The Easel

27th February 2024

Edward Burtynsky on climate, abstraction, and hanging photos like paintings

Burtynsky wants his landscape photographs to have some of the qualities of abstract painting. He wants an “all-overness” of the image and the whole image surface to be “active” – just like a Jackson Pollock. This, he hopes, will disorient the viewer and prompt the question ‘what am I looking at’? Those aesthetic effects notwithstanding, everyone knows the subject matter is despoilation. As one critic observes about Burtynsky’s current show, “It’s room after room of bludgeoning you with evil gorgeousness.”

When Forms Come Alive: Sixty Years of Restless Sculpture @ the Hayward Gallery

Bronze, being so solid and enduring, has long been a favoured material for sculpture. Yet so much of life is aboutp change. One part of contemporary sculpture takes life’s changeability as its cue and uses a proliferation of materials to explore and communicate transience. Elegance is not a priority – many works are “ungainly, off-kilter”. Instead they suggest “endlessly moving, changing organic life. We are allowed … off the leash of society’s endless worrying about ‘issues’. It feels fun”.

The Time Is Always Now review: Brilliant show puts Black artists at the centre

Black figures, when they appear in western art history, are often portrayed as a marginal presence. As a corrective, a London show surveys the work of prominent figurative Black artists. It achieves the obvious – showing Black people as seen by Black artists. And, because the artists chosen are outstanding, so too is the art. Beyond that, there is a sense of the many Black lives that should have been commemorated but were not. Those lives are now more visible. “A compelling survey of figurative art”.

John Singer Sargent: back in fashion

Fashion, says a curator, was “central” to Sargent’s portraiture. An irate critic disagrees, arguing that this “horrible show” distracts from Sargent’s greatest talent –“it’s the way he paints that makes his art breathe”. Fashion mavens pile on, lamenting a perceived slight The above writer is a bit calmer: “There’s a sense of fun here, but it’s [more than that]. Sargent painted his subjects as individuals. Focusing on their fashion [was his] way of revealing the sitter’s personality beyond the frame.”

20th February 2024

He toiled in obscurity – but now Saul Leiter is recognised as a true photography pioneer

Leiter was exploring colour photography decades before William Eggleston came along. Alongside the occasional fashion assignment, the unambitious Leiter devoted decades to taking images of his New York neighbourhood, They reveal a slightly abstract and oddly tranquil view of its streets, says one writer, “less social commentary and more about the beauty of urban life”. Leiter admitted that he “aspired to be unimportant”. Says this writer “poignantly beautiful work …a great photographer”. Images are here.

Choose Your Own Adventure

It’s hard to see past Ono’s fame and mythology and look dispassionately at her decades-long work.  Prior to the “John-and-Yoko” years, she produced deceptively simple but engaging ideas. Her Cut Piece performance and 200 bottoms video are but two examples of her conceptual and ‘participation’ art that one critic says “combine poetry, whimsy, humour and razor-sharp intelligence”. Said she, “By actively inserting a useless act … into everyday life, perhaps I can delay culture.” Images are here.