John Bellany

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John Bellany, Figures by the Sea 

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John Bellany

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John Bellany, Flowers, oil on canvas, 1992

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John Bellany, Danae Homage to Rembrandt, o/c,   1991

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John Bellany, Chinese Mountain, 2006

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John Bellany, Haunted Soul, o/c, 1990

belany 11John Bellany, Pittenweem, o/c, 2009

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John Bellany, Pourquoi?, 2009

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John Bellany, Star of Bethlehem, oil on hardboard, 1966

And then there’s:

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Pop quiz: Paul? Anyone know this one? Any American artist know this artist?

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23 Responses to John Bellany

  1. Abbas Mehran says:

    I think you are asking a very hard question! The subject is from far far away – down under. Not only it is down but also is under. You could ask::where kangaroo coming from. For sure you could get few correct answers.

  2. trueoutsider says:

    This will be a real tough one for American artists in particular, as the painter is indeed from one of those backward lands that didn’t get the directive that the US issued as early as the 1950s regarding what constitutes great painting. For one thing, imagine making paintings that violated the integrity of the picture plane! How backward can a painter get! On top of that he compounds the error by having figures in the painting, suggesting actual human content and some kind of confusing narrative. You can tell this guy hasn’t figured out any known successful formula of predictable repetition either. If he wanted to paint figures he should have looked to one of our greats, like Chuck Close. Get the photo! Get the grid! Enough with the anxiety!

    Painting like that is incredibly confusing for the tired businessmen who collect art. Today’s corporate exec is completely tuckered out from having to figure out ways to ship manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries while bribing Congress to let it happen. That’s why they need paintings that are easy to understand and have guaranteed pretty colors that can hang in corporate lobbies and soothe the minds of people who work there. Americans are the pioneers in discovering that Positivity is the only necessary ingredient in Art.

    That unidentified painter is making work that is definitely not positive! And he’s showing serious disrespect for law enforcement to boot. Fortunately, we live in a country that has instilled the right values in our citizens and that’s why we show deep respect for our law enforcement officers, thus keeping positive about life. When the authorities tell us to stop protesting being ruled by the a tiny wealthy elite we realize our error and go back to watching TV so that things don’t descend into chaos like what’s happening elsewhere around the globe (as shown on our TVs). When we learn (from that Commie traitor) that we’re all being spied on we understand that if we’re going to stay safe it’s necessary to monitor everything that our fellow citizens are doing on their electronic devices.

    And nowadays we really appreciate foreign artists in the US, as long as they’ve achieved spiritual enlightenment in line with Oprah Winfrey’s principles which are the foundation of our happiness. It’s also the greatest Art when these foreigners have left behind outmoded forms like painting and speak directly to the average art viewer in terms that they can understand.

  3. Paul Rumsey says:

    Sidney Nolan….
    I met John Bellany many years ago, September 1974…..
    I had started art school in 1972, full of enthusiasm, wanting to paint pictures from my imagination, liking Symbolism, Surrealism, Bosch, Bruegel, Blake, Goya, Spencer and Burra, etc, but soon realized that anything with figures, narrative, subject matter, was no longer permitted, so ended up painting realist scenes from reality, of buildings, old factories, etc, very much like Charles Sheeler, Hopper, etc, because that way, even though I was painting reality I could give it some kind of atmosphere of ominous bleakness, a bit of early De Chirico surrealism. The tutors suspected that I was sneaking in some emotions of unease, and not being strictly objective, but I protested that I was just painting exactly what was in front of me.
    Anyway I was painting these scenes when I started at Chelsea art school, and during the first month John Bellany came in to teach for a day. He asked me about the art I liked, and I told him, listing all those painters of figure compositions I mentioned above, and he said of my little pictures of buildings, “Well these little paintings are very ‘nice’ but really… if you were run over by a bus tomorrow …. are they what you would want to be remembered for?”.
    And I thought, fuck it, and gave up the piddling little pictures of buildings and started to try doing figure compositions, which is what I really wanted to do.

    But that’s where my problems began, because there was no one around to teach me, everyone else was doing minimalist abstractions, conceptual stuff, etc.
    It was very difficult trying to teach myself figure composition at that time, because the old artists who were sanctioned by modernism were those that were stiff, geometric and dry, cool and emotionless, Cezanne, then back to Poussin and Piero Della Francesca, which was rather inhibiting. So I was trying to paint compositions without narrative, stiff figures standing about doing nothing… a sort of formal exercise…and the influence of photography on figurative art is also very confusing and dangerous.
    It was only after leaving college in 1977, that I started to get an idea of what to do, starting with the subject matter, narrative, etc, and it was another ten years before I produced anything that I was happy with. And it is only in the last ten years that feel that I can fling a figure composition together with confidence, which is what I wanted to do back in 1974.
    As for Bellany, his influence, with Alexander Moffat led to a mini movement of figurative painters in Scotland in the 1980s, Ken Currie, Peter Howson, Stephen Cambell, Adrian Wiszniewski, etc.

  4. trueoutsider says:

    Well there’s a coincidence, Paul, as my undergraduate years also ran from 1972–77. That’s a wonderful story about Bellany. Thanks for relating it. I also had the same enthusiasm for roughly the same artists you mention, excepting Burra and Spencer who I was unaware of as an American. America is fantastically xenophobic. I recall at an art history seminar when a student asked if there was any significant art going on in Europe (this in 1973). The professor said with complete confidence that Europe was finished and any European artists of any merit would have emigrated to New York City, which was the only place that art was being made that mattered. So Picasso was a has-been and grid painting was all the rage.

    Read some Donald Judd if you want to get a notion of the delusions of grandeur these New York artists were engaging in. Check out his pearls of wisdom on brainyquotes. Judd was par for the course. “The older painting–well, it does have an effect all at once, I suppose, but it’s of a lesser intensity than a lot of the American work in the last ten or fifteen years.” Nobody could speak gibberish like Donald Judd with the conviction of his own genius. That’s how you make it in America. And you wonder why I make comparisons between American Art and American politics? :

    Note his blazing insights into literature: “Tolstoy may not be showing that much of Russia at that time even. It’s hard to tell. You tend to associate the quality of the period with what’s lasted–what’s still good. And that quality becomes the whole period.”

