I absolutely adore visiting museums & galleries. I always leave feeling moved in one way or another, whether I actually liked the artwork or not.
One of the most memorable exhibitions I have been to was in Berlin. My friend Sara & I went to see the photographic work of Larry Clark. WOW! We both felt sick & spent the following hour in silence. We were in shock. If you are unfamiliar with his work, it is borderline. It really challenged me to ask myself: What is art? And what is art to me?
What is art to you? Whatever your answer, it is subjective. This is what I like about it.
To me, it is something that moves me, inspires me, captivates me, forces me to think, or wonder. It can be something that is simply visually appealing, educational or makes me feel something physically or emotionally.
I have delved in many "but a child could do that, seriously!" conversations. It is my attempt in this blog post to try & simplify some of these artist's complex theories or motivations, or to simply comment on how the work captured my attention.
I present to you: 10 of my favourite artworks of all time:
BOUGUEREAU, WILLIAM - FRENCH BORN 1825
Nymphs and Satyr, 1873. Oil on canvas. Photo credit | www.clarkart.edu/Art-Pieces/6158
In this painting 4 nymphs tease a satyr (part man, part beast) & try to pull him into a lake. Two things drew me to this artwork:
Firstly, this artist has an impressive amount of vowels in his surname (check out the vowel to consonant ratio).
Secondly, check out those beautiful bodies! It is refreshing to be confronted with images of bodies that look similar to mine. For me, this piece motivates me to question beauty standards & how they have changed over time.
GAULTIER, JEAN PAUL - FRENCH BORN 1952
Skin Deep Room, Jean Paul Gaultier Exhibition. 2014. National Gallery of Victoria. Photo credit | Brook Holme, http://www.yellowtrace.com.au/
I was lucky enough to see the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition in Melbourne last year (thank you Kylie). I knew it would be good, but it exceeded my expectations.
The bodysuits on the mannequins above represent clothing as a second skin. I could discuss all of them at length but I was particularly drawn to the bodysuit on the right with the beaded veins & heart. An incredible amount of time would have gone into constructing this garment. It plays with the idea of wearing our skin inside out. Whether or not you consider fashion as art, I would challenge any of you to not be in awe of this attention to detail.
HAYNES, KYLIE - NEW ZEALAND BORN 1986
Tui Two, Limited Edition of 25. Photo Credit | Kylie Haynes
This talented lass happens to also be one of my very best friends. We attended design school together & I am honoured to own a couple of original artworks by her.
Kylie's work is centred around native & iconic New Zealand imagery. Meticulous as all get out, Kylie's patience for creating detailed art is outstanding. She is a humble artist who creates for the love of creating. She takes pride in her work but is far from a show pony - this is part of her charm. I'm sure she has hundreds of works squirreled away that no one will ever see. Her work is quietly created but screams talent.
KAHLO, FRIDA - MEXICAN BORN 1907
The Two Fridas. 1939. Oil on canvas. Photo credit | www.wikiart.org/en/frida-kahlo/the-two-fridas-1939
I used to attend art class in the weekend when I was a child. I can clearly remember learning about Frida Kahlo. Even at 10 years old, I was drawn to her honest & open portrayal of the pain she was in.
Without knowing Frida, by looking at her paintings you can work out what mood she was in. The above work was painted shortly after her divorce from Diego Rivera. Two Fridas, with both hearts exposed - an expression of her suffering. I think this painting is beautiful & brave.
KELLY, ELLSWORTH - AMERICAN BORN 1923
Spectrum V, 1969. Photo credit | Cheyney McDonnell
I have always been a sucker for colour play in art. Seeing Spectrum V at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City blew my mind.
I'm not sure what this series represents (I need to do some research) but I was captivated by it's sheer beauty.
When I started design school, the words aesthetically appealing were thrown around a lot. It was a case of tutors using language I didn't understand. Can I have it in layman's terms please? After pretending for far too long that I knew what aesthetically appealing meant, I decided to look it up. Turns out it is another way to say something is beautiful. This painting is just that - aesthetically appealing. The moment I saw this painting it transported me back to the feelings I had when I attended Uni.
I love how art, like fragrance, or music, can transport me to earlier memories & help to keep them alive.
