Archive for category Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Edgar Degas: Drawings And Pastels || Christopher Lloyd

This is now available in paperback. For the original review, see here.

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Drawing Masterclass || Guy Noble

A masterclass can take a number of forms. It can be simply a set of lessons for the advanced student or a lecture by an acknowledged expert, often for a selected audience. It can also, as is the case here, be an analysis of the work of other masters as a way of learning the techniques that mark true greatness.

The weakness of this approach is that it can all too easily become a study of art history rather than practice. The analysis has to be cogent and the lessons clearly and incisively extracted in order to be meaningful. Guy Noble studied at Byam Shaw School and teaches at Central St Martins. He is also a practising artist and has work in collections worldwide. His bona fides are impeccable.

The book begins with an overview of the art and method of drawing and this is, perhaps, its weakest point: some of it is a bit too basic. Does a masterclass need to be told about elementary techniques or how to stretch paper? However, the 100 studies of the work of an impressive variety of artists, both older and modern, are both concise and incisive and the analyses always to the point for the practical student. Subdividing by subject makes the book particularly easy to use and the whole richly deserves its self-applied masterclass tag.

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A New History of Italian Renaissance Art || Stephen J Campbell & Michael W Cole

Art, you would think, is art and, having examined it, there would not be much more to say. However, scholarship finds new approaches and details. Interpretations change, sometimes significantly, over time. All this is a way of saying that a second edition of even the most thorough survey is often necessary and always welcome. In the present case, a great deal of material has been added, discussions with specialists have been had and the scope of the book considerably expanded.

I cannot claim to be much more than an observer in this field and will therefore take on trust the authors’ statements in their preface. Revisions to layout, inclusion of new material, especially an appendix detailing materials and techniques are things that can be welcomed without requiring specialist knowledge oneself.

That this is thorough can be in no doubt. At over 700 generously-sized pages and with 850 illustrations (whose quality cannot be faulted) , it covers three centuries with a scholarship that the authors wear lightly. If you want a definitive work, this would be it, but it will also suit the less deeply-involved art lover without leaving them feeling alone in a sea of learning.

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Places of the Mind || ed Kim Sloan

Subtitled British watercolour landscapes 1850-1950, this accompanies a major (free) exhibition at the British Museum. The works included are from the Museum’s own collection and although they are not necessarily some of the artists’ major works, they are rarely seen and some are being reproduced for the first time.

In spite of this apparent limitation, the coverage is comprehensive and an extraordinarily wide range of artists is included, making this truly representative of the period covered. You’ll find Turner, Nash, Whistler, Rossetti, Russell Flint, Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland alongside less well-known names who nevertheless complete the canon.

The arrangement of the book is thematic rather than chronological, which leads to some nice juxtapositions; a simple A-Z arrangement always feels more like filing than curating. These themes are accompanied by essays by the book’s six contributors and include The search for a sense of place, A new ‘golden age’? – the ‘modern’ landscape watercolour and Some versions of pastoral. I’ve listed them to show the eclectic approach and the variety of interpretation that the book brings, rather than just being a catalogue.

There are many reasons to like this. The first is the quality and authority of the text, but you can add the excellent reproduction, the fact that these are unfamiliar works, the sheer extent and, finally, the price: at £20, they’re practically giving it away!

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David Hockney: Current

There’s almost no end of books about David Hockney, up to and including the impressive and impressively-priced A Bigger Book. Hockney’s output over a long career is vast and any compilation can only be a selection at best. It’s largely a question of choosing the one that includes the most of what you like and has a quality of reproduction that will satisfy.

This, which was originally published to accompany an exhibition of the same title at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, is one of the best and most comprehensive for the period it covers, the last decade, which is described as “a profound turning point in [Hockney’s] exceptional sixty-year career”. As is usual, a few earlier works are included where they are necessary to provide perspective.

The quality of reproduction is first class and, with 2,036 illustrations, you’re not going to feel short-changed on that front. The curation is good too, with sections organised by theme: iPad works, Yosemite, The Arrival of Spring (selections from the 2012 RA show), the multipoint perspective works, the complete 82 Portraits & 1 Still Life and a full catalogue raisonné of the iPhone and iPad drawings. Each section is headed by an essay considering its topic in some depth and followed by a listing of the works included. I was fascinated to discover that the figure of Peter Schlesinger in Portrait of An Artist (pool with two figures) is based on an earlier photomontage (which is shown here).

There are drawbacks. The illustrations in the iPhone/Pad section are necessarily small and some of the detail is lost. Also, although the lists of works are keyed to page numbers, you need to do a considerable amount of jumping about in a heavy book to find titles. The reverse of that coin, of course, is that the plates themselves are uncluttered and without distractions.

