Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
These are the final days to see the remarkable David Hockney retrospective at the Met Fifth Avenue which runs through February 25th. Hockney, the beloved octogenarian British artist, is regarded by some as the greatest living painter in the world. The Met’s exhibition brings together drawings, photograph collages, vivid iPad compositions, and, most importantly, room after room of vibrant, glorious paintings.
The works chart the course of Hockney’s almost 60 year career, and show the development of an artist from a young, somewhat tentative, gay man, just finding his artistic voice, to a ripe, brilliant colorist, comfortable and confident as he celebrates the beauty of life.
Early works made in England around 1960 show Hockney experimenting with modernist styles, plumbing depths of expression and abstraction others had explored, but giving them his own twist. “Love Painting” and “The Third Love Painting” are dense abstractions with layers of paint, bits of text, floating planes of color, drips and scratches. Nothing that hadn’t been done before, but bits of wry wit that infuse many later works already come through.
A few years later, Hockney would travel to California, where he responded to the sun-drenched landscape, the cool, mid-century modern architecture, and a gay community more comfortable with itself than the one he had known in England. In the 1970s, he produced some of the works he’s most known for, featuring bright pops of color, flattened space and a sense of celebration and joy in everyday visions.
And, here’s where the exhibition becomes something transcendent. Due to his lack of pretense, his careful observation, and the loving eye he turns on the world, Hockney’s exhibition offers a unique and somewhat startling experience. In painting after painting, conscientious viewing allows us to see through the eyes of the artist. His works break the world into color and form. Instead of a swimming pool, Hockney presents a blue rectangle. Rather than depicting a pool toy, he paints a red circle. An apartment building with light glinting off the windows is transformed into a blue-green grid. Jets of spray from an underground sprinkler are turned into triangles of white on a bright green lawn. All becomes form, color, shape, line, movement and depth, and all delight the eye.
But even these ebullient evocations of life and domesticity don’t prepare the viewer for the kaleidoscopic, unrestrained effervescence of Hockney’s work in the final few galleries. Here, in works form the 1980s through the present, Hockney’s paintings shift into unadulterated color, fluid lines, and the pure joy of mark making.
The artist’s vision is Technicolor bold, with azure, ruby and emerald, golden yellow and bubble gum pink defining landscapes, interiors, still lifes, and abstractions both real and imagined. Grids of lines are incised with tools, or the handles of brushes. Colors are laid in lovingly with careful brushstrokes or quickly with what look like Hockney’s fingers. t’s art about the joy of art.
The Met’s retrospective of David Hockney’s work is, in a word, stunning. But there are plenty of other words that apply as well. Dazzling. Resplendent. Moving. Elevating. Enlightening. Inspiring. Don’t miss it.
Peter Beston doesn’t remember a time he didn’t have a pencil, crayon or brush in his hand. His parents, one musical, the other an architectural draftsman and surveyor, sent him to weekly art class starting at 12. There were no museums or exhibitions in Purley, England. A family trip to Spain offered first exposure at the Prado. “I was totally stunned by the light, realism, and composition, but too young for the psychology of the work.”
Other interests included movies, the natural world, and English (language and literature). Beston decided to pursue a career as a film director. He couldn’t wait to get to London. A semester at art college followed. “I loved the romantic Pre-Raphaelites then, the every-blade-of-grass-approach, Art Nouveau, and John Singer Sargent.” The world was Pop/Op/Psychedelic Art mad. Excited by it, the young man dabbled, but never made the genre his own. Nor did he get sidetracked.
Young Peter; The Lighthouse
Instead he secured a job in the mailroom at the BBC. When a director’s course attracted 2,700 applicants, however, he moved on, rising through the ranks of production companies. He worked on commercials, features and documentaries, becoming a respected film editor of forty years, accruing multiple awards. Art and art classes were intermittent. “Every time I wanted to paint again, I had to start from square one. There was no build.” It wasn’t until he was 40 that, “desperate to get technique,” he found a private tutor with whom to study oil painting. His teacher straddled realism and surrealism.
“I always painted something in front of me. Landscapes didn’t attract. Plein Air is torture. The light changes all the time, there are bugs flying all over…I like a calm, stable, uniform atmosphere.” The artist takes numerous ‘reference’ photographs.
