Archive for category Subject: The creative process

The Unquiet Landscape || Christopher Neve

This isn’t a book about art. Rather, it’s a book about how art and the landscape interact and the way in which places and philosophy work together to stimulate the creative process.

Does that sound complicated? Well, just imagine you’re painting a landscape. You could just sit there and make an exact representation of what you see, but that wouldn’t be much more than a photograph. Even the least pretentious artist would want to put some kind of expression into their work – as Edgar Degas reminded us: art isn’t what you see, but what you make others see. Study a landscape, maybe for years, see and understand it in all its moods, make sketches and then – only then – start work in the studio, and you have something completely different. The result isn’t a representation of what you saw, it’s a map of what was going on in your mind as a result of this contemplative process.

So, you see, it is all about art after all, but also that much deeper process that underpins a great work. Christopher Neve writes about artists from William Sickert to Stanley Spencer , Eric Ravilious and John Nash. He had extensive conversations with Ben Nicholson and others that get behind what appears on paper or canvas.

This is a new edition of a book that first appeared in 1990. Frustratingly, the preface doesn’t reveal what has changed, but the blurb hints at the addition of the illustrations and of additional text. If you have the original, it would be useful to know whether that justifies a second purchase.

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Artist Studios New York || Marco Anelli

If you like peeking into artists’ studios, this is a treat. Marco Anelli is a photographer who specialises in projects and this one is exactly what you’d expect from the title. The quality both of the photographs, which include the artists themselves as well as their spaces, and the reproduction are superb and this is an absolute delight to look at. I’m not that bothered by studios myself – I prefer the artist’s work – and yet I’m saying that. The generous format of the book helps a lot.

Not all the names will necessarily be familiar, but Marina Abramović and William S Burroughs stand out. If I was going to be picky (when am I not?), I could have done with some text. However, Marco would probably counter that he’s a photographer and that, if the images don’t stand for themselves, it may be me who’s missing something. The overall quality here would suggest that he’d be the one who’s right.

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Paint Yourself Positive || Jean Haines

This is the successor to 2016’s Paint Yourself Calm and is ostensibly about mindfulness and working with your imagination rather than a visible subject.

Does that sound unbearably new-agey? You bet it does and in less skilled hands it could be a mess, both in terms of concept, presentation and results. However, Jean is a very capable painter who already works on the edge of abstraction and the illustrations here are very little different to her more conventional work, as seen in books such as Atmospheric Flowers in Watercolour. For her state-of-mind work, she uses imagination to control what appears on paper, but that doesn’t mean unintelligible blobs, but rather images that capture the essence of their subjects – flowers, fish, buildings and animals.

It would be perfectly possible to use this as an aid to mindfulness, but it’s also a very worthwhile guide to a rather different approach to painting. If you already love Jean’s work, this is another pearl of wisdom to treasure. If you’re new to it, it’s no bad place to start.

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Memory Banks || Karin Mamma Andersson

The afterword to this catalogue of an exhibition is more helpful than the introductory essay. Here, we learn that Andersson’s paintings are loosely based on her photographic archive and are a link between the central focus of the 2018 FotoFocus biennial and the thinking behind painted art. As the rest of the book is simply a collection of images, this is helpful, especially for those not familiar with the context or the artist’s work.

The introductory essay attempts to achieve in words what the paintings do visually. In this, it is only partly successful. Broadly elegiac, it draws comparison with the crumbling Vasa galleon that was raised from Stockholm harbour in 1961 without modern conservation techniques. Kevin Moore uses this comparison to examine how the imperfections of human memory can be traced through a painting created from a sharp photographic original. Actually, having written that, I’m starting to get an idea of where we’re at, but the original is hard work (ironically almost a reversal of the process involved with the images). It’s fair to point out that the essay isn’t a direct attempt to explain the corpus but, if it tends to confuse, it is perhaps less than helpful.

For all that, this is a collection of intriguing images that, while it tends to prompt the initial reaction, “meh”, draws you inextricably in. Maybe that’s the best indicator of success.

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59 Paintings in which the artist considers the process of thinking about and making work || Paul Winstanley

This is a fascinating idea and the elongated title tells you exactly what it is about.

