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A brush with...

A brush with... Alex Katz

Season 21, Ep. 2

Alex Katz talks to Ben Luke about his influences—from writers to musicians, film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped his life and work. Katz, born in Brooklyn in 1927, is one of the most distinctive and influential painters of recent decades. Since he began making art in the 1940s, he has aimed to paint what he has called “the now”: to distil fleeting visual experiences into timeless art. It might be a spark of interaction between friends or family, the play of light across water, a field of grass or between the leaves of a tree, the movements of dancers, the electric illumination of an office building at night, or—more than anything else—stolen glances, everyday gestures and intimate exchanges with his wife Ada, who he has painted more than 1,000 times since they married in 1958. From the start, Katz has aimed to match what he calls the “muscularity” of the Abstract Expressionist artists that were dominant in New York when he emerged onto the art scene there in the 1950s, while never giving up on observed reality. He has said “the optical element is the most important thing to me”. He discusses the early influence of Paul Cezanne, the enduring power of his forebears, from Giotto to Rubens and Willem de Kooning, and his admiration for artists as diverse as Utamaro, Martha Diamond and Chantal Joffe. He reflects on the “emotional extension” of the poet Frank O’Hara and his interest in jazz maestros like Pres and Charlie Parker. Plus, he answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?


Alex Katz: Claire, Grass and Water, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, Italy, 17 April-29 September; Alex Katz: Wedding Dresses, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine, US, until 2 June; Alex Katz: Collaborations with Poets, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 15 September-15 November.

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  • 3. A brush with… Otobong Nkanga

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    Otobong Nkanga talks to Ben Luke about her influences—from writers to musicians, film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped her life and work. Nkanga, born in 1974 in Kano, Nigeria, explores the land and the environment in relation to our bodies and the cultures and histories that mould and define them. Working across sculpture, installation, performance, sound, photography and video, Otobong brings together what she calls constellations of images, movements and objects, to poetically interweave ideas relating to cultural history and anthropology, geography and geology. She fuses in-depth research with her own lived experience. The result is a practice with a distinctive coherence between materials and concepts, where references to present-day geopolitical and ecological realities sit alongside forms, metaphors and symbols that speak to broader timescales and narratives and disparate belief systems. She reflects on her early choice to pursue art over architecture, discusses her use of minerals and particular colours, recalls encountering the Bakor monoliths in Nigeria as a child, and then Western masters from Caravaggio to De Hooch in Europe. She talks about her enjoyment of writers like Uwem Akpan and Helon Habila and the huge range of music she plays in her studio, from Alt-J via Fatoumata Diawara to Rihanna. Plus she gives insights into life in her studio and answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: “what is art for?”Otobong Nkanga: We Come from Fire and Return to Fire, Lisson Gallery,London, until 3 August.
  • 2. A brush with... Lynn Hershman Leeson

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    Lynn Hershman Leeson talks to Ben Luke about her influences—from writers to musicians, film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped her life and work. Leeson, born in 1941 in Cleveland, Ohio, US, and now based in San Francisco, is one of the pioneers of media art. Over more than half a century, she has explored how people and society engage with, and are shaped by, technology—from surveillance and control, via scientific progress, to the formation and manipulation of identity. Her work has taken the form of sculptural installation, video, photography, sound, online art, performance, and much more. It moves fluidity across these disciplines and adopts disparate modes, from documentary to historical drama to science-fiction fantasy, in a language awash with art historical and cinematic allusion. At the heart of her practice is a fundamental analysis of how humans can navigate political, social and environmental upheavals, and how technology in contemporary society can liberate and empower as much as oppress and censor. She discusses the epiphany provoked by a photocopier malfunction that prompted her lifelong interest in humans’ engagement with technology, how she felt forced to look beyond conventional spaces when a museum rejected her multimedia Breathing Machines, the early influence of Cézannes she encountered in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the conversations with women artists that led to the Women Art Revolution film and archive, her film with the Cuban artist-activist Tania Bruguera, and a transformative encounter with the theatre of Tadeusz Kantor. Plus, she answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?Lynn Hershman Leeson: Are Our Eyes Targets?, Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, Germany, until 2 February 2025; Lynn Hershman Leeson: Moving-Image Innovator, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 7-20 June
  • 1. A brush with... Michaël Borremans

    59:23
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  • 4. A brush with... Kapwani Kiwanga

