About time to see what the fuss was about, so yesterday YBA’s Michael Landy and Tracey Emin, well known from their respective key works Break Down and My Bed, were featured in Kunst!Film!. The Eye is a series of 30 minute documentaries where you just get the artist and his or her work. Simple, effective and rather great. Watching these we got the ‘why’: both artists left us touched and thinking way beyond spectacle, fame and money.
My Kunst!Film! programming is like very slow browsing. From one interesting theme sprout new ones to explore. Two weeks ago I put The Great Contemporary Art Bubble Update on my wall and last week we got to the question Where Is Modern Art Now?
Prominent in both BBC documentaries were the YBA’s, the Young British Artists, who were at the centre of the Art Bubble that made them rock stars and the prices of their work skyrocket. According to Where Is Modern Art Now? presenter Guy Casely-Hayford’s they still hold the art world in their grip. On his expedition to discover new developments in the art world Casely-Hayford mainly discovered a lot of work in the style of artists from the past decennia and he noticed a tendency toward more old-fashioned art, where craft and realism played a major part in the work, like in Tom Price’s sculptures.
We saw artists move from the fringe, to being part of the the establishment (like sir Anthony Caro), to not being able to keep up (Caro again). We got to see artists that didn’t seem too affected by the Art Bubble’s wealth and fame and over the years steadily worked on an impressive body of work like Cornelia Parker and Whitney McVeigh.
Conceptual artist-masquerading-as-a-craftsman Grayson Perry said being conservative is probably one of the most shocking things to be in the art world. I wasn’t shocked by anything I saw, but really liked getting to know Perry’s and Parker’s work.
The YBA’s offer young artists a role model, but also dangle a carrot of wealth and fame, as can be seen in School of Saatchi, where young artists try to make it to the Saatchi stables, judged by a panel with amongst others the usual suspects Matthew Collings and Tracey Emin.
Once upon a time, because I love sharing my experiences with others, I decided to buy a beamer, clear some wall space and started showing my collection of art documentaries to friends on my now famous Kunst!Film! (Art!Movie!) nights. This has been going on now for over a year. Often we discuss what we’ve seen for a bit, we let it inspire us, but mostly we have a great time sharing our creative and art-loving lives and the odd bottle of wine.
Personal favorites so far:
- Art:21 – PBS series, now in it’s fifth season. Every episode has four portraits of contemporary artists loosely connected by a shared theme, lovingly made and no boring talking heads. Don’t know what to ask for Christmas? Look no further.
- The BBC series The Secret of Drawing with Andrew Graham-Dixon – OK, I’m biased, being a sucker for drawing, but do take a peek…
- The 1998 Channel 4 series This Is Modern Art by Matthew Collings. I just love the way he talks about art – no pseudo-intellectual bullshit, but straight-forward and often personal insights for anyone who’s interested in modern art. Beware: he might actually make you think.
Hans den Hartog Jager is a lucky man. He got to talk to Reinier Lucassen, well known for his reclusive lifestyle, for his book ‘verf’ (‘paint’), a wonderful collection of interviews with modern day Dutch painters. Highly recommended.
Lucassen told Den Hartog Jager how much he dislikes realistic painting and the emphasis on making a proper representation of reality in the entire western art tradition from the 15th century until the 20th century. In his eyes only a few great artists like Vermeer, Van Eyck, Rembrandt and Van Goyen, managed to ascend this ‘representing reality’ level, and created something more personal – the work of a genius.
