ALL TOO HUMAN: LUCIAN FREUD by Laurence Fuller

Lucian Freud is the next artist essay by Peter Fuller in the All Too Human series, in co-ordination with the exhibition at TATE Britain.

LUCIAN FREUD

by Peter Fuller, 1988

Whatever estimate may be placed upon Lucian Freud's 'naked portraits' by future generations, it is unlikely that they will ever be attributed to any time other than ours. Just as the regents and regentesses of Frans Hals (a painter with whom Freud has something in common) unquestionably belong to seventeenth- century Holland, so Freud's subjects seem indubitably to be children of this troubled century. Their modernity is not in question.

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With Freud, this modernity is apparent not so much in telling appurtenances - nakedness strips away such clues as costume - as in the stance the painter adopts towards his subjects. An extensive literature has now gathered around Freud's celebrated scrutiny. Much of this emphasises the unflinching starkness of his gaze, which is not without overtones of the interrogator, even the torturer. He refuses to allow his looking to be deflected by compromise or accommodation. It is this unrelenting quality which recently led Robert Hughes to acclaim Freud as, quite simply, 'the greatest living realist painter'.

But like all 'realisms', Freud's is not without its own tendentious inflections. His pictures bring to mind the fascinated fears of Antoine Roquentin, the hero of Sartre's La Nausee, confronted in the municipal park by the intractable existence of the external world: 'All those objects . . . how can I explain? They embarrassed me; I would have liked them to exist less strongly, in a drier, more abstract way, with more reserve.' For Freud, as for Roquentin, what he might have 'liked' becomes irrelevant. He is driven by a sickening and ultimately terrible sense of the bruised and yet abundant otherness of the things and persons in the world - that is what he wants to touch and to paint.

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The critics have understandably seized upon Freud's obsession with particular imperfections, with faces and bodies pinched, slapped and swollen by life and worn down by their individual histories. We gaze at a succession of ruddy heads, flaccid bellies, and veins swelling just below the surface of the skin, like rivulets of ink. And yet we feel that, like Sartre's hero, Freud believes that 'the diversity of things, their individuality' is 'only an appearance, a veneer'. For Roquentin, this veneer 'melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, in disorder - naked, with a frightening, obscene nakedness'. Freud seems to paint the moment before such disintegration occurs. Gathered together, his 'naked portraits' descend into it.

Here we are forcefully presented with the Existential angst, if not of the 1980s, then at least of the mid-century, yet when all is said and done, Freud's painting seems untouched by our century and its aesthetic concerns. Freud's ways of working - even in the much-vaunted fleshier and fattier modes of recent years - are redolent with a sense of the past, they bristle with the hogs' hairs of tradition. Certainly, his way of picturing has changed dramatically since the enamelled and coppery images of the 1940s and early 1950s, but the wrong conclusions have sometimes been drawn from this. For Freud's work is devoid of any sense of restless innovation or of experimentation with his chosen medium for its own sake. His innovations have never seemed to me to be about the liberation of the physical means from the burden of meaning. The changes in Freud's ways of painting have been strictly in the service of his Existential vision. He has sought out ways of making the images more mundane, meatier even, more tangible and sore. If Modernism is characterised by, as Clement Greenberg used to put it, an 'ineluctable quest' for the essence of the medium, then Freud is not a Modernist. Indeed, he is a deeply conservative, even reactionary painter. But he is so because he believes that only through such aesthetic traditionalism can he speak most compellingly of our 'modern' condition.

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Freud was born in Berlin in 1922, son of Ernst Freud and grandson of Sigmund, the founder of psychoanalysis. Freud has discouraged attempts to interpret his work in relation to his grandfather's achievement, and yet it must be admitted that the tastes of the two men have much in common. For, whatever Sigmund contributed to modern man's self-conception, he remained at bottom a nineteenth-century scientific rationalist. He endeavoured to understand the deepest psychological recesses of the human personality by approaching the human subject almost as if it were a specimen for dissection. In art he was dismissive of the Modern movement and his own preferences were classical, even academic. His one thorough examination of a major plastic work of art, The Moses of Michelangelo, relies on an unremitting scrutiny of physical detail. Freud's own collection of archaeological artifacts and antiquities reflected, as much as anything, an obsession with the subject matter of death - a theme echoed again in the work of his grandson, from the studies of dead cocks and monkeys to the splayed nudes of later years, revealed to us with the pallor of the grave already flickering across them.

Yet it must be said that Lucian Freud's work also reveals other, quite different associations. His family moved to England in 1933. Freud studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and, soon after, at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham, run by Cedric Morris. He could hardly have chosen a path which brought him closer to the idiosyncratic centres of the British visual tradition, and, for all his German roots, Freud's attachment to Britain has proved as constant as anything in his life. John Russell has reported him as saying: 'All my interest and sympathy and hope circulate around the English.' And yet these differing cultural tendrils were not easily wound together. Freud responded intuitively to the empirical strand in British cultural life, but in the 1940s, when the effect of outside artistic influences upon him was at its greatest, British art was undergoing a Neo-Romantic revival.

Somehow, through his associations with Cedric Morris, his interest in Sutherland and his friendships with Craxton and Minton, Freud had stumbled into the very centre of this movement. However, he also knew he possessed an imagination stamped by what he has called 'my horror of the idyllic'.

His earliest works seem torn by these irreconcilable influences. They have been related by the critics to numerous sources: to the meticulousness of late Gothic painting, the smooth finish of Flemish miniatures, the electrified Protestant precision of Diirer, the linear classicism of Ingres, Surrealism, and the thorns and thistles of English Neo-Romantic contemporaries. Perhaps the truth is that Freud was still looking for the appropriate style and pictorial conventions through which he might express a vision as yet imperfectly formed. Anyone looking at the conte pencil drawings of 1944 like Boy with a pigeon, might have been forgiven for assuming that Freud would develop into an exquisite, if at times rather precious, lyricist. In the late 1940s, Freud struggled to veil these contradictions of vision behind an exquisite sharpness of technique, manifest in the meticulous images of his first wife, other women, and later in the decade, fellow artists such as Francis Bacon and John Minton.

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It is easy enough to see why Freud rebelled against his own early achievement. For all the laborious transcription of skin, flowers, leaves and clothes, there is something ghostly and immaterial about these images; it is as if they are not of this world. Sigmund Freud had a horror of any association between his psychoanalytic method and those of poets, astrologers, and mystics. The paradox of his life was that he wanted psychoanalysis to be recognised as a branch of scientific thinking, even though its subject matter was precisely that terrain of human thought and feeling, which was, by its very nature, 'unscientific'. He 'solved' this dilemma by a life-long hope that the insights of psychoanalysis would eventually be corroborated by the physical findings of neurology. Similarly, the terrain his grandson had chosen for himself was that of the human imagination, and yet he wished to express that imagination through works of uncompromised 'realism'. Poetry, fancy, dream and hallucination sprang up like thistles, making their insidious presence felt not only in his imagery, but even through his techniques. Freud found that his own work was beginning to arouse his horror of the idyllic.

The change of the late 1950s involved more than a loosening of the paint, the use of heavier brushes and fruitier qualities of pigment. Freud, too, wanted to see and to depict the human person as he or she really was. Despite the growing power of his imagination, the only way for him to do this was through a 'scientific' limitation of his subject matter to that which presented itself to the eye. In Freud's case, this is not a matter of some shabby fidelity to the surfaces of things, but rather it grew out of a belief comparable to that of his grandfather, that only through this sort of clinical realism can we hope to cut through the appearances of the other, to grasp at the meaning, even the truth of their otherness.

The objection has often been made to classical psychoanalysis that, despite the analyst's assumption of an 'objective' attitude to the patient as specimen, his analysis in fact involves entering into a relationship with another human being. Lucian Freud works within a similar paradox. The model (always someone well-known to the artist) enters his confined space. The conventions of sitting or sprawling for Freud demand a semblance of objectivity, an assumption that every vulnerability, however intimate and personal, may be exposed. And yet Freud is, in fact, no more a scientific realist than was his grandfather. For, insofar as his work rises above the decorative mortuary arrangements of a Pearlstein, or an Uglow, it is because this fiction of realism is made to serve a higher, if hardly softer, end: the exposure of a personality.

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As with classical psychoanalysis, doubts remain. A room full of Freud's female nudes is chilling. The canvases hung together do not suggest a series of deep personal encounters of transcendent intimacy. Few viewers feel more than a sense of revulsion, a vague sensation that they are witnessing something which degrades the persons depicted. The room is heavy with the aroma of death, bringing to my mind uncomfortable recollections of photographs taken at the liberation of Auschwitz and Belsen. Perhaps scientific realism does not work even as a useful fiction. Perhaps we can only find the other by treating him, or her, as a person, whether in studio or consulting room. It is not so much that too much reality is hard to bear. Perhaps, after all, imagination, poetry, metaphor, fancy, symbol - even idyll - are part of the reality that makes us fully human. If we wipe them away, we risk losing the other at precisely the moment when we seem about to reveal him, or her, in nakedness.

Freud, I believe, knows this. Indeed, he seems constantly to have to fight against symbolic or metaphoric expression. How else are we to explain, for example, the mortar and pestle in Large interior W9, the egg in a dish on the table in Naked girl with egg, or the rat in Naked man with rat? If these are not symbols they are something very like. They hover somewhere between the psychopathology of everyday life and the poetic metaphors of Neo-Romanticism. This, in a sense, is where Freud himself is always trying to stand, and why his pictures - at their best - have such a terrible, disconcerting power.

1988

All Too Human: Leon Kossof by Laurence Fuller

Leon Kossoff is the next artist essay by Peter Fuller in the All Too Human series, in co-ordination with the exhibition at TATE Britain.

LEON KOSSOFF

by Peter Fuller

‘Although I have drawn and painted from landscapes and people constantly I have never finished a picture without first experiencing a huge emptying of all factual and topographical knowledge,’ writes Leon Kossoff. ‘And always, the moment before finishing, the painting disappears, sometimes into greyness for ever, or sometimes into a huge heap on the floor to be reclaimed, redrawn and committed to an image which makes itself.’

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After the reclamation process is complete, a residue of ‘factual and topographical knowledge’ remains and it is crucial. I live in Graham Road, E.8. (The houses, including ours, are festooned with posters declaring, ‘Graham Road Says No to Lorries!’ The juggernauts are as yet unmoved. While I write they judder along beneath my window at the authenticated rate of three a minute.) Just a couple of minutes walk from where I am sitting typing is Dalston Junction: between 1972 and 1975 Kossoff had a studio here. He used to paint Dalston Junction Station, the tracks of the North London Line, the salmon curer’s yard in Ridley Road market, Dalston Lane, and the roofs of Hackney. These things happen to be part and parcel of my everyday reality. When I look at Kossoff’s Dalston paintings, I do not have to be told that whatever else they may or may not be they are also certainly vivid representations of this particular patch of London’s surface: some of their roots run deeply into a specific bit of the external world. The ‘emptying’ is thus perhaps not as ‘huge’ as Kossoff himself seems to feel.

Kossoff has always been attached to particular places and particular persons: he has spent long periods working from sites in the City, Bethnal Green, Willesden Junction and York Way, as well as Dalston. He did many, many paintings of a particular children’s swimming-pool, and more of the demolition of the old YMCA building. Characteristically, his work in this show centres around three subject matters: Kilburn underground station; nude studies of two women; and his father, who has sat for him now, as he puts it, ‘ever since I can remember’.

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But the objectivity, the givenness of Kossoff’s subject matters, though undeniable, is only one side of the story. In a very short written note for the catalogue of a 1973 exhibition, Kossoff wrote that he was ‘born in a now demolished building in City Road not far from St Paul’s’. He added, ‘the strange ever changing light, the endless streets and the shuddering feel of the sprawling city lingers in my mind like a faintly glimmering memory of a long forgotten, perhaps never experienced childhood, which, if rediscovered and illumi­nated, would ameliorate the pain of the present’. He is an artist who is attempting to excavate his origins, not, like the Abstract Expressionists, by trying to plummet his un­conscious so much as by scratching at the surviving concrete relics of his history. He works, intently, from the fabric of the city within a few miles of the place where he was born; he gazes,- endlessly, at the bodies of the same women, as if searching for his origins, and over and over again, almost daily, he looks into and draws his father’s face. Even the most ‘topographical’ of his paintings form part of this search. This, surely, is the implicit ‘symbolism’ of those numerous paintings he did about the demolition of the young men’s hostel in central London. Like his own birth-place in City Road, it was about to be obliterated for ever. He went there in the hope of finding traces of that ‘long forgotten, perhaps never experienced childhood’; he looked with a desperate energy and exactitude, risked finding nothing at all except dust and greyness, but discovered instead that vivid images if not of the untraceable, utopian past, then at least of the painful actuality of the factual world in the present, emerged out of that ‘huge heap’ on the studio floor.

One of his most achieved paintings, in my view, is Outside Kilburn Underground (Indian Summer). The first thing that you notice about the painting is that it depicts a very ordinary, this-worldly scene of people hurrying about their day-to-day business in a street outside a London tube station. But, despite the muted greyishness of the hues, the ripe abundance of the paint insists itself upon you. In fact, in terms of sheer quantity, there is much less than in many of Kossoff’s earlier paintings; the paint was also thinned right down in consistency before it was applied. Despite that, it is still undeniably present as voluminous stuff rather than as just pigment or stain. It has manifestly oozed and flowed, and may still be doing so beneath the surface; it is still raw and smelly, and if not excremental, then vulnerably bodily and tangibly fleshly. If the term means anything (and one should not forget that Greenberg himself culled it from his misreading of Wolfflins Malerische) then this painting certainly constitutes an example of painterliness. Indeed, if one likes that language, one could also say that in all essentials this is an ‘all-over’ painting: it does not coalesce towards a focal point; all this paint flesh seems bound together and unified beneath a single, unruptured, containing skin.

