I’ll admit, what drew me to this exhibition was the title. As you may know, I am more than a little ballet-obsessed, and an exhibition combining ballet and painting sounds like my idea of heaven. The exhibition is a collection of 20th Century paintings from Glasgow Museum’s collection, chosen by artists, with a note beside each painting explaining why it was chosen. I enjoyed this because these notes were different from the usual types of statements accompanying paintings, with the artists tending to focus on how the painting styles have inspired their work. A particularly interesting example is Charlie Hammond’s choice of ‘Black Jack’, by Florence Abba Derbyshire because the painting style is so unusual, the work looks almost like embroidery – Derbyshire used paint straight from the tube, and added the fine detail using a nail file, a hat pin and a sewing needle.
The title of the exhibition comes from a series by Josef Herman that attracted the attention of several of the artists, made up of rough paintings intended to direct the set design and costumes of ‘The Ballet of the Palette’, which was a 30-minute long ‘semi-surrealist extravaganza’, with a storyline revolving around a large, lazy brush and a small energetic brush, with ‘colours’ making up the rest of the cast, each with its own characteristic and movement. According to George Ziffo, the characters look ‘carnivalesque’, and as Charlie Hammond says, ‘It is hard not to feel that the caricature nature of the “big brush” isn’t knowingly ridiculous’. These dramatized, almost comic elements noted by the artists can be seen as poking fun at the romantic title of the ballet, suggesting a relaxed, enjoyable approach to art and performance.
This sense that the artists don’t take their own, or other artists’, work too seriously is seen throughout the exhibition, for example Merlin James’s comment that he chose ‘An Artist Sketching from a Boat’, ascribed to Jan Hendrick Weissenbruch, because ‘painting from a boat is a good metaphor for – I’m not sure what’. For me, this was a refreshing change from the tendency of arts critics, whether of visual art, writing or performance, to over-analyse.
My photograph of ‘Heavy Snow Fall’, by Mary Barnes
Many of the reasons given for choosing the paintings are personal feelings evoked in the artists by the works. Lottie Gertz chose ‘Heavy Snow Fall’ by Mary Barnes, which looks like a distorted, slightly disturbing child’s painting of a house for its ‘urgent presence’, while ‘MH9’, by Colin Cina, was chosen by Neil Clements for how ‘unapologetically hopeful’ it is, and it is not difficult to see what he means, looking at the bright colours, graphic design and large scale of the work.
My photograph of ‘MH9’ by Colin Cina
My personal favourite of the collection is ‘Aviator’, by William Crozier, chosen by George Ziffo for its ‘dynamism’ and ‘fragility as if it’s on the verge of disappearing’. I love its mystical quality, with the skeletal figure submerged in clouds of colour, possibly falling or suspended. To me, the figure looks as though they could be wearing a red cape, adding an almost comic element to the work.
My photograph of ‘Aviator’ by William Crozier
As a whole, the collection seems random, connected only by the personal reaction they drew from one or more of the selecting artists, and being part of Glasgow Museum’s collection. This makes for a widely varied exhibition, and for me made the reasons each work was chosen more interesting.
‘Ballet of the Palette’ is now showing in Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art