Saturday, November 06, 2010

Art Artists and Humanity

Little brother having managed to secure employment at what used to be called The Tate Gallery  which is only 5 minutes from my own day job Pimlico  office reminded me of the great art treasures easily and freely available daily virtually on my doorstep,
The Tate Gallery having spawned offshoots in St Ives, Liverpool and on the South Bank is now known as Tate Britain.

Visiting Tate Britain one lunchtime last week provoked much thought about art and artists. Shortly after entering my eye was caught by two aircraft suspended from the North Gallery's high ceiling. Fiona Banner is the artist.

What was her intention  I struggled  to fathom. A young female student then made her interpretation of the work clear as she  went to lie down on her back on the floor under the Harrier which was hung nosedown by its tailfin. She before visiting the exhibit, unlike myself might have seen a comment  about the work  reading:

"An irreverent painting on the nose of the fighter-bomber, which read 'Buster Gonad And His Unfeasibly Large Testicles' and depicted Viz comic character Buster pushing a huge testicle on a wheelbarrow, has been removed"

The aircraft  exhibits initially  provoked in me  thoughts about  the wonders of science, the futility of war and more bizarrely perhaps about re-cycling. Then upon seeing the student's more graphic and personal  interpretation, my own thoughts moved on to beauty being in the eye of the beholder and began to dwell a little on the importance of art in the life of man.
Some   cave paintings in France are   are said to be perhaps 32,000 years old  which shows how mankind  has needed to reflect interpret recall decorate imagine and impress over the ages. Despite the wonders of the digital age our needs today or really no different. 

Moving from art to artists I began to appreciate what a privilege it must be to have talent as a painter. Personal thoughts are largely  abstract  and hidden. They can of course be verbally expressed as in describing the impression a dramatic landscape or beautiful face or hideous architecture makes on the speaker yet being able to express such personal interpretations visually is sadly beyond my ken. A photograph can assist but always missing from photographs is that ephemeral extra human dimension  arising from the individual mix  of imagination appreciation and interpretation seasoned with some understanding.  The creations resulting from the work of someone talented enough to create images incorporating her     unique ephemeral   dimension,  stretch that  same dimesion in me as the beholder.

Coincidentally also this week I saw a film depicting the life and work of the Mexican artist whose self portrait appears above, Frida Kahio. She appears to have lived a tortured but amazing life.
Having been almost killed as a teenager whilst on a bus in Mexico in the 1920s after which her boyfriend departed for Paris, her Jewish emigre father and local mother encouraged her  to paint. She fell for a communist artist who both  antogonised prospective  right wing benefactors in New York and  simultaneously broke her heart  with   dalliances  over artistic models. She then  in the film at least seemed to have a fling with Trotsky and had her heart further pummelled by Trotsky's decision to stay loyal to his wife. Despite or perhaps because of all that pain she appears to have had a very full life and her paintings provide Latin American seasoning to my own ephemeral dimension in viewing life, even though unlike  her I cannot depict it.

 That so many great artists seem to lead  lives of tension depression and confusion signifies to me how  the privilege of possession that rare talent of being able to depict in  painting,  interpretations of  actual things or  abstract concepts, must be associated with the same kind of pains and burdens of another great aspect of human  creativity namely that of giving birth.


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Jerry. The artistic impulse is something very foreign to me but at the same time I am fascinated by art and artists. I have to say that when I visit a museum, I tend to read the text as much as I look at the pictures. Does that mean I am more interested in the history of art and the life of artists than in art itself? Probably!

    As I write, I am looking at a picture of an English farm in winter painted by Rowland Hilder, not normally considered a front-ranking artist, but I like it because it stirs memories of people and places I love. I know that a real art lover will appreciate a picture "on its merits and practically devoid of context. Art for art's sake.

    I'm afraid I cannot aspire to that level and, like dogs and unbaptised children, must resign myself to an eternity in limbo!

  2. Greetings Barnaby and Tx for your comment.

    I don't believe that there is any right way to interpret art although presumably the artist's own interpretation will inform mine.

    An interesting question may be what the artist's own comments would be on the work being viewed. Even so the answer is not necessarily right or even always the same for the artist whose views like mine may change with time and experience.

    My London University law degree studies were largely in premises adjacent to the Central School of Art. The art students looked so much more interesting than those in the law faculty that initially I wondered whether law was the wrong choice. Later the proximity of the Art school and its exhibitions etc inspired further interest in art.


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