Friday 26 October 2018

"An Artist's Eyes" (Guardian 26/10/18)

An Artist’s Eyes ***
Dir: Jack Bond. Documentary with: Chris Moon, Mick Rock, Chris Jonns, Jack Bond. 77 mins. No cert.

Over his eight decades, director Jack Bond has curated one of the most cultured and quietly cultish filmographies in British cinema, having signed off on 1979’s avant-garde sci-fi Anti-Clock (rediscovered on the BFI’s Flipside label), 1987’s ripe-for-revival Pet Shop Boys curio It Couldn’t Happen Here and 2014’s Adam Ant study The Blueblack Hussar. This profile of punkish Essex-based painter Chris Moon opens with a coup de cinéma to rank alongside anything in those defining art movies La Belle Noiseuse or The Quince Tree Sun: ten minutes in which Moon, fag in mouth, daubs a jet black canvas with coloured streaks that get stripped back to reveal new shapes and shades. It’s a maximal variation on that thrillingly on-the-hoof creation Rolf Harris performed in prime-time before things got problematic.

Moon’s MO, amply illustrated here, is instinctive improvisation: he regularly changes his mind as to what he wants to paint even as he’s painting it, sometimes finishing canvasses mere hours before an exhibition. As one onlooker puts it, using a term that connects with Bond’s back catalogue, these methods are very “rock ‘n’ roll”, like a guitarist letting rip with enormous, unexpected mid-set solos. There is, however, a stark contrast with the quiet, solitary endeavour the camera witnesses in coffee cup-cluttered studios, where we learn of Moon’s struggles with depression. The closest he comes to a stadium gig are those first nights in dingy East End backstreets, and even here the movers and shakers in the crowd are most often heard discussing the market – commerce – and not the art.

Producers who weren’t part of Moon’s entourage might have pushed for a tighter edit; others might want a critical voice to set this work in context. Firmly old-school, Bond resists prevailing docu-trends: there’s no “journey” for his subject to undertake, just the daily grind of getting up and creating something to sell, relieved by the fact those sales allow him to tour Andalusian canyons with his battered box of pastels. Such diversions yield crisp, romantic images, if nothing that matches that dynamic opening artblast. One suspects production began amid hopes Moon would become the next big thing, and when that didn’t happen, the film evolved, like the artist’s canvasses, into something more tentative, even touching: a sketch of as yet unfulfilled promise. Chris Moon is a work in progress.

An Artist's Eyes opens at the DocHouse, Curzon Bloomsbury today. 

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