The second I walked into the TATE Britain I pretty much felt more out of place than a goth in Abercrombie and Fitch. The moment you enter, your ominously greeted by paintings of Edwardian Generals and sketchy Bronze sculptures too unappealing to be stuck in some park, or in some posh twats garden in Kensington. However, there are some saviours and in this I will reveal my own personal saving graces as I cautiously explored the “wonders” of the lesser known Tate.
1) The first came in the form of audacious painter David Bomberg who I until this glorious moment was unaware. Approaching the painting was like stepping into some sort of world far beyond our realm, similar to taking some hallucinogens, as his treatment of the human figure using angular, clear-cut forms give off a tremendous vibrant energy. It is a painting that jumps off the wall in a room full with frankly what I consider to be extremely bland pieces.
The way in which Bomberg is able to reduce the human figure to a string of geometric shapes truly fascinates me. I could not quite put my finger on why I enjoyed looking at this for so long but when thinking further, I came to the conclusion that it’s the simplicity. When you consider the painting at a raw level, it seemingly represents the human form, stripped to its essential core quite literally. The scene is of a steam bath near Bomberg’s home at the time in east London, which were dominantly used by the local Jewish population. These baths though were not just places for physical bathing and had hugely religious associations, which left me asking the question of; “Is it physical or spiritual bathing they are after?” I guess only Bomberg and the Jewish population of the early 1900s can answer that though.
2) The second work I found most interesting was Mark Gertler “Merry-Go-Round” (1916), another painter until this point I was completely unenlightened too. A genius who lived and worked in Hampstead Heath, and it is here where he would of most likely attended the annual fair, which is the focus for a few of Gertler’s paintings. Merry-Go-Round has a seemingly playful tone, as one would usually associate the playground attraction with pleasure, but its until you explore Gerlter and his works more, you become aware of the political outcries.
The piece was painted during the height of the war in 1916, just after the Government introduced conscription for men aged between 18 and 41. Though Gertler thanks to his Austrian parentage, could not serve and was thus given a free pass to satirise the militarism that surrounded him. Standing at a cool 6ftx4ft , the frozen mid-spin carousel, shows the mouths of its uniformed riders clamped open in a terrified scream. It is from these expressions one can really see Gertler’s true expression, which is his strong disapproval for the war, as he turns something of joy and entertainment to a metaphor for the military machine.
3) My third saving grace I had heard of, as it graces my bedroom wall (well a postcard of the piece does) and comes in the form of Sonia Boyce’s “Missionary Position II” and is probably one of my favourite artworks of all time. I think my affinity with this particular artwork could be because Boyce remains a massively inspirational figure in my life as she manages to portray so much while giving away so little. I firstly find the piece awfully attractive in the aesthetics, but its the message Boyce subtly portrays I find so awe inspiring. The proficiency of Boyce in her capability to pin point the black woman as a force of resistance and redesign always leaves me wanting more. This is one of the most paramount statements found within the whole of the Tate for me, as she opposes the stereotypical mute acquiescence, which often found in a lot of works past and present especially in the depiction of the black female.
4) As I continued to look around the Tate I was confronted with the work of Lubaina Himid and her beautiful “Between the Two My Heart is Balanced” (1991) In this dramatic portrayal two native African women sit in a boat with a traditional cloth between them, which consists of a pile of maps, charts and books. Its implications are however, quite severe, far from the utopic calm scene first recognised. But the fact these women have these documents is immaterial as they destroy them, seemingly demolishing the tools used by their oppressors as they sail between Africa and major slave ports. It is a scene that examines the constant battle for survival of African culture despite the intervention of colonialism.
Another captivating factor about this piece, is the poignancy to the Victorian artwork of the same name by James Tissot. Though there are extreme differences in both their messages, obviously and it does not take a genius to see what they are.
5) The fifth is another artwork from one of the Vorticism heavyweights, C.R.W. Nevinson. What drew me to this painting originally was the title “Soul of a Soulless City”, as it brought back emotional memories of my own personal experience in New York. It transported me back to some particularly macabre and gruesome moments of my time in the big apple, which did nothing to discount the soulless label given by Nevison. I remembered a “strange” woman in a mobility scooter who was blatantly doped up shouting at another “strange” creature, as he had supposedly stolen her hair cut money (likely story, hmmm) while drug dealers strolled the street, counting endless bills and flaunting huge gold chains.
Though it did make me think of the other side of the city, as it reminded me of standing at the Marcy JMZ, waiting for the train to Manhattan before going over the Williamsburg bridge and being greeted with the exquisite views. The painting shows an imaginary section of the elevated railway running through what looks like Manhattan, as the tracks seamlessly blend and merge into the cities metropolis. The gracefully slim chromatic range of dominantly brown and grey, make the skyscrapers go a long way to showing off its Cubist nature. However, the central motif of the railway line retreating suddenly into a mass of tower blocks goes a long way to epitomising Nevinson’s futurist interest in speed, technology and most importantly modernity in a ever changing period of industrial history.
Though described by one American art critic as being ‘hard, metallic, unhuman’ I could not really disagree more. I think on the other hand, maybe this is because my own experiences of this great city have perhaps clouded my judgement making me lose sight of the true spirit (or lack of) within New York.