Art and Fear book review

Art and fear book
Have you ever wondered about the best way to approach art-making? In Art and Fear, Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making, by David Bayles and Ted Orland the artists and authors take on the challenge of verbalising the disquiet and unease of making art.
It is somewhat comforting to read an artist talking about typical problems and how to overcome them. One of the memorable anecdotes from the book comes from a ceramics class. The ceramics class is put into two groups and are told they are going to be graded differently. One group is informed to produce as much work as possible, while the other group has to focus on quality over quantity. At the end of the term, the first group will receive an A if they turn fifty pounds of sculptured clay into pots. The second group only needs to hand in one perfect vessel to gain an A, but it has to be their most significant accomplishment.
Once quality and perfectionism were given a back seat, I can easily imagine the first group rising to the occasion and completing pot after pot. With no trepidation about the outcome, there was no looking back. Each student made gradual progress and refined their techniques as they made their pots. With a brief reflection before moving on, mistakes were quickly learnt. Their skills and grace improved with each container.
The other group, with their focus on thinking before they start, were doomed before they began. These makers became frozen in time not sure what the consequence of each action would be. I have experienced this first hand. Striving for perfectionism cause massive anguish. With perfectionism as a focus, they found that they couldn’t help focusing on their shortfalls. Suddenly they were scared of making even a little mistake.
This short story from the book highlights the journey and experience artists have to overcome when art-making. It highlights that theorising can’t replace action. Consistently knocking out solidly average work, where good enough is the goal is the best approach and is a sound way to undertake art-making and progressing skills.
As Bayles and Orland say “you learn how to make your work by making your work.” “The hardest part of art-making is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over. Finding a host of practices that are just plain useful.”
Although there are several good motivating points in the first half of this book, I found the second half of the book not as strong. As l neared the end of the book, I was looking forward to it finishing. As at times, I found the book frustrating, especially the section on art and science. I was surprised that a book that tries to explain the benefits and problems of art-making avoids the one essential ingredient, creativity. However, the is some real insight to;
“Provocative art challenges not only the viewer, but also its maker. Art that falls short often does so not because the artist failed to meet the challenge, but because there was never a challenge there in the first place. Think of it like Olympic diving: you don’t win high points for making even the perfect swan dive off the low board.” Bayles and Orland
Overall I felt that reading this book was money and time well spent. After reading this book, I returned to my studio, with renewed focus to churn stuff out and work as much as I can. Instead of sitting down and imagining myself getting better. As Bayles and Orland said, “The overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.”

Michael Craig-Martin; Sculpture review

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig-Martin Sculpture
Installation shot, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

It is hard to understand the incongruities between a successful artist and the work of mere mortals like the rest of us. I want to put into words how can a simple drawing of an object can be turned into a world-class sculptural form. Michael Craig-Martin, the once significant tutor of the YBAs at Goldsmith between 1974-1998, is now showing his latest sculpture at the Gagosian Gallery on Britannia Street in London. Is it the snap at the moment of impact when seeing his work, where he is best in the game? Is it the skill of his placement that no one else comes close to? Or is it the degree of Craig-Martin’s unparalleled expertise? I realise all this is true, and yet none of it really explains anything or evokes the experience of seeing the distinguished simplicity of Craig-Martin’s artwork. I went along to his current show to see first hand, the beauty and genius of Michael Craig-Martin’s game.

I walk into the exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, on Britannia Street, I am met with a void-like atmosphere in the exhibition space. I am confronted with brightly coloured magenta frame in the shape of headphones, a cobalt blue safety pin and an emerald green fountain pen. They stand eight-foot-tall immediately in front of me in the empty space. The white walls and grey concrete floor stand in contrast, drawing my attention to the simplicity and colour that comes from the metal-framed sculptures.

When the shapes first come into sight, there is a snap at the moment of impact, like observing a professional tennis player’s powerful backhand. All I am witnessing is the finished point in time that is gratifying and noteworthy. However, my first thought is how the finished result looks so straightforward. As I walk around, I notice how the apparent three-dimensional work is really two-dimensional from the side.

I imagine not thinking about the countless paintings and wall mural I have seen of Craig-Martin’s work.  It must be hard to understand how much effort it has taken to produce this work for a new viewer of Craig-Martin’s work. There is not much for a viewer to go on. The highly refined three-dimensional objects sit there like a simple act.

It feels inconceivable to figure out how top performers reaches these dizzy heights of visual power from only witnessing the finished result. I think of a non-sports person watching the raw and powerful backhand of professional tennis winning at match point.

The player sprints to the corner with his weight moving towards the edge of the line. The participant throws a forehand with a topspin screaming down the line past the competitor. It is hard to imagine all the thousands of practices it has taken to reach this eminence moment. As the viewer stands there in shock. They look to find something to grab hold to understand the players elegant and effortless form. Asking themselves “did I really see what I just witnessed? How did they do it, it looked so easy?”

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig-Martin Sculpture review
Safety Pin (blue) 2019 Powder-coated steel, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

The white cube without any tendency towards anything leaves space for the viewer to really considering these simple-looking sculptures. Witness the work the viewer asks themselves the same question, what have I missed and how did the artist get to here?

