Through an Olafur Eliasson moment can art change the world?

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson, Din blinde passager 2010. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles, © 2010 Olafur Eliasson, Photo by Anders Sune Berg
It wasn’t that long ago that there was a common belief that humans were separate from the natural world.  If people wanted to experience the fundamental characterises of the sublime the only option was to journey to the countryside to observe nature and the natural world. In his new show at the Tate Modern in London, the artist Olafur Eliasson attempts to bring the sublime to the city.
 
When l visited this art exhibition l saw the physical response to the wonders of nature.  Eliasson highlights that not only are we part of the environment, that Art, can directly acknowledge and portray a wake-up call that draws attention to the fact that global warming is taking place.  In this review I want to contemplate, can art have an impact that leads us to modify our behaviour? And is it really possible that art can change the world?
The show Olafur Eliasson, ‘In Real Life’ contains forty artworks looking back over the 25 years of the Danish Icelandic artist’s work.  Eliasson (b. 1967) uses a wide range of materials to make work about his central concerns of nature, geometry and climate change. Eliasson has three studios in different parts of the world. Additionally, he has co-founded an architect’s practice called Studio Other Spaces, with architect Sebastian Behmann. His main collaborative studio is in Berlin where he collaborates with a team of scientist, architects, art critics, and artists.   
Olafur Eliasson Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn, Model room 2003. Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Purchase 2015 funded by The Anna-Stina Malmborg and Gunnar Höglund Foundation, Photo by Anders Sune Berg (3)
The many people in the UK who love art will remember, Eliasson’s ‘Weather Project’ made in 2003 at the Tate Modern’s turbine hall. Before that show, it was expected that a hundred thousand visitors would make their way to see a large orange and yellow intangible sun.  However, Eliasson hit a home run and two million visitors came.  The artwork turned the turbine hall into not only a jaw-dropping theatrical experience but also into a highly successful social and public space.  Visitors lay down under the fake smoke and mirrors, basking in the unnatural dazzling artificial sunlight and smoke, like moths to a light bulb.  It was definitely the closest near-religious experience I have had in an art gallery.
 
Eliasson has always sought to attract people who are not necessarily specialists in art believing that art has the potential to draw attention to how we feel about the world. He believes that it is important to attract as wide as possible an audience in order to get his message across. Particularly those people entering museums for the first time.   Eliasson’s art certainly does that successfully, capturing fun and fascination and the interest of young minds. His work has attracted many families to look at art and interact with it over the summer holidays. 
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson, Waterfall 2019, © 2019 Olafur Eliasson Photo: Anders Sune Berg, Courtesy the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles
© 2019 Olafur Eliasson

The exhibition starts outside the museum with ‘Waterfall’ (2019) when Eliasson brings a natural spectacle dramatically to the streets of London.  The waterfall is inspired by the many of waterfalls he experienced as a child and adult in Iceland.  The eleven-metre high man-made structure is made out of scaffolding. Surprisingly, the work feels dwarfed by the surrounding buildings that dominate it.  Although it was enjoyable to cool off by walking through the watery mist on a hot summer day, I felt the scale limited the artworks magnitude and impact.  It could have been absolutely breathtaking. 
However, the ‘Waterfall’ starts the journey into the flux.  Entering the Blavatnik building and going up one floor the lift arrives at an entrance with incredible yellow mono frequency lighting. It is the same lighting he used for the ‘Weather Project’ (2003).  ‘Room for one colour’ (1997) startlingly turns down all colours so everything becomes yellow and black.  After this starling eye feast, it is back to the conventionality of exhibition rooms.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson, Room for one colour 1997. Photo by Anders Sune Berg, Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles
© 1997 Olafur Eliasson

Well almost, Eliasson’s work deals with sensory experience after all.  After waterfalls and yellow light, there are geodesic models of all shapes and sizes.  I am met with a wall of Reindeer moss, a natural phenomenon that makes a comment about how we ruminate over our built environment.  
 
