Giacometti’s endless strive for perfection – A review of Alberto Giacometti at Tate Modern (10 May – 10 September 2017)

Man Pointing 1947Bronze 178 x 95 x 52 cm Tate, Purchased 1949 © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017

The figure was a challenging subject after the war.  For many artists, it appeared an almost impossible theme and one that Alberto Giacometti felt he had to take on in his art. The Swiss sculpture, painter, draughtsman and printmaker savoured the challenge of confronting man’s inhumanity to man with such determination that he spent his life working towards this goal in an endless strive for perfection.  The exhibition at Tate Modern takes a fresh look at Giacometti’s modern art, asking questions about the success of Giacometti’s life work. In this review, I am interested in considering the competing advantages of working with a strive for perfection against settling for artwork that is good enough in a discourse that could help me with my work.

Alberto Giacometti 1901 -1966 was born in Val Bregaghn in Switzerland. He was the son of the successful post-impressionist painter, Giovanni Giacometti. Alberto Giacometti was interested in art from an early age, at thirteen he made his first sculpture of his brother Diego, and in 1922 he moved to Paris to continue his education as an artist. Giacometti was awarded the grand prize for sculpture representing France at the Venice Biennale in 1962. 

The exhibition space at the Tate Modern starts with his formative years when Giacometti depicts what he sees from life.  As the show progresses Giacometti experiments with cubist and surrealist sculptures such as Head-Skull (1934), Torso (1925) and Cubist figure (1926). The sculptures of this period have a real physical interaction; it is interesting to see that Giacometti is trying and struggling to get a grip of his extraordinary personal view of reality.  The angular sculptures take on and contemplate the space around the figure. A cheek bone is not directly represented as a cheek bone. Instead, Giacometti creates a poetic essence of the form.  This extract of essence allows the sculpture to be an object in itself, completely eye-catching and unmatched, different from anything else.

Woman with her Throat Cut 1932Bronze (cast 1949) 22 x 75 x 58 cm National Galleries of Scotland © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017

It is clear that Giacometti quickly realised that depicting only what he saw in life was limiting.  The concept of these sculpture came from an alternative source when he saw fully formed ideas in his head.  The forms have a power and force about them that relates to forms and shapes from primitive art.  They contain a real freedom as if Giacometti was grappling with a concept and trying to put it in his work.  It is a remarkably varied body of work.  To me the work shows Giacometti at his experimental best.  When he went for good enough and when he had not expected the public to see some this work.   For me, this was a real highlight of the show.

Later in his career, Giacometti dedicated himself to mainly depicting men walking and standing, as well as busts and nude women.  He became known for his sculpture of thin figures with, “just enough clay for the figure to stand up and nothing more.” This approach enabled him to pursue the question further as he considered the essence of man and his following work resonated with existentialist art lovers and collectors.

Very Small Figurine c.1937-1939Plaster, traces of colour 4.5 x 3 x 3.8 cm Collection Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017

In his pursuit to capture the essence, Giacometti felt the need to limit access to what inspired him. A walk in the wood was too much for him to take in. A short walk looking at one tree at a time in Paris is all he felt he could cope with. Giacometti said, “Having a quarter of an inch of something, you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you had pretended to be doing the whole thing…by trying to draw a glass [on a table] as you see it seems like a fairly modest undertaking. But because you know that glass even that is almost impossible.”  By limiting his inspiration, Giacometti felt that it would give him a better chance of getting to the bottom of his goal and his continuous strive for perfection.  By limiting himself to only having a handful of models enabled Giacometti to focus on developing a distinctive visual language that everyone could recognise as his.  From this Giacometti felt he could go deeper into how, we, as individuals relate to others. He worked towards capturing the self-consciousness and the universal feeling of being alone in this world.

Each time Giacometti made a sculpture he always had a strong feeling of failure. Giacometti wasn’t  looking for a way to lie to himself.  He didn’t tell himself that what he was doing was good enough.  He was after perfection and anything else fell short. This disparity between his objective and his implementation opened up a breathing space for his next work, often Giacometti then repeated his previous piece. Even though he knew it was impossible to create a perfect response, Giacometti said, “All I can do will only ever be a faint image of what I see.”

