In 2012 Neil Gaiman gave a commencement speech for the University of Arts in Pennsylvania. Neil Gaiman is a writer of novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. He was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. Neil’s most notable works include The Sandman, Stardust, American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline and The Graveyard book. He has also been honoured with many international awards. His speech is packed full of helpful advice for creative people.
I thought I would write this blog post and highlight many of the learning points l found in it.
“Instead of having a career plan, make a list of everything you want to do and just do the next thing on the list.”
“Goals are like mountains in the distance.” Set them and be clear what they are.
“Do things that feel like an adventure. Learn to write by writing. [For a painter, learn to paint by painting]. Stop when it feels like work.”
“A life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles, open it and read it, and put something back in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. But you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back to you.”
“Nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money, was ever worth it.” If you do things you’re proud of and if you don’t get paid, at least you will be proud of your work.
“The problems of success. They’re real, and with luck, you’ll experience them all. The point where you stop saying yes to everything is because now the bottles you threw in the ocean are all coming back, and you have to learn to say no.”
“Write fewer emails, write [and paint] more.”
“Get out there and make mistakes.”
After you have finished copying things remember, “The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
“Do the stuff only you can do.”
“You should enjoy it, let go and enjoy the ride. Don’t worry about the next deadline or the next idea.”
“Make up your own rules.”
“Pretend that you’re someone who is already successful… and pretend to be wise.”
“Make good art!”
“And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break the rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”
I have a modern house and l love having modern art on the walls. My art collection personal to me.
I also enjoy spending time in London visiting museums and galleries. I appreciate having time to look at a variety of artist’s work and considering their different styles and types of work. Artists are generally in the know and are usually very helpful. I also try to go to alternative spaces to meet artists. I learn a lot by talking to artists and uncovering who they admire and who influences who, and what they think about other artists. If the same name keeps cropping up l take notes and do my own research on them.
I often go online to find which dealers are working with particular artists. Sometimes I go on Artnet.com to see the prices that artists sell their work for, it gives me a better understanding of the art market.
I like to visit art school on their open days like the Royal College of Art or the Royal Academy Schools. It’s an added advantage to spend time in an art school, l may come across a piece l like and try to remember it’s been done before. Having knowledge of what has been done in the past is particularly important if you are looking to buy or make modern art.
I listen carefully to the advice l get from galleries, curators and collectors. Personally, I’ve never used art consultants but l have heard that they can be very helpful. I don’t follow trends, l like what l like. I am interested in art that is personal to me.
Related post to; An artist’s advice to finding art
Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy, Tate Modern (8th March – 9th September)
The subject of this exhibition ‘Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy,’ is the influence of love, fame and tragedy on Picasso’s painting over a one year period. This year-long output is a rich visual diary which gives away a great deal about the artist; from his professional career to the way he worked and his personal life. There are more the one hundred pieces of artwork, showing his entanglements with love and fame, his convolutions with colour and form, and his intricacies as the 20th century’s most influential artist.
Using this review, I am seeking to unpick how a highly accomplished artist approached and explored form, colour and space in his work with the intention of helping me in my journey as an artist.
The first room of this impressive exhibition starts in January and moves forward throughout a particularly special year in Picasso life. Most of the work is referenced to a single day in 1932. My first thoughts were how impressive his daily output was. It is hard to imagine working at such speed day after day and producing such high-quality work. Picasso made his paintings feel like a grand and confident experiment. He gave himself permission to trust his instincts and senses. Rather than using direct observation, he preferred to work from memory, focusing beyond what he could see. The result was an operation of his mind. Picasso said, “I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”
Related post to: Picasso paints what he knows rather than what he sees
Picasso started each painting with a simple outline drawn on the canvas. The free and loose drawings of curves, contours and form feel as if they spring from discovery. They give his paintings a visual rhythm and a harmony of fragmented structures. The abstract shapes work independently but at the same time together, as they each have a direct impact on the next form. They all come together creating striking compositions, filled with movement.
In working this way, Picasso is always looking for a new way to read the world and express a new visual vocabulary. As my eyes wandered around his paintings l was amazed and intrigued by how effortless Picasso makes his beautiful pictures look. The colours and forms of the painting respond to each other.