Craig-Martin enables the viewers to carry out a time transportation effect to recollect the viewer knowledge and experience of the object in a profound and meaningful way. What can I perceive beyond the physical and tangible object? What does my intuition tell me?

The choice of colour stands out. The bright contrasting colours are like a centre punch in the gallery. In essence, Craig-Martin sculpture starts with a simple kind of reductiveness. He began by choosing an essential thing; an informed selection of all the art forms. The first step is making a pencil drawing; an original form of art-making.

From studying the work it possible to realise no one else would have taken the solitary steps. No one else would come close to this outcome. The skill of placement takes an original object and refines it. Lifting its significance and drawing attention to it.

When Craig-Martin was young, he had a keen interest in what things looked like. He loved great American 50s cars, and even today, he is still able to use his visual memory to identify the make and model of every car from this period. Through drawing, Craig-Martin has followed his natural engagement with things.

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig-Martin Sculpture
Headphones (magenta) 2019 Powder-coated steel, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

Drawing enables Craig-Martin the opportunity to follow his nose in an open and unparalleled way. Rather than choosing cars, he deliberately chose objects we take for granted. A careful selection between all the commonplace items. Each item has its own significance in its own unique way.

Craig-Martin recognised the precise snap in his distinct drawings. Craig-Martin’s drawings have a peculiar look. The finished image looks like a technical drawing taken from an instruction manual. It imparts just enough knowledge on the viewer, so they recognise the object depicted.

The simple appearance at first glance appears as if the original drawing that inspired the sculpture could have been drawn by anyone. However, Craig-Martin’s picture of an everyday object is refined and distinct due to the sharp and precise line without shading, tone or predilection. No matter who set out with the same task, Craig-Martin’s approach of reducing the object without personal inflection is one of a kind. It leads to an outcome to be free from style and be remarkable in their own way. Successively creating Craig-Martin’s own visual language and system of communication.

The unparalleled skill comes partly from the expertise of Craig-Martin’s drawing but more so from the carefully selecting of what not to draw. Chuck Close, the American painter, known for his photorealistic process paintings talks about developing a practice based on the process;

“We often don’t know what we want to do, but we sure as hell know what we don’t want to do. So the choice not to do something is often more important than the choice to do something.”

The persistence of completing the task again and again and knowing what you don’t want to do draws awareness to what appears to be mundane, functional items. The visual idea is then repeated over the years as paintings, murals and sculpture. Through this repetition of presentation, novelty turns into aesthetic importance for the viewer.

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig Martin Sculpture
Beachball (yellow) 2019, Fork and Knife (green and purple) 2019, Powder-coated steel, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

Craig-Martin picked up a pencil and started drawing what he was interested in. He had found something. He didn’t know it was a good idea when he started, it was just an idea. Through a long journey, Craig-Martin’s has located what was indeed his.

At its heart, it is a simple drawing. Craig-Martin took a modest idea and elevated it. Through a conscious selection of things between the obvious stuff, the everyday item that we take for granted has been given a new significance. Every reiteration confirmed the unique style into a recognisable calling card and signature style. The distinct visual language is now comparable to his initial interest in the 1950s American cars. It is a clear personal vision that holds the viewers’ attention and tells the viewer a truth…

“There is no shoe, yet everybody sees a shoe. It doesn’t look anything like a shoe not even slightly. It has no relationship to a shoe whatsoever except it looks like a shoe. There is another object there, it’s not in one’s imagination. There is an object that is not a shoe, being seen to be a shoe. It is really extraordinary human ability and phenomenon.” Michael Craig-Martin explains, “There reason why dogs don’t watch television, it’s because they can’t see and read pictures. We have this extraordinary capacity to read pictures.”

There is a common phrase in art, ‘Painting comes out of painting.’ In this case, sculpture and painting come out of drawing. Craig-Martin original task wasn’t like a visionary architect, seeing a finish conceptual artwork in his mind from the start. It is more like a gardener, growing and pruning a garden and seeing which way the plants develop while nurturing them.

The beauty and genius of Michael Craig-Martin game is the commitment to baby steps without being able to see where they will lead. Following intuition and trusting inner belief that it will work its way out in the end. Stepping on the court as a novice and only seeing the winning backhand, it is impossible to understand of practices that have lead to this result.

Michael Craig-Martin was born in Dublin in 1941 but spent most of his childhood in Washington D. C. He studied Fine Art at Yale School of Art and Architecture. He has lived and worked in Britain since 1966.

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Michael Craig-Martin Sculpture
Corkscrew (orange) 2019, & Bulb (red) 2011 Powder-coated steel, All rights reserved by the artist ©Michael Craig-Martin and Gagosian Gallery

War of Art book review

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, War of Art
At some point, most creative people realise that something needs to change.  The book  ‘The Art of War’ by Steven Pressfield, can help explain what old behaviours and mindsets are holding you back.  Essentially it is a self-help book for amateur artists and writers battling with inner self-doubt and fear.   There is a diamond of an idea about learning to overcome resistance and ‘turning pro’ as the book asks, “Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what “Resistance” is.”
 
