Artist Philip Hartigan talks about art, interviews other artists, and more
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On the ghost of Charlie Chaplin
I’ve always loved the silent comedies of Charlie Chaplin, particulary the work he did between 1915 and 1920. When I was a child in England, one of the three TV channels showed all these early films on Saturday mornings, intercut with enthusiastic introductions and set-ups by a then-famous comedian called Bob Monkhouse. I remember watching these with my grandfather, who was in the first audiences for these short one and two-reelers when they were first released. When I grew up, I lost the child’s delight in the broader comedy—the ‘turn-around-when-carrying-a-plank-of-wood-and-slap-a-bystander-in-the-side-of-the-head’ style of humour. But I found, and still find, a depth to Charlie Chaplin’s films, a sharpness, a gleeful anarchy, and an incredible level of technical skill and inventiveness. Films like ‘One A.M.’, ‘The Pawnbroker’, Easy Street’, ‘The Immigrant’, ‘The Floorwalker’, and ‘The Kid’ should, in my opinion, be seen my everyone.
Along with my enduring love of his films, I came to learn about the studios he worked for. He was discovered by Mack Sennett and the Keystone studio, then worked for Essanay, and then in 1916 signed for the Mutual company in a deal which, if translated into 2010 dollars, would have been worth about $14 million. Imagine my delight and astonishment when, about a month after moving to the 1400 block of West Argyle Street, Chicago, in 2007, I discovered the Essanay studio buildings in the 1300 block of West Argyle Street. If I go into the sun room at the front of the apartment and look to the left, I can see the single storey brick buildings, occupying about half a city block, and the portico which still bears the ceramic heads of two Indians and the title ‘Essanay’ over the doorway. The studio took its name from the initial letters of its founders’ surnames, Spoor and Andersen. The Indian heads are there because for years the studio produced some of the earliest westerns, and produced one of the first western stars in Broncho Billy.
Chaplin with the Essanay owners in c. 1915
How strange life can be sometimes. There I am, in a mining village in the north-east of England in the 1960s, sitting in my grandfather’s living room as a six year old, watching fifty-year old silent comedies on a massive Rediffusion TV with bad reception. Thirty-eight years later, I’m living just steps away from where some of those films were made.
It's my 300th blog post. And I seem to remember that in my 200th blog post I said that I would start quoting from John Ruskin's "Praeterita", after which this blog was named. Well, better late then never, so quotation number 2 is below.
First, though, some thoughts on this blog and blogging in general. I started Praeterita at the end of last year after reading a book by an art-marketing guru called Alyson Stansfield that recommended it as a means for artists to publicise their work better. But from the start I thought it would be more interesting to talk in a discursive way about my wider interest in art, and artists, and the history of art. After a desultory beginning where I only posted once a week, my blogging habit has now grown to the point where I am posting sometimes twice a day, and more than 45 times per month (helped enormously by the Blogger feature that lets you save blog posts with a post-dated timestamp, so that you can put posts in the bank to …
Most open studios are notable for nothing really happening. You sit there waiting for people to come into your studio, eat all your nibbles and guzzle the free drink, and then leave after a cursory glance at your work. Usually, the worst thing that happens is that you get stuck in a boring conversation with a dull person,
But there was one time a few years ago when I got into one of these conversations, and quite quickly the person I was talking to started to make homophobic remarks about another artist in the building. After a few minutes, I decided I'd had enough and asked him to leave. He seemed genuinely surprised that I had any objection to what he was saying, which in retrospect makes me even angrier if he thought he had a sympathetic ear.
He asked me why, and I told him I didn't like people talking that way, and I said: "This conversation ended 30 seconds ago." So he left.
So, nothing dramatic like Jackson Pollock getting drunk in a fancy New York apartment a…
From a letter dated July 31, 1888: “Why do you say Degas can’t get it up properly? Degas lives like some petty lawyer and doesn’t like women, knowing very well that if he did like them and bedded them frequently, he’d go to seed and be in no position to paint any longer. The very reason why Degas’s painting is virile and impersonal is that he has resigned himself to being nothing more than a petty lawyer with a horror of kicking over the traces. He observes human animals who are stronger than him screwing and f—ing away and he paints them so well for the very reason that he isn’t all that keen on it himself.” Subscribe to Praeterita in a reader