Search Results for: susie hodge

How to Draw People in simple steps || Susie Hodge

I always said I wasn’t going to review this series because it has no words, so you’re really left with not a lot to talk about. However, I caved in when it got to Insects because, if a series gets that esoteric, it pretty much has to be popular. I mean, not only was it the only book on that subject (exclusively) I’ve seen, but it’s not exactly first-choice, is it?

So here we have people. They must have done that one before, surely? Or was is a morning-after editorial meeting? “ No, we’ve got to do the insects first.” “Have you been watching Dr Who again?” “Yes, MALCOLM TUCKER!!!”* (Sorry, but I really am excited about this).

For those of you who don’t know, the stock-in-trade of this series is a single page which starts off with the simplest outlines, then builds up a basic shape and works it, in six steps, into a finished drawing. For a subject as complex as the human figure, that does mean there’s an awful lot left out and some pretty giant leaps of the imagination, but it does work surprisingly well. If your main problem is getting started, then this is definitely the book for you and Susie does a fantastic job of choosing exactly which stages to illustrate so that you do get a genuine feeling of progression rather than giant steps.

The only fly in the ointment is that I wish each demonstration had stopped at the fifth stage, the finished drawing, because these are in every case beautiful and sensitive works in pencil that need no further embellishment. The series, however, demands a colour finale and this is done by adding (what I think is) a completely unnecessary wash that covers the pencil lines and makes the whole thing, in almost all cases, look heavy and clumsy. I don’t think it’s a problem with Susie’s work with a wash, I just think it doesn’t work with what’s gone before.

A couple of examples. There’s a woman sitting knitting. Perfectly fine in the drawing, but the colour wash leaves a chair she’ll fall off if she moves and which doesn’t look strong enough to support its own weight, let alone hers. And the man with the stick. I’m sorry, but that thing is two inches in diameter, it’s nearly as thick as his arm!

This is a quibble, but I do think it’s best to ignore stage six and just stop at five. Treat this as what it claims to be, a book about drawing and put your paint box away. You get a fantastic variety of figures and poses, both static and in motion and a stripped-down approach that simply dissolves so much of the mystique that always surrounds figure drawing.

* Peter Capaldi, Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It, was announced as the new Dr Who yesterday.

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Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That || Susie Hodge

I was given this for Christmas and my initial impression was that it felt similar to the Isms volume on Understanding Modern Art that I reviewed a while back. To be fair, it’s not really possible to get into a book against a background of Prosecco, rustling paper, squeals and general chat. You might think that saying, “Shush, I’m reading” is high praise for a gift but, trust me, it gets you dirty looks.

Back home, it immediately became apparent that the similarity is purely superficial. Similar titles, formats and layouts (most things dealt with in a single spread), but that’s as far as it goes.

This is a bold book. It starts with the cover, which intrigues only if you’re intrigued by that kind of thing. The piece by Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’ is a slashed cloth and, while it embodies the contents of the book, it doesn’t scream “look inside me”. Given the nature of the book, it’s hard to see what would, to be honest. The next piece of boldness is to attempt, even to think of, explaining the perhaps unexplainable in a couple of pages. Whole books get written on this kind of thing, usually by people who wear large red glasses and use the word “juxtaposition” a lot.

So, what about Fontana the slasher? This is what he had to say for himself, “Matter, colour and sound in motion are the phenomena whose simultaneous development makes up the new art”. (I bet it sounds better in Italian – most things do, but try closing your eyes to slits: it makes perfect sense.). In short, graphically-delineated paragraphs (now I’m doing it, think panels and coloured headings!) Susie explains how Fontana developed his technique, how the cuts are both planned and decisive (think brushstrokes) and how he used materials that would be more than two-dimensional, a black backing often emphasising depth. I’m not saying I’m a convert, just that I understand that Fontana was not a charlatan and that these are not the emperor’s new clothes.

Let’s look, too, at something more familiar, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (the urinal). “No novice could have judged the right moment to intervene or chosen the best means to scandalise the public”, says Susie, placing the context perfectly. Duchamp was, of course, making a point in this and other pieces both about aesthetics and about the commoditisation of art; the piece is meant to be taken both seriously and not seriously at the same time, surely the best joke anyone ever played on the critics.

If you want to understand modern art but have trouble not giggling, then this is the book for you. Susie is serious without being precious and the format she has chosen takes full account of the attention span the general reader has for this kind of thing.

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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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Abstract Art: a global history || Pepe Karmel

This is one heck of a thing. Abstract art is a massive subject and to condense even a small part of it into a single volume, even one as substantial as this, seems like an impossible task.

To begin with, you have to decide whether you’re talking to the specialist, the aficionado who has the correctly sculptured beard to stroke, or the general viewer who may be tempted to ask what it’s all about and why their five-year old couldn’t have done it. OK, for sixty-five pounds and something this heavy, I think we can probably forget about the latter, but there’s still the question of audience. You need to be serious enough not to put off the specialist, but not so serious as to put off the enquiring mind.

This is where Pepe Karmel gets it absolutely spot-on. The first thing that strikes and amazes you is that the book is arranged by theme: bodies, landscapes, cosmologies, architectures, signs & patterns. This allows a vast subject to be broken down into manageable chunks (silent cheer from the general reader) and for Pepe to begin with a realistic historical image and then explain how shapes, colours and forms are distilled into non-representational images. It also means that found objects, sculptures and installations can sit with works on canvas or paper in the same section without serving only to add confusion to the narrative.

And narrative it is, because this is very much the story of how what the artist saw in front of them is translated into a piece of work that the viewer has to interpret, and which will tell them not the what, but the how and the why. For all that it can be as intellectual an exercise as listening to atonal music, abstract art is also about emotion in its purest form. When you understand it, it can be tear-jerkingly beautiful.

To get to this point, you need to be educated. It was one single caption at a small Howard Hodgkin exhibition at the Turner Contemporary in Margate that unlocked this for me. It was as simple as explaining the importance of line and contrast and was a lightbulb moment that opened up a wider understanding of abstraction in general. On a much larger scale, this is what Pepe Karmel does here. There’s a great deal of learning in this, but it’s worn lightly and you’re never asked to imagine anything – the illustration, superbly reproduced, is always in front of you.

If you want to be convinced, this is the book for you. If you’re already in that world, you may find that you’re being told a lot of what you know already, but the number and quality of the illustrations might swing it for you anyway. It’s not a cheap book, or a quick read, but equally not one to put aside in any kind of hurry.

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