Rachel Whiteread, Ray Harryhausen, and Slap Up Breakfast

The other day, I was in Tate Britain for the first time in years. I have to say I was impressed.

I was also going to stop at the National Gallery to do some intense studying on the use of black paint in past centuries. They often painted figures dressed mainly in black. I have a job coming up, a family portrait with a Death/Doom/Thrash metal singer and his wife and son, two of whom are wearing all black. Anyone who knows about oil painting will know that one is not meant to use black paint. The background on my Crucifixion was some kind of dark green, Alizarin Crimson and French Ultramarine. But when painting black clothing, is it ok to use black pigment?

I have several questions on this subject. Tate Britain actually has paintings starting from 1500. It was like being in the National Gallery and Tate Modern all at once. And it feels much bigger than last time I went.

I spent a good amount of time studying the 16th century paintings, carefully observing the subtle dark grey shading in the clothing of Ladies, Countesses and Lords of Manors. It really looks like actual black paint. But what type of black? Would anyone know?

Suddenly I emerged from my Renaissance reverie to a large room and went “What is this shit?” One piece of conceptual crap after another. In an adjoining room were a bunch of cubic objects arranged in rows. “And what the [bleep] is that…. Wait… what IS that…”

I cautiously approached the rows of resin objects. About 1 square foot each, they all had slightly different shapes, and translucent hues. What WAS this?

It was Rachel Whiteread’s space under chairs. They were resin castings that at least involved process. They suited the space.  They were vaguely interesting in colour and material. Unlike the next room, where there was a bit of old rope on the floor that could have been found in Hastings harbour, some shredded black felt (which had been “remade” in 2008 presumably because the original fell apart), Robert Deacon’s twisted cardboard thing, pretty much the same as the one in 180 Strand Gallery the previous day, part of a building site, and some blobs. And Sarah Lucas’ effing futon. F off. Why? Beds are not sculpture! They are beds. For sleeping in. NOT for sticking a neon tube through and calling it art. (Yes. I am a Stuckist).

Off to finally find the red room with Ray Harryhausen’s inspirations, a few of his models, and some really good drawings. They also had the Dore illustrated Dante’s Inferno in a glass case (I shall note I have a copy of this same monstrous volume myself, but someone glued some kind of decorating paper inside it sometime last century, thus devaluing it – so no need to break into my house, thanks) and some huge John Martin paintings that looked like sets from, well, Ray Harryhausen’s movies. Clips from the movies themselves were playing on a giant screen. Great way sit and rest while marveling at pre-digital-age special effects. I see where Josh Collins got his inspiration for Fags in the Fast Lane, and all his earlier films.

I was looking at more paintings in other rooms when a picture message came on my phone – of Ray Harryhausen’s pegasus, with distinctive red walls and John Martin behind it. I headed back to the Harryhausen where Shireen was studying the model of Medusa.

Shireen had a pass to get into the big Rachel Whiteread exhibition. It’s not something I’d pay for and not even something I’d want to see. But I thought, why not, if it’s free?

Walked into a room full of grey concrete squares. “OK I’ve seen it, I can go now,” I said. But then I started really looking at the pieces.

They are cast in resin, cement and various other materials. Resin casting is not easy. As far as I know, Whiteread actually works on these, with assistants, unlike like other conceptual artists who come up with a crappy non-concept and tell some else to make it. The 9 hot water bottle castings were particularly interesting as they were different colours and different materials.

Then there were the bookshelves. An animated conversation between about 6 strangers erupted. But where had the books been? Why were the pages cast and not the spines? What part is the empty space? Were these rolling bookshelves? The guards didn’t seem to know anything but between the bunch of us, we worked out the books had been turned around on the shelves before casting. We then read the leaflet (d’oh!) and found out that this was similar to the Holocaust memorial that Whiteread also did. Certainly an artist given the honour of a Holocaust memorial is worthwhile.

And so we continued. I had only read about Whiteread and thought it a load of bollocks like the rest of them. But to see Whiteread’s pieces themselves, they are not mattresses but objects – and more often empty space – cast in materials that take some knowledge and skill. They are not crumpled balls of paper or a glass of water on a shelf with a stupid title. There really was something to this show.

So there you go…Is this Stuckist turning? Nope. Back out in the large central rooms, the blobs were still blobs, and Lucas’ futon was still excruciatingly annoying.

Before my phone battery went flat on the train home, I saw that Sexton and Billy had been on tv, with their song “Slap up Breakfast” from “Dung Beetle Rolls Again”, on a segment called “Don’t Play This”, where songs are ridiculed on the Tonight Show. Watching it when I got home, it seemed that Ming had won over the show’s presenter and band.