the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.
I shouldn’t really be writing this as I’ve strained my eye and looking at the computer is not easy but the muse is upon me so I shall battle onwards. Some of you will no doubt be saying, ‘Tom, think of your eye, the muse can wait, in fact give the muse the rest of the day off and we’ll just have to cope without your wise words’. But no despite one big red eye weeping copious tears I shall once more inflict, sorry share my thoughts and reflections.
Irony is a rarely used device at Redbrick Mill, our touchstone when making art is almost exclusively sincerity. We sincerely employ our various skills in the honest endeavour of respecting and recording the model. The exceptions are rare, however at times a little humour is irresistible. Our esteemed colleague, Russell occasionally slips in a curlicue or slight elongation, his line at times looks closer to Searle than Seurat. Periodically you can see the inner cartoonist emerging, not a bad affliction to have when time is limited and things need to be said in a hurry.
Anne is also no stranger to gentle humour with her eccentric comic colour combinations and proportional deviation (a LibDem policy I think). Her figures will at times have echoes of Grimaldi and Toulouse Lautrec. Their playful commedia del l’ arte presence, like a pierrot stripped seems to invest her figures with a beguiling innocence, an arcadian sub-text which is lovely. Mary Fedden also has the same ability to banish cynicism, even her plump lemons look sweet and that’s not a euphemism.
At the moment in Manchester there is an exhibition of works by Frank Auerbach, an artist not renowned for his biting wit and rapier one liners. His works along with Anselm Keifer to be seen later in the year seem to epitomize tortured sincerity; they could be seen as the high priests of the Glum Brigade. There is a strand of thought rooted in 19th Century Romanticism that is still prevalent, it’s the powerful mood music supporting a great deal of art and what it says is, ‘Art is Hell, it’s tough, it’s difficult and making it is demanding, so look hard and appreciate the pain endured to bring you this stuff’. This gives value to art even though most of what it suggests is not true. Art is hard to make like learning a new language is hard to do. Art is hard because we choose to make it hard, we raise our expectations and aim high because pride demands that of us. We want to be good and public seriousness is a way of communicating that struggle.
Picasso and Matisse were good, (just in case there was any doubt about that Gerry), and not only were they two of the greatest artists of the 20thC but also two of the greatest artist clowns. They can be seen to tumble and play with shapes, colours and ideas, like clowns in a ring, one gag building on another. Their joy and wit is irrepressible, sometimes child like they become infants again and see the world afresh, at other times especially with Picasso there is a dangerous black humour, mean but uncomfortably true, the old lecherous artist metamorphizing into a flea ridden baboon for example. The Matisse cut outs at the Tate are amongst other things the story of how much fun an old man could have with a big pair of scissors, some coloured paper, the adoration of the world and two pretty women climbing up and down ladders. Po-faced critics will tell you otherwise, but I know, believe me, I‘ve got the paper cuts and eye strain to prove it.
Humour is soft power, we gently navigate our way through the trials and tribulations of life by constructing narratives and poking fun, we assemble the chaos of events to suit our stories and slowly meaning emerges that makes sense or at least it does to us. Making art mirrors this process; we carefully gather and re-order stuff in an attempt to make a coherent meaningful whole hopefully with purpose and significance. The paint in the tube squeezed out and redistributed across a surface is but one way to order our thoughts, humour is another way and when art meets humour we often recognize two things, the banality of life and the joy of life. Anselm Keifer, a previously notoriously reticent artist, in a recent video is seen laughing and joking with his studio assistants, a likeable chap quite unlike his angst ridden public persona. A colleague from long ago once had dinner with Frank Auerbach and he told me two things about the artist. He had grubby wrists permanently stained from a life time of paddling in oil paint and that old Frank was a hoot, full of laughs and stories, the life and soul of the evening. I’ve always believed we make art to be happy even though we grimace whilst doing it, the art establishment for their own reasons might tell us otherwise but I don’t believe it. I admire those like Russell and Anne and others who make me smile and remind me that standing in a room looking at a naked person whilst someone plays Motown and sells a sofa below you is just inherently bonkers. To be honest as I get older the doom mongers attract me less and less and the humourists seem to make much more sense.
By the way my eye is still a bit wonky.
by Tom Wood
Paintings and drawings by David, Dick, Fiona, Ian, Jane, Sandra, Steven, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom and Tony.