Monday, 8 January 2018

SANDY MOFFAT: Poets Portraits, The Lillie Art Gallery Milngavie, Glasgow

2018 January.

SANDY MOFFAT self portrait
Forty years ago when the young Sandy Moffat set out to create powerful portraits of seven of Scotland's poets, he could have had no idea that he was to immortalise them for generations to come. 
Long a friend and fan of that remarkable generation centred around Hugh MacDiarmid who met in Edinbro's famous Rose Street pubs, he aimed to position them in their home surroundings,
 be it George Mackay Brown in Orkney, 
Sorley MacLean shadowed by the Cuillins, 
or Edwin Morgan in his Glasgow University study with his Paolozzi print & Modernist chair. 
First launched at Glasgow's THIRD EYE Centre in February 1981, despite their fame, many of these key pictures have not been seen together for many years. Now, till Feb 8th they are at Milngavie's LILLIE GALLERY. 
Make sure you visit. Nothing prepares you for the power of these images. Strong, simplified, assured of stroke, each mark describes a memorable, sensitive, pensive personality at one with his surroundings. And despite their solitary stance - apart, alone in thought - they each pulsate & radiate rich colour, as though the better to communicate their words, their optimistic message. 

I reviewed the Third Eye 1981 show for the Glasgow Herald, but re-reading my words, I'm aware that I overlooked the profound importance of Moffat's pastel & charcoal sketches to the entire project. These swiftly caught studies with their soft line, are the key to its success. "All portraits begin with the live encounter between sitter & artist. These portrait were labours of love." 
He began with MacDiarmid. Moffat was, he told me, well aware he was "just in time". MacDiarmid was 86 & already battling cancer when Moffat visited him at home at his Brownsbank cottage, near Biggar, in 1978. He died shortly afterwards. 
"I went with Neal Ascherson, and immediately got down to work while Neal engaged him in conversation. He was in good form. We'd taken a decent bottle of malt whisky which he said was the best pain-killer. The body had gone, but the brain was still very, very active. I drew them for a couple of hours as they talked. His wife Valda said, 'You should put your false teeth in." But he said, Oh no, no. Sandy can do that; an artist can always do things like that.'  "I kicked off with the pipe and chair of course, but I wanted the finished painting to be about MacDiarmid's vision for Scotland, a kind of history painting if u like. The landscape behind moves from the Borders where he was born, to the Shetlands where he lived in the 1930s." 
The finished picture, titled Hymn to Lenin, 1979, contained figures like Lenin & Mayakovsky, relating to the Soviet Revolution, which was a crucial event for MacDiarmid, plus John MacLean - emerging from the side of MacDiarmid's chair. Tatlin's Tower. "The picture is a straight-forward homage," Moffat said in 1981.  
It is a magnificent picture, the dry oil handled very like Kitaj. Moffat was a great admirer of Kitaj, who along with Peter de Francia encouraged him in the Poets project.  
As Moffat explained, "Drawing and the finished painting are different things. Painting takes time. I'd like to be able to make a painting like a drawing, that is a cherished ambition. To have all the elements one has in drawing, the spontaneity, the vigour, the sense of design. But the point is to produce a painting that is a work of art & not just just a superficial likeness of someone."
Soon Moffat had the idea of putting all the poets together in Milne's bar. Moffat has a romantic idealistic view of his student days haunting the Bohemian atmosphere where his heroes gathered and talked. "The poets took on the world and we wanted to be like them. They were political, unlike the painters. They linked art & politics in a wholly challenging way. ... These poets played a leading role, both in their verse & prose in shaping the artistic conscience of this country." 
The main figure here is Sydney Goodsir Smith,  who died before the series started. He is centre stage. "It seemed right as he was always the life & soul of the party."  
In the intervening years Moffat went on to teach & inspire many many painting students at Glasgow School of Art, retiring in 2005 after 25 years there. 
A committed portraitist, & dedicated to his task, he is credited with encouraging and steering the resurgence of figurative painting at GSA. 
Last year Moffat tackled a new canvas: Scotland's Voices, as a companion piece to the Poets' Bar.  This latest picture, full of hot colour and joyous music, celebrates Hamish Henderson as he toured Scotland with his tape recorder in the 1950s recording traditional songs. Here around a campfire, with references to the Penny Wedding in the background, are musicians & singers: Aly Bain, Dolina Maclennan, Willie Scott, Belle Stewart, Jeannie Robertson ..." At last the women get a look in!! 
Most folk who see this show will not know the back story to its creation. Nor the hicups along the way!   
It began as a Scottish Arts Council commission - allowing Moffat the luxury of time & money, a touring exhibition &  knowing the 7 pictures would stay together.  But in April 1985 the SAC decided to dispose of its collection!  The oils were up for bids and dispersed, with Brown going to Orkney Stromness Academy (where it has got very wet)
Norman MacCaig to Edinbro City Art Centre, & Sorley's portrait  to the Isle of Skye. Happily the rest belong to the SNPG but are not now generally on show. 
A lifelong supporter of both communism and Scottish nationalism, ever controversialMacDiarmid is now considered one of the principal forces behind the Scottish Renaissance and has had a lasting impact on Scottish culture and politics. Edwin Morgan once said of him: 'Eccentric and often maddening genius he may be, but MacDiarmid has produced many works which, in the only test possible, go on haunting the mind and memory; casting seeds of insight and surprise.
The same can be said of Moffat's poet portraits.  They loiter in the mind, haunting the memory, their unique power emanating from faces well studied, well drawn, the human condition "forced into the centre of one's vision." In 1981 Moffat said he would like people to contemplate his paintings; "to come back again & again."
                                              I think he has his wish. 

