Saturday, December 31, 2005

J.M.T.W.T. Slidesmuir: New Year's Eve, Loch Bleak, 182-

(Click to enclick.)

Although New Year's Eve, 182-, was vastly significant to the global-historical balance of power, the transformation of the arts, open sexual experimentation by proto-intellectuals, and the discovery of an ancient world at the center of the earth, these events are now utterly obscured thanks to latterday psychosocial analysis by squinting scholars. Fortunately, that famous day was painstakingly recorded for us by that intimate of the Bleak circle and somewhat significant Romantic painter, sculptor, engraver, and erotic gadfly J.M.T.W.T. Slidesmuir (1792-1907.)

Although numerous critics conjecture that many of the salient details of his Bleak landscapes may have been completely or partly imaginary, it is difficult to reconcile this theory with Slidesmuir's demonstrated lack of imagination in most areas of life. His copious erotic memoirs are hackneyed, mind-bogglingly repetitive, hopelessly dull, overall a tedious accumulation of cliche; if they are fictitious, they reveal a rascal of even less imagination than if they are true. His various writings on art do not show much in the way of vision or overarching viewpoint, nor even the usual pidgin theoretics. They consist mostly of such sentiments as, "Art is a good way to make money without doing much;" "art is a good way to take advantage of women;" "getting really drunk all the time is fun;" "these Bleaks are a bunch of suckers;" and other insights of comparable depth. That Slidesmuir was occasionally delusional is plausible; that he was only semi-competent in artistic technique demonstrable; that he used absinthe clearly established (although whether he used it on himself much is questionable); but that he was abnormally shallow, two-dimensional, and rigidly literalist is beyond dispute. These paintings are accurate to the degree that Slidemuir could render them accurately.

It is interesting to note in the above painting many (doubtless unintended) anticipations of later artistic movements, in addition to the oft-noted slavish thefts from past ones. The trained eye notes, for example, in the lower right, strong echoes of second-rate Victorian erotic photography. Elsewhere, foreshadows of quotidian art nouveau are strongly suggested. Anticipations of abstract expressionism, cubism, surrealism, and the Bauhaus painters can be extracted from a careful viewing, though these are probably due to an unsteady hand after a day of unrestrained excess, rather than to some sort of accidental artistic breakthrough. The use of color is quite interesting, an incidental effect of Slidesmuir's habit of misplacing tubes of paint and making do with what he could find around the grounds. There are some hints that foreground figures may include Mulu Cherchelle, Zuleika Mole, Arabella, Dr Praetorius, and other intimates of the Bleak circle including Bleak himself. But other internal evidence points to their consisting of Slidemuir's retinue of village daughters, their outraged parents, and the angry villagers who a few days later nearly succeeded in stringing Slidesmuir to a tree and setting him afire. This was a fairly liberal village, too.

For those who overlook Slidesmuir's mediocrity as a painter with the defense that his draughtsmaniship was without peer (a rather ambiguous claim, by the way), and that his vision is best reflected in his drawings, we reproduce here one of the best surviving preliminary sketches for Loch Bleak.