The Mural Painters of Tuscany: from Cimabue to Andrea del Sarto.
This is a book that has a lot of text at the front and then series of beautiful, uninterrupted black and white photos. There is something about black and white reproductions that I particularly like. I think it is that the eye can focus on the formal properties of what it sees. Colour ceases to be a distraction; something which, so often, I find hard to get beyond, for if something contains colours I don’t like I quickly move on. Hockney says something on this subject I think. Maybe I’ll dig it up.
It also brings out the texture, and this being a book on wall paintings it works particularly well.
I think the mural on the front cover is particularly nice.
Giuseppe Archimboldo 1527 - 1593; Werner Kriegeskorte, Taschen.
I was very happy to find this in the library recently. My dad has a copy and it was my favourite picture book when I was young. I liked it so much, I am told, that I slept with it in my bed. In fact, I would regularly make a fortress of books inside which I would sleep, but I treated this one almost as a companion.
Pretty cool really for a 6 year old to be into Archimboldo. It still mystifies me that he was painting in the mid 16th century: if I had to take an educated guess with no background knowledge I would really struggle. I can’t say I’m any expert on this period of art history (or any art history for that matter, I am after all an enthusiastic amateur). I think that’s partially because his paintings are so distinctly unlike anything I know.
Archimboldo was the Court painter to a number of Emperors in Prague. He was also architect, stage designer, engineer, water engineer and art specialist and was very highly regarded during his lifetime. Though he was clearly extremely intelligent in a number of ways, his paintings appear to have been dismissed and misunderstood by the generations that followed. Subsequently, his exploits, considered ‘childish’ have become eclipsed by the ‘genius’ of contemporaries such as Titian.
This is very interesting really. The fact that these paintings captured the interest of a child so completely does not mean these paintings are, themselves, ‘childish.’ This would be a very weak, nonsensical argument; an insult to the sophistication of a child’s imagination. If anything, I think it is a very positive sign, for children often appreciate and experience the world in a far more intense, direct way than adults, who allow rationality to cloud feelings of pure joy.
His paintings are odd, certainly, and there are very few originals that survive which doesn’t help. But I think they are fascinating. They tread a precarious line between the beautiful and the grotesque. They don’t make much sense either (the ‘adult’ in me). But to my mind, this is almost always a good thing.
La fidelite des Images; Rene Magritte
An interesting comparison to make with the Duane Michals who, almost certainly, was influenced by these photographs.
Icons; Eva Haustein-Bartsch. Taschen, 2008.
Through the invisible, visible things become more profound for those who give themselves to contemplation
- Maximus Confessor, d. 622, Mystagogy, 2
My book buying obsession is spiralling out of control. I picked this up in a gallery bookshop and couldn’t put it down, despite knowing I could get it cheaper on Amazon (or for free at the library). I couldn’t leave without it.
This book is a beautiful object full of incredible faces and bizarre little details I can’t stop looking at. I’m surprised to discover things that I presumed belonged to the early Medieval period were in fact made when Shakespeare was alive. They have a mysterious, almost ancient quality to them.
I like this straightforward Taschen series. The form is particularly strong: a detailed yet concise introduction followed by a series of well chosen examples (in this case, religious icons spanning the last thousand years, from 13th-19th century). Each spread is dedicated to a particular piece; a large photo on one side and information on the other.
The icons in this book are a mixture of Russian and Greek. I’ve looked at quite a few books on icons in the library but as an introduction to the subject, this is my favourite so far.
The Unseen Eye; W. M. Hunt. Thames and Hudson, 1994.
When I was in my early teens I discovered Diane Arbus. I also discovered Weegee, Eugene Meatyard and Dorothea Lange, but Arbus was the big one. I found all these books on photography in the attic and would bring them down in piles to my room and look at them in bed at night. Then I’d return the pile I had looked at in exchange for another. When the piles ran out I just re-looked.
This book brings that all back to me, the feeling of discovering images so overloaded with truth and despair that I couldn’t look away.
W. M. Hunt is the collector behind this book. Here is what he’s written in the preface:
This is a book of photographs, a selection from a large collection gathered over many years, comprised of what I describe as magical, heart-stopping images of people in which the eyes are somehow obscured, veiled, hidden, blocked, averted or closed. I have never really sorted out why I was initially drawn to collecting, to something so particularly, or what fuelled and sustained this passion. However, I maintain that these are all portraits of me. They are all manifestations of my unconscious.
I have decided to split this book into several posts to do it justice.
These two photos have this particular effect on me: I want to look away but I can’t. I find them incredibly disturbing, even though I know that the face with the white cloth is just a ‘hooded witness’ at a trial. The other is a Weegee, ‘Masked and Shackled Man, 1940s’. Here there is something happening that I don’t understand, that is mysterious, but I can’t get away from the simple distortion of the human face. It is an image of terror.
Pictured Books, exhibition catalogue from 1989.
Clearly the work of kindred spirits.
Joseph Cornell/Marcel Duchamp…In Resonance. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2008.
I’m in the middle of a full scale art library binge.
This is a wonderful, beautiful book, full of surprises. I am endlessly fascinated to discover things about the lives of artists that I like - all the detail of their daily existence, their upbringing, what they themselves admired - which is why I’m always keen to read diaries and autobiographies. Often I am as interested in what someone had for breakfast, trivialities of that scale, as I am anything else about them. I was reading Susan Sontag’s early diaries yesterday (more on that later) and loved all the bits where she listed food or simply words - all the bits that present her as just normal, human.