    Judd’s lasting contributions to Western civilization have found their natural resting place in the land of the George Bushes, T. Boone Pickens and Governor Rick Perry with his prayer meetings to bring on the rain. Faith-based politics and faith-based art are natural bedfellows.

    “Well, I am not interested in the kind of expression that you have when you paint a painting with brush strokes. It’s all right, but it’s already done and I want to do something new.”

    The arrogance of American Art back then seems absurdly hilarious as I view it in retrospect, particularly combined with the lame achievements of American painters in contrast to the work they were supposedly triumphing over. To suggest that artists like Judd were transparent frauds will bring jeers and contempt to this day if you spring them on any avant-gardist, particularly the ones avoiding learning how to draw.

    I can only imagine the British versions of artists like Carl Andre, Judd, Stella, ad nauseum. Dan Clowes tries to satirize all of it in “American Confidential” but to me he entirely misses it with exaggerated caricature. The satire is far more effective if you simply listen to these guys talk. I think I’ll do a John Baldessari post. Baldessari sounds so unbelievably inane you have to wonder if he’s really a complete nitwit or if it’s all an elaborate put on for the amusement of art world dolts. The sad thing is I believe it’s the former. Morris Berman, on his blog, continually refers to Americans as dolts. That obvious dopes like Baldessari are worshipped as art geniuses is a serious indicationto me that Berman speaks the truth.

    I bring up Baldessari because he was a visiting artist at my school. Even as a naive teenager with wild-eyed notions of the mystique of the great artist, Baldessari struck me as somebody a few beers short of a six-pack. With guys like that wandering around touted as great American geniuses, I simply stopped going to classes, working at home and bringing in work for critique and a grade. Fortunately there was a single exception to an otherwise useless art faculty, a very good painter named Milo Russell with no interest whatsoever in what was happening in current art trends. I pretty much stuck to him as a teacher and was able to maintain my belief in painting.

    That this country now resembles a lunatic asylum is no surprise to me, having attended an American art school back in the 70s. Our complete cultural collapse began long before it’s generally noted to have begun.

  5. Paul Rumsey says:

    My experience at Chelsea very similar, the college was divided into studios each producing a different strand of american modernism. There was a huge studio for abstract expressionism, color field paintings, etc, producing copies of Rothko, Pollock, Morris Lewis, etc. A studio for Pop and Photo Realism and a studio for ‘Systems’ painting, where the students divided the canvas into grids and tossed dice to choose the colors. There was also a studio for video / conceptual art.
    There was also two small studios, a life room, where the students had to paint the model using small flat areas of pale color, with lots of measuring marks and plumb lines, (this was a style begun by Coldstream, taken further by Euan Uglow), and also a ‘miscellaneous’ studio for those who had not yet decided which modern fashion to follow.
    In the unreliable story I tell myself to make sense of the random chaos of life, I have always seen my meeting with John Bellany as a fork in the road, because one path led to producing successful pictures by doing things that were easy and working within my abilities, (paintings of reality, without figures) and the other path lead to loads of difficulty and years of failure trying to learn how to compose figure compositions, with all the problems of anatomy, movement, narrative, expression, emotion, etc etc.
    Because no one seems to realize that some types of art are more difficult than others, so doing difficult things is a thankless task. It was really easy painting pictures of buildings, flat areas of color, straight lines, etc.
    It was even easier to succeed painting abstract, I was put in the abstract studio in the hope that some modernism would rub off on me, and I painted my first and last abstract painting, so simple that it could be painted by anyone following Sol Lewitt type instructions….
    1, paint the canvas a flat dark green, 2, paint three circles of color like billiard balls forming a equilateral triangle apex top, 3, top one red, bottom left blue and right yellow.
    The tutors loved it, at last I was getting the right idea… and that was the day I stopped going in to college and worked at home on my own.
    So I more or less failed my degree, with a third, the lowest mark given, and my art college days ended, but everyone else I knew got decent degrees, went to do MA courses and careers in teaching, etc.
    Many years later I bumped into one of the tutors from Chelsea, he said “Ah, I remember you, you painted this fantastic abstract, I can still picture it… it was mostly green, with three circles, red, yellow and blue….”

  6. Paul Rumsey says:

    PS, I just remembered the name of the tutor… Trevor Sutton, if you look at his work you can see why he liked my abstract, I remember him as friendly, and concerned that I didn’t feel that I was fitting in…
    I think I was so far adrift of modern styles that there was no one who could have taught me… we were taken to the Tate, to have lectures on the Rothko and Morris Lewis, and I would sneak off and look at the Spencer, ‘Cookham Resurrection’ and the Burra, ‘ Soldiers at Rye’, the Dadd, ‘Fairy Feller’s Master-stroke’.

    I even sat through a lecture at Chelsea by Michael Craig Martin explaining why his glass of water on a shelf is an oak tree…
    So I have been in the presence of the greatest and most influential mind in modern art, and it has all been wasted on me.

  7. trueoutsider says:

    Yes, easy formulaic painting is all the rage. You can go to any Barnes and Noble here and find dozens of books telling you exactly what steps to take in order to produce your landscapes, still life, and portraits. Another thing that was drilled into us at art school was that any kind of personal psychological art was off-limits. The more formulaic and robotic the better, with a new shiny theory being all that was necessary. Sol LeWitt is a parody of minimalism, which is why he’s considered a conceptualist. I found it all to be the absolute death of the human spirit. As far as Abstract Expressionist painting went none of these painters seemed to understand that the only way De Kooning arrived at those paintings was after decades of serious artistic training starting at the academy in Rotterdam and a long period of figurative painting which eventually evolved into the gestural paintings. To just take paint and throw it around looking for some kind of compositional formula I found to be absolutely absurd.

