Feature: ArtScene

ArtScene: Venice Biennale, War Paintings in London

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VENICE. Can any arts festival be so romantic?  The Doges themselves head to foot in their gold threads of privilege could not make a more spectacular entrance than 200 exhibitors and collaborators in this 54th international Biennale. Venice can be flashy. Curator Bice Curiger has chosen "ILLUMInations" as this year's theme.

Bice Curiger.jpgImagine! Three Tintorettos (should that be Tintoretti?): "The Stealing of the Dead Body of St Mark", "The Creation of the Animals", and one of his later and most significant works,The Last Supper.jpg"The Last Supper". True art stands the test of time, and it will be interesting to see what we will still be looking at in years to come.

Tintoretto maybe my number one man, but something very, very special here is happening in Venice that is light years on from the classics. First, the atmosphere. Nothing beats it. The pure buzz of creativity. And here they all are. The Americans, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla.jpgJennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, with their upside down tank with gym treadmill atop.

Across the way (everything here is just across the way) the Iraqis are back after 35 years. Surprised? Don't be. Iraq holds the cradle of modern society at the crossing of the Euphrates and the Tigris. We are waiting for Baghdad-born Adel Abidin's work in Acqua Ferita - Wounded Water. Also, look for the Latin Americans. They deserve a show of their own, especially Argentine's Adrian Villar Rojas. They know him in Sao Paulo and BA. Europe will get to know him from now on - at 31, he's one to watch.

Let's not forget wee Karla Black, "frae Scotland" as we say outside Edinburgh. She's here in the pavilion put together by the Fruitmarket Gallery, one of my must-go galleries in the Scottish capital. What does she do? Think bright. Think light. All in papers, chalks, paints and plasters. She recently had a good show at the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York.

Miss not Amish Kapoor's "Ascention" at the Basillica di San Giorgio Maggiore. A vortex of white smoke rises from a circular base placed at the intersection between the transept of the nave of the Magnifictat. Close to divine in all senses. Remember that Kapoor is doing a great deal to publicize the way China is treating Ai Weiwei.  Don't forget, they still have him, so tell someone.

Go Venice. Biennale June 4th thru 27th November 2011

John-Singer-Sargeant-Gassed.jpgLONDON. Dropped into the Imperial War Museum to see Women War Artists. Laura-Knight.jpgLoved Laura Knight (as always). Managed not to trip over too many children crossing the landing to see John Singer Sargeant's monumental First World War painting, "Gassed". Disturbing, horror upon horror of war portrayed by the skill of the artist with no shock or big personalities needed. Deeply moving, No heroism here, just hopelessness.

I'm off to teach seascape course on the English Channel. Big Sea, Big Sky. Thar she blows! Can't wait.

ArtScene quote of the week: "Beautiful colours can be bought in the shops on the Rialto, but good drawing can only be bought from the casket of the artist's talent with patient study and nights without sleep." Tintorretto (1518-1594)

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments areā€¦

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