Alesander Bogomazov (1880 – 1930)

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. 

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)

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. 

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.

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. 

*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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