    Pollock clearly was unhappy that he’d found himself in the land of pure abstraction as his last paintings turned back toward figuration. Guston denounced his abstract work and abstract work in general when he turned back to representational content so his paintings said something about his life and the society he lived in. Resnick, who was a died in the wool pure abstractionist ended up toward the end of his life putting figures into his work. As far as I’m concerned abstraction invariably ends in decoration. That entire branch of Modernism is a failure. Picasso knew enough, with his immense examination of the possibilities of painting to never bother with abstraction.

    But abstraction succeeded, as far as I’m concerned, for exactly the reason you state. It’s dead easy. You can make an abstract painting the moment you pick up a paint brush and splash paint on a canvas. And what kind of criteria can one use to say what is a good abstract painting or a bad one, other than how the brushstrokes look and it has nice colors. Photo Realism is absurd. It’s removes any kind of individuated expression. And if you’ve ever made a photo-realistic painting it’s about as easy as it gets. I had a class where we were all instructed to make one each of the various styles… an abstraction, a photo-realist painting, a painting from life. Ridiculous. For the abstraction I painted the shape of a big cock and with a pair of egg shapes hanging at the base of it.. Then all kinds of art marks (which is what we called them back then) to jazz it up… During the critique either nobody noticed it was a giant cock or nobody said anything.

    That reminds me of why I put the Sidney Nolan painting up. I was at an Outback Restaurant and they’d decorated the walls with Nolan’s work. The hung the reproduction upside down. All they were able to understand was the figure of the policeman–as the Ned Kelly figure is “abstract” and so they thought that the Ned Kelly figure was supposed to be on his head. Talk about a Surreal bunch over here…. Within a month all of the paintings were removed to be replaced by sports paintings and Australian beaches. Obviously Nolan’s paintings were disturbing the clientele, unused to ever seen real paintings.

    I’d never heard of Michael Craig Martin. He does look like another universal genius, though. I wonder if Duchamp toward the end of his life was smacking his head thinking, what in the hell have I wrought?

    I lately read this Jock McFadyen quote where he said he found it a good time to be a painter because it was so unfashionable. Do you know McFadyen’s work? I think that’s the right attitude to have. It should really be seen as a good thing that the bozos are off with their spray paint and squeegees making work that is easy to imitate and so endlessly imitated. Keith Haring. I mean give me a break.

    Bukowski is right about how the American school system crushes people. Very few survive the bashing and indoctrination. It appears from your art school narrative that it’s little different in England.

    Also note there’s a certain irony in the fact that painters like Uglow and manifold other. who keyed on Cézanne, are doing the exact opposite of what he was doing, which was rebelling against all former ways of depicting reality insisting on his own unique perceptions.

  8. trueoutsider says:

    In thinking about this, it strikes me that the Brits are invariably following the US lead– to their detriment. Thatcher-Reagan, Bliar (always prefer that spelling)-Bush. The YBAs are a coda to US “superstar” strategies. The Cézanne worship derives from Greenberg. The Germans were inspired by van Gogh. The strongest French current was Surrealism. I like Cézanne but consider van Gogh or Monet better painters. American painting is so authoritarian, much like the culture we now see revealed as we drift into fascism.

    And of course one is not allowed to say these things in America itself, as I experienced in art school the punishment was severe banishment for objecting to the official art narrative. It loosened up in the 80s as all hell broke loose and strict adherence to the ideology based on Cézanne (but in reality having nothing to do with him) collapsed. In the 80s it was whoever made the most bombastic “Shock” work, which is why I say the YBAs followed that lead. Saatchi’s show over here was called “Sensation”… cow dung Virgin Mary, Myra Hindley portraits, pickled sharks. A Sensation in terms of a Barnum and Bailey spectacular.

    I do think the Corporate Fascist stage we’ve entered in the US can be traced by to ideologues like Serra and Judd and the extreme dehumanization symptomatic of our art during that period. What followed amounts to complete infantilization— faux-naive ad-nauseum… psychobabble and performance… identity politics art… In the last decade we’ve seen an enormous growth in New Academic art, which resembles what exactly?… Stalinist and Nazi and Maoist academicism. The New Academic artis just as authoritarian as the the Corporate Lobby art–it’s flip side in a manner of thinking.

    And America’s form of degenerate art is completely devoid of any socio-political content, like that contained in Weimar art. Our art reflects the iinfantile narcissism of pop culture.. Basquiat/Haring. And all of it slobbered over by critics as part of the financial hustle. The Brits have their Shrigley. The stuff is perfectly all right as popular culture. But how is this stuff sitting next to a Max Beckmann? Get this. I saw a recent Christie’s auction catalogue where an original etching signed by Beckmann “To Quappi” was estimated at 8 to 9 HUNDRED dollars. Warhol’s Turquoise Marilyn silkscreen went for 80 MILLION bucks and was brokered by who exactly? Stock swindler Steve Cohen and art swindler Larry Gagosian.

    And who exactly is writing anything about what is as obvious as the nose on anyone’s face? Nobody but me as far as I’m aware. If anyone knows of someone I hope they’ll let me know about it. If Chomsky thinks the press is self-censoring, he should check out the frigging art world. If my blog gets a hundred views in a day it’s a banner day. If this doesn’t conclude my case that art is dead, I don’t know what else does.

    And by that I don’t mean that there aren’t artists making art around the fringes or out in a cornfield somewhere in a shack. But what is going into the stratosphere in the vast majority of galleries and art art museums is about as much art as were the tulips that fueled the Dutch financial bubble.

  9. Paul Rumsey says:

    Yes, I know Mcfadyen’s work, in fact he was at Chelsea at the same time as I was, both leaving in 1977, but I can’t remember talking to him. We were in different studios, and he is about six years older than I am. His work as a student was more ‘pop’ and ‘ironic’ than it is now, so looked more modern than mine.
    My work always looked as if it was from the wrong century, I don’t know why, people always presume that I intend to make my work look old fashioned, as if it is a choice, a sort of retro affectation, but I just draw as I draw….
    I was once asked by Peter de Francia “Why have you not taken on board the discoveries of Picasso?”, but to me that would be attempting to assume another artists mannerisms.- Do you know the work of de Francia?
    Mcfadyen’s more recent paintings of bleak landscapes and old factories are exactly the same sort of compositions (flat on compositions with walls parallel with the picture plane, etc) that I was painting that day when I met Bellany and decided that I really wanted to understand how to compose figures compositions.
    Mcfayden has recently been made a member of the Royal Academy, he has always been part of the art establishment in the UK, starting with a residency at the National Gallery in the early 1980s. Paula Rego also had a residency there, – there has always been a strand of figurative artists in the UK, are there less in the US?