Picasso was interested in colour and had the intention to outshine his closet friend and rival Matisse in all areas. After visiting ‘Matisse: The Cut-Out’, in 2014, and comparing the two artists work, in my view it is clear that Matisse had the upper hand when it came to colour. Picasso often used a joyful palette to create a warm and expressive ambience and at times with paintings like, ‘Seated Woman by a Window’,1932, Picasso’s use of colour creates dynamic energy and audacity of simplicity. But to me, colour came second in Picasso work. It is not a fundamental part of his work; instead, it is often an afterthought.
Picasso creative genius lays not in the use of colour as an integral part of his work, but in his ability to understand and manipulate form. Picasso could view the structure from multiple directions, clearly shown in his cubist work, and combine these many viewpoints. In capturing three-dimensional forms, in two-dimensional drawings, paintings and in his sculpture, Picasso clearly shows a highly advanced genius. His creative talent and mastery are distinctly evident in the subtleties of his advanced spatial awareness. Picasso plainly indicates he has the self-belief and confidence to push this as the dominant theme in his work and this is where he can outperform his friends and rivals.
I found the exhibition and following one year in the life of Picasso immensely successful. It enabled me to consider what was going on in many parts of his life and how through evident self-confidence in his own abilities he was able to handle all that life threw at him. This exhibition will have a significant impact on my work. I see similarities in Picasso’s processes and topics that I can learn from. I think the biggest take away for me from this exhibition is Picasso self-belief and confidence and how prolific and dedicated he was to his work. Picasso’s bristling energy unquestionably comes through.
From the radical simplification of a form, you can see the building blocks of abstraction. He uses his artistic skills to the full to capture three-dimensional understanding. Each shape seems to be the product of another shape. Picasso said, “Cubism is neither a seed nor a foetus, but an art dealing primarily with forms, and when a form is reloaded it is there to live its own life.”
Related post to: Picasso paints what he knows rather than what he sees
As humans beings, we have an extraordinary ability to recognise an image and label it. A silhouette of a person is instantly recognisable. A two-dimension shape of the figure is not human, but we can read it as an image of a person. In the painting ‘Empire State of Mind’, I am interested in using this extraordinary ability to record and to explore the structure and nature of reality.
My new painting, ‘Empire State of Mind,’ has a lot to do with how my mind is working on and wondering about my instincts regarding perceptual information. I am trying to show and paint what I see. I’m not inventing but investigating how things look. I’m an image maker, painting the previously hidden nature of things. I receive an emotional response from an image as I discover an optical relationship and create a striking composition. I have stepped away from the conventional representation of reality in order to be competitive with it. The deeper I go into this practice of painting, the more mysterious it becomes.
Related links: The ideas behind, ‘Empire State of Mind’ painting
Ever since I was interested in art, I have always seen Howard Hodgkin as one of my artists whose work resonates strongly with me. In this review of Howard Hodgkin’s Absent Friends exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, I want to explore, understand and put into words (if that is possible) what it is about Hodgkin’s paintings that have managed to turn mere paintings into objects of contemplation and hold my curiosity for so many years. At the same time say goodbye to another great artist; Howard Hodgkin died on 9th March 2017, two weeks before this show opened.
Howard Hodgkin was born in 1932. He studied at Camberwell School of Art between 1949-50 and Bath Academy of Art between 1950-1954. In 1985 Hodgkin won the Turner Prize and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. Since then he has gone on to exhibit across the world and has his work is in many private and public collections.
The art I expect to see at the portrait gallery normally refers to an anatomical likeness of a person in the traditions of pictorial realism. However, in this show, the paintings are titled as portraits that capture a memory of a person and a moment as a dematerialised idea imprinted on the mind. They are described by Hodgkin as ‘representational pictures of emotional situations’. The paintings capture realism as a complete expression of individuality, of both the artist and what he sees. Paint and colour refashion the world as he sees it. Hodgkin sees more than an individual likeness; he sees how the light falls to create abstract forms of intense emotion. He paints his thoughts from memory with swirls and splashes as a response to the flux of the world. The paintings are like a recording that captures a feeling, that took place between him and the person in the title.
Hodgkin once said, “Painting is like putting a message into a bottle and flinging it into the sea,” Observer article, 2001. Howard Hodgkin believed his paintings talk for themselves and often was reluctant to discuss the meaning behind his work. He was always happy for the viewer to see and interpret what they like from his deeply cherished moments.
The paintings are more like artefacts or an object rather than just paintings. Hodgkin worked slowly producing a maximum of 10 paintings a year. He laboured and agonised over them in an intense process, which is evident from the dates of the work and from listening to him discuss the torture he injured when painting. His artistry clearly lies in making something that took years to look like it was made in a couple of hours.
