sense of the people to which the structures belong. Rather signalling just the hind slopes of the roofs, a pile of hay heating in a creviced intersection.

Across this all, the sun falls wonderfully, its reflections bright and true. Afore of the settlement the gruff brush is a masterful mix of visible, coarse strokes along with a fluid, dense technique that suggests threshing.

Life, from this angle at least then, seems free and easy. Yet the blistering heat evident would no doubt make labour punishing, so perhaps the sense of desertion is a sign of a sleep. The village is a curious place regardless: the road seemingly a tapering of the wilderness, the red shrub at the close right hand seeming to seethe.

Redon would’ve hated those last three paragraphs. He being the one after all claiming: ‘My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined’. Beyond all the analysis then, perhaps we should find ourselves within the image rather than critiquing outward. And as pretentious as that sounds, it feels possible with the odd invitation Breton Village extends.

Figure (1876)

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Just as the woman holds the disembodied head with the ease of drying washing, the sun behind feels similarly omnipotent. Its wide berth not only containing perfectly the guillotined top within its circle but covering the entirety of the background, doing away with any sense of the outward exterior perspective.

The head itself looks off with a wry, knowing intent. Its stern jaw detailed with an earthly simplicity, contours stern and strong as the holder’s own face is scrawled. With an alarming surety, the head gazes off beyond the image to elsewhere. She is not concerned with the situation, and suggests that neither should you be.

Rather the real marvel here is the palette of Figure, its dry, radiating heat that folds over the image with a wicked hue. Below the duo a crispy bracken falls. Seemingly glowing from within with an aureate display.

Want to explore more works? Click HERE to see a list of all the art analyses on Kweiseye to date.

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George Grosz (1893 – 1959)

As a German anti-Nazi satirist who composed much of his work amidst the rise and fall of The Third Reich, George Grosz (originally ‘Georg’ until 1916 when he anglicised the spelling in antinationalist protest) is a fascinating figure both historically and artistically. Damning and iconoclastic, Grosz’s vibrant, skewered depictions of his battered time are as savage as they are prescient.

To Oskar Panizza – (1917/18)

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Witnessed from high above, the maniacal parade of flags, sabres and hellfire trundles past the viewer with a palpable fury. A procession itself of a chaotic mixture, churning figures prevalent in the post-war despair of the Weimar Republic (the evangelising priest, the jingoistic general etc.) with Grosz’s own apocalyptic flourishes of tone and vision.

Amidst this kaleidoscope display of dulled, oppressive yet varied hues, everything comes tinged with some darkness. The only natural light within appearing from the back – a small fire which has sprung up spontaneously taking several bodies with it.

And perhaps that’s all for the best as this appears a brutal, hellish world. Take the aforementioned priest at the bottom left for example, he who brandishes a brittle white cross, rising from the dead off the back of a pig hybrid that greedily cradles a bottle of wine. This duo themselves being but a moment amongst a panoply of grotesque detail throughout. A world that seems creaky on its hinges as the buildings leer in and out of frame.

Revealingly in retrospect, Grosz detailed the piece as a reflection of his own view of society at the time, his goal to show ‘a diabolical procession of human figures… their faces eloquent of alcohol, syphillis, plague’. A procession who appear riven by a skeleton that carries on atop them by coffin. A symbol easily missed perhaps as its own vague skin assimilates into the riot below, but one that’s important as it serves reminder that though the depiction of this world is cartoonish, the realities are still pertinent. Maybe with our future hindsight it is easy to dismiss the intent, but with such technique and unflinching directness, ‘To Oskar Panizza’ is impossible to ignore.

And Oskar Panizza himself? Understandably he was not a man of peace or reason, rather an objector of the most conscientious and rigorous kind. Repelled by the church, the army (Grosz himself was twice expelled for poor health) and authority of any sort whatsoever. The writer Kurt Tucholsky described Panizza as the most daring, barbed, witty and revolutionary prophet Germany had ever seen – perhaps in Grosz he has found fitting tribute.

‘The Painter of the Hole’ – (1948)

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During World War II, a conflict which felt all but inevitable to Grosz for years prior, the German painted a number of apocalyptic scenes expressing his despair and hopelessness at the tragic developments he had warned of in vain – see ‘The Pit’ or ‘Cain, or Hitler in Hell’

Perhaps it is logical then that in the aftermath of WWII the artist near-exclusively adopted the use of stickmen, a symbol of artistic impotency in the face of annihilation. They are, after all, perfect signifiers of nothingness and fundamentals, something Grosz expanded upon in a letter to the playwright Bertolt Brecht, stating, ‘they consist of thin but firm strokes. They cast no shadow, and are themselves completely grey’.