Insights into the creative process can be a mixed blessing. Some artists work instinctively and have little to say: “my paintings speak for themselves” is the limit of their explanation. That, you can argue, is as it should be: art that needs explanation isn’t true art (discuss, showing your workings). Other artists are eloquent on their working methods, stage-by-stage processes and creative juices. Sometimes, they’re quite good painters too.

There is an enormous stumbling block in this otherwise excellent book: do you like Paul’s work? Are you ready for a style of painting that centres on the mundane (unoccupied utilitarian chairs in an ill-lit, empty lobby, anyone?) The results, that frequently look like badly-shot Polaroids, won’t be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no doubt about the art and, I’m going to argue, the creativity. This is something more than simple realism; it’s a form of abstraction that adds more than a little (poor focus, motion blur, restricted lighting) to the subject. To achieve this requires not just quite a lot of skill, but also vision, and that’s where this book comes in.

The thing is, Paul is eloquent on creative thought, but he’s not prolix. The pieces that accompany (on the facing page) each of the 59 paintings are something between an extended caption and a mini-essay. They tell you more than just the bare facts and do actually achieve the stated aim of being a sort of meditation on the scene, the representation and the means of getting from one to the other.

I’ve talked myself into liking this and I’ve done it because Paul has made me think, both visually and verbally. I’ve created my own inner dialogue and I think he’ll get you to do the same. I won’t be visiting a gallery with my cheque book out any time soon, but I will be coming back to this book.

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What is Painting? || Julian Bell

This timely reissue, in a revised edition, addresses some fundamental issues relating to what we might call reproductive art. What, for example, asks Bell, makes one painting more “real” than another?, addressing the whole issue of the nature of reality itself and whether we can, in fact, trust artistic expression. A painting is, after all, merely a version of what the artist was looking at. Indeed, I think one could argue that “merely” is the wrong word there and that an interpretation, maybe even an explanation, is what we should expect from an artist. If we want absolute reality, then a trip to the location or a good photograph are more appropriate and accurate reporters.

Interestingly, some of the issues that Bell addresses are also raised in Andrew Marr’s recent A Short Book About Painting, not least the question of what is “bad” art, why does it have an appeal and what, anyway, is the nature and definition of beauty?

The information sheet that came with my copy tells me that “much has changed in the world of art” since this was originally published in 1999 and that the text has been substantially rewritten while retaining the six-chapter structure. I turned to the preface for further information – what’s changed, how has it been addressed and, indeed, why was this necessary? Sadly, Bell is silent on this and the short preface appears to be the original. I would have liked more, and particularly from the author himself. It doesn’t alter the incisive examination of the nature of painting, but some pointers would have been useful, perhaps even essential, especially if some of the basic premises have changed. And, if they haven’t, is revision really necessary at all?

This is, however, a worthwhile analysis of the creative process and is well-argued and thoroughly illustrated. As is common with books where the text is the main event, the paper doesn’t do justice to the reproductions, although having them as aides-mémoire is handy.

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Robert Storr: Interviews on Art

There is, quite simply, nothing else like this. Robert Storr is a curator, critic and painter. From 1990-2002 he worked at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as a curator (subsequently senior) in the Department of Painting and Sculpture. He has also interviewed a huge number of artists and these have appeared, since 1982, in a variety of publications. Substantial as it is at 928 pages, this volume is just a selection.

The secret to Storr’s interviews is their intimacy. His involvement, both as a curator and a practitioner allows him insights into his subjects that breed an easy familiarity and a sense, for the reader, of inclusion in a charmed circle. A sensitive interviewer, by making the subject feel at ease and not merely on the receiving end of a questionnaire, will always elicit more information and personal insights. The discussions here range from painting and drawing to sculpture as well as installation, photography, film and performance. Storr’s interest is in the artists themselves and their intellectual and creative processes rather than any pre-conceived notion of what art might (or might not) be. As well as being an insightful interviewer, he is also a sympathetic listener and honest reporter.

The cover presents a list of the subjects included – Louise Bourgeois, Buckminster Fuller, Jeff Koons and very many more. Which ones stand out for you will depend on your personal interests, but you won’t want to read the book for those alone. Very usefully, representative samples of each subject’s work are included as well as previously unpublished photographs of the artists themselves. Books that are predominantly text-based often do not handle illustrations well and it is a point in favour of this one that it does, greatly aided by the quality of reproduction, paper used and page size.

This is a fascinating book that reveals much about the processes involved in creating works of art in many formats and media.

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