The Easel

19th December 2023

The Triumph of Dana Schutz

A modern redemption story? In 2017 Schutz was excoriated for a painting of a socially sensitive subject. Everyone has moved on – mostly – and her new work is being acclaimed. Intricate paintings, in thick oils, are allegorical, “luridly iridescent moonscapes … giant marionette-like figures with spidery limbs and oversize heads.” Somehow, the impending chaos of all this detail is kept in check by her “stately composition”. Says one critic “one of America’s best painters”.

Robert Storr, the Bad Boy of Curating, Is Back, With a Large Group of Misfits, To Induce ‘Retinal Hysteria’

Despairing about the world? Storr, a renowned curator and writer, is interested in art that has that vibe – works that “vibrate with panic, uncontrollable anger, out-of-control laughter, orgasmic release”. Reviewers seem non-plussed at his show of provocative, irritating artworks – presumably a sign they didn’t like it. Storr responds, “like is a relatively weak emotion to have in relation to [a piece of] art. I have noticed it, and that signals to me it is substantial and strong.” An interview with Storr is here.

This Manet portrait of Berthe Morisot is ablaze with mutual attraction

A deep dive into one famous painting on which the writer is an expert. Manet was a conventional fellow and married but was bowled over on meeting Berthe Morisot in the Louvre. An affair being improper, he instead settled for painting her – repeatedly. “Manet responded to the sensuous charge in things … as the very flavor of a civilized existence. Without a whisper of doting, [Manet’s Repose] is a lesson in how to love”.

William Blake was called a ‘lunatic’ in his lifetime. The Getty hails him as a visionary now

This writer gets straight to the point – “Blake was a bit of a nut”. While contemporaries like Constable and Turner gazed idealistically at the English countryside, Blake focused on his own “poetic imagination”. Apocalyptic though his imagery often was, he could also combine “Michelangelo’s drawing, the formal crispness of Raphael [and] Durer’s commitment to printmaking”. Such works, dismissed by his peers, are now thought “wonderfully weird”. Nutty or not, Blake is a superstar.

12th December 2023

A Welcome Weight: The Art of James Johnson

To appreciate indigenous art, one can start by listening to what indigenous artists say. Johnson, a Tlingit man from southern Alaska – and an acclaimed sculptor – explains that the Tlingit don’t think of art as ‘art’ but simply part of their visual language. As he explains his art, which extends to designs for snowboards and sportswear, the relentless innovation that drives contemporary Western art is not part of his mindset. Of Johnson’s current work, an elder said “your ancestors are smiling down on you”.