diamond geezer

 Saturday, July 20, 2013

VICTORIA: Tate Britain

It's Tate Modern that gets all the publicity, but Tate Britain's still there in Pimlico, on the river. You can get there by Victoria line (alight at the station with the pop art spotty yellow tiles) or you can get there by New Bus For London (I made that mistake, sweat dripping down my back on the top deck). Centuries of art are displayed round its walls, more of the classical than the modern strange stuff hung elsewhere. The front entrance is closed for renovation at the moment, so you have to go in via the posh ramp down the side, then back up again to view the main collection. Or fork out to visit the specials, £19 for three, including that fine British painter of the north.

Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life (26 June - 20 October)
Laurence Stephen, the rent collector from Salford, still draws the crowds. They've heard of him, they like his style, and they may even have bought that record about him in 1978. Even midweek they stream in, the cultured pensioner classes, grabbing their opportunity before the rest of the world floods the galleries on Saturday. Shuffle along, there's a lot of Lancashire to see. Lowry's canvases are white and bleak, packed with factories and mills, but with collective human interest. There's usually a crowd doing something - walking to work, heading to the football, watching an eviction, following a hearse, whatever. In one painting the scarlet fever van has turned up to take a child away to isolation hospital... which prompted my Dad to tell me that this had happened to him, except he was one of the minority who came home again. Chimneys belch and steam, with the predominant colours being grey, black and more grey. The one shade entirely absent from Lowry's palette appears to be green, and he doesn't much care for yellow either, which helps to tone these industrial landscapes down a few more notches. Many of his buildings break the rules of perspective, and his matchstalk men aren't exactly biologically accurate, but nobody minds. Actually Brian Sewell hates them, virulently, but you'd expect that, and the assembled hordes seem rather keener. I liked them, but as a representation of industrial hardship with a human edge, not necessarily the spotlight of truth.

Patrick Caulfield (5 June - 1 September)
The Tate have paired up the next two artists, possibly because neither is quite strong enough to flog the tickets alone. Caulfield is a product of the Sixties, and his sign-painter style has a certain attractive simplicity. His scenes are composed of bold blocks of paint, generally delineated by thick black lines. Lampshades are a favourite, and curvy chairs, and dining areas of many kinds in foreign countries - these recur through the years. It's almost comic book, but more competently drawn, with bright colours the exact opposite of what Lowry would have used. In later works Patrick taunts his audience by painting one small aspect of the painting, like a casserole dish or a lakeside window, in uncharacteristic picture-perfection, as if to say I could paint 'properly' but I choose not to. Patrick's sweeping canvases transfer well to postcards and memorabilia in the gift shop, and after you've seen the real thing, you just might.

Gary Hume (5 June - 1 September)
And in the three galleries nextdoor, a rather different proposition. Hume's canon is a little more recent, less geometric, much less precise. He uses sheets of aluminium as his canvas, marking out space with a fibre-tip pen and then smearing the gaps with large patches of gloss paint. His subjects are often hard to discern - it took a glance at the guide book to reveal that one pink panel hid the face of Kate Moss beneath Michael Jackson's nostrils. Round the corner there's a fine blackbird (you can see why that's been picked to appear on much of the merchandise), but the more general abstraction makes this a harder ensemble to love.

Look round: Lowry
Look round: Caulfield and Hume

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