But none of this could possibly give any encouragement to a formalist or ‘Late Modernist’ reading of this painting. These devices are quite manifestly not being used for their own sake, for art’s sake, nor are they inert assertions of the physicality of paint itself. Indeed, because he wishes to refer to his experience of the actual world, Kossoff has incorporated elements of traditional (one might almost say ‘academic’) pictorial practice: this leads to very strange conjunctures within this particular coagulation of paint; although Kossoff’s rigorous pictorial structuring even retains elements of modified perspective, they are linked with a liquidity of technique in which sheer accident plays a considerable part. Similarly, he yokes together arbitrary splattering (just look at the paint marks on the dress of the little girl) with the most acute, painstakingly accurate, observational drawing.

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You can trace this contradiction throughout Kossoff’s working processes: he returns again and again to the same specific scenes and persons in the world as if in some obsessive search for traces of the particularity which he needs to embed within his paint substance. Every painting is worked, scraped off, and re-worked to this end. But all the weight of paint that is there in the final version of Outside Kilburn Underground was laid down in a few desperate, even frenzied hours of work. Certainly, Kossoff is engaged in a solipsistic, ‘painterly’, expressionistic search; but he redeems himself from suicidal engulfment within himself by his ‘inside-out’ mode of looking Leon Kossoff, Outside Kilburn Underground, for Rosalind, Indian Summer 1933, Courtesy of Fischer Fine Art.

for his own subjectivity through a stubbornly empiricist practice, rather than through introspection. You could say that his constantly frustrated longing to transform the harsh facticity of the external world into ‘a faintly glimmering memory of a long forgotten, perhaps never experienced childhood’ is rivalled only by his equally inevitably frustrated desire to turn his transient perceptions and fantasies into real and literally sensuous things (hence all the insistence upon concrete paint substance in his attempts to transcend mere imagery). His paintings come to life at the intersection of these two projects. It may be rather crude to say that Kossoff embodies, simultaneously, the most contradictory aspects of Jackson Pollock and William Coldstream: nonetheless, it contains an element of truth. But the point is that the conjuncture of these opposing approaches has hitherto allowed Kossoff to escape the respective failures of Pollock and Coldstream alike: he is neither subsumed and lost within his boundless self; nor is he saddled with an arid and ‘un- transcendable’ set of historically specific representational devices.

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You can see that what Kossoff achieved was not just an idiosyncratic, overpersonalized solution by comparing his work with Frank Auerbach’s. One has to go back a long way into history (possibly to the days of Lely/Kneller) in order to find two major British painters working in such a similar way. Taken together, their two projects amount to a contained but very definite moment in British painting — one which can be situated historically. Both Auerbach and Kossoff were pupils of David Bomberg at the Borough Polytechnic. Bomberg’s teaching at this time (the early 1950s) stood in the mainstream of that peculiarly British empirical current which can be traced back to Constable, Hume, Locke, Bacon and beyond (and whose social origins have been so brilliantly analysed by Perry Anderson). In Bomberg’s view, painting had progressed up to 1920 when it ‘dried up and lost the way’. He considered that what he and his followers were doing through their approach to physical mass constituted a ‘footnote’ to an essentially defunct practice. Auerbach and Kossoff were formed within this tradition, but it was also intersected, through them, by the immediate experience of that history which led (almost everywhere in the developed world, except in England) to that short, explosive, and otherwise quickly dispersed efflorescence of expressionism in the late 1940s and early 1950s. (This included the European COBRA movement; New York ‘Abstract Expressionism’ between 1947 and 1953, and such little known phenomena as Chicago ‘Monster Roster’ painting of the same period.) Auerbach, one should remember, was born in Berlin in 1931, and did not come to Britain until 1938; conversely, immediately before Kossoff was trained by Bomberg, he served with the army in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. The crisis of the European and American expressionist movements was that although they were an immediate and despairing response to the horror of world history, the artists involved lacked any valid conventions which allowed them to reach beyond themselves and to express that response other than as subjective rage. (There were, of course exceptions, including De Kooning and Hoffman in New York, and Leon Golub in Chicago.) But it was only in England that anyone could have thought of combining this ‘expressive’ energy with the old empiricist representational conventions. When the dust of demystifica­tion finally settles on the American episode, the true stature of what Auerbach and Kossoff were able to achieve may yet be recognized.

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And yet an important point about the limitations of their way of working emerges when you begin to explore the differences between them, which are becoming clearer and clearer as the years go by. Kossoff’s painting in the 1970s is, I think, as significant as any that he has ever produced: he knows that if his own way of avoiding ‘greyness for ever’ is to continue to be effective, he must cling to his empirical moment. That is not true of Auerbach: by the late 1960s, his work.was already showing signs of an escalating kenosis, or self-emptying, of this crucial component: Figure on a bed of 1968, for example, could almost (but not quite) have been painted by a European abstract expressionist — say Nicolas de Stael — some sixteen years before. In the 1970s, through paintings like Bacchus and Ariadne or even the marginally more topographically rooted Camden scenes, one senses that Auerbach feels the real world is slipping away from him: these are records of more or less expressionistic acts carried out in front of a object, traces of whose appearance no longer necessarily become embedded in the paintings’ forms. Auerbach at times seems in danger of becoming a virtuoso, whose only real subject matter is his own style. (I write this sadly, with the utmost respect for what he has achieved.) Some people might regard the widening differences between these two painters merely as a question of their respective ‘talents’; but I think the real reason lies elsewhere. It can be found in their respective histories: Kossoff can continue his unresolvable search for that utopian image of a childhood he may, or may not, have known in the fabric of London because his objective past was contained by the City which, almost literally, comes to symbolize his unconscious to him. It is not just that Auerbach is younger and somehow chronologically closer to the formalist art of the 1960s and 1970s, nor even that he could never become so deeply enmeshed in that highly particular English empiricism as someone who had lived here all his life: it is however, that for him, empiricism can never serve quite the same displaced subjective function as it can for Kossoff. Because he is an exile in Britain, someone whose concrete childhood was lived elsewhere, the real world, the stuff and fabric of London, does not carry the same cathexis for him. He ends up by slowly receding from it, by clinging more and more to paint substance, memories and unmediated subjectivity: his work, meanwhile, gets to look more and more like those other exiled, abstract painters of New York in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

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This particular ‘moment’ was so deeply rooted in a specific historical conjuncture that it cannot be repeated, and it cannot easily be sustained even by both of those who originated it. In one sense, at least, their remarkable achievement seems to validate Bomberg’s claim: few finer paintings have been produced in Britain since the last war than those by Auerbach and Kossoff, especially, at their best; and yet their ‘solution’ still seems to have more of the character of a footnote than a promise.

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ALL TOO HUMAN: David Bomberg by Laurence Fuller

A major exhibition at TATE Britain right now showing the best of British art, raw in the human flesh, tracks contemporary British painting back a couple generations to one teacher in particular, David Bomberg, who was a major influence on the London School; Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossof, Francis Bacon et al. A leading voice in this movement  which really came into it's own in the late 80s was Peter Fuller, who was one of the last guru like figures in art criticism. The below article originally published in 1971 documents his relationship to Bomberg's work.

DAVID BOMBERG

by Peter Fuller

David Bomberg drew a charcoal self-portrait in 1932 when he was 42 years old. As a young man he had been widely acclaimed for his ‘avant-garde’ paintings but when he became disillusioned with modernism interest in his work withered. The slant of his eyes and the line of his lips reveal both his contempt for the critics who shunned him and his stubborn determination. The strength of the heavy, binding outline joining the dome of the skull to that proud jaw seems like a declaration that he is not a broken man.

 David Bomberg, Last Self-portrait 1956, Courtesy Lilian Bomberg

David Bomberg, Last Self-portrait 1956, Courtesy Lilian Bomberg

Almost 25 years later Bomberg painted his Last Self- Portrait. In this, he is literally effaced: where the features should be, there is a shroud-like hood. The head is so fissured that the face seems to be flooding out and fusing with the background, yet the whole painting burns with a trans­figuring glare of light. At this time, Bomberg was drafting unsent letters to The Times defiantly justifying his art. A few months later, he died.

These two self-portraits exemplify the extremes of ‘expression’ which Bomberg struggled to keep simultaneously alive in his later work. To make this clear, I must digress.

The classical theory and practice of expression, dominant in western art from the Renaissance until the end of the 19th century, was concerned with what was expressed by the subject of the work — that is, with the expressiveness of Laocoon, Moses, Mona Lisa, or whatever, as revealed through their physiognomy and musculature. Expression in this sense was, like perspective, regarded as one of the painter’s necessary scientific skills.

The modern theory and practice of expression among artists began to emerge in the 1880s and became dominant about the time of the First World War. It is very different: it is concerned with the way in which the subject matter, and materials, have been worked so as to be expressive of the artist’s own feeling. In 20th century ‘expressionism’, objectively perceived anatomy becomes less and less important: the bodily basis of much painting is rather the unseen body of the artist, which is revealed through such phenomena as scale, rhythm, and simulation of somatic processes.

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This distinction is not absolute: the self-portrait has always been an exceptional genre in that the expressiveness of the subject of the work is one and the same thing with that of the artist himself. Many romantic self-portraits — like Courbet’s early painting of himself as a Desperate Man — were protests against the conventions of classical expression, or dramatic intrusions of the artist’s subjectivity into the forefront of the viewer’s concerns. This century, however, the self-portrait can equally be a way of insisting upon an objective, empirical element in painting without relinquishing the right to imaginative, personal expression.

This, I think, is what it was for Bomberg. But for the fact that the expression is his own, the charcoal drawing could be read as an exemplar of classical expression; but for the fact that it contains a residue of self-portraiture, that disinte­grating image of himself might be read as abstract expres­sionist. For the last 25 years of his life, Bomberg was determined to hold fast to both kinds of expression — and this didn’t just apply in the case of the self-portrait.

That life had been complicated enough. Bomberg was born in Birmingham in 1890, the fifth child of an immigrant Polish Jewish leather worker. When he was five, the family moved to the East End of London where Bomberg grew up not far from Spitalfields flower market. The Jewish community there was like a cultural forcing house. As an adolescent, Bomberg visited the Victoria and Albert and the British Museum to draw. He broke his indentures with a lithographer, and, after attending Sickert’s painting classes, won a scholarship to the Slade, where he studied under Henry Tonks.

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The Slade tradition which Tonks effectively founded was the last serious attempt, in England at least, to revive moribund, classical expression. The anatomical base of the old science of expression had been established through discoveries made in the dissecting room: it had fallen into decadence and mannerism when mere convention took their place. It is no accident that before he became an artist Tonks had trained as a doctor; he believed that an incisive use of eye and pencil could do what the scalpel had once done — i.e., provide an empirical base for expression. Throughout all his changes, Bomberg remained faithful to his old teacher: just before he died, he wrote, ‘I am perhaps the most unpopular artist in England only because I am a draughtsman first and painter second.’

But Bomberg also believed that on its own the eye was a stupid organ. Even before he left the Slade, he had become interested in cubism; he was associated with, although he never joined, the British vorticists. Between 1912 and 1914 he produced the stylistically innovative works — like The Mud Bath and In the Hold — for which he is still best known; these established his reputation as one of the most ambitious and radical of vanguard artists.

Bomberg made his last cubist-derived works in 1918-19; after active service in France, he had received a commission to paint a picture for Canadian War Memorials. His cubist designs were, however, rejected. Bomberg then re-worked the picture in a more ‘realist’ way. It has been suggested that this was ‘one of the few compromises of his life’.That is nonsense. Bomberg was in fact one of the first former avant-gardists to realize that the half-promise which cubism had seemed to offer of a new way of representing the world was not going to be fulfilled: cubism, as it were, was not going to provide a new ‘scientific’ base to expression which could replace the old. Its progeny did indeed turn out to be subjectivism and formalism, tendencies entirely foreign to Bomberg. He correctly prophesied that the pursuit of abstraction would culminate with the ‘Blank Page’. He knew that he had to find another way.

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The collapse of cubism left Bomberg stunned: the paintings which he made in Palestine between 1923 and 1927 manifest an obsessive, topographical naturalism. In 1929, however, he went on a painting trip to Spain; he returned there five years later. In the mists and sunsets of Toledo, and outside the town of Ronda, which perches dramatically at the summit of a cliff, he found the ‘solution’ which dominated the rest of his life. The troubled brush-strokes of these powerful landscapes are more reminiscent of the way in which he had fractured the picture surface in cubist-derived works like In the Hold than of the topography of the Palestine paintings. But the landscape as seen remains, and is indeed insisted upon. Andrew Forge described these works well when he wrote, ‘Bomberg began to think of “form” as the artist’s conscious­ness of mass, a subjective thing determined by his own physical experience of gravity, density, texture. As a result an extraordinarily strong personal note enters his work at this point; one seems to feel oneself breathing the artist’s breath in front of some of these pictures.’

