Archive for category Author: Martin Gayford

The Pursuit of Art || Martin Gayford

There’s a delicious archness to the title of this entertaining book that isn’t apparent from merely knowing what it is – in fact, it could be self-defeating, as it suggests a rather worthy tome dedicated to the labour of Being An Artist.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, of course this is about the creative mind and its processes and, yes, you’d want to read it on that basis because … well … Martin Gayford. It is also, however, the story of his travels in search of art and artists. These, it turns out (should we be surprised?) do not simply involved rocking up at the studio door and being welcomed with open arms. Not all artists live conveniently close to a bus stop, train station or car park and some pieces, such as Brancusi’s Endless Column necessitate a hair-raising journey through a mountain pass and on roads that have partly washed away. The job of the critic doesn’t just involve sitting behind a typewriter and trashing reputations (that’s the reviewer’s job – ed).

So, this is a personal account of tracking down artist and artworks, of planned meetings and chance encounters. Sometimes, it’s a bit like climbing a mountain to seek out a shaman in search of wisdom and then discovering that there was no great revelation and that the effort itself was the enlightenment.

Writing about art is a serious business and can all too easily disappear up its own fundament. This, then, is a breath of fresh air and an indication that even the greatest writers don’t always take themselves entirely seriously. It would be so simple, writing about difficult journeys, to chronicle every twist, turn and impediment, but Gayford is too smart and too good a writer for that. The sense of distance and effort is there, but the passage of time is often only hinted at – a passing reference to a meal, for instance, can indicate that we are several hours on. As Gayford himself concludes, “The pursuit of art is a journey that never stops; the more you see, the more you want to see”.

After I’d sampled this for the purposes of a review, I kept going back to it and it eventually made it to my bedside table. It really is a thumping good read.

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Modernists & Mavericks || Martin Gayford

This remarkably thorough and authoritative account of the development of painting in London from the Second World War to the 1970s draws on extensive interviews Martin Gayford conducted with its participants and personalities. Gayford, art critic of The Spectator, offers what is effectively an insider view of an important period in, and strand of, contemporary art. Although it was not a movement as such, it was inevitable that any group, however diverse, that was working in reasonably close proximity would develop friendships and rivalries and share experiences and ideas both deliberately and unconsciously.

Just about everyone who was a part of the scene gets a mention somewhere here and luminaries include Hockney, Freud, Bacon, Bridget Riley, Gillian Ayres, Peter Black, Allen Green and Howard Hodgkin. The book, however, is very much more than a simple trawl through the notes and a tour of the exhibits. Gayford, an insightful viewer and incisive commentator, demonstrates how the group (as we might just get away with calling them) were influenced by teachers such as David Bomberg and William Coldstream and also drew on American Abstract Expressionism and more traditional Western art.

Comprehensively illustrated, this should be set fair to be the definitive history as well as an appreciation of its period. The published version will have an index, the lack of which I felt dearly in my proof copy, indicating how essential it will be.

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A History of Pictures || David Hockney & Martin Gayford

I’ve had this sitting on the shelf for several weeks and it’s been daring me to write about it. It’s become something of a cause célèbre since its publication both because Hockney’s views are authoritative and also because they are trenchant.

I have to say at the outset that this comes close to the book I’ve been hoping Hockney would produce. His views on art can be controversial, but he has a fundamental understanding of ways of seeing that are at once intuitive and convincing. His work with both still and moving photography adds a dimension rarely found and (naturally) completely missing before the middle of the Nineteenth Century. His ability to manipulate perspective while retaining a single viewpoint is one of the most original ideas there has been.

The book takes the form of a series of conversations between Hockney (the artist) and Martin Gayford (the critic). It is a little hard to tell whether these are transcriptions or a more formal, written exchange, though they do have a slightly literary quality at times. The scope of the book is “from the cave to the computer screen” and the progression is chronological, which makes for readability, although it does sometimes repress the idea of ways of expression echoing across millennia. You might counter that art regards itself as a steady development, perhaps from simple realism to more complex means of interpretation, however.

In a way, it doesn’t matter whether you like either of the protagonists. What is more important is that their views are clear and that there are plenty of illustrations – hardly anything is discussed in its absence – giving you the chance to explore your own thoughts and be informed or disagree as often as you wish.

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