The Easel

16th October 2018

The Mysteries of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Peasant Paintings

Bruegel’s paintings are so rare and fragile that a Vienna show of 30 paintings is unprecedented. He borrowed Hieronymus Bosch’s detailed style but Bruegel focused on village life and landscapes. What did he intend – morality tales, comedies or just pleasant rural scenes? “They’re mysterious and don’t give away a lot of clues.” More images are here.

Sarah Lucas

Lucas’s New York retrospective has been widely praised. Her sculptures use unglamorous materials and are both absurd and articulate – “dirty jokes are crafted without malice—though without mercy, either.” In an interview she admits “I am really not grungy at all. I might be using quite cheap materials, but I am always quite precise … a formalist even.”

Oceania, Royal Academy, review: an astonishing blast of a show

Oceania, according to a London show, is a single civilization connected by water. Clear aesthetic similarities between artworks of different island groups proves the point. But there are attendant issues – the impact of Europeans, the unacknowledged debt that our culture owes this art. As Faulkner observed, the past is never dead, it’s not even past.

Weaving the Twentieth Century

Albers succeeded despite, not because of, Bauhaus’s famous teachers. Heartwarming though her personal story is, the bigger story is about what constitutes fine art. She showed that textiles belong among the fine arts and linked weaving with architecture and design. Ample justification for the claim that she was “a weaver who changed art”. More images are here.

‘Hilma Who?’ No More

Unable to sell her abstract work, af Klint blamed backward public tastes. In her will she prohibited exhibition of her work for decades after her death. What is now clear is that she was advanced and preceded the “breakthroughs” of abstract pioneers like Kandinsky and Mondrian. As one critic notes “Her artistic ship sails some of the deepest waters around.”

Picasso. Blue and Rose

A Paris show of Picasso’s blue and rose period paintings boasts many famous works. It also covers an important period in art history. So why are there so few reviews? The linked piece describes Picasso’s development but has such a familiar ring. After umpteen blockbuster shows and intense exposure from high auction prices, is everyone running out of things to say?

In Urgent Color: Emil Nolde’s Expressionism

In a new location this show gets a review focused more on Nolde the great colourist rather than Nolde the anti-Semite. He briefly aligned with several avante garde art movements but was not really the type to belong to a club. His was a singular vision – “in love with the “expressiveness” of paint itself”. He used it to convey beauty as well as danger, making his works “raw and unforgettable”.


What is a Shakespeare scholar doing writing about colour? Find out next week when Morgan Meis talks to David Kastan about how our understanding of colour is so culturally loaded its scarcely logical.

4th September 2018


The Easel will be snoozing over the next few weeks while the editor travels. Publication will resume on October 16. From then until Christmas a bumper crop of essays and interviews awaits, including:

  • Delacroix
  • an interview with David Kastan abut his book On Colour
  • a remarkable Morgan Meis essay on indigenous art

Street to studio: a new book charts the evolution of street art

Some view graffiti as vandalism, but a book claims that its most complex form – street art – has artistic merit. This medium deserves critical attention as it is “the world’s most practised art form’. Whether or not you agree with that, street art has influenced some big names – Le Witt, Wool, Holzer and more. Attempts to market one prominent alumni, Rammellzee, are described here.

Introducing the greatest aboriginal artist unknown in America

Art critic Robert Hughes called indigenous art “the last great art movement of the 20th century”. Where does it fit in the art canon? Perhaps it is more clearly seen from outside Australia, the writer wonders. To judge the aesthetics, one artist simply places his works among the trees. “I walk away and I come back and I look at it to see if there’s movement, shimmer … If it does, I am happy.”

(See Coming Up above – Ed)

A Good Fit

Coloured sculpture was once frowned upon. Chamberlain thought differently. His expressionist eye liked colour and saw auto body parts as a malleable (and free) raw material. After crushing the parts he would laboriously fit them together as a collage, producing sculptures suggestive of “exotic flowers … or drapery”. “It’s all in the fit”, he said.

Monsters at the Morgan

Monsters can be especially potent symbols to the uneducated. In the Middle Ages, educated monks filled their manuscripts with dazzling images that demonized foreigners, denigrated women and idealized piety. All admirably suited a male clergy. Before condescending about those times, it is worth recognising our modern infatuations – Star Wars and video games.

Eighty Years Ago, Both Sigmund Freud and the ‘Degenerate’ Art Exhibition Came to London

The Nazi’s degenerate art show in 1937 was a “venomous” attack on modern art. As a rebuttal, the same artists were featured more positively in a London in the following year. The details of the events are surprisingly dramatic. Art, while not directly a matter of life and death, was a primary tool for manipulating public opinion to accept the dark deeds that were shortly to occur.