Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Category Archives: artwork

Veritasse vincit omnia

In the latest Hereford Diocese magazine I came across a full page ad for “Veritasse,” a website offering Christian art, so I took a look. I know I’m a cultural snob, but I do find something deeply disturbing about their insistence on the “positive” and the “uplifting”, especially when that translates into 57 varieties of soft edged but luminescent clouds, doves, sheep, flowers, waterfalls etc., no matter how competently executed. On the other hand, they do invite submissions from Christian artists, and that’s me, sort of, and Veritasse does appear to be a big success. Or a bigge successe, even.

So I emailed over half a dozen graphics I’ve been working on recently (click to enlarge), with a pleasantly worded request for feedback:

A week on, and no response.

Yes, I know I’m being unnecessary, but there is a real issue here. How has the content of much of what passes for contemporary Christian art become so – well, infantilised? This isn’t Catholic kitsch, which is better understood as a form of folk art. (Nor is it analogous to say, modern praise music, often derided, but where the use of worthwhile popular forms has enabled much excellent popular Christian song writing, e.g. Stuart Townend.) I suppose the roots of this sort of imagery were in Victorian populist evangelical pietism, but it’s hard to figure just when “Christian art” got so utterly blanded out.

Aside of the icon revival, which seems in danger of short circuiting into its own form of kitsch, some sort of recapturing is demanded. But what form should it take?

eBaying off the life work

A while back, in a post on Alan Wycliffe Wellings, I lamented affectionately all the eBayed leftovers from life drawing classes, most headed, ultimately, for that great gallery at the landfill. I’m not being snobby; I’ve been clearing out folders full of life drawings myself, and it’s nearly all gone in the bin. (A great sheaf of drawings featuring male models went long ago to a gay friend; I’m not sure exactly what purpose they may currently serve.)

Yes, I’ve haunted some life rooms in my time. It’s a valuable discipline; it’s important that we continue to construct images, by observation, out of marks, especially when fine art degree courses now seem to award the photographic image a monopoly of virtue, as if it were somehow more authentic. When the reverse is clearly the case.

But life work can be bloody aggravating. Most classes I attended were cluttered up by annoying geriatrics (and I speak as a pensioner myself) who signed up year after year, but whose work never improved in the least. And who hadn’t the least intention to improve it.

Some, frightened of the scale and verticality of the easel, disdained it, laying flat their A3 pads on unnecessarily massive donkeys plonked right in front of the model. God forbid they should ever have been obliged to wrestle with a side or back view, and heaven strike down any optimistic and tactless tutor who tried to confiscate their HB pencils and get them onto charcoal. Some routinely chattered all session through about where they would be going on holiday this year and what they’d had for tea, making concentration impossible for everyone else, but coming on all victimised if ever asked to pipe down. I stalked out of the last class I ever did, after asking the worst offender if he’d mind shutting the **** up, and that’s not like me. Well, not much, anyway.

The high point of this purgatory involved a donkey codger who huffily refused the most basic guidance on matters of proportion, and whose drawings, as a result, were always hilariously top heavy. Redrawing and re-erasing the model’s legs week after week, he finally solved his problem by sketching her into a pool of water from the mid-thighs down. This lateral thinking was much admired by his mates.

Anyway, here’s pretty much what I’m left with. (Click to enlarge.) The girl pushing out her bum is Natalie from Aldridge, who was the best model ever. The upside down reclining person is a pleasant woman whose name now escapes me, but I did leave out her breast tattoo and nipple ring. (I’ve found that piercings are a distraction when you’re trying to even out your attention across all parts of the body. Male models with a Prince Albert should definitely be banned.) The big canvas with two figures involved a mirror, of course.

Rimg0018Actually, the two single figure images are currently up for grabs if anyone’s interested – go here and here. They start at merely a tenner on – you guessed it – eBay …

Inside the cabinet

cabinet

Found photos, manipulated.

La nostalgie continue …

At the risk of bogging down this blog in personal recollections (not the core intention), here are a couple more poster finds from the big clear-out.

medical aid vietnam
First, a geenuwine silk screened political poster from 1969. I designed and cut the stencil, and though I say it myself, it’s not bad. This was to publicise in Cambridge a sponsored walk put on by the London Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam, an organisation that we regarded as kosher, and not a Cold War front. Which does seem, with hindsight, to have been the case. The actual walk was not as much fun for me as it should have been. The distance was over twenty miles; I’d never walked as far in my life. And one of the Cambridge organisers, from a local sixth form, had recently informed me that she could only offer me, at best, a comradely affection. Her letter was written on bright orange tissue paper.

liberal ideology
And onwards to the ‘seventies. This letterpress student rant was my response to a Sheffield School of Art working party report that had managed to come up with nothing more focused for art education than fluffy aspirations to “freedom, diversity and independence.” The poster was, of course, made under the oblique influence of Art & Language, but it has the virtue of being understandable, which is more than you can say for their stuff. (Though, to be fair, most of my work at the time was obscurantist to an extreme, revolutionary clarity having been overwhelmed by the black tide of occultism.) One tutor said he liked the poster but felt it might be unfair to those obliged to spend time in real psychiatric hospitals. Which was a good point. Anyway, at least the typesetting is nifty – a vanished skill these days. Great fonts!