When I tried to read ‘The Art of War’ for the first time, several years ago, I struggled to get past Steven Pressfield’s zany unconventional rhetoric.  However, I am pleased I gave the book a second chance.  In this first part of the book, Pressfield tries to define resistance in its every form.  Although I found this first part the hardest, there were several parts I related to. 
 
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.” 
Pressfield explains that instead of getting rid of fear for good, it takes a prolonged time of compressing hard work.  Pressfield’s gem in the middle is that artists and writers need to realise that fear will always be there.  The trick is a better understanding of it and learning to live it.
 
The War of Art in part two and three presses home the resolve needed to recognise and overcome amateur mindsets and distractions.  Combating resistance means learning what the term ‘professional’ means and making changes to your work routine.  As a professional, the ground rules have to change. The artist needs to show their highest level of discipline and keep professional hours.  Pressfield explains;
 
“It is one thing to study war and another to live the warriors’ life.”
 
“I write only when inspiration strikes, fortunately, it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.”  
 
“I turn up everyday day in and day out, no excuses.”
 
“Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must recommit every day.”
 
“Pros who sit down, roll up their sleeves and do it every day.”
 
“The qualities that define us as professionals?
1) We show up every day.
2) We show up no matter what.
3) We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel.
6) We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
7) We do not overidentify with our jobs.
8) We master the technique of our jobs.”
As a creative person, I know it is too easy to overthink the consequences of each and every action. However, the work you could accomplish will only get done when you overcome your resistance. Pressfield’s book explains that only through true love for the activity and by having success as a by-product, can you do the work and achieve your goals.   
 
Dealing with criticism and knowing fear will always be there are just of couple of things we need to learn to live with.  If it were easy, someone else would have already done it.  In fact, fear can be used as a guide to let you know that you’re doing something important.  
 
It is challenging at times to see beyond some of Pressfield’s turn of phrase.  However, it is certainly worth the effort.  Procrastination is a creative killer.  This book, along with a handful of other intriguing like-minded books, can arm the artistic person with the tools and skills to give them a chance against an unrestrained and undisciplined mind.  Making it in my view one of the essential books for all artists and writers to read.

Elizabeth Peyton review

A love story between a painter and the subject

Elizabeth Peyton review – Sadie Coles London until 15 June 2019

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Elizabeth Peyton review, A love story between a painter and the subject
Greta Thurnberg (2019) oil on board, 43.6 x 35.8 cm, All rights are reserved by the artist and gallery, ©Elizabeth Peyton, Sadie Coles London

Elizabeth Peyton returns to London with exhibition paintings and prints at Sadie Coles Gallery.  The first thing I am drawn to as I view this new body of work is her passion for painting and the people she depicts.  Over the years the configurations of her paintings have become more and more involved. The subject matter is still the same but Peyton’s use of light, colour and poignancy has compounded.  She brings out more physical aspects in her lush romantic paintings.

It is perhaps surprising that a few abbreviated spontaneous strokes can capture feelings sending them beyond merely descriptive marks.  She captures his life force in ‘David (Dave Bowie)’ (2019). The watercolour brushwork is pure and clean like freshly fallen snow, allowing her to express direct expressions of emotion.  Peyton uses the variations of bristles to portray a simple beauty and ideal concept.

A love story between a painter and the subject – Elizabeth Peyton review

Chantal Joffe asks; What is it like to be somebody else?
It is satiable to fall in love with the subject.  However, falling in love is something Peyton does very easily.  Her paintings and her marriage to the Thai artist Rirkit Tirvanija is evidence of that.  In 1991, a few weeks after meeting Tirvanija, he was due to leave the US due to visa difficulties.  But Peyton told her, “I will marry you” and he meant it. They were married three weeks later.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Elizabeth Peyton, Yuzuru, Review
Yuzuru (Helsinki) 2018 monotype on Twinrocker handmade paper 79.7 x 59.5 cm, All rights are reserved by the artist and gallery, ©Elizabeth Peyton, Sadie Coles London
The happy marriage, unfortunately, came to an end in 2004 when they divorced.  Nevertheless, Tirvanija introduced her to Gavin Brown, the art dealer, before he had his own gallery space.  Gavin Brown encouraged Peyton to have a solo show in Room 828, at the Hotel Chelsea, in New York.  This was to be the beginning of Peyton’s art career.

A love story between a painter and the subject – Elizabeth Peyton review

Elizabeth Peyton - Sadie Coles London
Peyton started off her career painting a personal homage to artists and musician of the nineties.  She was inspired by reading Stefan Zweig’s ‘Marie Antoinette: The portrait of an Average Women’ and Vincent Cronin’s ‘Napoleon’.   Peyton understood and realised that Zweig’s book was a portrait of women infused with feelings and human insight. In Cronin’s ‘Napoleon’ book he showed that because of Napoleon’s individuality, he was able to use his magnetism to transform and change the world.
Elizabeth Peyton says, “I’d always made pictures of people, even when I was a little, little person.  The urge was there.  I just didn’t know why.  When I did that drawing of Napoleon, I realised this is something I have to do and want to do.”

