Monday, 26 September 2016

Winifred Knights at Dulwich Picture Gallery

I went to see the exhibition of paintings by Winifred Knights at the Dulwich Picture Gallery a few weeks ago, in it's last week so it's now closed. Winifred's is not a name I've come across before but she seems to have been highly thought of during her life-time, winning prestigious prizes and commissions. The exhibition didn't give me much of an insight into her life or motivations but it showed me a good selection of her works, including preparatory sketches for the main works.

I'll only pick out a few of the paintings that I think most represent her work and, oddly enough, they're all religious. Some of her early paintings were about working class themes, with strikers outside a factory or hordes of people streaming out factory gates - all good Methodist stock no doubt. But it's more classical themes she gravitated to, such as 'The Marriage at Cana'.

The captions tell us that she greatly admired the early Italian Renaissance painters and that's quite evident in the composition of this painting, everything clearly delineated, the light colour palette, everything calm and in good order, even hiding herself behind a tree sketching. The woman bending over at front-right of the painting will be bending over forever since there's little hint at movement in the painting. We see the guests and the marriage feast (each with slices of pink melon for some reason) and everyone turned toward the right to see what is going on. We see the studied perspective of the straight lines and the trees gradually vanishing away into the forest, all very early Renaissance as painters moved away from the Gothic styles and methods of painting. The paint on the canvas is also terribly light so you can see the texture of the canvas underneath.

Another painting that caught my eye was 'The Santissima Trinita', painted over several years in the late 1920s after Winifred and her lover had joined the pilgrimage in northern Italy, with some pilgrims sleeping in a field of the cutest haystacks ever (can haystacks be cute?) and there we have Winifred again, to the left under the open umbrella, while other pilgrims are washing in the river. Just like 'The Marriage', it uses a light palette and is very still, you can almost feel the heat making the weary pilgrims weary and want to doze off. It's rather stylised and, in a sense, is almost two paintings, the modern British post-Slade school of the bottom half of the painting while the background landscape could be in from a Piero Della Francesca painting.

The painting that shrieked 'early Renaissance' at me was 'Scenes From The Life Of Saint Martin of Tours' - as soon as I saw it across the room the colours immediately made think of small Raphael paintings using those reds and blues. The painting includes three scenes from St Martin's life: when he gave a beggar his cloak, when he cured a baby and, finally, when he had a vision of Christ. It's bright with Mediterranean sun and the colours are brilliant and shine across the room.

Interestingly, I've just noticed that the above three paintings are in rough chronological order, which is a coincidence on my part, but perhaps also serve to show how she sought her own way into her art, from draftsmanship, composition to colour and greater expressiveness? Maybe.

The painting we were supposed to go 'wow' at was 'The Deluge' from 1920, a big painting with lots of preparatory sketches hung beside it. I wasn't all that keen, to be honest. The colours are drab, the poses fixed and lack movement, perhaps a result of and demonstrating post-war ennui? I don't know, but it didn't move me or make me wonder in the way the other paintings did.

The exhibition is now closed. It was worth going to see the works of this seemingly 'lost' painter of the first half of the 20th Century. I'd be interested in seeing more of her works but I'm not sure that's likely to happen any time soon. Or maybe this exhibition will stimulate renewed interest in Winifred?

Georgia O'Keeffe at Tate Modern

Ok, so I didn't know much about Georgia O'Keeffe other than she painted simple flowers, and that's it. There must be more to her than that if she's got a major exhibition at Tate Modern, I thought, so I popped along. And now I know a lot more and am intrigued. It's also nice to know that she had her first public exhibition in 1916, exactly 100 years ago.

It's an impressive exhibition, big and well curated with a wide range of her work on display. I also liked the way her writings were displayed and I (unusually for me) took the time to read them and they helped shed light on her work. Such as a large book in a glass case that seems to be a diary with Georgia writing about how her friends all wanted to write the Great American Novel but would travel to Europe at the drop of a hat and how she wanted to paint the Great American Painting. She didn't know what that would look like so she added a stripe of red and blue to a painting of a white skull she found in the dessert and commented that people might not like it but they would notice it. I certainly did.

