Sunday, 24 January 2010

Transcription: Artworks dedicated to/inspired by Under The Volcano @ The Bluecoat, Liverpool.

The Bluecoat in Liverpool recently (a few months back) had an exhibition dedicated entirely to works inspired by Malcolm Lowry and Under The Volcano. Images from the exhibition are scarce but I've managed to scrounge a few images together. Interestingly there's also a blog dedicated to all things Lowry-related called Malcolm Lowry @ The 19th Hole . It's proving to be a valuable resource.

"The three paintings by Julian Cooper are from a series of seven completed in the 1980s entitled Under the Volcano. The novel was instrumental in the artist's search to develop a kind of abstract painting using figurative methods, one capable of taking on contemporary experience in the way that Lowry's novel does, with its intricate symbolism and a vivid representational surface. For Cooper the book 'had everything. It was set in a landscape, it was outer narrative and inner narrative as well, it had lots of references to literature and cabbalistic religion - it had all the complexity of a Renaissance painting. ' "Douglas Day's biography of Lowry in particular, linking the writer's life to his fiction, provided Cooper with a 'layering of myth and reality. .. I see the novel now as quite prophetic in the way that its leading metaphor applies as much to an "economic growth" as to an alcohol addiction'. Like Lowry's writing, the paintings are meticulously detailed and create a real sense of place and time, an evocation of Mexico and the book's setting. Each takes a particular episode from the book chosen for its self-sufficiency and symbolic power. They avoid being simply illustrative however, the structure and execution of the paintings echoing the complex layering of meaning found in Lowry's masterpiece. Despite the specific references, the paintings are autonomous, requiring no prior knowledge of the book. Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957 "

"Unlike Malcolm Lowry, Brian O'Toole (1946-2001) spent most of his life in his native Liverpool, apart from art school training in Newcastle and London and regular stays in Dublin, producing cartoons, portraits of Irish writers and absorbing himself in the labyrinthine world of James Joyce. Frighteningly well-read, literature informed O'Toole's art and he admired Lowry, whose complex prose, references to other literature, rich thematic layering and Merseyside origins appealed to him.

O'Toole's darkly humorous, surreal pen and ink drawings appeared in a range of publications, on posters and in exhibitions, and the ones selected here echo the dancing cadavers of Mexican artist Posada, whose Day of the Dead prints were a particular influence. O'Toole's drawings, with their combination of the familiar and the absurd however can also be seen in a particularly British tradition of caricature and satire, stretching from George Cruikshank to Steve Bell.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957 "

"Associated principally with punk through his weekly cartoons for the New Musical Express and artwork for the Clash, Ray Lowry (1944- 2008) was drawn increasingly to his literary namesake and fellow North Westerner. Like the alluring and tragic figures of his heroes, rock'n'rollers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, Ray found a kindred spirit in Malcolm Lowry. And just before he died, he created a series of colourful, expressive paintings on paper inspired by Under the Volcano.

Freer than anything else Ray completed, these final paintings are almost abstract. Though little is known about them, episodes from the book are discernible: the Mexican Indian dying by the roadside, the Consul's alcoholic bliss, his encounter with fascists accusing him of being a spy ('spider'), and the final indignity as a dead dog is thrown after his corpse into the ravine.

The single large painting entitled Under the Volcano, is more enigmatic, suggesting a baked landscape and parched vegetation. But despite the painting's title, it is not Mexico that is its subject, but Iraq, and the time is the present, as toy soldiers play out a war in a part of the world that, as Mesopotamia, was considered the 'cradle of civilization' - a reminder of one of the book's underlying themes, that of man's folly, with the world heading towards war.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957 "

"For Cisco Jimenez, a native of Cuernavaca where Under the Volcano is set, Lowry's book and his life continue to provide - 70 years after he stayed there - a barometer for measuring the expectations and failures of this Mexican town. For Jimenez the paradox portrayed in the novel repeats: the clash of the popular against the contemporary, tradition under threat from global changes and impositions, and the failure of utopianism (colonial utopias, the social experiments of the 1960s, the neoliberal policies in the 1990s).

Jimenez's mixed media sculptures make playful reference to Lowry's life: his drinking (Two Atoms Connected), golfing prowess (Necklace), and in Peddler the imagery and folkloric aspects of Under the Volcano, whilstAK47 Barroca is indicative of the artist's concern with the contradictions and violence of the everyday in Mexico.