Yet there seems a paradox at the heart of this painting. As in demonstrating the futility of depiction, Grosz has in fact created a wonderful work. One that is wry and knowing, the message clear and the technique assured. And beneath the Hole Painter’s chair especially, there is great work. The distressed, drained palette allowing Grosz to contrast the squeezed paint tubes and scored notebooks with the flotsam and jetsam of rubble and mess. The righthand corner which gathers with forgotten reproductions of the past, their own images slowly peeling off the canvas back into the dirt. All there seems to be here is the sense of something missing.

The figure himself stands clear from the rest of the faded image with his comic, ghost-like appearance. His weak wrist almost as fluid as the paint that flicks from it. Easily mocked as he is though, this is a man that seems to be respected, seems to be something that Grosz charges with heroism rather than mock defeat. And perhaps this is because he keeps going; through the chaos all around, past the rat that gathers on his image and the other that waits at his feet, his own eye sees forth and he continues to depict knowing that it will offer no change against the past.

Or, more likely in truth as it is with Grosz, this is a final image of defeat. A wonderfully evocative painting with a quieting message about a final loss of hope.

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Alesander Bogomazov (1880 – 1930)

Alexander Bogomazov was another book find for me. And by that I mean an artist to whom I’ve reached randomly whilst flicking pages, not one I’ve long admired or been curious to explore – see Konrad Kryzyanowski or Harriet Backer for other aleatory jaunts.

Counted as Russian in my ‘100 Years of Russian Art, 1889 – 1989′ tome, the now Ukrainian painter seems more remembered today as a theorist than for his pictures. Though exploring his work I have found this ill-fitting, Bogomazov being a painter whose startling inventiveness deeply affects through its often rigid geometry.

‘Expectation’ (1900)

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Whilst the majority of his work seems to call towards the dynamism of the machine age, this painting, with its contradictory pull of deep sentimentality and blatant construction, seeks its celebration within itself.

As ‘Expectation’, in spite of its simple pictorial centre, can appear abstract on first encounter through the sheer force of its method. An impact stemming from Bogomazov’s employment of Pointlist techniques. Pointlism being a process perfected by the French Post-Impressionist Georges Seurat wherein it is the glow around a point of colour that is heralded as key. A feature that can be heightened when that dot is on a white background which reflects rather than absorbs light, giving a distinct fizz and luminosity to images.

Such inspired detail gifts the work a sense of movement. Ideal especially considering the setting of the piece: the sea eternally folding at a distance below, the wind blowing through the harsh grass, the frills of the bowed woman’s dress.

A woman who becomes more absorbed into the scene around her the more you scrutinise. Though her body itself may be a tad basic in execution, a thoughtful eye and mouth acting as visible distinguishers, it is perhaps the dark of her head leaning forward that enraptures most. Its hairline coincident with the shoreline as if a glimpse of night was captured in the thatch – a preview of this world at another time of day.

Bogomazov’s strict style engenders a sense of cohesion throughout the piece. The little chain-link fishes of the water inseperable in their speckled neatness from the sky behind and  the sitter above.

But why is she sitting? The mystery as to who she is and to what purpose this inner meandering is serving is unclear. Neither is the red bag/coat/flower beside her. An odd disjunction that encroaches and distracts from the inner peace of ‘Expectation’.

With such outlandish skill on display already though, perhaps Bogomazov is merely showing that breaking to fundamentals is not necessarily at the sacrifice of beauty.

‘Abstract Landscape’ (1915)

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There feels a play on words here. ‘Abstract Landscape’ is still a landscape then, still a depiction of hills and gorges and cliffs and distance, just one that is employing abstract imagery to achieve these ends.

Various slopes cut across at intervals as stomachs. These vertical reaches being more noticeable the father away from the painting you get. Up-close the labyrinth lines of various purples and yellows are too rich in complexity to look past; what ultimately intrigues here though is the order rather then chaos, the landscape rather than the abstract.

At either side of the valley we have corresponding cliff faces of gnarled instrument husks with weathered caverns within. The painting just retreats and retreats, until the jazz solo smatterings of the peak we’re cresting beneath us gives way eventually to the bold strokes at the back.

What such distance and difference allows is the sense that you are falling into the canvas. It is both cavernous and inward, a barbaric display of nothingness that still seems to pull at the viewer. It unfolds and unravels from whatever view you take at it, as complex and enthralling from high above or deep in the basin.