Though Lucassen dislikes representations, he does love images. When Lucassen sees an art work that strikes him, he is drawn to it, immediately knows it’s good, even if he has no words to explain why. The image speaks for itself. In modern art every artist has to find his own way to express himself (which reminds me – is it actually true he thinks women should not be artists?), which of course is very hard to do. Each time an artist truly finds a new way, he is followed, built upon and before you know it a new modern academy-style is born. It comes as no surprise that Lucassen and artists around him were not too eager to ride the wave of abstract-expressionist art in the sixties. The taboo on figurative work must have been just as restrictive to them as the directive to correctly represent reality was to him in his academy years. Lucassen became one of the front men of the Nieuwe Figuratie (New Figuration). In his paintings popular elements like Donald Duck or a hot dog would show up. He would play with traditional painterly illusions by leaving parts of the canvas uncovered, using text or having people pop up unexpectedly on the painting.
I like what Lucassen says about realistic painting. When I started taking art classes I was very eager to learn how to draw, but after a while it became clear to me that making a realistic representation was something I could just learn, and if I had wanted to I could get better and better at it, eventually turning myself into a calendar artist, making pretty pictures. It stopped me in my tracks. Although I would still love to improve my drawing and painting skills I am so glad I came to Dogtime to work, play and learn.
Manel made us paint like we had the devil on our heels yesterday. Throwing assignments at us at a fast pace, made us all work like crazy. This one was: ‘paint Jezus with a white rabbit’. So I did.
For this week’s LAB class we had to do our own monochromes. It felt awkward. Did some in acrylics and made some prints. Let’s say… nothing.
Every time I get off the train in Den Helder before a visit to my beloved Texel I notice the light. It’s different, brighter, colours look more saturated, fresher. In tuesday’s LAB class we watched ‘Dutch Light’, a documentary about the famous light in Dutch art – is it real or is it a myth? Of course watching this film my geographer’s brain started working and theorizing about what could be the case but I’ll have to tap into another vein… the one that makes me vibrate and want to go out when the light is so clear that colours seem almost unnaturally saturated, when buildings, landscape, clouds and the sky seem to be alive.
Kazimir Malevich strongly believed in the supremacy of pure feelings in art. Had he been a writer, his book would probably have been gathering dust for decades by now. But he was a painter and he expressed his ideas in oils on canvas, causing a revolution in art by painting the first monochrome, aptly called Black Square, in 1915. From that moment on it was no longer necessary to paint a recognizable image.
Monochromes being the subject of last week’s LAB class at Dogtime I delved into the subject and discovered an amazing amount of artists had followed in Malevich’ footsteps. I knew many of them, but I was not aware they had also lingered in the void for a while, like for instance Robert Rauschenberg, who said “A canvas is never empty”. Likewise, we Dogtime students have to pass this stage, because we will be making our own monochromes. Let’s see how we emerge from the experience. As Matthew Collings put it, in modern art ‘nothing’ matters.
I’m glad Rauschenberg resurfaced from the void and gave the world his Combines.
Rauschenberg famously erased a De Kooning, bringing drawing into the all-whites.
In 2006 my art teacher Mariëtte Renssen was very enthusiastic when I told her I was going to Paris. I had to go see the Yves Klein exhibition in the Centre Pompidou. I had never heard of the guy, but who was I to doubt her? Did the google thing and found out the man was pretty big in monochrome painting, mostly blue. He even developed his own special brand of blue: YKB.
So… I went. Wasn’t blown away immediately, stunned may be a better word. Being surrounded by all YKB canvasses was a mind blowing experience that for some reason keeps coming back to me. Maybe the time to find out why has come. Yesterday our teacher Manel Esparbé i Gasca asked us take the plunge into monochrome painting. His class is called LAB and we’re supposed to do research, in books, on the internet and by trying our own hand at painting, taking photographs or making video’s. All this has to be logged to serve as a personal record, source of information and to share with others.
I’m used to sharing. For the past year I’ve been showing documentaries about art in my private salon for a small band of art-loving women. Of particular interest for the subject of monochromes is the fourth episode in the series “This Is Modern Art” by artist and art critic Matthew Collings, named “Nothing Matters”. It used to be on Youtube, some of the other episodes in the series still are and well worth taking a peek. Fellow students: you will be able to see the movie this week, just watch your inbox.