The Easel

24th March 2020

James Turrell, Pace Gallery

How best to characterise Turrell’s “immensely influential” work? “Turrell manipulates light” is a favourite phrase, though some writers get woefully obscure. The linked piece opts for just describing the sensory experience. “[A] visual geometry that pleasures the eyes. Is it merely a trick of the light that there’s something churchy about the experience? That the roundels have something of the rose window about them, that the alcoves feel whispery, like a chapel?”

Garden of Painterly Delights

A tiny exhibition in London perfectly suited to our collective pandemic moment. Artists seeking  refuge from the ghastly memories of WW1 turned to the ordinary household garden. For them it was a mythical Eden, “a source of … enduring healing power.” Such ideas may sound quaintly English, but they tap into a bigger thought: “to confront the world, we can still retreat to nature as a refuge and resource.”

How Léon Spilliaert’s dark paintings are strangely uplifting

Léon Spilliaert is overshadowed by his Belgian compatriot James Ensor. Should he be? His early career yielded lonely self-portraits and nuanced seascapes. Then came a happy marriage and, it seems, fewer artistic fireworks. “Enigmatic works [that] inhabit a twilight netherworld between reality and dream” says this writer. Another is unconvinced: “an uneven, repetitious and limited artist”

10th March 2020

David Jenkins discovers the new Aubrey Beardsley exhibition at Tate Britain

Expecting a short life, Beardsley worked feverishly. He took up art at 18, his sensual black and white drawings instantly brilliant. Book illustrations cemented his reputation, their erotic content showing “an attitude to lust and sex that even Egon Schiele is hard pressed to match.” Then death, at 25. There is no lasting Beardsley movement, just his images of “the overheated, decadent days … that were London’s febrile 1890s”

Alona Pardo on destabilising the myths surrounding masculinity

This photography exhibition has produced an absolute torrent of commentary. Masculinity is cultural and learned from stereotypes – musclemen, athletes, soldiers, fathers. “Generalisations”, protest some reviewers. True, but that doesn’t deny that stereotypes exist or that they are influential. This writer concludes that we need an “emancipation of masculinity” The take of another critic is that men share an overlooked quality – vulnerability.

Piranesi Drawings: Visions of Antiquity

Unable to succeed as an architect, Piranesi chose instead to make prints of ancient Roman buildings. Tourists on the Grand Tour loved them, making him the 18th century’s “greatest printmaker”. Architecturally sensible images gradually became towering edifices that Piranesi imagined for ancient Rome. Perhaps their fantasy element explains their lingering influence, like inspiring sets on the Hollywood film Blade Runner.