We Are Artists by Kari Herbert – Women Artists Around the World – A Post a Day in May

I stumbled upon the German translation of We Are Artists – Women Who Made Their Mark on the World in a book shop at the end of last year. Anything with Frida Kahlo on it, will get my attention. I browsed the book and liked the concept so much that I didn’t bother ordering the original but bought the German edition immediately. Comparing the two covers, I’m glad I did as I find the German cover more compelling. Both editions were published at the end of 2019.

Kari Herbert’s book is an homage to fifteen female artists from around the world. It’s illustrated with the works of the artists and illustrations in honour of the painters done by Kari Herbert herself.

At the beginning of each chapter is a full colour portrait of the artists by Herbert, followed by an illustrated fictional text and a short biography featuring chosen paintings of the artist.

Here’s the example of Indian painter Amrita Sher-Gil

The chapter on Mexican artist Frida Kahlo

Some of the pictures from the chapter of Finnish artist Tove Jansson

And the French painter Suzanne Valadon

Here is one of my favourites, a painting by Australian painter Emily Kame Kngwarreye

While this isn’t a book meant for children, it offers an excellent introduction for younger people. The way Herbert illustrated the book, inspired by the different artists, is in itself inspiring too.

Anyone who loves art, colour, and creativity, would enjoy this. It would also make an excellent gift.

CATS A – Z by Martha Knox

CATS A - Z

A while back I received an e-mail from artist Martha Knox asking whether I’d like to review her book CATS A – Z. In recent years I’ve become wary of these requests because most of the time the cat books I’m offered are either annoyingly humourous (sorry but I’m not into Lol cats or “I haz” cats) or too mawkish. Of course, I love my cats and think they are cute but they are far more than that. They are interesting, fascinating and complex. Something told me that Martha’s book would be quite different. I was right. The book she sent me is simply amazing.

Just look at this woodcut of a sleeping cat. It serves as the end pages of the book.

Endpages Martha Knox

In her book Martha Knox goes through the alphabet sharing true stories and mythology, accompanied by bits of information and illustrated with gorgeous woodcuts. Some of the stories are stunning, some are sad, others are informative. Some stories are about famous cats like All Ball, a kitten adopted by a gorilla in a zoo. Others about unknown cats or literary cats like Raton from Jean de La Fontaine’s fable The Monkey and the Cat.

Zombi by Martha Knox

The picture above shows Zombi, the cat of British poet Richard Southey. Southey claimed in a letter that his cat saw the devil.

Martha Knox

I truly love this book and think that many poeple would enjoy it just as much. It would make a wonderful gift for any cat or art lover.

For those who want to find out more, maybe buy the book, read something about Martha or even buy a print, here are a few links:

The book’s release announcement on Martha’s blog: click here 

Stanley Meisler: Shocking Paris (2015)

Shocking Paris

It’s rare that I accept review copies these days, but a book about the so-called School of Paris wasn’t something to pass up. I don’t regret accepting Shocking Paris as I’ve read it in a couple of days, something I rarely do with nonfiction. I really liked it a great deal. It was as fascinating as it was informative.

Stanley Meisler is a distant relative of Chaim Soutine, which may explain his interest in a painter who isn’t as well-known in the US as in Europe. Soutine isn’t the only writer Meisler writes about. His topic is the School of Paris – a group of influential, mostly Eastern Jewish painters, who were living and working in Paris from the years just before WWI until WWII. Most of them lived and worked in Montparnasse in the famous La Ruche residence. Back then Montmartre had already lost its importance for painters and was slowly turning into the tourist trap it still is.

While Chaim Soutine is his main topic, we read about many other painters, notably Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian Jew, and Marc Chagall, still one of the most famous painters.

The early chapters were particularly interesting because they describe how revolutionary it was that young Jewish men and women became artists and the struggle they faced because painting was against their religion. That certainly explains why so many left for Paris where important artists like Picasso resided. It also explains, as Meisler states, why there are no important Jewish painters prior to the 20th century.

Soutine

Soutine

Above—two paintings by Chaim Soutine

I’ve never been a fan of Soutine’s paintings, but it’s obvious that he was influential. You can see his influence in the works of painters like Francis Bacon and even Jackson Pollock.

The landscapes he painted were always distorted, the people made ugly. And he had a special fondness for depicting bloody meat. Another typical trait was how thick the paint is on his paintings. Many appear three-dimensional thanks to those thick layers of paint.

Modigliani

Above—painting by Amedeo Modigliani

Modigliani, who was his close friend until he died too early in 1920, was a much more colourful person. Soutine was not only notoriously shy but awkward. He didn’t know how to make friends. According to Meisler, he rarely washed or changed his clothes and must have been rather revolting at times. He was also peculiar in so far as he destroyed many of his paintings. Either because someone said something he didn’t like about them or because he wasn’t satisfied anymore.

