ARTYFACTS: February 2007

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Daniel Kitson - Brighton Dome

Kitson as anti-comic
Kitson's more than a comic and breaks every rule of stand-up. Yet, his technique is compelling.
He shambles on, mumbles, refers to a black book for his material, often talks to the side of the stage, drifts off-mike, asks the audience for the time and forgets where he is. I've even seen him go off stage for a shit half-way through his act. He's a sort of anti-comic.

So why was he a two night sell out? It's the supporting cast of his brother, friends (real and imaginary), acquaintances, ex-girlfirends, new boyfriends of ex-girlfriends, mum, dad, uncles and others. He weaves them into his storytelling in such an endearing way that you can't help but be drawn in. He's also a fine wordsmith. In fact, he loves language and words, rolling out phrases of real poetry, rather than the usual gag lines.

Better than bellylaughs
You don't get bellylaughs, you get something much better - moments when you smile and reflect. His personal moments become vehicles for your personal reflection - it is really something to savour. He avoids gagland and operates at the higher altitude of personal storytelling.

Look forward to seeing him in C-90 in the Festival.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

African Soul Rebels - Brighton Dome

Ba Cissoko
The kora is a beautiful African instrument which sounds like a cross between a harp and guitar. It usually sound gentle and melodic but tonight I heard something extraordinary – the instrument was put through a Jimi Henrix experience. It wailed and rocked. This was really uplifting. The drummer was also measured and the combination of two koras made the place zing. Love their aptly named, latest album, "Electric Griotland"!

Algerian singer Akli D had some fine songs which vary in pace and style, while Nigerian Femi Kuti, lead singer and saxaphonist, can certainly shake a leg, but it’s the sheer enthusiasm of his band that make the act work. The backing horns are really backing dancers. The drummers are ferocious. As for the three dancers, they put hip-hop video queens to shame. Maybe a little too loud giving a muddy sound – or maybe I‘m getting old!
27 Feb 2007

Monday, February 26, 2007

Chaplin - Brighton Dome

Show don’t tell
Three Chaplin films with the London Sinfonietta. Unfortunately, I had the wrong seat for this event. My view of the film was obscured by the orchestra, and soprano, who stood up several times to block the screen. I would have preferred to have been in the circle as the orchestra played, not a traditional film track, but a dissonant score, one full of percussion noises. This was brave and, to be honest, why have a live orchestra just to play a simple score. However, I did find the soprano and baritone surplus to requirements. There is no need to sing narrated words to a silent film. It was designed to work as silent comedy and the words were merely a distraction.

The overall problem with live music at a film is the fact that music should complement and underscore a film. When it dominates, as it sometimes did in this performance, the viewer/listener gets cognitive dissonance. You bounce between watching the live orchestra and watching the film. The experience falls between the two.

The three films, all shot in 1917, show how Chaplin progressed in terms of script, special effects and ambition. Poverty, violence, love, abandonment and humanity are all dealt with in these three comedies; Easy Street, The Immigrant and The Adventurer. Chaplin knew much about these themes and was to suffer abandonment at the hands of the FBI in the US and was banned from re-entering the US from 1952 until he won his Oscar in 1972.

Amazing Tragedy of Eric Campbell
I did love Chaplin's huge and wonderful sidekick Scot, Eric Campbell. His is a tragic story. In the year all of these films were made, 1917, July 9 his wife died of a heart attack at a restaurant near their home. Shortly afterwards, his daughter Una was seriously injured after being hit by a car while walking to a store to purchase a mourning dress. Only two months later, Eric met the gold-digging Pearl Gilman, a vudeville comedienne, while at a party. Despite her reputation for marrying and divorcing famous men, they were married only five days later. In November of that same year, she filed for divorce. On December 20th of that year, returning home from a party, Eric Campbell was killed in an automobile accident. He was cremated, and his ashes remained in a closet first at the mortuary and later at a cemetary, since no one paid the funeral bill. Finally in 1952, an office worker at the Rosedale Cemetary arranged for burial of Eric Campbell's ashes. There is no record of the location of his final resting place.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hogarth - Tate Britain

Hogarth the secret eroticist
Was Hogarth the moraliser really peddling erotica to 17th century London audience? Look at this post-coital image and try to convince yourself that he wanted us to be angry about sex.

Artist with an aesthetic

Hogarth is a satirist first, painter second. Armed with this fact you can skip rooms 4, 7, 9 and much of10. His portraits, whether they are of individuals or families, are poorly executed. If this were an exhibition of Hogarth’s portraits, no one would come. So what are we to make of it?

