First published in The Guardian online, 15 June, 2011
The reference here, of course, is to John Constable’s most famous painting “The Hay Wain“, painted in 1821. Just in case some of you don’t have one parked in the garage, a hay wain is a large farm cart. The Gustave Courbet painting “Good Morning, Monsieur Courbet” (sometimes called “The Meeting”) depicts a chance meeting of Courbet with his patron Alfred Bruyas and Bruyas’s servant Calas, on a road outside Montpellier. It was painted in 1854. I have taken liberties with both place and time to have these two yakking away in the same studio – but not too many. I kind of set myself a loose believability range when I show unlikely meetings between artists. Even though Constable died in 1837, their lifetimes overlapped – Courbet was born in 1819. This rule of overlapping lifetimes is most noticeable in my David Hockney photo album cartoons. It just starts feeling a bit silly and flaccid to me if I don’t.
Speaking of Hockney, I actually met him once. I was working for an art dealer many years ago when he dropped in. As the dealer and Hockney were old friends, I was introduced. “Good morning Mr Hockney”, and as we shook hands I blurted “This is just like a Peter Blake painting!” Hockney laughed, my employer looked puzzled, as you probably do now too. That’s because you didn’t realise that Peter Blake painted a homage to the Courbet painting, called “Have a Nice Day, Mr Hockney” did you? Ok, maybe you did, but you’ll have to forgive me for being a bit paranoid about missed references. I copped a bit of internet flak once over a cartoon with Peter Blake in it, along the lines of “Unfunny!” and “What’s the point of this?” (Peter Blake is most famous for creating the cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). I didn’t think the cartoon was that bad, and as it also got some rave comments I was a bit puzzled. Until, that is, I discovered that all the 20-somethings I worked with had never heard, or even heard of, the song Give Peace A Chance by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which meant missing the funniest bit of the cartoon. A generation gap had opened up and no-one told me.
Sorry, I really should have saved this Blake stuff for a different blogpost but you know how one thing leads to another.
First published in The Guardian online, 2 October 2013
“Nighthawks” is one of Edward Hopper’s greatest paintings and that, of course, is saying a lot. In my opinion, Hopper is the greatest exponent of mood in the static medium of painting. In an age of photography, cinema and everything else, any intelligent realist painter will begin to feel an increasingly agonising need to come up with a good reason why they should paint at all. Hopper’s example is the question’s most convincing answer. Crucially, his paintings are not illustrations of a mood, they are engines designed to create a mood in the viewer. How he does this is so interesting and instructive that I’ll save my thoughts for another, longer blogpost.
(I do not merely illustrate frustration, I create it).
Anyway, the cartoon. I really went through the ringer for this one. On paper “Nighthawks” should be great fodder for an artoon – it’s got several people in it, in an environment everyone knows, etc. But once I decided to attack it head-on (no decent idea had come into my head in over 2 years of sideways glances) I filled an embarrassing amount of pages in my notebook to get something. I think it was Einstein who said that genius was the taking of infinite pains. Don’t be silly, I am certainly not saying I am a genius! The dots are there for others to join.
This iconic painting has been the subject of innumerable parodies, the most famous which is “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Gottfried Helnwein. It shows James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. Hopper’s lonely people clashing somehow with A-list celebrities was the most interesting angle I came up with but I went through a gazillion ways of how to best present it. The bouncers ended up being the key. They always are. Love those guys.
First published in the Guardian online, 8 June 2011
In 1989 Jeff Koons made a series of sexually explicit artworks – paintings, photographs and sculptures – called Made in Heaven. This was based on a photoshoot which featured the artist and the famous porn actress and Italian MP Cicciolina interacting.This being Jeff’s first pornographic photoshoot he made a novice mistake – he proposed. You can’t be too judgemental, we’ve all been there. It’s just part of growing up. Unfortunately the love they made to each other didn’t last and they divorced acrimoniously a couple of years later.
The artist Cindy Sherman has made a whole career in taking photos of herself dressed up as someone else. The initial impetus for this cartoon was thinking of how she could turn up as someone else – but as who, and where? This was the most inappropriate place I could think of. How does one explain the phenomena of Jeff Koons? He uses kitsch objects as the subject of his art. He has declared that there are no hidden meanings in his work. I’m of the view that he’s telling the truth. He is extremely successfuI.
So what does this say about the artworld? I’m all for mixing high and low art, and in any case the distinction these days is very blurry, considering the amazing things now being done in things like graphic novels, video games and art cartoons. However, when you start to believe that the stars of the contemporary art market are the pinnacle of what is best in art, rather than, much more reliably, a barometer of the current tastes of the insanely rich, there is a danger that vacuousness will be mistaken for profoundity.
When Koons made his “Celebration” series of massive sculptures of things like kid’s toys, I thought they were typically striking and typically dumb baubles for the art market. Much later I read that he made them as a way of letting his lost son (abducted by Cicciolina) know he was thinking about him. My god, that’s a real feeling! I get very surprised by the odd glimpse of a real feeling in his work. Perhaps this is a damning example of my lack of perception and empathy, though I believe it’s as much a measure of the mind-numbing blandness of the majority of his work that things like this stand out so starkly. The same goes for that other savant of banality, Andy Warhol. In the tribute album to Andy Warhol “Songs for Drella” by Lou Reed and John Cale (a great album), Reed sings about Warhol berating him for not writing enough songs (at the time Warhol was the manager of their band The Velvet Underground) “You should have written 15. The most important thing is work!” Reed knew he was really mad because he called him a rat, which was apparently the worst word he could think of. There is also a song called “Open House” which tells of Warhol hospitably inviting people around for tea, just like his mother did. All admirable values. So what do I know? As I said, I’m all for blurring distinctions. But maybe this is just a a clever way of saying I’m confused.