Alan Gouk

#59. Emyr Williams writes on Alan Gouk Recent Paintings at HSoA

“Mandalaysian Orchid”, 2016, 66″x100″, acrylic on canvas

Alan Gouk: New Abstract Colour Paintings  28 March – 12 May 2017, Hampstead School of Art, Penrose Gardens, London NW3 7BP www.hampstead-school-of-art.org

Elephints a-pilin’ teak

In the sludgy, squdgy creek,

Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!

On the road to Mandalay…

Rudyard Kipling: A Road to Mandalay (from his Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses, 1892)

Alan Gouk last exhibited at Hampstead School of Art in 2014: a series of gouache and acrylic on paper paintings marked by an overt fluidity of handling. Soups of primary and secondary colours were brushed, pushed and dragged into some of Gouk’s signature configurations: vertical gestures often animated with curves and leaning diagonals, set against supportive or disruptive horizontals. Working with this sort of liquidity and with this palette forces a painter to deal with brown; primaries end up there when all mixed – sometimes fatally, other times splendidly. This is the risk run and painting in this way is akin to driving on a cliff road – add speed into the equation and it can be quite a ride.

Hampstead School of Art has since moved into a stylish new bespoke building designed by architects Allies and Morrison and celebrates its 70th year. The modest café space providing the gallery walls. As a patron of this establishment, Gouk has reciprocated by moving his painting on too. After the recce of those gouaches, we can see the evidence of a more flowing “in the moment” attack. There were a couple of smaller works on show, but the main protagonists were five large, quite sumptuous paintings in newly adopted acrylics instead of the usual oil paint. Gouk coyly suggested the economy of acrylic was a deciding factor. (Having just purchased a post-Brexit order of acrylics at pre-Brexit prices before they go up 15% this month and finding myself eyeing up more and more lonely post offices in secluded locations, I am not entirely persuaded by that reasoning.) Acrylic flows over larger areas and there are a lot more surface variations that can be employed when compared to oil, especially with the addition of an ever-bewildering variety of facture-determining mediums.

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#51. Alan Gouk writes on the Shchukin Collection at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

Gallery of Matisses at the Shchukin Collection, photo John Pollard

Gallery of Matisses at the Shchukin Collection; photo John Pollard

The Shchukin Collection at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris has been extended to 5th March 2017.

http://www.fondationlouisvuitton.fr/en.html

This unmissable show is likely to be the highlight of this year and possibly of the decade. The flamboyant kite-like superstructure in Frank Gehry’s signature style apart, the main galleries display beautifully the visionary taste and judgement of this extraordinary Russian collector. What monstrosities may we expect when this show closes? Gerhard Richter? Cy Twombly? Bill Viola? Ai Wei Wei? God help us! So let us rejoice while we can that there once was a man of superlative judgement to take the true temperature of his times, a time before the psychopathology of art globalisation. This is an exhibition that normally would have gone to the Met. or the National Gallery. How many handbag sales have gone into this colossally expensive enterprise on the fringes of the Bois De Boulogne?

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#48. Alan Gouk writes on Katherine Gili sculpture

Katherine Gili, "Quinary", 2014, steel, H.62.5cm

Katherine Gili, “Quinary”, 2014, steel, H.62.5cm

Katherine Gili: Looking for the Physical was at Felix and Spear, Ealing, London, 10th November – 13th December 2016.

http://www.felixandspear.com/katherine-gili

The sculptural power of Leonide, 1981-82, as it thrusts into space, to go no further back in Gili’s oeuvre, is clear affirmation that sculpture whose aim is to engage one immediately in a spatial way rather than having a predominant viewing point, does not need to do so equally from all points on the compass. Considered as an analogue for a structure, (with its figurative connotations in abeyance for the moment) its “stance” is forthright and unambiguous. It has remarkable physical presence from wherever it is viewed. It IS – it exists as an object in space, articulate and articulated, self-assertive and self-justifying (though that’s not all that it is). Each element is clearly defined in character and in its structural role. And it seems to say something about Gili herself, an enduring strength of character and artistic identity, proving that the unconscious reveals itself more through arduous realisation and reflection, than through perceptual self-trickery or doodling. It makes Giacometti for instance look very feeble indeed.

The fact that its structure is also a representation, if at some remove, of a body in movement allows one to accept without demur that it is anchored to a base and cantilevered from there.

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#43. Alan Gouk writes on Abstract Expressionism at the RA

Jackson Pollock, "Mural", 1943

Jackson Pollock, “Mural”, 1943

The prevailing trend in London to mount such exhibitions in gloomy half-light may serve to enhance Rothko, but it casts a pall of premature burial over many of the rooms, the first especially. However sensible this may be from a conservationist perspective, one wants to see these pictures survive in the light in which they were painted, and not in a reverential aura of profundity seeking historicism. The excessive use of the dimmer switch means that one is in the dark in one room, in half-light the next, and only in daylight for the “late works”.

This piece should be read as a pendant to my Letter from New York, 2011, on abstractcritical, which discusses many of these painters, and David Smith from the collection of MOMA, NY. in 2010, which was shown in daylight, and led to quite a different impression.

