A brush with...
A brush with... Alvaro Barrington
Alvaro Barrington talks to Ben Luke about his influences—from writers to musicians and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped his life and work. For Barrington—who was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1983, but grew up in Grenada and Brooklyn—painting is the bedrock of a practice that incorporates installation, sculpture and found objects, textiles, the written word and community events. He weaves together broad references, drawing on his personal and cultural background, and hugely diverse influences—particularly from art history, literature, political thought, and music—to create arresting and often exuberant constellations of imagery and materials. He discusses his early interest in the Akira manga, his admiration for artists as diverse as Louise Bourgeois, Jeff Koons and Johannes Vermeer, the significance of Audre Lorde’s essay Poetry is Not a Luxury, and why he feels the hip-hop legend Tupac is the most significant artist of the last 40 years. He gives insight into life in the studio, and reflects on the importance of his move to London from New York in the 2010s. Plus, he answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?
Alvaro’s work will be at the Notting Hill Carnival on 27 and 28 August. Grandma’s Land, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 2 September-21 October; They Got Time, Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris Pantin, 18 October-27 January 2024; Nicola Vassell, New York, November-December, dates to be confirmed; Tate Britain commission, Tate Britain, London, spring 2024. Alvaro discusses Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, on the The Week in Art’s Vermeer Special.
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3. A brush with... Urs Fischer49:07Urs Fischer 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. Born in 1973 in Zurich, Switzerland, Fischer makes work across multiple disciplines and media that defies categorisation. Whether he is working in photography, painting, drawing, sculpture or installation, he often upends the given characteristics of his medium. His art is in a state of constant transformation, being pushed and pulled in unexpected directions, often with a pronounced absurdity and always with a distinctive impact. He reflects on the experience of curating an exhibition of John Chamberlain’s work for Aspen Art Museum and how, if at all, it has affected his own practice. He discusses his early interest in Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel, why he recreated Giambologna’s Abduction of the Sabine Women (1579-83) in the form of a candle, and Rodin’s The Kiss (1882) from plasticine. He talks about Headz, the jazz and drawing workshop-cum-venue he created with Spencer Sweeney, and his experience of watching several movies in a single day. And he answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?John Chamberlain: The Tighter They’re Wound, The Harder They Unravel, curated by Urs Fischer, is at the Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, US, 15 December-7 April 2024.
2. A brush with... Stephen Willats55:30An in-depth conversation with the British artist Stephen Willats, one of the leading figures in conceptual art in Britain, who addresses societal issues while exploring the meanings and purposes of art in the wider world. Since the 1960s, Willats (born in London in 1943) has foregrounded ideas that have become more widespread in contemporary art today, including empowering the viewer as a participant, emphasising the role of community in forging his work, and collaborating with his subjects so that they are effectively co-authors. From the very start of his career, Willats eschewed what he has called the “norms and conventions of an object-based art world” and instead attempted to subvert what he views as “a deterministic culture of objects and monuments”. For him, art has a complex, interactive and dynamic social function. He discusses his interest in thinking related to theories of learning and communication, early forms of artificial intelligence, advertising theory, and cybernetics. He reflects on how working in a gallery as a teenager gave him access to artists at the vanguard of new approaches to creativity. He recalls his encounters with punk and the New Romantic scene of the 1970s and 1980s, and his response to these countercultural developments. And while he avoids answering most of our usual questions, he does respond to one or two, including the ultimate: what is art for?Stephen Willats: Time Tumbler, Victoria Miro, London, until 13 January 2024
1. A brush with... Sutapa Biswas01:01:45Sutapa Biswas 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. Biswas was born in Santinekethan, India, in 1962, and her work in painting, drawing, photography and video explores race and gender within the context of colonialism and its legacies. Made over five decades since the early 1980s, her art is both rigorously consistent in its themes and thrillingly diverse in mood and mode—by turns poetic, activist and even satirical. She discusses her studies in art and art history with Griselda Pollock, among others, at the University of Leeds in the 1980s, where she challenged the Eurocentric framing of the course, and made crucial early pieces including the painting Housewives with Steak-knives (1983-85). She reflects on her family history, and the traumatic journey to the UK from India, and how this haunts her work today. She discusses the influence of artists including Leonor Fini, Johannes Vermeer and Mary Kelly, film-makers like Satyajit Ray and Jean Cocteau, and writers including Marcel Proust. And she answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?Women in Revolt! Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990, Tate Britain, London, until 7 April 2024; The Time of Our Lives, Drawing Room, London, 25 January-21 April 2024; Photographing 80s Britain: A Critical Decade, Tate Britain, London, 21 November 2024-5 May 2025.