Once he had discovered this path, Bomberg doggedly pursued it through remarkable series of paintings of himself, his wife Lilian, a Derbyshire bomb-store, blitzed London, the Cornish countryside, and the Cyprus landscape. He came to describe what he was doing as a quest through drawing for ‘the spirit in the mass’. Bomberg has been criticized on these grounds for being a philosophical idealist; that is to take too narrow a view. Bomberg was no mystic! He was, however, literally and temperamentally, an exile. When he spoke of his desire to reveal through drawing the spirit in ‘the billions of tons of living rock’ he was expressing his wish, never to be fulfilled, of finding his spiritual place in this world. This is why he pursued his quest with an urgency which often gave way to despair.

Far from being ‘idealist’ I would suggest that Bomberg’s late paintings are rooted in the material being of both the subject and the object; they combine Tonks’s perceptual empiricism (based on ‘objective’ study of the body as seen) with a form of ‘abstract expressionism’ which anticipates Jackson Pollock’s use of the absent presence of his own living, breathing body as the basis of his paintings. This synthesis transcends both its informing elements: Bomberg was able to evade the aridity of those who, like William Coldstream (a doctor’s son), persisted in the ‘factual’ Slade tradition, and the solipsistic mire of full abstraction, alike.

There was one other respect in which Bomberg resembled Jackson Pollock: his struggle to find a way in which he could bear witness to his experience was accompanied by periods of doubt and morose depression in which he could not paint at all. These moments were exacerbated not, as in Pollock’s case, by excessive attention, but rather by almost total disregard.

The myth of the unacknowledged genius is not good enough. It is reasonable to ask why Bomberg was so neglected, especially as, within a year of his death a gaggle of critics were momentarily to be heard proclaiming him as among the finest British painters of the century. David Sylvester was one of those critics, and what he wrote about Bomberg in the mid-sixties provides us with an answer. Sylvester praised Bomberg’s early work as ‘standing out a mile from everything else done in England under the first impact of the cubist revolution.’ However, he went on to say that ‘stylistically, Bomberg’s late work was backward-looking, added little or nothing to the language of art that had not been there 50 years before. If it is, as I believe, the finest English painting of its time, only its intrinsic qualities make it so: in terms of the history of art it’s a footnote.’

If an art historian openly relegates work which he describes as the ‘finest’ of its time to a footnote in the history of art, one might well ask him what he is including in the text.

I, too, believe that Bomberg’s later work — and, even more so, the painting of two of his pupils, Kossoff and Auerbach — is among ‘the finest of its time’. Unlike Sylvester, however, I am insisting that the book of recent art history needs to be rewritten to make this and many other submerged facts clear. It may well be that many of the footnotes belong to the text, and that much of the existing text can safely be relegated to the footnotes.

1979

Andy Warhol by Laurence Fuller

Peter Fuller's controversial views on Andy Warhol were at the root of his argument on aesthetics, now that the second draft of my screenplay about my father Modern Art is complete, I've decided it's time to start posting his most significant works. The below televised debate caused a huge stir when he was able to take on a room full of intellectuals on the subject of Warhol's work and what it means for the world.

 

Originally published in Modern Painters in 1989, this article details Peter's journey with Warhol's work and poses the question whether it's time we collectively make a decision. 

Ivon or Andy: a Time for Decision

I've never been touched by a painting. I don't want to think. The world outside would be easier to live in if we were all machines . . . My work won't last anyway. I was using cheap paint.

Andy Warhol, quoted in Victor Bockris, Warhol p. 145

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In one of his columns in The Nation, the New York critic, Arthur C. Danto, wrote that Andy Warhol was 'the nearest thing to a philosophical genius the history of art has produced'. I was surprised by this, not only because I found Warhol's art empty and banal, but also because I had read From AtoB & Back Again: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. The most profound statement in this book is probably, 'Diet pills make you want to dust and flush things down the john'. Admittedly, Warhol himself once said to a reporter, 'I don't think many people are going to believe in my philosophy, because the other ones are better'. But I knew that Danto was himself a distinguished Professor of Philosophy. How could he have reached such a judgement? It seemed to me that only in a culture which had lost sight of the perennial concerns of philosophy with the nature of the good, the true and the beautiful - a dying culture - would a leading philosopher wish to celebrate Warhol as 'a philosophical genius'.

After expressing such misguided sentiments, I received a helpful letter from Professor Danto exuding bonhomie and camaraderie, but firmly putting me straight. He found my 'curmudgeonly thoughts' about Warhol 'a lot of fun'. After all, he has always enjoyed 'cranky, quirky writing' and he can see 'there is a good heart beneath it all'. My error, however - and here I can almost feel him patting my unphilosophical English head, just as he pats the snouts of his mad spaniels - lies in the fact that I 'look at [Warhol] the wrong way'. Ah! So there's the rub! 'In fact,' the good Professor continues, 'you are looking at him as though he were trying to do what Veronese did, only failing. Think of him instead as trying to do what Hegel did in the medium of commonplace objects, and you will get closer to the point.'

 Portrait of Andy Warhol by Julian Schnabel

Portrait of Andy Warhol by Julian Schnabel

I fear that an awful lot of people are taken in by patronising pundits of this ilk. Since his death Warhol's reputation has risen exponentially. For months, book about Warhol succeeded book about Warhol with a serial monotony he would have admired. There was, of course, a monumental tome which accompanied the retrospective, in which celebrities vied with each other in the extravagance of their praise. 'There are the rocks, the sea, and the sky, the days, the hours, the minutes; pain; the temperature of a particular day - all permutations of reality - and there is Andy Warhol.' Who else, but Julian Schnabel.

As if that was not enough, there was also a massive monograph on the works by David Bourdon and sundry specialist catalogues and studies, especially on the formative years spent drawing fluffy show ads for I. Miller & Sons, Inc. Victor Bockris's biography, published early in 1989, was soon superseded by another, Loner At the Ball: The Life of Andy Warhol, by Fred Lawrence Guiles. As editor of an art magazine, I was all but submerged in a welter of Diaries, confessions and photographic essays, published not only by the great philosophical genius himself, but also by former members of his entourage, whether superstars or mere Factory drones.

I attended to the soul muzak piped out through these tomes of trivia and inanity, listening for just one indication that Warhol possessed intentions of the kind Danto attributes to him. I must admit that even if such a glint was forthcoming, it would have counted for little, for I had already stood in front of Warhol's works in his Museum of Modern Art retrospective, and had been underwhelmed.

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'If you want to know all about Andy Warhol,' Warhol said, 'just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it.' This may be one reason why the pictures are so numbingly boring. A sidewalk or a supermarket has more to offer the eye. The surface of these pictures reveals that Warhol's imagination was negligible, his painterly skills nugatory, and his aesthetic sensibility nonexistent. Hegel notwithstanding, there is nothing there except 'the evil of banality', anaesthesia itself. The real conundrum is why there are so many 'serious' people like Professor Danto, who are prepared to fritter away their time attending to such things; so many who seem willing to ignore the valiant endeavours of those who struggle to paint like Veronese - even if they often, or always, fail.

He loved to see other people dying. This was what the Factory was about: Andy was the Angel of Death's Apprentice as these people went through their shabby lives with drugs and weird sex and group sex and mass sex.

Andy looked and Andy as voyeur par excellence was the devil, because he got bored just looking. I remember reading a paper by a Freudian psychoanalyst who argued that if there was such a thing as 'libido' associated with Eros, or the Life Instincts, then, for the theory to stand up, there ought to be a hypothetical force, which he designated 'mortido', associated with Thanatos, or the Death Instincts. He suggested Narcissus as a prototype for a personality dominated by 'mortido'. Narcissus's infatuation with his own reflection in the still and silent waters of the pool was not so much a perversion of love as a manifestation of his longing for extinction. In love with himself, he was lost to 'the other'.

These days, I have less patience with Freudian psychoanalysis than I once had, least of all for those varieties of it which asssume the existence in all of us of a Death Instinct. And yet I must admit that consideration of the phenomenon of Andy Warhol has provoked in me a wellspring of sympathy for such ideas. For Warhol's self-absorption was such that he seemed barely able to connect with others, or the world. (The acquisition of my tape recorder,' he said, 'really finished whatever emotional life I might have had, but I was glad to see it go . . .1 think that once you see emotions from a certain angle you can never think of them as real again. That's what more or less has happened to me.')

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Warhol's 'affectless' way of looking at objects in the world had nothing to do with any heightening of the powers of the senses, although there are those who still try to see him that way. For instance, Robert Rosenblum makes much of the fact that Warhol worshipped regularly at the church of St Vincent Ferrer at Sixty-sixth Street and Lexington Avenue. According to Rosenblum, Warhol himself created 'disturbing new equivalents for the depiction of the sacred in earlier religious art'. His galleries of myths and superstars, Rosenblum says, 'resemble an anthology of post-Christian saints, just as his renderings of Marilyn's disembodied lips or a single soup can become the icons of a new religion, recalling the fixed isolation of holy relics in an abstract space'. Rosenblum sees in Warhol references to 'the mute void and mystery of death', especially in the blankness of Blue Electric Chair, and even 'the supernatural glitter of celestial splendor' in an image of Marilyn Monroe which he relates to 'a Byzantine madonna'. There is, he feels, 'an impalpable twinkle of sainthood' in Warhol's portrait of Joseph Beuys. Warhol, Rosenblum concludes, 'not only managed to encompass in his art the most awesome panorama of the material world we all live in, but even gave us unexpected glimpses of our new forms of heaven and hell'.

But this is nonsense. Warhol offers only a superficial vision of the material world, and the 'glimpses' of heaven and hell are no more revealing than those we can derive from plastic madonnas and two-dollar religious trinkets. The emptiness in his work was never even an analogue for that contemplative emptiness and silence which mystics have long associated with the abnegation of the self and the enrichment of the soul. Rather, it reproduces the pornographic vacuity of a Jimmy Swaggart, or a Las Vegas Crematorium. Cheap nothingness, an oblivion of kitsch.

There is no indication in any of Warhol's painting that he ever glimpsed, say, the way in which the sun can touch the leaves of the trees and make them shimmer, or the glint in the wings of the dragon-fly as it hovers over the still waters of a pond. Warhol was too busy examining his own reflection. If he had been born in seventeenth-century Holland, when Vermeer was watching the way light modulated itself over the walls, Warhol would have been trying to use a camera obscura to photograph himself in the mirror.

Nothing reveals a painter's nature better than the way he paints flowers, and for Warhol, flowers meant painting by numbers. Apart from an Easter card for I. Miller & Sons, Inc., and an inconsequential floral cover for Vogue's Fashion Living in the early 1960s, Warhol's first painting of flowers was Do It Yourself (Flowers), 1962. This consists of an enlarged and partially completed version of a 'painting-by-numbers' image in synthetic polymer. Warhol then plunged into his frozen images of death and disaster, wanted men, electric chairs and crashed cars. Bockris says that it was Henry Geldzahler who suggested to Warhol that it was 'time for some life', and showed what he meant by pointing to a magazine centrefold of flowers. Soon after, the Factory began to mass-produce flower paintings of every size from miniature to mural [see plate 19b].

Altogether, Warhol's assistants seem to have produced more than 900 flower pieces. Sometimes, there were fifteen people working on them at once. The images were reproduced on canvas by a photo-silkscreen technique. Unlike many of Warhol's pictures, these were not straightforward photographic reproductions. The contours of the flowers were touched up by hand, though rarely Warhol's own. Whatever the size or shape of the canvases, they were mounted onto standard-size stretchers provided by a local art materials shop, so the image is often cropped in peculiar ways or surrounded by a wide, white border.

In 1965, when Warhol held his first exhibition in France, he decided that he would show only flower pictures. 'I thought the French would probably like flowers because of Renoir and so on,' he said. They're in fashion this year. They look like a cheap awning. They're terrific.'

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These synthetic flowers were as close as Warhol ever got to the idea of using his senses to attend to natural forms. Even so, any such allusions to nature as they may contain are purely coincidental. According to Rainer Crone, Warhol found the image in a women's magazine where it had won second prize in a housewives' photography contest. (The housewife in question later tried to sue and was paid-off by Warhol with two flower paintings, which she immediately sold through Leo Castelli, Warhol's dealer.) Crone says that, together with Cow Wallpaper and the Silver Clouds, the Flowers were unique 'by virtue of their meaningless image content'. But, he claims, the pictures were not entirely 'dehumanised' because 'their banal abstract form' was 'a gauge against which to measure Warhol's other work'. Warhol had created the form of the flowers solely as a means to carry colour which, in these works, he used 'strictly decora- tively'.

Warhol's 'decoration', however, had nothing to do with aesthetic enhancement, nor yet with any longing for rarefied beauty and pleasure. Instead, he was interested in a sort of negative corollary of the decorative, a despoliation which bored and numbed. According to Peter Gidal, another Warhol hagiographer, this self-conscious cheapening of the image is what matters and makes Warhol's works worthy of attention. 'One accepts the flower pictures,' he writes, 'within one's taste even though beforehand one had the fine-art sense to dislike their cheapness . . . It's as if Warhol had managed to make "city flowers" out of real flowers, and that is part of his aesthetic; broadening the range of acceptability.'

There were also those who heralded the flowers as 'the ozone of the future'. Small wonder that the more perceptive critics, when confronted with these works, have scented there the stench of the mortuary and of extinction. Much has been made of the fact that the flowers are poppies - though not, as Bockris points out, opium poppies. And yet death is present not so much in the imagery itself as in the way the flower paintings were made. They secrete the vile odour of 'mortido' unredeemed by any aesthetic consolation. As even one of Warhol's most sycophantic admirers, Carter Ratcliff, has put it, 'No matter how much one wishes these flowers to remain beautiful they perish under one's gaze, as if haunted by death.'