Aesthetic of the S-shape
Hogarth does have a clear aesthetic and Room 1 has a copy of The Analysis of Beauty, a work in which he exalted the s-shape as the Line of Beauty. Through this core aesthetic he wanted to “fix the fluctuations of taste” and enterprise taken up by later enthusiasts of ‘significant form’ like Clive Bell. We also had an explanation of Hogarth’s love of character, not caricature. The dance print explains his theory perfectly, contrasting the elegant sinuous dancers with the clumsy movers. He placed his Line of beauty in his self-portrait a line on his palette. This was a good introduction.

Room2 has a satire of the south sea bubble with poetry beneath the image. This really is the cartoon of the future and the first thing that has to be said about Hogarth is that he was the progenitor of the comic strip.

I did start to worry when his rant against masquerades and opera contained two lecherometers (thermometers of lechery). Hogarth is profoundly moralistic. He’s the ultimate English moaner. People today – too much sex, gambling, crime, theatre, teenage pregnancy, materialism – you name it he’s against it. The English love Hogarth because he’s a surrogate moaner.

The Lottery shows the weakness of his approach – prints crammed with allegorical figures. Crowded and confused, like a piece of theatre with every actor on the stage at once.

However, very occasionally, Hogarth surprises with a completely absurd image. In this room we have Mary Tofts giving birth to rabbits – which turned out to be an elaborate hoax (were they really that gullible in the 17th century?). We have Gulliver being given an enema by the Lilliputians with a couple of monks fondling each other in the garden. In his Mystery of masonry, he shows an apprentice mason kissing the pox-marked cheeks of an old woman.

Some paintings, such as that of Falstaff, Garrick and The beggar’s Opera are of historical interest. It is strange to see wealthy theatre attendees sit on the stage to watch the play.

Humourless harlots
Whoring abounds in this room with two of Hogarth’s most famous series of paintings. I hesitate to call them comic strips because they are totally devoid of humour. The original paintings for The Harlot’s Progress have been lost but these prints do show that Hogarth may have achieved the opposite of his intended effect by over-moralising.

Unintended outcomes
By presenting images which show men fondling themselves, exposed breasts and implied sins of every description, he may have been creating erotica rather than enlightenment. This unintended (maybe) effect us at its strongest in the before and after sex paintings, where the women is sitting, legs akimbo in a post-coital flush. It could have been painted by Boucher.

More sermons
A Rakes’s Progress in displaying a life of reckless gambling and whoring may have titillated rather than enraged its viewers.

Four times a day, in Room 5 is a more sober treatment of streetlife in London and Room 6 has Marriage a la mode, perhaps the best of his serial works, showing a marriage descend into depravity.

Industry and idleness – the title of Room 8 says it all, another piece of comparative good and evil moralising. There’s no subtlety, no realism and therefore nothing to be learnt from these exaggerated tales.

The four stages of cruelty puzzled me, as Hogarth is often portrayed as exposing the depths of the English character. Here, however, we have horrific scenes of cruelty to people and animals. The prints of famous London criminals did show that the English romanticised criminals even then.

Lastly we have The Election. By this time I felt like a non-believer at the end of a very long sermon. I had to amuse myself by looking for details and thinking beyond the paintings to 17th century life without its Hogarthian exaggerations.

Not really a satirist
On the whole, however, everything is so obviously planned and painted. These are lectures – all tell and no show. He is not really a satirist, as that requires wit, and Hogarth has an underdeveloped sense of humour. The exhibition says more about the limitations than heights of English art. With Hogarth, Stubbs, Reynolds and Gainsborough we had provincial art which failed to move beyond its localised function. With Hogarth everything is too obvious and hyperbolic. Everything here has the repulsive smugness of the preacher.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Alic Maher - Brighton Museum Gallery

Ireland has never featured large in the visual arts. Its genius is in words. This is clearly a trend that is set to continue.

Snails' face
The narcissistic photographs have absolutely nothing to offer. The artist with snails, turf, foliage, berries, twigs and a necklace of animal hearts. These are quite simply banal. They show a lack of imagination, not a good trait in an artist.

Snail as creative artist!
The tasteless plates and glass goblets with their etched 'snail trails' were ugly. The note on the wall said it all, and I quote, when it claims that the work "teases the viewer with the idea of the absent snail as a creative artist". Good god.

