Dick French: On The Town – July 2017

I heard on the wireless that Cornelia Fluff has just been appointed ‘Official Sculptor’ for the General Election. What can this mean? She’s obviously a bit of a Leftie so maybe she could run up a big bronze statue of Compo on his bicycle for Islington Green.

Mr Serota has left the Billabong and moved uptown to a new job where he’s in charge of absolutely everything. Talk about ‘Once a Jolly Swagman’. I’ve always thought of him as Moriarty ‘The Napoleon of Art Crime’:

“He sits motionless at the centre of his web, but that web has many radiations and he knows well every quiver of each of these. He does little himself, he only plans, but his agents are numerous and splendidly organised.” (Conan Doyle)

Talking to Long John in The Salisbury I noticed two tickets sticking out of his shirt pocket. I enquired about them and he proudly handed them over the bar. A pair of tickets for Lord’s at £85 each. He’d just been to Locks of St James’s and spent £300 on a Panama hat. He takes his cricket seriously does Long John. When I was at school I got hit on the head by a cricket ball and have no time for it. And time is what you need for cricket.

The chap next to me started talking about cricket and then football, but when he realised I had no interest in either he suggested we talk about golf. I think he’d been on a course. I warmed to him because he seemed rather lonely. He was wearing a syrup – not bad, quite well fitted, what used to be known as a ‘Beatle Wig’. I managed to get away and strolled down to the National Gallery. On the way I had an altercation with a street performer who was blocking the path along the south wall with a semi-circle of onlookers. I hate street theatre. You can still hear the buggers as you climb the staircase inside the gallery.

Chrysophilus has been given his own room to display his latest efforts. He’s done a large tapestry, or rather a factory has run it up for him, based on a series of watercolours which are also on display. Enlarging such exiguous material is of course disastrous. As well as the tapestry the gallery is decked out from floor to ceiling with grisaille hangings of dusky maidens doing the hokey cokey. He didn’t even do these himself. The whole business is unspeakable so I won’t, except to observe that forty-odd years ago it would have been considered rather “girly”. Oops!

Going past Fortnums I always get a cheery wave from the Irish millionaire who holds the door open. I was on my way to White Cube in Mason’s Yard which is conveniently just behind The Chequers on Duke Street – a pub worth visiting if only for the splendid Spanish barmaids. The WC is showing the work of Wayne Thiebaud, an artist I’ve admired since the ’60s when he was associated with Pop Art. Thiebaud is mostly a still life painter. One of the many things that distinguished him from the Pop artists was his delight in the sensual properties of paint. His cakes and pies look delicious and cakes, pies and ice creams are his favourite theme. His palette is that of the cake shop and ice cream parlour. Later on he managed to translate this into landscapes, oddly enough both rural and urban.

Sometimes Thiebaud paints people and they’re dreadful.

Clown Cones (see illustration), a reproduction of which I’d seen in the paper, I imagined as much bigger, but in fact it’s a modest work. I’d like to have seen it much bigger. It would have been outrageous. Cherry Pie of 2016 is delightful, as is Burger To Go of ’99. Quite why I like them so much is difficult to say. Maybe I’m pathetically grateful for finding visual pleasure in a modern painting. He slips thick streaks of lemon yellow into paintings of motorways in a convincing manner. A visionary of sorts. If I was rich I would buy Thiebaud’s pictures and hang them alongside George Rowlett’s, especially those luscious Alpine scenes where he also uses ice cream colours in a surprising way. [See page 46 for the latest Rowlett exhibition. Ed]

The pictures here are fairly recent and are not quite as juicy as the ones I remember from the ’60s. I think it’s because most of them are done in acrylic rather than the oil of earlier times. But at 95 he is still producing great work. “Mr Thiebaud, you are to be congratulated”, as Elwood P Dowd would have remarked.


To the Royal Academy Summer Show, this year presided over by the winsome Eileen Cooper, who can neither draw nor paint. But, as it says here, “She brings her experience and knowledge of diverse practices to the Summer Exhibition”.

All the usual suspects are here, including of course ‘Paper & Glue’, the creative bachelors with yet another of their would-be photo combines. Don’t they ever get fed up with themselves? Year after year the same old flashy muck.

There’s a painting worth looking at by Anthony Eyton of an Indian festival in Varanasi.

Cornelia Parker is still flattening teapots. Habits acquired in art school are hard to relinquish.

Prices are unbelievable. Gormless has done a woodcut in an edition of 5 at £30,250 each. That should keep him in vegetables for a while. And Macfisheries shows a linocut in an edition of 50 at £2,800. Fluff pops up yet again with a “polymer photogravure etching on Tiepolo Bianco paper” if you please. Edition of 15 at £3,025 a pop.

There’s a neon sign by Biffa Bacon’s mother in an edition of 3 at £84,000 each. So rush along all you bargain hunters, why don’t you.

An etching Girls Girls Girls by Cathy Pilkington, newly appointed Royal Academy Professor of Sculpture no less, is certainly a step up from her hideous sculptures which are curiously but understandably not on display.

There’s even Julian Schnabel – remember him? – with a rather modestly sized load of smashed plates painted green. Nearby is a truly revolting intestinal jumble in bloody reds and pinks. It was so obscene I almost liked it. Then I realised it was by Hamish Kipper, but I don’t suppose he made it himself.

With a few exceptions all this work seems to be a constipated extension of what they were doing at art school. There are no surprises. At college in the ’60s there was a chap who wrote in his thesis that by 1970 all innovations would had been achieved and that the future would be given over to what he called ‘conservative abstraction’. A percipient fellow, his prediction has come to pass.

News from the grotto. The Sage writes from the wild country to tell me that the public lavatories in his local market town have been converted into an art gallery. There are lots of pictures of sheep in the snow – L’Escuela des Moutons Congeladas. On the wall some local wag has written “SID HEPPLETHWAITE HAS A BIG ONE”.

Dick French
The Jackdaw Jul/Aug 2017