Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Monthly Archives: February 2012

Marilyn Monroe by Gordon Wharton

Marilyn tucks into ‘Ulysses’

Caught up recently with My Week with Marilyn. (Michelle Williams excellent as Monroe, with Branagh hamming it up expertly as Olivier; all nicely evocative, but a thin script, and one doesn’t quite believe Colin Clark’s account anyway.) And then yesterday Marilyn, the Last Sessions in Channel 4’s True Stories slot, a pop-documentary focused on her relationship with analyst Ralph Greenson, based on the supposed John Miner transcriptions of Greenson’s tapes, and presumably related to the novel by Michel Schneider. Over long and predictable in some ways, but still horribly fascinating.

One is inclined to forget that Monroe, who had no college education, was a self-taught intellectual who read Milton, Flaubert, Freud, Joyce, Beckett and a whole ruck of modern poetry. She also jotted out her own poems – mostly amateurishly cathartic, but they sometimes hit the spot:

The smart one says the eye
is not truly round. His are,
though, fat with looking.

*   *   *

Help help
Help I feel life coming closer
When all I want to do is die.

All of which reminds me that in the late (and lamented) Gordon Wharton‘s 1957 collection Errors of Observation sits a rather fine (and surely anthologisable?) poem about Monroe that deserves to be better known. This is entirely about Marilyn as image, but none the worse for that. The notion of her as a landscape or continent is a nice conceit, and for me the last seven lines really do the business:


Not the geologist’s but geographer’s art
Would do you justice. The bland surveyor sees
Your landscape indolent upon his chart

And notes from hair to modelled Alpine knees,
No easy reference to the deciduous year,
Finds no Alaska where his glance might freeze.

A transcribed, ideal country meets him here
(Pink marks his most imperial possessions):
All exploration done, he need not fear

Barbarian hordes and frontier’s recessions.
In this art-paper’s even redolence
Contours lie captive to his moods’ accessions.

Whatever injury you do to sense
You are not subject to the real, appalling,
Seismic calamities; from the immense

Spaces dividing islands and their calling
In distant ears, you are rescued and dispose
Hygienic vistas. A gull’s feather falling
Arrested in nature’s most efficient pose.

A calavera of Lampião and Maria Bonita

More skellingtons. On the back of recent viewings of Glauber Rocha’s new wave political westerns, Black God White Devil and Antonio das Mortes, I’ve amused myself in making a drawing of the legendary Lampião, most notorious of the Brazilian cangaçeiros, and his companion until death, Maria Bonita, who were killed by the police and beheaded in 1938. (I last watched Rocha’s films in 1969, and they’re both every bit as good as I remember.) There’s an exhaustive amount of information on the net about this era of unpleasantly violent social banditry – the recommendable Lampião Aceso blog, for instance, albeit in Portugese, has more than you’d ever want to know. The cangaçeiros wore absolutely the best hats ever. It seemed appropriate to do the pair as a calavera. I know the calavera is a Mexican form, but what the heck …

A small view of A Bigger Picture

And so to A Bigger Picture, David Hockney’s grand finale bid to assume the mantle of Constable at the horrendously overcrowded RA. The ticket queue wound right round Tatlin’s Tower in the courtyard, and it seemed like the whole of Guildford and Woking were here, most of them apparently from the Guildford and Woking Society of Artists. For this show runs the risk of being taken as some massively popular vindication of Sunday painting – art that is very much liked by people who don’t actually like very much art. (“Toweringly the greatest British artist alive today … Not since Picasso has there been an artist on this planet with a surer grasp … A giant in our midst” – The Daily Mail.) Along with the excellent and equally popular Freud show at the NPG, this witnesses to our acute yearning to re-access the accessible, a hunger which, the Mail notwithstanding, deserves to be taken seriously.

By the time I left, my eyes hurt from the hard glare of green. I hope never to see a tin of green paint again. Hockney is astonishingly, frighteningly industrious, and this show attempts to impress by the sheer weight of accumulation. The yardage of canvas is ten times too much. This may be a return to his Yorkshire roots, but there’s an awful lot of roots. And branches. It all needs a damn good weeding. But this busy-ness also indicates a manic impatience that may pass itself off as economy or immediacy. Finish one before you start the next, please! Hockney has always been a bit of a slack painter (even though a very clever one), and close inspection of these gigantic images quickly reveals some hasty moments, and even – in a few cases – small passages of irredeemable banality. Not that they are too noticeable viewed from the far end of a barn. These vast paintings do require distance. That or small scale reproduction, where, ironically, they work rather well.

In fact, and to his credit, Hockney positions himself firmly outside the Sunday painting tradition by his careful avoidance of the picturesque, invariably opting for a redemption of the “unremarkable” view. (Not that the Sunday painters among the viewing hordes are likely to notice this.) But unfortunately he has become so reliant over the years on photographic technologies that, for all his recent breezy talk of superseding the camera, his observations en plein air have a general tendency towards the condition of photographs. They are essentially transcriptions of the observed, which makes many of them a bit plodding. Not so often does he wrestle with the observed landscape to the extent of really re-thinking or re-shaping it, though the Hawthorn Blossom series is a good move in that direction. (I except here his experiments from memory, which look lame and under-informed in comparison to the rest.) But when he does move away from transcription, the results are sometimes marred by an assumed naivety which can look plain wrong – because it is not grounded, however distantly, in observation – or by a shift into a pop-fauve palette which somehow shouts of Disney.

Having said all this, the tighter charcoal drawings are wonderful, the sketchbooks are a sheer pleasure, and not a few paintings – particularly some of the Woldgate Woods series – are quite simply beautiful. Hockney is not Paul Nash, but at moments he does achieve a Nash-like mystery. There is a pleasing honesty about the whole project which makes it well worth the wait for a ticket, and he deserves our thanks for reasserting the primacy of looking and seeing, and for his demonstration of looking and painting as processes taking place in time. Speaking of time, in the accompanying DVD a cheap reaction is sought from Damien Hirst, who instead responds by discerning in the works a great sadness that speaks of mortality – a meaning almost certainly not within Hockney’s intentions. Whatever else Hirst may be, he surely isn’t stupid.


My first (and only, and still unfinished) attempt at a short film in stop frame animation. Intended as a small homage to José Guadalupe Posada, with a nod to the clothes-horse skeletons of James Ensor. Done on a MacBook using the built in camera, hence the jerky, grainy quality, which I rather like. The music is “Besame Mucho” played by Dave Rowland on a scratchy Joe Meek demo. Click on the still below for the link.

I still have a big bag full of unused plastic skeletons and skulls. Some day I might finish this …

“He turned my head a bit”: W S Graham and John Knight

A bit of lit crit on the connections between the very marvellous indeed W S Graham (left) and his friend and fellow Cornish poet, now largely forgotten, John Knight, with some thoughts on Knight’s writing and its shared concerns with Graham’s. Somebody might already have tackled this, but if they have, I don’t know of it. Anyway, it’s on a new page (tab above) called Clusters concerning W S Graham, with the idea of adding further clusterettes in the future. (Graham’s protegé Burns Singer might be a good subject at some point in time.)

Can you hear me?

A bit more of Annesley Tittensor

Some new material added to the page on the neglected but highly talented Wolverhampton sculptor Annesley (Andy) Tittensor, from a scrapbook archived at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. (Scroll down to the lower half.) Many thanks to his daughter Rose for spotting this and pointing it out to me.

Geoff Stevens

The last 'Purple Patch' of a 35 year run

i.m. Geoff Stevens, an excellent poet and a most devoted and encouraging editor, 1942-2012.

Gone to that greater Café, where All Night is drowned in endless Day.