Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Collecting; tourist painting; matchbox labels


A series of matchbox labels from 1959, depicting Stalingrad, now Volgograd.

Here the car suggests film noir, perhaps a scene out of The Third Man.

My favourite of the series depicts Joseph Stalin atop a vast plinth, overseeing his citizens who wander  in the Square of the Fallen Fighters.

A closer look at the monster.

 Is this man about to become a victim of the KGB?

Have a look at these triumphs of Marxist-Leninist culture!

 Where some might see drabness, I sense a sort of seriousness, of civic pride and sincerity. This drawing is somewhat amateurish, but surely this only adds to the labels' charms.

There is a gravity in east-European cultural artifacts which seems, in the content of the ingratiating, often infantalising qualities of much of  Western produce, very appealing.*

The Eastern European matchbox producers made many series depicting civic monuments.

When I visit foreign towns it is such an idea that I have in mind - "tourist pictures"- as I call them and  I compile a list of places to go.- representative buildings and places- and attempt to depict them in an authoritative mode.  This is a way of creating collections.*

Famous tourist sites are so often styled in such a way as to contain and channel viewers or visitors perceptions in extremely limited ways. They are acts of urban propaganda, This is most evident- ironically so- in national monuments and grand squares, which in their nationalistic glory are almost identical to each other, much as world flags differ remarkably little in their colours and graphic devices (Brazil, among few, must be praised for the adventurousness of it's design, and New Zealanders on their recent decision to consider new possibilities).

Nonetheless, the simplicity of purpose seen in the idea of working through a list of important paintings is one of the things that appeals to me. With this simplicity of purpose comes a child's eye view of cities- as a series of monuments or important buildings (like the child's vision of history as a series of important dates). This is immensely appealing to those seeking refuge from complexity. This, and the idea of completion. has immense appeal to the artist weary of the open-endedness of artistic research and who is seeking refuge from the apparent randomness inherent in the pursuit of aesthetic victory.

The other element  relating  to tourist painting is that I like is this is the equipment you require is... and a list of the necessary equipment, as if making art were one of those wholesome activities encouraged by the editors of  The Boy's Own Paper and parodied so nicely by Glen Baxtor's cartoons. The list of equipment obviously parallels the list of things to do in all its earnestness. 

Each item has a most specific function and a delightful old fashioned name and is held in a heavy wooden box, which is secured with enormous brass clips. My equipment does not quite fit into one case, alas: I need to carry the pictures in a shoulder bag, but most of it is extremely sturdy, made of ash and bristle and leather and fine stout British materials, I just lack a Pith Helmet.

With these thoughts in mind I pack my bags for New York.

Glen Baxter, from Trundling Grunts, Bloomsbury, 2002


* Observe, by contrast, how Parisian authorities assaulted wonderful Place Vendôme:

From the Guardian, October 23, 2014:

American artist Paul McCarthy is hitting back agains French critics after his provocative "butt plug" was vandalised last week.

Stung by the public backlash against his giant green installation, Tree, which resembled a sex toy, McCarthy has been working on an “aggressive” response as part of an exhibition at the Paris Mint, officials said on Thursday. The Mint, located on the banks of the Seine opposite the Louvre, is to host a working chocolate factory when it reopens on Saturday after a massive three-year renovation.
Vandals cut the cables of the 25-metre (80ft) inflated sculpture in the Place Vendôme last weekend, amid protests from conservative groups. One passer-by was so incensed by the installation, near the Ritz hotel, that he slapped the artist.
McCarthy decided against re-erecting the Tree, which was deflated by security officials, and has instead planned an artistic response. 

**One might attempt to speculate further on the emotions that drive collectors. It strikes me that the desire for completion, the delight in numbers, the pedantry (ah but this is the thirds edition! it is the second with the flaw in the lower left hand corner that is really sought), and the sense of obsession seen in collectors are in opposition to common creative and artistic energies, in which spontaneous responses are enjoyed, which  have unpredictable results, and in which experimentation are usual (we can see this opposition in Perec's novel Life a User's Manual, in the training of Bartlebooth in the art of painting, as a sort of existential exercise to conquer, or control experience.  Bartlebooth then (here I quote from WIKIPEDIA) embarks on a 20-year trip around the world  painting a  watercolour of a different port roughly every two weeks for a total of 500 watercolors. Bartlebooth then sends each painting back to France, where the paper is glued to a support board, and a carefully selected craftsman named Gaspard Winckler (also a resident of 11 rue Simon-Crubellier) cuts it into a jigsaw puzzle. Upon his return, Bartlebooth spends his time solving each jigsaw, re-creating the scene.

It is notable that "Barltebooth displayed at the start a complete lack of natural talent", a natural mediocrity which is only conquered through steady application of process).


Many thanks to S. Mirkowski and Professor J.B. Deregowski for assistance regarding Russian words on the labels.


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