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Now let us turn to the painting, Flower Group [see plate 10a], which Ivon Hitchens painted in 1943 - a picture which vibrates with light and life. It reminded me of that moment in 1858, when John Ruskin came to terms with the gorgeousness of the great Venetian painters, especially Veronese, and recognised 'a great worldly harmony running through all they did'. For a time, Ruskin came to believe that this 'worldly harmony' had more spiritual content than most religious painting.

In one sense, Hitchens's chosen subject matter was banal enough: a vase of flowers, including poppies, placed in an interior. His way of seeing, too, was unembellished. Patrick Heron once described him as engaged in 'the humble transcription, in terms of paint, of sensation itself'. As Heron points out, he eschewed the self-consciously 'symbolic' and 'poetic', even though these were much in vogue among his contempories. And yet, in pictures like Flower Group, the motif is not only fresh, but also transfigured -just as Van Gogh could transfigure a pair of boots and imbue them with the tragic sentiments of a pieta.

This transfiguration is not some kitsch 'added extra' like Warhol's sprayed glitter around the head of Beuys, rather it springs directly from Hitchens's consummate visual intelligence. 'A picture,' he said, 'is compounded of three parts - one part artist, one part nature, one part the work itself. All three should sing together.' He looked with longing - love is not an inappropriate word - on the visible world, and he searched hard until he had found pictorial equivalents for what he saw, and, indeed, what he felt about what he saw. He tried to realise his truth to nature through composition rather than through imitation of the immediate appearances of things. He abandoned the focused perspective that had dominated Western landscape painting, and turned rather to a way of depicting which drew on his knowledge of Japanese pictorial composition, on Cubist space and on Fauvist colour. But, for Hitchens, all these things helped to provide him with the plastic and pictorial means through which he could express, with a striking freshness, an ancient yearning for a sense of unity with the world of nature. 'Art,' he used to insist, 'is not reporting. It is memory.'

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The image of the landscape as paradise is always derived, in some sense, from memories of fusion with the mother. This, I think, may have been what Roger Fry was referring to when he talked about the dependence of the purest aesthetic emotion upon the arousal of 'some very deep, very vague, and immensely generalized reminiscences'. It was little short of a tragedy that all of Hitchens's paintings of the female nude were excluded from his 1989 retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery, for Hitchens's pictures of reclining women were deliciously free of those injured imagos of the fallen human body which haunt the paintings of the School of London today. Somehow, his fresh pictorial techniques allowed him to infuse the familiar symbolism of woman-as-landscape with a new life, in much the same way that Henry Moore's new sculptural forms enabled him to effect something similar in sculpture.

For Hitchens, as for so many of the great English landscape painters, landscape was more than the locus for sense experiences, more than a matter of topography. In those glimpses of paradise which he offers - especially in the marvellous series of paintings of a rather pedestrian view of Terwick Mill, which quite rightly formed the core of the Serpentine exhibition - formal means have replaced the relics of religious iconography and the tired devices of picturesque pastoral poetry. The intimations of unity and transcendence in Hitchens's paintings are achieved through formal means. While not, perhaps, 'the ozone of the future', his pictures remain uncompromisingly secular and modern. Yet in another sense, they retain a strong if silent feeling of continuity with the aesthetic and spiritual truths of the past. As a painter of the common-or-garden, he is, one might say, on the side of the angels, or at least of life.

There are no doubt those who will say it is wrong to compare two artists whose work is so different in intention, but in a way, that comparison has already been made. 'At present,' writes Lynne Cooke, my weather-vane of art-institutional orthodoxy, 'there seems to be a widespread consensus that the recent artists who require most study are Warhol and Beuys.' It is this consensus among the historians and art administrators which dictates that Warhol should have a major exhibition at the Hayward Gallery while Hitchens received only a half-hearted showing, apres Warhol's juvenilia, at the Serpentine. (Warhol, it should be said, last received a full-scale retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1971; Hitchens has not had a major institutional retrospective since his Tate Gallery showing in 1963. I discount the small exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1979, like that at the Serpentine in 1989, as rather half-hearted affairs. Needless to say, Hitchens's work is practically unknown in the United States.)

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A few years ago I tried to interest the major London art institutions, especially the Hayward Gallery, in a show about British landscape painting from the 1940s until the present day. My idea was to begin with the paintings of Hitchens, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Victor Pasmore and others, from the war years, and to reveal how, contrary to the teaching of the 'consensus', the English landscape painting tradition had flourished right down to the present day. To take just two examples from among many, I would have included paintings by William Tillyer and Derek Hyatt, two of the best living painters of the landscape. This was a project which I knew would have broken new ground, and I remain convinced it would also have been popular with British gallery-goers, who have always responded enthusiastically to English landscape.

There was, however, no interest among the institutions. Joanna Drew, director of the Hayward Gallery, has since found space in her programme not only for the Warhol retrospective, but for one by Gilbert and George. Drew told me that she would only give consideration to a landscape exhibition which contained work by Conceptualists, photographers and others using 'new media' - that is, the sort of landscape show which would have had no aesthetic value and would have been almost as successful in keeping the public away as the Hayward's recent exhibition of minor Latin American genre art. Landscape painting, as such, she told me, was a 'funny business' largely pursued by amateurs. Warhol, incidentally, could certainly not be accused of 'amateurism'. 'Business art,' he said, 'is the step that comes after Art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist.' And so he did.

On the other hand, what Ivon Hitchens had to say could only have been achieved through painting of the purest and most disinterested kind. In one sense Hitchens was a consummate professional, in another he was sustained by the conventions of amateurism - certainly by its obliviousness to fame and fashion. The same, I believe, is also true of many of the best landscape painters who have come after. Perhaps they don't paint as well as Veronese did; nevertheless, such work is more worthy of our attention and study, and, more importantly, more conducive to our enjoyment, than Warhol's ersatz petals of death or Beuys's deceased hares. And that would be true even if Warhol and Beuys were the greatest philosophical minds the history of Western art has yet produced.

1989

Iridescent Demon Dramas by Laurence Fuller

 Portrait by Olivia Leona

Portrait by Olivia Leona

Iridescent demon dramas play  beast like games and pour city champagne over dusty draws that sparkle in my guts. Pushed back into the past,  where Romance  joined it's aweful tune to the trumpet tunnels of the sky. Baskets of fruit usher summertime and the deep unending questions I feel too small to answer, too big for the little things, too small for the cosmos.


Treading the boards again, ghosts speak more clarity with more definite embodiment than what I can realize about myself in this discomforting pith of my voice.

If my eyes befell my fate would they speak with that same reflecting attitude of hope that is churning in me.

I want to know the creatures fighting eachothers discomfort in the basement of your forgotten master.

You want pain, that beaten flesh, that smacked up look you have when I grip your body. Wanting tension of the soul. Wanting to see me hunt, to see me fight, to prove prove prove there is more to it than waiting. To see evidence there is a citadel of myself outside these walls. Look out  the window of my eyes and see what I have built. This palace of desire took thousand lives stripped from my bare and vulnerable bones to make. The cement furnishings that wrap the gate are we built from the nerves and veins which run my body. You'll be surprised at it's towering spire and I want you to remember.

Where am I in your forgotten self, left squandering the scraps of a person I wish was. Lost in technique, other people's words, other people's thoughts, picked up tidbits from their reaching parcels of other people. Brushstrokes I never made and genius I was only listening to.

Chivalrous shining plates of metal armored bouncing mirrors of yourself onto my reflection. Massacre of the innocents, the intervention of the Sabine women, contorted muscles wrenching around golden shields. Turner saw in nature the handiwork of God and adventure found the Italians resting on the banks of the Rennaissance.

Ripped up solutions to get love he said she wants what's in your heart convinced of creating that small bouts of fear that you slip, take me for granted, I'm gone too soon, to know you I've got to see you bare, why won't you let me see you bare? Hide your dreams peaking through pin holes reflecting glimmers from windows behind doors under covers of trusting nightfalls that we'll be ok in the arms of disbelief, can't believe I found you, that you're different, all that I hoped I would find.

Sleep that rectified discomfort you were wrestling with, throwing diamonds against the wall hoping they'd catch meaning on their long way down to the chattering floor where they all live growing spider legs and scuttering the carpet for a home. Restless sleep made mornings drip away their spirits in time enchanted stings.

That imperfect silence, shifting sheets we bare naked skin on double touched memories of hope and promised that chink against a cracked mirror of ourselves.

Roaring golden fabrics rolling down walls of an art princess in an ivory tower carved by Irish craftsman, paid for by Victorian gentry in their quest for beauty. That steeple weeps and weeps like a beacon calling for another lonely spirit to join in that wayward peace lost in the furrows of discontent. I wish there was an easier way to live a more certain path for the guidance of art to be directed. Forever embrace this perfect moment in our youth it will be gone in time. Records will speak of that moment we fought for eachother in the war of love. Rusty battlefields of no man's land.

That masterpiece which beckons the soul in its unfinished state to manifest, beats at the door of your heart unattended threatens its discomfort to your waking state with the passing days sitting stubbornly at your footsteps wailing in a scratched unrelenting tone.

Where's that piece of me in it all, swimming through pop culture idiots to get to the seventh day that rare moment in time when we speak of matters that change.

Dust bins of light and music, mad rambuncious escalades of cultivated dialog speak of this moving earth, sons and moons braving the air to quiet solitude of time.

That promise of the muddy man that I am, brutish and ferocious in my heart, because I know who I am, flooded with bloody thoughts of glory.

What are you thinking?

Echoes Of You - Open Letter with Christopher Lyndon Gee by Laurence Fuller

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During my first lead role in an amateur theatre production of Shakespeare's the Tempest when I was 13 years old, a well established avant-garde conductor called Christopher Lyndon-Gee came to the performance, after the show he walked out and shook my hand, 'he said you truly do have the natural gift'. It was one of the few moments I can remember which set my course as an actor, it was a fuse which was lit early on with a determination that has never dulled. He later wrote my letter of recommendation for Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

In honor of Echoes Of You premiering at LA Shorts International Film Festival I got back in touch with my old mentors to discuss those early memories in my journey as an artist and how his guidance encouraged me through the darkest times, much like what happens in this film.

 

LAURENCE

Dear Christopher,

I have a short film called Echoes Of You which is premiering at LA Shorts International Film Festival this year, it’s about music. I couldn’t be there in person to support as I’m shooting my next film in LA. When I read the script it reminded me of your early encouragement, though directly parallel to this story. Here’s what I’ve written so far about it;

I would like to post about it for the LA Shorts screening, if you’d be open to having a bit of a dialog with me about it, that I could publish later as an open letter?

Precision is uniquely important to an orchestra, with so many disparate parts which need to come together with precision and timing, do you ever feel pressure during a performance or is it so well rehearsed by the time you get there, you can feel confident not too many variables will arise?

If you want something bad enough, you will get it, it may not be in the form you had initially conceived because life is not ideal, but it is important to have faith in the poetry of life. My character in the film got what he was searching for in the end just not in the way he thought it would come. 

In the week before shooting I read Viktor E Frenkel’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” in which he suggests the survivors of the concentration camps in Aueschwitz of which he himself was a survivor, had something to live for, that they could cherish on the inside. That they had been touched by great works of art, literature, theatre and music and these moments in their life were the memories which got them through. 

Confronted with a boy who is living through possibly the worst conditions a child could be subjected to in our society, I think Andrew gave him all that he had, and aside from the odd sandwich and a place to crash, what he had to give was music, the stronger Andrew could instill this dream of music, the better chance that echoes had of speaking through all the overwhelming obstacles this boy had to encounter. 

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There’s a lot of important things in this film to do with early advantages and art. A Mozart for instance was a child prodigy, his talents throughout time have proven to be an exceptional rarity. He was also very privileged in his early life to have his father devoted to his son’s musical career, Leopold Mozart was not only strict in his disciplining of his son’s mastery of the piano but in his early career, chaperoning him around the court’s of Vienna, getting him to play for Royalty. Picasso’s father was an art teacher, who encouraged his son’s draftsmanship, and was almost deferent to his abilities once Picasso had mastered the brush by the age of 16, his father put his own brush down and resolved he’d never be able to paint as well as that.

A lot of people don’t get that support from their families. In this case it’s necessary to be one’s own support system. To manifest what you would want your heroes to say to you. 

I didn’t have a father, but I found along the way some amazing mentors, you were a role model for me as the accomplished figure in the arts that took a shine to my artistic pursuits. Your daughter Francesca took you to see me perform in The Tempest as Caliban in my high school production when I was 14, I remember that experience of validation when you shook my hand afterwards and said that I had the natural talent for acting, it’s honestly something that’s carried me through some of the harder times in my journeys.

As someone who may not have had the same privileges of a Mozart or a Picasso, do you believe that a passion for the art in itself can be enough to carry a person through all the hardest of times?

Hope to speak to you soon!

Laurence

 

CHRISTOPHER

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Dear Laurence,

Wonderful to hear from you! I often think of you, and I follow your Twitter feed and your consistent stream of accomplishments with great interest.

Many many apologies for my hugely delayed reply!! Your letter arrived right at the beginning of the dense period of examinations at the university, followed by an orgy of grading and so on. I was simply swamped and exhausted. Now, thankfully, I have arrived in Europe (Germany, Lithuania to follow) for a summer schedule of festival concerts and recordings. Here my head is clear, and I can with pleasure reply to you. (I fear, however, I did not read your letter thoroughly enough at the time, merely skimmed it, and we must by now have missed the deadline for your Cannes discussion. No matter: you can use these ideas any time.)