This is followed by more artworks, that are certainly not conventional. ‘Your blind passenger’ (2010) is a thirty-nine-metre long walkway down a tunnel of bright fog where the atmospheric content becomes another Eliasson Moment.   I stumbled through blindly with my arms out like a zombie as if trying to grasp the intangible experience.  I could only see one or two metres in front of me, and due to being in a public space, everyone has their arms up to prevent a compromising contact with a stranger.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson – Beauty 1993, Photo: Anders Sune Berg, Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 1993 Olafur Eliasson

One of my favourite works was ‘Beauty’ (1993). A super-fine mist of rain dramatically lit in a dark room.  A faint rainbow shivers in the water.  It made me consider and question what was being portrayed. However, once you realise is it a simple pump and hose creating the work, it doesn’t diminish its value.  I reminded myself it is only water, there is no sculpture and no one owns a rainbow but my mind was left thinking about the dematerialisation of an art object, and how Eliasson had taken such a simple idea and made it a noteworthy occasion of significance.
Walking into another dark room there is a sudden burst of light in the centre of the room.  It takes a moment to realise a strobe light is illuminating a fountain of water.  The ever-changing sculptural form ‘Big Bang Fountain’ (2014) is constructed for a fleeting split second.  This work encourages you to consider how the space and the artwork are constructed. When the strobe snaps, a different water sculpture is at the forefront of your mind.  The mental sculpture stays with you until the next bright flash of light appears.   It is certainly illuminating.
These individual artworks successfully cloud the distinction between culture and nature.  I now understand that nature is not just something out there; there is no outside.  I felt like I had an education in a playfully way without realising it. I had an Eliasson Moment.  
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson, Moss wall 1994. Photo: Anders Sune Berg, Courtesy the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles
© 1994 Olafur Eliasson
However, I came to the show with a question, about whether art can change the world? I now realise that Art can undoubtfully be used to stimulate conversation and create a meaningful debate about what scientists and politicians are doing. It can bring an important conversation about climate change to the front of our minds.  Unfortunately, the exhibition failed to convince me to stop everything I am doing that has an impact on climate change, like using my diesel car.  But how could it?  Nevertheless, it did give me cause to think about my actions more closely.  I will definitely consider using my bike for shorter journeys, use fewer plastic bags and consider other measures l do to help the environment.  Hopefully, this exhibition will help instigate a change in our awareness.   
 
At the end of the exhibition l sat playing with Zometools models for fifteen minutes, children were sitting next to me.  I watched the world go by as I tinkered.  The tangible and at times touchable art l witnessed for me hit the ball out of the park.  Although occasionally I thought it lacked a bit of emotionalisation and the scale of the waterfall didn’t quite reach the full sublime moment, I left thinking about our miraculous planet.  Eliasson gave me an awe-inspiring feeling and respect for nature.  I left educated about how we are destroying our planet beyond repair. I am not confident that art can change the world but I did feel that the message needs to be repeated a hundred times in order to evoke real change.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Olafur Elliasson
Installation view of ‘The Expanded Studio’ in Olafur Eliasson In real life at Tate Modern. Photo: Anders Sune Berg
© 2019 Olafur Eliasson

I hope you enjoyed reading.  You can get fresh reviews, insight and inspiration by joining my mailing list.

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.”

My thoughts on Henry Moore’s appreciation of form

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Henry Moore, Appreciation of form
Henry Moore, 1938: ‘Reclining figure’ Photograph by Sailko
In my previous blog post, I mentioned Michael Craig-Martin’s interest as a child in the shape and form of American cars. From a very young age, Michael Craig-Martin had the ability to identify every make and model of an American car. I found this profound because as a child I also had this ability, but with British cars in the 80s and 90s.  This foundational understanding and appreciation of form is clearly something that many artists unconsciously encounter from a young age.
This week l stumbled on a black and white BBC documentary about Henry Moore (1898 – 1986) and my appreciation of form was enhanced.   In the documentary, Henry Moore discusses what he thinks is behind his work and motivations. He stated that he believes that “Appreciation of form, comes from an appreciation of sex”.  He said that;
“If you want to interpret form from this point of view then everything is sex.  Everyone’s appreciation of form is built on this appreciation of sex.  I think that my art in my part of early training as a young sculptor comes from going to a mixed secondary school where I could look at all the girl’s legs. All from the age of 12 or 13 and I could tell you in the school which girl was which.   If you’d only show me her figure from the knee downwards.  The fullness of form. The tautness of form, all these things are connected with life and life is sex.”
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Henry Moore, Appreciation of form
Henry Moore, Three Piece Sculpture Vertebrae, 1968-9, Bronze, All rights remain with the artist
I was fascinated when Moore talked about how he gets started when he enters his studio. In his studio, he has a tray of objects that he found on the seashore, in his garden and in ploughed fields. Picking up and examining one of these objects often inspires him and sparks a powerful passion to get started.  The outward appearance of the stones, flints and other bits and pieces on the tray remind him of the form of a person or the contours of the landscape.  A distinctive form begins to form in his mind. Moore works from this arousal into his sketchbook trying to determine and embody a particular idea.
 
