The Easel

20th December 2022


This is the year’s last regular newsletter. Next Tuesday, and the Tuesday after, we will highlight the year’s most popular stories among Easel subscribers. After a break of a few weeks, The Easel will resume on Tuesday February 7, 2023.

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Staying Gold

In Klimt’s day, some critics viewed him as an “educated provincial”. History sees him otherwise. His “golden phase” portraits, for which he is most famous, have a “delicacy [and] dignified splendour” that he absorbed from Whistler. Later landscapes show a “refined version” of the “expressive use of colour” pioneered by Impressionism and van Gogh. In short, Klimt was “a painter’s painter … an artist ensnared in the currents of his time” Images are here.

Shōji Hamada: A Japanese Potter in Ditchling

Bernard Leach is acclaimed for helping revitalize British studio pottery.  He owed much to Hamada, who worked with Leach in rural England in the early 1920’s. Hamada contributed technical knowledge of kilns and glazes and a ‘wabi-sabi’ mindset – the philosophical acceptance of imperfection. Back in Japan he copied Leach’s idea of integrating surroundings and creativity by preferring local glazes and clay. In 1955, Hamada was the first craftsperson to be crowned a Japanese National Living Treasure.

What is an artist-muse relationship really like?

In ancient Greece, the muses were divine sisters who inspired art. Today, muse has a less elevated meaning – “icons of idealised and sexualised beauty”. Perhaps though, we should not assume this when looking at paintings of scantily clad women. Muses to many famous artists – Klimt, Picasso, Man Ray and more – actually had “great” power. And how does David Hockney and his male muses fit the traditional picture? History shows that muses have “left an indelible mark upon the makers who have immortalised them.”

Best of 2022: The biggest art stories mattered more than soup thrown on a Van Gogh

A bare bones summary of art world trends in 2022, as seen from Los Angeles. First and foremost is the effort to mount more solo shows of female artists and lift their representation in institutional collections. Museums face pressures to conduct scholarly research, be prodigious fund raisers and resist commercial pressure. Oh, and also protect their art from climate change protesters, even while signaling sympathy for such views. Who would be a museum director?

Christie’s Racks Up $8.4. B. in 2022, An All-Time High for An Auction House

Company results make for dull reading, but let’s pause for a moment. Christie’s has just announced that it generated $8.4 billion in sales over 2022.  Taking out $1bn for luxury goods, that means $7.4bn was spent on art. Wow! The big ticket items were all 20th and 21st century works, many of which came from the sale of large private collections. Said Christie’s CEO “We are sometimes in the art market dancing on the volcano”. Notable sales are detailed here.

The top art books of 2022

For gift giving or to stock up on holiday reading, there is a wealth of books on the market. Female artists are the theme of the year (no surprise) but street art, public spaces, Ukraine, fashion and (inevitably) Beeple all get examined. Five Books are always a thoughtful arbiter of what’s worth reading while the Christie’s list is both insightful and tone perfect. Good general lists are here (with a UK slant) here and here (with a US slant).

13th December 2022

He may have been an antisemite, but he knew great Jewish art when he saw it

When Modigliani died in 1920 the contents of his studio were lost.  A team of historians and conservators is working to fill gaps in our knowledge of his working methods. Some examples. His stylized oval faces only appeared after a mid-career detour into sculpture. His colours were complex – “a black is never just a black; he also introduces blues and reds”. Far from his reputed wild bohemian ways, Modigliani the artist was “stylistically restrained and highly skilled”. Images are here.

Turner Prize: Windrush memorial artist Veronica Ryan wins for ‘poetic’ sculptures

Britain’s art world nodded in approval with this week’s announcement that Ryan, a sculptor, had won the Turner Prize. She is the oldest winner of this prize and it comes after years of struggle and invisibility. One works cited by the jury is a public sculpture of a custard apple, a breadfruit and a soursop – recognition of a generation of immigrants to Britain following WW2. Says one critic, Ryan is “the real deal: a thoughtful, secretive, poetic artist”. Said Ryan of the prize, “better late than never”.

At the MFA, ‘Frank Bowling’s Americas’ is a pivotal show for an artist who’s impossible to peg

Bowling was a star art student in early 1960’s London before moving to New York. There, his style shifted toward abstraction – not “pure” abstraction but abstraction that incorporated narrative elements. This evolution reflected Bowling’s “bewilderment” – an outsider observing art amidst teeming social unrest. With hindsight, his art provides a “clarifying” perspective on that troubled period and is a reminder of the need to “constantly rethink what we consider the ‘canon’ to be.”

Adam Pendleton and the issue of originality in the digital age

Pendleton, a New York visual artist, has accused a fashion house of copying his work. Initial coverage seemed sympathetic. Designers want to reflect the current visual language in their work – hence the popularity of Instagram. Pendleton acknowledges, though, that his art, which he posts online, also is part of a “tradition of montage and appropriation”. AI image technologies plunder online imagery, as do artists themselves. As Picasso himself observed, “good artists copy; great artists steal”.

Tom Sandberg’s elusive photographs show mysteries in plain sight

A new photography book by the late Norwegian photographer Tom Sandberg is reviewed here. The linked piece goes further, becoming a meditation on Sandberg’s quiet, austere images of ordinary objects. They convey moody atmospheres with an infinity of shades of grey and seem to suggest narratives that lurk “outside the frame”. Some of Sandberg’s images are “so elusive, we look and look and still don’t know what we’re seeing. [They] come to us as a secular prayer.”

A classic Venetian artist gets his big moment at the National Gallery

Although a leading light of the Venetian Renaissance, Carpaccio is seldom shown outside Italy. Why so little exposure? Many of his most famous works are huge and too fragile to travel. Later Venetian painters, notably Tintoretto and Titian, made Carpaccio’s work seem “old fashioned”. And, some late career works are “rather bland”.  At his best, though, he was a superb storyteller who, more than any contemporary, brought “sacred history to life” for his city. More background and images are here.