- Yes, the precision required of an orchestral performance is extraordinary: tens of thousands of fine details that must be absolutely exact, to the micro-second and to the exact decibel of loudness or softness and relative balance.  And then some: matters of interpretation and mood and style; what the lay person would term the emotional content of the music.

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All of this is, of course, rehearsed with a surgeon’s attention at the microscopic level. But in performance, other elements come into play, and the “excitement” of having a live audience causes a certain level of freedom and even of improvisation, within broad limits that have been established. It’s this that brings the music alive, and means that no two orchestras sound exactly alike. I guess we would call it personality; collective personality, that is. Every orchestral musician and every conductor is acutely aware of what this is, though it is impossible to define.

- Yes, wanting something badly enough can get you quite a distance along the road to the object of your life’s passion. You would not believe the humble beginnings to which I can attest - I’ll tell you all about it some day. But obstacles do come in the usual guises: politics, connections, the power of money and so on. Even these can be overcome ... but it’s a fight that threatens to sap one’s life force.

- In a place like Auschwitz (or, for that matter, a poor neighbourhood of New York - The Bronx, say) it is the power of one’s inner life that sustains and gives strength to survive. Yes, having a vivid mental image of, say, a Beethoven or Mahler Symphony, or something as “simple” as a Schubert song, Can be all the difference between despair and the power to continue.

- Mozart is a miracle so rare as to be unique, a peculiarity. Just recently, a ten-year-old boy won the Menuhin violin competition; he plays superbly, of course, and with an almost parodistic confidence and “maturity” (an illusion, I think), but his is not a creative gift, like Mozart's, it is the reproductive talent of the performer, often merely copied from other performances seen. An awful lot of what we do, as executing musicians, feels like being some kind of performing monkey .... most especially when, for instance in a “high society” reception at someone or other’s Fifth Avenue apartment, one is expected to play some kind of encore for the amusement of the very very rich.

Mozart is something else; a breath of the divine. Picasso too; Artemisia Gentileschi — who so far excelled her father — another instance of this kind of miracle.

Thus it is that I consider my composing to be infinitely more important that anything I do on the podium.

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In different ways to you, I also did not have a father or mentors until a couple of teachers took me under the wing quite late, in my twenties. And yes, I simply knew I had something inside me that had to get out, and I fought and fought until it did.

I’m greatly honoured that you ascribe to me some of the affirmation that helped you, too, believe in yourself. I still remember that Caliban! Everything about the production was meritorious, a good level school effort. Then, you sprang forth, hidden in bushes or whatever somewhere downstage, and you simply had it, the gift, the magic. I know it’s going to take you a very long way indeed.

A while back, you invited me to a private screening of a new movie, I think it was Road to the Well; and I would have come, but your invitation arrived only about 24 or 48 hours before the LA date. Another time, ask me early enough (a week’s notice?) and I WILL hop on a plane for “the coast”. Would love to see you and catch up with your work .... and I still have those extensive score sketches that I did for Possessions, and I greatly hope we will indeed do a movie together one of these days.

Warmest good wishes,

Christopher 

Julian Schnabel: iMAGES OF GOD by Laurence Fuller

A new Julian Schnabel show is on at the Legion Of Honor in San Francisco until August 5th 2018, to mark the finishing touches that have just been made on the working draft of Modern Art, The Peter Fuller Project, I wanted to play contrarian by posting Peter's article on Schnabel. He always had very strong opinions about his work, and despite their several encounters was never able to shift his view. I've always loved Schnabel as a filmmaker ever since I saw Basquiat when I was a boy, since I've equaly loved Before Night Fall and Diving Bell & The Butterfly. Schnabel says he considers himself more the painter than the filmmaker, but I can't help but wonder what his take on Modern Art might be.

Julian Schnabel

By Peter Fuller

Over the last four years I have seen a good many of Schnabel’s paintings, but I had not, until this exhibition, set eyes on one that manifested any painterly qualities at all. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to look at a picture like Alexander Pope, which indicates that Schnabel could conceivably learn to draw; or at Seed, which shows that, after all, he might have some decorative sensibility. Drawing and decorative sensibility are, you must understand, two of the necessary prerequisites for good painting.

But I don’t want to exaggerate Schnabel’s slender talents. At the private view, I stood beside Kasmin and Gillian Ayres (yes, we were all there) in front of Alexander Pope, and Kasmin confided that if he had seen the painting in a studio in Wapping he wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Nor should he have. The average first-year intake in any British art school includes several painters capable of realising better work than Schnabel at his best.

At least I hope it does. For whatever flickerings of potential this young tyro possesses, they cannot cover up the fact that he is a painter with the imagination of a retarded adolescent; no techni­cal mastery; no intuitive feeling for pictorial space; no sensitivity towards, or grasp of, tradition; and a colour sense rather less developed than that of Congo, the chimpanzee who was taught (among other things) a crude responsiveness to colour harmonies by Desmond Morris in the late 1950s. However potentially educable as a painter Schnabel may or may not be, his work is just not worthy of serious attention by anyone with a developed taste in this particular art form.

And yet, sadly, this cannot be the end of the matter. We also have to contend with the fact that, as Richard Francis so accurately put it in his hagiographic Tate catalogue, ‘Julian Schnabel, born in 1951, has become, since his first exhibition at Mary Boone’s gallery in New York in 1979, one of the most celebrated young artists working anywhere in the world today.’ How can this be?

More than once, the comparison has been made with Jasper Johns, who was an overnight success following his first one-man show with Leo Castelli (a business associate of Boone’s) in 1958. Johns appeared on the cover of Artnews - until that point a tendentious ‘abstract’ journal, MOMA immediately bought work and the show was a sell-out even before it opened. ‘Abstract Expressionism is Dead! Long live Pop Art!’ they cried. And Castelli totted up the takings from his cultural coup.

There are similarities, of course; but the comparison is unfair to Johns. He may not have been Leonardo, but he did have some realised talent. He could, and still can, draw quite well. He worked terribly hard at getting his intractable surfaces right. He could even think a bit too - even if not as much as his fruity protagonists and fruitier prices suggest. If Johns was hyped, it was on the basis of some remote kernel of achievement. But Schnabel?

The qualitative distinction is important because it is often implied that market activity, on its own, provides a complete ‘explanation’ of why an artist of such low quality as Schnabel has achieved such cultural prominence. The thesis underlying this view is that good art and entrepreneurial economic activity are somehow necessarily antithetical, whereas cultural prominence and market success are necessarily linked: though fashionable and congenial, I believe this theory to be nonsense.

If you disagree with me, you clearly have not got round to visiting ‘The Genius of Venice’ at the Royal Academy: this you really should do since it is undoubtedly the finest art exhibition to have been staged in the capital in living memory. Sixteenth- century Venetian painting was flushed with the residues of reli­gious illusions; but it was, par excellence, an art created for a new breed of princely merchants. In form and in content, the free­standing oil pictures of the day reflect this emergent secular mercantilism; they are enthused by the values of the Rialto rather than St Mark’s.

Sixteenth-century Venetian art celebrated mercantile material­ism in its subject matter; it manifested a relish in exotic fabrics, fine furs and silks, precious metals and stones, and ample acreages of enticing female flesh. It also showed a parallel sensuality in the medium itself: the sensuous possibilities of oil were excitedly discovered and exploited. Now, of course, we may or may not like the ethical values and economic systems which provided the social soil for these sumptuous pictures: but we could deny neither that they were closely related to intense market activity, nor that sixteenth-century Venetian painting is one of the very greatest of all human achievements in the plastic arts.

Nor is this association between a market economy and the efflorescence of creative activity an isolated instance. There is, for example, the lesser, but none the less considerable, case of the achievement of seventeenth-century Dutch painters, which evolved in conjunction with the expansion of a domestic picture market. The vision of these painters was petty bourgeois in content, subject matter, and form. (How neatly their pictures fitted into the trim interiors they depicted.) And yet who would deny that, say, Vermeer was one of the finest painters to have emerged in the West?

Even in more recent times, there is no necessary connection between the determinative influence of an active market, and degradation of aesthetic quality: the worst that can be said of the market in our time is that it is fragmented, but all its differing sectors taken together are effectively aesthetically neutral, since they elevate good and bad alike. Thus whereas it is perfectly true the market can sell anything - even folded blankets, canned shit, twigs, bricks and so forth - there is no evidence that such phenomena were caused by the market, nor that the market prefers such things, nor even that it welcomed their arrival. Indeed, it could credibly be argued that much of the most deca­dent art of our time only came into view because those who produced it were insulated from the full impact of market forces, either through the possession of private wealth, or, more recently, through the existing system of ‘hands-off’ government patronage.

Dealers do not have to be altruistic to prefer works of quality to fashionable rubbish; not only is good art an easier sell, it is also a much better long-term investment prospect. But there is, of course, no direct channel between market success and cultural prominence. If you study the art market in Britain over the last quarter-century, you will quickly discover that there has been an active market in high-priced, high-quality English painting — for example in the work of Freud, Auerbach or Kossoff. But, until four or five years ago, despite their buoyancy within the market­place, these painters received virtually no art world attention: their bibliographies are still very much shorter than Schnabel’s today. There has also been a very active market in high-priced works of low or negligible quality (e.g. Terence Cuneo, David Shepherd, Montagu Dawson) which still have received little or no critical attention. I conclude nothing from all this, except that intensification of market activity is neither an indication of the presence of aesthetic quality, nor yet of its absence; nor does market success lead in any simple or necessary way to the sort of cultural over-exposure which young Schnabel is currently en­joying.

So we have to look deeper. We have to ask what sort of market, and who is it serving? What sort of cultural values do the patrons of this kind of art hold? The point is not that the Saatchis are rich: it is rather that, despite their wealth, they do not have the taste of those merchant princes, honest innkeepers of seventeenth-century Holland, or even the wealthy country-house aristocrats who have been buying Lucian Freuds all these years.

The Saatchis spend their working lives promoting a dominant cultural form, advertising, which allows no space for the social expression of individual subjectivity. It is therefore predictable that, unlike merchant princes, aristocrats, Dutch innkeepers and others who possessed both wealth and taste, they prefer fine art forms which are nothing but a solipsistic, infantile wallowing in the excremental gold of the otherwise excluded subjective dimen­sion. Schnabel and Waddington are entitled, if they so wish, to serve the tasteless sensibilities of the advertising tycoons. But it is one thing for such people to pursue their degraded tastes in private, and quite another for our leading modern art institution, the Tate Gallery, to indulge those tastes in public. I believe that Alan Bowness should indicate to us what the true aesthetic qualities of the Schnabels he has so freely purchased are: and if he cannot do so, he should resign.

1984

Rebel poem by Laurence Fuller

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Rebel artist, rebel against the father, rebel with the river, rebel bending time, bending lines bending all that’s mine, he makes what’s his and gives it back to the great unending shimmer. I’ll give to you if I freely choose, I’ll walk my limping gate, my rebel friend, I’ll be there in the end, rebel makes his own chewed up calamity in time, rebel’s wish they had more than just their solitude to offer, a sorry piece of meat wrapped flimsy round his wrist, he hides the true prize made valor, mist and sin.

A back scratched up with passion flares, the rebel sits wanting simple things like love and fortune to turn the clock forward a day or two when all will be different and the world a cloister for his Romanticism.

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The Minotaur - Poem by Laurence Fuller

 Laurence Fuller by Olivia Leona

Laurence Fuller by Olivia Leona

 Minotaur by George Frederic Watts

Minotaur by George Frederic Watts

Volcanoe woman erupt in the night, red glowing matter, born again energy of our universe like stars drip their solar tears, embers slide engulfing trees in the new.

Progeny bursts out black and charred but with the will and reason to be, lava colored flesh pushing off the surface, shaking clean the molten crust, fiercely flipping of face chest and arms reaching to the sky, the land, the vast uncertain future, beckoning the right to what’s theirs, progression of this new world born of chaos, limbs of salt and flame, chewed up.

Don’t you miss me?

I’m here now, the small and fragile past tremble, cowering under old branches shading patches of soft grass they sit til petals grow from their skin, fluttering flowers pattering like butterfly wings against dried out old bones.

Sex, money, power discomforts their sleeping state. The status quo of perfect order grinding out its slow conclusion. 

 The Minotaur by Pablo Picasso

The Minotaur by Pablo Picasso

 Picasso

Picasso


Lava breathes over, soil bubbles. The birth of the Minotaur has come. Its hoof steemed and pressed into the mud, worms and roots snapped and shuddered under beast. Strapped harnessed, unchained body brushes it’s own will to the point of its desire, snout puffed, eyes bleeding flames of desire. Horns flexed their polished and pointed threat to the rumbling skies under which he was born thirty two wretched years prior the earth summoned his greater purpose unfulfilled in the greatness of his strength. 


When will the Viking call through his hollow horns, bellowing echoes to the mountains for, marching pelts to fill the hills and gather from man their plunder? When will he be hungry enough to shed his resting fur and ride the Minotaur to lava’s edge?

 Minotaur by Maggie Hambling

Minotaur by Maggie Hambling

Patrick Heron at TATE St Ives - Essay by Peter Fuller 1981 by Laurence Fuller

Patrick Heron is having a major retrospective exhibition at TATE St Ives until September 30th 2018, in support of one of Britain's most accomplished painters I wanted to post my father Peter Fuller's essay discussing his work, their relationship and foreshadowing his longevity from 1981.