    • trueoutsider says:

      Paul, I went to grad school with Jock’s brother, Donald, in the early 80s in Chicago. Donald did Post-Modernist work along the lines of Jack Goldstein. I posted JM work after reading your description of the paintings Bellany saw and they popped into my mind. It’s actually hard to say if I’d truly like the McFadyen work in person. A lot of my judgments are necessarily made looking at digital reproductions.

      De Francia’s remark is typical and predictable of artists that swallowed the Koolaid. Does he think artists like Balthus, Delvaux, Giacometti, etc. were “taking on board” the discoveries of Picasso? Is it necessary to take on board Picasso to make painting? Does one have to take on board Duchamp?

      Not as far as I’m concerned.

      The US had a long history of traditional figurative artists, all of them attacked and largely destroyed in the 1950s. I could run up a long list but I imagine you’re familiar with them. I think that’s the primary difference between the US and Britain. The “heroic” breakthrough of the Abstract Expressionists launched armies of imitators and figurative painting was considered reactionary or retardataire. Then we had the new avant-garde that overthrew all the emotion of the AEs and gave us the various KOOL ART-lite that continues to the present.

      Figurative painting reappeared but as KOOL ART-lite.

      Look up William Bailey, William Beckmann, James Valerio, Philip Pearlstein, Stone Roberts… truckloads of this kind of posed realism. Former AE types like Al Leslie converted to the posed realism. Chuck Close… you know the drill.

      The site below has many of the main players listed under “POPULAR ARTICLES” on the right.

      I find almost all of this stuff aggressively banal. A kind of family values painting. Any disturbing subconscious material is absent and the world is a place of tranquility and contemplation of the sublime. It’s the realist version of the abstract sublime. Pleasing colors, nice compositions… Do your Cézanne thing like Uglow or be the new Vermeer. Just stay neutral in terms of letting your emotional involvement heat up– You’re not going to see Soutine or van Gogh show up in this precinct.

      Largely what’s been voided out of American Art is any kind of deep exploration of the subconscious, the human psyche or current reality.

      Baudrillard said something to the effect that Warhol replaced the Sacred with the Banal, that about sums it up.

      What is there to object to in this kind of painting? Or in pop art? Or in Colored Grids? Collectors seem to love it, and that’s what counts, really. Note that the current issue of Art News has “The ART NEWS 200 Top Collectors”. The customer is always right in late Capitalism. Also a good article I see there on Artist-Designed Dinnerware.

      Art is about Beauty. All artists are nice and well-behaved and great entrepreneurs and businessmen. Yes, boring beyond all belief, but that’s what you want when you’re dealing with consumer goods and financial investments.

      • Paul Rumsey says:

        Bart, I missed your August 13th reply, because they are not chronological…

        Small world, you being at college with Jock’s brother….

        I did not know much of the KOOL ART-lite, posed realism, only Pearlstein….
        I like looking at art that I do not like…. like that boring posed realism, because I think how happy I am not to have taken that path, it ends up a bit like Nazi art…

        That is the great thing about artists doing stuff that you don’t like… they are doing it so you don’t have to, they have taken that route, explored that terrain, and you can see where it leads.
        What I really don’t want to find is some artist who is doing something that I wish I was doing.

        You mentioned Duchamp, I find him very interesting, he did some great paintings, ‘The Bride’ for example, I like the way it is perfectly balanced between abstraction and the real, it looks like alchemy equipment, anatomy, machinery, and I suspect that there are some hidden sexual poses in there as well.
        And then to do the same subject again, but as the large Glass… I like the obsession of that…. and then after that to do the same subject yet again, but as the ultimate realism of the peep show ‘Etant donnes’, in secret over a period of 20 years, I find much to admire in that level of obsessive work. I think of him as a sort of outsider artist, following his fetish obsessions, like Morton Bartlett or Pierre Molinier.
        I would say that was ‘a deep exploration of the subconscious and the human psyche’, because he is delving into sexual desire, etc…

        TrueOutsider replies:

        That’s made me aware of a defect in WordPress in that I’m not allowed a reply to your reply…. In this case I’m just adding my reply in an edit. I’ve long noted the resemblance between the New Academicism and Nazi art as you call it. And I view it as a manifestation of the US drifting into fascism. As I imagine you’re aware, that kind of idealized Academic “family-values” painting is consistent throughout all authoritarian regimes—Mao, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, etc. — all in favor of banal mimetic painting expressing the “Rational”. Trains running on time and all that. And, naturally, the “rational” painting then views any exploration of darker areas of the psyche, not to mention painting describing actual social conditions, as “degenerate”. Hitler’s degenerate art exhibition included every Modernist out there, even Cezanne, van Gogh,… even Mondrian and Kandinsky!

        To think art isn’t a manifestation of state values is simply naivete. In the US, we have what Sheldon Wolin referred to as an inverted totalitarian state, which to me is an accurate description. And so our “avant-garde” is an inversion of the avant-garde of the past. We have a corporate-controlled state that favors and promotes art that denigrates the human because that’s what the corporate state does best… appeal to the most prurient, banal and lowest common denominator taste of its audience. Check out TV programming. That’s now the level of artistic activity and intelligence.

        The inversion is that the prior avant-garde was anti-establishment and in rebellion against the state, this avant-garde is in complete collusion and accord with the bourgeoisie.

        My problem with Duchamp isn’t his work it’s that the nihilistic anger at the root of it has acted as the foundation stone for the manifest idiocy of the Baldessari Californication Conceptualism that’s at tidal proportions not just in the US but throughout the brain and soul-dead Contemporary Art World. And Duchamp basically sat back on his laurels while all this was developing with the Pop and the financial takeover. He made one little brief peep in a speech he gave around 1968 about art having to go underground until the financial fireworks were over. My belief at this point is that Duchamp was deeply ensconced in his own narcissistic reputation and intertwined with the same interests that his earlier work purports to attack and overthrow.