Pierre Matisse, Giacometti working on Four Figurines on a Stand at the Tate Gallery,1965 © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017

This later work grapples with getting hold of the essence of the figure and although this is where he truly becomes a master, the control of inspiration that he uses can lack some of this freedom of exploration. I have always had a high affinity with Giacometti’s work. In this exhibition I wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t focused on perfection. What if Giacometti had continued to make one-off pieces of experimental work through his career, producing work that is good enough rather than perfect?  I wonder what else Giacometti could have produced?

There is an energy that comes out of Giacometti’s work that makes his work compelling. It was interesting to watch a video of Giacometti at work in the exhibition.  He made heavily worked surfaces through squeezing, pulling, touching and pushing clay.  It was surprising watching his unconscious creativity and his obsessive restless movements as he worked on the form. Giacometti was fascinated by the head and eyes in his sculptures; he felt they represented the core of human beings and life. By getting the eyes right the rest of the figure he believed would fall into place.

Bust of Diego c.1956 Plaster 37.3 x 21.5 x 13 cm Collection Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017

There is a lot to be said for comparing this to other artist’s practices. Mondrian’s repetitiveness allowed him to pursue his interest in how one shape of colour works in competition with black and white.  If Mondrian had only made one painting of a black grid with white, red and blue squares, it would of never have got to the bottom of his interest in visual order.  Without this repetitiveness, he would of never of been able to ask profound questions about the visual world and his belief that everything is an illusion. Mondrian thought that using repetition highlighted his belief that an abstract painting is truer to reality than a painting depicting the illusion of what we see.

Picasso, however, was well known for reinventing his art every few years, like his cubist works and blue period.  Picasso used new approaches to get to the bottom of his desire to depict his personal view of the world.  Matisse also reinvented his approach to making art several times, finishing his career with the biggest risk of all the cut out.  I wonder about these different contrasting approaches and wonder what approach would suit me best my practice.

In my eyes, failures are as valuable as successes.  Giacometti endlessly pursued, his search to find the universal poetic essence of a figure and the truth of our shared humanity. Giacometti did this by focusing on one tree in the forest at a time or one person in a crowd of millions.  Through this approach, he captured alienation and melancholy of life.  His engagement with searching for a truth that was always out of his reach lead him down a very restrictive path.

Woman of Venice V 1956Painted plaster 113.5 x 14.5 x 31.8 cm Collection Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris © Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017

While it is admirable to focus intensely on, “a quarter of an inch of something.”  I wonder if Giacometti’s approach of limiting his inspiration and his endless strive for perfection or whether a wider body of experimental approach would suit my approach to art making?

Giacometti created a distinctive visual language with his thin sculptures of man that enabled him to find success in his lifetime.  Dreaming something up and executing it and working and stuff comes out are quite different approaches.  The lightning bolt of inspiration doesn’t strike on demand.  There is a lot to be said for starting to work and seeing what you can produce and where it takes you.

I think what I take forward for my practice from this Giacometti exhibition is that developing some kind of process is essential for removing too much thinking and self-doubt.  It is not hard to make art that looks like other art; the trick is making art that doesn’t look like someone else.  Giacometti achieved that.  Pushing your art to where no one else is working is a lot more of a quest than striving for perfection.  Problem creation with self-imposed limitations can easily be devised into a practice.  In that practice, it can be a positive decision to limit your inspiration or choices.  The only conclusion is in Giacometti’s approach is no matter what you try humankind is beyond human understanding.

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Drawings in space

 
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, all rights are reserved by the artist
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, 28 March – 20 August 2017
 
When walking into the Duveen Gallery at Tate Britain in London, I was confronted with a juxtaposition of neo-classical architecture with a manifestation of neon lights in the space.  I immediately felt the needed to stop and gaze in awe and give myself some time to take it in.  Cerith Wyn Evans’s installation of apparently random curves, loops and lines is almost 2 kilometres long and is an exciting, surprising discursive experience that gives the viewer space to contemplate.
 
