The Easel

15th August 2017

Painting for Pleasure

It’s just as well that Gainsborough was a great portrait painter – his interpersonal relationships were often lamentable. One of the many he quarreled with was Joshua Reynolds, the Royal Academy president. Friction arose not just from rivalry but also different artistic styles. As one critic notes “Where Reynolds would paint you a portrait full of classical allusions and gravitas, Gainsborough would show you at ease and full of sparkle.”

Holding Up the Torch: Walter Hopps and the World of Art

Hobbs discovered art at fifteen, opened his first gallery at 21 and co-founded the legendary Ferus Gallery at 24. But being a dealer wasn’t him – “a salesman in every way other than financial”. He switched to curating and is now recognized as a major influence on American contemporary art. An excerpt from a recently released biography, where Hobbs discusses Frank Stella and Andy Warhol, is here.

Should museums be able to sell their art? This museum says its future depends on it

Having lost money for years, the Berkshire Museum has a choice – raise money by selling artworks or risk closure. Among the works to go are treasured paintings by Norman Rockwell. Some local media outlets are upset by the plan – a “profound spiritual loss to the community” according to one. Regional museum directors are reportedly more sympathetic, one commending the plan for its “clearheaded honesty”.

A Disastrous Damien Hirst Show in Venice

As the hubbub about the Venice Biennale dies down a critic revisits the Damien Hirst show. “[U]ndoubtedly one of the worst exhibitions of contemporary art staged in the past decade … ultimately snooze-inducing”. Hirst is presumably unfazed by this.  “[T]he collector class really, really loves it” and, for many works, have snapped up “the “coral” edition, the “treasure” edition, and the “copy edition.”

Meet Singularity Black, the Blackest Paint on the Market

Anish Kapoor caused uproar when he secured exclusive artistic use of Vantablack, a high tech black paint. One artist retaliated by creating the “pinkest pink” and making it available to everyone – except Kapoor. A new black with virtually no reflectivity has now been released. Branded Singularity Black, it also has the ability to make an object “so black that your brain can’t really figure it out”.

Gauguin: It’s Not Just Genius vs Monster

Gauguin’s sojourns in Tahiti have made him one of art history’s seriously bad boys. His misdeeds limit our perspective on his work, a situation that a Chicago exhibition seeks to change. Before Tahiti there were carvings and ceramics. These “gloriously uncouth” pieces have the “bold contours and patches of colour pigment that characterize Gauguin’s mature painting … and had no need of Polynesian daydreams.”

Lawrence Alma Tadema At Leighton House

Alma-Tadema was the Victorian society painter par excellence. Hugely popular, his specialty was paintings of antiquity populated with Victorian characters. They have long been regarded as “sickeningly twee” but current opinion is shifting in his favour. His paintings, exemplars of “painterly technique”, expressed a view of the world as seen from Britain at the height of empire.

8th August 2017

Matisse in the Studio review: Inside Matisse’s mind

Matisse, like Picasso and others, found inspiration from his studio – his world within a world. “[My] state of soul”, he said, “is created by the objects that surround me”. However he did not simply reproduce the interior of his studio on the Cote d’Azur. “He was a great ruthless violator of normal appearances. [This show gives] a really good lesson in what makes a Matisse a Matisse.” More images are here

Body talk: YBA Sarah Lucas meets modern master Auguste Rodin

Sarah Lucas’s ingenuity in using everyday objects has been compared to Picasso. Her work often exposes gender stereotypes in traditional art. A San Francisco gallery is exhibiting her alongside its Rodin collection. Says the curator “I wanted to introduce a contemporary female perspective that was equally profound [as Rodin] in how it challenges conventions of representation – especially in relation to the female body.”

Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection, The Met, New York

Bamboo’s great virtue is strength with flexibility. Its cultural significance in Japan is expressed in many ways, one of which is basketry. Since the 19th century basketry has evolved from decorative art to a fully developed art form. As one critic notes “In a show like this, baskets can start to look like one of the world’s most complete, resonant art mediums.” An interesting time lapse video is here and more images here.

Philippe de Montebello on How the Metropolitan Museum of Art Can Reclaim Its Glory

De Montebello mulls over ructions at his former institution and advocates that it – and perhaps other museums – follow a non-populist role for museums. As director “I concern myself with the very long term. It’s a fiction that everyone loves contemporary art …the contemporary art world is a very small world. Something is trending? Museums shouldn’t be trending! They should set trends.”

Bonhams to Auction Collection of Andrew Grima Jewels

Post-war jewellers in London focused on loading up their pieces with precious stones – a case of more is more. Grima instead drew inspiration for his creations from art and sculpture. He promptly became a favoured jeweler of the rich and famous and his pieces are still avidly collected. He was, according to one collector “the great impressionist of jewellers.” More images are here.

Agnes Martin Finds the Light That Gets Lost

An elegant appreciation of Agnes Martin and her grid paintings. “It’s not hard to imagine her with a brush or a pencil in hand, moving across her rectangular grid with quiet intention—indeed, that’s likely why she identified not with minimalism but with abstract expressionism. [This painting] is blue. Not the blue of the sky … but a rich, lapis-lazuli blue, a marbled blue with a tone of violet in it. This is a material blue, a touchable blue.”