Archive for category Subject: The creative process

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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A Short Book About Painting || Andrew Marr

This interesting and really rather entertaining overview of the creative process and its methods follows on from Marr’s previous A Short Book About Drawing.

The history is fairly well known. In 2013, Marr suffered a serious stroke that left him partially paralysed and having to struggle with even the simplest day-to-day tasks. The physical rigours of painting with oils curtailed an important private activity and led him to a period of introspection that this book recounts. In effectively an instant, he found himself having to think about the simple act of applying paint. Each brushstroke became an important event and this led to further analysis of structure, colour and line.

“My only advantage in writing about [art] is that, because I paint, I can talk about colour, composition, ambition and failure without libelling anyone else”, he says. This insider view makes this more than either a painting manual or a history of art – something Marr is clear about. Rather, it is a contemplative view of the intellectual approaches to painting, of how the artist both views and reproduces a subject and the mental processes involved.

All this could easily become an exercise in navel-gazing and, in a lesser writer, most certainly would. Marr, however, is a first-rate reporter and analyst and, while one cannot help feeling that there is an element of self-therapy here, the result is fascinating and encompassing.

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Release Your Creativity || Rebecca Schweiger

I’m always wary of books like this and the subtitle immediately raises my hackles: Discover your inner artist with 15 simple painting projects. It’s going to be weird, isn’t it?

Well, no. In fact, there’s a lot to like here, even for a tired old seen-it-all-before cynic like me. For a start, the author is a bona fide artist and teacher, having founded The Art Studio NY. She knows her onions, both in terms of creativity and practice, and she can explain her methods as well.

There is, as you’d rather expect, a fair degree of abstraction, but it’s not of the “splosh it about and call it creative” variety. While there’s a fair degree of experimentation going on – rightly, given the slant of the book – the emphasis is more on control and getting your inner thoughts down, rather than freeing the spirit. Some spirits are best kept confined, in my ’umble opinion.

This isn’t your conventional art instruction book, but it’s not a load of new-age hokum either. If you’re a practising artist, I think you could find a lot to like here, as well as a lot to learn about yourself.

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