Cerith Wyn Evans was born in 1958 and started his career as an experimental filmmaker.  He now uses installation, sculpture, photography, film and text within his work.  Wyn Evans shows that drawing in space with chandelier sculptures of light influenced by concerns with space, melody, harmony and form is comparable to a piece of music or poetry.  The work is inspired by Japanese Noh Theatre, and Duchamp’s [=The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (the Large Glass)] of 1912 to 1923.
 
The installation has a chronological feel that is translating movement into form, where boundaries of perceived time and space overlap. The three-dimensional drawing invites you to deconstruct a journey of dipping arcs and twists through space.  
 
The sculpture appears to move as you move through the space. Distortion and torsion twist in space are like colliding systems and particles. Wyn Evans visited the Hadron Collider several times; I’m sure this must of made an impression.
 
Cerith Wyn Evan’s work is a materialisation of space and has a reservoir of possible meanings and ideas. The work creates a state of mind which is productive for thoughts to grow. The zooming trajectories collide with thoughts opening the mind of the viewer to complexities of life, creating a proposition to ponder your stream of awareness.
 
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, all rights are reserved by the artist
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, all rights are reserved by the artist
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, all rights are reserved by the artist

Hodgkin says goodbye to absent friends – Howard Hodgkin exhibition review at the National Portrait Galley in London

Portrait of the Artist Listening to Music by Howard Hodgkin, 2011-2016, Courtesy Gagosian © Howard Hodgkin Portrait of the artist by Miriam Perez. Courtesy Gagosian.

Ever since I was interested in art, I have always seen Howard Hodgkin as one of my artists who’s work resonates strongly with me. In this review of Howard Hodgkin’s Absent Friends exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, I want to explore, understand and put into words (if that is possible) what it is about Hodgkin’s paintings that has managed to turn mere paintings into objects of contemplation and hold my curiosity for so many years.  At the same time say goodbye to another great artist; Howard Hodgkin died on 9th March 2017, two weeks before this show opened.

 

Howard Hodgkin was born in 1932.  He studied at Camberwell School of Art between 1949-50 and Bath Academy of Art between 1950-1954.  In 1985 Hodgkin won the Turner Prize and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.  Since then he has gone on to exhibit across the world and has his work is in many private and public collections.

Mrs Nicholas Monro by Howard Hodgkin, 1966 – 1969, Private Collection, London © Howard Hodgkin

The art I expect to see at the portrait gallery normally refers to an anatomical likeness of a person in the traditions of pictorial realism.  However, in this show, the paintings are titled as portraits that capture a memory of a person and a moment as a dematerialised idea imprinted on the mind.  They are described by Hodgkin as ‘representational pictures of emotional situations’.  The paintings capture realism as a complete expression of individuality, of both the artist and what he sees.  Paint and colour refashions the world as he sees it.  Hodgkin sees more than an individual likeness; he sees how the light falls to create abstract forms of intense emotion.  He paints his thoughts from memory with swirls and splashes as a response to the flux of the world.  The paintings are like a recording that captures a feeling, that took place between him and the person in the title.

 

Hodgkin once said, “Painting is like putting a message into a bottle and flinging it into the sea,” Observer article, 2001.   Howard Hodgkin believed his paintings talk for themselves and often was reluctant to discuss the meaning behind his work.  He was always happy for the viewer to see and interpret what they like from his deeply cherished moments.  

Waking up in Naples by Howard Hodgkin, 1980 – 1984, Private Collection, London © Howard Hodgkin

The paintings are more like artefacts or an object rather than just paintings.  Hodgkin worked slowly producing a maximum of 10 paintings a year.  He laboured and agonised over them in an intense process, which is evident from the dates of the work and from listening to him discuss the torture he injured when painting.  His artistry clearly lies in making something that took years look like it was made in a couple of hours.

