Tag Archives: history

Eugène Delacroix exhibition at The National Gallery – first thoughts


[Women of Algiers in their Apartment (French: Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement)  1834 oil on canvas Eugène Delacroix; source Wikimedia Commons. Picture is in the Louvre]

The National Gallery’s Delacroix exhibition is billed as ‘Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art’ which means that there’s not as much Delacroix as one might like. It’s more focused on seeing the great “Romantic” painter as a profound influence on the ‘Modern’ artists, such as the Impressionists and post-Impressionists. There are some interesting relationships made, especially with Renoir, who seems to have learned a lot about colour from Delacroix but Renoir had more, new paints to have fun with, thanks to industrialization.

One thing s that is particularly intriguing is the linking of Delacroix to Kandinsky. The final picture in the show is Kandinsky’s ‘Study for Improvisation V’, painted in 1910. The fascinating thing that links these two artists is their development of ideas about colour (expressed in Delacroix’s Journals and in Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art). This would be a great show in its own right, but it’s not really discussed here. But I doubt that Delacroix specifically influenced Kandinsky at all. I mean, Kandinsky no doubt saw Delacroix’s work in Paris and no doubt was impressed but – so what?

I do have a big problem with the way Art History is often done, as a linear progression of “influences.” Influence happens all the time, and it’s not linear. People see (and hear) stuff and this finds its way into their work. Of course it happens, but sometimes I wonder if the art history approach (at least as it is offered up in exhibits like this) is a bit too reductionist.

I found myself really impressed with Delacroix’s paintings of North Africa. Painted (deliberately) long after he’d seen the places, these are vibrant with colour and movement. ‘Women of Algiers in their Apartment’ (above) is particularly glorious. Delacroix avoids the overt exoticisation seen in some of the works by his “Orientalist” followers, notably Theodor de Chasseriau, whose work is featured here.

This was just my first visit to the show, and I’ll go again so maybe I’ll have more thoughts. I want particularly to think about how Delacroix’s imagery is repurposed in cinema.

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Filed under art, Art-Related, cinema, thoughtful

Art History for Film Makers Facebook page

I have set up a FB page for readers of my book Art History for Film Makers and anyone else who’s interested in the junction between art and cinema.

here’s the link


I would love it if people would actively engage with the subject, so we’ll see.

Meanwhile here is some Eugene Delacroix in advance of the exhibition opening at the London National Gallery on 17 Feb – I have an opening day ticket (excited)


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Rewriting History Through Documentary

I just wanted to share an excellent and timely article about history documentary and its obligation to tell the truth



Posted by Angelica Das on June 12, 2014

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Nelson Mandela, Peace and Love

‘Peace and Love’

that old hippy mantra

cynically, we snigger, “peace and love? As if. What have you been smoking, hippy?”

yet in our lifetimes we knew a man who lived Peace and Love Who practiced it. Who more than any of us, could have been expected to be embittered and turn away from both peace and love.  This man died today.

In 1990 I remember him walking out of prison. It was incredible. At this moment we on earth actually witnessed an incredibly rare moment of human greatness. South African white President Frederik de Klerk defied the South African system and its apartheid ideology by freeing Nelson Mandela and legitimizing the ANC. Mandela made it very clear that he would work towards equality and a free South African for all.  By 1994 Mandela was himself President.

It was amazing that between them, two individuals could change history, could change hearts. de Klerk by giving up White Political Privilege – not just for South Africans, but – symbolically – for all of us. Mandela for firmly standing by the idea of freedom and dignity in equality. Two Enlightenment men. Who says individuals cannot shape history?

And as President, and for many years after, until this very day 5.12.2013, Mandela has symbolised the successful struggle for dignity and equality and the meaning of freedom. He has, in short, embodied Peace and Love.

…and yet …

almost a year before the great moment of freedom, in China the “communist” government massacred some thousand or so of its citizens in Tianamen Square. Having this shown its hand to the world they then proceeded to instill their version of state capitalism. It seemed so alien so brutal and so inhuman. I can remember turning my face away from the TV in disgust.

But the world we have made since 1990 is a world shaped more by the spirit of Tianamen Square than by Nelson Mandela. Materialism and greed, toleration of unfreedom and disrespect for human dignity is the order of the day, across the planet. We will now watch the world’s leaders and their venal supporters weep crocodile tears for Nelson Mandela.

…. but …

there is still a sliver of hope. Sometimes the world produces visionaries like Gandhi and Mandela. Sometimes it produces intelligent pragmatists like de Klerk. Sometimes good people can change things. Sometimes Peace and Love stop being platitudes and really happen.

Nelson Mandela RIP 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013


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Here’s an article about Egypt that pretty much puts it all together

I blogged a while back about Egypt, then today I found this great article in the zine Cairo Scene.


Egyptian situaiton explained, Cairo Scene 2013


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Syria – thoughts on intervention

– I seem to be blogging more about politics than I used to. This even though I have a (non political) film out that I want to promote… sigh

If I had any reason to believe that UK, French and US intervention in the Syrian civil war would cause the Civil War to end, atrocities to stop, or any of the obvious desirable outcomes to happen, I would fully support such intervention. However, for whole host of reasons, I have no way of believing that military intervention would be a positive step.