“It’s very hard to keep all the things going on in a painting, the feeling, the emotion, the memory; they have to turn into something else. The problem really is making the painting stand up by itself. The memory has to turn into a thing, into an object. And that is a very slow process for me.” Howard Hodgkin, BBC Radio 4, Desert Island Discs.
It was always clear to Hodgkin when a painting was finished and complete, as it captured his original idea that triggered the picture. He painted on used blackboards, kitchen worktop and old picture frames rather than canvas. He liked pieces of wood that already had an identity and a life. When walking through the chronological hung exhibition, it is evident to see how Hodgkin developed a confidence with colour through his career. Each painting has a strong, unique, distinctive character of swirls, curves, dots and lines in vibrant pigment, a collision of pattern and forms.
The painting that sums up Hodgkin’s painting practice for me is ‘Mrs K’, 1966-7. It is a portrait of Jane Kasmin. It reminds me of being in a dark room as someone enters from the far end through a closed door. The sun floods into the dark room, and a bold form of a figure interrupts the light, as you adjust your eyes. The painting opens up heartfelt sentiments of solitude and vulnerability. The painting challenges your visual psychological space, it encourages you to learn something new about the world about what realism could be or should be. In my eyes, the painting is a more accurate and truthful interpretation of human perception than traditional pictorial realism.
The impressive show with many well-lit rooms of high-quality work was a pleasure to visit. The exhibition delves deep into Hodgkin’s practice of painting, asking questions about our human construction of reality in this seemly meaningless world. Every single one of the paintings in this show feels like a battleground between the artist, materiality and reality. They are an expression of individuality of the artist and its subject; they are self-portraits of the artist and subject portraits wrapped up in one. Hodgkin created paintings that outlast the subject and the artist himself. A makeover of the world in paint, with the paint being the carrier of vibrant and radiant feelings. It is a joyful farewell to an outstanding artist.
My work starts with street photography. I wander the streets as a Flaneur. Charles Baudelaire, the nineteenth-century poet described a Flaneur in his essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ as a stroller and loafer of the city streets observing modern life. Likewise, l wander around the city like a man of leisure as l try to take it all in. Following my intuition and hunches, I take pictures of what seems important to me. I look to capture that important element in the frame of my viewfinder, the essence of the importance of life.
The photographs I take allows me to record a rich visual diary. By having this source material I always have something to return to if inspiration is running low and I need to revisit my original ideas and intentions.
The next stage is in the studio with a blank sheet of paper or a blank page in my sketchbook. The main thing that happens in this first stage in the studio is reducing and simplifying the rich source l have gathered and extracting important elements to use. As well as painting and drawing, l sometimes print the photos to create collages or put layers together in a photoshop.
Things come together slowly, often my ideas and sketches don’t go anywhere at first. The next time I’m in the shower or going for a walk, or the next time I am in an art gallery I realise how I can use these snippets of life l have gathered! I then return to the original photographs and sketches and try to refine and develop my ideas.
Often I come to dead end. Then l try to be patient and wait and allow ideas to develop. Allow my mind to bring ideas together. This normally happens when I am not particularly thinking about artwork, but when my mind is open and free to wander.
However, once l feel I am on to something, I look to develop a process and repeat the format in order to create a series of work.
Art is about using your creativity to make new connections to things around you. The intention is to reconsider what you previously thought to give you a better understanding of what life is really about.
Creativity in art is really about playing and experimenting. Taking two random things and letting things happen. Being overly self-critical or self-conscious can prohibit a breakthrough. You’re not trying to re-invent the wheel; you need to encounter discomfort and ignore any fears and tell yourself, this is for me and try not to worry what other people think.
You could connect something banal like house bricks, reflecting coldness and the mundane, as a wake-up call to the excesses of capitalism like Carl Andre and his artwork, Equivalent V.
You take on some of the big topics, like immortality, life and death by linking the cycle of life, with flies living and dying in a glass box like Damien Hirst, titled ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990).
Or you could take up a skill like drawing, painting or pottery and just get making and see where it takes you. The trick is once on a path, you’re bound not to know where the work is heading. If you thought you knew where your ideas are going, your artwork is probably stillborn or dead and lacks any inside energy.