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Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828)

When his works are collected together and poured over, Francisco Goya can seem frenzied and unpredictable in his approaches. Here for example is a painter who depicts a bygone innocence of the Spanish past as richly as he imagines executions of native soldiers by French troops. Here also is a conferred ‘Painter to the King’ whose subtly subversive royal portraits share stylistic similarities to his ‘Los Caprichos’, a haunting passion project of the artist that aimed to explore, ‘the extravagances and follies common to every civilized society’. What ties the entire oeuvre of Goya together though is a distinct sense of something more beneath the paint, a preoccupation not just with satire or veiled critique, but an appeal to feeling beyond the mere rapture of his brush.

The Straw Mannequin (1791 – 1792)

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Despite this no doubt being a familiar carnival sight to the Spanish aristocracy whom commissioned it, ‘The Straw Mannequin’ cannot be anything but acutely disturbing to the modern eye. Taking aside for a second the simple fact that there is a corpse-like dummy being flung high by women who seem enchanted by the act, it is the very moment that Goya picks to crystallise that lends the image such a sinister quality.

Had the mannequin been dropping down head over heels or in some other less recognisably human pose, its discerning qualities could perhaps have been discarded in favour of the jubilation being had. Yet by showing ‘him’ behaving anatomically quite how a person would look thrown upward, Goya revels in the disjunction between the real and the imitative. Look at the slack, unresponsive limbs. The buckled shoes pointing out askance beneath ornate britches. It’s lifeless, painted face that arches back on what looks like a broken neck with a ponytail swinging behind. The figure, of course, isn’t real and feels nothing. But the subtle blurring keeps us as entranced as the foursome.

What is Goya saying here though? Is this a commentary, suggesting what strong women can do with a weak man? Or is the net cast wider and this is more about mob rule and its influence on the single individual caught in the middle? The circumstances are murky, what is clear though is that Goya’s revered attention to detail isn’t just regulated to the action at the centre.

The unusually tall image allows the artist to achieve a fantastic level of depth at both ends of the work. At the base his brush is keen and nuanced. The shadow of the blanket varying in heaviness and shade depending on where it is pinched and the buckles of the women beneath sparkling wonderfully under cover. Above the straw filled body we have a fantastically imagined sky whose washes of wispy cloud ape the golden backed green of the trees.

Duel with Cudgels (1820 – 1823)

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Both of these men feel inextricable from their landscape. The fighter on the right appears to be fading into the white of the backdrop, his legs cut off from the ankle down, one and the same with the sediment beneath. On the left, his opponent is similarly entrenched, his own cudgel appearing to be the source of the smoky clouds behind  There is a grisly madness to this desolate scene. A futility and sadness, a sense that whoever is the victor will still be trapped, still have gained nothing.

With their heights so exaggerated and their bodies so cemented, perhaps the two men are representative of some higher order. Some symbols of how the powers that be are effectively rooted within the same world and that murdering the other is only serving to ruin the world around them. The two even seem spotlit by the landscape’s sunshine, the left warrior’s cudgel also appearing to tear through the clouds themselves.

Up-close however, and the painting definitely should be seen up-close (click it) for its wonderful treatment of diaphanous colour, individual faces and emotions are detectable which draw the magnitude down to a more painful, one on one confrontation. A fight that has been going on a while it seems. The man on the left all bloodied up and continuing, his opponent cocked back on the left ready for a huge swipe lest he be blocked.

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MODERN REVIEW: Cornelia Parker at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

*The first of a new series of articles entitled ‘MODERN REVIEW’. This infrequently posted selection will feature reviews I’ve done of contemporary UK exhibitions for online publications other than ‘Kweiseye’. IMG_3181

Cornelia Parker at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (01/04/2015).

Original review: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/art/reviews/cornelia-parker-whitworth-manchester-review

Upon entering the newly revitalised Whitworth, it can initially be unclear where Cornelia Parker’s retrospective is actually located. There is just so much to see. Exhibitions taken from the Whitworth’s portraiture collections, new acquisitions and examples from the gallery’s textile archive are all on display on the building’s lower level, and Parker’s show exists among them.

The first groups of pieces focus on Parker’s paper-based and smaller sculptural work. Embryo Firearms (1995) is a disturbing, engrossing piece of reductionism. Two Colt 45 guns are displayed in their earliest form of production accompanied by Precipitated Gun (2015), a suggestively cocaine-like line of powder. This is, in fact, the remnants of a gun that has been pulverised for the exhibition. Throughout, weapons and ammunition crop up with menacing regularity, achieving an odd abstraction through their use as a medium in drawing and painting (for example, the drawings made with melted lead bullets). Although a variety of techniques is employed, one constant remains: a focus on the fundamental parts that contribute to the whole, and how an engagement with such constituents can engender a deeper, more profound understanding of the thing. IMG_3180