Chagall 2

Chagall1

Above—two paintings by Marc Chagall

Shocking Paris was a fascinating book for many reasons. It was interesting to read about the School of Paris and the anti-Semitism they were facing, long before WWII. Chaim Soutine is one of only a few Jewish painters who didn’t change his name. It was equally interesting to read about the war and how Soutine managed to escape deportation. There’s a long chapter about Varian Fry, a young American, who helped many writers and painters to escape to the US. I’ve come across his name several times before. Some of the most famous people he helped were—Heinrich Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger, Franz Werfel, Max Ernst, André Breton, Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler and many more.

Soutine spent parts of the war, hidden in Paris. Later he fled to the country with his lover Marie Berthe Aurenche, the ex-wife of max Ernst. His health had been bad for many years. He suffered from stomach ulcers and finally died in 1943 because he couldn’t be treated in time. He’s buried on the cemetery of Montparnasse in Paris.

Early in the book Meisler writes that he avoided conjecture. Soutine was a complicated man and many of the things people say about him are contradicting. He wasn’t someone who spoke or wrote about his art or himself, like Chagall did. Nor was he good-looking and larger than life like Modigliani. Nonetheless, it’s always tempting to try to spice up a biographical account by adding anecdotes and using conjecture. Meisler doesn’t do that. The account is interesting but sober that’s why I wished the book had another title. I find it lurid. And misleading. At the time people were shocked that so many foreigners, especially Jews, occupied such an important place in the Parisian art scene, but there’s nothing truly shocking between these pages. I’m afraid the wrong reader might pick up this book. That’s too bad because it’s engaging and well-researched and focusses on painters and a movement which isn’t well-known outside of France.

I highly recommend this book, not only to art fans and people interested in Soutine and Chagall, but also to those interested in WWII, Paris and the history of France (there’s a lot – highly critical parts – about Vichy France).

Thanks to Palgrave Macmillan for the review copy.

Contemporary Chinese Artist Ye Hongxing in London – 13 September – 20 October 2012

As you may remember, this summer I went to the ART fair in Basel where I discovered the work of Chinese artist Ye Hongxing. She was one of those artists who stunned me not only because of the art she created but also because of the technique she used. Her art is very colorful, some pictures are Mandalas, like the one above, others are depictions of colorful gardens or dreamlike landscapes.

You may like this or not but once you stand in front of her work you’re in for a major surprise. This is art you need to see close up to appreciate how amazing it is as only when you stand quite close will you see that the individual pieces are collages made of hundreds of stickers. The result is stunning and surprising. A mass-product, something we might all have collected as children, creates powerful images which represent religious symbolism, fantastic landscapes and modern technology alike.

I’m glad Lee Sharrock PR informed me of her upcoming exhibition in London. Ye Hongxing is based in Bejing and this is her first UK exhibition. At the same time this is Scream’s opening of their new gallery space on 27 – 28 Eastcastle Street, London W1.

I will not be able to see the exhibition as I will not be in London during that time but for all those who live in London or the UK, don’t miss it. It’s really amazing what she does.

Ye Hongxing is considered to be one of the Top 20 rising Chinese artists. The exhibition is called The Modern Utopia and runs from 13 September to 20 October. As the press release states

 The title of the exhibition references the 1905 novel ‘A Modern Utopia’ by H.G Wells and is suggestive of the artist’s investigation into society and modern life.

Here is a bit more about Ye Hongxing.

Contemporary Art: Noriko Kurafuji, Ye HongXing and Carlos Aires

The ART Basel is one of the biggest art fairs in the world. Meanwhile it is a week-long event which takes place all over the town. Smaller and bigger venues show contemporary and classic art. I used to work in a gallery while I was still in school and during my years as a student and my interest in contemporary art has never ceased. Every year I discover at least one painter or artist who really amazes me. This year one of them was Japanese painter Noriko Kurafuji whose flower paintings are some of the most beautiful paintings I’ve seen in recent years. I’m looking forward to an exhibition which will take place this summer.

What I like in contemporary art is the experiments with different media. From the point of view of the technique this years discovery was the work of Chinese artist Ye Hongxing. You may not see it well but these Buddha “paintings” consist of stickers for children. When you approach the work you see that the stickers which have been divided by colors show figures like Tweetie or Hello Kitty and many others like this. A religious symbol becomes upon approaching a reflection of our consumer society.

The idea to cut out smaller pictures from vinyl records and to arrange them in order to form a bigger whole is pretty amazing too, I thought. This work called Face to Face with Death is from Spanish artist Carlos Aires.

I saw the three artists in a parallel art show called Scope, not at the main ART fair.

Ed Harris’ Pollock (2000) The Man Behind Drip Painting

Who was the man behind the term Drip Painting, also part of the so-called Action Painting? Did you ever wonder? Before I watched the movie Pollock I was always awed by his paintings, their power, their originality and how easily we could attribute them to the painter. Now I am infuriated. What an asshole.

Be it as it may, this is an excellent movie, showing the struggles of a painter against the backdrop of New York’s art scene in the 40s. We see all the important people of the time, Peggy Guggenheim, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner. During that time, important art mostly came from Europe. If it hadn’t been for de Kooning and Pollock, the American art would never have become as important as it finally did.