Despite those very small reservations, this is an excellent book and is certainly one for my core library. I’d choose it, I think, over the catalogue for the 2017 Tate retrospective, in spite of the broader scope that has. At £45, it’s amazing value, too!

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Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? || Kyung An & Jessica Kerasi

Please, sir. Me, sir. I am, sir. The trouble with modern art is the fear of saying the wrong thing, of being unable to recognise the juxtaposition of referenced elements within the contemporary zeitgeist. The last thing you want is someone with over-sized glasses rolling their eyes.

There is, though, a coming realisation that non-pictorial art does need to be explained, and Susie Hodge has previously made some valiant and remarkably successful efforts. This, written by two experienced curators is, at first sight, not welcoming and user-friendly. A tendency to diagrams, word clouds and rather small illustrations does not help the casual reader get into it.

This is a shame, as it’s a remarkably helpful book and there’s a stream of quite subtle humour running through it – the authors may be highly experienced in their field, but they really do want to help the uninitiated.

The best way into the book, I think, is to start with the contents list. This is arranged in a A-Z format and reveals topics such as How Did We Get Here (contemporary before contemporary), Geeks and Techies (when did it all get so technical) and Picasso Baby (why does everyone want in on art – Kanye West, a minimalist in a rapper’s body). You see what I mean about inclusion and humour? You want to know more now, don’t you. Add to this explanation of the Guerrilla Girls, the Emperor’s new Clothes (what makes it art?), Fun, and the language of contemporary art (that word cloud) and you begin to see that this is a very clever way into a complex subject that often does close itself out to a world outside the cognoscenti.

The sections are short, so you won’t get bogged down in lengthy explanations – if you want to know more, there are plenty more books – trust me, plenty!

Overall, this is a brave and largely successful attempt to explain something that threatens to be unexplainable.

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Intimate Geometries: The life and art of Louise Bourgeois || Robert Storr

This is an important book – a significant undertaking written with great scholarship and integrity and will be of particular relevance to academics and students, but I believe it will be of interest to anyone who has seen and admired the work of such an intriguing artist and wishes to learn more about her life and her creative influences.

Robert Storr, the author, is currently Dean of the Yale School of Art where he has served two tenures. Formerly, between 1990 and 2002, he was a Curator, then Senior Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He has written over 30 books on art and painters including, in 2003, a book on Louise Bourgeois. He knew the artist well for the last thirty years of her life and as such he is eminently qualified to write a detailed account of her life, her work and its influences from a personal and an intellectual perspective.

Anthony d’Offay (2013) has described Louise Bourgeois as one of the four great women artists of the 20th Century citing the others as Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and Agnes Martin (all of whom have had major retrospectives at Tate Modern in recent years). However, Louise Bourgeois is unique among them in having a creative practice spanning seven decades and incorporating a variety of media including drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, textiles and text. Frances Morris (now Director of Tate Modern) selected Bourgeois’ pieces, Maman (1999) and I do, I undo, I redo (1999) for the opening of Tate Modern in 2000 and perhaps this was the first time that Bourgeois’ work had exposure to the general British public. Since then her work has been shown there at a major retrospective in 2008 and at numerous other British art galleries.

The book follows a template, being organized historically and providing a clear sequential account of the artist’s life including photographs of the people and events described and of contemporaneous work. Each chapter is followed by a Portfolio devoted to larger photographs of selected work relevant to the chapter. Hence, Chapter I, entitled A Family Romance describes Bourgeois’ family life and background and those who influenced her. It describes the origin of her psychological turmoil – still evident years later – and which was to become the seed corn of her work. The Portfolio which follows is devoted to work made during the period 1930 – 1944. The biographical account is not limited to people and events, but incorporates quotes and commentary on Bourgeois’ thinking and other influences which contributed towards her making. This serves as a useful guide when examining the work illustrated in detail.

Chapter II, One and Others overlaps with Bourgeois’ life in Paris and New York and describes the death of her mother and its aftermath and her life as a student of Geometry at the Sorbonne. However, her passion was art and between 1933 and 1938 she studied at the principal art academies in Paris and at various artists’ studios. A chance encounter with Alfred H Barr Jnr, a founding Director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York led inadvertently to her meeting Robert Goldwater, a young art historian and researcher. Storr comments that Goldwater reversed Bourgeois’ internalised model of the ‘masculine’ based on her father. She married Goldwater in 1938 and followed him almost immediately to New York where she remained for the rest of her life. Alienated, she was unhappy initially but her mood and motherhood did not stifle her creativity and she continued to make work using the roof of the family home both as a plein air studio and as a source of inspiration (He disappeared into complete silence 1947). The Portfolio that follows covers the period 1944- 1955 and includes drawings, paintings and sculpture.

