Art in the TATE Modern

Art can be destructive, such as it happened in the vandalization of Mark Rothko’s Black on Maroon in 2012. Art can be disturbing, like in Leon Golub’s shocking painting Vietnam II 1973:

Vietnam II 1973

Through a painting, an artist like Salvador Dalí can interpret a poem and add complexity to it, just like he did in his breathtaking Metamorphosis of Narcissus:

Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Art can also be hideous like  for example in Francis Bacon’s Triptych November. Perhaps if the artist would have called the painting “Ugly Chicken Hanging from a Hook” I would have appreciated it a little more, for the self-awareness if nothing else.

Triptych November

But art can also be simple like Derek’s Jarman’s film Blue in which a monochromatic glow and voice over narration are used to represent the artist’s fading eyesight, one of the complications he experienced from suffering from AIDS.

Conversations about the meaning and the purpose of art are contrived, but, they are contrived because everyone has an opinion about it and we all find the topic at the very least, entertaining. I find the simplification of art fascinating; like the quote from one of the children that attended a workshop at the museum, he said: “art means hard work,” another said: “art makes people think,” to me, both are reasonable statements. There are people that say that art is “rubbish” (does the fact that it’s not our taste make it not art?) and some others debate if just getting a reaction out of someone is enough to make a piece artful.

Tate Modern Children

I don’t call myself an artist, but I would be flattered if somebody did. When I say that I work in film, that I take pictures, that I like writing, people put me in the “arty” category and I feel comfortable with that. I can walk around for hours and find inspiration wherever I go; I can be moved, I can react, I can change my mind. Art is everywhere; it’s not only inside prestigious museums or underground art houses but it can also be hidden in dark alleys, blown out in nature and smelled inside a kitchen. I think that being able to see it, when we find it, makes us all artful enough for anyone… or it makes anyone artful enough for me.

Tate Modern Women

Like almost all museums in London, The TATE Modern is free with the exemption of a few paid exhibits like Richard Hamilton’s retrospective which is absolutely worth paying for. I was lucky to be invited to see it today and this gift made my visit to the gallery even more fulfilling.

Props to Les Blank

Who doesn’t love a 76 year old man wearing a cardigan? Les blank is cool and approachable and at the end of his presentation I wanted to walk over to him and smell his sweater. Thankfully for my co-workers, I decided against it and shook his hand instead.

He spoke at an event hosted by the SF Film Society called “Master Class: Les Blank on Documentary” — thank you ITVS! Most film fanatics out there have heard of Les Blank, or, at the very least they are familiar with some of his films such as Burden of Dreams or A Poem Is a Naked Person. For me, it wasn’t until attending this seminar that I was introduced to some of his other work and got a taste of his unique voice as a documentarian.

Les Blank is tall, thin, and has a wonderfully trimmed, thick white beard. He is soft spoken, goes straight to the point, and most importantly, he is one of the most humble filmmakers I’ve ever met. If you tell Les Blank he is a true artist, he will give you a puzzled look followed by a nonchalant ‘thanks’; when you ask him what his secret is, he will tell you he has none; and if somebody comments on his amazing ability to get unlimited access he will make a joke and say ‘I just hang around until eventually people get tired of me’. Les Blank’s vision is not simple but he doesn’t waste much time presenting himself as a superior visionaire.

I have seen about four of his films, all produced by his production company Flower Films. After watching them I began to admire how Les Blank captures situations and people is a very gentle way. He doesn’t stage any of his interviews and he may toss cue cards up in the air to give himself a fresh start in the editing room. Rather than producing with his thinking mind, Les Blank feels the story and then goes from there.

By looking him up on imdb it becomes obvious that Les is constantly working, always looking for the next interesting story to tell. His films capture family, traditions, soul, passion, and so many other aspects of life. Without documentary filmmakers like him, we would miss out on a great opportunity to experience the world through a different point of view, from another angle, with a different lens. That’s what a brilliant documentary filmmaker does, he lets a subject be free to express itself without judgements or hesitation. Les knows how to be patient behind the camera yet he is fearless when it comes to finding the true nature of the story. And regardless of his liking of the label, I think Les Blank is a genuine, passionate artist whose films inspire, educate, and resonate with audiences of all ages, all around the world.