'Cuemavaca is no longer what it used to be. What remains are tourism and opportunistic "cliches" of the quiet and colonial past - multiple thematic hotels and restaurants for wealthy foreigners and visitors from Mexico City, and real estate speculation. Nature has been covered over with tons of concrete, and the last old mansions with their majestic gardens are slowly falling down, giving way to massive condominiums (which we call "condemoniums"). You face such disaster every day'.

"Edward Burra (1905-1976) occupies a particular place in 20th century British art: represented in major collections yet remaining, like Malcolm Lowry, something of an outsider. He is best known for his satirical, often macabre paintings of 1920s and 1930s urban life, particularly its seedier side. He flirted with Surrealism and his allegorical works share some of its characteristics. Working mainly in watercolour, he imbued his art with 'a feeling of tawdriness and the meretricious and yet, at the same time, (created) such convincing beauty' (George Melly).

Despite constant ill health, Burra traveled widely, visiting Lowry in Cuernavaca in 1937, together with Lowry's early mentor and their mutual friend, the American writer Conrad Aiken. On his return to England Surra painted Mexican Church, its composition based on two postcards of churches he'd visited, the cathedral at Taxco and Santa Catarina, Mexico City. Burra and Lowry did not get on, however both shared an interest in Mexican culture.

Burra was influenced particularly by the Mexican muralists and the prints of Jose Guadalupe Posada (1851-1913), whose depictions of lively skeletons had a profound effect, contributing to his interest in representations of death. Under the Volcano's Day of the Dead theme is echoed in Burra's other two paintings shown here. Dancing Skeletons, painted after a visit to Spain, anticipates his Mexican journey and immersion in the iconography of death. In Skeleton Party, completed nearly 20 years later, Surra returns to this earlier theme. Whilst the pyramid shapes on the horizon have been identified as slag heaps in an industrial landscape, they could equally suggest the twin peaks of Lowry's Mexican volcanoes.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957, "

"Described as a 'Neo-Baroque' printmaker and painter, Jorge Martrnez Garda has read and re-read Lowry's writings since first discovering Under the Volcano in Quito, Ecuador. Inspired by Lowry's famous letter to Jonathan Cape, in which he proposed there were at least five levels at which the book could be read, the writer has been
a constant point of reference for the artist. The series of intaglio prints shown here demonstrates the way that Martfnez interacts with Lowry in diverse and layered ways, each print being both compositionally and thematically complex. Many familiar elements from Under the Volcano are evident: the Consul, the volcano, an 'eternal' cantina, the ever present bottle of mescal, all rendered through Martfnez's exquisite printmaking technique.

Martinez seeks to illuminate or, in a more metaphorical sense, circumnavigate Lowry's 'heraldic universe' (Lawrence Durrell) according to Martinez's own life experience and his own existential reading of Lowry's writings. Lowry has also motivated Martinez, an artist living and working in Chile, to reflect on Latin American realities in terms of what he calls 'our existence as culture and cosmovision'. Like D.H. Lawrence, Lowry represents for Martinez 'the outsider who is able to perceive other worlds with a universal sensibility'.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957 "

"Pete Flowers' interest in Mexico was awakened by reading Under the Volcano.
It introduced him to the Day of the Dead, which has become a life-long fascination. Flowers sees parallels between his work and Lowry's, for instance the way - as suggested by Michael Schmidt in the introduction to the book's current edition - that the writer's 'imagination exaggerates and distorts, forces connections and recurrences' . Like Lowry's fiction, Flowers' paintings use montage technique and are worked over and over again, becoming dense and complex in the process. Like Lowry, he is also drawn to the spiritual, referencing Eastern beliefs and religions.

Of the paintings here, two refer directly to the book, interwoven with Flowers' experiences visiting Mexico, where 'you very quickly become aware of the fact that you are always under the volcano'. A Prayer for the Consul is a memory of being mistaken for Christ in a cantina by a beggar who pinned two medallions of the virgin under his lapel. The idea for this painting and A Prayer for Malcolm, came from a votive candle of the Virgin of Guadalupe that Flowers' wife bought him. On the back of this is a prayer for those involved in the abuse of drugs and alcohol, although 'she claims not to have read the prayer when she bought it'.
Bryan Biggs Artistic Director The Bluecoat Liverpool: Under The Volcano; An Exhibition for Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957"


tutorphil said...

Hi Tom,

The idea of approaching the organisers of this event is very interesting; it might just be that they might be interested in following the progress of your Lowry-based project more generally; if you prepare a covering letter - in which you introduce yourself, your course, and your project etc. - let me have a look at it via email, and then we could get it on UCA headed paper asap for some additional oomph - there maybe a creative collaboration angle here for you that's worth investigating.