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

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

Isle D'Hollander review
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

I cried becauase I love you - Tracey Emin review
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

Kerry James Marshall - History of Painting review
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.

A brush load of life – Van Gogh review – related post

All too human, Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life - review
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

A brush load of life – Van Gogh review – related post

I wish I could paint everyday

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.

Related review: David Salle undressing the role of the artist and writer

Tracey Emin: A Fortnight of tears exhibition review
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

Related review: David Salle undressing the role of the artist and writer

Isle D'Hollander: In and out of abstraction

What I see in Tal R’s paintings

Stuart Bush Studio Blog Tal R Red House, What I see in Tal R's paintings
Tal R, House red, 2018 Oil on canvas, 200 x 147 cm 78 3/4 x 57 7/8 in, © Tal R Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
Tal R’s painting practice follows the traditions of oil painting.  The artist walks the streets in Copenhagen near where he lives and works, looking for people, places and objects that appeal to his curiosity.  He looks for the moment that he feels is slipping away and paints its soul in vibrant and colourful paintings that at times float into abstraction.
Tal’s passion and exhilaration for paint clearly materialises throughout his work.  In each painting, he is learning about the endless curiosities with life and paint.  I see the pictures like a window into the inquisitive thoughts that are bouncing around in his head.
When I look at Tal’s paintings I easily relate to the places.  I understand some of the references; but at the same time, I’m often confused.  Tal often adds an object into his painting that doesn’t sit right.  By placing this almost ‘foreign’ object where it doesn’t belong, his paintings work at getting an unanswerable question into one’s mind.  He calls it ‘leaving the viewer with a stone in their shoe.’

Related post: What I see in Tal R’s paintings

I cried because I love you - 'A Fortnight of Tears' exhibition review
Marcel Duchamp commented that “the creative act is not formed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Tal R, Rosa Road, What I see in Tal R's paintings
Tal R, Rosa road, 2018, Oil on canvas with artist made frame, 102 x 121 cm 40 1/8 x 47 5/8 in, © Tal R Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
We each come to his painting with our own way of seeing the world and pick up on different points of interest. Tal’s artwork then becomes about the paint, the artist, the viewer and their baggage.  These four elements are what is so attractive about Tal’s paintings. Tal does what all good artist do, he makes it look so easy.
Tal describing how his practice works,  “How I do it before I do it is, I work with all these motives, like figures and drawings. Sometimes they lose their vitality.  Then I put them away.  Later they appear in new forms.  So it is like being in my head.”

Related post: What I see in Tal R’s paintings

What I have learnt from Alex Katz
“All of these places that I paint they mean something and they also mean nothing.  These are places I am very familiar with. I walk past them many times.  It makes it much more easy for me to rhyme in those places.  Although it is about places in Copenhagen, it could, in fact, be about anywhere.  If I grew up in another city, I would rhyme on those places.” Tal R
“It is like trying to grab a fish, and it slips out of your hand. You should catch it and feel it is yours.” Tal R
Tal’s work can’t be explained purely by understanding the subject.  The forms and references only appear to on the surface, rhyming with other footnotes that are possibly out of the picture.  The real subject matter is the formal qualities and paint.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Tal R, What I see in Tal R's paintings
Asger Jorn, Per Kirkeby, Tal RInstallation view, Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St George Street, London W1S 1FE23 January –23 March 2019© Tal R, Per Kirkeby and Donation Jorn, Silkeborg/ billedkunst.dk/ DACS 2019Courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
Often Tal starts with an underneath layer of paint in a free-flowing thick impasto style. It is usually an intense colour in contrast with what goes on top.  The tones are often a little subdued, but they pulse and wobble due to the contrastive composition.  They dance for your eyes like a gymnast, filling you with hopefulness.

Related post: What I see in Tal R’s paintings

Kerry James Marshall, History of Painting
Tal doesn’t paint to give a complete account of the essential nature or direct likeness of an object. He goes for a ghostly like quality.  What is more critical to Tal is the success of those objects and colours as formal qualities in the painting.  He adjusts the flexible subject matter to create a visual harmony in their placement within the composition.  The intriguing forms and his unrefined strokes of oil paint encourage the object to float between figuration and abstraction.  This is the real subject matter.  It’s the skill of his image making that makes Tal R’s paintings a success.
Tal steps into a space where all good artist go, into a spacious creative area and into a painting where time disappears, where he is at one with his creative innocence. He loses himself in his work, like a child at play.  Pointing himself towards what he is interested in, and the work comes out unforced and without plotting.  Tal is in a place where he is allowed to be true and where no effort is required.  This creative space is a place where we all seek to go.
Tal R was born in Isreal in 1967 and moved to Denmark when he was young.  He studied at the Royale Academy in  Copenhagen, Denmark where he continues to live and work.  His work is currently on show at Victoria Miro Mayfair, in a group show titled, ‘Asger Jorn, Per Kirkeby, Tal R’ until 23rd March 2019.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Tal , What I see in Tal R's paintings
Asger Jorn, Per Kirkeby, Tal R Installation view, Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St George Street, London W1S 1FE23 January –23 March 2019© Tal R, Per Kirkeby and Donation Jorn, Silkeborg/ billedkunst.dk/ DACS 2019 Courtesy the artists and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

Related post: What I see in Tal R’s paintings

Isle D'Hollander - in and out of abstraction