 

“It’s very hard to keep all the things going on in a painting, the feeling, the emotion, the memory; they have to turn into something else. The problem really is making the painting stand up by itself.  The memory has to turn into a thing, into an object. And that is a very slow process for me.” Howard Hodgkin, BBC Radio 4, Desert Island Discs.

 

It was always clear to Hodgkin when a painting was finished and complete, as it captured his original idea that triggered the picture.  He painted on used blackboards, kitchen worktop and old picture frames rather than canvas.  He liked pieces of wood that already had an identity and a life.  When walking through the chronological hung exhibition, it is evident to see how Hodgkin developed a confidence with colour through his career.  Each painting has a strong, unique, distinctive character of swirls, curves, dots and lines in vibrant pigment, a collision of pattern and forms.

The Spectator by Howard Hodgkin, 1984-87, Michael P. Green © Howard Hodgkin

The painting that sums up Hodgkin’s painting practice for me is ‘Mrs K’, 1966-7. It is a portrait of Jane Kasmin.  It reminds me of being in a dark room as someone enters from the far end through a closed door.  The sun floods into the dark room, and a bold form of a figure interrupts the light, as you adjust your eyes.  The painting opens up heartfelt sentiments of solitude and vulnerability.   The painting challenges your visual psychological space, it encourages you to learn something new about the world about what realism could be or should be.  In my eyes, the painting is a more accurate and truthful interpretation of human perception than traditional pictorial realism.  

 

The impressive show with many well-lit rooms of high-quality work was a pleasure to visit.   The exhibition delves deep in Hodgkin’s practice of painting, asking questions about our human construction of reality in this seemly meaningless world.  Every single one of the paintings in this show feels like a battleground between the artist, materiality and reality.  They are an expression of individuality of the artist and its subject; they are self-portraits of the artist and subject portraits wrapped up in one.    Hodgkin created paintings that outlast the subject and the artist himself.  A makeover of the world in paint, with the paint being the carrier of vibrant and radiant feelings. It is a joyful farewell to an outstanding artist.

Portrait of the artist by Howard Hodgkin, 1984-87, Private Collection © Howard Hodgkin

Re-evaluating our relationship to space – Richard Wilson, Stealing Space, exhibition review

©Richard Wilson Block of Dering (2017) wood 353 x 250 x 268 cm Stealing Space exhibition

 

When l saw an image of the installation of Richard’s show l was intrigued and decided to visit.   Richard Wilson, the Turner Prize-nominated artist, has been exhibiting for 35 years and has won universal critical acclaim.  In this review of his exhibition ‘Stealing Spaces’ at the Annely Juda Fine Art gallery in London l was interested in how he uses different materials and ideas to draw attention to our relationship with space.   His work titled, ‘20:50‘ (1987) is an installation of oil in a room up to waist height and helped draw attention to his practice which uses methods of engineering combined with his interest in architecture. 
 
This quote from ‘Richard Wilson’ by Simon Morrissey, Tate Publishing 2005, page 7, gives us an insight to his way of thinking.
 
“I need that initial thing from the real world because I’ve always been concerned with the way you alter someone’s perception, knock their view of kilter.  And to do that I need to start with something we think we understand.”
 
This idea that you can ‘alter someone’s perception’ is something I can completely relate to and try to achieve in my own work and is the reason I find Richard’s work fascinating.  In his work Richard encourages the viewer to reconsider and re-evaluate common spaces, thereby opening up a very rich and productive exploration of physical space.
 
I believe that Richard’s work shows the importance of the artist’s role in finding a humble idea that has previously been overlooked, and make it into art by develop it into a life-long practice, elevating it up to something purposeful and meaningful and thereby adding wonder. 

