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

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Akua-Ba - John Skeaping

John Skeaping, Akua-Ba, 1931, acacia wood, 1117 x 560 x 500 mm, Tate.

At first, this self-consciously primitive work by British modernist sculptor John Skeaping seems the total opposite of last week's Maillol.  There are no direct allusions to a classical past here.  It's not even in bronze.  He's just gone and carved it out of some wood, like a poor person.  But it's not totally dissimilar. Both are still, calm works, with a fine sense of balance.  There's a thick monumentality to both forms, that in the Maillol, feels like a nod to primitivism, and in the Skeaping, like a tip of the hat to classicism.  While the blank eyes of the Maillol gaze into nothingness, however, those of the Skeaping look directly out into our world.  Maillol's Venus is a goddess concerned with her own god-business.  Skeaping's sitting woman wants to connect.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Venus With a Necklace - Aristide Maillol

Aristide Maillol, Venus With a Necklace, c. 1918-28, bronze, 1753 x 610 x 400 mm, Tate.

Maillol's particular brand of classicism, with its ever-so-slight modernist sheen, reducing to essential forms that bit more than old school classicism was already doing, was hugely influential.  Most Western European cities have a public statue somewhere that looks something like a Maillol.  He gave a tiny flavour of the new for those who would otherwise be threatened by it, on a great big dollop of the old.  But what to make of him now?  Now that the modern has been pretty much absorbed, do we really need him for anything?  I suppose we could enjoy him purely for his calmness.  He's pretty much the anti-Rodin.  But then we've got Brancusi.  Think the boat may have sailed on this one.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Picture Book - A.R. Middleton Todd

A.R. Middleton Todd, The Picture Book, 1939, oil on wood, 356 x 454 mm, Tate.

By the 1930s, even in Britain, you could include a slight Impressionist patina to your work without people assuming you wanted to fire-bomb Parliament.  This is a nice slice of England, well away from the Modernist fire-bombs, also perhaps showing the influence of the Euston Road School.  The appliance of paint on the blouse enjoyably mirrors the petals on the flowers, while the fact that the subject looks away from the picture book, lost in thought either about what she's just seen or something else entirely, adds some rudimentary psychological depth.  The best thing here, is the potato-like sofa.  I can feel the lumps.