Elsewhere there was some writing on the wall that quoted her on flowers, 'Nobody sees a flower really, it is too small... I'll paint what I see, what the flower is to me, but I'll paint it big...' and that's exactly what she did. In a sense, that's entirely the right thing to do - this is *my* flower, this is how *I* see it - rather than trying to create a perfect reproduction in paint. She took the same approach to painting 'Autumn Leaves' and these paintings shout out loud that it's autumn, gorgeously coloured in the shades of autumn.

A lot of the paintings on display are based on the natural world, on what Georgia saw around her - flowers and leaves, lakes, hills and mountains but, oddly, I don't think of her as a landscape painter. She seems to paint elements of the landscape rather than landscapes themselves, suggesting shapes and colours that make your own mind fill in the rest.

She did, of course, also paint landscapes and these are strange and mysterious, undulating shapes representing hills, the bare landscapes around her in New Mexico where she lived.

I particularly liked 'Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico' that creates a feeling of what it's like to be in that landscape, the creased and wrinkled landscape like an old person lying there with the weight of the world on them. Blue in the distance, red up close, using colour theories to reflect the world around us. That's a landscape I'd like to explore, to tramp around, harsh but beautiful (and probably dusty). I'd take a bottle of water and a hat with me.

There's a lot to see in this exhibition and it's well worth visiting. I enjoyed it so much I bought a book about Georgia in the extensive shop at the end of the exhibition because I want to know more about her. One of the first captions in the exhibition was, 'She decided to be an artist before she was 12 years old'. Anyone who is capable of making that kind of decision at that young age and then delivering on it is worth knowing about. The exhibition is on until the end of October so I hope to visit it again and take another look at these extraordinary paintings.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Penny Arcade at Soho Theatre

Penny Arcade says 'protect your authenticity' and I take that to heart. Penny has brought her Edinburgh Fringe show, 'Longing Lasts Longer', to London but has cut it down to only 60 minutes since that seems to be the rather odd policy of the Soho Theatre. To make up for that she came out 10 minutes early to start chatting and introducing the show as people were seated. I breathed a sigh of relief when she said that people didn't need to worry about sitting near the front since she didn't pick on people - she said she doesn't need to since she already has material and the show was written before we came in. Such a sensible lady! I saw Penny four years ago when she did her 'Bitch! Dyke!' show at the Arcola Tent in Dalston so it was nice to get re-acquainted with her.

I've said 'show' a few times already but is it really a show? or is it performance? is it dictat? is it social commentary? is it stand-up? It's probably all of these things and more, written by a clever woman with original thoughts in her head that she wants to share and poke fun where you least expect it.

She started off with damning the gentrification of New York and, by extension, London. That struck a chord since I'd been to the site of the Malaysian restaurant Melati on Great Windmill Street for dinner earlier in the evening to find it had closed and was replaced by some trendy-looking restaurant/bar. The originality is being sucked out of cities to homogenise them, the weirdness and danger is being tamed by money and that's certainly happened to Soho over the last decade with music venues and sex shops being replaced by coffee bars, offices and barbers.

One of the attractions of Penny's thoughts is that she's lived through interesting times from the late 60s onwards and been part of the underground for much of that time so she has a different take on social change. She has anecdotes for every circumstance and she is funny when she wants and a killer when needed. She hones in on PR and advertising and slays it by explaining it's background and what it aims to achieve. She gets young people in her sights because of the impacts of society on them that mean they live in a different world from older people, starting off life with enormous debts for student loans rather than just having fun. She kills the idea that she's nostalgic for the past by saying she was raped in the 60s, the 70s was a trashy decade, the 80s saw lots of friends die of AIDS - what's there to be nostalgic about?

