Sonia Delaunay, Tate Modern


Every year there are one or two shows at Tate Modern that I am desperate to see. This Spring as soon as I noticed the colourful posters for Sonia Delaunay’s exhibition appearing, I put the exhibition on my to do list and ensured I saw it as soon as my busy diary allowed.

Sonia Delaunay had a long and interesting life – a Russian-born French artist, her work is striking and unique. She spent most of her career working in Paris with her husband Robert Delaunay, who was also an artist. Together they founded the Orphism art movement characterised by its use of vibrant colours and geometric shapes.

This major retrospective comes from Paris and features an impressive collection of Delaunay’s paintings, designs and embroidery. The first room instantly reminded me of Gauguin with the rich colours and expressive figures. The vividly coloured nudes are confident and bold, they illustrate her desire to break away from academic convention and are dark and moody in style.

It was when she met her husband in 1907 that her style began to incorporate abstraction. The use of Simultanism (a theory of simultaneous colour contrasts) is evident in all media, including a patchwork cradle cover she made for her young son. Delaunay’s abstract paintings (of which there are many) initially appear to employ random colours and shapes, but on closer inspection show the influence of modern technology and machinery, less obviously than in Futurism.

In was the later rooms dedicated to Delaunay’s contribution to fashion that surprised me the most. I had no idea she had had such a prominent role in design, textiles, and indeed was such a remarkable businesswoman – an area where many talented artists fall down. I loved seeing the outfits Sonia designed for dance productions, and how she applied her fascination with abstraction to the wonderful costumes.

It is clear wandering round this colourful show that it is the abstract works and decorative patterns of Sonia Delaunay that have had the most lasting success. However it was the first room of haunting female figures that I remembered long after leaving Tate.

Sonia Delaunay continues until 9 August. If you visit I recommend also popping into the Agnes Martin exhibition, very different to Delaunay but equally moving.

Book tickets here.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden, Tate Modern

Marlene Dumas paints victims: victims of oppression, abuse and misfortune. The way she paints has a damp pathos – soft big shapes: bodily, slightly shameful like a wet patch on a bed.

Her Tate Modern retrospective begins with Rejects, a composite of her signature ink and wash heads on loose sheets of paper. They started as rejects from other works but also appear as rejected individuals: wonky, dazed ghosts sometimes with their eyes cut out to reveal (more successful?) eyes beneath.

Dumas’ oil paintings have a similarly diluted aesthetic; she suggests skin, hair or moody environments with the minimum of pigment suspended in puddles that sometimes appear accidental – she always avoids any predictable depiction of the human body.

Dumas works exclusively from photographic sources which means she paints not just an individual but the position that individual holds in the media, be that a newspaper or a pornographic magazine. Sometimes we feel her sympathy for her subjects but often there is a disturbing amorality as in her ‘portraits’ of Osama bin Laden and that of his son, memorably quoted on the subject of his father: “he hated his enemies more than he loved his children”.

The handmade-ness of Dumas’s works contradicts her use of photographic and digital imagery so that she unites the two poles of visual representation – her deceptively sloppy execution cancelling out the unfeeling objectivity of mechanical observation.

The almost negligent ‘thinness’ of Dumas’ style, the sourness of her colours and the sickly nature of her subject matter are features she shares with a coterie of fashionable contemporary artists – Tuymans, Sasnal, Peyton and to some extent Richter and Doig. Are these artists reflecting an accurate view of the world today? Everything appears polluted, de-energised, only half there.

While the beauty and emotional charge is undeniable in the Marlene Dumas exhibition, one does feel in need of an invigorating walk and a wholesome meal afterwards.

Exhibition continues until 10 May 2015, more information and book here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Chris Kenny.

Matisse Cut-Outs, Tate Modern

It is difficult to dislike the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition. This expressive and colourful display of creativity and passion is currently livening up the white walls of Tate Modern.

This show features work from the final chapter of Matisse’s life. When the artist began to get ill in the 1940s, he became unable to paint and so swapped his brush for scissors initiating a new medium of paper cut-outs. After undergoing a crucial and risky operation in 1941, he felt he had been given another chance and a second life, explaining perhaps why his final works are so celebratory and liberated. He depicts subjects of wonder and fascination on both a small and huge scale.Although flat, the energetic shapes and patterns seem to create a magical depth and as you look longer the compositions appear more complex and the patterns become more intriguing.

I have always loved the work of Matisse, reminding me of long summers in the South of France, where I often saw his paintings in Nice or Vence. The collages are something I discovered later, but love equally, simple works but with an amazing ability to capture the imagination.

Every piece in this Tate Modern show exudes happiness… dancing figures and exotic creatures, beautiful shapes and joyful colours. We witness the artist’s studio layout, the decorative Oceania paper scene that covered the walls. The blue nudes are simple and classic, studies of the female form that work in tandem with Matisse’s earlier sculpted nudes, similar in pose and mood. The psychedelic Jazz prints are loud and humorous, depicting scenes from the circus and theatre.

Amazingly as Matisse grew older and his mobility became more limited, his technique seems to loosen and broaden… his final works show a surge in energy with a greater sense of movement and power. Bigger works such as the Snail are emotive and triumphant, he describes it as ‘abstraction rooted in reality’. The roughly torn pieces of paper are arranged in a playful spiral, the giant masterpiece manages to evoke a tiny creature.

Even now the shapes, shades and patterns remain imprinted on my memory. This is a cheerful and life-affirming collection of works, offering a colourful glimpse into the mind of Matisse.

Continues until 7th September 2014, book here.