The Easel

7th December 2021

“We Carry Our Younger Selves Around”: Gillian Wearing on Life, Art and Time

Well before social media arrived, Wearing was making performative portraits – photographs of people in masks or holding cue cards that describe their thoughts. All addressed her core fascination – who are you? Given her view that people tend to live “in their dreams”, is the image we project who we really are or the person we wish we were – or both? The possibility that her approach will appear forensic is moderated by an evident empathy. Ultimately, she says “everyone is interesting”. Images are here.

Fabric of impulse: fiber artist Olga De Amaral melds artistic spontaneity with slow craft

One might expect Amaral, “a weaver”, to be methodical and structured. Instead, her long career has involved the pursuit of intuitive abstraction. This journey has yielded large, sculptural, fibre works that “hang freely in space”. By also incorporating diverse materials – plastics, gold leaf, paint – her distinctive works have brought renown in her native Latin America and beyond. Amaral’s aspirations though, sound just like those of a weaver: “I wanted to make the thread and the knot more visible”.

Introducing the Power 100: the Most Influential People in the Artworld in 2021

In case you were waiting, ArtReview’s “influential” Power 100 list has just been released. Top of the list is the NFT, which has (possibly) created a broader future for digital art. At 100 is Mark Zuckerberg, for his shaping the direction of “virtual culture”. In between are a notably diverse who’s who. What does it mean? One view, admits ArtReview, is that it measures “perceived success on a field of combat”. More nobly, it shows who is “shaping the [global] development of contemporary art”. Take your pick.

Why black art matters — and the joyful Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition

Some think Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize has been captured by political correctness. What then about the Royal Academy’s venerable Summer Exhibition which this year emphasises “diversity”? In fact, it is “wonderous”. Works coming from outside the Western canon have given it “a brightness and uplift that wasn’t previously there … a sense of direction, [and] fresh energy”. Says one critic, this show “has never been so much fun. And it has never been so serious.” Images are here.

Discoverer of modernity

Modersohn-Becker is a case of ‘what might have been’. In her short art career, she unerringly headed for a modernist style, exploring tightly cropped close ups, daring nude self-portraits, “abstracted” landscape concepts. In 1907, just 10 years after her career started and before any commercial success, she died following childbirth. Like Picasso, her near contemporary, Modersohn-Becker pursued her own modernity, choosing “virtuoso dynamism instead of relying on balanced compositions”.

The Magnificent History of Japanese Screens

Screens can be functional – deflect cold draughts or partition spaces in a room. Their greater virtue, though, is that they are ideal for flaunting, be it wealth, erudition or, in the case of diplomatic gifts, national refinement. A new book describes them as “dynamic art objects”, a mix of “painting and sculpture, decoration and architecture”. Originally bought only by aristocrats, their appeal broadened over the centuries, mirroring a changing Japanese society. Images are here.

Fine Prints

Vast social changes unfolding in the early decades of the 20th century produced some distinctive art. In Britain, the Vorticists celebrated the onrushing modernism of life. Their favoured medium was the humble print, which “exists somewhere between art object and art product”. Being inexpensive, printmaking opened up new possibilities for showing art: “The art galleries of the People are not in Bond Street but are to be found in every railway station.”

30th November 2021

Getting real with Richard Estes

What Estes took from working in advertising – the power of detail, the importance of visual rhythm – is evident in his acclaimed photorealist cityscapes. He paints from photographs, though without attempting a replica image. The difference lies partly in which details he omits. In addition, while showing the “pulsing visual pattern of things”, he includes elements of abstraction. “You always have to have that quality [but] pure abstraction is like having a lot of sound without any melody”.

Trick of the eye: the visual deception of Lucy McKenzie

Artists pursuing a diverse practice can suffer because critics don’t know where to focus. McKenzie seems a case in point. Despite getting a prestigious retrospective at a young age, reviews are scarce. The heart of her art is the use of visual deception, including trompe l’oeil, to invite other ways of seeing things. She applies this approach in architectural painting, fashion, film, design and more. Says the gallery, McKenzie is “among the most singular artistic voices of her generation.”

An architectural survey in search of America

Since the 1930’s, the Library of Congress has maintained a photographic survey of ‘historic’ buildings. A book drawn from this collection chooses mostly vernacular buildings – “urban row-houses, suburban and rural homes”. They are restrained images, “the style of no style” and “unmoored from a particular time”. Yet they “anticipate virtually all contemporary photography of the man-made environment”, conveying a uniquely American sense of emptiness [and] possibility”. Images are here.

‘Van Gogh And The Olive Groves’ Opens At Dallas Museum Of Art

Van Gogh made about 15 olive tree paintings, yet despite being from his peak period, they have never been exhibited as a group Completed while he was struggling with his mental health, these are “focused paintings, just earth, trees and a touch of azure sky”. The seasonal changes reflected in the foliage of the trees show the artist’s optimism that he too would find renewal. When viewed as a group, they are “one treasure after another [but sadly], van Gogh in his prime was only a two-year enterprise.”

Which red is the real red?

A deep dive into Johns’ enigmatic paintings, suddenly out from behind a paywall. Johns commented that he liked to “use ‘things the mind already knows’ because ‘that gave me room to work on other levels’”. Taking his lead from Duchamp, Johns’ favoured tactic is to present a banal object and let the viewer spot the double meaning. Many such riddles appear in his work, and they can be tough to decipher. “Are we supposed to ‘unpuzzle’ Johns, simply because he is a great artist?