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.”
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.”
“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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Elizabeth Peyton review – Sadie Coles London until 15 June 2019
Elizabeth Peyton returns to London with exhibition paintings and prints at Sadie Coles Gallery. The first thing I am drawn to as I view this new body of work is her passion for painting and the people she depicts. Over the years the configurations of her paintings have become more and more involved. The subject matter is still the same but Peyton’s use of light, colour and poignancy has compounded. She brings out more physical aspects in her lush romantic paintings.
It is perhaps surprising that a few abbreviated spontaneous strokes can capture feelings sending them beyond merely descriptive marks. She captures his life force in ‘David (Dave Bowie)’ (2019). The watercolour brushwork is pure and clean like freshly fallen snow, allowing her to express direct expressions of emotion. Peyton uses the variations of bristles to portray a simple beauty and ideal concept.
A love story between a painter and the subject – Elizabeth Peyton review
It is satiable to fall in love with the subject. However, falling in love is something Peyton does very easily. Her paintings and her marriage to the Thai artist Rirkit Tirvanija is evidence of that. In 1991, a few weeks after meeting Tirvanija, he was due to leave the US due to visa difficulties. But Peyton told her, “I will marry you” and he meant it. They were married three weeks later.
The happy marriage, unfortunately, came to an end in 2004 when they divorced. Nevertheless, Tirvanija introduced her to Gavin Brown, the art dealer, before he had his own gallery space. Gavin Brown encouraged Peyton to have a solo show in Room 828, at the Hotel Chelsea, in New York. This was to be the beginning of Peyton’s art career.
A love story between a painter and the subject – Elizabeth Peyton review
Peyton started off her career painting a personal homage to artists and musician of the nineties. She was inspired by reading Stefan Zweig’s ‘Marie Antoinette: The portrait of an Average Women’ and Vincent Cronin’s ‘Napoleon’. Peyton understood and realised that Zweig’s book was a portrait of women infused with feelings and human insight. In Cronin’s ‘Napoleon’ book he showed that because of Napoleon’s individuality, he was able to use his magnetism to transform and change the world.
Elizabeth Peyton says, “I’d always made pictures of people, even when I was a little, little person. The urge was there. I just didn’t know why. When I did that drawing of Napoleon, I realised this is something I have to do and want to do.”
A love story between a painter and the subject – Elizabeth Peyton review
Once it occurred to Peyton that all she needed to validate her work was to realise that ‘history is in people’ and by romanticising the image she was able to capture the spirit of the time. By painting certain selected people in her show, Greta Thunberg, Jackson, Ally’s kiss in the film ‘A Star is Born’, she is participating in what she sees as a highly important cause.
“I really love the people I paint. I believe in them, I’m happy they’re in the world.”
The images she chooses to paint are in comfortable and relaxed poses rather than the glamorous tabloid snaps of the front page. In her images, vulnerability and susceptibility are on show and warm and fuzzy feelings of desire and affection radiates.
The paintings make the viewer and artist come alive with Peyton’s work reverberating powerfully with the viewing public. Peyton, by essential painting the characterise of the period, has deeply embedded her work in the zeitgeist. James Baldwin the American novelist, playwright and activities once wrote,
“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them”
A love story between a painter and the subject – Elizabeth Peyton review
Leonardo Da Vinci 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.
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 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 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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Often when a viewer looks at works of art they ask themselves, ‘why did the artist make this?’ However I believe that understanding the original idea or intention of my work defeats my ambitions for this artwork. Instinct led me to paint this painting. By trying to understand my instincts my aims are never going to be clear.
Creativity is instinctive, and it is buried within me. I’m interested in this part of myself. I am curious about exploring what I am hung up on. I’m not in control of what comes out.
Braque said, “the only thing that matters in art is what that cannot be explained.”
