02 April 2014

From the mouths of artists

Radio 3's The Essay recently had a series of Encounters with Artists, by art historian Martin Gayford, each a fascinating 15 minutes of listening: 
A decisive moment amid careful composition
Henri Cartier-Bresson, the prickly photographer who, interviewed at 93, had captured "the decisive moment" so many times;
Marina Abramovic the 'grandmother of performance art,' whose work has included lacerating her body, starving herself, living entirely in public in a gallery for 12 days and exchanging places for an afternoon with an Amsterdam prostitute; 
Robert Rauschenbergan artist whose paintings, 'combines' and graphic work anticipated pop art and many other genres, years before they became universally fashionable; 
Heron lived at Eagle's Nest, near the Cornish village of Zennor; the shapes in
his paintings echo those in the landscape (photo by Malcolm Osman, via)
Patrick Herona celebrated member of the St Ives School, who relished living amid the boulder-strewn fields in the specially luminous light of Cornwall; 

Euan Uglow, an uncompromising and difficult artist  who confessed not to be able to finish a picture, and whose sitters were obliged to commit to several years of posing.
Heron's window for Tate St Ives (1992-3) (via)
Patrick Heron on looking: "I believe that my awareness is saturated with visual pleasure. The greater the intensity of your consciousness, and visual intensity, the greater the pleasure" and he went on: "Looking is more interesting than doing anything else, ever, as a matter of fact." 

Rauschenberg on cooking: "It's a very social way to turn your back and still be there."
Rauschenberg with a White Painting in 1951 (via)
Rauschenberg had talked to Gayford about the very minimalist (all-white) paintings he made early in his career - or rather about his  "militant desire to be fair to paints. He hated the way that painters picked on innocent colours and forced them to express their emotions. He didn't think artists should make pigments or anything else express their feelings. This for him was a moral question. 'I found ... that the focus on the self, particularly through pity, was about the worst state, the most anti-life, that you could put yourself into.' He wasn't an abstract expressionist, he was an anti-expressionist."

He also said: "I want to surprise myself. I want to be the first one to not-know what I'm going to do next. I also want to be the first one to be confused and bewildered by what I did do next, after I'd done it."
One of Uglow's pears (via)
"Looking at the world is magic," said Uglow, and, in relation to his slow method of working, "It's only after a certain amount of time that you can really understand a form and find a way of sticking it down as a flat shape."
Marina Abramovic & Ulay, AAA-AAA, 1978 (video; via)
Abramovic's performance involved altered consciousness, almost entering a state of trance. "If I cut myself cutting garlic in the kitchen I cry," she said , "in private life you feel fragile, you are working from your ordinary self. When you are doing a performance you can use the energy of the public, which is enormous. You can push your limits further, and do whatever you want."

Why such frequent self torture? "Working with your body you have to confront your fears - fear of pain, fear of mortality - these are things of art that have always been there in different forms. If you work with the body you have to deal with them. What does the cut body look like? How far can you push the body's limits?"

I didn't have a chance to extract any pearls of wisdom from the Cartier-Bresson  episode  before it disappeared from the iplayer. (Some Essays are available as free podcasts - I recommend the one on Hildegard of Bingen.)

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