Don McCullin

‘The ethical dilemma involved in producing beauty from tragedy has been a concern for the field of photography almost from its inception’ (Bloomfield). This was part of the writing on the wall in the recent Tate Britain McCullin Exhibition, as you can probably see, I did not read it on the wall of the exhibition, gleaning it instead from a secondary source on the internet. I make a point of not reading the walls in galleries, when I go to an exhibition I go to see the primary source of an artist’s work rather than the secondary sources of the curators.

It is perfectly possible to replace the word photography with art in this quotation, a few examples would be Grunewald’s Issenheim Altar Piece, Velasquez’s Christ contemplated by the Christian Soul in the National Gallery and the myriad Egyptian works inspired by the tragedy of the death of a Pharaoh.

Tragedy, or the depiction of it to create something beautiful, looms large in the history of art. The curators’ attempts to conceptualise McCullin’s work using detailed accounts of the tragedies that gave rise to it, rather than focusing on the composition of the photographs and tonal genius of the post production process used in the creation of the work is, to me, akin to writing bible verses on the Gallery walls when exhibiting Renaissance religious works.

I do not believe that it the job of the gallery to educate its audience on the tragedies of the latter half of the twentieth century that fully inspired McCullin’s work, but merely to expose the work of the artist to inspire and allow for contemplation by the public of works of art.

Don McCullin’s journeys to the world’s war zones are a biographical detail that seems to have little effect on the beauty and skill of the works on show, the photographs taken in Finsbury Park and England are just as beautifully composed and technically executed as the war zone photographs. I think it is important to see the photographs as works of art firstly and documentation of war secondly, I recently went to the Army Museum to see an exhibition of Alfred Munning’s work and though I found the museum interesting in itself, I was far more interested in seeing Munning’s brushwork up close

I went to the McCullin exhibition to see art, not to be politicised by the Tate curators or Susie Linfield, whilst I have now read her views on the subject, for which I thank her, I am unable to say I agree with them. Her citation from the history of art is limited to Rembrandt and Freud neither of whom bring suffering to my mind and probably not the mind of the average viewer.

Having got that off my chest, I was full of admiration for the tonal organisation produced in the darkroom by McCullin from his original negatives for the exhibition. In these days of digital photography it is unusual to see a photographer “painting with light” to produce his work. I think the old fashioned method produces greater subtlety in the tones whilst giving a greater tonal range that McCullin uses well to emphasise and bring out his compositions.

I found there was a dreamy sometimes nightmarish quality to McCullin’s images that somehow reminded me of Francis Bacon’s work, which I suppose is hardly surprising as no doubt Bacon was most probably influenced by the photographs in his Sunday supplement.



Bloomfield  R. (2019) I am tired of guilt At: accessed 11/06/2019.

Merhez A., Baker S., and Mavlian S. (2019) Don McCullin: London. Tate Publishing.

Magic Realism

Magic Realism was an art movement that flourished in Germany mainly in Berlin in the 1920’s It was the last expressionist art movement in Germany before Third Reich Art which was a return to traditional Romantic Realist Art based on the Classical Greek Model.

In the early part of the twentieth century there had been many art movements in Germany they sometimes ran concurrent to each other and artists would join or resign as they saw fit. The century began with the Berlin secession which was founded in 1898, German Expressionism is acknowledged to run from 1905 to 1918, Dei Brucke was founded in 1905, Der Blaue Reiter founded in 1911, German Dada founded 1918, The November Group founded in 1919 and the New Objectivity Movement 1919 which was a reaction to the first world war that was christened Magic Realism in 1925 by Franz Roh and lasted until 1933.

Many of the Artists in Magic realism had been members of these earlier groups and Movements and of course there was the profound effect of the First World War not only on German Artists but on the whole of the German people.

Berlin in the 1920’s was a place of hedonistic pleasures the Circus, the theatre. The cabaret and the accompanying seedier side of entertainment. The Magic realists painted what they saw in all its glory.

In the exhibition prostitutes abound, perhaps the most sensitive being by Jeanne Mammen, Otto Dix is well represented with 2 paintings and 15 drawings and there was a section of expressionist religious paintings.

My favourite painting in the exhibition was the Green Donkey by Chagall, it shouldn’t have been in the exhibition at all because it was painted in 1911 but it was cited as an example of expressive figurative painting that inspired the Magic realists. Chagall, I think, would not have been pleased, he spent his life avoiding being associated with any art movements, although his style does borrow from many movements it is always individually Chagall.

The painting itself is surprisingly small, about A3 size, when I had seen reproductions I had imagined it to be much larger, this is probably due to the vast amount of brushstrokes included in the picture plane. Thinking about it though it was probably small because of the transient lifestyle Chagall led at this time.

Out of the seventy or so works included in the exhibition the Green Donkey made an impression on my companions that came out in the discussion following the tour of the exhibition. We went to the Tate shop to by books mainly but my credit card was severely tempted by a reproduction Anni Albers rug but my head said £750 was a lot to pay for something for the cat to scratch.