 

©Richard Wilson Stealing Space exhibition all rights are with the artist
When I first saw the two large sculptures made from familiar materials squeezed into the white rooms they made me wonder how he achieved the aim of getting those big structures up the stairs.   When viewing, Space Between the Landing and the Gallery (2017) plywood on wood and metal, 310 x 740 x 101 cm, my attention is drawn to what I took for granted when I walked up the four flights of stairs moments ago.  While viewing the installation I wanted to re-consider my short journey up the stairs.  I did not notice the interesting details from the stair banister and steps, the significance of the space created and my relationship to these spaces.  My thoughts lead me to contemplate, Marcel Duchamp’s, ‘Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) oil on canvas, in a new way.  I thought how a person moves through space and they ascend and descend stairs and I found this interplay of connections and ideas intriguing.

 

Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2, 1912 – ©Marcel Duchamp – All rights belong with the artist
I can see why Richard makes a minimum of 3 sketches a day as I found his small framed drawings compelling and it is clearly the primary foundation of his ideas and practice. If I had one criticism of the exhibition, it would be that I would have loved to see the original sketchbook drawings to discover how Richard’s ideas started and progressed rather than just the finished sketches and finished installation.  I would have been very interested in understanding how he developed his ideas and this would have taken this exhibition to another level.  
 
The installations, models and drawings in the show made me take another look at the external and internal space, the positive and negative space, and to reconsider my memories and experience of moving through space.  This exhibition of Richard Wilson’s work has forced me to reassess architecture’s relationship and my response to space.  I realised I am overlooking the beauty of the familiar, the layers of meaning as I walk through a space and the resulting memories of the journeys I take. The exhibition, as a result, was one of surprise and delight and I walked away feeling I had learnt a great deal about using and understanding art and space.
 
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Michael Craig-Martin’s book, ‘On being an artist’ – book review

All rights are reserved and are with the artist. ©1973 Michael Craig Martin, An Oak Tree (1973)

Michael Craig-Martin’s book titled ‘On being an artist’ is a collection of thoughts and notes that Michael has written and collected over the years. The book presents an interesting and insightful account of aspects of an artist’s life, the central themes of Michael’s work and the way he sees the contemporary art world. The book covers Michael’s experiences that he has gained as an art tutor at Goldsmiths, teaching, Damian Hirst, Julian Opie and Gary Hume and as a successful international artist.

In the book, there are 151 texts written in an informal and sincere style. They are easy to understand and read, ranging from chapter titles such as, ‘On advice for aspiring artist,’ to ‘On British attitudes to contemporary art.’ The personal account and practice information is for art students as well as professional artists.  I am sure the book would also be interesting and engaging read for anyone who interested in creativity and the daily thoughts and practice of an artist.

Michael’s clear and concise explanation of conceptual art through discussing, “An Oak Tree” (1973) one of the many interesting parts of the book.  The artwork creates a suspension of disbelief and highlights how conceptual art doesn’t exist in the object itself but in the mind of the viewer.  ‘An oak tree’ is a mental concept like all conceptual art that becomes a trigger to encourage contemplation.  The work highlights how art is a place inside your head where you can go, on your own and process the world and it’s complexities.

I enjoyed the clear and concise ideas, and concepts explained in a friendly and helpful manner.  It interesting to hear about the highs and lows of being a successful international artist and the difficult and challenging journey of finding your own path. I would highly recommend it for any aspiring artist.  Michael is certainly honest, and I found that very refreshing, “I would never advise anyone to become an artist. If you have another option, take it.”

Colour is for squares – Exhibition review of Josef Albers, ‘Sunny side up’

©Stuart Bush, When it is advisable to be wrong, oil on board 45.7 x 60.1 cm – £1000 + shipping enquiry

Through painterly questions of scale, content, colour and form I’m interested in expressing physical and emotional vigour of the human body in the city. I often work with and against the silhouette of the figure in the city.  I capture the ephemeral with assertive gestures inspired from poetry and music.   My process draws attention to the edge of things, to what is already there.  I look to create a visual poetry with energy and motion arrested in space by simultaneously hiding and revealing our world to us and focusing on the void in between the things.

