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Death of a sculptor

Sculptor Louise Bourgeois has died at 98

Louise BourgeoisI was saddened today to hear of the death of the sculptor Louise Bourgeios. It would be great if such artists could live forever, though I suppose 98 is a pretty good age by anyone's standards.

I first came across her work in the mid-1980s, if memory serves, and cut out and kept an article about her from the Sunday Times. In one photo - which I now know to be by Mapplethorple - she had a wicked, old-lady's face and a giant phallus (entitled 'Little Girl') tucked under one arm.

Later, I just LOVED her series of spider sculptures - the title 'Maman' means, I might guess, that we had similar sorts of mother...

She was a true artist, with something to say, and that thing most definitely female, abour power and powerlessness, death, sexuality and betrayal.

For a retrospective on her life, visit the Beeb



The house of the weird

Paula Rego has become one of the few living artists to get a museum in their honour

The Policeman's DaughterThere is a lovely article here on the fabulous Paula Rego.

Lord, it makes me feel old, though. It mentions her first exhibition in 1987 - 22 years ago! - and I think this may be the one that I went to. Or perhaps I became aware of her when she was shortlisted for the Turner. 

At any event, it was a long time ago. 

In the 1980s I was quite bowled over by her pictures, which are very unsettling, taking you into the territory of the Brothers Grimm. I cut out and kept this painting (left) The Policeman's Daughter for many years, which tells me some unknown story about the past. Her painting The Family (below) is equally scary.

Teh FamilyNor has her work eased up over the years - she is one of those splendid artists who know what art is about, though I'm sorry to hear she's 74 now - it would be nice to have her around for another 40 yers. 

Anyway, - read the article, which mentions a new museum of her work in Lisbon - a rare tribute to a living artist.

And check out her paintings on the Saatchi site


Emin giving up sex in favour of 'ideas'

Could be true - could Tracey Emin be growing up at last? Not likely...

Sex has stopped being the driving force in her life, says Tracey Emin. She is now, apparently, more interested in ideas

Well thank God for that.

Perhaps the British public can now avoid being shown her soiled sheets, or tents scribbled with the names of everyone she's ever slept with, and being fobbed off with the pretence that this is, in some way, art.

Clearly not in the immediate future, however, since her latest bunch of nonsense includes a looped animation of a woman masturbating (£22,500) and a neon sign that reads: "Oh Christ I just wanted you to fuck me and then I became greedy, I wanted you to love me." Nice work if you can get it, say I.

On the other hand, in the real world it's enough to make you weep.

Art is a wonderful thing. Every civilisation creates it, and when the civilisation itself is gone, we can judge it by the art that remains. It is the fount of human expression.

But art of any sort should not merely be about expression, it should be about communication. What has Emin's so-called 'art' ever communicated? In what way does it move the viewer to sorrow or delight? In what way does it enlighten? In what way does it even amuse? It does none of these things, and therefore - IMHO - it is not art. Frankly, it's not even decoration. What it is, is a con against the viewer and the public. 

It will be interesting to see, as Emin approaches her 50th birthday, if she can finally manage to understand that art is a collaborative enterprise between the artist and the viewer - that it should SAY something, that it should MEAN something. If could make even that small step, perhaps it would show that she had finally grown up.  


Magic restored

A restored version of Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes has been screened at Cannes.

Check out this interview with the wonderful Thelma Schoonmaker.

Schoonmaker is talking about the restoration of The Red Shoes, and it gave me one of my rare moments of absolute green-eyed envy. I would have given my eye teeth to be at this screening. 

The Red Shoes, by Powell and Pressburger (Schoonmaker later married Powell, btw) is a wonderful, glorious, unsettling film about art. When I first saw it as a child, I was still studying dance, so I saw myself as the ballerina. Later in life I saw myself more as the director, or perhaps the composer. But whatever your leanings, it is a fantastic film about the creative process and what it costs you. It is also so weird and trippy and magically creepy that the DH often refuses to watch it because he finds it too unsettling, and it becomes one of my alone-in-the-dark private pleasures. 

The restoration, led by Martin Scorsese, has resulted in what look like gloriously saturated colours. I don't know if I'll ever get to seeit on a big screen, sadly, but it looks like I'll be buying it for the third time - this film has been with me on video and DVD for over 20 years, and now I will definitely want the restored version, which even from a quick glimpse, looks like it jumps right off the screen at you. 

Schoonmaker herself, of course, is no slouch - one of the best, if not THE best, editor in the business. One look at the editing for Raging Bull will tell you that. Worth checking out all of her films on IMDB and going through them one by one. She has worked with Scorsese for over 30 years.

He is now trying to raise money to restore The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - another Powell and Pressburger masterpiece.


Fading from the world

William Utermohlen's self-portraits vividly chronicle his descent into Alzheimer's disease.

Some time ago, the New York Times ran a story on an exhibition of paintings by William Utermohlen that chronicle his descent into dementia. I only came across it yesterday, but thought I would share it, as I found it profoundly moving.

William Utermohlen self portrait 1996Utermohlen, now 74, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1996. He now lives in a nursing home and is unable to paint.

As Utermohlen's self-portraits progressed (his own attempt to understand his disease), you can see the image of a human being once engaged in life becoming more troubled by it, less confident, the colour draining away from the palette, the spatial sense beginning to slip. His eyes retreat into the canvas, beginning to stare mutely out - in the end almost invisible.  His wife, a professor of art history, says that he knew that technical errors were creeping into his work, but did not know how to correct them. But what is left is, in a way, the essence of painting - the feeling of pure emotion on canvas. 

Perhaps these paintings move me because on a personal level, Alzheimer's is now the disease I fear more than any other. Something bodily, I feel, you might fight with your mind, but when losing your mind, what weapons can you fight it with?

William Utermohlen self portrait 2000My parents are both dead, but I am now at the age when my contemporaries are encountering dementia in theirs. A few weeks ago, one of my friends finally committed her mother to a nursing home. The fight has been exhausting. Mrs C was a tough and intelligent woman and as Alzheimer's has eaten away at her mind, her essential character has in some ways remained unchanged. But her husband could no longer cope - the endless 'sundowning', with his wife up all night, turning lights on and off, turning the gas on and off. Insistent, determined, the most difficult of patients, and yet at times like a frightened child. To see this once-confident woman consumed by fear and uncertainty has been the most heart-rending aspect of this disease for her family. 

Dementia is the cruellest of diseases, ebbing and flowing, returning people's sanity for brief seconds or minutes, them removing it again, leaving families shattered and a person finally lost unto himself. And it is looming on the horizon for many of us if science cannot make a breakthrough - to find why the brain 'oxidises', rusting like an old vessel. But all we can hope for is that they make that breakthrough - and as quickly as possible. 

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows
My friends forsake me like a memory lost,
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love's frenzied, stifled throes—
And yet I am, and live—like vapors tossed 

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
Even the dearest, that I love the best,
Are strange—nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes, where man hath never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept—
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling, and untroubled where I lie,
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

John Clare, Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, 1844


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