This well illustrated Lawrence Carroll catalogue with essays was written to accompany an exhibition of his work by the Australian government in Venice in 2008. I am always interested in learning from contemporary abstract artists better ways to organize my own work. Lawrence Carroll’s work is layered, oil on canvas strips and segments, painted light, a variation of white on white. His layers are stitched together, overlain and joined together to form a complex monochromatic surface. The paintings have a great deal of presence and his variations with a limited vocabulary is impressive.
I once saw some small Ryman paintings in New York. They were simply gesso applied to cardboard and I was very impressed with them. Over the past 3 years I have started to work with white and lightness, so I decided to look into the work of Robert Ryman. This book is the exhibition catalogue for a show at MOMA and the Tate in 1993. I loved the Surface Veil paintings. It was exciting to see that Lasker has brought forward Ryman`s awkward, thick brush strokes. What did I learned from Robert Ryman? Ryman experimented with materials, like waxed paper and thin sheets of fiberglass, for their own sake – not to reference something else. So I am encouraged to keep experimenting with skins, plastics and acrylic mediums. Keep it light. Aim to make the painting about itself. White really is a beautiful colour.
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.
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.