Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Naum Gabo at Tate St.Ives 25th Jan to May 3rd 2020

Naum Gabo at Tate St.Ives. (1890-1977)

On the way in through gallery one there is a beautiful golden coloured Gabo, made of bronze, looking a bit too large for its corner and apparently at one stage it was in the main show. I'm told it's too fragile on its minimal support to be allowed out of its protective acrylic case. It's simple, geometric, metal formed into a curvilinear form, constructed using machinery to acheive a perfectly satisfying composition. Its presence in a room with Brian Wynter, Sandra Blow etc. claims him as one of our own in St.Ives.

The Gabo show entrance before the large gallery has a large female head made of planes of metal also feeling very oversized in its space and a small golden work high up in a corner, for those who find it, placed like an icon in a home.

It's a hundred years since Naum Gabo, after leaving to avoid being enlisted in World War One, returned to be an enthusiastic part of the early revolutionary excitement and was distributing his Realistic Manifesto in the streets of Moscow. One copy is in a display case with a translation below but I wonder why the show wasn't constructed around these glorious sentences which carry the flavour of a time we can hardly imagine when a unifying vision of better times had swept Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power. Artists saw abstraction not as the chic accompaniment to a second home it may be today but as a rejection of worn out cliches and a leap forward to an art that sought something essential and meaningful that would affect the whole of society.

'Today is the deed.
We will account for it tomorrow.
The past we are leaving behind as carrion.
The future we leave to fortune tellers.
We take the present day.'

The exhibition is split in half by a curved grey hospital curtain which has even an instruction not to touch it inscribed on the floor and I was puzzled as to why this was made such a dominating feature. I mentioned this to a woman who turned out to be Nina Williams, Gabo's daughter, born in Carbis Bay 1941, and she said she was delighted with the whole display, but I would have prefered it to be removed.

There is a charming video of Nina playing with a toy her father made her in which tiny models are activated by static electricity.

There are models for buildings, monuments, sculptures, mono prints, paintings, drawings and films so you get a great idea of the wide scope of Gabo's work. I loved the film of La Chatte ballet using dancers with circular and square frames wielded wittily. Gabo constructed work with new materials aiming to work with space and kinetic possibilities.

The walls have been painted subtle green and dark turquoise and make an interesting change from the white austerity which has become routine for modernist galleries.

Gabo left Russia again. From my internet research, which I recommend as there are so many images if Gabo's works available and even film of him speaking, I find that he did not fit in with Tatlin and El Lissitsky's views and was not admitted to the Central Soviet of Artists which would have guaranteed him paid work.

Gabo chose to leave and was not to be allowed back until 1962.The tide was already turning from the early revolutionary embracing of pure abstraction and Gabo left for Germany, later as anti semitism grew, moving on to Paris and London, and arriving in St.Ives where he was for seven years.

Here Gabo influenced Barbara Hepworth but felt she stole his ideas rather him becoming a valued member of the incrowd. He left for America 1946, where he found fame and fortune.

Gabo was the son of a wealthy industrialist who owned metal works and the father's finance enabled Naum to travel and pursue art. He said he was converted to the revolution at the age of fifteen on seeing Cossack brutality in putting down the early protests in Russia. He had been
expelled from primary school for writing subversive poetry about the headmaster. He had not been admitted to St.Petersberg Art School and remained self taught.

Nowadays it's difficult to think of any artist rising to prominence without the required education and a string of official awards and residences.- as evidenced by the other artist featured at Tate St,Ives at the moment - Emily Speed.

So, ironically the revolutionary Gabo who left Russia, perhaps because his dedication to his art outweighed his political fervour, succeeded because of his capitalist father's funding and made his own residences moving from country to country. His influence on international art and design was considerable.

I would have liked some context about the Russian artists with whom Gabo parted company, but these one person shows are devoted to the idea of one genius so comparisons with these and with Hepworth are left to the visitor to make for themselves.

Emily Speeed at Tate St.Ives

Emily Speed at Tate St.Ives 'Rooms Designed For A Woman' 25 Jan to 3 May 2020

Tate have been using the last gallery to feature an artist with a video that requires no invigilator and often sadly fails to capture many visitors' attention as they leave without stopping to view it.

This one being only a five minute loop has some chance of being seen.

As before there is little information on the artist and no catalogue, although she has exhibited widely and made a variety of work.

Here she shows a model house within which a woman is restricted but moves. There are also shots of a woman with elaborate eye make up eating a house shaped cake with considerable dramatic attack.

I was reminded of Marisol's sculptures in the seventies' wave of American feminism.

It was quirky and puzzling and I could not see the connection with Gabo which was said to be there.

I think these small additional shows deserve more resources - at least a leaflet.

It seems like a sweetie given on the way out.

Keir and The Man from Laramie

'The Man from Laramie' 1955 directed by Anthony Mann

Which young woman wouldn't like James Stewart to stroll into her store with a delivery in a small town where there's no one to keep law and order and men have to be men in the archetypal glamourous fighting for honour and justice way that this hero embodies?

The wide open country is a dangerous place with Apache attacks and murderous lawless settlers. James Stewart is attacked, threatened, lassoed and dragged through the dust, his wagons burnt and his mules shot dead and that's in the first few minutes.

Distinctly untraumatised he persists, having revenge in mind for his brother's death and that sort of instant love in his heart that we can't help wanting to work out well with the young woman he met at the store.

I've seen it before and I lie back to enjoy the confidant hero's drawling laconic bravery.

