The Easel

27th July 2021

A towering figure in South Korean art plans his legacy

One might expect Park Seo-Bo’s art to reference Korea’s turbulent history. Quite the opposite – his contribution to Dansaekhwa, Korea’s ascetic painting style, came out of an effort to “empty myself completely”. Approaching a work with a “lack of purpose in action”, he has created abstractions with mark making of “endless action and infinite repetition.” These acclaimed, shimmering works are, he hopes, a way to “stabilise the audience and restore them to peace”.

How Soutine Showed de Kooning a Way Out

Big ideas in art can be difficult to navigate. Focus on them too closely and you lose originality; neglect them and your work may seem irrelevant. This dilemma didn’t bother Soutine – his originality was “tornado-like”. Cerebral De Kooning, despite being more reverential about art history, was attracted to Soutine’s embrace of disorder. In their different ways, both wanted to have feelings drive their art: “Neither of them was interested in behaving properly.”

Visionary textiles: How Anni Albers stake a claim for herself as a key modernist

A straightforward summary of Albers’ career and art. She opted for textiles because the Bauhaus prevented women going into painting. Once there, she showed weaving could be a modernist medium. Her career was marked by innovation – in materials, weaving techniques and aesthetics. She ultimately positioned weaving as a fine art and showed, via woven room dividers, it could also have a role in architecture.

Alma Thomas: The Life and Work of a 20th-Century Black Female Abstract Artist

Her mother’s sewing sparked Thomas’ interest in art. She produced figurative work until, late in her career, she was exposed to abstract expressionism and colourists like Matisse. Suddenly her work – and reputation – were transformed; dazzling, mosaic like abstractions in brilliant colours, inspired by nature. The swirling civil rights debate at the time had, it seems, no effect on her art: “I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness.” More images are here.

Fragments of Gold-Adorned, 14th-Century Triptych Reunited After Decades

In 1345, Venice was rich, powerful, cosmopolitan. It could afford the best art and, for that, there was Paolo Veneziano. His speciality was lavish devotional altarpieces. These were mostly disassembled and sold off, but Getty has reunited some of these “masterpieces”. They show Byzantine as well as Italian influences, an inspiration to later Renaissance artists. Sadly, a focus on the devotional was prescient. The Black Death arrived in 1348, killing 60% of Venetians.

When art meets data

Generalisations often tempt us to ignore the facts. A data-driven view of art history reveals a woeful record of bias. Neglect of women is well known but there is more – neglect (or exclusion) of colonial life, the effects of industrialization. The point is not that individuals are unimportant but that the context of an art movement needs to be better understood. If this doesn’t happen, then that which is excluded becomes invisible to history.

Remembering Peter Nicholls

Artists from smaller countries struggle to get international coverage. New Zealand’s Nicholls is a case in point. His mature work was a marriage of constructivism and environmental expression – rough timber, rocks, raw steel – that offer “both calmness and threat”. Recent smaller works reference the environmental impact of white settlement and offer “an aesthetic vocabulary” to consider “the nation’s colonial and environmental history.” Images are here.

20th July 2021

Jennifer Packer and Hans Ulrich Obrist discuss the meaning and method of painting today

With a highly praised show in London, Packer seems a star in the making. In an artist interview that works better than most, she reflects on the Old Masters and her portraiture which has been described as “startlingly intimate”. “I saw Titian’s The Flaying of Marsyas where he’s strung upside down, and I was thinking about Titian painting this body and deciding how much care to give to Marsyas. I feel the same way: the idea of painting as an exercise in tenderness.”

Colour, Geometry and Pure Radiance

The importance of this retrospective is that it surveys all of Taueber-Arp’s work. And there is plenty to survey – textile designer, artist, painter, sculptor, architect, interior designer and dancer. What held these disparate areas together was “the vocabulary of modernist abstraction”. Says one critic “there is no design-Taeuber-Arp and art-Taeber-Arp, there’s just a singular, unified approach to creative life”. An excellent video is here.

Rubens: Reuniting the Great Landscapes at Wallace Collection review – Let’s keep them together

When Rubens retired and was painting for his own pleasure, he produced not his signature fleshy figures but … rural views. Two such landscapes – painted as a pair – have been hung together for the first time in 200 years. Described as masterpieces and being entirely by Rubens, they reveal something about his mindset. They are “grand but also cosy” says one critic. Rubens’ saw his life as one of “autumnal plenty”.

‘At Once Funny and Melancholic’: Remembering Christian Boltanski (1944–2021)

The traumas of WWII haunted Boltanski’s art. Not the deaths of specific individuals but memory and how it works. Self taught, his conceptual art took many forms – film, installations, site-specific works, sculpture – and was widely acclaimed. Explaining works in his 2019 Paris retrospective, he said “I want to create legends and mythology … it’s not about the object it’s about being aware of its existence.”

Have you heard of Nikolai Astrup?

Astrup is apparently more popular in his native Norway than Munch! He painted Nordic landscapes with lashings of colour, “generalized forms” with details on top. What elevates his work is its intensity and drama, something the writer ascribes to Astrup’s self-doubt. Astrup’s hometown popularity is thus not due to “sentimental nationalism”. And his obscurity elsewhere is testimony to an artist caught in the “obscure eddies of the art-historical mainstream”.

Moving a Masterpiece, One Panel at a Time

Wealthy Americans in the 1930’s sought out Rivera’s famous murals. He was the obvious choice to produce a gigantic work for a 1940 exposition in San Francisco. The mural has been in an obscure location for decades but, heroically, has been moved to a major museum for the next few years. To modern eyes, its advocacy of American – Mexican unity seems naïve. Even so, his abilities as a large-scale painter cannot be doubted. A video (12 min) is here.