Henry Moore explained that “A sculptor is a person who is interested in the shape of things, a poet in words, a musician by sounds.” It never occurred to me until then that maybe l should start collecting three-dimension objects.   I must agree with him when he states that “All art is an abstraction to some degree.”
 
Henry Moore felt that reading the book by Neumann titled, The ‘Archetypal World of Henry Moore’ gave away too much about his work.  So he stopped reading it. He believed that it is a mistake for a sculpture or a painter to speak or write very much about his work. Stating that it releases the tension he needs for his work.”
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Henry Moore, Appreciation of form
Henry Moore Reclining Figure 1951, all rights remain with the artist
“By going into what its deep motives and reasons are, I think [it] might stop me from wanting to go on…One can give a tiny clue perhaps in talking about what you’re trying to do, so people don’t look for something you’re not trying to do.  But all I mean is you can’t explain, in a few words, what you’re been trying to do for a whole lifetime…You shouldn’t try to use up words and get rid of a tension that should be used in your artwork.”
Henry Moore’s comments made my wild and untamed mind think about the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.  There is an intriguing mystery when the actors John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson react to a light-emitting from a suitcase in the film. By holding back the mystique, the audience never finds out what was in the suitcase. The situation encourages a deeper level of curiosity.  No matter what is in the suitcase, it wouldn’t be as powerful as the mystery of not knowing what was in the suitcase.
Our minds are free to make subjective assumptions as we view artworks but we will never know the truth.  The more wide-ranging and varied the interpretations are the more successful the artwork becomes.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Henry Moore, Appreciation of form
Henry Moore in his studio, All rights remain with the artist

Get more elusive content sent directly by me to your inbox, a monthly dose of tricks and tips or things I am enjoying.

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

What I learnt from Philip Guston

What I learnt from Philip Guston, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Philip Guston, Fable II (1957) all rights remain with the artist ©Philip Guston

It is well known that during Philip Guston’s career and throughout his life’s work, he toyed with two opposing forms of art. There was the figurative cartoon style of his earlier work in the 1930s and abstract expressionism in the 1950s. Philip Guston’s career highlights what he believed to be the central concern in the career of an artist. No matter what anyone else says or does, Guston believed that “A painters first duty is to be free.” Free to make their own choice, that is said, “unless you’re the kind of an artist that gnaws on one bone all the time.”

After a decade of teaching Philip Guston became part of the Abstract Expressionists movement. Its art was about finding ways to communicate the emotional reality of life and portray more significant metaphors about the wider universe. Despite being involved in the movement from its beginning after several years, Guston felt unsatisfied. He thought that Abstract Expressionist’s were losing touch with everyday life. The group, instead of looking into the real current subjects of the time, were too busy wrapped up in their own conceitedness and making grand pronouncements.

Over time Guston began to have powerful yearnings towards figuration. He felt that what he was making as an Abstract Expressionist was unrelated to what was gravely distressing him. It was now the 1960s, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the devastation and calamity of the Vietnam war. Thoughts about the flawed political errors he felt where morally wrong. Rather than just feeling exasperated by what was in the news, Guston wanted to discuss and show the world what he felt really mattered in his work.

In the end, Guston had a sudden compulsion. After serious consideration, he concluded that abstract expressionism was a cover-up for the poverty of spirit. Figuration and his morality won.

Guston was held in high regard within the abstract expressionist community of artists in New York. He was there from the beginning. The friendships he had established had filled his soul and bolstered his place in the epicentre of the art world. He had felt content in the community, nourished and understood. Well almost!

Once Guston made clear his intentions to return to figuration, the warm swell of admiration changed. The richest of friendships were now laced with tension and conflicts. The strain was building up, and the common ground between Guston and the artists of his generation began to erode and fade.