PATRICK HERON

By Peter Fuller 1981

 Long Cadmium with Ceruleum in Violet, Patrick Heron 1977

Long Cadmium with Ceruleum in Violet, Patrick Heron 1977

Long Cadmium with Ceruleum in Violet (Boycott): July- Novemher 1977 is the largest of a series of canvases Heron made for an exhibition at the University of Texas where he was Doty Lecturer in Fine Art for 1978; and it is, in fact, very large: 13 by 6'/2 feet, to be precise. Boycott comes into it, apparently, because just as Heron—radio playing in his studio—was about to begin a nine-hour stint of laying down the red background in oils, the batsman was walking up to the wicket to open the innings against Australia. All very English, and quite right, too. 

Long Cadmium is a rather lovely work. On the bottom left- hand side, there is an irregular circle of lighter red; above it, top-left, a flash of yellow. Towards the upper right-hand corner there is a cluster of large, cut-out-style shapes, often over-lapping each other, in blue, purple, red, green and brown. But all these forms float against a vast ocean of red. As might be expected from Heron, Long Cadmium offers a lot of intelligent, tightly-packed, ‘painterly’ incident if you push your nose up close against its surface, and a great humming sea of vibrating and receding colour as soon as you step away from it. But Long Cadmium is not just pleasant to look at. It also, as it were, delivers all that Heron promises in his writing about what he takes to be good painting. (His three E. William Doty lectures, published by the University of Texas as The Colour of Colour, give a resume of his past and present thinking.)

 Still Life, Patrick Heron

Still Life, Patrick Heron

And just what Heron takes to be good painting, let it be said, is a contentious matter. For, back in the 1950s, when he was also a practising art critic, Heron was locked into a heated polemic against John Berger. Heron was essentially arguing for ‘The Autonomy of Art’, which he tended to associate with the pursuit of abstraction, the work of certain St Ives painters, and (at that time) with a defence of the new work coming out of America. Berger then advocated a modified socialist realism; he emphasized ‘social relevance’ and subject matter, and reacted negatively to most abstract painting—especially that coming from America. Heron thus told his Texas audience that, in 1955, he considered ‘J°lm Berger’s Marxist criticism . . . the main threat to major painting in my country’.

And what did Heron himself think major painting should be like? Well, it seems, rather like Long Cadmium. For example, in 1953 Heron wrote that ‘the secret of good painting . . . lies in its adjustment of an inescapable dualism’—that between the illusion of depth, and the physical reality of the flat picture- surface. ‘Good painting’, he claimed, ‘creates an experience which contains both. It creates a sensation of voluminous spatial reality which is so intimately bound up with the flatnesses of the design at the surface that it may be said to exist only in terms of such pictorial flatness’. Long Cadmium is, of course, rooted in this dualism: it also clearly draws its strengths from that response and commitment to colour which led Heron to declare, in 1962: ‘It is obvious that colour is now the only direction in which painting can travel. Painting has still a continent left to explore, in the direction of colour (and in no other direction)’.

Does the fact that Long Cadmium is an enjoyable painting mean that, in those debates, Heron was right and Berger wrong? I do not think so. Today—with the advantage of hindsight—I don’t agree with what either of them was saying then. John Ruskin used to draw a distinction between what he called ‘aesthesis’ (or the response to sensuous pleasure) and ‘theoria’ (or the response to beauty of one’s whole moral being). It must be emphasized that, for Ruskin, ‘morals’ meant much more than narrowly ethical considerations: the word for him embraced all that we would now identify under such categories as human emotions, ‘structures of feeling’, and the whole rich terrain of symbolic thought. Now Ruskin has been much derided for this distinction: but unless one is prepared to argue that the response we have to a beautiful red silk scarf, is in every significant respect equatable with our response to, say, the Sistine Chapel, then it must be admitted not just that Ruskin had a point, but that it was a very good one indeed.

 Interior with Garden Window, Patrick Heron

Interior with Garden Window, Patrick Heron

Now it seems to me that painting like Patrick Heron’s is in pursuit of pure ‘aesthesis’. Indeed, that, I take it, is what Heron is trying to say when he writes such things as, ‘concepts and also symbols, are the enemy of painting, which has as its unique domain the realm of pure visual sensation. Painting should start in that multi-coloured, and at first amorphous, texture of coloured light which is what fills your vision, from eyelid to eyelid, when you open your eyes. The finished painting should also end in pure sensation of colour—having passed into the realm of the conceptual in the process, and come out again at the other side . . And so forth.

Ruskin himself took a dim view of pure ‘aesthesis’ (hence his quarrel with Whistler). He said something about taking no notice of the feelings of the beautiful which we share with spiders and flies. But I cannot see that there is anything morally, politically, or aesthetically wrong with a quest for an art which gives pleasure through visual sensation alone. Indeed, at a time when, culturally, we lack the sort of shared symbolic order which religion once provided, good decorative surfaces (which are as rare as they are desirable) are very often of this kind. Heron is a good decorative painter—as the successful application of his designs to wall hangings, and carpets for the Cavendish hotel, bears witness.

But—whatever Heron says—this is not the ‘only direction’ for painting; indeed, that language of pure form, enjoyable for its own sake, is peculiarly difficult (and perhaps impossible) to arrive at on the canvas surface. Because we are not spiders and flies, all our sensations and experiences tend to be subject to imaginative and symbolic transformations. The greatest art of the past and the present has always recognized and made full use of this fact.

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Heron may think that I am thereby seeking to minimize the importance of those ‘abstract’ elements in all painting on which he places such emphasis. Not so. I firmly believe that the greatest painting is always rooted in a mastery of ‘aesthesis’: in other words, Giotto’s blues were unrivalled in his time, but he offers us rather more than an unrivalled sense of blue. Indeed, his blues appear as good as they do, not just because of the physical sensations to which they give rise, but as a result of the affective (or symbolic) resonances which such blue has within the context of his painting.

More than once in the course of his Doty lectures, Heron reminded his Texan listeners that he was friendly with the late Herbert Read. He failed, however, to point out that it was Herbert Read who first suggested that the formal values which Clive Bell and Roger Fry (and it would seem Heron himself) expressly dissociate from symbolism—through such concepts as ‘Significant Form’—might themselves be symbolic. And this of course explains why by no means all abstract painting need be as closely linked to ‘aesthesis’ to the exclusion of ‘theoria’ as Patrick Heron wants his to be. Rothko said that those who saw only the formal relationships and colour harmonies in his work were missing the point; he referred to a spiritual intention which many can confirm having experienced in front of the works themselves. But plenty of abstract artists have demanded of their viewers responses which were not limited to visual sensation alone, but which involved what Ruskin would have described as ‘their whole moral being’. Even Heron (whatever he says) clearly rises above decorative sensation through the emotive power of works like Long Cadmium. It may be that he himself, however unwittingly, sometimes draws upon such a symbolism of form. And it is for this reason that, just as the social realist critics were wrong to over-emphasize manifest content and subject matter, so, too, Heron was wrong to insist that criticism should be solely formal, technical, and ‘as descriptive of the visual facts as we can make it.’ After all, Herbert Read’s criticism was never like that.

1981

Paul T Murray obituary - Paint It Red by Laurence Fuller

In rare moments in Los Angeles you come across a Paul T Murray, a man who in the back alley of North Hollywood hangs the sign over the door Celtic Films. A room dedicated to a simple task to make films, there is a large TV in the corner and a writing desk with a computer. I sat in a creaking wooden chair, with an open beer can in front of me, I look at the place mat surrounded byfour leafclovers, and 'The Claddagh Ring'.


"Love, Loyalty and Friendship"

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On the walls hang posters of his films, I know the faces that peer out, but not the titles, all but for one What Doesn't Kill You with Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke. The gritty Boston street drama based on a true story of one of the harshest places in America, with its brutal tribal men, who culturally remain as they were when they stepped off the boats onto the American shores, tough, Irish, families, fleeing the famine in home country and seeking opportunity away from poverty in the new world. Their warmth radiates to those close to them, and loyal to those they can touch, though this loyalty always comes in the form of danger.


I feel at home in Paul's violence, not as something I relate to, but I feel there's an honesty to it and a commitment to communicating both his darkest parts and his most optimistic. As we sat looking at eachother, I felt hugged and punched at the same time. I trust that feeling, those I don't trust are the ones who are too quick to look away.


I first met Paul on set of Road To The Well, he had a boyish excitement about the whole thing, he was chain smoking and telling me stories about the favorite gangster films that he had made,


He had a sort of reluctant excitement about Road To The Well, he knew how great it was something special and different, he was just pissed off he didn’t write it. Though for his character he definitely got in some great lines, that were not in the script, hurling all sorts of strange creative insults no-one had heard before, as if from the deep down roots of his Boston outcast upbringing, at one point he called me a “flicky dicker boy”.


When I called the director Jon Cvack to tell him the news Paul had passed he said Paul had texted him a few weeks earlier to ask him quite suggestively what was his favorite line from the film. Jon reluctantly responded Paul it was yours “you can’t smoke a cigarette in school but you can smoke a cock”. He later told me that Jon had contacted him up just to tell him that he wanted to contact the AFI to officially enter it as one of the best lines in cinema history. Oh the net you weaved Paul.

  “You had what amounted to a Redneck, homophobic and almost chilling tour-de-force(on the Redneck scale) from Paul T. Murray as Bill. His cameo appearance looked like it was straight out of a Trump campaign rally. The lead stars were magnificent, but the actors playing the minor roles went a long way to making this film as great as it was.” - Ruthless Reviews 9.5/10

 “You had what amounted to a Redneck, homophobic and almost chilling tour-de-force(on the Redneck scale) from Paul T. Murray as Bill. His cameo appearance looked like it was straight out of a Trump campaign rally. The lead stars were magnificent, but the actors playing the minor roles went a long way to making this film as great as it was.” - Ruthless Reviews 9.5/10

Paul knew, as I had done with Road To The Well, that I would be putting this down on paper at some point. He showed me his jumper which read "Careful or you'll end up in my novel". We shared a knowing laugh, more than the prediction of these words, the script itself had been taken from real relationships in Paul's life.


Cigarette in hand Paul looked over at me with that same intensity that weighted our connection, only this time it was without a director to balance it all out, this time he was the director.


A number of years ago, he’d written this script based on himself and two friends, all struggling to be artists in Los Angeles in their respective fields and all competing for various degrees of validation from eachother and ultimately trying to win. Paul was known amongst them as the most uncompromising. Perhaps because of his solitary occupation as a writer, pre-determined this self generating nature.


When it came to the acting, he continually referred to 'that method shit', and would imitate the lines and actions of the characters for the actors to copy, but he did so with a self awareness, he knew it was counterintuitive to the actors process to work so externally, so he never fully said the lines or was too precise about the movements. He wanted the actors to interpret his ghost like impressions of the characters. But even then he rarely if ever once did this to me, on several occasions he came up to me and said 'I know you hate it when I do that, I can tell you hate it'.


Running beneath Paul's direction was the subconscious father figure of David Mamet. Though Mamet, may have had a very positive influence on the structure of the story, which moves at a rapid pace, when it comes to the acting what often overshadows Mamet's early work in line with Stanislavsky, is his later polemic against the actor True & False, a number of essays misrepresenting Stanislavsky’s ideas, calling into question the validity of Method Acting, or as Paul would call it “That Method shit”. However with Paul, as with Mamet deep down, there was a man beneath who had faith in the deeper calling of an actor's work, but who on the surface had been beaten into the idea, by both his social groups and his profession as a screenwriter to limits of stand on your mark, say the line and don't bump into the furniture. This sense of honest confrontation, masculine intensity and the striving to create all fed into the performance, they were all simply pieces of a much larger picture. It was to do with loyalty.


I knew Paul cared too much to actually mean any of it, and from his direction which seemed as Mamet’s to be loosely inspired by a method-esuqe approach anyway, sparing the imitation stuff. And with the wisdom of a man who has been in Los Angeles working in the gritty, raw, molten energy of the indie film world for thirty five years, he knew that as long as I respected his script, and I did, he would respect my acting. It was an unspoken deal. 

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The only time that line was crossed was with a mishap on the painting itself and what would ultimately become Paul’s favorite shot of the movie. The paint wasn’t flicking off the brush, because it was too gloopy, Paul interpreted my hesitation as having something to do with Method Theory getting in the way, so he burst out of the directors chair with a red faced impassioned feeling of being right, having uncovered that flaw to this theory he so objected to, waving beer can in the air declaring “you see this fucking Method shit, it’s just a movie, flick the paint like this” then grabbing the brush from my hand he struck it across the canvas. After several minutes of ranting about the limitations of The Method getting in the way of the scene which came out more like “fucking method shit, just flick the fucking paint”. At which point even the crew started to calm him down and say “Paul the paint is just too dry, it needs to be more watery for him to flick, it’s got nothing to do with Method acting”. Perhaps it was all a roose to get me to write down this very anecdote about this great shot at this very moment of his passing.


Leaving Paul’s office that day, I had one last question for him, does Cairan have a faith? Paul said ‘He’s a half assed Catholic’, he then took a golden cross which was hanging on his bookshelf and fastened it around my neck 'wear this’. It was to be the cross I wear in the film. From then on any concept of a search was not discussed, but for a look in his eye and a matching cross around his neck…”

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 … I wrote the above story, a year ago, long before any of us had any inkling what would happen. Though there’s a definite retrospect to it, that was a retrospective way that he would talk to me, like he knew I would be someone to record his story and tell tales of what it was like to make films with him after he was gone. It’s hard to imagine him not being there now for the release of this film. He saw this last movie to its end and to getting it picked up for release by Gravitas Ventures end of Summer, he stuck around to finish it.


He said to me a few months ago after we had finished recording ADR for the film “Paint It Red”, that he thought ‘it was over for him’, something the doctor told him about his health.