I’m going to give a few of these reasons here, but by no means is this a complete list.

The first reason is the obvious one, Iraq. On the day that the US and the UK announced they were going to consider seriously some kind of intervention, buried at the bottom the front page was very familiar news indeed. This news was that 50 people, I repeat 50 people, were killed in a bomb attack in Baghdad. This is the Baghdad that we liberated from the brutal dictator in the 2003 military intervention. Although our leaders have congratulated themselves that Baghdad today, in 2013, is a better Baghdad than it was five or six years ago, the fact is, it’s much worse Baghdad than it was 12 or 13 years ago. This does not in any way exonerate or excuse the regime of Saddam Hussein. But there is surely a difference between an unpleasant regime and a chaotic ongoing situation where people buying their groceries in a market can be blown up by an armed militia with an agenda that is not only completely unrealizable, but appears to be completely inhuman the same time. We all know that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was, whatever the rights and wrongs of its justifications as an actual fact, as it actually happened, was a total and utter failure. We failed for a great number of reasons. Aside from the countless journalistic reports of this failure which are available, books have been written in recent years. One particularly stands out, which is “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” – a 2006 book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

I don’t support the idea of intervention in Syria, not because I support Assad – or, more properly speaking the faction led (at least in name) by Assad and the Assad family. But the reasons the Assad dynasty are even there are very complex and unfortunately, like a whole host of horrors such as Gen. Pinochet in Chile, and even Saddam Hussein himself, were maneuvered into their roles by those great saviors Britain, France and or United States. There are countless examples around the world of regimes friendly to our Western powers, yet extremely unfriendly to their own citizens, who are tolerated, supported and for the most part what they do is ignored. Heaven forbid however, if those regimes turn against our Western powers or for whatever reason lose their support. Make no mistake, the support has nothing whatsoever to do with the way the regimes treat their citizens. Let me say this again: Western support for regimes around the world has nothing whatsoever to do with the way those regimes treat their own citizens.

I got particularly worried about this proposed intervention. When I saw the so-called socialist leader of France, François Hollande, making a rousing speech in support of intervention. Fresh from his success in Mali, intervening in what was actually a local conflict and not a Civil War, Holland was obviously feeling very confident. It goes without saying that, whatever your position on this intervention, the situation in Mali was completely different to what is going on in Syria. In any case, the point is that France has a terrible history in Syria, and this history is the key to the current structure of the country, and its current system of governance. It begins with one of those lovely European “agreements” – in this case the Sykes–Picot Agreement – to which those who are subject to the agreement have no part. Of course, the population of the territory now knows Syria did not enjoy the so-called French mandate very much and they objected. It’s never mentioned in the news today the violence with which the French imperialist put down these revolts and the way in which they manipulated the different and quite diverse groups within this former territory of the Ottoman Empire, in order to create a situation that would be convenient for the French, though not at all convenient for the Syrians.

To me it is an obscenity see the president of France even imagining a French military return to the Syrian territory. It was only in 1936 that something resembling an independent Syrian state actually came about, to the reluctance of France. That this independent state was problematic puts it, alongside so many other countries constructed by, and damaged by, European imperialism. The idea that having failed to bring about your ideals in this territory once, even if it was over 80 years ago, you think you have what it takes to have another crack at it, is questionable. I’m not saying that France today is the same country, country was in the 1920s, with the same mentality. However, in historical time 80 odd years isn’t really very long.

The the third reason for me is whether something is dreadful as using chemical weapons could even be stopped within this type of context. Sadly, I really don’t think that it can. I wish that it could be. If it could be. I be the first person cheering on Obama, etc. But let’s be honest, do we really think it would work? In any case, it’s really not clear what exactly is going on in Syria right now. We have to be very very careful of the trust that we put in video evidence, and in reportage. It’s not that it’s necessarily lying is just the full picture is not necessarily clear. Until the picture is clear, any foreign military intervention cannot happen – and Iraq surely taught us this, if nothing else. I’m reminded of the Kosovo intervention the late 90s. At the time this appeared to be a very clear-cut case of aggression led by Serbian leader Milosevic against a beleaguered ethnic group. Blair and Clinton’s intervention was seen to be justified, and was popular. However, the bombing of Belgrade had significant civilian targets. Subsequently, both Kosovo and Serb leaders were indicted for horrific human rights violations, war crimes, and so forth. A number of these are still unresolved. Deeper research and study shows that the Albanian claim to Kosovo was quite problematic, and the Serbian position was not really considered by politicians at the time. It is quite probable that having failed to achieve a decent intervention in Bosnia, NATO wanted to finally punish Serbia. Unfortunately, it is very likely that Kosovo will be judged by history as an unjustifiable intervention.

Lastly, we do need to address the mindset that says that the traditional imperial powers, Britain and France, together with their ally in the United States have the capabilities of doing a meaningful intervention. By that, I mean an intervention that doesn’t just make an impressive military show, but can actually put into place the building blocks of a permanent or at least long-term settlement in the area. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that this could happen. An impressive military show, yes, definitely. But life is not a videogame. It’s not about explosions and tactical successes. It’s very human lives.