A love story between a painter and the subject – Elizabeth Peyton review

David Salle undressing the role of the artist and the writer
Once it occurred to Peyton that all she needed to validate her work was to realise that ‘history is in people’ and by romanticising the image she was able to capture the spirit of the time.  By painting certain selected people in her show, Greta Thunberg, Jackson, Ally’s kiss in the film ‘A Star is Born’, she is participating in what she sees as a highly important cause.
“I really love the people I paint. I believe in them, I’m happy they’re in the world.”
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Elizabeth Peyton, Review
David (David Bowie) 2019 watercolour on paper 41 x 31 cm, All rights are reserved by the artist and gallery, ©Elizabeth Peyton, Sadie Coles London
The images she chooses to paint are in comfortable and relaxed poses rather than the glamorous tabloid snaps of the front page. In her images, vulnerability and susceptibility are on show and warm and fuzzy feelings of desire and affection radiates.
The paintings make the viewer and artist come alive with Peyton’s work reverberating powerfully with the viewing public.  Peyton, by essential painting the characterise of the period, has deeply embedded her work in the zeitgeist.  James Baldwin the American novelist, playwright and activities once wrote,
“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them”
A love story between a painter and the subject – Elizabeth Peyton review

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man
Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man circa 1492 photograph credits Luc Viatour
Leonardo Da Vinci left 7200 pages of notebooks after his death, filled with anatomical and scientific drawings, detailed designs for new machines and weapons, military strategies, maps, sketches, and observations, as well as 15 paintings.  He was interested in art, engineering, biology, medicine and geology amongst many other subjects.  Walter Isaacson’s book is an interpretation and analysis of those notebooks and paintings.  If you have ever wondered about the life and mind of a voracious creative genius, then this is undoubtedly a satisfying read.  The six hundreds pages of the book, ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’ by Walter Isaacson it is an immensely impressive undertaking.
Author Walter Isaacson was born in 1952; he is an American writer and journalist.  One of the main focal points of his career is not only the critically acclaimed biographies he has written about Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci but also that Isaacson was the chairman and CEO of CNN during the 9/11 attacks.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Watler Isaacson "Leonardo Da Vinci - Youtube
Isaacson is a very experienced wordsmith.  He has the skill and experience to carefully draw out the life of the gay and ostentatiously dressed artists life. The book is a story of a truly gifted artist who often failed to complete his projects and commissions.  Leonardo’s uncompleted work can sometimes be incorrectly misunderstood making him seem penurious, both artistically and financially.  However, Isaacson proposes that Leonardo’s wide-ranging curiosities gave his work more substance.  That meandering is precisely what made him distinguished and extraordinary in what he achieved.
The book is balanced by the author’s artistic licence to analysis and understand how Leonardo thought by interpreting the footnotes of Leonardo drawings.  Leonardo had an intensely, inquisitive nature about all areas of life, which is highlighted by his to-do list. With items such as; why is the sky blue? Describe the tongue of the woodpecker; get the measurements of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni; and get a master of hydraulics to explain how to repair a lock, a canal and a mill. Leonardo’s inquisitive nature was insatiable, unsurpassed and beyond compare.  Although he lacked formal education, Leonardo achieved so much in his lifetime. It took hundreds of years for the rest of the world to catch him up.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Leonardo Da Vinci - Amazon book link
Leonardo was aware of his contemporaries like the young Michelangelo, but Isaacson’s book shows that he never tried to compete with his peers.  He always seemed to know he was on a different path.  Leonardo was interested in knowledge about life and how things work for its own sake.  He turned down many lucrative commissions, clearly showing self-gain wasn’t necessary to him.  Leonardo had no interest in trying to prove things to people he didn’t know or respect.
Leonardo knew what he didn’t want.  His ego and his legacy weren’t important to him.  For Leonardo following such a path would feel restrained, like being in prison, captive to someone else’s demands.  Instead, Leonardo developed a hunch and followed his intuition.  He pursued whatever made him happy at that moment, getting lost in whatever took his fancy.  He wanted complete, unconditional creative freedom that was free from interference.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Breakfast with Lucian, book review
Leonardo doesn’t stop after the endless uncompleted projects and paintings.  Instead, he was too interested in being an unpretentious student of life.  When he paints, it is as if to prove the point that they are no precise lines, boundaries or borders in nature.  Leonardo believed that lines are mathematical constructs without physical presence.  Leonardo said;
“Do not edge contours with a definite outline, because the contours are lines and they are invisible, not only from a distance but also closer to hand.  If the line and the mathematical point are invisible, the outline of things also being lines are invisible even when they are nearer. Instead, an artist needs to represent the shape and volume of objects, rely on light and shadow. The line forming the boundary of a surface is of invisible thickness; therefore, O painter do not surround your bodies with lines.”
Leonardo Da Vinci Mona Lisa 1503-1507 The Louvre
Leonardo Da Vinci Mona Lisa 1503-1507 The Louvre
Instead, he became the pioneer of a technique, taken from the Italian word for smoke, ‘sfumato’. Leonardo’s technique helps to soften the transition between colour and makes line irrelevant.  This is very noticeable in the Mona Lisa.
I enjoyed this extensive attention-holding book.  It asked profound questions about who we want to be in life.  Although it is possible to pull the historical contexts from 15th-century Italian culture at times, Isaacson acknowledges that he lacked “intimate personal revelations.” However, he makes up for it by trying to process the 7200 notebooks and paintings.  On the whole, it was a delightful read.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson book review

Breakfast with Lucian, book review

Chantal Joffe asks; What is it like to be somebody else?