It’s no secret I’ve gravitated to strong male role models in my life, father figures to fill that shadow left by my own Dad, Paul was certainly one of those figures, he nurtured and manifested a performance out of me in this film I’ll always look back on, if not for the incredible journey that brought us all together, for the symbol of what it means to give everything to your art, which Paul has now immortalized for us all.


That night before we started shooting “Paint It Red” I had wanted to rehearse the scenes to our film, but Paul very forcibly sat his three lead actors down Tommy, Chad and I to watch his favorite movie, which was the first thing he’d written “Very Mean Men”, it was the start of this whole journey for him. I questioned why we weren’t reading the scenes in stead of watching some seemingly irrelevant movie instead, for him it was all a linear narrative, that film bled into this and the next and the next and finally to this one and this moment, he was weaving his frantic and violently beautiful biography this entire time.


On set he was like a furnace of intensity, his eyes were a flame and that flamed lashed my performance, I felt Cairan was Paul’s artistic integrity, his heart, and I took on that projection of all that he was protecting within himself.Even in his violence he wanted to protect me. He wanted to protect me from all the mess that inevitably comes with filmmaking, because he saw me like a son, or like some pure version of his younger self, if only this or that had gone another way, that part of himself that was pure, that part of himself that was an artist.

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He would say to me “You’re a true artist… BUT SO AM I!” he was often almost affronted by that artistry, he respected it deeply and reluctantly. Fighting it in every form outside of himself, and yet cherishing it as the core of his being. I think he saw me like a kind actor angel that was sent to watch over this last film of his and honor his passing. It makes sense now why he was so ferocious when I expressed we take another look at the cut, I was suppose to honor it unequivocally under law of the Claddagh Ring. I had no idea on that smokey, grimy, dusty encounter that day on set of a completely different film that I would be picked to do that. Maybe it was because most people were afraid of him, but I saw through his violence to some strange artistic expression.


At one point he threatened to stab me because I had suggested some rewrites to his script. He called me the night he found out this had happened, “You don’t rewrite Paul T Murray came booming down the phone”. I told him to calm down, I could smell the beer on his breathe from down the other end of the line, “I will stab you and leave lying in the back of an alley”, “see you tomorrow” I said as I hung up the phone. The next day I showed up unannounced at his doorstep, he saw me walking up from his window and heard yelling from inside the house, “oh no you didn’t do that!”. But once I got inside we stay down both with boyish grins on our faces and over a manly beer declared our respect and love for each other, as I still tried to convince him of some rewrites and he with an impossibly immovable conviction denied even the smallest alteration to his writing.


Among the suggested rewrites I’d put in a story about the artists’ journey, just to piss him off I want to publish it here. Mostly because I’d written it for him and everything he’d been through.

 The painting used in the film by Laurence Fuller

The painting used in the film by Laurence Fuller

 “A peasant woodcarver is having a terrible year, can’t sell a single carving, his dream of one day making the King’s throne is slipping away. His neighbor is a stone mason who is finishing a statue for the King’s castle. He was the most sort after stone mason in the country. So the peasant carver asks for his advice, "what’s you’re trick he asks?"


The stone mason says “There are no tricks, land each chisel as truly as you can, in time your fate will find you."


The peasant says "that’s nonsense, everyone’s got tricks”. The next morning he looks in the stone mason’s window to see what he’s really doing in there. All he sees is the mason chiseling carefully and deliberately. As he’s peering in, a giant plum falls off a wagon on the road nearby driven by huge dark horses owned by mercenaries. The plum is huge, he’s never seen anything like it, it’s three times his size. If he can cultivate this plum, grow it and sell it, it will make him rich and he can buy his way to court. He begins to push it home.


The peasant tries to push the plum across the field to his home, but the plum is so large his muscles become swollen and tired. He tries everything to push the plum more effectively, gets inside of it, climbs on top, pushes from his hands and knees. Nothing shifts the plum...


Suddenly, slightly, after weeks of pushing, the plum starts to move, the peasant pushes steadily all evening until the plum bumps into a naked girl lying in the field. She says "you look tired, lie down here on my breast, in the morning you will get there faster". He slides across her skin grasps her naked body and falls asleep. In the middle of the night, he wakes up hearing a splashing sound, she is eating into the plum, she has eaten so much the plum is down to two thirds its size and she is about to explode. He is so tired at that point, he could let her take the rest, but something deeper compels him to take it back from her. Fate had left this plum in his hands for a reason, he just didn't know what yet. The girl is now so fat, she cannot stop him, she falls backwards and cannot get up.


He pushes further until he comes across several cranes foraging in the grass. A man with a net comes forward

“Are you looking to hoist that plum?” asks the man

“Yes” says the peasant


My birds can carry it. He ties the plum to the birds feet and orders them to fly. The cranes lift the plum off the ground and begin to fly in the other direction.

“That’s not the direction of my house, I told you it was towards the west”

The crane farmer shrugs at the peasant and says

“This is Capitalism”


Suddenly the birds get caught in a tree. The peasant runs over and starts climbing the tree. The further he climbs the more he can see of the field and his home. He is arrested halfway in awe of what he sees, the stone mason has finished his sculpture and it is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. He climbs to the top of the tree and whispers in the birds ear.


"Fly back to the stone mason" for no truer chisel had ever been landed, and in that moment he gave up his tricks.”

 

There was blood and guts in Paul’s work, it was almost like he was challenging the audience, questioning “What you thought creation was possible without spilling your veins, cutting your bones against the keys, the camera, the vile in your stomach, you think all these broken decaying parts of you get preserved and we all come out of this alive? This is it, this is all there is, I am an artist and that’s all I am”.

Paint It Red is released this August through distributor Gravitas Ventures

Trailer - https://vimeo.com/241068148

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Fight For It - Poem by Laurence Fuller

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Fight For It: Take me back to that place wrought with tense, push pull biting sticks, ripped up, flipped over with beauty breeze. Uncovered my unconscious friends all mumbling down there my deep desires, pushing fighting kicking against spiritual discomforts, angered by friendly giants, shattered shards of being he said. I spike those shards through shadow enemies.

 

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She lingers too long, I covert no-one. Mick Jagger saves and disrupts the passage of time. Blister feet twist moral issues into gravel, then we’ll get to the bottom of it, fuck it I’ll shoot a movie, she’ll travel to Steppenwolf.

 

 

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I’ll put all that mad gun energy into Hollywood legends and bitter filmmakers, 35mm flick through lenses as brothers brood and piss in each others coke cups. Macho ripples of blood rushing, clashing bucks, man a solitary creature instigated by the wild winds of other people, get the girl, fight the beast. To get to Elysium, you have to put in the work, there’s still dark shadows to travel. 

 

 

 

David Hockney striking poses, hiding behind strange images, bullshit images, images that lie, lying postures, but it’s a generational thing, respect for your elders and betters they say, as they line crimson walls speaking their quiet truths of accomplishment. I know these people, they have no use for the young, we washed the shores of their mistaken growth, we on our own terms have the future gripped and poised to move in our direction, our law, our provenance, give us your stories elders and leave us to carve and govern this youth that’s all we have. When that runs out we’ll be just like you, you think. Tell that to the void, it’s the only certainty you have.

 

 

 

 Sketch by Olivia Leona

Sketch by Olivia Leona


Take me back there, dream drifters we fly. I’ll fight for gold to drape your neck, I’ll wage wars to get you back, launching a thousand ships is like bashed up kindle to the worlds I will make for us.  

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Open Letters To Marcelle Hanselaar II by Laurence Fuller

LAURENCE

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Dear M, 

Today I miss you deeply. Trying to gather my thoughts and myself. So much is happening, I’m hoping to rise again from the safety of a shell that I enclose myself within to finish my screenplay. At least that is what I tell myself and what has happened. It’s done now and all stripping back is happening in rewrites. I’m in the stage of reshaping the muddy mold of the first impression, knocking the rusty edges off and finding form beneath with finer rivets. Hope and faith guiding me further to some inevitable conclusion I'm not yet aware of.

I recently emerged from a dark night's sleep. I wrote a poem about it:

 

     

 

 

Concepts like moths in the sea of night, pass us by with the promise of faith in the wind. Our subjectivity allowing for all possibilities to be true and the truth waves its fragile flag above our circumstance, our desires stand in place of a mast. We catch wind of the future by standing strong for the morning light to come and carry us to adventure. Night you tremor in darkness with creaking planks hitting against shore, rock, whale or wasp. The presence of divine keeps us safe in the order of things and being lights up the imminent shadows of man.

 

I’ve learnt for one, not to loose that side of myself that feels to loose. To not loose loss and to gloss with fleeting moments. To stay connected to that quiet voice in myself even in the face of so much noise coming from the outside. To stay swimming in the stream of myself. Not like Narcissus standing on its banks watching reflections, but like a bear wading through that river hungrily on the hunt for a salmon catch.

That story I told you about provocative women, about loosing my virginity. I’ve realized now, how much of my life and relationships with women were defined by this and led me through all the same fires of that first lost love. My hope is that this latest flame licked me hard enough to put the taste for fire away in the recesses of myself, wash it back with great gulps of water. I want water now, water to restore me.

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I threw myself into Martial Arts, in particular back into Muay Thai to practice the ancient ways of the warrior to restore my inner strength, discipline and sense of self.

Howling at the night, beckoning the wild, ravaged by dogs, cherished by wolves, I found an old master in the reeds and rubble of the crumbled bricks and iron bars, he told me; Warriors are a different breed tied to infinity they look for guidance from the courage of their heart and the dust off their knuckles as they push off the floor.

How are you? I miss you?

Love

Lxoxo

 

MARCELLE

Dear Laurence,

I printed your email out as it feels different somehow to read it holding it in my hand.

The struggle you describe, the rising from that imaginary safety shell wherein you create, to the stepping outside to critically assess what you actually have done is a hard one and naturally there is the longing to stay hidden because life can be too frazzling.


The irony of course is that in order to create you need to have thin skin, a constant intense empathy in which there is a freeflow, without obstruction,between the outside and inside,  but at the same time the medium you create in; painting, writing, acting is about  definition, bounderies and form.This contradiction feels quite isolating and from this a lot of other existential shit comes up as well. Feels like the dark night but it isn’t. This is what we are when all else is silenced.

I am really looking forward to see what you have written, I remember some of your storyboards like This Choir of Angels, you have great rythm of words.

I have been quite restless for awhile, I am struggling against not having a voice or the will to paint yet at the same time feeling that without it I will drown.


Have many questions about what I am doing and if like you say, isn’t it that we tell ourselves stories why we do or don’t things at that in reality we just try to avoid looking at that gaping hole? And then, I spend time with friends, other artists, my sister and I laugh and love and feel warm and connected and all those thoughts and feelings evaporate.

Re your provocative women story; all of our relationships are shaped by early erotic experiences and from that certain patterns, limitations, repeats are inevitable. And however exciting it is to return again and again to that wound it doesn’t do you any good. Round and round we go till the centrifrugal energy throws us out of that orbit.

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Recently I was very attracted to someone and was tempted to let it develop till I saw I was doing exactly the same as I had done several times before and I walked away, felt very strong and victorious that I counteracted my default pattern even though it cost me the a very pleasurable affair.

We are each in are own way warriors, sometimes unnoticable and non dramatic. We are all tied to infinity as you say, but sometimes I prefer things on a smaller scale, like the feeling that we are all tied to each other, breathing out.

Wish you were here, right now.
Take care of yourself and keep the lines open
Love M

The Poet & The Actor by Laurence Fuller

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The poet fights the ardor of his recompense, asking forgiveness for his follies in constant battle with the universe of the mind. Poetry’s unlimited potential reaches out across the universe of the mind its unlimited potential reaches out across the multitude of time, filtering only back to the passing minutes and seconds of reacting soundbites when limited consciousness is distracted by the comings and goings of it all.

Pointless at this point to the keeping brisk pushing to the tipping point. It’s all dipped in ink anyway, seduced and misguided.

The actor walks the other side of that divide. Drifting for a story, hunting artists like a javelin strapped warrior catching scent of something beautiful. Treasure hunter, digging through rusted rubble, scaffold concrete blocks that populate the artistic wasteland of bleached out pages. ‪Until some strange structure builds madly put of the ground, bricks and vines stretching across loose & under nourished civilizations‬. Paradise petals blooming their naturalness towards a new sun that bounces off gold plated rooftop, Elysium beyond that scrap heap. A story to tell.

The palace of the mind, polished, furnished, hung, carved and remodeled. It stretches out to its brittle peaks seeking infinity. 

Photograph by Samson Kohanski

"THE METHOD" LEGACY: Foundations; Phantom Day-Lewis & BOVTS - Part I by Laurence Fuller

Last Sunday after the ceremony, sitting in the Roosevelt after party sipping a gin cocktail after the show, where the first Oscars were held, I contemplated on the proceedings and the history of acting in film which has led us here. It seemed inappropriate to write or publish this in anticipation of the Oscars, because I didn't think he would win this year, he didn't think he would win this year "it's been great just to sit back and watch Gary collect his dues", I felt as many did it would be Gary for Darkest Hour. So this piece is something of a reflection of what we have lost, and the mantle now left to young leading men, like Timothée Chalamet, or those unknowns challenging the guard with independent films as Day-Lewis once did with My Beautiful Launderette or My Left Foot.

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ELYSIUM VERTO by Laurence Fuller

The epochal and transforming convulsions in the shape of our world is causing ruptures in civilization. The ice flows are breaking up, the earths plates are shifting and clutching together to form something new. But what is happening to us? History is being re-written.