Chapter III describes the years between 1960 and 1970 and is entitled Inside – Outside – here Storr describes Bourgeois increasing exposure to the art scene in New York and the opportunities that were becoming available to her and upon which she was determined to optimize. But he also touches on Bourgeois’ deep psychological distress – difficulties in her marriage and her psychoanalysis. During this time she began a small venture – trading by mail order under the name Erasmus Books and Prints – it was not wholly successful but served as a refuge – a means of ‘disappearing’ during a time of emotional stress and unease when her husband and sons were away from home all day. Bourgeois was deeply troubled by Goldwater’s reserve and this triggered intense confusion about the relationship she had with her father. Her sense of her own sexuality and of womanhood made her feel insecure and aggressive in turn and she worked fitfully. However this period showed Bourgeois emerging to experiment with synthetics, with her attention being redirected from the external to the internal space or from the negative to the positive.

By 1970 Bourgeois was beginning to be recognized as an activist and on the front lines of the feminist cause: her promotion by the prominent feminists Lucy Lippard and Linda Nochlin meant that she was ‘ripe for discovery’. But in 1973 Robert Goldwater died unexpectedly and Storr reports that the impact on Bourgeois was incalculable. To fill the emptiness, she immersed herself in a broad social network. She ‘played mother’ to many but women particularly gravitated to her doorstep. At this point her work became more overtly preoccupied with the body; since the 1940s her sculpture had been ‘incised’ or ‘indented’ – suggesting vaginal openings, but the stone pieces of the 1970 -1980s became much more gender explicit and often ‘bisexual’ incorporating both vagina and phallus. Storr considers that Goldwater was Bourgeois’ shield and that his death left her exposed to her demons. She projected her ‘survivors guilt’ into her nemesis – ‘the father’ resulting in a body of work where her father was represented symbolically. Chapter IV, Janus, describing this period: 1970 – 1989 which represented the most significant and prolific creative period in her career to date and yet one when Bourgeois’ obsessive calculations were employed by her as a method against madness.

In 1982 MOMA held a retrospective of Bourgeois’ work. She was seventy- one, and previously relatively unknown. However this public exposure revealed her as a ‘force to be reckoned with’. A supporter who emerged at this time was Jerry Gorovoy who became her assistant and later also her constant companion and adviser. Despite public acclaim, Bourgeois’ insecurities never abated and in fact increased to the extent that she became reclusive, leaving home only to go to her studio and later, in her eighties, virtually ceasing to go there at all. Storr explains that the world (people) she had retreated from came, instead, to see her but ‘on her own terms’. However, the work she made between 1989–1999 – illustrated in the Portfolio which follows.

Chapter V, Rooms of her Own, is some of the most powerful of her oeuvre. Ferried between her home and her studio by Gorovy in an ancient Chrysler, later in his Ford Bronco and with the help of numerous assistants, Bourgeois made a series of Installations (rooms), which she called Cells. They comprised many materials of symbolic relevance to Bourgeois and included some of her own clothes. During this time she began to make her Spiders (the prototype being a charcoal drawing dating from 1947): this monumental series served as an homage to her mother. Storr quotes Bourgeois:

The theme of spiders is a double theme. First of all, the spider is a guardian, a guardian against mosquitoes… it is a defense against evil…the other metaphor is the spider represents the mother.

(Bourgeois’ parents had run a tapestry restoration atelier in Paris where undoing and reweaving threads – just as the spider makes and repairs her web – was her mother’s quotidian task). Another theme from this time are the fabric sculptures (Personages)- human figures, often dismembered or stunted, inspired by the amputees she saw as a child in the aftermath of the Great War.

The concluding chapter of this remarkable book, entitled Coda describes Bourgeois’ final years and records her frailty and continuing psychological vulnerability. In reviewing her output Storr writes that Bourgeois’ life and work weave in and out of the narratives of art history – embracing Cubism, Surrealism, the Schools of Paris and New York, Modernism and Postmodernism but that of greater significance is the breadth and depth of her visual culture: combining both intelligence and imagination and including her use of material, iconography and psychoanalytic concepts.

Bourgeois was an exceptional artist and this is an exceptional book.

A word of warning: this book is substantial: it measures 29.5 x 34.5x 5.5cms and weighs 5.4 kgs!


(This was written by my sister, whose dissertation for her Textiles & Mixed Media degree was: Does an artist’s childhood influence the art she makes? A comparative study of the work of Louise Bourgeois and Tracy Emin.)

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