The Easel

1st May 2018

Monet and Architecture: An Interview with Richard Thomson

Another Monet show! The curator argues that buildings were important to how Monet constructed his paintings. At first simply emblems of modernity, they were later crucial in his glorious works about “atmospherics”. In these works buildings were used “as a strong, solid form which served as a screen on which light played”.  A video on his London paintings (4 min) is here

The art of the machine age at the de Young

By the 1920’s the age of the machine had clearly arrived. European art responded with cubism and constructivism and these ideas were transplanted by the “precisionists” to America. Theirs was not a uniquely American art movement but they did view mechanization with New World optimism – “reverential commemoration of the clarity and simplicity of industrial forms”

Van Gogh & Japan, Van Gogh Museum. Amsterdam

When he left Paris, Van Gogh was carrying hundreds of Japanese prints. For him Japan was “an unlikely dream masquerading as a happy possibility”. And, according to a show in Amsterdam, the art in these prints transformed his own art – Japanese adoration of colour, Japanese perspective, Japanese delicacy. “Japanese art turned Van Gogh into Van Gogh.”

Leon Golub

Golub’s view was that history was full of “toxic masculinity … bad men doing bad things”. In response, he filled his paintings with violent images. Was Golub’s depiction of violence excessive? “[H]is critique of power and violence consisted of confronting slaughter by representing slaughter. Whether this amounts to a genuinely ethical response … is an open question.”

An Underrecognised Portrait Photographer Captures The Essence Of Britishness

Myers is the classic overlooked artist. In 1974, produces the first of three self-published photography books. In the 1980’s, gives up photography. In 2012 gets his first solo show.  “Myers’s photographs [capture] a past in which parsimonious resources are displayed with defiant dignity … a mark of pride in the narrow, the pinched, the insular.” A background essay on Myers is here.

Rembrandt and the Mughals

In 1656 Rembrandt was close to bankruptcy. Perhaps as a way of generating cash, or simply promoting himself to collectors, he made a set of drawings copied from Mughal paintings then reaching Amsterdam. “[A] painter of one “golden age” paying homage to a “golden age” on the other side of the world” An excellent backgrounder on Mughal art is here.

Polymorphous Eden

Wood’s American Gothic is “the most universally recognized American painting”. Yet many find it inscrutable and Wood’s other works too. His “perversely sexualised landscapes, dream trees, dream fields, dream corn, dream ribbons of roadway … no hint of actual dirt or dust. One cannot imagine wind blowing there.” (The March 20 newsletter carried a different review of this show.)

24th April 2018

Celia Paul Paints Her Biography

Some think that the English are “mingy” in the recognition they accord their own artists. Hilton Als, the eminent American critic is not so restrained. “Contemporary British art [including “visionaries” such as Paul] has had a global impact. She builds up on a series of canvases a great originality, an emotional breadth, a vocabulary of loss, of loss even before it happens.”

Who’s Afraid of the Female Nude?

Should male artists still paint the female nude?  While #metoo suggests not, is it so straightforward? One artist frets “we could be living through “a new Victorian age”. Another observes “the human psyche is not politically correct” A female artist notes “I’ve always had the sense that women must be proud to be sexual beings”. A quiz at the end of the article is revealing.

Why it’s bad for potters to think of themselves as artists

The writer of this essay seems muddled. He admits the best pieces in this Cambridge show deserve comparison to Moore, Brancusi or Giacometti. However, he is perturbed by the craft / art demarcation being unclear. Some pieces (gasp) even have practical uses! An essay by the curator offers a steadier narrative. More images are here.

How This Globetrotting Artist Redefines Home and Hearth

Suh has lived in lots of houses. Because of this transient existence “home” is an important concept to him and drives his art. He makes “fabric sculptures”, delicate life-sized recreations of past dwellings, complete with embroidered household objects. These works “convey both the weight of architecture and the weightlessness of memory.” Images and a video (2 min) are here.

Outrage over Hiring a White Woman as African Art Curator Misunderstands Expertise

White females dominate American curatorial appointments. So, appointing yet another white woman to curate African American art at Brooklyn Museum always risked causing a ruckus. It has. The appointee’s former professor, among many, has weighed in. “The outrage is… not really about diversification. Rather, it [is] about ownership of African art which, at best, is misguided”.

Gillian Ayres: Abstract painter whose work was rooted in the beauty and colour of the real

The Tate’s 1956 show of American abstraction got a hostile public reception, but Ayres found it inspirational. To be more specific, she loved its energy and use of colour, not the angst associated with its American founders. She said “‘I love obscurity in modern art. I don’t want a story.” The obituarist’s view of her work is similar: “decorative unruliness … large, loud, fierce and bold”.