KUSAMA, YAYOI - JAPANESE BORN 1929
Dots Obsession - Day, 2009. Photo credit | Paul McCredie
My first glimpse of Kusama's work was at City Gallery Wellington in 2009. The whole exterior of the gallery was covered in colourful dots. It goes without saying that I was lured in, & hooked. Still to this day, her 2009 exhibition was hands down, the best & most memorable exhibition I have ever been to. Whole rooms of bright colours, inflatable shapes & polka dots that evoked an overwhelming physical reaction - In the room pictured above, I felt motion sick.
Yayoi Kusama is an inspiration. At 86 she continues to work as an artist. I watched a documentary about her process at the exhibition & from what I gather, she has obsessive compulsive tendencies. I can relate. She will not sleep or eat while creating some of her artworks. She will work on them head down, bum up, until she is happy with them. For some works she is awake for days on end. Incredible.
It is no wonder that Louis Vuitton created an entire collection inspired by her art. Click here to read more about it.
LISSITZKY, EL- RUSSIAN BORN 1890
Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, 1919. Lithograph. Photo credit | www.designishistory.com/1920/el-lissitzky
Lissitsky was a key player in developing the Russian avant-garde style & movement known as Suprematism which later influenced Constructivism, Bauhaus & De Stijl movements. He made a living creating artwork used for social & political change in the Soviet Union.
This propaganda poster was produced during the Russian Civil War, after the Red Army (the communists & revolutionaries) had waged their revolution in 1917. Lissitsky uses geometric shapes & colour in support of the Red Army (represented by the red wedge). The red wedge is piercing the white circle which represents the White Army (the monarchists, conservatives, liberals & socialists who opposed the Bolshevik Revolution).
This poster for me represents visual communication in it's highest form. Graphic shapes communicate a meaning in place of words.
MALEVICH, KAZIMIR - RUSSIAN BORN 1878
Black Square, 1923. Photo credit | www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features
Malevich produced four versions of the Black Square. This version was painted in 1923 & displayed at the Tate Modern. The first version was exhibited in Petrograd in 1915.
In first year of design school I had to write a 2000 word essay on this painting. You can imagine my reaction to having to write 2000 words on a painted black square. As I was forced to do my research, this artwork was a pivotal turning point in my appreciation for abstract art. This is in fact, is so much more than just a black square.
His theory behind this painting is about pure abstraction. A tutor put it to me in a way I will never forget: Why paint flowers when they will never be as beautiful as the real flowers? It was about communicating feelings rather than replicating images. It gets you thinking doesn't it?
This way of thinking was revolutionary in Malevich's time. Malevich persisted with these works despite the government limiting expression by banning abstract art. Read up on it if it catches your attention. As I said earlier, it is so much more than just a black square. Click here to learn more
POLLOCK, JACKSON- AMERICAN BORN 1912
Autumn Rhythm Number 30, 1950. Photo credit | www.jackson-pollock.org
I have had to defend Pollock's work many times. Like I mentioned earlier in the post, his works have been at the core of those "but a child could do that, seriously!" conversations. Like Malevich's Black Square, this piece is revolutionary for it's time. You have to think of America in the late 40's & 1950's - Pleasantville - the white picket fence, happy families, Dad goes off to work, Mum (or Mom) stays at home & does all of the home-making. Of course this wasn't the reality for everyone but it was portrayed as an ideal living standard post WW2.
Then there is Pollock, an alcoholic, reclusive abstract expressionist creating these large scale works that really threw a spanner in the works. Challenging the social norms of using a brush & easel to create paintings & challenging society's ideals.
ROSENQUIST, JAMES - AMERICAN BORN 1933
House of Fire, 1981. Oil on canvas. Photo credit | Cheyney McDonnell
I am always drawn to American Pop Art. I think it goes back to my love of colour play. I hadn't heard much of Rosenquist & wasn't that interested until this piece captured my attention. I was initially attracted to the vibrancy but upon closer inspection was intrigued by his depiction of pop culture & mass consumption.
The lipsticks look like guns? Perhaps the artist is trying to elude to beauty being dangerous? This painting challenged me to look more intently to interpret the artist's motives.
What are your thoughts on these works? Do you have a favourite? What is art to you? I would love to hear from you so please feel free to be in touch or comment below.
Until next time,