Exhibition Review

Color study, n.d.
Oil on paper
11 1/4 x 4 7/8 inches (28.6 x 12.4 cm)
© 2017 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

Josef Albers is known for his Homage to the Square.  He uses a series of variations of the square that illustrated how colours affects each other. His book titled, ‘The Interaction of the Colour,’ is a studio course for teaching and studying what happens between colours.   Josef Albers was born in Bottrop in Germany in 1888 and died in New Haven, USA in 1976.  He taught at the Bauhaus and at Yale.  I came to the exhibition of Josef Albers’s work at David Zwirner in London and was looking forward to seeing more of his work and hoping to develop a further understanding of Albers basis modernist theory of colour.

 

The show spread across 2 floors, contains just over 30 artworks. The title of the show ‘Sunny Side Up’ gives you positive expectations of an uplifting experience.  There is plenty of space to view each small artwork, and they are certainly is uplifting especially because on the day I went, there was a protest march against Donald Trump going at the end of the street on the drab wintry day.

 

I was surprised to find lines that were clearly crafted by hand and sometimes the areas of colour show the marks from the palette knife that was used to create them.  The paintings are studies which show that perfectionism is not significant to Albers.  The little colour swatches on card, with writing on them, show Alber’s thought processes like a sketch book of ideas where he worked out what he was thinking. 

 

I expected the flat plains of colour in the artwork to feel empty. However, the squares are like little doors into another world, the world of the sublime. I felt I was being pulled in the squares and into a deep abyss of sunshine.

Color study for Homage to the Square, n.d.
Oil and graphite on blotting paper
13 x 13 x 1 1/4 inches (33 x 33 x 3.2 cm)
© 2017 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

This exhibition acknowledges the importance of Josef Albers and the contribution he has made to the timeline of art and colour education.  The man-made squares of different sizes of yellow, orange and gold make you think more deeply about colour and help develop a deeper appreciation of abstract art.   My experience of the show was stronger because of the gloomy weather outside and contributed to increasing my enthusiasm to continue learning about the uses of colour in my work.  There are is so many variables that can affect the impact of the square of colour and Albers is clearly the master, as Albers says, “If one says ‘red’ and there are 50 people listening it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”

Color study, n.d.
Oil on paper
11 1/4 x 4 7/8 inches (28.6 x 12.4 cm)
© 2017 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

Laura Owens exhibition review

Laura Owen’s exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ in London gives a broad overview of her current work. In her paintings, she uses a range of digitally created images and painted marks in abstract compositions. Laura Owens was born in 1970 in Ohio, she began her art career in the 1990s, more recently she opened her LA studio as an exhibition space called 356 Mission in collaboration with the art dealer Gavin Brown.
Installation view, Laura Owens, Sadie Coles London. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
I was curious to learn more about Laura Owens’s work after I read that Laura Hoptman, a Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in New York believes she is a Caposcuola, (the founder of an artistic movement) due to the way she ‘assimilates digital languages into painting’.  In this review I want to explore some of the ideas in her work, and consider her use of newspaper clippings, screen printed on canvas, cropped shapes with drop shadows and impasto mark, all combined into photoshop, and ask whether this is a worthy subject for painting?
Sadie Coles HQ offers an ample white space and second small second room for some of Laura’s notebooks.  The large exhibition space with its white walls is an excellent backdrop for the busy paintings. The gallery is well lit, and the show includes a lot of work.  If I had one criticism of this show, it would be that there is too much work to focus on.  Viewing the exhibition starts well, but there is a repetitiveness of painted digital imagery, and after twenty or so large canvass the show as a whole feels overwhelming.  I did wonder whether that was intended because it is so obvious.
I see Owen’s work as a way of creating a dialogue about the man-made visual world, and focusing on technology that turns everything into pixels and data.  A visible world where we can find new ways to tune in through our portable devices which are constantly changing.
The use of technology in paintings originated with Pop Art, from Warhol’s screen prints to Hamilton’s and Blake’s collages took art in a new direction.  Laura’s use of sources makes me think about Matisse’s cut-outs and his use of collage and the way a composition is composed of editing, refining and manipulating shapes.  Laura’s pictures appear to be predetermined on the computer before they arrive on the canvas including the painterly gestures such as washes, dabs and swipes.  I was curious whether there is a space for spontaneity in her process.
Owens method like Matisse, Hamilton’s and Blake’s is a form of semiotic play.  There is a decorative element where a shape is cut out and put into a composition creating a visual rhythm and visual language.  There is a laying of images on top of each other where the contrasting elements with particular colours and elements in space give the work a striking ambience.
The result is a play of tension and expansion to create dynamic pictures.  It is a system for thinking about shape and composition and expanding the possibility of what we visually consume, which I find it exciting and playful.  It is very visually engaging and brings up many questions about Laura’s reliance on printing techniques, where her ideas come from, and the freedom of viewer to make associations in a picture.  As a result her work is undeniably a commendable subject for painting.
However, I believe that Laura’s work would be stronger if seen smaller doses as there are too many elements in the exhibition as a whole.  I don’t feel the need to revisit the exhibition for repeated viewing as I do after seeing a Francis Bacon exhibition.  Maybe this is because the compositions appear to be predetermined on photoshop, but possibly it is more to do with the overwhelming number of paintings on view.
Laura has created a vehicle to show what she sees, the work in the show is undeniably a visual sensation. Her work asks new questions about the most important kinds of processes of expression.  One of the most interesting things about this exhibition and why I recommend seeing Laura Owen’s work is that it is a critique of abstraction and about seeing the things in between the obvious stuff.

Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy book review

©Stuart Bush, No exit, pen on paper 43 x 61 cm
©Stuart Bush, No exit, pen on paper 43 x 61 cm
The title of the book comes from a Mark Twain quote. It suggests that if you start the day by eating a frog (a frog is a metaphor for your most important task), you will be happy to know that this is the worst thing you need to do that day.
I wanted to write about the book, ‘Eat that Frog’ because it contains a useful explanation of how to manage your priorities. I have over the years been highly unproductive because of procrastination, and this book has helped me towards overcoming the problem.
The most helpful sections to me were ‘Plan every day in advance’, ‘Apply 80/20 rule to everything’, ‘Practice A, B, C, D and E method of prioritising’ and the advice about removing distractions has had a real impact on my productivity.
©Vilfredo Pareto, The Pareto Principle All rights reserved
©Vilfredo Pareto, The Pareto Principle All rights reserved
The book is relatively short, compact and an easy read considering it is a self-help book.   I’m a note taker when reading books like this, as I feel it helps me digest the many learning points. I even turned a couple of chapters into mind maps, to help me capitalise on the useful advice.  This book has helped me with my productivity, and I would highly recommend it.

Abstract expressionism at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Over the years of visiting art exhibitions, few exhibitions have had such an impact on me as the Abstract Expressionist exhibition did at the Royal Academy.  I was staggered by the amount of impressive and inspiring works.  The first few galleries are hung in chronological order, then the order in the galleries changes and the work is hung related to styles and approaches, some rooms have work by more than one artist.  This changing approach works well as it easy to understand the relationships and contexts between the works in each room.
In one of the largest rooms, I found two of David Smith’s sculptures and one of Jackson Pollock’s drip painting next to each other, it was a stimulating experience.  David Smith’s sculptures ‘Hudson River Landscape’ 1951 (welded painted steel and stainless steel), and his ‘Star Cage’ 1950,  (painted and brushed steel) sat opposite Jackson Pollocks’s drip painting ‘Summertime number 94’, 1948, (oil enamel and commercial paint).  What was so intriguing and absorbing was how the lines in the three different works were so alike.  Pollock’s dancing splats of paint over the surface were heightened and intensified by the Smith sculptures. I have always delighted in interesting and complex spatial compositions and having these works next to each emphasised their associations.   While Smith calls his work, ‘drawings in space’, Pollock presents his as ‘energy and motion made visible, memories arrested in space’.  This juxtaposition of two and three-dimensional space was enlivening, inspiring and delightful to experience.
Jackson Pollock, Blue poles (Number 11, 1952), 1952. Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 x 488.9 cm. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016;

 

