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.
Book 4. The Painting Factory. I’m a big fan of Andy Warhol. I love books by and about Warhol, movies about Warhol and I love his art. I was very intrigued by The Painting Factory, the catalogue for a contemporary abstract painting exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2012. The starting point is Warhol’s abstract paintings – The Shadows, the Rorschachs, etc. Warhol’s aesthetic and screen printing influenced these 21st century abstract painters. The works are conceptual, minimal, multi-layered, mainly monochromatic; process and mechanical reproduction results in a ‘minimalist, factory-like aesthetic’. Artists include Mark Bradford, Christopher Wool, Glenn Lignon, Tauba Auerbach and Rudolf Stingel. Excellent interviews and essays, terrific reproductions.
Book 3. ILLUMInations; the catalogue for the 2011 Venice Biennale. Jose and I intend to visit la Biennale di Venezia in the near future so I was happy to see that the Weldon library has a good collection of the Biennale’s catalogues. In 2011 Christian Marclay’s The Clock was shown. The National Gallery of Canada with The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston purchased one edition of The Clock. I was fortunate to see it at the NGC in Ottawa when the Van Gogh show was on in 2012. The Clock is truly brilliant, everyone should see it! The catalogue for 2011 shows many great pieces of art. I was particularly struck by Franz West, also seen in Extreme Abstraction, Duvier del Dago, Kristaps Gelzis, and Karla Black to name only a few. It will be so great to see art from all over Africa, the Middle East, India, the Nordic countries, the Balkans, etc. Can’t wait!
Book 2: Extreme Abstraction Revisited. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo has had some spectacular abstract art exhibitions. In 2005 Extreme Abstraction took place and resulted in the book Extreme Abstraction Revisited. Extreme Abstraction showed the works of some 173 painters and sculptors from around the world and exhibited a very wide range of practice. Artists included Jean Arp, Agnes Martin, Linda Benglis, and many contemporary artists. I loved the plastic bag installation by Jim Lambie. The book concentrates on the more contemporary works. This is a colourful picture book showing installation views. Makes me really sorry I missed this show.