Archive for category Publisher: White Lion Publishing
This is one of those books that probably benefits from being dipped into, rather than read from cover to cover, a thing to be kept handy when there’s an odd moment to fill. This is not to denigrate it to the point of superficiality, but rather to recognise that, while informative and often illuminating, correspondence in bulk (rather like collected newspaper articles) can get a little repetitive.
The blurb describes this as a “treasure trove” and I wouldn’t quibble with that. Michael Bird has had the good sense to be selective, even if his collection does run to a fairly substantial 224 pages. He also includes plenty of visual material because artists, being artists, often fail to resist the inclusion of a sketch or cartoon. Being largely private letters, these are frequently acerbic or amusing and refer to the relationship between the sender and recipient. And, without labouring the point, Bird also explains the context of the epistle in question, adding to both understanding and enjoyment.
The book handily subtitles itself “Leonardo da Vinci to David Hockney”, emphasising the breadth of its coverage (no, the creator of Mona Lisa didn’t communicate with the painter of Mr & Mrs Clarke and Percy). Curation in a collection such as this is key and Bird avoids the temptation to get too clever or to stick to the ploddingly obvious chronological arrangement. He arranges his material by themes and his chapter headings make it clear that he isn’t taking his task too seriously (I refer back to my suggestion of dipping in). These include “I saw a new giraffe”, “Your book on witchcraft” and “Hey beautiful” – all quotes, of course, not meditations on the inner workings of creativity.
This is a book of entertainment rather than erudition and it’s all the better for that. There are plenty of studies of art and artists that cover their working methods, philosophy and private lives. This one exposes the workings of their minds when they were thinking less about art than whether Michelangelo’s nephew should marry, Mondrian’s teeth are in good shape or how soon Jean Cocteau will recover from illness. (Picasso adds, “I’ve got good ideas for our theatre story” – Cocteau was working on ideas for the ballet, Parade.)
This contributes more to an understanding and enjoyment of art and artists than you might expect, by bringing its characters to life in their own words.
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Once you get the hang of it, this is an intriguing ramble through the connections between artists, schools and movements. The structure is a series of short (one might even say potted) biographies of figures as diverse as Monet, Mondrian, Hepworth and Emin. The contents pages provide a guide through the maze and point out the various byways, as a look at (say) Bridget Riley stops off to consider Pollock, Cezanne and Matisse.
Art does not, of course, exist in a vacuum and completely fresh ideas are a rarity; rather, individuals and groups feed off each other and develop, or maybe react against, what has gone before. That this has been widely covered is scarcely news, and is the main meat of many art histories. Where this book differs is in concentrating on individuals and making specific links; indeed, majoring on that rather than a narrative thread of history.
The slightly idiosyncratic presentation, with amusing illustrations and what can only be described as kooky typography tends at first glance to cloud the message, but a read of the subtitle, the introduction and the contents list should provide a workable road map. I’m also not sure that without the look and feel, the book would be half so interesting. Precisely because this isn’t a linear history, it benefits from a non-linear way of working.
If you like unconventional ways of thinking that make you look at familiar material afresh, you’ll love this.
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