Walk Through Walls: A Memoir by Marina Abramović. When I saw the documentary The Artist is Present, I though ‘Wow – now there’s a great artist.’ I was very happy to learn that Abramovic had recently released a memoir – Walk Through Walls. This is quite possibly the best biography I have ever read. Her life has been fantastic! Her life, her parents’ lives, Yugoslavia, her travels, her performances, and her jokes! – just one amazing event and story after another. Her voice in telling these stories is captivating and very amusing. What did I learn from Abramovic? So much – how to be steadfast and not wimp out, be brave with your vision, use what you’ve got, and invest in real estate if you can. I certainly intend to take in more performance art events.
When I saw the fabulous art by Anatsui at the ROM in Toronto, I knew I had to read about him. El Anatsui: Art and Life by Susan Vogel is an excellent book! It is very well written – Susan Vogel concentrates on the artist’s techniques, experiments, philosophy, and statements to take us through the career of a wonderful abstract artist. I felt that I could understand how the artist developed – the paths he chose, how he proceeded. It felt like an artist writing about another artist. Richly illustrated, this book covers most stages of Anatsui’s art practise.
Just finished reading Ross King’s award winning biography of Monet, Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies. A very informative account of the last, great years of the artist who, after WW2, influenced abstract expressionists like Pollock and Riopelle. What was interesting is that Monet wouldn’t look at the modern, abstract art being made in his time because, according to Ross, ‘it might make him angry’. What is particularly interesting is the history of an artist trying to work, shake off (or work with) the despondency and crankiness, created by war time. Very apropos for artists working today feeling dispirited by the Trump government and world affairs that truly feel like war time or an end time. Monet’s struggle with failing eyesight and health along with all the worries of living in a war zone make for a good read. The triumph of the water lilies, the beauty that an artist can create under duress is truly inspiring. These painting in the Orangerie are incredibly beautiful and to read their history gives them even more depth. The contemporary negative criticism is unbelievable, but there you have it. A bit of a yawn at times but lots of facts about Monet’s life and work habits, and the social conditions of living in France during WW1. The Guitry film of Monet painting waterlilies at the age of 75, mentioned by King, can be seen on YouTube. I think that Sue Roe’s In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris, 1900-1910 is a more lively read for a history of modern European art.
The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World by Paul Robert Walker. Since Italy has become our favourite vacation spot I like to read about this beautiful country. Although modern history is more interesting to me, I enjoyed listening to this history as an audio book while I worked in my studio. It is actually amazing that many documents from this era have survived for scholars to study. There are stories of plagues, wars, social customs and, of course, artistic practice. However, the central story is the design and construction of the dome for Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, interestingly inspired by Middle Eastern architecture. We are told by Ghiberti that ancient Roman art, architecture and literature was eagerly destroyed by Emperor Constantine and Pope Sylvester so it is lucky for us that 15th century Italian artists developed a passion for Roman ruins and avidly studied what remained. I enjoyed the stories of Donatello and Brunelleschi carrying out archaeological digs in Rome, the discovery of geometric perspective and other key moments in the birth of Renaissance Italy. There is a reason why historic cities like Florence are so beautiful – the citizens were actively involved in their development.
Before Anselm Keifer left La Ribaute, his 86 acre art studio in an abandoned silk factory in Barjack, France, Sophie Fiennes made the documentary “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow”. This is a wonderfully inspiring movie that takes us on a tour of the property – underground tunnels, buildings, art installations, paintings, giant concrete structures, etc. We get the opportunity to see Keifer and his assistants at work on a number of pieces – all wonderful. Keifer built a house for each large painting where the art can “explode into the world.” We also get to eavesdrop on an interview where he describes how he created this space out of rubble and explains some of his philosophy. This is a beautifully shot movie and La Ribaute must be a wonderful place to visit. From the Internet I learned that after the theft of some iron works, Keifer packed up some 110 trucks with art work and moved them to his new gargantuan studio outside Paris. Apparently plans are underway to donate the property to the French state.This would be a really great place to see!
Nancy Princenthal’s book on Canadian-born Agnes Martin was quite a good read. Happiness, innocence and inspiration are words that are often used by Martin who sought harmony and composure instead of expressive, colourful work. The things I learned from Martin include: “Painting is not about ideas or personal emotion … the object is freedom”; trust your inner eye, not your intellect; “If a decision is required that is not inspiration you should not do anything by decision. It is simply a waste of time”; don’t engage your critics; “…a sense of disappointment and defeat is the essential state of mind for creative work” (oh joy); “There is no halfway with art. We wake up thinking about it and we go to sleep thinking about it” and, interestingly, “you will never know what abstraction is unless you ask the women” (p.252). I would like to read another book about Agnes Martin but, maybe next year. In the meantime, she will be on my mind as I endeavour to become more serene.
At 88, Agnes Martin, in one YouTube video says: “I think of nothing but painting. The older I get, the more I like to paint. It grows on you.” I’m in love! My painting life has taken me from boisterous, poly-chromatic painting in oil to much more subdued, pastel and white painting with acrylic, keeping it as light as I can. So while I was waiting for 2 large white acrylic skins to cure, I sat down, cat in lap, to view Agnes Martin videos on YouTube. The playlist has a whopping 146 videos, probably a week’s worth of viewing. The interviews with Martin, although brief, are inspiring. We get to see a lot of her art, which even if you are viewing them on a big screen TV, are still hard to see. The interview with Arne Glimcher, her long time gallery representative, is excellent – must read his book. Martin’s advice to not let ideas interfere, that too much thought makes inspiration disappear, is too true. How many times do we mess things up by making them too complicated? So next week I will watch more Agnes Martin videos and pick up a biography.