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory by photographer Arno Rafaela Minkkinen explains some interesting and worthwhile advice:
The Helsinki Bus Station theory:
Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are again repeated: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity.
Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.
You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on.
Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done.
So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short) and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.
This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane.
You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8×10 camera view of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?
So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.
What to do?
It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.
So play and make random connections. These new connections you make are only significant if they generate new meaning. Use your intuition to sense which have potential and to figure out the best to communicate this idea to someone. Make art from what is around you and try to make a comment about the world.
When telling a joke, the funny part comes when two different separate ideas connect, generating a new meaning, similar to connections within a successful work of art. Remember art is wonder! It doesn’t matter if someone else likes it or dislikes it. What is important is that your audience can’t stop thinking about it. The possibilities are endless. And remember to stay on the f*cking bus!
Through painterly questions of scale, content, colour and form I’m interested in expressing physical and emotional vigour of the human body in the city. I often work with and against the silhouette of the figure in the city. I capture the ephemeral with assertive gestures inspired by poetry and music. My process draws attention to the edge of things, to what is already there. I look to create a visual poetry with energy and motion arrested in space by simultaneously hiding and revealing our world to us and focusing on the void in between the things.
Josef Albers is known for his Homage to the Square. He uses a series of variations of the square that illustrated how colours affect each other. His book titled, ‘The Interaction of the Colour,’ is a studio course for teaching and studying what happens between colours. Josef Albers was born in Bottrop in Germany in 1888 and died in New Haven, USA in 1976. He taught at the Bauhaus and at Yale. I came to the exhibition of Josef Albers’s work at David Zwirner in London and was looking forward to seeing more of his work and hoping to develop a further understanding of Albers basis modernist theory of colour.
The show spread across 2 floors, contains just over 30 artworks. The title of the show ‘Sunny Side Up’ gives you positive expectations of an uplifting experience. There is plenty of space to view each small artwork, and they are certainly is uplifting especially because, on the day I went, there was a protest march against Donald Trump going at the end of the street on the drab wintry day.
I was surprised to find lines that were clearly crafted by hand and sometimes the areas of colour show the marks from the palette knife that was used to create them. The paintings are studies which show that perfectionism is not significant to Albers. The little colour swatches on card, with writing on them, show Alber’s thought processes like a sketchbook of ideas where he worked out what he was thinking.
I expected the flat plains of colour in the artwork to feel empty. However, the squares are like little doors into another world, the world of the sublime. I felt I was being pulled into the squares and into a deep abyss of sunshine.
This exhibition acknowledges the importance of Josef Albers and the contribution he has made to the timeline of art and colour education. The man-made squares of different sizes of yellow, orange and gold make you think more deeply about colour and help develop a deeper appreciation of abstract art. My experience with the show was stronger because of the gloomy weather outside and contributed to increasing my enthusiasm to continue learning about the uses of colour in my work. There are is so many variables that can affect the impact of the square of colour and Albers is clearly the master, as Albers says, “If one says ‘red’ and there are 50 people listening it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”
Laura Owen’s exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ in London gives a broad overview of her current work. In her paintings, she uses a range of digitally created images and painted marks in abstract compositions. Laura Owens was born in 1970 in Ohio, she began her art career in the 1990s, more recently she opened her LA studio as an exhibition space called 356 Mission in collaboration with the art dealer Gavin Brown.
I was curious to learn more about Laura Owens’s work after I read that Laura Hoptman, a Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in New York believes she is a Caposcuola, (the founder of an artistic movement) due to the way she ‘assimilates digital languages into painting’. In this review I want to explore some of the ideas in her work, and consider her use of newspaper clippings, screen printed on canvas, cropped shapes with drop shadows and impasto mark, all combined into photoshop, and ask whether this is a worthy subject for painting?
Sadie Coles HQ offers an ample white space and second small second room for some of Laura’s notebooks. The large exhibition space with its white walls is an excellent backdrop for the busy paintings. The gallery is well lit, and the show includes a lot of work. If I had one criticism of this show, it would be that there is too much work to focus on. Viewing the exhibition starts well, but there is a repetitiveness of painted digital imagery, and after twenty or so large canvass the show as a whole feels overwhelming. I did wonder whether that was intended because it is so obvious.
I see Owen’s work as a way of creating a dialogue about the man-made visual world, and focusing on technology that turns everything into pixels and data. A visible world where we can find new ways to tune in through our portable devices which are constantly changing.