        Nihilism is a poor building block for making art. Look where Nietzschean nihilism led. Nietzsche’s sister proudly bestowed her brother’s walking cane on Adolph Hitler, his greatest fan. So many of N’s defenders make the point that Hitler had a perverted reading of N’s texts. But there’s an obvious rage and megalomania in Nietzsche that obviously appeals to the psychopathic type… and I don’t find it a stretch to view Duchampian rooted conceptual art as a kind of psychopathy, in the sense that human empathy is abolished completely.

        The thing about writing the blog is that I’ve come to see things very differently over the course of examining things in their depth. There’s are reasons why we’re in this abysmal situation of simulated art with no feeling. … and two of the biggest are Duchamp and Greenberg.

        For decades now I’ve found myself in this uncomfortable position of being, for lack of a better word, an avant-garde traditionalist–with no real sustained love for either the nihilistic avant-garde of the past wanting to demolish past values nor for the traditionalists wanting art to be mummified in pure imitation, completely ignoring current reality. At this point, I’ve begun to find Duchamp to be as much art for art’s sake as Greenberg’s conceits… both lead to the head-up-the-arse art world. Give me a George Grosz, a Daumier, or a Robert Crumb for that matter over fucking art for art’s sake.

  10. Paul Rumsey says:

    You can see a lot of Picasso in the work of Peter de Francia, and he did some Picasso type Minotaurs… as did Michael Ayrton, whose work was also influenced by Picasso.
    So many of those artists from the 50s in the UK were trying to be Picasso at some point in their lives…. John Craxton, Robert Mcbryde, Kieth Vaughn, Graham Sutherland, John Minton, Robert Colquhoun, Blair Hughes Stanton.
    For me this seems a pity, because I would prefer an artist to have their own voice rather than a borrowed one, I like the work of Blair Hughes Stanton, when he had his own voice, but in some of his later work I can only see Picasso.
    Someone said something to me, which I thought very funny… they were saying that my work was old fashioned, and that I should not do mythological subjects because they were from the past, but that it was OK for me to draw Minotaurs “Because Picasso had bought them into the 20th century”

    • trueoutsider says:

      Of course, in New York Gorky and Pollock and so on were wrestling with Picasso. Bacon’s work came out of Picasso’s Dinard paintings, as he himself acknowledged. But he was also looking closely at Rembrandt, Velázquez and so on. Whatever one thinks of Bacon’s work, when I look at his painting I don’t think he’s painting in the style of Picasso or Rembrandt or Van Gogh. It’s inevitable that artists take after someone or another as a stepping stone. The problem enters when artists are simply lifting the style and have nothing of their own to say. Or what they have to say is so conventional and timid that they dress up in the mantle of an artist that consensual opinion has established as great. Check out David Leffel for how absurd this can get . Dress up in Rembrandt garb and paint in the style of Rembrandt. In the Southwest, given the complete ignorance about art that exists there, Leffel passes as a great genius. I didn’t imagine that anything as pathetic as this existed in Britain before you alerted me to the fact that Emin, Wearing, and company are teaching painting at the RA. Leffel actually knows painting technique inside out so there’s something he could teach of use for painters to get their feet on the ground. I imagine that beyond knowing which end of the brush the paint goes on Emin and company’s knowledge of painting would be exhausted.

      • Paul Rumsey says:

        I had never seen Leffel before, – but I had looked at the Art Renewal Center, which is similar type of stuff.
        There are things that you write, and that I do, about the art scam, abstraction and modern art, that are more or less word for word what they write in their ‘ARC philosophy’, yet though many of their criticisms are valid, the art that they want to follow, Bouguereau, Alma Tadema, Waterhouse, Leighton, Messonier, Dicksee, Godward, etc, are not artists that I find interesting. (though I do like Burne-Jones), and there is a lot of 20c art that I like that I am sure they would not approve of…..
        I guess that what I object to is tyranny, forced academicism, and the old, pre 1900 academicism at least allowed artists to paint the world, and as a starting point they could go in any direction, but the 20c academicisms, following the Cezanne, Picasso, abstraction, minimalism, conceptualism story, becomes increasingly restrictive. I think the artists that I find interesting tend to be outside the fashions of the day, which means that they are ignored by art history, because they are not part of ‘the story’ of modern art.
        And some artists seem to get more credit than others, for example Ensor was doing stuff back in 1889 that was very advanced, yet all the credit goes to Picasso.
        Things are often celebrated as new when in fact they have been done before, – a lot of the art done by the YBAs for example seems derived from work done by Kienholz in the 60s.
        Perhaps we need a few hundred years before art historians can look back at modernism and see clearly what was happening and put things in order and separate the hype from the achievements.

  11. Paul Rumsey says:

    I think you will find this article interesting, the early fame of Bernard Buffet, his fall from grace, and his rise in reputation again…..

    Something similar happened with the reputation of F N Souza, (another 1950s Picasso imitator), after early fame his work became almost worthless on the 70s, 80s, 90s, his work was sometimes abandoned in auction room store rooms because it was not worth picking up, but after his death in 2002 his work was shown at the Tate, and with the rise of the Indian super rich he became known as the ‘Indian Picasso’ – one of his pictures sold for two and a half million $ in 2008.

    Duchamp said… ” Artists throughout history are like gamblers at Monte Carlo, and this blind lottery allows some to succeed and ruins others. In my opinion, neither the losers or the winners are worth worrying about. Everything happens through pure luck. Posterity is a real bitch who cheats some, reinstates others (El Greco) and reserves the right to change her mind every fifty years”
    Is Duchamp right? It depends on how you look at it, because the lottery is not really blind, reputations are manipulated, it is possible to make vast profit if an artist’s work is shown in prestigious galleries, critics and historians employed to sing its praises, put it in ‘historical context’ etc etc.
    With Bernard Buffet, I find it really strange that an artists work can be seen as great art, then be seen as the worst, most crappy kitsch, and then be seen as great art again, it is similar to how fakes are seen, something seen as of great worth can become a piece of rubbish, it is all a matter of belief.