    56:51
    Kapwani Kiwanga talks to Ben Luke about the cultural experiences that have shaped her life and work. Kiwanga was born in Hamilton, Canada, in 1978 and lives in Paris. She works primarily in sculpture and installation but also with performance, sound and video. She explores what she has called “power asymmetries”, drawing from forgotten or unexpected histories and studies in everything from botany to sociology, to create enigmatic but alluring objects and environments in a wealth of materials. Research is at the heart of her project, but it triggers unique combinations of ideas, where forms that might initially appear entirely aesthetic and informed by Modernist geometries are in fact “documents” and “witnesses” to complex socio-political ideas and events. Materials are rarely selected simply for their visual effect; instead, Kiwanga chooses them for their historic, economic or cultural uses. A remarkable economy and precision underpins her language, through which she maximises an acute experiential balance between pleasure, curiosity and disquiet. She reflects on her new work, Trinket, for the Canada Pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale, about creating a welcoming space for viewers to explore complex histories and ideas, and about balancing seduction and disruption. She reflects on the early influence of the Black Audio Film Collective and how her hanging curtains relate to Felix Gonzalez-Torres; she discusses the significance of residencies in Paris, at the Musée national d’Histoire naturelle, and in Dakar, Senegal; and she talks about why the jazz legend Sun Ra inspired her to make a work. Plus, she gives insight into her life in the studio and answers our usual questions, including: what is art for?Kapwani Kiwanga: Trinket, Canada Pavilion, 60th Venice Biennale, Italy, 20 April-24 November; Kapwani Kiwanga: The Length of the Horizon, Copenhagen Contemporary, Denmark, until 25 August.
  • 3. A brush with... Michael Raedecker

    01:00:38
    Michael Raedecker talks to Ben Luke about his influences—from writers to musicians, film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped his life and work. Raedecker, born in Amsterdam in 1963, brings together paint, thread and printed imagery to create canvases pregnant with unsettling and uncanny atmosphere. At the heart of his work is the meeting between humanity and nature and, even though his paintings are mostly unpopulated, the presence of people is always implied through their absence. We see the interiors and exteriors of homes, with lights on, beds ruffled, curtains half-drawn, cars outside; we witness empty loungers beside a swimming pool or an unoccupied lilo floating on its surface. We see landscapes that seem only recently to have been vacated. In still lifes we seem to witness a hastened process of decay. Images become almost hallucinatory through the emphases Michael gives elements of his compositions, with heightened texture or colour or surreal disjunctions. We are thrust into riddles, stories or dreams that are familiar yet otherworldly. He discusses his early encounter with the work of Edward Kienholz, how seeing Luc Tuymans at Documenta in Kassel in 1992 was a turning point in his work, and hear about an encounter with Sigmar Polke at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Raedecker reflects on the importance of 1980s New Romantic and Blitz Kids culture to his early life and how music continues to be central to his time in the studio today. We hear about more studio rituals and he answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?Michael Raedecker: Material Worlds, Kunstmuseum den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands, 13 April-28 August; Michael Raedecker, Grimm, Amsterdam, 30 May-20 July
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    01:04:35
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    Nalini Malani talks to Ben Luke, about her influences—from writers to musicians, film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped her life and work. Malani was born in Karachi in 1946 and lives and works today in Mumbai. Her work in drawing and painting, performance, video and installation, responds to contemporary politics and human rights issues through the language of ancient myths, of poets, writers and thinkers, and of the history of art. She is increasingly celebrated for her installations that she calls “animation chambers”, fusing video and drawings, text and voice. They engulf the viewer in environments that contain endlessly shifting sequences of imagery and stirring soundtracks—a call to action in terms of both their political and cultural content. She discusses her early and enduring admiration of Indian Kalighat painting, how Louise Bourgeois’ reflections on memory are a consistent inspiration, why she has repeatedly returned to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, and about the pivotal period she spent in Paris between 1970 and 1972, meeting many leading intellectuals and artists. Plus she gives insight into her life in the studio and answers our usual questions, including “what is art for?”Nalini Malani: Can You Hear Me? and Ballad of a Woman, Concrete, Dubai, in collaboration with Volte Art Projects, 25 February-3 March; Nalini Malani: The Pain of Others 1966-1979, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)/Jehangir Nicholson Art Gallery, Mumbai, India, 1 August-5 November; Ambienti 1956-2010: Environments by Women Artists II, MAXXI, Rome, 9 April-6 October; Nalini Malani: In Search of Vanished Blood, collection display, Tate Modern, London, 13 December 2024-September 2025.
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    01:03:54
    Zineb Sedira talks to Ben Luke about her influences—from writers to musicians, film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped her life and work. Sedira, born in Paris in 1963 to Algerian parents and based in London since 1986, uses film, photography, installation, sculpture and other media to reflect on memory, from the personal to the collective and historical. She explores representation, language and family, intimately informed by her French, Algerian and British identity. By mining her singular autobiography and its connection with colonial histories and their contemporary legacies, Sedira has created a body of work that is at once politically nuanced, emotionally complex and visually rich. She discusses her early interest in Mary Kelly, her enduring engagement with the art of JMW Turner, and her admiration for the Algerian painter Baya. She reflects on her fascination with the Pan-African Festival in Algiers in 1969, the subject of a body of work. And she talks about her love of jazz and ska, the influence of postcolonial writers, among much else. Plus, she gives insight into her studio life and answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: “what is art for?”Zineb Sedira: Dreams Have No Titles, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 15 February-12 May; the film version of the work is on display at Tate Britain until September 2024; Dreams Have No Titles, Cultural Foundation, Abu Dhabi , UAE, 3 October-28 January 2025; Let’s go on singing!, Goodman Gallery, London, until 16 March; Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal, 19 June 2025-22 September 2025.