Michael Daley: A Life Drawing

Michael Daley

Fans of Tacita Dean will be delighted to learn that she is having yet another exhibition, this time at the Royal Academy… And it’s well up to her usual standard. This time she is “exploring the genre of landscape in the broadest sense.” Well, broad is the word. She’s blown up a number of black and white photos so as to fill the enormous wall space available and touched them up here and there with some white paint. That’s about it. 

The person from Preston, the one who recently won that silly art prize, but who is not yet wearing her new OBE medal, was sitting in a corner by some large glass cabinets containing four-leaf clovers, collected over the years by Tacita Dean herself. I pretended not to notice. She’s also become a professor you know, at something called Preston University. Like Tacita Dean’s her work is feeble. It’s the sort of stuff most artists would chuck away before starting again.

What can such a creative possibly feel when confronted by examples of true greatness, or even just competence, as can be found in the new wing of the Royal Academy, such as the wonderful drawing of Leda and the Swan by Michelangelo (below, now thought to be a copy by Rosso Fiorentino)? It doesn’t matter who did it, it’s just as good, quite exquisite. Two Victorian academics apparently tried to have it no-walled on moral grounds. 

Would Dean or Himid feel shame before work as accomplished as this? I don’t think so. Identity politics and arrogance combine into an impenetrable carapace of self-regard and entitlement. (And how’s that for hyperbole, or hyperbowl as Mr Major, that master


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of litotes, used to say?) Separating the Dean Department from one of the newly developed wings is a vestibule in which hangs an extraordinary painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence of Satan Summoning his Legions (opposite). More Fuseli than Lawrence at first glance, until you notice the superb handling of paint. Lawrence considered it to be his greatest work but it’s hardly ever been seen as it’s fifteen feet tall and there was nowhere to show it. I wonder if at any time it was anatomically complete, but the groin is featureless. He must have waited around for one of those floating pieces of gauze to come drifting by and captured it at the exact moment it landed. (Thank you. E L Wisty) A great Satanic purple bell end would have made an interesting feature.

Constable’s small skies and landscapes of Hampstead Heath are very impressive (and very small) and there’s his view of the side of Somerset House which seems to have had a number of small watergates. I’ve been mistaken for some time in thinking that there was only one which is 404 Not Found now that great arch of the riverside entrance.

Thor Battling the Serpent of Milgard by Fuseli is worth a look and you will also find here a cast of the Laocoon which on its own is worth a visit.

The Annual Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy has just opened. Hamish Kipper has dumped something large and expensive in the courtyard, which shouldn’t detain anyone for very long. Inside, that lanky old bim, The Widow Twankey, was sporting a bright purple wig surmounted by a tiny orange sombrero. A clown’s onesie and pale green clogs with enormous platforms completed the ensemble.

In her gloriously exuberant manner she was ranting at a bunch of hacks which left most of the galleries free and enabled me to have a good look round to see what was on offer. Dear Reader, I  don’t know how much they charge at the door if you go along as a civilian, about a score I imagine [A mere eighteen actually. Ed], but in the age of the five pound pint, four of those will make you happier.

There was one thing that I liked; a glazed box relief of toy unicorns galloping through a forest. It’s by Cathy de Monchaux, someone I’ve never rated before, but it shows imagination, an ingredient absent from almost all current art. Two enormities from David Hockney are on show, back to back. Poor fellow … it must be all that bogey weed.

It was almost a relief to come across The Brick Woman, who has got herself up to the tenth floor of a block of flats and painted almost every brick in Islington.

There is an ingenious bear which emerged in 3D from the middle of an oriental carpet and MacFisheries has been hammering tacks into things yet again. What tedium. Entropy always increases. Close down the art schools. 

The Widow has also produced a range of gyfterie which you can purchase from the RA shop. This ranges from a paper luncheon napkin at £2.50 (although being a dedicated vulgarian she probably calls it a serviette) to handkerchiefs at twenty quid, T shirts at £28 and Teddy Bears at £24. All very reasonable I’m sure.

It wasn’t until I was strolling away down Piccadilly that it occurred that there had been no sign of the Creative Bachelors. I checked the catalogue, no paper and glue to be found. The Widow was in overall charge this year and there’s a whisper round the paddock that she doesn’t hold with living sculptures.I don’t suppose they are too bothered because they are opening their own gallery soon, as they are cross with Mr Serota for not showing them sufficient respect.

Readers may be interested to know that The Jackdaw has been banished from the Mall Galleries following an article suggesting judicial skulduggery at the Threadneedle Prize. It matters not as they never anyway got around to  paying for issues they sold.

To the National Gallery to see the exhibition of Thomas Cole (1801-1848), the English-born American landscape painter. He was from Bolton and sailed to the USA with his parents at the age of 17. By the time he was 28 he’d acquired a patron who paid for him to travel to London where he met Turner and Constable. He was rather daunted by Turner who he considered rather uncouth, having “the appearance and manner of the master of a coasting vessel”. Many of the paintings that inspired him are included in this exhibition, notably Turner’s Hannibal Crossing the Alps and Constable’s Hadleigh Castle. Indeed, the arrangement of the Castle tower over towards the left side of the rectangle was

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to become a recurrent motif later on in his series The Course of Empire. He pinched, or as they say nowadays appropriated, the sky in Hannibal for one of his later painting. In a way you could say that he tidied up Turner and Constable but that is not to detract from The Course of Empire, a series of seven intriguing paintings (1835/36). You get the feeling that he really enjoyed doing these, especially the Consummation and Destruction with their casts of thousands, and then the perfect melancholy of Desolation, Constable’s castle replaced by a lone standing column with stork’s nest. Earlier parts of the exhibition deal with industrial England. A small hand-coloured etching of The Leader of the Luddites reminded me very much of The Widow Twankey. John Martin also features with his Belshazzar’s Feast and The Deluge.

Upstairs in Room 1 you can see a selection of works by Ed Rooshay which are supposed to have some connection with Cole. I can’t see it myself. Masking tape and spray gun skies … if you like that sort of thing.