The Easel

21st May 2024

Yinka Shonibare CBE: Suspended States And Decolonialised Structures – Serpentine

Perhaps, in art, there can be too much of a good thing. Shonibare has made a career out of using African patterns to decorate the symbols of British imperialism – especially statues of its acclaimed figures. It’s a deft way to call out colonial attitudes while also highlighting that our world has long been interconnected. Several critics point out, Shonibare has been producing the same work for decades. Observes one, “there’s nothing new here, but if you had an idea this good you’d probably overdo it too.

One painting at a time: ‘King Charles III’ by Jonathan Yeo

Irresistible! A portrait of King Charles has been unveiled, capturing attention for a few moments. A review by the national broadcaster is straight-faced, but other reactions are more colourful. One viewer called the work “a blood bath”. A London critic called it “curiously unthrusting” (not a typo) while a US critic said it was “confused, obsequious, oversized and unaccountably frightening”. Queen Camilla is said to approve (which is important), as does the reviewer. A short survey of royal portraits is here.

14th May 2024

The Last Caravaggio: how a once-forgotten masterpiece became the National Gallery’s latest coup

In London, just two works by Caravaggio is sufficient for a show. The painting of St Ursula, shows an “extraordinary” range of emotions. Having spurned the advances of a princely Hun, said prince shoots Ursula with an arrow. Here is Caravaggio at his cinematic best – dramatic lighting that emphasises faces and hands, an ashen Ursula, a furious yet anguished prince and, in the background, observing the violent act, Caravaggio himself. The artist died weeks later, possibly of malaria. “What a way to go out”.

Why I was wrong about Georg Baselitz and his upside-down paintings

You know Baselitz – he’s the German artist who hangs his paintings upside down. His long career has focused on the past, notably Germany’s turbulent history, but his recent work has turned more personal. It has a sense of “finality” says one writer, “a great artist performing his own last rites”. That doesn’t mean it is sombre; some works have “glorious paintwork … creamy and glistening”. Says another critic “one of the most moving exhibitions staged in London for some time.”

The brighter side of German Expressionism

Gloomy is the right description for German expressionists like Beckmann and Grosz. Not so the Blue Rider group. That small collective, active between 1911 and 1914, explored the ability of colour to evoke emotion. With just two shows and a single magazine, their bold compositions prepared the way for abstraction. Among this talented group Kandinsky and Marc were acknowledged standouts. But WW1 arrived, the group scattered and some died fighting. After 1918, those gloomy expressionists took over.