Elger, S. (2016) Dadaism. Koln: Taschen

Gale, M. and Wan K (2018) Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-1933. London: Tate Publishing

Kuster U. (2016) Kandinsky Marc & der Blaue Reiter. Basel: Fondation Bayeler

Lorenz, U. (2016) Brucke. Koln: Taschen.

Metzger, R. (2017) Berlin in the 1920’s. Koln: Taschen.

Wolf, N. (2015) Expressionism. Koln: Taschen

The Exhibition

The Tate Modern (2018) Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-1933. London: (Accessed 02/01/19)

What the press said

Jones, J. (2018) Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-1933 review- sex, death and decadence  At: (Accessed 02/01/19)

Spicer, M. (2018) Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-1933. At: (Accessed 02/01/19)

Internet research

Google images (s.d.) Google search. At: (Accessed 06/01/19)

Otto (s.d.) Paintings. At: (Accessed 06/01/19)

Whyte M. (2016) Marc Chagall. At: (Accessed 06/01/19)

Annie Albers

Five go Weaving

Ange Mullins came up with the idea of going to see Anni Albers and other things at the Tate Modern. I had no idea who Anni Albers was, but I could do a bit of research meantime, and I needed to go to the Tate Modern to look at the Green Donkey by Chagall that had cropped up in my research for my course. The third of January seemed like a good day as I was on holiday from work.

Before we met, I had done a bit of research and read the catalogue of the exhibition and was rather looking forward to it.

Ange, Emma Linda Jane and myself convened in the Cafe at the Tate where there was a lively discussion of our progression on our respective courses before going on to view the exhibition.

Anni was married to Josef Albers but the show wasn’t about that, believe it or not, Josef was a bit player in this story, this story was about Anni’s greatness as an artist, and what a story it was. Anni studied at the Bauhaus in the 1920’s, and became the first person to receive the weaving diploma at the Bauhaus in February 1930 (Coxton et al p54) and went on to have a solo exhibition of her work at the MoMA in 1949.

Anni initially didn’t want to be a weaver she thought it was sissy, but being a woman at the Bauhaus she was directed to the weaving or women’s workshop, undaunted she conquered the loom, which appears to be an incredibly difficult animal to tame, and designed and made beautifully intricate work.

Her degree piece was the invention of a woven sound proof shimmering fabric that was used to line the walls of the Auditorium of the Trade Union Hall in Bernau Germany. With the rise of Nazism and the close of the Bauhaus in 1933, this invention turned out to be her and Josef’s Passport to America, where they taught at the Black Mountain School until 1949.

In the late 1960’s when she stopped weaving she turned her hand to printmaking where she achieved further success.

My favourite piece in the exhibition was the La Luz II tapestry shimmering threads of silver and gold from 1958 but I was seriously taken aback by the Six Prayers commemorating the six million victims of the holocaust.

The exhibition naturally raised the question of the relationship between Craft and Art but in the words of Mr Hockney,” You can teach the craft, its the poetry you can’t.”

It took me a while to work out the process of weaving and it was only when I saw Anni’s loom at the end of the exhibition that I worked it out. The loom has 8 gears(?) which allow various numbers of threads of the weft to be raised or lowered to form the pattern in the weave.

In the video below by Rosa Parks she uses a computer assisted loom, I wondered what the computer was doing. Only after seeing Anni’s loom did I realise that Anni did the computers job mentally and manually impeccably. I wasn’t wearing my hat but if I was, that was the moment to take it off for Anni.



Coxon, A. Fer, B. and Moller-Schareck, M. (2018) Anni Albers. London: Tate Publishing.

The Exhibition

Tate Gallery (2018-19) Anni Albers. At: (Accessed 30/12/18)

Tate Gallery (2018-19) Anni Albers Exhibition Guide. At: (Accessed 30/12/18)

What the press said

Searle. A (2018) Anni Albers Review-Ravishing textiles that Beg to be touched. At: (Accessed 30/12/18)

Brennan, A. (2018) Tate Moderns Anni Albers Exhibition Five things you need to know about the Artist. At: (Accessed 30/12/18)

Nayeri, F. (2018) At the Tate Modern, an Anni Albers Retrospective. At: (Accessed 30/12/18)

Farrell, A. (2018) Ten things to know about Anni Albers. At: (Accessed 30/12/18)


Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation (S.d.) Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation. At: (Accessed 30/12/18)

Pearks, R. (2018) How to weave like Anni Albers. At: (Accessed 30/12/18)

Dear Cleo 18 12 29

I went to the Tate Liverpool to see their current exhibition of Fernand Ledger: New Times, New Pleasures.

I was hoping to see some of his early work from before the First World War but the exhibition began with his work in 1917 and carried on chronologically for the rest of his life.

His machine inspired work was full of movement, movement seemed to fascinate Leger and this is borne out in the two film clips included in the exhibition, Ballet Mecanique and Girl with the Prefabricated Heart.

I was more taken by his later figure work. Something I noticed was that his figures never touched the edges of the frame, almost all had a boundary and a margin that separated the figures from the edge of the picture plane. Maybe the technical term for this is a vignette. I am not sure why Leger chose this technique but it does seem to make his figures more monumental and sculptural.