Chantal Joffe, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Chantal Joffe, Esme on the Blue Sofa, 2018 Oil on canvas 152.3 x 305 cm 60 x 120 1/8 in © Chantal Joffe, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
The first thing I noticed about Chantal Joffe’s paintings at Victoria Miro, in London, is that they challenge the concept of beauty.  Joffe paints the female figure, often in unstinting and frank disclosure.  There is a directness that is fascinating, every blemish and every wort is on show.  From the gradual decay of the sitters through to the triumph of their existence, Joffe painting’s depicts and embodies her muses.  By portraying the intensity of the moment, she gives the viewer passage to understand how they feel.  The gritty truth of life is there for all to see as it comes slapped down in a painterly splurge.  It is in Joffe’s nature to dig deep and get below the surface.
Chantal Joffe’s (b. 1969) career started after studying at Glasgow School of Art (1988 – 1991) and the Royal College of Art (1992-1994).  Since then her art has been exhibited at prestigious galleries in UK, USA and across Europe.  She won the Charles Wollaston Award in 2006 and has work in a wide selection of gallery and museum collections around the world.

Chantal Joffe asks; What is it like to be somebody else?

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all the painter needs
Thankfully, I have seen Joffe’s work a handful of times before, and I can recall the psychological and emotional force I witnessed in her work.  In this show, there are only eleven paintings, so there are less to delve into.  They remind me of a quick and frenetic game of Rugby Union Sevens. After a few quick masterful plays, it is all over in a flash. I wish I had more to enjoy.

"Chantal

The paintings mainly focus on Joffe’s niece Esme, with one picture of Bella and one of a young man named Faun.  Joffe questions the existential vacuum we all experience, by unpicking the question; What is it like to be someone else?  She depicts the individual and delves deep to actualise her sitter’s purpose and inner hopes.  Joffe has realised that we all seek to understand and fulfil the meaning of our existence.  Joffe tries to achieve this by going beyond the facade that we allow others to see.  Thereby allowing a whole variety of probable meanings to become visible, as she seeks to depict life as it really is.

Chantal Joffe asks; What is it like to be somebody else?

Chantal Joffe RA: If I can paint, I can deal with it
Joffe often connects the solitary female figure with history. She does this by painting not only the sitter but also what she knows about the sitter in each portrait.  Often Joffe’s regular sitters are members of her family that she has a kinship with, mixed with images from magazines.  Joffe doesn’t like working on what is imagined; she paints what to her is truly real.
In Esme at the Diner,(2019) Joffe swerves the brush well clear of the trap of perfectionism and judgement as she forgets about right or wrong.  The moment the brush touches the apple green coloured canvas honesty is all that matters.  The painting shows Joffe integrity as she grapples the painting into being.  Joffe says, “You always going to struggle your whole life, and if weren’t struggling you wouldn’t be an artist.”

"Chantal

Joffe subconscious intentions lead the paintings forward.   An action unlocks the following response as she reveals a startling beautiful portrayal.   A concession of quick strokes shows the strength which comes from the gesticulations and dribbles and adds to the feel of life.  The formal qualities all come together resulting in a painting that radiates a strong commanding composition.

Chantal Joffe asks; What is it like to be somebody else?

Tracey Emin: I cried because I love you
The love and passion for painting are there to see in the quick, decisive marks. It’s all about the present tense as Joffe is in the moment, she is aware and fully present. She is at one with the fresh, clean, luscious pigment on her brush.  Joffe doesn’t have to think about where the brush is going, her impulse comes in a spontaneous bout.  She has a natural feeling of knowing where every swerve of paint needs to be.  At this level of supreme creativity, it is a case of her feeling where the painting is leading Joffe as the muse inhabits her vital spirit.  As a result, the pictures are a record of her painterly playfulness.  Chantal Joffe says, “[Painting] is like dancing on a pin, if you want to dance on a pin that is a pretty exciting thing, it’s like climbing mountain.”
As she extends into her passion for painting, Joffe forgets herself and becomes at one with the sitter.  As she directs her attention on to the plight of another, the more human she becomes.  Through painting, Joffe adds to our meaning and understanding of being human, allowing us to move beyond our own inner terminal.  Rather than just living, Joffe’s paintings give us something to live for.  We are in this together.  No matter how much we are pushed into this ongoing rat race, Joffe reveals what it is really about; a spectrum togetherness of energy, purpose and meaning.

"Chantal

Chantal Joffe exhibition at the Victoria Miro, London from 11 April – 18 May 2019 

Chantal Joffe asks; What is it like to be somebody else?

