Friday, December 02, 2011

Emperor's New Paintings

One of my forebears, the celebrated Walter E. Spradbery (1889-1969) (Figure 30.1), was listed in Who’s Who in Art. An Official War Artist during WW2 (Figure 30.2), no one, regardless of personal taste, could view his works and deny his immense talent.

Figure 30.1: Walter E. Spradbery, DCM - a gifted artist

Copyright expired

Figure 30.2: Walter's iconic 1944 depiction of post-blitz St Paul's Cathedral, London

Copyright unidentified. Fair Dealing asserted.

In peacetime, Walter designed a number of classic posters for London Transport (Figure 30.3) (see link below). Whenever I am in London, I try to make time to visit the Transport Museum’s shop in Covent Garden, principally to see which of his posters have recently been reissued, but also to peruse other artists’ works. Almost all are skillfully created, some exceptional. My interest in London art is, therefore, more than casual.

Figure 30.3: One of Walter's many classic watercolours

Copyright unidentified. Fair Dealing asserted.

Next summer, London will host the 30th Olympiad. At a time of economic fragility throughout Europe, the event could become anything from a source of future national pride to an economic and cultural disaster. All the more reason, then, for the nation to portray itself artfully. Who could forget Walter Herz’s iconic poster design for the previous London Olympics, held in 1948 (Figure 30.4)?

Figure 30.4: Official poster for the 1948 London Summer Olympics

Copyright unidentified. Fair Dealing asserted.

This year, a variety of esteemed British artists were, according to the BBC, ‘asked to create a work that either celebrated the Games coming to London or embodied the values of the Olympics or Paralympics’. I have reproduced four of them in this article, alongside something my young sons painted (Figures 30.5, 30.6, 30.7, 30.8 and 30.9). In other words, four are by illustrious artists, the other by primary school kids with no discernible artistic talent. Which is which?

Figure 30.5

Figure 30.6

Figure 30.7

Figure 30.8

Figure 30.9

In case you cannot decide:

Figure 30.5: Martin Creed, a former Turner Prize winner, completed his work using only five brush strokes, one for each (apparently random) colour. He claims that it represents an extended podium. Creativity? Effort? Dexterity? Originality? Where? (Copyright 2011 Martin Creed)

Figure 30.6: The contributor, here, is Sir Howard Hodgkin CH, CBE. The BBC states: ‘in the darkest area ... a figure can just about be made out’. This is laughable. If I squint at my wardrobe door, I can make out a smiling face in the wood’s grain, but I would not credit the carpenter with anything other than good craftsmanship. Indeed, visualization of the human form in everyday objects is innate to us all. (Copyright 2011 Howard Hodgkin)

Figure 30.7: Bridget Riley CH, CBE uses parallel lines to indicate ‘the direction of the Olympic swimming lanes or athletic tracks. (She) began her career using only black and white patterns, started to experiment with colour in 1967, the same year she began painting stripes.’ With just a flicker of imagination, she might have included a bend in the ‘track’ or perhaps some demonstration of perspective. Have 44 years proved insufficient time to master such fine skills? (Copyright 2011 Bridget Riley)

Figure 30.8: ‘The large circle in the bottom of Gary Hume's poster represents the wheel of a wheelchair and the smaller circle represents a tennis ball.’ Really? Two dissimilar circles could represent almost anything. (Copyright 2011 Gary Hume)

Figure 30.9: This was produced by my sons, using a pack of felt-tips. It took them about five minutes, while they were watching television. (Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery)

Perhaps the 2012 Olympic ‘artists’ are secretly laughing up their sleeves, having fooled at least some of their intended audience. At least I hope they are laughing. The alternative is that they, like the naked emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s fable, are oblivious to their own pretentiousness, which would be mildly disturbing. What I find most depressing, though, is that these worthless daubs are to represent the best of British to the rest of humanity.

I wonder what my illustrious ancestor would think.

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

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