Friday, June 09, 2006

Constable is Crap

The Chocolate Box Lid by John Constable (1821)

Went to the Tate on Saturday to see the Constable exhibition.

Ole Johnny ain’t my favourite artist, and there were moments that felt like being trapped in some boring and bland poster shop circa 1983.

It’s such a struggle to see these paintings as they were at the time, when the figures in them were completely modern, as was the transport and much of the architecture. When painted they weren't “olde worldie” and the technique was rather modern. The trouble is today they seem as fake-nostalgic as a bad advert, with a sort of “wasn’t life better years ago?” conservative sub-text.

The surprise isn't the subject matter (somewhat idealised countryside close to where I live in East Anglia) but just how rubbish a technician Constable can be. He’s got a really bad habit where he details one area of a canvas, and then seems to lose focus (literally) and paints an adjacent area in a much cruder way. Then there’s the literalness of the English light – it’s a filtered grey – yes very authentic, but it does make a lot of the paintings as dull as the water in the ditches and rivers that feature so prominently. Then there’s his really bad habit of painting different species of plant the same shade of green, and the badly drawn figures – his horses are especially unconvincing.

So you won't be surprised to learn that I still don’t really understand how this bland and frankly rather amateurish landscape artist became Britain’s Best Loved Painter. Loved by whom? I’ve never met anyone who thinks he’s the best, and most friends and acquaintances think he’s well overrated.

I enjoyed the exhibition, but left it disliking Constable slightly more than before - I'd hoped it would have the opposite effect.

Once we’d rested, eaten and regrouped we stayed in the Tate and had a long look at the permanent exhibition - the galleries were wonderfully calm and deserted on a hot summer's day. The collection is much bigger and more extensive than we both remembered, perhaps because all the modern stuff has gone to the power station on the other side of the river. So we had fun admiring some really good British art, like Turner, and Sergeant and the frustratingly inconsistent Graham Sutherland.


Blogger Mark said...

Banksy does a good twist on Constable ;)

2:36 PM  
Blogger Fred Titmus said...

I've never heard anyone complain that Constable was too grey, while lauding Turner!

5:58 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

So, Roger bowled an off spinner.

Nothing wrong with that is there?

Fred Titmus would have said that it just goes to show that he is a good all-rounder.


2:18 PM  

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