Things started to get unpleasant. Guston’s friends and peers were shaking their heads, and uncomfortable statements became common. Elaine, Willem de Kooning’s wife, said when talking about Guston and his change to figuration that, “This is embarrassing, this is really embarrassing.”

Guston felt it was time to leave New York and the painting style of the New York school of Abstract Expressionism. He wanted to return to motifs of his earlier work, the cartoon style of figurative work. As long as Guston was content with what he was doing, and he painted what he wanted to paint, he felt everything else in his life would take care of itself.

What I learnt from Philip Guston, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Philip Guston, The Studio 1969, all rights remain with the artist ©Philip Guston

Guston concluded that he didn’t need to worry about what other people thought; good relationships would survive. All he wanted and needed was to feel free and be true to himself. Even when he was part the ‘New York School’, a term he preferred, rather than ‘Abstract Expressionist’ s’, he always showed a great deal of individuality in his work.

Guston now wanted more freedom believing that “nothing is ever solved in a painting. It’s a continuous chain that doesn’t go in one line, it goes in a serpentine line or in crooked paths, detours that have to be investigated. I felt like an explorer who almost got to the top of Mount Everest and somehow stopped just short and remembered and thought, well perhaps maybe I forget some gear, you know. I forgot some equipment but going down to recover this equipment I took some side paths that looked exciting and full of possibilities.”

He went on to say “Comments about style are strange to me. You’re working in this style or that style in the matter. It is not as if you had a choice. You’re trying to stay alive, continue and not die. It’s circular you’re still back there. I don’t feel any different now that I did in the early fifties. When I was doing so-called non-figurative things. I know that they dissolve and they don’t have this figuration and all that, but that is really beside the point. Because what is to the point that I am in the same state.”

In going back to the figurative style, he now had what he wanted; he had a new solitude in Woodstock. Guston valued his freedom and independence; however, it came at a high cost. His friendships didn’t survive. The critics were outspoken about his work. Instead of continuing painting, Guston felt at a loss. After a few years and a period of intense self-reflection, Guston eventually went to Rome for a two year residential to find a new path, leaving his wife and child at home.

When Guston returned, a year early than planned, he was eager to start his new work. He had found a new way forward. However, this time rather than plains of abstraction, there was a playfulness that mischievously took on the immoral and evilness he saw around him. There was a viciousness under his new hooded figurative work. From the Klansmen figures covered in blood to the references to Nixon with a political punch. Guston defied expectations.

Guston’s work alluded to painful experiences. Grappling with personal issues and the way his father, a jewish immigrant, was treated when arriving in America. Guston’s father committed suicide in 1923.

For Guston it was the only decision. What was significant to him came out in his work. He had a massive belief in the conviction that the artist needs to be free. Now with Pop Art centre stage, the art establishment slowly recognised the strength of his decision.

Guston continued to make crucially meaningful figurative work up until his death in 1980. Thankfully Guston had the satisfaction of reading about the changing views of the critics. Robert Hughes, who had once called his work “Ku Kluz Komix” retracted his options with, “a figurative artist of extraordinary power.”

Philip Guston, “There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from abstract art, that painting is autonomous, pure and for itself. Therefore we habitually analyse its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is ‘impure’. It is the adjustment of ‘impurities’ which forces its continuity. We are image-makers and age-ridden.”

What I learnt from Philip Guston, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Philip Guston, “San Clemente” (1975), oil on canvas

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

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure
Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, 2009 all rights remain with the artist @Adrian Ghenie
It’s no wonder many people see failure as the most painful moment in their lives, school wrongly teaches us we need to do everything we can to avoid failure.  However, Adrian Ghenie makes it a central power source. Having to face humiliation and shame by returning to home to Cluj, Romania, after trying to start a new life in Vienna drove his artistic ambitions.  Returning to live back at his parents home at age 27 in 2005 he had no future to look forward to. However, Ghenie used his difficult set-back as fuel rather than limitation.
The fuel of failure is a common element in the story of success for many accomplished people. Richard Branson’s head teacher said he would end up in prison or as a millionaire.  After Steve Jobs was sacked from Apple in 1985 it motivated him to dent the universe.  Michael Jordan’s cut from his high school basketball team was all the fuel he needed.  Sylvester Stallone, after writing Rocky, tried to get the film made. After trying to play the staring role, he had hit rock bottom. These successful people used hardship as fuel to never give up. They all kept trying no matter how hard life seemed.  Stallone saved all the letters of rejections and read them out the night he won at the Oscars.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs
Returning home, Ghenie felt lost and unsure. With a group of friends, he talked about what to do next. They came up with the idea of opening a gallery as a meeting place and Galerie Plan B was born. Their intention was to establish a program for Eastern European artists and connect them with the outside world.  This became the starting point of Ghenie’s successful career as an artist leading Ghenie to say,
“If you feel that you are totally disconnected, that the world is far, that you have no chance…organise something.  Put people together in a group with a name or something.  Then try to build a program and messages.  Sooner or later, somebody will receive them and will be curious to visit you.  Then you have a connection.  If you do something interesting, then you have a root.  You are in.”

