Saturday, 15 January 2011

Between milongas

At Tate Modern: Gauguin's mask-like faces; masks, idols. Faces dream, rarely look you in the eye, even in the Brittany paintings. More similarity between Brittany and Tahiti than I'd imagined: different clothing. & animals constantly, dogs, lizards, birds, horses. The other. And riders on horses, suggesting the transitory, passing through. These days a rider on a horse suggests affluence: it's different. But Gaugin seems to set up an environment in which a horse and rider seem to be passing through the present, from and into the unknown. Polychrome wooden bas reliefs and paintings: similar lack of depth, animated by colour. The marvelous, massive carving for the entrance to his house, where he was to die, 'Maison de Jouir' carved large on the lintel, and at ground level "Soyez mystérieuses" on one side, and "Soyez amoureuses et vous serez heureuses" on the other. And a striking painting in the last room: a youth with his arm around his girl, looking straight out. Nostalgie for youthful love, confronting a feeling of inevitable loss.

Brigid Riley at the National. As Adrian Searle said, you don't look at her paintings, you watch them.

He also commented that they are 'made' by assistants, and it's nonsense that the artist's hand must be there; it's the presence of the artist's mind that matters. Yes, but it's great to visit the exhibition of 20th century drawings at the British Museum and see both the mind and the hand of a good many artists there.

“I believe that in the indeterminacy of drawing, the contingent way that images arrive in the work, lies some kind of model of how we live our lives. The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are or how we operate in the world. It is in the strangeness of the activity itself that can be detected judgement, ethics and morality.” William Kentridge.

A lot of drawing at the BM, because there's also the show of Egyptian prayers drawn for the dead to use, maps of the afterlife, instructions. Negotiating the wonderfully strange world of the afterlife a bit like logging on, with passwords to remember, and questions to answer correctly. Amazing stuff. This, from 1,200BC, really caught my eye:

Two priests: they carry implements to open the mouth of the mummy, so the spirit can fly out (as a bird). But they are coloured slightly differently, and their bodies are actually interlaced in a way that is physically impossible. Perhaps whoever coloured in the outlines got it wrong, but I took it as deliberate, the artist enjoying the potential of drawing.

1,100 years later they were still making the same images, but all that humour and spirit had gone out of it. The drawing becomes lifeless, crude, dull.

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