Friday, April 11, 2008

Peter Blake's "Alma Cogan" & "Ophelia"

Gordon Burn's novel, reviewed by me on Amazon US and here two days ago, featured on its flyleaves the two halves of Blake's Tate Gallery painting. As I could not find it anywhere on the Net, including the Tate itself's own holdings archived at its wonderful Subject Search (which has given me already three fine illustrations to accompany the difficult themes of belief and doubt and devotion the past few entries), this surprised me. So, duly giving credit for T.02285, if Burn's own 1974-76 Tate catalogue of acquisitions, pp. 54-6 is to be believed in a fictionalized account of a real singer and a real artist and a painting that takes up a key place in the plot and the presentation for we readers, here it is for future spectators. Maybe that's why I could not find it on the Web? Alma in the novel tells us that she took away a rare postcard of her own portrait. Getting into Borgesian, not to mention Walter Benjamin, territories of intertextuality and reality of qualia here.

The library copy has the d.j. taped to the binding, so I get the diptych effect of what's a single work, "oil on panel, 17 1/2 x 14 1/2 x 1 1/2." (156) What's uncanny is how the "right-hand" Alma, on spinach-green with what Burn's Alma notes as ghosted specters of her face in the background, and a lot of mottled and patchy skin and cosmetic effects I cannot discern from this nth-generation reproduction, has been reversed to face the other way on the scanner, while the "Fan's" Alma's correct.

I read about Blake, in fact, in the discards of a Sunday supplement last rainy summer at Oideas Gael in Donegal. The sour article, which may have been Waldemar Januszscak's from the Times, 1 July 2007, "Peter Blake at Tate Liverpool" described his mid-1970s sojourn with the Brotherhood of Ruralists. The critic recalls Ian Dury rounded on him when he last castigated Blake's rusticism in print, but my sympathies are with Mr. New Boots and Panties in defending his former teacher against Fleet Street! My own William Morris/ pre-Raphaelite/ Eric Gill enthusiasms aroused, I clipped the tiny reproduction of his "Ophelia" and stuck it in my little journal of my own sojourn that month through Ireland. Couldn't find this on-line either, so:

Although Blake moved on from the Ruralists, their work I found very much to my tastes. (The rip on the center-right's from my hand, lacking scissors, but it does fit into the textural foreboding and nicely compliments the tear in her blouse.) Blake's "Ophelia (standing frontally in water), Oil on board, 137cm x 94cm" as the Ruralists' cyber-catalogue records it, was one of twenty Ruralist depictions of the doomed waterlogged heroine at Bristol exhibited in 1980. Although one's titled "Baby Ophelia." Interest in their work continues. Here's their site: Brotherhood of Ruralists. Here's a brief, non-pictorial, review by Isabel Taylor of an overview published on their work: Artists in Arcadia from Winter 2007, Albion Magazine.

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