The House of Thorns was worthy of attention. It's a small, delicate object that just makes it beyond being just clever. I wanted to pick it up and feel the pain.

The tank titled Lachrymatory didn't bring tears to my eyes, the sculpture hanging in the centre of the room was just awful and the Double-Venus, (two busts of Venus connected by a tube) was tiresome. But wait, there's more....

Great balls of snails
Four balls of snail shells sat on individual plinths. No doubt this is a reference to acts of mass suicidal artistic endeavour by the snails, or maybe it was just someone who's run out of ideas.

The comments from the hapless children and viewers in the visitors' book were priceless....

This is not art
Silly woman
Waste of time
Weirdo - you've lost it big time!
Stupid, pretentious, empty
She is nuts
Psychotherapy in order
Totally pointless

Go read the book - it's hilarious!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Citizens and Kings - The Royal Academy

Citizens and Kings
This is the wrong title. The Age of Enlightenment wasn’t about these two polarised groups, although I realise the pulling power of the word ‘Kings’ for the ‘National Trust Member’ portion of the audience. In any case it’s downright sexist - ‘Catherine II’ wasn’t a king!

Let’s start at the end. I wasn’t as bowled over as the critics on this one. The enlightenment was in no way led by the visual arts and these paintings do not really offer any profound idea of the interplay between the visual arts and what was happening in the 18th century. The ‘room’ themes are sometimes forced and one does not emerge feeling enlightened about the enlightenment.

Room 1 – ‘Rulers’ or ‘the unenlightened’
Good to get this lot out of the way. George IV, by Sploshua Reynolds, an overweight hedonist. Louis XVI all arrogance and fat lips, a stupid man who was caught while fleeing the revolution when he paid for some food in a store using a coin with his own head on it – guillotined in 1793! The bust of Marie Antoinette also showed an ugly image far from the Hollywood ideal. Catherine II, also truly ugly, and the corpulent George III. What a sorry lot. Napoleon, however, is altogether different, if more offensive in his imperial pose. The Pope, both marble bust and painting looked world-weary but smart.

Room 2 – The Status Portrait
Bit of a mixed bag with everyone from Benjamin Franklin to obscure Scottish military figures (Hugh Montgomerie poses while his troops slaughter Cherokee Indians in the background). Napoleon is, again, the main feature with his globe, papers, books and clock showing he’s been working all night.

Room 3 – The Cultural Portrait
Now we see the true heroes of the enlightenment, Hume, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hutton, Buffon and Banks. This should have been the centrepiece of the exhibition and more paintings in this area would have been welcome. We see here how portraiture, in fact, reveals little about the intellectual forces at work in this period. Hume looks empty and posed, the opposite of his character and writings. Hutton, is a poor work with some awful fossil props, badly painted. One would never guess that he would lay the foundations for Darwin’s theories. Similarly with Banks and Voltaire and Rousseau. There is no sense of intellectual fire in these works, yet their written works are ablaze with ideas.

Room 4 – The Artist: Image and Self-image
Introspective and dull works.

Room 5 – The Portrait after the Antique
The masterpiece of the show is here – David’s Death of Marat. The moment of death amplified by the limited palette, paired good and evil of the pen and knife, the simple table/tombstone/coffin and the black empty space above the body. Apparently, the body was a bit of a mess and David had to have the ligament to his tongue cut to prevent the tongue from sticking out of his mouth. His arm had rigor mortis and had to be cut off and replaced by one from another corpse. Everything about this picture speaks of the shift in world view. The naked Voltaire is just as shocking with his sagging skin and skinny limbs. It was, of course, his mind that mattered.

Room 6 – The Family Portrait
My heart sinks when I enter a room full of Gainsboroughs and Reynolds. No wonder the Louvre held out against having an English painting section for so long – it can be so dull.

Room 7 – The Allegorical Portrait
The Reynolds Mrs Siddons as Tragic Muse is as ridiculous a picture as you’ll ever see and the actor Kemble as Coriolanus - well, I was pleased to exit the room.

Room 8 – Nature and Grace
The show was staring to struggle here. I found its links with the enlightenment spare.

Room 9 – Romanticism and Realism
There is an outstanding portrait of the editor and publisher Bertin by Ingres which amounts to more than all of the other paintings in the room.

The selection of postcards said it all – only the dumpy kings/queens and twee ‘stick them on the fridge door’ images were available. The 17th century was a far richer tapestry than this show would suggest and the art of the enlightenment is left floundering in the wake of the printed word.

6 February 2007