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.

Amazon link to – On being 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 its 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.”

Artbook reviews;

Eric Fischl’s Bad Boy

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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 by 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 affect 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.

The interaction of colour iPad app 

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 sketchbook 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 into 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 with 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.

 

Related art exhibition reviews:

Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy

Laura Owens at Sadie Coles London

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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.
 

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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).  The simplicity of the subtle change in the colours and the spatial harmony is very enjoyable.  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 an 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.
 

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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

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 are interesting advice and tips on 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

Link to the book on Amazon

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