This notion reaches its apotheosis with the installation Room for Margins (1998), which consists of a group of canvas linings taken from paintings by Turner during their conservation. The canvases are browned, and show compelling indentation of the proto-Impressionist delights once above them. The gesture is a bold one. Initially these works are confusing and obtuse – we question their veracity – but the process becomes an enlightening one as small images of beauty leak through the surfaces. Further on into the exhibition comes a series of Parker’s larger installation works, including the one she is, perhaps, most famous for: Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991). The astonishing slow-motion implosion of sorts decorates an entire room in the floating aftermath of disintegration. Opposite this work we find a new commission, War Room (2015), a punishing, remarkable piece wherein the walls and ceiling of a single room are layered with red poppy cutouts – waste material from the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal. The experience is significant, the room seeming to both swoon and be still, the pointillist echo of colour playing out as an angry womb. IMG_3188

These larger installations have certainly been the most advertised and discussed in relation to the show, but do not just be taken in by these grand motions. It is the earlier, more muted sculptures, experiments and works on paper that deserve the most attention. Here the rich imagination of the artist plays out with none of the equipment, posing questions in true, essential ways.

Enjoy reading that? Click HERE to see a list of all the art analyses on Kweiseye to date. To keep up with the blog and all the art I write about, follow me right here on this blog or here @tomkweipoet

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Paulus Potter (1625 – 1654)

Part of the joy of looking at painting is the sense of being connected to the past without filter. Whether a work of art is seen here on this blog or in the oily flesh at a gallery, it always crafts a pure, intimate, historical connection, one essentially unsullied by the degradation that can so often alter other artefacts of the past. Painting then is a dialogue uninterrupted, comparable in a sense, as strange as it may sound, to our own relationships with animals today.

As imagine the way a dog would play with you now on a 2015 afternoon, why it would be rough, ready and rambunctious, no different to a pup playing with Italian schoolchildren in the 15th century. Consider a pig (such as those featured below) of the Victorian era alongside a contemporary counterpart – there feels no difference does there? Rather, it is we who have changed around the infallible nature of animals. A portrait can’t change its subject and a leopard cannot change it spots it seems. They remain the same as we grow further beyond them yet as fascinated as ever.

Never better are these twin threads of animal disposition & eras bygone explored than by Paulus Potter, a gifted Animal ‘Animalier’ painter (see HERE for an earlier explored Animalier/Queen Victoria fave, Edwin John Landseer), whose adroit brushwork forges compelling, mostly farmyard pieces, that retain a deep humanity some 350 years later.

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Initially it seems as if no painter was even present to record such an image. The poses are just so relaxed and natural. With Potter’s typical eagle eye gifting a quiet, intimate dignity to what is effectively the confines of a sty. A sty the artist seems to respect in his brush: the strips of fell hay lying as tame lightnings across the front & hoofs for example, the small troth recessed against the worn, thick wood.

It is the pigs themselves though that are the real marvel. Their mottled, hay coloured coat a rich antithesis to the traditional porcine pink. At the back, the dominant male leers forward, his furrowed fur and turnip snout lit thoughtfully by the subtle slats of pure blue light flitting in around the couple from the outdoors. His squinted, slightly hazy eyes tucked beneath the floppy eaves appear welcoming, as if he has a dirty joke to share. Below him the other pig is more vacant, a smile perhaps is recognisable, but the eyes betray an element of being elsewhere, her exposed nipples suggestive perhaps of a recent feed.

Free of irony, the image elevates the creatures to the status of portraiture. As just as within the portraits of this era, we see their world, their relationship, signifiers of their status. These are pigs not be looked at as ‘pigs’ but as animals, as creatures, as a record of the humanity that they held and continue to hold, no matter how we may think otherwise.

The Wolfhound (1650) Wolf-Hound

Low beneath the snout of this dog, there’s a masterpiece. A small gruff of a town that Potter skilfully evokes and then stores away for us to seek out. A spire can be seen, a dappling of settlements perhaps before it. Cattle are grazing and one is drinking at the water’s edge, cattle that may well eventually be as the bone beneath this chained beast’s watch.

By creating such an interesting sense of perspective, Potter foreshortens & isolates the hound. He is the centre here, not the aforementioned town, the clouds even seeming to wrap slightly around his watch. He is a guard dog, what he guards we will never know, the world that Potter gives us at the back is cruelly one that he is blissfully unaware. One that may be even further than it seems.

The titular Wolfhound itself is magnificent, its odd size giving a sense of omnipotence to its stance. The long coat a telling of character in its variety, the tough white fur around the legs giving away to solid clumps of muscle. Its eyes ever watchful amid a head all black from the collar down.

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