Drawing Board

In the aftermath of the destruction wreaked in south-east London in early August, Standpoint contributor Peter Whittle returned to his hometown with photographer Malcolm Crowthers. He found a community torn apart by multiculturalism, one he barely recognised from his childhood.

Read his piece here.

All photographs by Malcolm Crowthers. http://www.malcolmcrowthers.com/

The New York-based British photographer Steve Pyke’s new book is the result of a 20-year project to create a “gallery of minds: a series of portraits of the “Philosophy Tribe”, a community, Pyke argues, “that deserves a wider audience”. The collection is intimate and at times playful, reflecting the close relationship the photographer has built up with his subjects. The personal aspects of the portraits do not constitute “facts, nor reality, nor truth,” says Pyke, “but they are a means that we have created to extend our way of seeing in our search for truth.” As one sitter, Arthur C. Danto, says in the book’s foreword, Steve Pyke is “a master photographer of the soul”. The portraits also appear at the Flowers gallery, London, W1 until October 1.

Susanna and the Elders, the woodcut pictured, shows me on the right and the painter Tim Behrens on the left, admiring a pretty waitress in a bar. We are being observed by some younger people. The paintings are still lifes made up of objects and postcards from my studio. Sometimes a still life may be composed partly by chance; for instance, the black cloth fell into that twisted shape accidentally, creating what looked like a little empty stage which I then dressed. Sometimes the objects are there for more personal reasons. I thought of the little monkey gazing at my baseball cap as a self-portrait. I like to paint things that I know well; that is why the ink bottle, the Mexican skull and the monkey appear more than once. I have painted the lion about ten times. Here are a couple of remarks about painting that I always bear in mind when I work:

William Meyers, who wrote about photography for the New York Sun, is one of those rarities — a critic who can also create. Some of his time he spends writing, eloquently and insightfully, about photography. Often, he straps on his Leica and prowls the city, producing museum-quality work of his own. This is attested by his new project “Civics”, which includes these photographs and scores of others. Meyers springs from a tradition of New York photography of civic matters that goes back to the pictures that illustrated How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis, a contributor to the Sun. in the 19th century.

My exhibition at the National Gallery, Clive Head: Modern Perspectives (October 13-November 28), displays the use of perspective as a contemporary tool for painting. Creating paintings is always about inventing space, but the rigid geometry of Renaissance perspective might seem to preclude the possibility of innovation in contemporary art. This is further entrenched by photography, which is dependent on a limited perspectival formula for a fixed and narrow way of recording the world. My paintings challenge both historic versions of perspective and current photographic realism. Rooted in my experience of looking around the urban environment and moving through it, a multitude of spaces, built upon a mathematics of perspective created uniquely for each painting, are presented seamlessly within a single unified picture.

Dame Paula Rego claims never to have read Freud — a nice irony given that her psychologically complex works, deeply imbued with the sexual and the sinister, are as ripe for analysis as those of any artist working today. The London-based Anglo-Portuguese painter and printmaker herself cautions against interpreting her pictures as indicators of her own psyche and she has little interest in explaining them. When asked about the mysterious figure in one of her works, she simply responded: “It’s there because it looks right.” It is, however, impossible to view her pictures and not to feel their charge.

Avigdor Arikha, who died in Paris on April 29 aged 81, was one of the most interesting and accomplished of an internationally renowned group of figurative artists who dominated the latter decades of the 20th century, among them Lucian Freud, R. B. Kitaj and David Hockney. 

Although Arikha was a polymath and intellectual, his working method was deeply visual and placed the greatest value on the intense and unblinking scrutiny of the object in front of him. In common with his artistic predecessors, Bonnard and Vuillard, his subject matter was mainly domestic and seemingly circumscribed by the world immediately around him — self-portraits, portraits of friends and family, nudes, still-lifes of everyday objects, the library and studio in the Paris apartment he shared with his wife, the poet Anne Atik, as well as views from its windows. 

I first met R. B. Kitaj in the 1980s with his friends the artist John Golding, the historian James Joll and the philosopher Richard Wollheim. At home in such formidable intellectual company, Kitaj more than held his own in discussions about aesthetics and politics. Indeed, he contributed a uniquely broad and transatlantic frame of reference to what he called the School of London. Born in the United States, he was trained in Vienna, New York, Oxford and London. Eschewing national identities, Kitaj called himself a Diasporist but embraced the entire Judaeo-Christian tradition, identifying strongly with pre-war Jewish intellectuals such as Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin. Together with David Hockney and Lucian Freud, Kitaj played a crucial role in the restoration of figurative art, especially of the human form, overcoming entrenched prejudices in Europe and America.

Who was the most technically adventurous artist of the 20th century? The obvious answer would be Picasso but a more accurate one would be Henry Moore. While both men fixated on the human body and both examined it in every medium, for sheer variety Moore trumps his showy Spanish peer. The exhibition at Tate Britain (reviewed on page 69) is a reminder of just how curious and adept an artist Moore was. He worked in stone, wood, plaster, bronze, watercolour, wax, etching, fabric, Biro and more, and was skilled in them all. Why, after all, shouldn’t a Yorkshireman be as protean as an Andalusian?


All images © The Henry Moore Foundation 

High summer casts a dusty light over the city. I worked on the Mall on a couple of Sunday afternoons. I loved painting the flags — two-dimensional objects turned into three by the way they hung in folds. They were transferred back into two dimensions on the canvas. Artists love painting stripes and flags because they show form. There’s an end of Empire feeling in The Mall near Buckingham Palace perhaps because it was painted in late July when summer had peaked and everyone was heading to the coast. I hope, the painting suggests something durable — empires do fade but they leave a legacy.