In 2009, Beston emigrated. He and his husband moved into their dream house in East Quogue, Long Island. At last he would paint full time. Still very insecure about himself as a professional, he joined East End Arts (a nonprofit arts support organization) and took some work to gallery director Jane Kirkwood. “Well, you can certainly paint,” she commented, “but the subject matter is a bit boring.” Three Adirondack chairs in striking color and some David Hockney-like work is indicative of the period. “That put me on the road to where I am now.”
Participation in exhibitions began shortly thereafter. In 2015, Beston toyed with the idea of doing heavily textural work in order to be marketable. Gallerist Peter Marcelle disabused him of that idea in no uncertain terms. Beston was taken on, he was told, because he was original. That was the last time the artist considered painting anything outside the personal. (Beston is now represented in Long Island by Sara De Luca at ILLE Arts Gallery in Amagansett, NY.)
“When I was about 22, I did a little sketch of a Magpie on the seat of a red chair. I grew up with Magpies in the countryside. There was something about the color and something about a wild bird in a sophisticated, domestic interior, not its natural habitat; the juxtaposition. Finding the drawing again, a whole painting came to mind.
I read a book called The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human by Noah Strycker. Birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs, yet so common, they’re mostly invisible to people. One chapter said that there are only five species of animal who can look in the mirror and know they’re looking at themselves: humans from about 2 ½ years on, elephants, dolphins, orangutans and magpies.”
The original sketch; Mirror Recognition in the Eurasian Magpie
The painting is called Mirror Recognition in the Eurasian Magpie. “When you look at it, you’re naturally going to see the eye first. The bird’s looking at you and at himself in the mirror. The print in the corner is Audubon’s Magpie, so there’s a connection from here to here (he gestures) showing the original inspiration. The chair is my grandfather’s. We have it downstairs.”
Beston has a heightened sense of the dimensional world and of one’s place in it. He relates to spatial positioning and literally grows uncomfortable when he doesn’t know where north is. Years as a film editor have fine tuned faculties that make the artist what he calls a noticer. “Just as in editing film, I look at everything 16 times over and choose the best one.” Composition and light are equally meticulous.
Indigo Buntings Consider the Meaning of Wallpaper
Another in this series, Indigo Buntings Consider the Meaning of Wallpaper (awarded First Place at East End Arts’ juried exhibition March 2017), is meant to present contrast. Beston’s work is compelling. The birds exist in, and reflect upon an unfamiliar room. He’s putting himself both in their heads and those of observers. Integrated decorative elements are unusual for a realist. His fastidious patterns neither take over nor retreat to background, they contribute.
A pelican stands at the bottom of a graceful Art Deco staircase staring across at a big, similarly colored chair. (Brown Pelican Confronts Yellow Chair.) A grackle is found atop a stack of books painted from life. The books are: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier, Poems and Prophecies by William Blake, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Nude by Kenneth Clark, and Audubon’s Birds of America. (The Pursuit of Knowledge.)
The Pursuit of Knowledge
This is a literary painter. ‘Not because of the aforementioned book titles, but because there’s an eloquence to his work that might easily translate to words; intellectual and psychological aspects to choices.
Palm Beach Stories
Beston’s most recent effort is an evocative, large scale series (3’6” x 6’) called Palm Beach Stories. Harking back to his career, each painting is titled after a film, but indicates the genre, not content. Like the rest of his oeuvre, each also considers aspects of the human condition. “That wasn’t my plan, but that’s what it’s become.” Scenarios are wryly unsettling. Color is so delicious it’s difficult to take note of the fact he limits his palette to variations on three to four colors a painting.
An important part of this series is the architecture to which Beston is drawn. He’s fascinated by the way structures impose on a space, changes that occur as one reacts to them from up close or far away.
Snapping pictures out a car window over 30 miles of Palm Beach, he accrued 350 images. Each painting began with a single element garnered from one of these shots. An idea formed, concepts were sketched. Beston then eliminated anything unessential to his vision on Photoshop (paring down is a signature approach) and looked for or created whatever else the picture demanded. Immensely skilled in the medium, he might use pieces of 20 photos. Scrolling through an evolutionary series on the monitor, one marvels at the homogeneous finale.
