The name of the exhibition I went to at the RA was apt, as was the tone of the information boards and the whole curation – it was knowing, and it was very much about current times. It was a small but busy show, in the lesser part of the Academy buildings – the Sackler space- and focussed on non-abstract painting in 1930’s and 40’s America. The starting point was the Wall Street Crash and New Deal that saw Artists being subsidised by the state to create public works. The *star* of the show was meant to be Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’- a famous image of a dour man and woman standing in front of a farmhouse – an image much copied and parodied, almost as much as the ‘Mona Lisa’. For me this was not the golden image of the show – though it was very popular and used in promotional materials – there was no one stand out. Instead I was pleased to find artists I did not know, and that made connections, interesting, pleasant connections, in my head. I learned that America had it’s version of Communist Russia’s ‘Social Realism’ – not anti-Social Realism, but Capitalist Realism. In addition I learned that the US also had it’s version of Otto Dix’s sad, seedy, blasted visions of Weimar Germany. I like these types of connections. I like the buzzes and pops and sparks that happen in my head when I see them. I like, I get great pleasure, from finding artists new to me.
Grant Wood (1891-1942) – ‘American Gothic’ 1930
Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) – ‘When the Fleet Comes In’ . 1934
This image, with it’s naughty sailors and painted ladies and gents made me think of Dix.
The picture I spent most time with (I went round the show twice – it was very crowded) was actually a seemingly unremarkable image of industry ‘And the Home of the Brave’ 1931 by Charles Demuth (1883-1935):
Why? Because of an odd nostalgia. The bottom third of the painting, where the colours become pastel and the shadows disappear, reminded me of the work of Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005) who apart from being born in my part of London, was an artist I only got to know at A’level. The Summer weather (it’s rather hot in London at the moment) always makes me think of my teenage years, and I believe that I’m thinking of them even more than usual at the moment. I dislike Summer because my body cannot cope well with heat, I have oily ‘bad’ skin which glistens in Winter, I sweat an uncomfortable amount and worst of all, because it makes me think like a teenager. My teen Summers were spent in a room with all the windows open but the curtains closed, watching TNT and Cartoon Network. I had no friends and my parents didn’t encourage activities. I feel a little like this at the moment. I’m in the house a great deal and the only person I talk to regularly is my Dad. As you see, I have been out, but rather than breaking my funk, it seems to have added to it. I’m going to hear a talk on Queer Art (or the Queer in Art) given by someone I’ve known for 10 years, but I’m so nervous I’m fretting about my clothes like I were meeting the Queen. When you don’t socialise, you get out of practise. I need to flex my social muscles.
Patrick Caulfield – ‘Still Life: Autumn Fashion’, 1978
I have done one absolutely positive thing: I planted seeds in my garden. I finally got round to it. I sifted the soil on the top of the large bed (it’s taken 2 weeks working at 15 minutes a time), added lots of mixed wildflower seeds, and covered with new soil. It’s very late in the year to be doing this, but let’s hope it works. One of the Hellebores gave up the ghost, but the orchids are doing well – Orchid 2 has 6 flowers out on 2 stems, one flower waiting and what seems to be a new spur. Orchid 1 has one stem, but it’s a mighty one – knobbly, difficult to train and with the air of a dragon’s penis about it.