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Marcelle Hanselaar Open Letter by Laurence Fuller

I feel about your work, that you are engaged in a healthy relationship with your demons, you control them and they bend to your will as the puppet master of the whole affair.
 
Do you feel connected to your unconscious? Not in the Freudian sense but in the emotional sense, do you feel these pictures come from inside you, beyond just your imagination or picture making. I don't just mean the quirky dark stuff but the portraits, the silence of your subjects when they are alone in thought, I feel there are speaking a lot in their silence, perhaps in the Lucian Freudian sense.

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David Hockney: All the World’s a Stage by Laurence Fuller

In honor of David Hockney's 80th birthday I wanted to share this article All The World's A Stage by my father Peter Fuller, it's one of the last pieces he wrote on Hockney, though they were lifelong friends and he wrote about Hockney's work since the late Sixties. In true Peter Fuller fashion it starts out talking about Hockney's art direction for various theatre productions and spirals into a retrospective of his life and career and the strangeness of subjectivity which always seemed to permeate their discussions. 

ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE

by Peter Fuller

 David Hockney's art direction for  Magic Flute

David Hockney's art direction for Magic Flute

'Well, I'm not that interested in the theatre itself,' David Hockney said in 1970. 'I did one play. I designed Ubu Roi. When I was doing that, I suddenly realised that a theatrical device in painting is quite different to a theatrical device in theatre.' He added, 'I'm really not interested in theatre design or anything.'

Four years later, John Cox, a producer, invited Hockney to design a new production of Stravinsky's opera, The Rake's Progress, for Glyndebourne. Predictably, Hockney had profound misgivings, but he loved opera and he was experiencing a deep crisis of confidence about his own painting. The idea of working in a new medium appealed to him. So, too, did the subject matter. Hockney himself had made a 'modern life' version of Hogarth's famous series of prints in the early 1960s. He accepted Cox's offer, and the resulting designs were shown in the exhibition, Hockney Paints the Stage, at the Hayward Gallery in August 1985.

Hockney insisted that the opera should be set in the eighteenth century - as reinterpreted from a twentieth-century viewpoint. Even though the relationship between Igor Stravinsky's work and Hogarth's is tenuous, Hockney decided to make persistent reference not just to the subject matter but also to the pictorial techniques of Hogarth's prints. He made use of dramatic perspectival foreshortenings - especially in the Bedlam scene; and, improbably, turned even cross-hatching into a theatrical device. Intersecting lines covered not only the back-drops, but even the furniture and the costumes, creating the illusion that everything has been 'engraved' in three dimensions. The result proved so original and effective that Hockney was immediately invited to design a Magic Flute which was staged at Glyndebourne in 1978.

During the year he spent working on Mozart's opera, Hockney produced no paintings at all. Again, his sumptuous sets captured the audiences' imagination. In 1981, he went on to complete two triple bills for New York's Metropolitan Opera House. The first of these included Satie's Parade, Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias, and Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortileges; the second, three works by Stravinsky.

Soon after, Martin Friedman, director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, invited Hockney to make the exhibition, Hockney Paints the Stage. Friedman was concerned about the best way of displaying the sets in an art gallery. Sarastro's marvellous utopian kingdom in The Magic Flute, peopled with strangely costumed beasts, was one thing on an opera house stage, but it might be killed stone dead if it was presented simply as a stuffed menagerie against a static back-drop.

For a long time, Hockney appeared indifferent to these difficulties. He was deeply, even obsessively, immersed in his experiments with photography. He argued that the conventional photograph lacked time and therefore life. To overcome this, he started collaging together whole series of exposures and re-integrating them into single images which, he insisted, evaded the fatal photographic flaw.

At the eleventh hour, he managed to tear himself away from his Polaroids and decided to re-create seven stage sets especially for the Minneapolis exhibition. Working at extraordinary speed, on a gigantic scale, he produced what were, in effect, seven autonomous new works. He not only re-painted the props and back-drops himself, but fabricated his first sculptures to represent various characters from the operas and ballets. His esoteric researches into the photographic image exerted a powerful influence on what he produced. Tamino, the flute player in the Mozart opera, became, in Friedman's words, 'a picaresque abstraction of multi-coloured planes'. Hockney himself explained, 'a walking lizard might have twenty feet, leaving a trail behind him to tell us where he has been'. He added that the lizard could have 'three heads in different positions and, as in the photographs, you believe it's one'.

Despite originally denying any interest in theatre design, Hockney's mastery of the medium was hardly surprising. Even when he worked in only two dimensions his principal means of expression had been the playful manipulation of depictive surface and spatial illusion. Behind all the wit and whimsy lay pressing psychological and aesthetic preoccupations.

As every art student knows, David Hockney was born in Bradford in 1937. At his local College of Art he learned to draw, and to paint after the manner of Sickert. He went to the Royal College of Art in 1959 and felt uncertain about what to do there. At first, he spent a lot of time making two painstaking drawings of a skeleton. From this time on, in times of doubt or confusion, he has often fallen back on the apparent certainties of naturalism.

  We Two Boys Clinging Together , David Hockney

We Two Boys Clinging Together, David Hockney

Those were heady days in the College. Hockney's art soon reflected his espousal of homosexuality, pacifism, Cliff Richard and vegetarianism. His manner of painting now recalled the self-conscious infantilism of Dubuffet, or, closer to home, Roger Hilton. But there was always a sense of deliberate distancing in Hockney. Even at his most 'painterly' - as in We Two Boys Together Clinging - Hockney always held back, like a knowing child, and offered a kind of painted parody of his experience, replete with jokes and ironic references.

Although a gulf divided their sensibilities, Hockney also greatly admired Francis Bacon. Yet where Bacon seemed almost murderously intent upon exposing the post-operative entrails of his subjects, Hockney preferred to dress them up. Many of his early paintings, especially A Grand Procession of Dignitaries in the Semi-Egyptian Style, reveal his interest in the paradoxes of stagey space, performances, tassels and role-playing.

Hockney left the Royal College in 1962 with a gold medal and a ready-made success. He had his first one-man show at Kasmin's the following year. During the 1960s the nature of his concerns became increasingly clear. He showed little interest in the expressive manipulation of his materials, nor did he want to use colour as a means of conveying intense emotion. Although he worked constantly with the male figure, he rarely showed much inclination to reveal character through attention to physiognomy or anatomical gesture. He showed no signs of wanting to involve himself with, say, the way in which natural light fell upon objects, nuanced and revealed them. For a while, at least, artifice was all.

   Play Within A Play , David Hockney

 Play Within A Play, David Hockney

At this time he became fascinated by a picture in the National Gallery by Domenichino, Apollo Killing Cyclops, in which the action is depicted through a painting of a tapestry made from a painting. The edge of the tapestry is carefully rendered; in the bottom right-hand corner it is folded back, revealing a 'real' painted dwarf. This picture inspired Hockney's painting, Play Within a Play, which shows his dealer, John Kasmin, with his nose pressed against a real sheet of glass laid across the picture surface. Kasmin stands in a shallow pictorial space behind which hangs the painted version of an illusionistic tapestry.

Soon after making this picture Hockney spent much of his time in California, where he was drawn to the imagery of showers, pools and jets of water. Curtains appear again and again in his work. 'They are always about to hide something or reveal something,' he said. There are also references to the reflective paradoxes the painter encounters when he seeks to represent water. These years, the early 1960s, were a period of high and confident conceit, when Hockney seemed content to remain trapped within a painted world in which illusion opened out onto illusion, revealing no ultimate reality.

  Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices, David Hockney

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices, David Hockney

The first hints of change came about in an awkward attempt to do a 'naturalistic' drawing of his father, associated with the painting, Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices. Here, a 'realistic' painted father sits beside a stuck-on heap of cubistic cylinders. Two years later, when working on The Room, Tarzana - a portrait of his boy-friend, Peter Schlesinger, laid out like Boucher's pink-bottomed Mademoiselle O'Murphy - Hockney suddenly realised, 'This is the first time I'm taking any notice of shadows and light.'

 

He then plunged into a series of portraits and set-pieces, including the well-known double portraits of couples failing to relate, which showed a new reliance on the sort of appearances revealed by photography. Indeed, photography was coming to play an increasing part in Hockney's working methods. But this naturalism, too, he soon found cloying. In the early 1970s, he made a number of landscapes, effectively transcribed from photographs which had the dead and unappealing appearance of works by the American Photo-Realist school.

  A Bigger Splash,  David Hockney

A Bigger Splash, David Hockney

Neither the elaborate devices of Post-Cubism, nor an apparently straightforward naturalism, seemed sufficient to carry Hockney beyond that shimmering pool of narcissistic illusion and self-reflection in which he had imprisoned himself. Following the break-up of his relationship with Schlesinger, Hockney's picture- making entered a period of profound crisis, captured superficially in Jack Hazan's film, A Bigger Splash. He developed a new interest in Van Gogh, whom he regarded as an artist who had been able to deal directly with experience without being either aesthetically innovative or conventionally naturalistic. But Hockney could find no equivalent for Van Gogh's solution in his own painting. Perhaps he came closest to what he was looking for in the fine drawings he made of Celia, his only close woman friend. These possess an intimacy and a sense of otherness, conspicuously absent from so many of his male images.

The invitation to produce the designs for A Rake's Progress came in the middle of this crisis in his picturing. It provided him with an immediate solution: the chance to construct his artifices in real space, to make three-dimensional pictures which had an undeniable existence in a world beyond himself. The culmination of The Rake's Progress work was a painting based on an image by Hogarth, which Hockney called Kerby [see jacket of book]. In this piece, all the devices which should lead to a naturalistic image are reversed or inverted, and yet the picture remains legible.

  A Rake's Progress,  David Hockney

A Rake's Progress, David Hockney

Hockney tried to combine these discoveries with a replenished naturalism in the portraits of his parents that he produced in the mid-1970s. I remember visiting him at this time in his London studio. He told me, 'When you paint your parents, you paint an idea of them as well. They exist in your mind, even though they are not in front of you. And the problem is, is that part of reality?'

One cannot escape the observation that Mrs Hockney has the face of an ageing Celia, and Celia the look of a young Mrs Hockney. Perhaps he was no nearer an escape from narcissism? In any event, despite going through two versions, the double portrait of his parents was not a success. Hockney abandoned it and subsumed himself in the designs for The Magic Flute.

In the early 1980s he plunged into his critique of the photographic image. Though the 'cameraworks' are not, in themselves, an aesthetic success, they represent another stage in his struggle against being imprisoned within mere illusions of appearances. Once again, Hockney found it easiest to find his 'solutions' by transferring the problem into the third dimension - by making the exuberant, colourful and convincing set-pieces for Hockney Paints the Stage.

With Hockne), the shifting of levels is incessant and compulsive. Many years ago, when he had finished his complex picture of Kasmin trapped behind a sheet of glass, he added irony to irony by having a tapestry made of the image. Then a painter friend visited him and, to Hockney's delight, offered to make a painting from the tapestry.

 Peter Fuller & David Hockney

Peter Fuller & David Hockney

At the same time as Hockney Paints the Stage, he also held an exhibition of pictures at Kasmin's Knoedler Gallery in Cork Street, called Wider Perspectives are Needed Now. In this show Hockney re-incorporated lessons he learned from his theatre work into enormous paintings which were like depicted images of those fanciful illusions which he had previously found he cou’d only create in three dimensions on the stage.

There are those for whom all of Hockney's work will amount to no more than a kind of illustrational game-playing. Douglas Cooper was not alone in his view that Hockney was an overrated minor artist. But this is to ignore both his manifest skills and his consistent capacity to entertain. I do not intend this word in any derogatory sense. Most art produced today lacks such a capacity to suspend our disbelief, to hold and engage us. At the very least, Hockney's achievement is comparable to John Fowles's in literature, or Hitchcock's in the cinema. He beguiles his viewers into a world of uncertainty and delightful paradox, but behind the fagade, one senses the most serious intent.

Like his erstwhile hero, Francis Bacon, Hockney sees men and women as somehow trapped within their subjectivity. Perhaps this is where the vicissitudes of the homosexual imagination can appeal to a more general existential condition. For Hockney, as for Bacon, we are like caged animals: the jungle we see is just an illusion, painted on the concrete wall of our enclosure. Bacon's perception of this situation led him to claw his way through the skin into the splayed intestine. Hockney invites us to break through the wall - to confront another illusion, another depicted jungle, on the boundary beyond.

In some ways, Hockney may be a lesser artist than Bacon, and yet I have every sympathy with those who prefer the consolations of Hockney's mirroring artifices, his plays within plays within plays, to Bacon's dubious 'realism'. Bacon can only offer the ultimate presence of death, while Hockney invites us to celebrate the illusion of life.

1985

HOWARD HODGKIN & Robert Natkin by Peter Fuller by Laurence Fuller

Howard Hodgkin died earlier this year, he was perhaps the most prominent abstract artist to come out of Britain. The American painter Robert Natkin, a lesser known abstract expressionist and the one American painter my father Peter Fuller chose to champion. Studying Abstract Expressionism at the moment for the development of a new film project, though I never naturally gravitated to abstraction in my own aesthetic. I find it strange Natkin is often left out of the dialogue as his paintings are so beautiful. This article, first published in Modern Painters in 1988, remains a tribute to all three men. At this time Peter was exploring spiritual and transcendental ideas, establishing a new religious order out of art. Abstraction usually pushed reimagining of the natural world too far out even for Peter's line of thinking, but he accepted the challenge when it came to these two men, Natkin in particular.

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