Victoria Miro Gallery, London
13 April - 22 May 2002
The mood of these paintings is disquieting; they hover between a dream or fantasy world and reality. Reality is conjured by the inclusion of references to actual experience: the two figures by the entrance of the winding path with its connotations of a pathway leading to another realm of existence, are late 18th century military figures with large moustaches and large hats. ‘Petruschka’ is written at the side of the canvas (misspelled), and while the painting resembles a theatrical backdrop (evocative small boat on dark water at night) it in fact refers to an incident when the artist was a student, working backstage at Covent Garden as a dresser where he and a friend got into costume themselves.
Although there are various contemporary anecdotes and references in the paintings of Doig’s exhibition, as a group they represent a curious state of mind where specific place, anecdote or commentary play no part. There are elements of American literature or film, unfamiliar poetic references leaving one feeling undecided about how they belong in a contemporary perspective. Adrian Searle writes, ‘So the painting is like a memory, or a souvenir. But it is more than a memento. It is history painting as fancy dress, the scene as fake as a moustache stuck on with spirit gum. That said it is still a scene from life, but one that has drifted into fiction. We want to believe it, and to lose ourselves in the painted world, if not exactly to imagine checking in to the Gasthof. It is hard to tell where truth lies, what has been seen, what has been made-up, and what stories we are telling ourselves’. There may well be a new interest in Symbolist art that is evident in the exhibition of Casper David Friedrich at Somerset House, to be reviewed next month in Studio International. It is a great pleasure to be able to view fine painting with its directness and ambiguity and to dwell on its meaning and place within a wider contemporary context.
Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads
Francis Bacon: Portraits and Heads – The loss of faith in humanity in the late 1940s was such that the human image in art became increasingly difficult to portray. The existential despair expressed by Jean-Paul Sartre in Nausea (1938), found a visual counterpart in the images of despair and alienation of Francis Bacon, the expressionism of Oskar Kokoschka and the apocalyptic visions of Arthur Boyd. For the most part, abstraction in the visual arts dominated because, after the horrors of Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, artists found images of humanity impossible to create.
American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880
In the opening column of the curator Andrew Wilton’s excellent catalogue summary, The Sublime in the Old World and the New he refers most appropriately to President Thomas Jefferson’s famous government scientific expedition, carried out by Captain Lewis and Lieutenant Clark. Two years were allocated to the quest for the true course of the great Missouri River, tracing it up from its confluence with the Mississippi at St Louis to its source in the Rocky Mountains, to cross the continental divide and then to follow the Columbia River to its Pacific exit.
New German Painting – book review
This book, edited by Christoph Tannert, provides a well-edited selection of contemporary work by younger artists and allows a structured 'road map' about what is actually going on. In fact, the scene is very dynamic and innovative, precisely as contributor Graham Bader indicates.