Joseph Cornell is an interesting character, and one of the writers of this book, Walter Hopps, is full of anecdotes. Curiously, just as I’m thinking about Sontag this crops up:
At one point, he asked me if I knew Susan Sontag. He had acquired a copy of Sontag’s first novel, Benefactor, and the book had disturbed him, but he loved the picture of her on the dust jacket. I said, ‘By all means, I know her’ - I had met her when we were both in high school in L.A. He was practically swooning. He had to leave the room. This often happened. He got very emotional and said he needed to go upstairs and lie down. He asked me to arrange a meeting with Sontag, which I did. Later, he gave me a collage that he regarded as an imaginary portrait of her as a young girl.
I find this more curious, more insightful in relation to the nature of Cornell’s output than what I imagine an art historian on a guided tour would tell me about its ‘importance’. There’s more, much more:
He loved beautiful women, ballet dancers especially…possessed of a different temperament, he might have staged ballets, and I think his boxes are in some ways a sublimation of this impulse - a simulacrum of theatrical production.
He spent a great deal of time in the New York Public Library, and the book as object became very important to him - the book literally became an armature for the art in some of his works.
That says a lot really. Cornell and Duchamp were unlike their contemporaries in their involvement with employing or assembling everyday objects for the purposes of art; for appreciating practical objects as things in themselves, as the objects they are, for seeing them as forms with the potential for transformation. They were, however, almost diametrically opposed in terms of sensibility and, for this reason, make an interesting pairing.
Duchamp was an excellent draftsman, says Hopps, whereas Cornell ‘is perhaps the most important twentieth-century artist who did not, in any conventional sense, draw.’ I’ve always wondered about this - the importance of drawing (‘conventional’ drawing as Hopps calls it). It teaches you to look, to really look at things. But is it a necessary skill? And what, then, is ‘unconventional’, or ‘non-conventional’ drawing? Cornell relied upon ready-made objects. To many people with narrow opinions on the value judgement of ‘skill’ (a dangerous word), this would rule him out of any real consideration as a true artist (what does that mean anyway). And yet I’ve commonly found that all sorts of people really love Cornell. Hopps equates his appeal to a kind of ‘unselfconscious alchemy’ that was all his own - his ability to transform recognisable everyday objects into poetry.
There is something wonderfully, genuinely naive and unselfconscious about Cornell (which is why I’m drawn to him over Duchamp though I like both). His works, says Hopps ‘were not conceptual machines; they were small, imaginary theatres.’ Duchamp on the other hand had a very different way of seeing things, putting art ‘into the service of the mind.’
This book is just so brilliant I could type out the whole thing (Hunter S. Thompson did this with The Great Gatsby in order to know what it would feel like to write a great novel. It’s a shame there’s no way I could ever paint a Picasso. I could, however, turn a urinal upside down. But wasn’t that the point?).
I’ll end on this (I will just have to buy this book):
Cornell…found some Surrealism frightening. About Max Ernst, he said, ‘Oh he is often very disturbing to me.’ I said, ‘Why is that?’ ‘Well it seems to involve a kind of black magic. And I’m interested in white magic.’
Adalgisa Lugli; Assemblage. Adam Biro, 2000.
Written in French but I don’t feel I could appreciate many of the images here much more than as they are, without or without words.
The Joseph Beuys is particularly nice, an observation which I’m very glad to make. I’m no expert but I have never felt especially moved by Beuys despite my (moderate) interest in Fluxus. That’s probably quite a controversial statement to make (everyone seems to love the guy) but I really liked what I found in this book - an image from him I want to hold onto. It’s just a simple rusty shelving unit with objects placed on it. No doubt this is a conceptual piece - the dilemma is that without the text (and me being me) I’m viewing it largely through the eyes and not the brain. Does the act of viewing conceptual art require the viewer to consciously switch gears? Do I have to change the way I am inclined, by instinct, to look at things (by feeling not meaning)?.
Sometimes when confronted by something like this, I think I should make an effort. Sometimes I don’t. But is an effort always required? Does viewing conceptual art demand a different perceptive engagement, a different way of looking? Must the viewer be in tune with the work in a way that is necessarily sensitive to its intentions? There is probably something to ‘get’ here, however I’m in no rush to discover it, only because I’ve discovered my own interest, my own meaning in the image. Is that a justified experience to have?
I guess this is what I always found tiresome about criticism/interpretation despite my gravitation towards the reviews section in the paper. I could only hack it for a month at the Edinburgh Festival before I had to bow out, exhausted and depressed. Where is Susan Sontag when you need her (again, the irony).
There is also a great chapter in this book called ‘une palette d’objets’ and another - ”l’esprit des objets.’
Art by Film Directors; Karl French, Octopus Publishing Group, 2004.
A bit disappointing this, but an interesting idea nonetheless and some nice things here and there. Mostly painting and storyboarding. Jan Svankmajer is the highlight.
The pictures here are pieces from my favourite directors in the book, in order:
Jean Cocteau (drawings/painting)
Terry Gilliam (storyboarding)
Peter Greenaway (painting/collage/ concept performance)
Alfred Hitchcock (sketches/storyboards)
Dennis Hopper (assemblage/collage)
Derek Jarman (set design/painting/assemblage)
Akira Kurosawa (painting)
Jan Svankmajer (puppets/surreal objects)
Win Wenders (photography)
Alexandra Noble. Worlds in a Box. The South Bank Centre , 1994.
An exhibition catalogue from just under 20 years ago of a show that came to Edinburgh, Sheffield, Norwich and London. A lovely little book offering a potted history on the uses of boxes in art, with a mini biography on each artist.
A definition of a box is simply enough: a case of repository for containing anything. within the artists’ world this definition is expanded and transformed, for here boxes act as repositories for assemblages, chance events, performances, ideologies, dreams and nightmares. The box can be a stage set (mise-en-boite instead of mise-en-scene_, a convenient method of packaging, a kind of mail art, a reliquary, a boundary between inside and outside, public and private, and extended frame, a joke, a secret, a cabinet of curiosities…