Wednesday, 3 September 2008

scribble scribble scribble

A late visit to the National Gallery exhibition, Radical Light: Italy’s divisionist painters 1891-1910. This (quite small) show repositions the Futurists in a continuum including an odd mix of symbolists, social realists and sub-Seurat post impressionists. There is a credible argument made here in this gathering of works it might be difficult to see outside of Italy. Umberto Boccioni’s trajectory becomes clearer within the few works of his on display and it’s amusing to note that for all Marinetti’s talk about machines the prime foci of energy in Boccioni’s The City Rises (1910) are the horses. Though the placards themselves talk of ‘divisionism’ as an Italian thing, it is clear enough that the source was Seurat’s pointillism. The Italians, as the introductory film notes, did tend to make longer, finer brushstrokes more like filaments and these in turn added an incandescence to their images of energy.

At Tate Modern the Cy Twombly show, also closing soon, was a revelation. It is the first major retrospective of his work for twenty years or so. Twelve rooms take the work from Black Mountain College in the early fifties into the new century, each room focussing on a major sequence or a group of works sharing concerns. Prominent among these are Poems to the Sea, a suite of twenty-four small works (1959), the Ferragosto series (1961), the Bolsena paintings with their sums and calculations (1969), the two large versions of Treatise on the Veil (1968/1970), the paintings for the wife of Twombly’s Roman gallery director, ‘Nini’, who had died suddenly (1971), the Hero and Leandro works (1981-4), the ‘green paintings’ (1988), two versions of Le Quattro Stagioni (1993/1993-5), and the Bacchus paintings (2005). Together with the three dimensional works, mainly of assembled white painted wood, and numerous single paintings and preparatory pieces, this exhibition covers a great deal of ground and a wealth of emotions, moods and concerns. The scratchy works of the early fifties (occasioning Ken Bolton’s appropriated line ‘scribble scribble scribble, eh Mr Twombly’) become something else in the ‘Nini’ paintings, almost unbearable yet necessary inscriptions. While some of Twombly’s work seems almost brutal, delicacy is never far away. Near the Ferragosto paintings with their graffiti-like elements of erect and flaccid penises and red testicles a work like the School of Athens (also 1961) evokes with its curved lines and touches of pink and china blue the art of Tiepolo (returned to with the ‘green paintings’ some twenty-five years later). The broad red loops of the very recent Bacchus paintings reminded my partner of the Australian artist Emily Kngwarreye’s last work. There is a sense in the later work of both of these painters so unlike each other in most respects and working from vastly different situations of the need to pare things down to the essential, of the shortage of time with so much left to do.

No comments: