The Easel

25th July 2017

Carol Rama: Outside the Institution

A new book published in conjunction with a Carol Rama survey says the following: “Not just anyone can go mad. It’s not such a casual, easy thing to do. And even if you do, only the truly possessed and determined few can render their madness into enduring art.” Whether literally true or not, this captures something of Rama and her psychosexually charged art. Images and a detailed discussion of some of her paintings are here.

Canadian Art To 1967

Canada’s National Gallery has traditionally focused its collection on Western paintings, relegating indigenous ‘craft’ to the margins. No longer. Its new exhibition approach aims to be more inclusive of indigenous art in Canada’ art history, “telling two separate stories … but converging without assimilating”. As a curator notes “We can’t change history, but we can draw upon recent scholarship to tell the story more fully.”

Birds Like Us

Britain has a long tradition of illustration. More a cousin of fine art than a sibling, illustration is essentially intimate in scale and inextricably linked to narrative. Fine art need be neither. Eminent illustrator Quentin Blake, belongs to this tradition.  A longtime Roald Dahl collaborator, he is now renowned for his human-like birds. Why birds? “I say feebly that perhaps it’s because they have two legs like us”.

From the Great Wave to Starry Night, how a blue pigment changed the world

Perhaps Hokusai’s Great Wave is less than quintessentially Japanese? Its ‘Prussian blue” pigment and European concept of perspective made it too radical for local tastes. Europe, in contrast, was highly receptive. “Perhaps the single most vividly identifiable influence upon the European modernist founders is Van Gogh’s celebrated Starry Night, which owes everything to Hokusai’s blue wave from its colour to the shape of its sky.”

John Minton: A Centenary review – a wildly restless talent

In post-war London John Minton had both talent and recognition. However, unlike his friend Lucien Freud, history is passing him by. Why did he “lose his footing” as an artist? Being a prodigious drinker didn’t help. More importantly, perhaps the art world was turning to modernism and despite his numerous changes in style, he was unable to tune in to that new outlook.

How Artsy finally convinced galleries to sell art online

A leading online art sales start-up has just received a big dollop of new funding. Even discounting for the “rah-rah” tone of the linked piece, online sales are proving attractive to some art buyers. But a second piece articulates a gallery counter-argument: “The way that galleries show and sell art is a touchy-feely process, it’s a very personal process.”

18th July 2017

Andrew Wyeth and the artist’s fragile reputation

It is curious that a retrospective to mark the centenary of Andrew Wyeth’s birth is not travelling to a big east coast US city, despite its likely popularity. Clearly disagreements about Wyeth continue. This writer offers a truce. “I believe he fits into a larger tradition of modernist creativity that goes beyond the medium of painting. His influence … has been most important in poetry, literature and film making.”

Some Time: Richard Deacon at Antwerp’s Middleheim Museum

More a chatty piece than a review, but such is English coverage of art in Europe. Deacon is an eminent contemporary sculptor though he modestly calls himself a ‘fabricator’. He mostly works in everyday materials and leaves the construction details visible as if to emphasise that art objects are no more worthy than any other manmade objects: they all “link the human subject to the world at large”. An excellent video (5 min) is here.

Scared of the modern?

British art in the inter-war period was torn – hew to tradition or be adventurous and follow Paris? It leaned toward the former and now attracts the slightly frumpy tag of “realist”. Unfair? Perhaps not entirely. “There is a sense throughout this exhibition of the modern being at once scrupulously recorded and avoided … you do find yourself yearning for just a bit more modernist slap-dash and swagger.”

Breathing Colour by Hella Jongerius at the Design Museum, London

Despite the paint industry’s best efforts colours look different at different times of day. Are their ‘flat’ colour designs depriving us of the beautiful subtleties of colour?  “I’m not concerned with having the blackest black, I’m concerned with having the richest. It was only a few years ago that a dress went viral on Twitter due to people’s mixed opinions on whether it was “white and gold” or “black and blue”.”

The Encounter at the National Portrait Gallery: historical figures live in the moment

Before the fine details of the painting comes the sketch. Although a working device, drawings of the Renaissance have long had their own appeal. It’s not just the stellar artists – Holbein, Rembrandt and others – but also the spontaneity of the sketch. “It seems as if his eyes have swiveled in our direction only a split-second earlier. At a stroke … the nearly 500 years since Holbein made this drawing dissolve into nothing. Poof!”

The Female Nude is Triter Than Ever – Just Look at Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer is hugely famous, but is all his work good? Some paintings in his current New York get the requisite praise. But the above writer is irked by the nudes. “[I]t is, truly, a worn and bloated genre. If you are going to make a Female Nude in 2017, it better be in some way new, it better not simply participate in the same male gaze pseudo-eroticism that has dominated the art world ever since men could paint.”

The Pivotal Role That Women Have Played in Surrealism

A favourite object of male surrealists was the female nude. But some important surrealists were women and fantasy object was not exactly the job description they had in mind.  A London show portrays a century of female surrealist artists.  In a Lee Miller image, “in a riposte to Man Ray’s use of the female figure as a curious, beautiful object a breast is served up on a plate, like a dreadful loin of meat.”