A painting has to stand up by itself – Related posts:
Art does not have a purpose and function like a design. It is not essential to try and understand why I made this artwork. A person viewing an artwork comes to see the work with their own unique background, knowledge, and history. The artwork now exists on its own, and it has to stand up by itself.
Everyone sees things differently. I believe that the best artworks mean different things to different people.
As Duchamp said, “the artist has only 50% of the responsibility and that is to get the work out, it is completed by the viewer.”
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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.’
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
Most artists share the same fear and dread, a bad review! You think it’s all over. It makes you feel reluctant to share your work. I can imagine the day a museum curator knocks on my studio door with good news, and there is no answer. The bell keeps ringing….
The curator keeps trying to get an answer until he/she realises something terrible might have happened. Eventually, they gain access to find me dead under an incredible amount of bad art. So much so that they can just see two feet sticking out of the bottom. Do they run for help? No, they are horrified by how much bad art they can see! The curator puts her hands up to her face and runs out screaming, “My eyes. My eyes!”
Later they removed the mountain of bad art that has been building up in my studio for years. They find me laying underneath it all like an ill-fated hoarder. My tongue hanging out the side of my mouth and I have a newspaper in my hands. The newspaper is opened on an art review. Instead of saying what I hoped for, “Oh my god, this artwork is the next best thing,” the reviews says, “Stuart Bush, what is this crap?”
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How my mind can multiple my worst fears is ridiculous… However, at least my creative imagination is good for something. I am certain I am not alone with these feelings of self-doubt. So I was curious about how other artists deal with a mountain of failed art. I decided to read, research and discuss this subject with other artists. I eventually came up with this list to avoid this absurd tale actually occurring.
What to do when you have too much bad art. Starting with the most severe;
My first idea comes from Michael Landy’s Breakdown, where he destroys everything he owns, even his artwork. My next artwork could be to document the destruction of my own work.
The next idea is to destroy every unsuccessful painting straight after completion. Then cut up the canvas so no one is able to see my latest catastrophe.
Of course l could work out what canvases I can repaint over. This could be a case of trial and error to see what works or doesn’t work.
To save space, I could take the canvas off the stretchers and roll them up. Then recycle the frame by stretching a new canvas on it.
My last idea is not to date my paintings. Maybe in time, I will realise they weren’t that bad. It may be possible to sell them as current paintings.
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It is surprising that destroying artwork is common practice. It is natural selection. Only the strongest will survive. The highly successful artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye destroys her work at least three times a week.
“I know generally after a day of working on something whether it is working or not. Out of either pride or feeling, I wasted a whole day on something, I will often keep it until the next day. Come back, look at it and destroy it. I hate leaving things in the studio that I am not happy with. Because I have this terrible sense that if something happened to me that night, and this was the last thing I did, my dealer will turn up at the studio and say ‘Well, she must have meant this one to go in.’ ‘She is not here anymore, but this looks all right.’ I don’t want anything there that someone might think I intended to keep it. So I always feel like I have to make a decision and chop something up at the end of the day. But there is this thing that the light has changed throughout the day. Maybe I am not seeing it right. Maybe l should wait until the next day until l can see it in daylight and be absolutely sure it is bad before l get rid of it. I have gotten to be very brutal. I am extremely quick to make a decision that something is wrong and get rid of it. Like I said it happens a few times a week at the moment. More than a few times a week actually,” she says laughing.
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My last thought on the ‘Painter Killed By Critique Of his Own Bad Art’is that as an artist if you want to make a living from your art and you don’t want to fill up several skips, you need to get over this fear of judgement. It is not possible to making a living if you don’t move past the feelings of self-doubt.
As well as spending time painting and creating your artwork, it is essential to promote your art. To talk to collectors and galleries and exhibit your work.
I have come to the conclusion that if l have a pile of work that I am not selling. I need to ask myself, why? Is it because I am not spending enough time promoting my work? I need to be brave, put my fears to one side and plan an exhibition as soon as possible. Or this absurd tale may come true.
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