  12. trueoutsider says:

    Now how about a Leonard Baskin or Jose Luis Cuevas revival? I like Buffet as a printmaker but the paintings mediocre, and more like stylized Maurice Utrillo than Picasso. Maybe that’s what bugged Picasso about his work. That people actually thought Picasso’s work as little more than stylized Maurice Utrillo. Who knows at this point? It’s all insanity as far as I’m concerned (excepting our discussions, of course.). Buffet’s paintings are essentially colored prints. Still, I’d far rather see a show of Buffet’s paintings than I would the hogwash that passes for “contemporary” painting today. At least he knows how to draw.

    Interestingly, to me at least, over the last couple days the Times has been printing stories that are exposing the charlatanism at the root of the contemporary art market. I’ll try to do a post if I can find time. There have been two pieces on the Knoedler fraud, including the Chinese guy who painted the obvious fakes touted by the know-nothing group that constitutes the art critical elite as discoveries of lost masterpieces. Also a piece on Jasper Johns’ assistant peddling stolen pieces by Johns through the sewer of a gallery system. A high school student could fake a Johns painting, so why he didn’t just paint up a bunch instead of stealing originals?

    See if you can pick up a copy of Electroboy. This book gives a good sense of what the 80s art scene consisted of… written by a Mark Kostabi salesman with bipolar disorder (and a serious coke addiction), who went into business for himself churning out fake Kostabis. Of course, the Kostabis were fakes to begin with. All Electroboy did was peel off a Kostabi assistant to make paintings according to Electroboy’s dictates rather than Kostabi’s. Big challenge, right?

    The reason Buffet/Souza are recirculating is due to the Capitalist principle is “buy low, sell high.” Souza and Buffet are picked up cheap by the investors (the collectors) who then push the prices up through their promotional apparatus (art magazines). Auction rings manipulate it all through the seasonal auctions. Zola describes their early workings in The Masterpiece. It’s simply insider trading, which is why guys like Steve Cohen and Saatchi are the best players at it. Castelli showed them how it was done.

    That’s the principle that drives the art world. Artists simply grovel their way into it by following the Post-Modernist script, which they can read in Art Forum. You can watch it on BravoTV’s Work of Art.

    None of this is rocket science.

    The American art world is a gathering of self-infatuated morons. I think Kim Kardashian should be the Next Great American Artist. Her ass alone grants her that status.

    None of this depresses me. At this point I find it fascinating and hilarious. I can only imagine who will be running for President in the next election. Will Honey Boo Boo be named to a Cabinet position?

    This Warhol “interview” below isn’t of any interest, but the comments after it reveal the level of sophistication that is all-pervasive in the art world of the moment. We’re a society of vacuous consumer morons and our art is made to satisfy that taste, regardless of the fakery of the art pundits attempting to sanitize the sewage. We continue to sink. Philadelphia is the latest American city to announce they need to destroy what’s left of their education system because it costs too much money to run.

    As the level of intelligence of the audience descends, so too does the content of art, politics and media. It’s a system of propaganda and hype covering up a gigantic void. Potemkin culture.

    In America the cultural level wasn’t very high to begin with, so putting over Warhol, Haring, Rothenberg/Nauman, etc. was a cinch. 6th graders have all the artistic competence necessary to become major American artists. Everyone panders to this if they want to have viability within the system. You can read The New Yorker to find out brilliant the latest HBO sensation Girls is. Whatever is popular with a mass pseudo-hip audience is by definition great art. The consumer is always right. The genius of the American people is virtually infallible.

    Anyway, Michelangelo wasn’t an artist. He was a religious fanatic devoted to Savonarola. Fra Angelico was a Dominican friar. Rembrandt was a nobody whose death wasn’t even recorded in the Amsterdam newspaper. The whole notion of the artist/genius was a creation of Romanticism and it’s over. Good riddance. All I do is try to wake up and put in a solid days work. … then put it in a drawer or stacked with the paintings.

  13. Paul Rumsey says:

    We also have had some TV shows about artists competing for prizes etc, there was one with artists producing work to win a place in a Saatchi show. The girl who won it had found a bit of fallen branch impaled on some spiked railings and exhibited that as a found object.

    The best TV show on art I have seen was called ‘Goldsmiths, but is it art?’, you can see the episodes on YouTube, it was about a group of students preparing for their final year show.
    Goldsmiths is the top UK art school, many of the YBAs went there.

    I thought that the documentary was a better work of art than any of the art produced, it was very funny because it did not criticize or comment, it just let the students talk, but let the camera run, leaving in all the hesitations and mumbling incoherent bullshit rather than editing, which revealed the anxiety, desperation, confusion and uncertainty.

    The artist who was awarded top marks explains that her ‘artistic practice’ is about theft, she goes shoplifting, swallows small objects, like jewelry, and exhibits them after they have passed through her body.
    She also steals another artists work ,- a famous conceptual artists had taken some plants from Scotland and planted them in Spain, – so she goes to Spain and brings the plants back, tells the artist what she has done, and then exhibits his irate correspondence.
    And she steals the idea of another artist, (which she has seen at a workshop being made), and has a replica made and exhibits it before the artist has a chance to exhibit it himself.

    Here is a very short clip which I thought hilarious…..Goldsmiths: But is it Art – Shit Seminar.

  14. Paul Rumsey says:

    And here is another short clip to give you a taste…..

  15. trueoutsider says:

    You’re right. No comment necessary.

    But to be honest, I find the Art Renewal Center crowd equally doltish.

    I’m not sure how you’re reading them or reading me, but I can assure you there’s very little opinion of any kind that I share with the Art Renewal Groupthink Gang. As a matter of fact, I was banned from the last forum I was on trying to make some sense of their inane views. I wasn’t banned because of any discourteous remarks or insults. I was banned because my remarks were simply not within the acceptable parameters of Church of Art Renewal discussion.

