Sunday, May 20, 2012

book review: Sanctuary

Britain’s Artists and their Studios
Editor and interviewer Hossein Amirsadeghi 
Photographer Robin Friend 
(600 pages)

I love to visit other artists’ studios and to hear what they think about their artistic practice and their working process. I’ve now and then been searching Amazon for serious books on the subject and not fond much. Surprisingly little has been written about the importance of the studio for artists in the Western art - especially in modern and contemporary practice, which is also pointed out in “Sanctaury”. So immediately when I learnt that this book was published I ordered it without a second thought. I was very excited when I got my huge package - it is a big book – and I still am excited after three weeks of reading a bit every day. It is a great book!

Sanctuary presents interviews with 120 of Britain’s most renowned artists (counting living in Britain or being originally from Britain) and in most cases visits to their studios – or at least talks about what the studio represents to these artists, if they work without a studio or didn’t want a visit there. For many the studio - or just the idea about it - is a safe place. For others it is just a production place. Then there are artists like for example Liam Gillick, who are not working in a studio at all. Gillick’s works are created in the exhibition spaces. Earlier he did it right there – on the spot – nowadays in three-dimensional computer generated plans.

David Batchelor: I usually do an hour or two of emailing in the morning. I’m in the studio at 9.00 or 10.00 and usually leave around 6.00 or 7.00. 
A regular working day. 

All the interviews are different, even though there might be some questions that reoccur now and then. I feel like the artist shine trough in all their diversity. There is a praiseworthy lack of bullshitting in the interviews - something Amirsadeghi expresses in his foreword as important for this book “There was, I determined from the outset, to be no art-speak in the book”. Yes, I get the impression of sincerity in most artists’ answers.

Cecily Brown on how she can’t help being a painter;
“It is when people want to go on holiday and you have absolutely no interest. It’s an affliction in the sense that I’d rather be here than anywhere else”

 Richard Deacon on the studio;
 “ … It’s a place where you cannot do anything at all. It is not necessary to be always working. I think certain amount of boredom is something quite productive when you are an artist. Your brain is slightly free of obligations, but you have enough time to play, as it were. It can be playing with materials; it can be playing with things. It’s not necessarily just a thinking process, it’s also a physical process attached to materials. Creativity comes out of idleness. One of the things I think an artist does is to pursue those funny thoughts that bubble up”

Phoebe Unwin

Phoebe Unwin: 
 “There aren’t that many rules in my work, but sometimes you need a few rules to not feel inhibited by total freedom. In order to have a rule, I always work in one size of sketchbook. My sketchbook is somewhere I can be very gentle with my ideas”

Dexter Dalwood reflecting on how artists nowadays make art 
“Each work has its own life. Obviously when you are working towards a show it’s different because it takes its own momentum. Historically artists never thought about that. Chardin never painted for a show; he painted paintings. A lot of pre-nineteenth-century artists painted for the Salons and for private collectors. The whole thing of doing a body of work is different, how one painting relates to another painting and how when you go into a room, you are surrounded by them”

Except for the more obvious reoccurring themes in the interviews - the importance of the studio, the artists’ work process etc – Amirsadeghi is returning many times in his interviews to the changed art market and the celebrity status of artists in contemporary Britain. In most other countries this doesn’t exist.  Many older artists refers to the change that started in the British art world in the late 80s with the YBA, like for example Susan Hiller (originally American): 

 “I’d been working with young artists … ([teaching) … so I wasn’t surprised that there was a lot of talent around. What did surprise me was how the government leapt on it as a way to advertise the country. It was fascinating to observe that this old, old, old country tried to present itself as new, new, new and young, young, young! The branding, in other words, that went on between Satchii and the government promoted a group of artists who were very talented indeed but possibly no more so than a lot of other young artists. Art was suddenly hot”

The photographs in Sanctuary really grow on you. The photographer Robin Friend, a young fine art photographer, is normally a landscape artist. I feel like the studios and the artists have been leading Friend when he has been taking the photos - like he has been very open to impression. Many photos are straightforward and “ordinary” in the best of senses (honest) but sometimes Friend couldn’t resist some obvious opportunities - like the photo on the cover - which isn’t wrong either.

Tony Cragg’s studio 
The studios range in size from Tony Cragg’s huge studios in Germany with twenty full time employed workers to John Stezaker’s downstairs studio where he only works at night with his photo collages and Katy Moran’s studio with an outside sink to wash her paint brushes (cold in the winter!). I found it interesting to see that many of the artists have recreated corners in their studios that are like the white cube (galleries/museums).
As an artist myself I’m getting very much out of the artists thoughts on their working process and how they formulate what their art is about. It is interesting to read about their hard work and sometimes doubts and struggles. And I love getting that peek into their studios. This is a book I will return to many times!

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