Above all, it's important to be yourself, be the you that your secret heart knows you are. That's the difference between crowds and packs - people in crowds want to blend in and be the same, people in packs want to shout out their own wild ideas and develop them. Penny is definitely a leader of the pack.

At the age of 66 (as she remained us several times) there's a lot of life left in her fighting to get out and I'm pleased she shared some of herself with us tonight. I will certainly do all I can to protect my own authenticity. Thank you for the ride Penny!

PS: Penny no longer has the red hair in the pictures, it's more of a platinum blonde with purple highlights. Tasteful as ever.  

'Kenny Morgan' at the Arcola Theatre

This week we went to see a new play, 'Kenny Morgan' at the Arcola Theatre, a play about the events that led Terrence Rattigan to write 'The Deep Blue Sea' that has just closed at the National Theatre. I saw 'The Deep Blue Sea' earlier in the summer and it's still fresh in my mind so it was easy to see the similarities in the plotting.

'The Deep Blue Sea' is the tale of a woman who leaves her older, distinguished husband for a younger and more energetic man, a war hero and pilot with glamour and a future. It opens with Hester being found on the floor beside her gas fire in her drab little flat having attempted suicide but, luckily, the gas metre has run out of shillings. 'Kenny Morgan' is the tale of a young actor who leaves his distinguished play-write lover for a younger actor with energy and the glamour of youth. It opens with Kenneth lying on the floor in front of his gas fire in his dark flat in Camden Town... So, yes, there are similarities in the plotting and this follows throughout the play but it's what happens between the characters that captures and retains the interest.

Interwoven throughout the play are themes of homosexuality which was illegal back then, although everyone in the drab little boarding house in Camden seem to know that Kenny and Carl are lovers. Kenny rails at Terrence for hiding their love affair when they were together, with Kenny having to live in a separate flat in the same building in case Terrence's mother found out. Was this true or is a plot device to help explain why Kenny left his comfortable life with Terrence in favour of the penniless actor Carl?

The play slowly unfolds over the course of the day as Kenny receives visitors after his 'accident' and we learn more about the central characters. We're told, almost as a throw-away line that Kenny first met Carl when he found him asleep in his bed, one of Terrence's cast-off play-things. Whether true or not hardly matters, it shines more light on an unknowable plot. Kenny is clearly the junior partner in the relationship with the 19 year old Carl, just as he was with the much older Terrence, and at one point kneels at Carl's feet to brush his shoes. His desperation for the relationship to continue, to have Carl "love" him, to have a meaning in his life is quite poignant in a way.

I enjoyed this play a lot, possibly more so that 'The Deep Blue Sea', maybe because it was on a small stage in a small theatre, making it feel more claustrophobic and intense. Paul Keating was good as Kenny and so was Simon Dutton at Terrence, with George Irvings as the mysterious Mr Ritter, Daffy Lloyd as the upstairs neighbour, Pierro Neil-Mee as the equally mixed-up Alec and Lowenna Melrose as Norma, the girl-friend Alec brings home for a random shag. I think my favourite was Marlene Sidaway as Mrs Simpson, owner of the boarding house and general busy-body - I thought she was excellent. It was written by Mike Poulton and directed by Lucy Bailey. Well done Arcola for staging it originally and bringing it back for a short run. It deserves a wider audience.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Let's Face It, I'm Not Going To ...

I'm not sure what's happened - maybe it's the sunshine over the summer - but it doesn't look like I'm going to blog about seeing 'Richard III' at the Almeida...

... or 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at The Globe ...

... or 'Sweeney Todd' at the Theatre Royal Stratford East...

... or 'Titanic' at Charing Cross Theatre...

... or 'The Seagull' at the National Theatre...

... or 'Macbeth' at The Globe...

... or 'Allegro' at Southwark Playhouse

... or 'Ivanov' at the National Theatre

... or 'The Plough and The Stars' at the National Theatre...

... or maybe I will when inspiration strikes. They were all good and well worth seeing.