Sunday, 24 September 2017

RODIN at the MET, NY

NY's Met has one of the world's best RODIN collections, but for a good long while they have been located in a thro-way which links one main part of the Met with another. Used every day by hoards, it did not encourage slow looking! 
Now, to celebrate the centenary of his death, a new and thoughtful permanent display changes the dynamtic. Same place but new lighting, new colour, new hang, new juxtapositions with paintings by his friends Monet, Puvis de Chevannes, Renoir, Bastien-Lepage, etc etc etc make for a fitting sculpture gallery - and home for one of the most famous ever works of art The THINKER.  
U can buy a copy of it from Walmart for $60 and from the Met store for $225!! 
Photo of Rodin by Steichen
The one at the Met, modeled in 1880, cast in bronze in 1910, was comissioned by the Met. It epitomise Rodin's "ardent, enduring exploration of the human figure as he strove to imitate 'not only form, but life" explains curator Denise Allen. Even his toes breathe energy, coiled in tension yet ready to dream or leap.
The first Rodin show at the Met was in 1912 when Rodin was 72. 
It was also the first ever show there of a living artist - & R was so pleased he donated some work from his studio. That was the start of a large collection of around 100 marbles, bronzes, plasters, terracottas, drawings and prints of which half are on show here
             This photo from an excellent Met BLOG shows the space before - below u see it now.

The Rodin gallery, now christened  B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Gallery, in honor of their major 1980s gift, is divided into 2 - Heaven & Hell.
Hell comes first with its almost black, but sometimes greeny-black, big bold bronzes. 
 The half way point is marked by the beautiful classic Age of Bronze 1876
                                     here being removed, then re-installed to great effect.

Then heaven - with white marble lovers: Cupid & Psyche, Pygmalion & Galatea, sensuous Orpheus & Eurydice 1887, the erotic lovemaking of Eternal Spring.
140 years ago what did the pubic make of it all ?? I know my grandmother had sepia reproductions of these sculptures in her bedroom in the 1920s according to my mother, who herself went on to be a sculptor of the nude figure. The pix were still there when I was a child.
There is no defined path thro the show - explore it any way u want. Here above is Pygmalion & Galatea 1889. Marble. 
The walls are hung with related paintings. Here the Seine at Vetheuil 1880, by Monet - his friend. 
while right next door are the Monet and Impressionist rooms. How wonderful to get them to oneself!

See photos of a gallery's transformation for Rodin at The Met in this Now at The Met blog post.

          The curators responsible for this transformation are seen here.  Congratulations to all.

for more information see Rodin at The Met,
Here are lots of photos for your delight 

and - The extraordinary range of The Met's holdings of Rodin's work is highlighted in an adjacent gallery (gallery 809) with a selection of drawings, prints, letters, and illustrated books, as well as photographs of the master sculptor and his art. This focused presentation introduces visitors to the evolution of Rodin's draftsmanship and demonstrates the essential role of drawing in his practice. It also addresses Rodin's engagement with photographers, especially Edward Steichen (1879–1973), who served as a key intermediary in bringing Rodin's drawings to New York.
see more  pix of the Met and also Rodin being set up