When Worlds Collide
When a montage is complete (subject to change elicited by size and color), Beston prints it out to the right proportions and grids it. The grid is then transferred to canvas much like the practice of Renaissance artists. This is accomplished in pastel which wipes away when he’s finished drawing on the surface. “The placing of every line and object is vital.”
When Worlds Collide (genre-Science Fiction) began with a geometrical house Beston took out of its suburban setting and isolated among lush greenery. Palm tree trunks are simplified so as not to catch one’s eye. Grass looks manicured. The street is stark, clean, deserted. Nothing smaller than a tree grows. In the top right hand corner, the scene is reflected in a sphere he conceives as a UFO. Which, Beston asks, is more alien, the visitors or this austere structure in situ?
Follow where your eye travels. It enters the painting top right, moves down the road, and takes the horizontal path. Instead of moving off the image, however, one naturally looks vertically along the edge of the house, above trees, to clouds moving right. Aria da capo, back to where you started. Beston’s intention is to keep a viewer contained in the loop.
Every design is worked out to occupy the eye within borders. “Otherwise the brain disengages,” he comments. “The longer someone is there, the more stuff goes on unconsciously. I plot an entry that will take you to a focal point. Unless the composition is satisfactory, it could be the most brilliant piece of art, but a failure.”
Controlling light is also important. The artist recollects working with filmmaker Ridley Scott whose constant experimentation with it was extraordinary. This brightly lit work also relates back to Velasquez, Goya and De La Tour. Source, time of day, and mood are taken into consideration. Shadows are as precise as perspective. “It’s the unconscious building of a real world… millions of clues and signals we unconsciously get all the time describe what people believe to be real.”
For Deep Impact. (Disaster) Beston used only the café from a photo. Greyhounds were made of a compilation of images. Reflected in the window, a meteor plunges earthward with only the canines to witness. Look closely and you’ll also see almost ghostly empty chairs inside. An architectural column is beautifully ornamented. The street light shadow is graphic. A large blank wall “suggests impending oblivion.” Not incidentally, it holds the scene together. And oh, the color!
In Out of The Past (Noir) an intense woman in a blue dress beside a yellow house at the corner of Mimosa and Primrose may be hiding a gun in the hand behind her skirt. Atmosphere is forbidding. Odd details include a tiny curb drain and a manhole cover. In While You Were Sleeping (Romance), we see the back of a man gazing longingly at a large house behind impenetrable hedges “touching on the complexity of desire and the imagined ideal.” Above floats a cloud formation that resembles a reclining nude woman. Who, Beston asks, is the sleeper, the inamorata inside or her hopeful suitor? (Or the observer.)
The painting in this article’s opening is called The Awful Truth (Farce/Black Comedy.) Beston photographed a conventional fast food joint changing its signage to Gator Gabe’s Bar and Grill—All You Can Eat. The “stupid little cartoon alligator” indicates futile attempt to civilize subtropical environs. A condo community is reflected in the front glass.
At right we see an actual alligator “the reality” making its way back to a swamp apparently beyond the establishment. At left, one of the city’s ubiquitous yellow Cameros, door open, passenger, Beston tells me, having fled. Contemporary versus ancient species occupying the same space. Though again, unsettling, it’s a hoot.
The Exhibition: Palm Beach Stories – Peconic Landing Auditorium, Greenport New York June 2-September 29, 2017
Peter Beston paints almost every day when he’s not in his garden. He loves it. “I paint realistically, but try to keep it on the side of painting. Otherwise you might as well take a photograph.” The work is skilled, imaginative, unconventional, scrupulous, captivating.