David Salle undressing the role of the artist and the writer

Michael Craig-Martin’s book, ‘On being an artist’

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Oak Tree, Conceptual art
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 he has written over his career. The book is written in an informal style, making it easy to read.  They range from chapter titles such as, ‘On advice for aspiring artist,’ to ‘On British attitudes to contemporary art.’  Michael presents an interesting and insightful account of a young artist finding his way into the contemporary art world.

Michael who was born in 1941 studied Fine Art at Yale University for Art and Architecture.  In 1966 Michael crossed the Atlantic and started a new life in England.  To support his artistic practice Michael started teaching.  The highlights of the early part of his career include the artwork ‘An Oak Tree’ (1973) and teaching artists such as Damian Hirst, Julian Opie and Gary Hume at Goldsmiths.

Michael Craig-Martin book ‘On being an artist’ – related links

Understanding the 'oak tree' in conceptual art via Russian politics

Amazon book link

Michael’s clear and concise explanation of conceptual art while discussing, ‘An Oak Tree’ (1973) is one of the many interesting parts of the book. He points out that mistakenly many art critics try to see a literal concept rather than treat as a poetic idea.  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.  As a mental concept ‘An oak tree’ like all conceptual art, it is a trigger to encourage contemplation.  The work highlights how art creates a place inside your head where you can go on your own to process the world and its complexities.

Michael has established a highly successful international art career.  Throughout the book, Michael gives a very honest account of the highs and lows of being an artist.  I found his frankness and openness thought-provoking.  However, Michael says with all sincerity, “I would never advise anyone to become an artist. If you have another option, take it.”

As an artist myself I found Michael’s personal account and practical information is very informative.  I enjoyed the clear and concise ideas and concepts, which are explained in a friendly and helpful manner.  I am sure the book would also be interesting and engaging for anyone who is interested in the life of an artist.

Michael Craig-Martin, ‘On being an artist’ – related book reviews

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A brush load of life – Van Gogh review

The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain Tate Britain, 27 March – 11 August 2019

Stuart Bush Studio Blog Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) L’Arlésienne, 1890, Oil paint on canvas
650 x 540 mm, Collection MASP (São Paulo Museum of Art) Photo credit: João Musa
Van Gogh arrived in London in 1873 at 20 years old and spent just under three years as an art dealer’s assistant. Although he didn’t start painting until four years after he left, this exhibition proposes that London had a significant impact on his art and influenced many of his works. I went along to take a closer look at Van Gogh’s paintings and to see what I thought of the exhibition claims.
London in the 1870s was an exciting place to obverse people and places. It was overtly brimming with life.  Van Gogh regularly made drawings of London on his way home from work from Covent Garden to Brixton.  Seeing the sooty scenes across the Thames, rowdy drunken men laughing in the pubs and women having bitter quarrels in the streets was a valuable experience. It created a stark contrast to the rich and opulence life he also saw.  Charles Dickens, who was one of Van Gogh’s favourite writers, wrote about London, “[the] streets and courts dart in all directions until they are lost in the wholesome vapour which hangs over the house-top and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined.”

A brush load of life – Van Gogh review

Picasso paints what see rather than what he knows
When Van Gogh started painting, he knew what he wanted to portray; an equivalent of the way that Dickens wrote.   Along with building a personal collection of black and white prints that he also sold as an art dealers assistant, like Gustave Doré’s drawings, From London: A Pilgrimage, (1872).  Van Gogh knew he wanted to be a social documenter; a painter of working people’s lives.
It is interesting that Van Gogh’s earlier work shows the usual traditional approach to drawing and painting that I would expect from that period.  I wonder what his teacher from that time thought of his art when Van Gogh felt the need to move past the traditional habits that he had learnt.   I think it is highly likely that traditional tuition would have been suffocating for Van Gogh’s expressive style as there would have been an encouragement to stay within in the confines of established conventions, instead of exploring expressionism.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) Path in the Garden of the Asylum, 1889 Oil paint on canvas 614 x 504 mm Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

A brush load of life – Van Gogh review

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This exhibition clearly shows he was a natural genius at by the end of the 1880s with many paintings dated 1888-9 like, ‘Path in the garden if the asylum Saint Remy,’ (1889) and ‘The Prison Courtyard Saint-Remy’ (1890) to his credit.
It is perhaps not surprising that Van Gogh is mainly a self-taught artist.  I’m sure he would have found it difficult to listen to advice that was stifling his approach. He even ignored his brother Theo’s advice.  After a short term of concise art training, nothing stopped him from painting in rippling flows of paint on a springy canvas. Van Gogh was able to be at one with what he felt was important. He moved artistically to where he was entirely at one with his inspirations and to be able to create a strong presence in his paintings.

A brush load of life – Van Gogh review

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As he broke new ground in his work Van Gogh must have realised he needed to be aware of how he stood and the way his arm was angled to give him the flexibility to create movement on the canvas.  He didn’t know what was right or wrong; he didn’t have any judgemental glasses to take off.  While in the flow of painting, his actions in front of the canvas unlocked a process of natural development without self-criticism. Van Gogh’s paintings are like a controlled explosion; an exhilarating performance where he was intensely aware of every stroke.
I’m not saying Van Gogh didn’t have self-doubt, after-all it is believed that he cut his ear off and later committed suicide due to his mental illness at aged 37.  The point I am trying to make is that to achieve what he did on a canvas I suspect that when Van Gogh was in front of the fabric with a brush in his hand, he only focused on the present moment. In the moment of conception, Van Gogh had a strong and deep urge to communicate his emotional feelings.

