Alex Colville (1920 – 2013)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

I suppose I approach this primitive form of art criticism through a poetic view. I enjoy symbols and getting grubby hands as I attempt to unearth meaning. And whilst there isn’t any rhyme scheme here to laboriously unpack, this painting does contain an irresistible sense of rhythm.

‘Horse and Train’ – 1954

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The galloping train curves like a backwards smile into the distance. Its crushing speed made fantastically apparent by the subtle division on the horizon; a small bump between the pulled carriages and the lower grasslands. What once was a simple line it seems, can evolve painfully quick to the onrush and light of a hurtling machine.

To some extent when I look at this piece, I feel ensnared like the horse. The steel of the tracks, brighter than any of the world around them, pull out of the canvas, both backwards to another world, and forwards into ours. Through the charging animal however, Colville draws our eyes downward to its fractious mid hurtle position. Beneath the horse, there is an uneasy quietness before the potential collision. The gravel is painted delicately to the pebble, with the thick pregnant marshland belied by delicate brushstrokes beside the tracks.

Yet amid his subdued palate, Colville draws the two majestic roamers of the landscape in equivocation rather than opposition. The smoke of the train itself too blends into the clouds above, with the horse’s hoof merging to the dark churn of the tracks below.

Rather than the obvious symbolic implication of the painting then, Colville offers a more interesting interpretation upon the idea of choice. Both the train driver and the horse have the ability it seems to get out of the way in some form, but both, for this snapshot moment at least, seem unwilling.

‘Chanteuse’ 

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The lid of the piano scores across the female ‘Chanteuse’ singer as an eye patch. Yet viewed more objectively in the disembodied mirror that floats behind the female’s head, we see that all is normal. The instrument splays  wide across the three windows, with the keys eerily fragmented between frame and elbow.

At first I had crudely assumed, both due to the prevalence of skin and the moan, that this was a primarily sexual image. Whilst undoubtedly the connotations are there, I feel Colville presents an even higher, more interesting, level of seclusion – an engagement with art.

Granted, such exultations are displayed are often part and parcel of public artistic exhibitions, but the slightly abstract way in which the singer is shown, suggests an unrehearsed, honest response to the music in front of her. Crucially too, there is no sheet music, she is merely playing, singing. Everything else around is drawn in unwavering precision, whilst amid it all her mouth gapes slightly, open to music we can only imagine.

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Edwin Henry Landseer (1802 – 1873)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

I discovered this most esteemed of Victorian Animalier paintings adorning an enormous wall within Manchester’s Art Gallery. Before the vast canvas there’s a small contemplative wooden bench and sitting down to stare into this Landseer can be quietly overwhelming due to the amount of darkness carved into the piece.

‘The Desert’ – 1849

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^ This doesn’t really do justice to the majesty of the thing, here’s a better idea:

 

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It’s the use of light however that really gets me. The paint is just so intangibly subtle in its touches. An authentic shimmer on the whiskers draws us throughout the humanity of the face, curving to a full stop at the Lion’s embittered snarl. There is indeed a ‘Desert’, but one that like the animal has curled away from everything else; the sands wait at the edge of the image in a closed mouth gloom.

The focus here is entirely on the animal, an uncomfortably intimate glimpse at that. Almost too natural in its pose. More portrait than demonstrative of anything beyond heavily freighted symbolic intent, it is the mediations on death rather than the obvious patriot metonymy that I find so engaging everytime I pass it

With the animal clearly dead, thoughts draw to its passing. Seeing the Lion as mere body but still beautiful, still majestic with its mane and paws became for me oddly inspiring. This Lion hasn’t been shot, he hasn’t been eaten, he isn’t caged, merely, he’s gone.

‘Man proposes, God deposes’ – 1864

There’s nastiness to this piece, an aggressive spite that really challenges the viewer to tug at the bones with it.

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The fallen mast for one is an expert move, both reflecting the (somewhat Rick Ross lyric) title through its division, as well as suggesting size. The doomed vessel at the center then is a large one, no doubt more Bears feast in the margins.

Despite these horrors, Landseer delights one again in hairs and furs, with the Bears exuding a positive radiance amidst the mostly muted backdrop. Much like the Lion, their story has as much thought as they do – both beasts clearly unaware of any consequence of the shipwreck beyond satiation. The tipped back head of the right Polar however is oddly comic amidst the water.

Drawn as a response to a failed Arctic mission, the picture’s intent is fairly clear – even at the ends of the Earth there is still failure, misadventure. It is of man to imagine but nature to decide. This duality becomes embedded within the piece’s symbols. At the bottom left beside the Bear there’s humanity in a fallen gun. A weapon that points pathetically in defiance, half submerged itself in its conquerer hunting ground. At the top right there’s a suspiciously familiar shape in a looming iceberg.

Enjoy reading that? Click HERE to see a list of all the art analyses on Kweiseye to date.

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Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

For no other reason besides being as a picture on my phone, I’ve chosen Jack Butler Yeats, the Irish oil painter, as my first sprawl. Famous not only for winning the Silver Medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics (for the first piece set to be reviewed), but also having a high achieving ‘Apprentice Mage’ brother.

‘The Liffey Swim’  – 1923. 

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The sense of sedately waiting energy is irresistible in this painting. From the off there is exertion everywhere, but also wonderment, with the crowd angling our eye in with their own leering contortions –  all of us aching to spy the wave like swimmers. Yeats sets the baby grey of the men’s caps at a similar hue to the rushing earl led of the water; everything is moving, yet still there is real dignity.

What’s fantastic is the fact that the race is clearly towards the end, but not at the final hurdle. Victory feels close by. I often feel this when I watch certain sports, such as Golf or Formula 1, those sports so big they demand hundreds of separate crowds, all of them capturing their own special moment, which to the actual participant, is a blur.

So here we are, nearing the last stretch. The crowd layering off into the squinting distance, toppling endlessly over each other. The beautiful pressed window like smudging, casting them forever into a massed distance. Almost as if the crowd themsleves are the real spectacle before the busy Liffey.

In the distance over, bridges can be seen with a bus slowly crossing the front. The water for the swimmers is thick, murky and unforgiving; before them a sky chaste awaits.

Grief’ – 1951. 

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This remind me a lot of this by Bruce Nauman – ‘No’

I had a real guttural response to this thing, elicited not only by the sentiment, but also the mix of colors. Whilst the monotonous palate of Nauman helps to echo his intended desolation sense, here the insipied encroach of the almost sunbeam yellow really confused me at first. With so much discordance, the major key brushstrokes felt cowing.

Within the sketching shapes however, I found stability though simplicity. Looking closer to the skeletal outlines I saw hints of fingers and held weapons, following them round to the beautifully splurged horse in the middle of it all.

War is an easy thing to sense with no context, I see a really well defined armament of sorts for example on the left ridge of the far right building, a precise weather vane, a real detail amid the chaos that may be a product of the mere disorientation the picture brings the viewer. What is undeniable is the soldiers, an endless burst of blue permeated occasionally by red, the only real rupture of monotony being blood itself, a further shedding of color.

But not all color prevails here, with the black splatt coming face to flare nostrils with the horse. This yawning chasm of darkness with its own shades of further opaque within its opening.

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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That is me

A brief introduction. This photo was taken seconds before I started this blog, this is me as of right now. Spoken word poet mainly (http://tinyurl.com/nedsrav) but also big art fan. I know nothing about art, just enjoying thinking about it. The following blog is mostly me rambling briefly on what I felt upon looking at the pictures.

That is me

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