The paint is quite thick and impasto in his early work, which could be a leftover from his early impressionist training but in the late figure paintings the paint is thin and flat indicating that the experimentation had moved away from the canvas and was either not necessary or confined to the sketchbook.

It is quite a large exhibition almost, but not quite, as I have already said, a retrospective.

The companion exhibition was part of the News from Nowhere Project by Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho. The twisted steel sculptures reminded me of the Ground Zero Museum in New York and the link to the main exhibition was provided by the large screens with scenes from contemporary Liverpool these art films were, however, less hopeful than Leger’s.

The Exhibitions

Tate Liverpool. (2018) Fernand Leger: New Times, New Pleasures. At: (Accessed 29/12/18)

Tate Liverpool. (2018) See Liverpool through the eyes of a man who has travelled through space and time to arrive in the city on the eve of the apocalypse. At: (Accessed 29/12/18)

Exhibition review

Searle A (2018) Fernand Leger: New Times, New pleasures Review- Humanity in a Machine age. At: (Accessed 29/12/18)

Smart A (2018) Fernand Leger: The French artist whose abstract mechanical paintings were called Tubism. At: (Accessed 29/12/18)


Leger, F. (1947) The Girl with the Prefabricated Heart. At: (Accessed 29/12/18)

Leger, F. (1924) Ballet Mecanique. At:


Dear Cleo 18 12 16

In my continuing quest to learn about art, this morning I went to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the current exhibition they have of the work of Jusepe Rivera.

It was a small exhibition with about ten large paintings and thirty or forty drawings. Rivera was the heir to Caravaggio and in his subject matter he is the precursor of Goya and the Chapman Brothers, his tenebrist canvases bear full testament to this. Rivera painted pictures of human suffering and when you look at them you just want it to stop.

I empathised with the victims of the torture of, Saint Bartholomew, Saint Sebastian and Marsyas, the painting really were horrific in an inquisition type of way.

Ribera’s drawings were not that far away from my own sketchbook studies though on a different subject and I was encouraged by this.

I was lucky enough to see the performance piece Animalis by the Dame Hurst Company that really brought home the horror of torture. I have seen the news photos of the Iraq victims but I never imagined the true horror that they went through until now.

Leaving aside the emotional aspect of the exhibition, what did I learn? I  I learned that I need to spend more time with the lay figure so that I can imagine how the weight of a figure impacts on the depiction and composition of a scene.



Payne, E. & Bray, X.(2018) Ribera the Art of Violence. Lewes: Giles

The Exhibition

The Dulwich Picture Gallery (2018) Ribera the Art of Violence. At: (Accessed 16/12/18)

What the press said

Da Siva, J. (2018) Under the skin of Jusepe de Ribera’s “extreme violence” at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. At: (Accessed 25/11/18)

Grovier, K. (2018) Ribera: Was this a vision of a sadist. At: (Accessed 25/11/18)

Higgins, C (2018) Master of gore: the violent, shocking genius of Jusepe de Ribera. At: (Accessed 25/11/18)

Jones, J. (2018) Ribera: Art of violence review- savage masterpieces lay brutality bare. At: (Accessed 25/11/18)

Luke, B. (2018) Ribera-Art of Violence review: Gory details exude raw power and beauty. At: (Accessed 25/11/18)

Prodger, M. (2018) What pain looks like: the visceral art of Jusepe de Ribera. At: (Accessed 25/11/18)

Sooke, A. (2018) Ribera: Art of Violence, Dulwich Picture Gallery, review: Physical agony laid bare, this exhibition is compelling- but traumatising. At: (Accessed 25/11/18)


Dear Cleo 18 09 06

I Went to the National Gallery of Ireland to see “Roderic O’Conor and the Moderns between Paris and Pont-Aven.”

Roderic was an Irish artist who mingled with Van Gogh and Gauguin in Northern France in the latter part on the Nineteenth Century. I have yet to read the Catalogue and never read any of the walls in the gallery, but Roderic was involved in post impressionism and in his work you can see the beginnings of the green stripe but as there are lots of green stripes in his work, the green stripes mingle in an impressionist type of way without being as forthright and isolated as Matisse’s green stripe.

There are parts of me that wonders how come that Roderic is not better known and maybe this exhibition is an attempt to redress that. Perhaps if I was Irish, I would be more aware of Irish Artists and their work, may be I am as patriotic as Greenberg, but as an art student I should at least be western and as a contemporary art student I should be globalist, our blind spots and prejudices come into view when least expected. For my own part, I was captivated by his drawings and more especially by his paintings.

The exhibition was a revelation on how a relatively obscure artist could be involved in the fore front of Post Impressionism.

After seeing the exhibition I had enough time to spend an hour viewing the gallery’s modern collection from 1850 to 1950 where I discovered more Irish artists.


Beddington. J. & Rooney. B. (2018) Rodereric O’Connor and the Moderns, Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland.

National Gallery of Ireland Roderic O’Conor and The Moderns, At: (Accessed 24 August 2018)