A brush load of life – Van Gogh review

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Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Van Gogh In Britain, Tate Britain, March 2019
Van Gogh used a carefully chosen palette of colour which was intentionally contrasting. He used a clean brush with the fresh pigment to prevent muddy colours.  Van Gogh was without the usual self-doubt of an artist developing a new style. He put his full attention and observation into what he was doing; nothing more, nothing less.
If ten people saw an identical view and were asked to paint that view, every painting would be different. We each bring our own unique mix of life, history, judgement and experiences forward when we do anything. Everyone has their baggage and subjective view of the world. We all notice that what we feel is essential.  Van Gogh didn’t look at things as they were. He looked deeper, not to what they looked like, but to what only he could see.  He went to great lengths to use a thick impasto style that captured emotions more than any painting had achieved before.  Feelings and emotions were directed into the process of applying paint.  The paintings could not have been made without extreme self-control and concentration in every moment in front of the canvas. For me, Van Gogh prized the importance of his relaxed focus above all else.

A brush load of life – Van Gogh review link

Van Gogh Museum
I found that one of the highlights of the show is ‘Hospital at Saint-Remy‘ (1889). Who would have thought that marks on a canvas could make such an impression!  Van Gogh made the painting while admitted to the hospital. He had a natural ability to be able to record what he felt.  His swirling impasto technique with a loaded brush of buttery paint is a delight. He is at one with every stroke.  He reminds me that it so easy to make a mistake by trying too hard.  My successful paintings have come when I haven’t been trying; when my mind is calm and relaxed.
Stuart Bush Studio Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) The Prison Courtyard, 1890 Oil paint on canvas 800 x 640 mm © The Pushkin State, Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
Reproductions, photos and film, as well as words, do little to explain the shivering and whirling skies, the crackling and rippling glints of light, the gleaming stars, and the exhilarating flames of summer. Warm colours of yellow, orange and red are in the low part of the canvas.  They play against the cold shades of greens, blues and purples in the top of the painting.  Then Van Gogh uses the lower colours gradual up through the picture. It causes the expressive brush marks to come alive.

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The London experience gave Van Gogh life experience.  I’m sure Dickens had an impact as well as the black and white reproductions by giving him the inspiration he needed to bring emotions and feels to the fore.  However, at the end of the show, I was only partly convinced that London directly inspired Van Gogh expressive work.  Nevertheless, I am thrilled to have a Van Gogh exhibition in London. I have had the chance to digest and appreciate a genius at work.
Van Gogh wasn’t trying to depict what most people see while looking at the world. Van Gogh instead was feeling strong emotions. He had the ability, the skill and the genius to wrap his feelings up in paint; to record them. Van Gogh’s spirit is on his canvases.  He shows us a profound truth about the human condition, in a full and proud statement, so thick it creates a three-dimension effect.
They were more than just paintings to Van Gogh. If you want to see a picture with a brush that is load with life in every stroke, this exhibition is a must see.  Van Gogh completely puts himself in jeopardy for his art.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) Olive Trees, 1889, Oil paint on canvas, 510 x 652 mm, National Galleries of Scotland

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Breakfast with Lucian, book review

Lucian Freud, Breakfast with Lucian Book review, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Lucian Freud, 1922-2011, Girl with a White Dog 1950-1, Oil paint on canvas 762 x 1016 mm © Tate
If you have ever wondered what an artist’s life would be like if they put art first at the expenses of relationships, friendships and family. If so, then this is the book to read.  For a few years before Lucian Freud’s death, Geordie Greig the editor from the Mail on Sunday was able to share breakfast with Lucian at his favourite restaurant, Clarkes on Kensington Church Street.  Greig’s book about Freud does a worthy job of sketching out the painter’s hedonistic personal life.  ‘Breakfast with Lucian’ is the story of an adulterous, brawler and rogue with no boundaries or restraints.
This book is written in the style of an author’s note.  Interesting facts and aspects of his life are uncovered within the writing.  There are many shocking tales of Freud, like the time he smelt a woman strong perfume in public, he raised his voice saying, “I hate perfume. Women should smell of one thing. Cunt! In fact, they should invent a perfume called cunt.”

Accompanying book review: Breakfast with Lucian

Eric Fischl's Bad Boy
Freud was never willing to apologise for his inexcusable behaviour.  His actions are like his paintings, were engaging and frighteningly real.  Greig tried hard to give an account of Freud’s life without judgement or blame but instead, at times, I found it gossipy.  It tends to focus on aspects of his life, like Freud’s role as a father.  I wanted a read a different type of book.  As an artist, I wanted to read about Freud’s ability to undress the human soul in his paintings.
Freud could sketch out a life for what it really was. He had the drive to work towards uncovering answer about being human. Freud explained that “When I’m painting people in clothes I’m thinking very much of naked people, or animals dressed.”  Freud was able to go beyond just painting, to create an ‘intensification of reality.’ He explains, “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.” In his painting practice, he dug deep making this meaning visible for others to see, while everything in his personal life was left to rot.

