Tuesday, February 04, 2003
Kim Howells puts his money where his mouth is, evidently needn't have bothered.
You might have formed the impression that this Juvenalian satirist of the prissy Serota art world would like to see an art with forza, with spunk and courage - the muscular art of true modernists such as Pollock; after all, Howells has said that what contemporary art needs are "some real rebels and some real revolutionaries". Perhaps, as a historian of the Welsh miners in the Spanish civil war, you can imagine his idea of art might be Picasso's Guernica - something with heart, with politics.
But no. It turns out that his idea of art, as manifested in the example of his own work sold at a charity auction (to the organiser, a friend) for £60 is disappointingly, or gratifyingly if you want to put the boot in, dull. Dull isn't the word. This laborious, insipid excuse for a drawing is a piece of middle-class kitsch so lacking in life that it could win the Daily Mail's competition for "real" art.
Howells' drawing is nerveless and oddly lacking in warmth - the very opposite of his public persona. Done at a hotel in Geneva - on the table next to the glass which he has gone to such painful and tedious efforts to get right - is a guide to the Swiss Alps. There's something convalescent about it, as if it was therapy, done not in a hotel but an alpine sanatorium like the one in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. This is hospital art, recovery art. I recently spotted another government minister at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris looking tired and depressed; was this sketch done in a similar state of political neurosis?
Nor is it particularly competent, if that's what you value. Consider the wine glass. Is it a wine glass? For all the hard work, the complicated shading, there's something missing; the texture is overwrought but not alive. Instead of producing glittering translucence, he has created jelly. You wouldn't want to drink it.