Saturday, July 19, 2008


Interesting exhibition of portraits by the Vorticist Wyndham Lewis at the National Portrait Gallery. My favourites were Edith Sitwell, T.S.Eliot and Portrait of the Artist as the Painter Raphael . Not a nice man, Mr. Lewis, but I appreciate his unsentimentally constructed subjects, like secular icons in which character is presented as architecture and emotion can be trapped in the precise folds of a jacket as well as in the slope of a cheek. He doesn't have a lot of depth but he sure knows how to make a surface meaningful.

I was instantly struck by Wyndham's borrowing from Van Gogh's L'Arlésienne (1888) in the satirical 1921 self-portrait Mr. Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro - the colour-scheme, the jagged edges - it's such an obvious influence yet nowhere, in none of the reviews or monographs, have I seen this juxtaposition. Am I the only person to have noticed it? Ha! Maybe you're seeing it here first.

It's such a relief, sometimes, to move in thoughtful silence amongst paintings, drawings and prints - images within familiar rectangles of canvas or paper or board - instead of being accosted by the whole shebang of multimedia artifacts and arty fictions which dominates our cultural landscape like a gigantic, noisy circus. Paintings that still exude the excitment that must have permeated artists' ateliers at the turn of the century and into the twenties, when truly radical things were being done inside that old traditional rectangular space. Illusory window or flat surface, there's something deeply satisfying about a rectangle of any size. With colour and line alone a painter can project thoughts, re-create the world, interpret reality, change reality, dispense with reality - all within a four-sided boundary.

I've started a very large painting, partly self-portrait partly something else I don't know yet. Autobio continues in the next post. Summertime is the time blogging slows down, isn't it?


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