i. After a productive afternoon printing at Bainbridge, I went for a drink with artist Frances Stanfield. Frances cofounded London Drawing Group and is producing a book about contemporary printmaking which I was asked to be a part of last year. I’ve followed her work for a while and it was lovely to finally meet her. I have begun to think about life after Camberwell and I hope to organise a group show with her next year.
ii. Frustratingly on Thursday the studios were shut for a first year assessment and the workshops were shutting early for staff training. Rather than risk a short and unproductive day I decided to go and see a couple of exhibitions before I stop coming into London for the research break. Piano Nobile have brought together paintings, drawings and prints from each period of Leon Kossoff’s career in a concise but exciting retrospective (Leon Kossoff: A London Life). I was fortunate enough to have the gallery to myself and spent at least an hour admiring and drawing from the work. Kossoff’s unwavering commitment to a life simply depicting and celebrating the everyday - through images of his family, friends and London surroundings - is both powerful and poignant. Just brilliant.
iii. I also visited Diane Arbus: In the Beginning at the Hayward Gallery, an in-depth look at the first half of Arbus’ career. The unusually-curated exhibition leads you through a maze of columns featuring intimate snapshots of New York and its inhabitants. The photographs are quiet, contemplative, intriguing and often funny. The themes of the exhibition are pertinent to my current work: like Arbus I am documenting encounters with ordinary people. The following quote is from Adrian Searle’s glowing review of the show:
‘More than provoking mere curiosity, Arbus teases our imaginations. Looking at her images we invent backstories and narratives we can never be sure of. She makes us stop and look, just as she did… What went through Arbus’s mind about their lives? What went through theirs as they paused for her? We can’t know. Everyone has a story to tell but we don’t hear it, though she makes us know it is there.’
iv. On Saturday I visited Tate Modern’s enormous survey of Bonnard’s work with dad (Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory). I’ve only ever seen a handful of Bonnard’s paintings in real life before and to experience this many at once (it felt like hundreds) was a revelation. The exhibition presents landscapes and domestic scenes which ‘capture moments in time – where someone has just left the room, a meal has just finished, a moment lost in the view from the window, or a stolen look at a partner’.
The extraordinary show got busier and busier throughout the morning (uncomfortably so at times) and I thought back to the Hockney retrospective in the very same space a few years ago. Bonnard, like Hockney, is sometimes considered overly sentimental, perhaps even self-indulgent. In his blog, my dad refers to a negative review of the show where ‘Bonnard is taken to task for not noticing historical events’ (two World Wars). In my research paper I referred to an article in the New York Times that suggested that, in a world of political and cultural tumult, it seems likely that artists might well react by ‘grounding their work in observable, human reality’. To create such sumptuous and celebratory paintings from the stuff of the everyday in spite of political upheaval - or perhaps because of it - is undeniably compelling.
v. A few weeks ago, I was emailed a newsletter informing me that Chantal Joffe was curating an exhibition of paintings by Sargy Mann at the Royal Drawing School (Sargy Mann: Late Paintings). Mann struggled with deteriorating sight for years, losing it completely in 2005. Yet, despite his blindness, he somehow continued to paint. All of the paintings brought together for this extraordinary show were created after he went blind, made entirely from memory, imagination and intuition. The paintings - mostly large, group scenes of friends and family on holiday - are fresh, luminous and unselfconscious: ‘they just glow,’ Joffe says, simply ‘they’re mind-blowing. The fact of him being blind is sort of irrelevant; it’s astonishing on some other level.’ I can’t begin to make sense of Mann’s process but the show was incredible. (Unbeknown to me at the time, I was photographed drawing at the show by his son Peter Mann!)