    The biggest joke of all (to me) is on the Rational Painting site where they advertise their deployment of “critical thinking and analytical approaches.” There are a gaggle of identical forums that all have the same critical thinking and analysis and remarkably enough they all make exactly identical paintings using identical techniques with identical results. Artists who arrive there expressing any individual opinions are immediately brought into line so as to conform to the groupthink. The Academic Masters have analyzed art history and figured out what art is and how to make it by following easy-to-use and proven methods of paint mixing and flesh-tone matching, aided by Munsell charts and gray scales. So there’s no reason whatsoever for anyone to have an independent thought whatsoever.

    Art is about Beauty! Who needs truth, particularly if it ain’t Beautiful?

    This is, in effect, the French Beaux Arts for Idiots.

    For me, it’s a virtual toss up between the sentimentalized kitsch of the Church of Art Renewal and a Takeshi Murakami/Lisa Yukvasage… throw in John Currin and Koons.

    I find this interesting. What you have are virtually identical painting styles in terms of lack of authentic feeling or emotion. In its place is mechanical paint application using impersonal painting formulas based on French Academic style and completely trite subject matter.

    The artists have nothing of their own to say that would expose an iota of a subjective response to life. Jacob Collins, Yuskavage, Currin, Graydon Parrish, Leffel might as well be robots in terms of any individuated consciousness transmitted in their paintings. There’s no thought of any sort going on in this work.

    … detached, dehumanized, mechanical, easy brand identification, easily reproduced, clean… exactly what one expects from the rest of the consumer products you want to purchase.

    Pollock, de Kooning, Gorky, Rothko have nothing whatsoever in common with work of this sort. ARC calls these artists a hoax because they haven’t the foggiest notion what painting is about. They simply don’t understand anything that has emotional or psychological depth. They’re craftspeople, not artists. Big difference.

    It’s quite simple, really. What’s been driven out of painting of any sort, be it in traditional conservative enclaves or Blue Chip galleries and and Contemporary Art Museums is painting with any kind of rich emotional depth, feeling or reaction to lived reality. For what used to be termed expressionism you find the pompous and predictable fakery of the Schnabel/Rothenberg/Basquiat variety. And who was Basquiat’s great love, after all? Andy Warhol.

    I’m just stating what to me is the obvious. Why nobody else agrees with me is still a great mystery. Do all these contemporary artists really believe the flat leaden work of Jasper Johns is great art? Do all these traditional realists think the inexpressive robotic quality of Jacob Collins’ work is the epitome of artistic genius?

    Interesting, right? With the former avant-garde movements the entire point was to crush what had gone before and break into entirely new realms of artistic expression. At the point American Art takes over, moving into the 1960s what you get are titanic waves of cash propping up incredibly slight work… after all a Jasper Johns or Kenneth Noland don’t evolve an iota once they get their trademark style, which isn’t much to write home about. And those artists aren’t to be superseded by breaking into new dimensions. They’re cultural icons universally admired and worshipped.

    Isn’t this the case? Or am I dreaming all of this? Is there some issue of Art Forum, Art News or Art in America where a critic makes the case that Warhol or Johns are a load of bullshit? That making this kind of repetitive, impersonal and banal work over decades indicates just how limited and mediocre these artists were? John Chamberlain of the thousands of junk automobile sculptures?

    Maybe I do sound like ARC at times, after all…

    Perhaps that’s the only reason I continue to think about this dilemma.. hoping I can solve these mysteries,…

  16. Paul Rumsey says:

    I am rather tempted to do a drawing of the Goldsmiths ‘Shit Seminar’, I have done some sketches for it….

    I mostly agree with your views on 20c art, and your views on the ARC.

    I think we both like many of the same 20c artists, we have mentioned them before… but there are probably some 20c artists that you like which I do not like, and perhaps some that I like that you are not keen on.
    For example I have a deep dislike for most of the work of Picasso, but rather like the work of Duchamp.

    I look at stuff and think, do I like it? Do I not like it? Why? And then I try and justify my position.
    And then when I think that I might have solved the mystery and think ‘Is that the secret of great art?’ I think of another artist that I like who does the opposite and contradicts the position I was taking.
    And over the years my position changes and I find that some art that I thought very interesting interests me much less, and art that I had not liked much I get interested in.

    The ARC crowd seem to like a rather boring area of academic art, Bouguereau I find mostly very boring, but his painting of Dante and Virgil in Hell…. I rather like it.
    The ARC also like Burne-Jones…. I like a lot of his work, he can be very strange, obsessive and surreal…. and Picasso liked Burne- Jones ….

  17. trueoutsider says:

    I certainly wouldn’t expect, nor would I be in favor of us having identical opinions on art. What would there be to talk about or be provoked to think about?

    I find it interesting that you have a “deep” dislike for the work of Picasso, although I can’t imagine why. But there’s no need for you to go into it. And I certainly would have no interest in arguing you out of it or trying to enlighten you as to why you should like Picasso. If you think Picasso is a load of shit it’s certainly no skin off my nose.

    There are bedrock artists that haven’t changed for me at all over time, other than that my appreciation of their work has deepened significantly. But “aesthetic” or “taste” things change. As an example, as a youth I was put off by the sooty quality of all that black in Paul Delvaux’s painting. Now he’s one of my favorite painters and the black paint doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

    There’s certainly a lot of art that I detest around nowadays. There are a few standouts who are at the apex of the worst of it. The stuff I have the least use for is fake expressionism: Susan Rothenberg, Basquiat, Schnabel…. Lucian Freud remarked that he didn’t like any of Picasso’s Blue Period work because it was filled with false feeling. That’s exactly what I find in the artists like those above…false feeling.

    Perhaps you see Picasso in the same way?

    The only quality that really holds my attention in art is metaphysical/ontological/ spiritual content. And there isn’t any content of that nature in 99 percent of what I see being made today. Nobody I’m aware of believes in it, or if they do they’re damn quiet about it. I believe in it.

    It began to be eliminated with the rise of artists like Stella/Johns/Rauschenberg/Warhol in the early 60s and has proceeded unimpeded for half a century.