When they say we need a winner to lead the Labour Party, and they generally mean by that not a woman and certainly not one who is only 40 years old, is this what they want? A cowboy with a quick draw to command respect and save us all?

I was brought up with these strong brave heroes, and it didn't really help to make relationships with the opposite sex easy when they were all modelling themselves on men on horses who said very little, didn't commit or settle down and rode off into the sunset.

But haven't things changed?

Who has endless bullets in his six shooter and whose the traitor in the posse?

The mainstream media are the baddies in the black hats. Someone's selling arms to the Apache.
The dramatic music is playing and we hope our hero can save the day.

It turns out the traitor was the one pretending loyalty, James is galloping over the rocky terrain and the proud Apache are on the skyline. Selling them guns makes the bad one guilty as hell but James lets him go so an arrow finishes him off.

Maybe the girl might pass through Laramie but James as ever rides away and Cathy O'Donnell has to be content with that.

And the election for Labour leader has one man and three women to choose between.

Can a woman be the one although the hero in the stories is almost always male?

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff 'A tale of Mother's Bones.'

Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff 'A tale of Mother's Bones.'

at Newlyn Gallery and The Exchange, Penzance October 19, 2019 - January 4, 2020.

This show toured from Camden Arts Centre and De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea.

The Exchange part of this show had a recording of Pailthorpe explaining in detail one of Mednikoff's paintings using Freudian and Kleinian ideas of everything relating to his experience as a baby, his earliest supposed feelings about his mother, his faeces etc.

Mednikoff 'Anatomy of Space'

She speaks with remarkable certainty about the meaning of each element of the picture - I suppose based on prolonged therapeutic discussions with the artist, 23 years younger, with whom she shared her life.

Pailthorpe and Mednikoff had a long relationship and were unusual people and artists, seeking to understand themselves and the havoc of World War Two and fascism and to use art to help people in general.

Both artists' works have similarities and use figurative surreal imagery, sometimes black and white lino cuts,

Joint work

otherwise rather delicately detailed paintings in which breasts and phallic symbols, mountains and animals make a whole narrative world on which they made detailed notes from their psychological perspective.


They had the large ambition to understand the roots of fascism, seeing it as stemming from an immature inability to share the good things in life, like an incoherent unconscious infantile jealousy and fear of the baby losing its food. I know from reading Alice Miller that child rearing pratices in the early twentieth century were often harsh and threatening - depriving children of warmth and affection. It is thought that Hitler was subjected to cruelty which resulted in him developing a self protecting armour and unleashing his early repressed rage with terrible consequences.
Grace Pailthorpe also suffered a lot as a child in a bleak Plymouth Brethren household.

Mednikoff 'Bengal Colonel' 1945-7

I enjoyed the show's two parts much more than I thought I would and was told many visitors said that. There was quite a bit to read but the liveliness and colour of the paintings and the attractive way they were displayed in blocks, sometimes on different strongly coloured wall areas, made the experience enjoyable. It made me want to share a meal and talk with these two people.
The catalogue looked fascinating and had sold out.

There had been some contact with the French surrealists and on a Canadian radio broadcast, which visitors could listen to in the gallery, Pailthorpe was described as the most important English Surrealist - but in reference books on surrealism Pailthorpe is rarely mentioned. The pair used surrealist methods such as spontaneous working to reach the unconscious.

Pailthorpe 1967 - 70

At Newlyn the visitor was invited to try a two minute doodle with materials provided or to add to a book of drawings with three interchangeable parts - one of the surrealists' games.

This show made me regard the two artists with respect, reconsider the benefits of surreal experimentation, remember the power of art therapy and enjoy interacting with these works.

( Mary Fletcher worked for a time as an art therapist with adults with mental health difficulties)

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Guys and Dolls..again.

Guys and Dolls'. 1955. - directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz.

This musical is on tv 65 years after it was made. I'm older than that.
After 2hours 25 minutes of it I feel like I'm 18.

I've become Jean Simmons, I'm eager to fall into the arms of the youthful Marlon Brando.

I've never taken to Frank Sinatra but I have to admit he can sing.

Somehow I overlook that Marlon's character Sky whirls the Sally Army girl round and kisses her and she cornily struggles, relaxes and afterwards slaps him. I think it's very
clear she likes him despite her straight-laced self protection, but it could be seen as an assault.

Later in Cuba, the struggle for the revolution having started 1953 but not won until 1959, Sky spikes her milk with Bacardi which she laps up as she becomes passionate and even violent in fending off a Cuban lady who catches his eye.

The thing is Sky does not take advantage of the lady throwing herself at him but takes her safely back to America and falls in love with her. He's a rich gangster with a beautiful suit and handsome with those eyes and voice and intensity and a challenge for a missionary who needs the traditionally bad boy to sweep her off her feet.

The contraceptive pill wasn't brought out until 1960, not available to unmarried women until 1967 in UK , 1972 in USA , arguably changing sexual behaviour so that this plot would no longer be credible.

Meanwhile Frank Sinatra is stuck in a fifties convention that women seek to trap unwilling men into marriage, but in the end seems to be pleased to take part in the double wedding that ends the film so absurdly abruptly but satisfyingly.

Crime, gambling and threats of murder are taken as seriously as in an episode of the cartoon 'Top Cat.'

Women are either 'dolls', dancers with feathers, or red uniformed buttoned up Christian street preachers.

The song and dance routines are remarkably slick, there are two great songs 'Luck be my lady tonight' and 'A woman in love'.

It was in colour but I have trouble remembering this as it has the allure and charm of black and white.

Well there it is - still being scheduled and still a treat.