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

What I see in Tal R’s paintings
Ghenie’s paintings in the first group show in 2006, went up for sale for between €2500 to €4000. In 2009, l attended his first show in London titled, ‘The Darkness for an Hour’, at Haunch of Venison. At that show, Francois Pinault, the owner of Christie’s and Haunch of Venison, brought ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) for €60,000.  In October 2016, the auction house sold ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) for £7.1m as demand for Ghenie’s paintings outstripped supply. [Art Newspaper) 
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure
Adrian Ghenie, The nightmare, 2007 all rights remain with the artist @Adrian Ghenie
Ghenie’s latest large paintings are now priced between €750,000 to €1.1. He represented Romania at the 56th Venice Biennial in 2015. Ghenie is now represented by Pace and Thaddaeus Ropac galleries.
To enhance my knowledge, I took a close look at Ghenie’s work.  I wanted to contemplate what is it about his paintings that has to lead to so much attention and recognition. I realised that chance is a big factor when working in the art market and it is a major element of Ghenie’s paintings.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

The ultimate experience – Crashing Wave by Mary Heilmann
Collages of documentary films, historical images and still images from David Lynch and Hitchcock inspired Ghenie’s ‘Nickelodeon’ (2008) and ‘The collector’ as he successfully rendered the texture of black and white celluloid film into the paint.   Ghenie translated the cinematic impression of velvety blacks, light and texture into browns and reds. Which heightens the meaning and emotions and affects the dark undercurrents of the subject matter.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure
Adrian Ghenie, Pie Night Interior 12 2014 all rights remain with the artist @Adrian Ghenie
Once Ghenie’s preparatory images are finished, his next step is to paint with house-hold decorator’s brushes on to the large white canvas. The crude wide headed brush is used in rapid movements to create washes leading to runs and dribbles on the white gesso.  On top of the broad strokes, Ghenie shows his skill and dexterity with a brush to get some of the detail down. Ghenie waits for the representational painting, that at times is drab, to partly dry before using a cloth to dry it. He then uses a trowel, palette knife or a squeegee like a brush introducing a variety of colours to contrast to the earlier brush marks. New marks are scrapped and smeared across the surface burying the detail.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

The inspirational work of Franz Kline
There is plenty of space in Ghenie’s larger canvases to play.  Ghenie juxtaposes a variety of techniques from drips and scratches, with pours and smears.  The slathered paint sends his paintings towards abstraction.  Occasionally, just to make it interesting, he throws in an element of photographic college to ground the staged accidents and composition. Ghenie stated that
“when you try to paint a tree, you realize, ‘I cannot paint all the leaves, I cannot paint all the textures.’ So you have to invent a movement of the brush that would suggest, in your mind, a tree. That is, essentially, abstract.”
There are many fiascos along the way, however, Ghenie knows how to manipulate paint like a master. In his latest work, he takes this mixture of technique and turns painting further towards a form of collaging painting.  As this all comes together there is a strong element of what Ghenie callers “a Russian roulette moment” where chance, accident, instinct and the fear of failure leads the way.

Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure

What I have learnt from Alex Katz
Ghenie’s nostalgia for the craft of painting is clear to see.  The techniques from modern masters find their way into his paintings. Distortions from Picasso, accidents from Bacon and squeegee from Richter.  His subject matter comes from across the centuries.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Adrian Ghenie, Dada is Dead, Adrian Ghenie: The fuel of failure
Adrian Ghenie, Dada is Dead 2009 all rights remain with the artist ™ Adrian Ghenie
Ghenie reminds the viewer of the collective imagination of historical figures and moments in his earlier paintings.   Once figures of the establishment were taunting and terrorising us now we are taunting and terrorising them. He evokes an overall feeling of contemptuous scorn and caricature, as Hilter, the bogeyman watches us as we sleep in the painting,  ‘Nightmare’ (2007).
Ghenie’s versatile approach to painting using textures of smooth buttery paint creates intriguing compositions of visual harmony that feels almost confrontational.  There is an overall fluidity across his canvases that is visually captivating.  He asks interrogating deep questions about 20th history through the broken up surface. Ghenie acknowledges that failure helped him to dismantle the traditional approach to oil painting. Clearly stating painting is far from dead.

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

Breakfast with Lucien - Book review

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs

Stuart Bush Studio, Etel Adnan
Etel Adnan, Untitled 2013 All rights remain with the artist ©Etel Adnan
Viewing Etel Adnan’s vibrant paintings, it is surprising to discover that when Adnan grew up in Beirut, colour only found its way into her home in the form of decorative rugs.  Adnan’s childhood home had no paintings on the walls and there were no art museums nearby.   Nevertheless, she became interested in making art.  Unfortunately for her and us, Adnan was discouraged by her mother’s nullifying comments about being clumsy. So instead, Adnan found her creative outlet through writing.  In 1977 she won the France-Pays Arabes award for her novel Sitt Marie Rose.
Many years later after Adnan moved to America and she was teaching Aesthetics at the Dominican College in California she also picked up a brush.  Adnan’s colleague Ann O’Hanlon enthusiastically encouraged her to start painting.  This encouragement freed the 35-year-old Adnan, and she soon was in a love affair with the colours of the Californian landscape.

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs

The ulimate experience - Crashing waves by Mary Heilmann

The iconic peak of Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco was visible from her apartment.  Along with this and natural shapes and forms of the landscape like triangles, squares and circles, Adnan found her own way forward. Form and mass penetrated her soul and found their way on to her canvases as she painted her spatial experiments. The resulting paintings certainly had the power to affect the soul of the viewer. Adnan painted her canvases on a table in a room in her apartment.  She uses a palette knife to create buttery slabs of pure colour, often using oil paint directly from the tube.

Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Paul Klee, Etel Adnans
Paul Klee, Castle and Sun 1928 All rights remain with the artist ©Paul Klee

Paul Klee, the German artist, was a significant influence for Adnan.  Klee came to prominence in the 1920s while teaching at the Bauhaus. Like Adnan, Klee began by working in a different field. Then in 1914 the violinist visited Tunisia and overwhelmed by the inspiring light started painting.  Klee began to create a harmony of colours using rectangles on a canvas.  He believed that colour could create different responses, similar to the way that music keys do.  Klee composed his paintings like he was making a symphony.  There is a surprisingly similar approach in Adnan work, but an altogether different looking outcome.

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs

Etel Adnan's site
In each canvas, Adnan reorganises what she sees into different compositions in a wide variety of pastel tones.  Each painting has its own rhythm, energy and its own structural arrangement. Adnan uses colour to see what it can do and explores what colour can communicate.  Her work is akin to a poem or a musical composition.  The result is something unique and beautiful. Her subtle adjustments of the landscape create a visual symphony that celebrates light.
Up until 2012, Adnan had small shows and was known as a painter only by an intimate audience.  At 87, her work received recognition by being included in Documenta. Since then, Adnan had exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery, the Whitney Biennial and White Cube in London.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Etel Adnan
Etel Adnan, Untitled 2014 All rights remain with the artist ©Etel Adnan

Adnan later said it was poetic justice that she came to painting through poetry, and she discovered that the reality she saw in her art was up for grabs.  Through observing nature, Adnan’s use of the sun, mountains and the horizon suggests a world seen through tinted glasses.  Each painting has a spirit, a lifting force that makes you feel warm inside.  Adnan paintings encourage us to look at the world and then look beyond what we think we see.  She understands the rules and power of colour along with natural know-how of how to use them. I felt that her abstract values were like a path to some kind of truth.  Her work says that colour alone is all that the painter needs.

Etel Adnan shows colour alone is all that the painter needs

What I see in Tal R's paintings