    There won’t be any new artists with the belief system of a John Bellany hired even if one existed at the RA of today, which is just a financial concern, as are the rest of the art institutions designed to bleed students of as much money as they can with giving them as little in return as possible. Small wonder the students are shitting out objects they stole.

    I ask myself how is it that I posted on Bellany and Jock McFadyen without knowing your connection to them when I made the posts…? … particularly the centrality of Bellany’s influence on your development…

    Without ontological content all that exists is entertainment and more or less interesting wall designs. You don’t have to go to an art gallery or museum to see art work that’s different in any way, shape or form from the work hanging on the walls of Nordstrom’s.

    This is all a function of late Capitalism. It has nothing to do with art. Duchamp made a comment about it,…. art would have to go underground until the economic fireworks subsided. 40 years underground is a long time, believe me. But it’s interesting to see it all breaking apart and coming to ruin at the moment.

  18. Paul Rumsey says:

    The sooty blacks in Delvaux… I had not identified that quality before, but now you mention it I can see it.
    One of the first things I was taught about art was that artists should not use black, that any darkness should be mixed from other colors, it is a cliche of art teaching.

    On You Tube you can find a series of comedy sketches from ‘The Fast Show’ about the artistic phobia for black, an artist couple painting watercolor landscapes, and the artist goes crazy when he says the word ‘black’, and in each sketch his wife tries to stop him saying the word, but fails…. search ‘johnny nice painter black’.

    My favorite comedy film about art is Tony Hancock in ‘The Rebel’, you can find that on You Tube also…..the scene where his landlady pushes her way into his flat and sees his artworks is brilliant.

    Thank you very much for ‘The artist taxi driver’, a real discovery …..

    Yes, I find ‘false feeling’ in Picasso blues, but there are many other things I don’t like about his work, and also about his celebrity and the the almost god like perception of his ‘genius’.
    I keep going back to his work trying to identify why I hate it, some of his ways of painting I dislike more than others, it drives me crazy, I find it so frustrating, annoying, boring, repetitious, ugly, the stupid expression in those staring eyes, the over confident dominating marks, the shapes, the scrubby brush marks, the dirty colors, the lack of space, of atmosphere, the flatness… I feel that my eye bounces off the surface… I can’t engage… but I keep going back to look again, not because I want to, but to try and see what others see in him… because everyone loves him, there are more books on Picasso than any other artist, so I guess I must be wrong.

    Any way, sorry about the ranting, I hope you enjoy ‘Johnny nice painter’ and Hancock, have you seen them before?

  19. trueoutsider says:

    I don’t mind the rant. I think I’ll have one of my own.

    I don’t think you’re wrong to have those perceptions. Artist’s perceptions of things are what they are. Right and wrong don’t enter into it. I don’t view Picasso that way myself, but I certainly don’t consider my perceptions correct and yours false. And I completely agree with you that the notion of having to take on Picasso is a load of rubbish.

    It’s what’s led to the destruction of painting. I disagree with the entire myth of progress that’s been foisted on a world of idiots. That art is some a linear progression is about the stupidest myth that’s ever been promulgated. The NEXT BIG THING…. No mystery at all artists are now farting into microphones (some of the great art at a local gallery). That’s what they were taught to do at Art School. Tracey Emin teaching art. It’s all about the money, man…. all that matters to these pinheads.

    The people tasked to teach painting, with few exceptions, haven’t the slightest idea of what painting is because instead of exploring it they simply followed whatever dictate was handed to them by art Theorists, primarily coming from Clement Greenberg. All of them either copying Abstract Expressionism or wanting to outdo it by making the most flat painting ever. Painting has gotten flat, all right. Flatter than a fucking photograph.

    It’s extraordinary what a bunch of lemmings artists became in the 1950s. .. The biggest laugh is that there seems to still be a notion around that artists are non-conformists. … all walking around in their black outfits making their post-Modernist concoctions with their half-wit irony and smug arrogance. If the Artists Taxi Driver wanted to see some coke use he should have been around an art school in the early 80s. Coke head morons are as big a fixture in the art world as in British Parliament or Wall Street.

    Like I say, read Electroboy. That’s the imbecile Art World in a nutshell.

    Painting became a matter of lifestyle choice completely detached from any kind of involvement in or observation of the real world or serious work of any kind. All that you had to observe was that painting went from Cézanne to Picasso to Pollock to Jasper Johns. And you can learn to paint like Jasper Johns in a 2-day painting seminar. Robert fucking Ryman. .. Have you ever gotten a load of that pile of shit? This stuff was worshipped. Un-fucking-believable…. And you wonder where people have gotten the idea that artists are a pack of morons.

    A complete crock of shit. More conformist than the French Academy could have dreamed of being. The French Academy had myriad dissidents out to find what painting was for themselves.

    The asshole notion of innovation became to find some new industrial material and slather that on a canvas… Something as moronically hokey as cracking plates and gluing them on canvas skyrocketed Julian Schnabel to fame. And the fuckwit critics all jumped on the bandwagon. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have had a job writing for prestigious art magazines, which are no more than sales catalogs for the galleries that advertise in them.

    The entire thing has been a complete farce for decades. Now we have the biggest nitwit assemblage ever gathered in one place in the history of the human race traipsing around from art fair to art fair… rotten oil money, crooked banking money, drug-laundering money, trust fund money. And you hear a peep out of the rotten bunch of sycophantic wannabees or head-up-the-ass cloud 9 Nirvana painters roaming through the ethereal plains of Art Heaven with the slightest objection? Not on your life. Everyone wants to be an art star.

    PS: The Impressionists ALL had black paint on their palettes at one time or another and their paintings were all the more brilliant for it. The pigment analysis shows it in Art in the Making: Impressionism (Yale University Press). Those who can do; Those who can’t teach. And the teachers I had didn’t know the first fucking thing about painting other than to read Ralph Mayer (at best) and to teach painting out of some formula handed to them by Clement Greenberg. FLAT PAINTING. Google the Yale painting art faculty if you think the RA faculty is trending toward complete bullshit. That’s where everything’s ending up. A stinking graveyard.

    OK… It’s time for me to jump in my Art Taxi and get to work.

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