I ran into some people associated with Art & Language around this time at a National Union of Students art education conference. Nobody understood their motions, so I proposed the complete abolition of assessment in Art HE, which conference, gratifyingly, voted for, making it (theoretically) official NUS policy. The conference chair and then NUS President, none other than Labour axeman Charles Clarke, didn’t seem too bothered by this storming of the barricades; NUS top brass routinely ignored conference decisions. On my return I wrote a conference report for the art school newsletter entirely in rhyming couplets. This was duly typed up by our long suffering NUS office administrator, the amiable Angela Coe, who mentioned in passing that her son Sebastian was now doing quite well with his running. Funny how history picks out a few things for the mantelpiece, but kicks all the others under the settee …

Northern decollage

From a black and white print made from a lost colour slide, Leeds, 1971

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 …

Attempts at Tyros

 

 

 

 

And very much attempts. The reference is to Wyndham Lewis’s 1920 drawings and paintings of “Tyros” – “immense novices” who “brandish their appetites in their faces, lay bare their teeth in a valedictory, inviting, or merely substantial laugh”. Lewis’s Tyros display the authentic rictus grin; mine only manage to snarl or look puzzled. One does not aim to imitate Lewis’s style (a hell of a lot harder than it looks, anyway), but it might be nice to achieve something of his economy. The relation between some of his work and cartoons is an interesting one.

Sandringham

Slow and in miniature, our shadows squeezed, we move
in glare across the lawns, past the suspicious statues,
towards the gravelled entrance to the inviolable hall.
Here, it is said, was once a room for each day of the year,
but now you may purchase the privilege to view a week’s quota,

likewise buying into a reverent embarrassment, re-learned
surprisingly quickly; like an estate worker enlisting
for Gallipoli, I remove my hat. We shuffle along
the rope partitions, gawping at the Spanish tapestries,
thoughtful not to move too sharply, for fear of treason.

Refreshed in white and cream, the wedding cake interiors
stand beyond taste or judgement. The ballroom is barbarous with enemy
armours, symmetrically trophied. Since Albert passed,
not one object moves within its space. Each
has its accustomed measure, and nothing is to be altered.

Gargantuan portraits re-figure across the generations
features, gestures, uniforms. Only the ceiling-high mirror
darkens with every year. Routinely self-regarding,
on stair and landing, move with ease the invisible occupants
of this undying dynasty, this house of vampyres.

Copyright Richard Warren 2011

Establishing the canon

Dodging mobility scooters by Ann Summers, I drift
into Smith’s, where I check through the mags for the zeitgeist,
but discover I am vintage, which brings responsibility:
what to snap to fix in the brain, confirming
an arrangement to remember not the unrememberable moment
but its numbered image? By the ‘Tragic Life Stories’
large girls in leggings shout at each other. Stuffing back
a tattoo monthly, I head off for Costa’s,
with an option to plot the key points of my obituary.

At home, by the flaked pillars of its excessive portico,
I sip on a Pimm’s, and consider my stateliness.
The gardens that decline from the lawn seem in order;
beyond the unsafe bridge and the ludicrous urn
the scene appears blurry and haphazard. No deer
are in sight. In the east wing we’re reconstructing the decor
of long abandoned rooms, despite repeated objections
from the busybody brigade. Magenta? Same difference …
These perpetual renovations are becoming burdensome.

In the library, more problems. I thumb each index,
seeking my name. Without that bastard’s intervention,
I’d have made the anthologies; might things have been otherwise?
Critical opinion shifts its unlovely weight;
so which books to throw? And would we regret it?
These bear another’s archly Deco bookplate;
no good to me. Burn the lot. Their curling ashes
make baroque the tired fireplace. Disencumbered, I feel able
to bring needed revision, to construct my new tradition.

Copyright Richard Warren 2011

Seven Suicides: some Dead British Artists

My friend and colleague Shirley suggested the other day that I put online “Seven Suicides: some Dead British Artists”, my series of large pen and ink drawings and accompanying texts, which visualise the regrettable deaths of various 20thc British artists. These were exhibited briefly at St Peter’s Church in Wolverhampton in late 2007, and haven’t been seen since. So here they are (or use the tab at the top here). The names of the seven are on the flier for the show on the right here, and are among those in the tags below.

My comments on the critical neglect of Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde were written before the publication of  Roger Bristow’s 2010 joint biography and catalogue raisonee of the Two Roberts, The Last Bohemians. (Naff title, but a most excellent book.)