Pikes on a Ship: Defence of the Achaeans.

Reading about the past is a delightful pastime. What is even more illuminating is the moment when text and image match, especially with ‘primary sources’. This is especially invigorating the further back one goes in time, particularly in the ancient world where visual depictions of reality and abstractions can at times be indecipherable (a simple issue, I think, resulting from temporal distance). Art in the ancient world is at times a matter of our perception, let alone the reaction of those who viewed ‘art’ in the ancient world.

Classical literature is often littered with visual descriptions of singular moment recorded by paintings or sculpture, and even more conspicuously, Mythology. Statues of Herakles, other mythological heroes and Gods and Goddesses abounded in the ancient world. Of Course, Ekphrasis is quite common in parts of ancient Greek literature, but a description of warfare from Homer’s Iliad that is also displayed in a painting from the Minoan-era is even rarer. One example is in Homer’s Iliad, when the poet narrates the defence of the Achaean’s camp from the ferocious onslaught of Hector and the Trojans and in true Homeric style, he describes the event in over several books with seemingly tangential yet highly pertinent details that add more colour to his verse in a cool and satiated style.

In book 15:

“So the Trojans swept over the wall with a loud yell, driving their chariots on, and began a close-combat fight by the sterns: the Trojans from chariots, with double-edged spears, and the Achaeans, after climbing high on to their black ships, with the long jointed pikes that they had lying in the ships for fighting at sea, clothed at their point in bronze.”   The Iliad, Book Fifteen. Oxford World’s Classics, translated by Anthony Verity.

Verity writes in his endnotes to how a Theran fresco displays this phenomenon, where pikes are used on ships, being glued together. I confess I have no idea how they would have been used in such a context, but it is the display of it in painting that captures my imagination. The image below shows, after much looking, what I think Verity alludes to in his endnote to the above quote:

Bronze-age Ship with pikes.

Bronze-age Ship with pikes in the bow.

 

The image is taken from the Athens National Archaeological Museum and the painting is located in Akrotiri, Santorini. I believe it is dated to around sometime in the first half of the 2nd Millenium BC. Anyway, it is a joy to behold.

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Regarding Warhol at The Whitworth Art Gallery.

If there is one artist who had subsumed the various aesthetics and styles of the the Modernist & Post-Modernist artists, and brought it to it’s qualitative apotheosis (at least what I think) then that artist is Andy Warhol and his oeuvre, pop-art. In an exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Andy Warhol’s pieces, lesser known and more popular, are brought to life.

The exhibition brings together a number of his works, mainly held otherwise at other galleries in the UK. Art post-1900’s has baffled me; mainly, I think because of the erosion of traditional and ‘objective’ value that has been in the repertoire of traditional art history. Whether that is progressive and good or bad and ridiculous, is entirely for each self to ponder in his/her own time. Rightly, and tediously, this brings to the fore the question of ‘art’ itself, and Warhol is a perfect vehicle with which to briefly broach this, I think.

 

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Andy Warhol self-portrait.

 

There is no doubt his imagery is striking, and his craft exudes from all of his pieces.

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Skulls. On loan from the Tate.

 

There is a bizarre mixture of the themes of death, idolatry and capitalism rife throughout the exhibition, and although the themes are largely confined to various rooms, they make for an unwanted smorgasbord of pessimism. Is his work beautiful?; the way we might consider Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel beautiful?. I do not think so, primarily because of the value of Warhol’s ideas; he is not trying to evoke a sense of sterile beauty ensconced within a meta-narrative seen in Renaissance paintings but something entirely different. It is the individualism of his experiences and society’s transformation that I think are rife throughout the exhibition, and just as potent today as they were relevant thirty or even forty years ago. His ‘Skulls’, I think is a prime example of his thoughts about death, his brief sojourn there but also engages with the themes of originality and authenticity. With just a few tweaks to the colour palette, what is authentic and original suddenly becomes more complex than attributing an artist as the progenitor as any given painting or photo, or indeed, ascribing originality to it.

 

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Christ $9.98 (negative and positive) 1985-6.

The ‘christ’ painting I thought was particularly playful and ironic, in light of his general art and what is now considered art.

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Hamburger. On loan from the Tate.

 

Walter Benjamin wrote that the removal of ritual and the advent of mechanical reproduction of art led to a wholesale change in art and society as a whole, that ritual underlay much of what we might consider art for the majority of human history, and that technological advances since the advent of photography have destroyed the ritual aspect of art only to be replaced by the political. I disagree with him, but his insight into art is valuable, and there is no doubt that with the changing nature of art since modernity, the political courses throughout art, especially here, in Warhol’s art in the exhibition. His imagery deftly points towards the capitalistic nature of ‘Americana’, and of society and its descent into capitalism with all its ideological glories. But fundamentally, and this point vexes me, it seems pop-art and Warhol can only be understood in the ideological construct of the day (which permeates even now). Whether this is what Warhol intended, that he ‘owns’ the nature of his work and can only be understood in the context of his existence, I do not know, but the response his work elicits is framed by a particular narrative.

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Dollar Sign. 1981.

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Gun. 1981.

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Electric Chair. 1967.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, and I do think Warhol’s pre-eminence in art is deserved, even though I am not particularly a fan of this type of art. Nevertheless, this exhibition is the best exhibition I have been to in a while. It is on at the Whitworth Art Gallery till the 16th April.