All quotes are Peter Beston. Photos courtesy of Peter Beston
Opening Photo: Beter Beston with The Awful Truth (in process)
Young Peter; The Lighthouse Still Restless
The original sketch; Mirror Recognition in the Eurasian Magpie Indigo Buntings Consider the Meaning of Wallpaper The Pursuit of Knowledge When Worlds Collide Deep Impact
The Studio Paris Air
In A Bigger Splash (the title comes from David Hockney’s pop art painting), Tilda Swinton plays Marianne, a rock star recovering from throat surgery. She retreats, along with her lover, Paul, to the remote Italian island of Pantelleria. Ensconced in a spacious villa high above the sea, the two spend languid days making love and lying on the beach. Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) gently cares for Marianne, knowing that she must not talk if she is to heal. Their solitude is disrupted, however, when Marianne’s former lover, Harry (Ralph Fiennes on speed), arrives for an extended visit with his daughter, Penny (Dakota Johnson). Soon the quiet villa is filled with Harry’s outsized personality and boisterous voice and the island paradise is crackling with sexual tension. Pantelleria is a volcanic island, but when the eruption comes, it will be man made.
Frequent flashbacks fill in the history linking the three main characters. Marianne, it seems, is a megastar. Harry, a record producer who claims to have influenced the Rolling Stones, is seen in a recording studio working with Marianne, although how much he was responsible for her success is left unsaid. Appearing in a huge venue teeming with loyal fans, Marianne, with her makeup and costume, resembles David Bowie. We now understand what’s at risk with her recovery and why Paul is being so protective. (References are made to Julie Andrews who lost her singing voice.)
After their breakup, Harry introduced Marianne to Paul, a photographer and a recovering alcoholic. Paul is the strong and dependable presence in Marianne’s life. Where Harry sowed chaos, Paul brings calm. Now it seems that Harry is having second thoughts and this trip to Pantelleria is an assault to win Marianne back. Harry comes equipped for the battle, tempting Paul with bottles of fine wine and his Lolita-like daughter. Harry admits that he just became aware of Penny’s existence, while she claims not to be convinced he’s her father. The interaction between Harry and Penny, their too close embraces and amorous gazes, are discomforting.
From the moment Harry’s flight lands (the shadow of the plane ominously passes over the prone figures of Marianne and Paul on the beach), he begins to dictate the action. He knows this island (we never really learn how), and plans everything, from a dinner at a nearly inaccessible restaurant located on a steep hill, to a karaoke night in a local bar where he keeps pushing Marianne to join in singing. Is he wooing Marianne back or trying to destroy her career? Maybe both?
While Marianne whispers that she’s not leaving Paul, she’s not pushing Harry away, either. Harry’s aggressiveness makes him hard to dismiss and his reminiscing about times past, when Marianne’s career was soaring and they were both high on coke, brings home that those days may not come again. While the pair tours around Pantelleria (even visiting a woman who makes ricotta in her kitchen), Paul and Penny take a long hike to a remote part of the island. Penny quickly discards her clothing and stretches out on the rocks in a not too subtle invitation to Paul. Unlike the sexual novice she played in 50 Shades of Gray, Johnson’s Penny is the provocateur, saving her best surprise for last.
A Bigger Splash is Tilda Swinton’s second collaboration with Italian Director Luca Guadagnino, the first I Am Love, a 2009 Italian film where she played a married woman who has an affair with a chef. (The scene where she swoons after eating a prawn dish he prepared for her is priceless.) it’s easy to see Guadagnino’s fascination (actually any director’s fascination) with Swinton. She’s like a blank canvas, able to transform herself not only from film to film but from scene to scene. In A Bigger Splash, she’s a chameleon, appearing androgynous in the role of a rock star and incredibly sexy in her scenes with Fiennes and Schoenaerts. Marooned on the island, stripped of her music persona and unable to speak, she remains a potent force, the center of the battle between the two men. She manages to convey a stunning array of emotions with her facial expressions and body language.
As Harry, Fiennes literally throws himself into the role, holding back nothing whether challenging Paul to a race in the pool or exhibiting manic dance moves to a Rolling Stone’s tune. Fiennes seems to be having a good time playing larger than life characters like his Monsieur Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Unlike the well-meaning Gustave, however, his Harry carries a menacing undertone, his exuberance masking a desperation, a sexual hunger that threatens to turn violent. The film’s tension is ratcheted up with the soundtrack, the loud electronic music at times almost unbearable.
One of the most powerful characters in the film is the island itself. Notwithstanding Marianne’s luxurious villa, Pantelleria’s rugged and bleak landscape shouts despair and loneliness, echoed by the many refugees washing up on shore, a tragic counterpoint to what is playing out in Marianne’s villa.