The Easel

1st September 2020

El Greco Sizzles in Chicago, in Paris, Not So Much

El Greco had ambition. He left Crete for Italy and, later, Spain, chasing a bigger career. Why such restlessness? Money, of course but also a stubborn pursuit of his artistic vision. In Toledo, it finally emerged. His portraits are “fantastic”, his religious works attention-grabbing with their “electric” colours and twisting, elongated figures. El Greco was “all about drama”.

Marie Cuttoli’s Bold Revival of the French Tapestry Tradition

Tapestry is a tough art form – expensive, complex and slow. Artists are not always happy about weavers deciding how a painting (say) is transformed into a woolen and silk object. Thinking tapestry could be modern art, Cuttoli commissioned pieces from artists like Picasso, Braque, and Matisse. Many of the pieces created are masterpieces and helped revitalize the ailing French tapestry industry. An excellent video on tapestry making is in the linked piece.

Take a walk in the digital wilderness at teamLab Forest Fukuoka

teamLab is an “ultratechnology collective” which seeks to “navigate the confluence of art, technology, design and the natural world”. It has just opened a second permanent museum, notable because it’s Tokyo museum is the world’s most visited “single artist” museum. Some wonder if the output is art, but why not? Either way, teamLab seems unbothered. A video (3 min) is here.

As The Met Reopens, a Former Employee Longs For Its Art

An ode to a favourite artwork. “The ancient Egyptian head of a queen emerges from an extraordinary piece of yellow jasper. The sculpture was broken below the nose, leaving behind a presciently modern fragment of exquisite lips. [She is] a monument to a pure and constant beauty. So, I suppose I’m tired of the miracle of nature. I want something that … is thrown at me by the breathless force of its creation.”

The greats outdoors: the pioneering Lakeland landscapes of Francis Towne

Towne mostly avoided London, building a small regional following. Attempts at election to the Royal Academy were unsuccessful and, when he died in 1816, that was that. An art scholar in the 1930’s saw something quite different. Towne’s use of ink and watercolour, without the usual washes, created flat images that emphasised “visual impression” over mood. So 20th century! Towne is now seen as a pioneer of the British landscape watercolour tradition.

David Goldblatt: Seven decades of Johannesburg

This London show is a reminder of the impact of Goldblatt’s work. Some have puzzled why, in apartheid South Africa, he focused not on its chaotic and violent events but on the “moral weight” of the everyday. “Events in themselves are not so interesting to me as the conditions that led to the events. These conditions are often quite commonplace, and yet full of what is imminent.” More images are here.

Heels: Through the Magnum Archive

Largely for fun. High heels are “womankind’s most public footwear”, an easy way of expressing feminine elegance. Nothing wrong with that – unless women feel pressured to wear these precarious items. “In the sometimes arduous work of fulfilling the prescriptive demands of womanhood, the high heel has become a key, and complicated, emblem”. So, yes, for fun … mostly.

25th August 2020

Introduction: Lee Krasner, The Unacknowledged Equal

Art history has always treated Jackson Pollock as “heroic”. In particular, it credits the ‘allover’ painting of abstract expressionism to him alone. However, “scrupulous” new research shows that, as early as 1946, Pollock’s wife, the “supremely intelligent” Krasner, was also developing this approach. Clearly, they were influencing each other, thus making Krasner “an innovator on an equal footing with Pollock”.

Gauguin and the Impressionists review, Royal Academy: the dazzling spoils of a very canny collector

Living in neutral Denmark during WW1, Hansen could get French art on the cheap. He bought brilliantly – the best Impressionists, their eminent predecessors and, for good measure, Cezanne and Matisse. Reflecting his restrained Nordic character, many of the works are “understated, meditative”. And then, boom – his Gauguins – each “a stunner of colour, people, places”. In an exhibition of superstars, what emerges most clearly is the collector. Images are here.

6 Market Experts’ Top Takeaways from This Summer’s Virtual Auctions

This year’s marquee mid-year auctions were forced online. It was not the disaster some feared. Plenty was sold and technical innovation made the experience “visually interesting”. If seeing art in the flesh is now optional, the traditional six-month auction cycle may fade. On the other hand, these online auctions were “highly curated”, with carefully selected works in high demand. On balance, it sounds like a backward step for face to face sales.

Photos that should not be possible

LensCulture street photography awards are a major accolade in world photography. One of the 2020 winners was a series focused on the youth of Belfast. Collectively, it is a portrait of marginalized Protestant and Catholic communities that do not share a common vision. As the writer notes, “artless joy looks to be in short supply.”

Warm, lively, rough? Assessing agreement on aesthetic effects of artworks

Do we respond to artworks in similar ways? Art history says ‘yes’ – for example, blue colours are usually described as “cool” while yellows and reds are “warm” and “lively”. Scientists tested this idea using actual abstract paintings and found … no evidence of universal reaction patterns. In other words, we all read paintings differently. Having a training in art did not change this result. Hardly the last word on the matter, but interesting.

Periwinkle, the Color of Poison, Modernism, and Dusk

An ode to the colour purple, and its close cousins. “Few hues are more beguiling and more reviled than this grouping, the last stop on the rainbow. Violet is the shimmering, fugitive color of the sky at sunset, purple the assertive substantial color of imperial robes.” And periwinkle – “the color of grace … a dreamy word for a color that exists at the edges of the night.”