The use of technology in paintings originated with Pop Art, from Warhol’s screen prints to Hamilton’s and Blake’s collages took art in a new direction. Laura’s use of sources makes me think about Matisse’s cut-outs and his use of collage and the way a composition is composed of editing, refining and manipulating shapes. Laura’s pictures appear to be predetermined on the computer before they arrive on the canvas including the painterly gestures such as washes, dabs and swipes. I was curious whether there is a space for spontaneity in her process.
Owens method like Matisse, Hamilton’s and Blake’s is a form of semiotic play. There is a decorative element where a shape is cut out and put into a composition creating a visual rhythm and visual language. There is a laying of images on top of each other where the contrasting elements with particular colours and elements in space give the work a striking ambience.
The result is a play of tension and expansion to create dynamic pictures. It is a system for thinking about shape and composition and expanding the possibility of what we visually consume, which I find it exciting and playful. It is very visually engaging and brings up many questions about Laura’s reliance on printing techniques, where her ideas come from, and the freedom of viewer to make associations in a picture. As a result her work is undeniably a commendable subject for painting.
However, I believe that Laura’s work would be stronger if seen smaller doses as there are too many elements in the exhibition as a whole. I don’t feel the need to revisit the exhibition for repeated viewing as I do after seeing a Francis Bacon exhibition. Maybe this is because the compositions appear to be predetermined on photoshop, but possibly it is more to do with the overwhelming number of paintings on view.
Laura has created a vehicle to show what she sees, the work in the show is undeniably a visual sensation. Her work asks new questions about the most important kinds of processes of expression. One of the most interesting things about this exhibition and why I recommend seeing Laura Owen’s work is that it is a critique of abstraction and about seeing the things in between the obvious stuff.
Over the years of visiting art exhibitions, few exhibitions have had such an impact on me as the Abstract Expressionist exhibition did at the Royal Academy. I was staggered by the amount of impressive and inspiring works. The first few galleries are hung in chronological order, then the order in the galleries changes and the work is hung related to styles and approaches, some rooms have work by more than one artist. This changing approach works well as it easy to understand the relationships and contexts between the works in each room.
In one of the largest rooms, I found two of David Smith’s sculptures and one of Jackson Pollock’s drip painting next to each other, it was a stimulating experience. David Smith’s sculptures ‘Hudson River Landscape’ 1951 (welded painted steel and stainless steel), and his ‘Star Cage’ 1950, (painted and brushed steel) sat opposite Jackson Pollocks’s drip painting ‘Summertime number 94’, 1948, (oil enamel and commercial paint). What was so intriguing and absorbing was how the lines in the three different works were so alike. Pollock’s dancing splats of paint over the surface were heightened and intensified by the Smith sculptures. I have always delighted in interesting and complex spatial compositions and having these works next to each emphasised their associations. While Smith calls his work, ‘drawings in space’, Pollock presents his as ‘energy and motion made visible, memories arrested in space’. This juxtaposition of two and three-dimensional space was enlivening, inspiring and delightful to experience.
Later l found work by Frank Kline. I always appreciate looking at Franz Kline’s work and this was the first time I had seen ‘Vawdavitch’ 1955 and ‘Andrus’ 1961, (both are oil on canvas). The simplicity of the subtle change in the colours and the spatial harmony is very enjoyable. I think Kline’s work has a strong relationship with poetry and music. When I look at Kline’s work it always amazes me how ‘less is more’. I always think of the Mies Van der Rohe quote when looking at reduced and distilled work where simplicity is beautiful. It looks like Kline used a wide brush to create ‘Andrus’ 1961, he uses a few simple brush gestures in layers of mars black, cadmium orange, crimson, cerulean blue and deep purple mixed with different amounts of white. The simplicity is intriguing and really sparked my imagination.
If I had a criticism of the exhibition it would be that you need more time to see everything, I found it challenging to select only a few pieces of works to discuss in this review as I really did feel blown away by seeing so much artwork of such a high standard. After a couple of hours, l needed a break. Having spent so much time with the works I have mentioned and looking at some of the pieces by other artists I felt guilty walking past further great pieces of work because I felt my eyes and brain needed a rest. It would be great if you could revisit the exhibition on the same ticket on a different day. I would happily go again.
If you would like to read more, there is an interesting review here on the Saturation Point site written by Paul Carey Kent, after visiting this show and the at the Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao: 3 Feb – 4 June 2017 and comparing the shows.