The news from Syria is  terrible. It’s very clear that there are not “two sides” in this complex conflict. That aren’t good guys and bad guys. There are people suffering. If we can do anything at all, we can provide aid and we can use whatever power we do have to push as hard as possible for a diplomatic settlement. We could for example make much more of an effort to have good relations with the territories around Syria. “Soft” power – as diplomacy is sometimes called – is not powerful just because has threat of violence behind it. Soft power is power because it potentially has the power of persuasion, reason and rationality behind it

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Let the Merzbarn sink back into the Cumbrian Soil

Today the Guardian published a story about the fact that the Merzbarn has had its funding cut, and may have to close as a place for visitors to come and see the last work of the mercurial Dadaist Kurt Schwitters.

I’ve never been to the Merzbarn, but I’ve never been to Cumbria at all.

Schwitters was a Dadaist and as such a radical rejector of systems and institutions of the state,and of the art supported and promoted by those states and instituons . Hugo Ball once said that “art is not an end in itself … but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”

By Deutsch: Genja Jonas (bereits 1938 verstorben) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My feeling is that we get the art that we deserve. if we as a culture do not have it in us to value and learn from Schwitters and Merz, then let us not fetishize his works, let us allow them to drift back into the soil from whence they came.

It is interesting that with all of the filthy, corrupt venal and putrid money coming into art from the most vilest and most loathsome sources *, none of it makes its way to preserving stuff like the Merzbarn. Amusing to see the most prominent and wealthiest artists in the country donating their “ARTWORK” to be sold to raise funds (don’t dig into your pocket or anything) but no involvement, no speaking out.

Perhaps that’s as it should be. Schwitters and the Dada were really radical, oppositionists. They hated the filth and brutality of the world they found themselves in. They used art to express this rejection, worked toward new ways of seeing and thinking. Dada was anti-bourgeois and radical. The fact that it spawned lots of unradical, art school wank in the late C20th is immaterial.

After the Great War, Schwitters wrote that “Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz. It was like a revolution within me, not as it was, but as it should have been.”

Fümms bö!

*e.g. raping national resources and impoverishing the people; arms manufacturing and dealing; hedge fund exploitation; manufacturing and marketing poisons etc.  Makes the Medici and the Sforza look like fuzzy kitties.

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Vancouver murals by Arthur Shu Ren Cheng

about this time last year I posted photos of this mural in Vancouver’s Chinatown being painted by local artist Arthur Shu Ren Cheng. Well here it is one year on, an integral part of the cityscape. It’s a wonderful evocation of the city’s history. In the case of this work I think it’s very exciting that it’s painted from photographs taken in the city’s early history. In terms of murals, normally I’d be a bit iffy about paintings done from photographs, but in this case it’s entirely appropriate, and brilliantly done.

I found a Youtube video of the mural: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1olXsGm5vqw

And a really interesting article http://www.woodwardsmile.com/2010/07/24/off-the-wall-vancouver-chinatowns-new-murals-come-to-life/

I’ve always been interested in murals in any case. I remember the time I spent in Guadalajara (fantastic city) and saw the amazing murals of Jose Orozco. Now I’m married to a mural painter and I’m much more aware what mural painting involves:

above, Nazir Tanbouli painting a mural on Whiston Road,London E2

below, Jose Orozco, photographed by me 35mm slide, scanned.

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I went to see Altermodern, the 2009 Tate triennial, as curated by Nicholas Borriaud. My review is posted on A-N here:


A few immediate thoughts:

  • Either there really are no good painters catching curator’s eyes right now (so they should look harder!) OR, curators think painting is dead.
  • If painting is “dead” then we are in trouble because painting, together with drawing, is the fundamental, most basic art from. Picking up the piece of charcoal and using it to draw on the wall of the cave is one of the first steps that made us “human.”  If we are fundamentally  incapable of making art that is  based on pure imagination and simple tools, then the subsequent art  forms that are so prevalent (installation, video, performance, etc.) are really meaningless.
  • How could Borriaud allow Shezad Dawood to put such a dreadful, nay, abysmal painting in the show? His film not much better, despite the parading of many funding marks.
  • I now have respect, and even liking, for Patrick Brill, whom I used to dismiss. Mea culpa, Pat, you are damn smart.
  • Nathaniel Mellors is channelling Alfred Jarry, which in some ways is fun and even admirable, but at the same time Jarry is way, way out of  Mellors’ league.
  • It seems many artists in the show want to somehow be “like” historians, without really understanding anything about the practice of history. So their pronouncements, and their catalogues [written by curators and critics] sound like first year history essays.
  • Appropriation has had its day, and most people are not very good at it (hats off to Tacita Dean whose Russian Ending is an example of a successful appropriation).
  • I assumed Altermodern was a German neologism combining Old (alt) and Modern — but it isn’t.
  • Artists should maybe stick to exhibiting the one or two things they are REALLY good at – be it sculpture, photography OR painting etc…. and consider the rest a hobby.

enough for now.

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