David Smith, Star Cage, 1950. Painted and brushed steel, 114 x 130.2 x 65.4 cm. Lent by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The John Rood Sculpture Collection. © Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016
David Smith, Star Cage, 1950. Painted and brushed steel, 114 x 130.2 x 65.4 cm. Lent by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The John Rood Sculpture Collection. © Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016;

 

Later l found work by Frank Kline.  I always appreciate looking at Franz Kline’s work and this was the first time I had seen ‘Vawdavitch’ 1955 and ‘Andrus’ 1961, (both are oil on canvas).  I enjoyed the simplicity of the subtle change in the colours and the spatial harmony.  I think Kline’s work has a strong relationship with poetry and music.  When I look at Kline’s work it always amazes me how ‘less is more’.  I always think of the Mies Van der Rohe quote when looking at reduced and distilled work where simplicity is beautiful.   It looks like Kline used a wide brush to create ‘Andrus’ 1961, he uses a few simple brush gestures in layers of mars black, cadmium orange, crimson, cerulean blue and deep purple mixed with different amounts of white.  The simplicity is intriguing and really sparked my imagination.
Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955. Oil on canvas, 158.1 x 204.9 cm. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Claire B. Zeisler 1976.39. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016. Photo: Joe Ziolkowski;
Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955. Oil on canvas, 158.1 x 204.9 cm. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Claire B. Zeisler 1976.39. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016. Photo: Joe Ziolkowski;
If I had a criticism of the exhibition it would be that you need more time to see everything, I found it challenging to select only a few pieces of works to discuss in this review as I really did feel blown away by seeing so much artwork of such a high standard.  After a couple of hours, l needed a break.   Having spent so much time with the works I have mentioned and looking at some of the pieces by other artists I felt guilty walking past further great pieces of work because I felt my eyes and brain needed a rest.  It would be great if you could revisit the exhibition on the same ticket on a different day.  I would happily go again.
If you would like to read more, there is a interesting review here on the Saturation Point site written by Paul Carey Kent, after visiting this show and the at the Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao: 3 Feb – 4 June 2017 and comparing the shows.

Book review – Eric Fischl’s ‘Bad Boy’

©Stuart Bush Blind boy (2007) oil on canvas 50 x 70 cm
©Stuart Bush Blind boy (2007) oil on canvas 50 x 70 cm – £650 + shipping enquiry

Eric Fischl was born in 1948 in New York City, his suburban upbringing and career as an internationally acclaimed American artist is presented in his book ‘Bad Boy’.
Fischl shares his deep wounds when discussing his personal relationships, especially with his depressed and alcoholic mother. These troubling experiences made their way into his artwork creating a dialogue about his personal wounds and ironically they ultimately lead to him getting into trouble.
The death of Fischl’s mother inspired the work he became famous for. It is interesting that after his first solo show in New York at the Edward Thorp Gallery in 1979 and the following success lead to him ‘going off the rails’ as the book title suggests and he enjoyed success a little too much.
Fischl’s book is informative and helpful to other artists. There is interesting advice and tips about how to deal with the process of being a successful artist and he discusses the issues and ideas in his work.

Eric Fischl says in the book, “Painting. Is a process that guides me back through complex experiences that I didn’t have words to describe or understand.  It relieves feelings and memories and brings them forward with clarity and resolution.  Each one of my paintings is like a journey, a process to excavate nuggets of emotion, artefacts of memory, the treasures buried in my unconscious. My imagery evokes feelings that were once too painful to ephemeral or too embarrassing to articulate or even to remember.”
Eric Fischl’s ideas are well developed and considered as you would expect from someone who has had international success as an artist. He uses clear, convincing and honest language. I think the book is a good read and has lots of information and advice about dealing with life an artist. I enjoyed reading it and strongly recommend it.

©1981 Eric Fischl, Bad boy, oil on linen, 170 cm × 240 cm - All rights reserved by Eric Fischl
©1981 Eric Fischl, Bad boy, oil on linen, 170 cm × 240 cm – All rights reserved by Eric Fischl