Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Garden - Gillian Wearing OBE

Gillian Wearing OBE, The Garden, 1997, Screenprint on paper, 651 x 889 mm, Tate.

A variant on Wearing's 'Signs That Say What You Want Them to Say and Not What Someone Else Wants You to Say' series.  Here the concept is a bit more ambiguous.  Wearing and companions pose in sloganed t-shirts.  But are the slogans declarations of their honest thoughts, or are they what they expressions of what they wish they could think and say?  Does Wearing really think she's as cool as Garfield?  Does the woman next to her believe her breasts to be brilliant?  I'm guessing the woman on the end (who looks vaguely familiar - it's not Joanna Lumley is it?) really does consider herself to be shy, as that's not generally an aspiration.  But then, did they choose their own t-shirts?  It's all a mildly interesting mystery.
   The execution, with the lettering coloured in on an otherwise monochrome image, is artless and naff, as it generally is in Wearing's work.  This, however, adds to it by creating a sense that we are witnessing a genuine and cheerful attempt at open and direct communication. Due to the title being a little less explanatory than normal for the artist, we don't quite get that here, but that's ok.  A bit of vagueness in a generally all-too readable oeuvre adds variety.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bookplate: S. Anthony - Eric Gill

Eric Gill, Bookplate: S. Anthony, 1926, intaglio print on paper, 121 x 86 mm, Tate.

 Bookplate from the most problematic artist in modern British art history until Graham Ovenden came along and knocked it out of the park.  Leaving aside Gill's awful personal life (why did I allude to it at all? I'm cheap), this is an image of perfect balance.  St. Anthony spreads his legs to perch on a seat, which sits between vegetation either side, while he reads a book, inevitably revealing two pages.  The way the putto clings on to the sphere containing St. Anthony, as if it would float away if he didn't, while the female angel throws herself on top to weigh it down, is witty.  Anthony himself looks like he could drift out of the bubble at any time, presumably as his study has taken him out of the physical realm, while the book he is reading appears to be held down by his hands.  It is a picture about light and weight, spirit and form, Heaven and Earth.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

R.B. and W. Spiral for A. - Sir Terry Frost

Sir Terry Frost, R.B. and W. Spiral for A., 1991, oil paint and acrylic paint on canvas, 1905 x 1905 mm, Tate.

This is a good-size painting, so the sheer thrill factor of standing in front of a great big fuck-off spiral is somewhat diminished on a computer screen.  Nevertheless, you can see how the image works, with the Op Art disorientation of the spiral form working against the impreciseness of the free line Frost's brush leads us down. If it were any looser, it wouldn't be a spiral at all.  It would just be an uncoiling mess.  But Frost knows exactly how far to push it.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Q - Questions - Joe Tilson

Joe Tilson, Q - Questions, 1969-70, screenprint on paper, 750 x 501 mm, Tate.

Another from Tilson's A-Z Box.  Here Tilson moderately tinkers with the 1931 publicity shot of Greta Garbo as the Sphinx, adding text ('Q?'), a slight psychedelic starburst effect exploding from Garbo's eye, and a tint.  You could argue that such meddling adds nothing much, other than a mild amplification of what's already there.  Garbo is the Sphinx, she is an enigma.  The Sphinx had its riddles, Garbo had her own mysteries.  Is this just a case of yet more blank pop art, mutely putting something already in the world on display?
   Well, not quite.  I actually left off one intervention Tilson has made.  He's shifted Garbo several inches towards the right, so that she is now in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, instead of off it to the side.  This lining of her head with it's diagonal, and the interplay between the lines of the starburst and those of the pyramid somehow create an occult charge that is absent from the source image.  We've moved from kitsch into something more unnerving, like a card from a Tarot pack.  You half-expect Kenneth Anger to stage a ritual in front of it all.  We are drawn into Garbo's face, and the mystery is no longer some banal thing about why she doesn't want studio-hands to do interviews much.  She is the Sphinx.  Her mystery is death.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

[no title: p. 239] - Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips, [no title: p. 239], 1970, lithograph on paper, 190 x 140 mm, Tate.

On a bad day, Tom Phillips is an artist I sometimes confuse with Joe Tilson, whose work we looked at a couple of weeks back.  Indeed, superficially, the image here and the Tilson are remarkably similar.  Found text messed around with so that the original meaning is lost.  Their aims are quite different, however.  Tilson is interested in language and semiotic systems, exploring them by chopping them up so they don't work so well any more.  This print by Phillips, however, is part of a much larger and ongoing work, A Humument, in which a found, forgotten novel called A Human Document is altered page by page, so a new ambiguous and poetic story emerges from the parts of the text Phillips isolates.  It verges on Surrealism, with Phillips letting new arrangements of words emerge in the same way Max Ernst saw fantastical creatures in wood rubbings.  There is also a sense that we are hearing fragments of thought ('repeated... music of your mistake') that recalls Joyce.  Reading it is a surprisingly powerful, out-and-out modernist experience.
   It is not simply literature presented as art, however.  The fact that there is no clear order in which to read the text, which rests on a pointillist background of summer colour, means that navigating it is reliant on the eye finding its own way around the structure of the image.  It is art and literature simultaneously.  Or if you will, literarture!  No, wait, forget I said that.  Oh Christ, I'm so ashamed.  DELETE DELETE DELETE