The Easel

23rd October 2018

Tickled Pink, Green with Envy, I’ve Got the Blues: Our Non-logical World of Colour

In so many ways, colour is central to our lives, as it is to art. So why do we understand it so poorly? Cezanne suggested that ‘color is a collaboration between the mind and the world.’ Fine, but what is the nature of that collaboration? David Kastan tackles these questions in a new book On Colour, written with Stephen Farthing, and shows just how baffling the topic is.

“I gave up on the idea that I could “explain” color or treat it in any systematic way. We color code lots of emotions. Blue is the color of dejection, of depression. And yet blue is also the color of transcendence, as in the Giotto chapel in Padua. This contradiction is so deep. It is unresolvable. There’s a blue of sadness and a blue of bliss.”

What Was Delacroix Doing? Aside From Breaking Art History in Half.

Even as a teenager Delacroix hated the “fussy” neoclassicism of Ingres. Romanticism in his hands was expressive colour, looser brushstrokes, a certain vagueness of image. This did not make him a modernist but he had taken a dramatic step toward a modern style. No less an admirer than Cezanne said of one painting “You can find us all in this Delacroix”.

In Nathaniel Kahn’s The Price of Everything, a Lively Portrait of Money Run Amok in the Contemporary Art Market

A new film about money and the art world. The inevitable distasteful super-rich are juxtaposed against a sincere, out-of-favour artist. The film maker remains optimistic – “great art will find a way. Because it’s the voice of being a human being”. Conceding the film is a “masterpiece”, one well connected art critic admits “those in the market … seem not to even notice artists anymore.”

How Japanese Artists Responded to the Transformation of Their Nation

Just as photography challenged nineteenth century western artists so it also threatened Japanese woodblock printing. By 1900 the Japanese art form had nearly collapsed. It re-emerged in fits and starts, partly by developing a range of distinct styles. And, just as photographers had done, printmakers developed “an analytical gaze upon Japan.”

Vuillard and Madame Vuillard review – all about his mother

Vuillard’s early paintings feature his family members in the tight spaces of their apartment, amidst his mother’s dressmaking business. She was central to his life and his art – he painted her over 500 times. These images show her as very “private”. So, was she really his focus or just one part of a grander, and radical, project – a portrayal of female domesticity?

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.