81. Rolling Backwards Through Marmite




Michael Calver INCIDENT 2016 36 x 48 inches Acrylic on canvas


You are anti-fascist, and, reading Brecht this week seemed to confirm that fascism is the most pernicious and unregulated form of capitalism.

Brecht gives you hope. The past gives you guidance. The present is directionless, fearlessly out of control.

Half-human, half rodent, on crowded tubes you crisscross subterranean London fulfilling your Fixed Term Contracts.

There are less and less jobs. There is more and more work. Prices are higher and higher.

Through the tangle of tense professionals a homeless beggar weaves his wailing way, dressed scruffily, face dirty, eyes slightly mad, his voice tuned to affect, appealing for sympathy, empathy, for consideration of another reality. He has to brush close all through the crowded carriage, but like a ghost or an embarrassing relative at a wedding. Everyone pretends he is not there. And this event occurs now on every train you take. Another day, another train, another beggar.

Before you get the bus you almost fall over another homeless man crashed in a doorway. That same night you see the ‘Steve Jobs’ movie at home on DVD. There’s no story. Its not a bio-pic more an appeal to understand the painful and of course pained personality behind a mega brand.  Jobs is just someone who sold computers like Coca Cola.

There’s no story, no moral, no shape and no meaning to this film. Three or four grand ‘launches’ that mark Apple’s evolution, all culminating in a fascistic, rock and roll, superstar scene, replete with flashing lights, slow motion, an iconic man, a young girl, and above all, a brand. This is NOT the kind of film we need right now.

The kind of film we need is ‘TAXI TEHRAN‘ by Jafar Panahi 21st century Iran’s Brecht?), and which you also saw this week. You can’t recommend highly enough. Please go research, see it, then get back to us!

You lived in Brixton for a fifth of your life. Now you visit once or twice a year. The Afro-Carribean community persist and prevail, against great odds in a society that still, still, despite hundreds of years of enlightenment, revolutions and education, still meaninglessly, madly and pointlessly and painfully creates socio-economic inequality out of visual difference. It make no sense.

The old Brixton markets struggle along, but now interlaced with yuppie stores where a loaf of ‘rustique’ bread is now pushing close to £5.00, where you can while away an afternoon sampling varieties of off the bone Italian hams or supping up champagne and oysters.

But you see plenty of evidence of poverty and the illnesses and addictions that invariably accompany poverty in Brixton’s long established Afro-Carribean community. A man in a smart suit staggers awkwardly through the market, his hatband hanging ludicrously down in front of his eyes.

A woman with a massive wig, a silk dress, ill-fitting cowboy boots and an intense attitude walks insistently along the very centre of the crowded road, oblivious to cars and trucks trying to nudge a way through.

Another sad looking middle-aged woman is all bundled up in one of those tall wire cages on wheels that market traders and council workers use to stack up and transport used cardboard. She looks around herself as if at nothing, a big plastic flower in her hair. She is treating herself literally like trash.

At BLOCK 336 gallery you see the Marmite painting prize exhibition.  There are colourful, Mary Heilmann designed chairs on wheels scattered about the space. You decide to view the show by pushing yourself backwards around it on one of the wheeled chairs. You also film the experience with your smartphone movie camera.

You’ve experimented with art writing since 1997, never settling on any particular mode that you thought was satisfactory. Better to just keep rolling, keep experimenting.

Today you again find yourself lost for words in the presence of contemporary painting’s endless invention, play, risk-taking, perversity, wit, confidence and interaction with history.

The technological tsunami that may be dissecting most of our lives only seems to have given painting a new clarity, identity, purpose, raison d’etre, as well as a wealth of references and archives with which to play.

There are bursts of baroque here, bits of Baselitz, Guston-ian grunts, Matissean murmurs, aspects of abstraction (that can’t be called ‘abstraction’), some scumbling, scrapes, cakes, lakes, smears and folds.

All judgements and adjectives sound crass, and so you simply have to RECOMMEND seeing it, or the website, or the catalogue, as much as you can of it, but obviously its best in the flesh, where the scale, texture and full character of these paintings can fully immerse you.

The paintings pass before your clumsily supported i-camera. You are in a wheeled, a wheelchair, on a fairground ride. Rolling backwards through Marmite. Judgement blurs with speed and time. Vision blurs too. There is no place or point at which to stop and contemplate. 21st century painting was meant to be seen from a colourful, wheeled chair, rolling backwards.

Favourites effervesce briefly, only to be immediately displaced by another very different ‘favourite’. Marmite is like that of course, beyond bourgeois habits of judgement.

When you simply “like it or loathe it” the critic is TOAST.

Still, now, as you reflect, you can’t seem to resist featuring, if only for the fun and colour of it, Michael Calver’s ‘INCIDENT‘. It seems to illustrate your view today, and this week, of your world and your times. A pretty desperate (both ‘pretty’ and desperate) scene in which Syrian-style urban destruction has come home to roost in your very own city. Guston meets (George) Grosz in a ramshackle, tragi-comic dystopia.

You end the week slightly more anti-fascist and slightly more anti-capitalist than you started it.