Resources for Art Books:

Artbook.com
There was clearly a great sacrifice from the people around Freud who put up with the death threats, his scandalous sexual exploits and escaping the Krays. ‘Breakfast with Lucian’ is clearly entertaining, but in spite of that, I wanted to know more about what Freud achieved with his art than whisperings about his personal life.
My overriding feeling is that this is a book of anecdotes which does not try to explain truly explain Freud and the reasons behind his fantastic paintings. When reading it I had to remind myself that it was written by an editor from a daily rag who undoubtedly loves scandal.  It would a completely different book if it was written by an art critic, historian or even an art aficionado.
However, Freud indulgence in his art unquestionably doesn’t justify the way he conducted himself and the way he treated others. Throughout his life’s work, Freud revealed a spectacular spectrum of deep meaning about human life, one that many other artists would be fearful to delve into.

Accompanying book review: Breakfast with Lucian

On being an artist, by Michael Craig-Martin

David Salle undressing the role of the artist and the writer

David Salle undresses the role of the artist and writer, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
David Salle, Autumn Rhythm, 2018, oil and acrylic on linen
74 x 91 in, © David Salle/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Skarstedt,
David Salle, the 65-year-old artist from Norman, Oklahoma, who has amassed many international shows around the world is back.  He has made a promising return to London at the Skarstedt Gallery, with a series of work titled, ‘Musicality and Humour’.  I had high expectations of his work after recently reading his book ‘How to See’ in which Salle explores the work of his peers and undresses the role of the artist and writer. Salle seeks to inform newbies like me how to paint and interestingly, how writing helps artists to understand their own work.
Entering the gallery, I saw the first crowd pleaser, ‘S.P. Divide’, (2018-19). I feel a little overwhelmed as my eyes darted from one part to another.  The visual strength and energy come from the pace of imagination and the zing of the image.
David Salle undresses the role of the artist and writer, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Installation shot David Salle Musicality and Humour, © David Salle/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Skarstedt, New York.
Looking at the subject matter in the series of paintings I am drawn towards Salle’s use of illustrative cartoons which contrast with the colourful stripes and jumbled images.  The strips and monotones cartoons create a stark contrast.  I try to make sense of the visual rules, patterns and processes, which l find are reminiscent of our overloaded undiscernible culture.  It takes a few minutes to steady myself and figure it all out.  I then step back and walk around, finding that not only does Salle start by making that first impression appear unfathomable, but the paintings also draw the viewer in like an addictive crossword.

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I slowly, patiently, I get the answers.  I am reminded of Lichenstein’s use of cartoons however, Salle’s focus is more on the brushwork than the benday dots.  There is clearly a prominence given to how the paintings are made.  The brisk strokes show Salle’s calculated visual fluency, as I imagine the artist listening to Jazz or classical music while he paints.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, David Salle undresses the role of the artist and writer
David Salle, Grey Honeymoon, 2018-19, oil and acrylic on linen
74 x 104 in, © David Salle/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Skarstedt, New York.
Over the top of the canvas, Salle often paints another sketch. The two layers are left as if they out of focus and unrefined. The flaws and errors are on show and are charming.  They add to the appeal and highlight how Salle avoids fuzziness and getting bogged down in perfectionism.
As I walk around I realise the more I look at the subject on the surface I realise its shallowness, the more it appears to be comparable to the superficiality of advertising.  It’s subject matter appears to be chosen for its aesthetical qualities, drawing you in to look for hidden meanings and narratives however, none are there.  I couldn’t fail to notice the visual pun in the painting, ‘Leader of seals.’ A man resembling the seals or the seals resembling the man.

David Salle’s website link

DavidSalle.net

Skarstedt Gallery
The paintings have none of the stillness and stuffiness of paintings designed on photoshop.  Each canvas is carefully considered and planned to underscore and give emphasis to the subject matter’s weight, pitch and tone, without feeling plotted or forced. The paintings come from themselves through the process of painting. Each picture is inspired by the previous one bringing into question how we create logic and meaning in our visual culture.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, David Salle undresses the role of the artist and writer
David Salle, Equivalence, 2018, oil and acrylic on linen, 78 x 110 in, © David Salle/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Skarstedt, New York.
Salle says in his book that writing completes the circle for an artist.  I have found this to be true as this review has helped me to understand what I want to do with my own work. Salle emphasises the mastery of visual communication.  He uses cultural signs as his playthings. Great artists of the past played with the rules and patterns of their time, Salle does the same here.  The cartoons are like cut up comic books or Matisse’s cut-outs.  The colours, tones and forms are put together to achieve new expressive meanings and association.  These encourage us to see the world from Salle’s position where tempo and humour create personality.  His work is a pictorial event. Above all, it succeeds on many levels.  Salle slices through what we see, presenting enduring images that are full of energy.  His painting are unpredictable and highly entertaining.
The show is on at Skarstedt Gallery, London until 26th April 2019

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