There is really only a little to add to the earlier piece. The more examples of Still’s work one sees, the more suspect the claims made for him become. These grandiloquent canyons of black endeavour to overawe by sheer size, sheer height. They are artistically somewhat inert, inexpressive, their handling cack-handed at worst, habitually clumsy and over emphatic, devoid of any of the subtleties of touch one would expect of a major sensibility. The sensibility, such as it is, is adamantine in a negative way, (in contrast to Mondrian’s positive). The only picture in his Black and Tan abstract vein which has some subtly artistic qualities is the smallest and earliest in that mode (1946?).

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#27. Alan Gouk writes on Matisse’s “Baroness Gourgaud”

Henri Matisse, "Baroness Gourgaud", 1924, Musee National D'Art Moderne, Paris.

Henri Matisse, “Baroness Gourgaud”, 1924, Musee National D’Art Moderne, Paris.

Matisse’s oeuvre can be divided into numerous periods, (and not just for curatorial convenience), too many to list here, but each stylistically distinct from the previous (though not so obviously as with Picasso), and with a different set of priorities both formal and expressive, much more so than might appear to the casual observer.

I choose to write about this particular picture, The Baroness Gourgaud, almost certainly a commissioned portrait from the wealthy Baron, partly because it is one of Matisse’s finest portraits, utterly different in character from the great Madame Matisse in Rouge Madras 1907, (Barnes Foundation), or Auguste Pellerin, 1916, or Woman in a Turban, (Laurette) 1917, (Cone Collection, Baltimore), but also because it reveals many of the devices he had learned from Persian and Indian miniatures, by which Matisse ordered his spaces in the more relaxed setting afforded by the early Nice years, after the intensity of his engagement with Picasso’s and Braque’s cubism, to which the Pellerin portrait attests, during the first world war, the so-called “Radical Years”. But Matisse was always “radical” in ways which escaped most commentators then and now, who tend to downgrade the Nice years for reasons which amount to no more than Puritanism and philistinism. Renoir’s sensuality accrues similar opprobrium, quite unjustly.

John Golding writes: ”But basically for him [Matisse] the decorative came to mean an allegiance to the totality of the painted surface and to the overall spiritual and emotional aura that radiated from it… Matisse is one of the very few Western artists who have been able to invest pattern, normally associated with flatness, with spatial properties”. (Matisse and Picasso, Tate Modern 2002). [Braque in the 1930’s is another]. And Matisse himself said: “Persian miniatures… through their accessories… suggest larger spaces, a more truly plastic space. That helped me to go beyond the painting of intimacy”. (Dominique Fourcade ed. Matisse – Ecrits et propos sur l’art. Paris 1972 page 203). The intimacy would return with paintings like that of The Baroness, however.

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#22. Alan Gouk writes a critique of T.J. Clark’s “Farewell to an Idea”

Jacques-Louis David, “The Death of Marat”, 1793.

Jacques-Louis David, “The Death of Marat”, 1793.

“An institutionalised counterculture condemns individuality as archaic and depreciates intellectual values, even in the universities.” Harold Bloom “The Anarchy of Influence”, 2011.

“Literature is always personal, always one man’s vision of the world, one man’s experience, and it can only be popular when men are ready to welcome the visions of others. A community that is opinion-ridden, even when these opinions are in themselves noble, is likely to put its creative minds into some sort of prison….” W.B. Yeats, 1904.

“Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not persuade, which does not condescend, which does not explain, is irresistible.” W.B. Yeats, 1910.

In one of the last “crits” I took part in before quitting St. Martins in 1990, a hapless student, when asked what he thought he was doing in presenting a large blown-up photograph of the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace underneath which there ran a Silk-Cut purple band with some trite non-sequitur of a written slogan, rather like the tapestries partially glimpsable behind the chair of committee hearings at Portcullis House, said student in his defence offered the banal: “I want to manipulate, seduce, and control”. I was quite unaware at the time (why should I have been?) that in doing so he was quoting verbatim the sayings of one Jeff Koons, who was becoming – had already become – one of the reference points for any aspirant fashionista of the day.

“Manipulate, seduce, and control”… there’s a lot of it about; indeed for a Marxist or lapsed neo-marxist or pseudo-marxist critic, that’s all there is. For Terry Eagleton, whose book “Literary Theory” I stumbled across in my local Oxfam shop, there is no such thing as literature, only what many readers feel inclined in their delusional subjectivity to read; literary criticism has therefore no reason to be, and should be replaced by the study of rhetoric, or the diabolic arts of persuasion, the strategies by which writers dupe the reader into the illusion that their fantasies of coherence and “liberal-humanist” epiphanies offer consolation from the brute realities of power.

Here the paranoidal suspicion so beloved of the perpetual adolescent that all utterances are irremediably riven with endorsements of the prevailing world order, complicit in the structures of mind control which support it, and that all art is a policing of experience, corralling it in ways supportive of the oppressive ”father”, is given the seductive lure of an outré cult of transgression, with sexual-political undertones backed up by an assumption of intellectual pedigree that goes all the way back to G.W.F. Hegel, and K. Marx in his Hegel influenced period.

It is always best to read such books as Eagleton’s and T.J. Clark’s (I’ll come to him soon) backwards from conclusion to introduction, to reveal just how fatuously inadequate are their solutions to the problems they claim to have discerned through their critiques.

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