The Easel

27th July 2021

How Soutine Showed de Kooning a Way Out

Big ideas in art can be difficult to navigate. Focus on them too closely and you lose originality; neglect them and your work may seem irrelevant. This dilemma didn’t bother Soutine – his originality was “tornado-like”. Cerebral De Kooning, despite being more reverential about art history, was attracted to Soutine’s embrace of disorder. In their different ways, both wanted to have feelings drive their art: “Neither of them was interested in behaving properly.”

Visionary textiles: How Anni Albers stake a claim for herself as a key modernist

A straightforward summary of Albers’ career and art. She opted for textiles because the Bauhaus prevented women going into painting. Once there, she showed weaving could be a modernist medium. Her career was marked by innovation – in materials, weaving techniques and aesthetics. She ultimately positioned weaving as a fine art and showed, via woven room dividers, it could also have a role in architecture.

Alma Thomas: The Life and Work of a 20th-Century Black Female Abstract Artist

Her mother’s sewing sparked Thomas’ interest in art. She produced figurative work until, late in her career, she was exposed to abstract expressionism and colourists like Matisse. Suddenly her work – and reputation – were transformed; dazzling, mosaic like abstractions in brilliant colours, inspired by nature. The swirling civil rights debate at the time had, it seems, no effect on her art: “I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness.” More images are here.

Fragments of Gold-Adorned, 14th-Century Triptych Reunited After Decades

In 1345, Venice was rich, powerful, cosmopolitan. It could afford the best art and, for that, there was Paolo Veneziano. His speciality was lavish devotional altarpieces. These were mostly disassembled and sold off, but Getty has reunited some of these “masterpieces”. They show Byzantine as well as Italian influences, an inspiration to later Renaissance artists. Sadly, a focus on the devotional was prescient. The Black Death arrived in 1348, killing 60% of Venetians.

20th July 2021

Jennifer Packer and Hans Ulrich Obrist discuss the meaning and method of painting today

With a highly praised show in London, Packer seems a star in the making. In an artist interview that works better than most, she reflects on the Old Masters and her portraiture which has been described as “startlingly intimate”. “I saw Titian’s The Flaying of Marsyas where he’s strung upside down, and I was thinking about Titian painting this body and deciding how much care to give to Marsyas. I feel the same way: the idea of painting as an exercise in tenderness.”

Have you heard of Nikolai Astrup?

Astrup is apparently more popular in his native Norway than Munch! He painted Nordic landscapes with lashings of colour, “generalized forms” with details on top. What elevates his work is its intensity and drama, something the writer ascribes to Astrup’s self-doubt. Astrup’s hometown popularity is thus not due to “sentimental nationalism”. And his obscurity elsewhere is testimony to an artist caught in the “obscure eddies of the art-historical mainstream”.

Moving a Masterpiece, One Panel at a Time

Wealthy Americans in the 1930’s sought out Rivera’s famous murals. He was the obvious choice to produce a gigantic work for a 1940 exposition in San Francisco. The mural has been in an obscure location for decades but, heroically, has been moved to a major museum for the next few years. To modern eyes, its advocacy of American – Mexican unity seems naïve. Even so, his abilities as a large-scale painter cannot be doubted. A video (12 min) is here.