If it hadn’t been for Lee Krasner, what would Pollock have become? Nothing, I would say and that is what infuriated me. The guy was a mean alcoholic who went on drinking sprees that lasted days and maybe weeks until he woke up somewhere, anywhere, shivering, sweating and without any specific memory of what had happened. Into this mess enters Lee Krasner, a young g aspiring painter herself, immediately she sees Pollock’s genius and does everything to help him. She moves in with him, takes care of him, phones and invites journalists and galleries and rich people.

After a few years they get married. In order to help him stay sober, she convinces him to move to the country where they seem to be happy at first. It is here that he develops his art and goes from abstract expressionism to action painting and later explores the technique of drip painting for which he is so famous. It is fascinating to watch him paint and Ed Harris does an extremely good job.

Unfortunately Pollock doesn’t realize how blessed he is and after being sober for two years he starts to drink again. Only worse this time. He also begins an affair with a much younger woman. After a day of heavy drinking he drives her and her best friend to a party and crashes the car on the way home. Pollock and the friend die.

We never really get know why he is drinking. He just does. And the more Lee Krasner tries to keep him away from it, the more he drinks. It’s common knowledge that no alcoholic will just change because you threaten to leave him. You have to do it. She never does. It doesn’t mean he would have stopped if she had left but to simply threaten him didn’t change one thing and she suffered as well. Apart from a fascination and admiration for his painting, I have no clue what she saw in him. We don’t see them in many intimate moments. They never seem to talk. The Pollock we see in this movie may have been a great painter but he as a very unlikable, selfish character.

Lucky for Lee Krasner she wasn’t in the car, when he crashed it. She lived another thirty years and did her best work after his death.

I really admired her for saying no to his plea to have a child. She correctly saw that this would leave her in charge of two people. Apart from that most of the time they were broke as it took quite a long time until his art was recognized for what it was.

Pollock is a very esthetic movie with a great score featuring jazz from the 40s, Benny Goodman, Billy Holliday, which makes for great atmosphere. All in all it’s extremely well done, highly watchable and interesting.

Martin Provost’s Séraphine (2008) The Movie and the Woman Behind it

I come from a family of painters. Everything related to painting has always fascinated me. I remember the smell of oil paint from my childhood. Someone was always fiddling around with paint and turpentine, heavy cigarette smoke in the air… Creativity, inspiration and spirituality are some of the most important things to me. All this and much more is captured in this heartbreaking movie.

Séraphine is one of the most tragic movies I have ever seen. It is based on a true story, on the life of the painter Séraphine de Senlis, cleaning woman, artist, visionary, madwoman. But first, and most touchingly, a vulnerable human being. The actress Yolande Moreau does an absolutely outstanding job in this role. Ulrich Tukur starring as the famous German art collector Wilhelm Uhde is equally good.

In 1914 Uhde rents an apartment in Senlis, some 40 kilometers from Paris, to recover from his stressful life. The cleaning woman his landlaydy hires for him startles him at first. She is very rough and hardly speaks a word, seems completely uneducated. Séraphine is pitied by all and hardly taken seriously. People think that she is slightly mad and very odd. During the days she cleans houses and washes people’s laundry, at night she paints and sings. She produces her own paint, mixtures from blood, wax, juices and other substances. When Uhde sees one of her paintings in the appartment of his landlady, he is astonished. To him, who collects the work of the so-called Primitives,  this is the work of a genius and he can hardly believe it has been painted by someone with no schooling. He asks her to paint more for him and to improve herself. The paintings she produces from now on are getting better and better but when the war breaks out, Uhde abandons Séraphine and flees back to Germany.

He doesn’t go back to Senlis for almost twenty years but when he comes back he finds Séraphine again. She is by now totally impoverished but still paints the most magnificent pictures. He helps her sell them and in a short time she makes a lot of money that she spends without restraint until the second world war announces itself through a huge economic crisis. Uhde looses a lot of money and can no longer support Séraphine. But worst of all, the big exhibition in Paris, to which she has been looking forward to for years, will not take place.

Séraphine doesn’t recover from this shock and goes mad. The scene in which she walks through the village, barefoot and in a silken marriage dress is haunting. She is finally  taken to an asylum where she will stay until her death.

Séraphine’s story is sad but also very mysterious. Where did a simple woman without any background or education take her inspiration from? How did she learn to paint? Séraphine said that the virgin Mary inspired her, she sounded like a visionary, not unlike Hildegard von Bingen who painted too.

She also seesm to have communicated with nature. Many of the visually most powerful scenes of the movie show Séraphine walking over fields, hugging trees. This is her way to connect an refuel.

Séraphine is a thoughtful, almost meditative movie, heartbreaking, moving and utterly fascinating. It is slow-paced and takes its time to unfold.

There are so many mysteries in the world. Art, creativity, inspiration and spirituality are some of the most powerful ones. Thanks to movies like Séraphine, we are reminded of this.

For those who want to see more of Séraphine de Senlis’ paintings, I attached this interesting documentary.