81. Rolling Backwards Through Marmite


Michael Calver INCIDENT (2016) 91.5 x 122 cm Acrylic on Canvas

This week you saw two movies, one bad one good – you would say. The ‘bad’ was ‘Steve Jobs’ a movie that is not even a bio-pic but a description of 3-4 product launches, laced with a little backstory, and that ends up with no narrative, no moral and no meaning. The finale is a rock & roll-like scene with flashlights popping, slow motion, a girl, a man and a megabrand.

But the film itself hints that Jobs was a rather one dimensional, slightly disturbed monomaniac who simply sold us computers even better than Coca Cola sold Coca cola. The jury is still out as to which of these two products is the most harmful to health and thus to society.

The ‘good’ film was Jafar Panahi’s ‘TAXI TEHRAN‘. There is no point describing this, so you’ll just urge anyone reading here to check the links and to see how this 21st century Iranian Bertolt Brecht is faring.

Brecht has also been your reading diet this week. He continues to guide you through a capitalism that, clearly continues to extend, at its extremes, into the realms or possibilities of fascism.

You spent a lot of time on tube trains this week, chasing your Fixed Term Contracts. There are less and less jobs, more and more contracts, and yet more and more work for everyone, and of course higher and higher prices.

On almost every train you witnessed a beggar, weaving his way through the smartly dressed, professional strap hangars, all of whom tried to deny his existence, tried not to touch his clothes or hear the affective appeal in his voice as he described the benefit cuts and other forces that had brought him low.

Another day, another train, another beggar.

Brixton’s long-established Afro-Carribean markets are now interlaced with pricey Italian off-the-bone ham cafes, and even champagne and oyster bars all rubbing incongruously together.A loaf of bread in Brixton this week can easily be £4.50 if you are looking for something ‘authentic’, rustique and therefore relatively real.

There’s plenty of poverty’s scars to be seen there too. A schizophrenic woman, plastic rose in her hair, has bundled herself onto a trash trolley. Another woman marches intently down the middle of the road in oversized cowboy boots, oblivious to cars blaring to get by. One man seems smartly dressed at first, only to betray a slight, intoxicated stagger. The black band of his brown Trilby hat detached and dangles oddly before his eyes.

Brixton’s BLOCK 336 art space is hosting this year’s MARMITE painting prize. You are bewildered, lost for words in fact by contemporary painting’s brio, panache, confidence, invention, wit and craft.

Mary Heilmann-designed wheeled chairs are provided, and you propel yourself backwards around the show holding up your video phone to record the experience. Marmite is a feast, and where you either “like or loathe” the critic is toast.

You’ve experimented with art writing since c. 1995.You feel you’ve turned it upside down, inside out and stripped it down many a time but you never found any particular ‘personal’ mode that satisfied you as sufficiently different or innovative to settle upon.

So, rolling around the show on a wheeled chair seems to symbolise this ongoing, unending creative journey, that is no longer even a search but just a means by which to turn over ideas, try things out, for their own sake, just for the sake of doing it. Any good it does for art, art writing, or the artists you write ‘about’ is an inadvertent benefit.

If today’s computer tsunami is dissecting much of life and many  of our lives, it only seems to have encouraged painters, by providing painting with a stronger, clearer sense of purpose, difference and raison d’etre than ever.

This is fun. The paintings blur in your viewfinder as you pass by and your judgement blurs in your mind. You are in a wheel chair, riding on a carousel. There are Guston-esque grunts, bits of Baselitz, bursts of Baroque, modulated Modernism, remnants of Rococo , Matissean murmurs, you find cakes, swathes, licks and folds, a little funky formalism, and what might be called a-abstraction or perhaps an-abstraction.

Favourites effervesce briefly as you roll backwards through Marmite, but each is quickly supplanted by the next in the parade. Michael Calver’s INCIDENT only wins a feature spot on your Blog post because, this week, this day, it well illustrates the way you feel about your environment, describing a pretty desperate (both ‘pretty’ and desperate) urban setting. Here Guston seems to meet Grosz, and only a sense of living in history provides you with any guidance.


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