4. A brush with... Torkwase Dyson01:00:05Torkwase Dyson 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. Dyson, who was born in Chicago in 1973, uses abstraction as a means of exploring what she describes as “the ways Black and brown bodies perceive and negotiate space as information”. Painting is the fundament of her practice but she uses a variety of media, from drawing through sculpture and architecture to community practices and collaborative performance. The result is a body of work that is diagrammatic and scientific yet expressive and sensorial. It deconstructs natural and built environments in relation to the histories and legacies of enslavement, colonialism, capitalism and extractivist practices, while addressing the climate emergency and climate justice. She reflects on her concept of Black Compositional Thought and the “hypershapes” that appear in her work, discusses the profound role of the senses and embodiment in her practice, and acknowledges the rigour and discipline that underpin it. She describes the seismic effect on her of the paintings of Mary Lovelace O’Neal, reflects on her admiration of the work of Tony Smith and his daughter, fellow artist Kiki Smith, explains the effect of the writer Saidiya Hartman’s reflections on her work, and discusses a recent project responding to the music of Scott Joplin. And she answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?35th Bienal de São Paulo: Choreographies of the Impossible, until 10 December; 12th Seoul Mediacity Biennale: This Too, Is A Map, until 19 November 2023.
3. A brush with... Sarah Lucas51:58An in-depth conversation with Sarah Lucas about her life and work. Lucas, born in London in 1962, is one of the most significant artists of her generation, both in Britain, where she was associated with the 1990s movement known as the Young British Artists, and internationally, where she has been the subject of several significant recent institutional exhibitions. Her practice primarily consists of sculpture, but it is often presented in distinctive installations in dialogue with photography, in the form of prints or wallpaper. Her work is characterised by sardonic and ribald humour, informed by colloquial British language but also shot through with feminist theory and social commentary. Formed from a wealth of materials, many of them everyday found objects like newspapers, food, furniture, cigarettes and clothing, her sculptures almost always evoke the body, however crudely reduced or abstracted. And while a humdrum frankness and bawdiness are ever-present, Lucas’s sense of the strange and the uncanny locate her work within the legacies of Dada, Surrealism and absurdist art in Europe and the US. She discusses her innovative approach to exhibition-making, and the liberating collaborations with Franz West that influenced them. She discusses how Yoko Ono informed some of her recent work. She reflects on an anarchic collaboration with the Austrian collective gelitin. Plus, she gives insight into her working practices and studio life.Sarah Lucas: Happy Gas, Tate Britain, London, until 14 January 2024.
2. A brush with... Claudette Johnson53:45Claudette Johnson 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. Johnson, who was born in 1959 in Manchester, UK, and now lives in London, has created some of the most powerful figurative art of recent years. Working primarily in what she has called the “very small, twisted space offered to Black women”, she uses drawing and painting together in works that are bold yet sensitive, imposing in scale and intimate in their handling. She subverts the conventions of portraiture in her dramatic approach to composition and pose and in foregrounding the figure’s presence in the viewer’s space rather than establishing the context in which they are depicted. As a result, she confronts the historic invisibility, distortion and denial of Black subjects, and particularly Black women, in art. She discusses her discovery of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon at university and how it has proved both inspirational and problematic. She reflects on the huge importance of Lubaina Himid to her early career and the recent resurgence in her work. She recalls the impact of Toni Morrison’s fiction on her subject matter. And she eulogises Paula Rego’s approach to pastels, a key element in her work. Plus she answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?Claudette Johnson: Presence, The Courtauld, London, 29 September-14 January 2024; Women in Revolt! , Tate Britain, 8 November-7 April 2024; The Time is Always Now, National Portrait Gallery, 22 February-19 May 2024. She has a solo presentation at The Barber Institute in Birmingham, UK, opening in late March and is taking on a commission from Art on the Underground in London, scheduled for November 2024.For web article:
1. A brush with... Yinka Shonibare53:12In the first of this new series of A brush with…, Yinka Shonibare 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.Shonibare was born in 1962 in London to Nigerian parents and moved to Lagos in Nigeria when he was a child. He returned to London for his fine art studies at Byam Shaw School of Art and Goldsmiths College. He explores race, class and constructions of cultural identity through sculpture, installation, painting, photography, film and other media. His signature material is Dutch wax fabric, which he is able endlessly to repurpose and recontextualise. He chose this material precisely for its complex and loaded history: it was originally inspired by Indonesian batik, mass-produced by the Dutch and then sold to European colonies in West Africa. Dutch wax fabric eventually became a signifier of independence and culture in Africa and its diaspora. Through references to Western art history, film and literature Shonibare uses this textile to playfully, even provocatively, explore the validity of national identities and the cultures that inform them. He discusses his perennial fascination with William Hogarth and Francisco Goya, and his admiration for contemporary artists as diverse as Cindy Sherman, David Hammons and Paul McCarthy, who he describes as “Hogarth x100”. He explains his love of opera—the total artwork—and contemporary dance. And he reflects on the consistent environmentalist strand in his work. Plus he gives insight into his studio life and answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?Yinka Shonibare CBE RA: Free The Wind, The Spirit, and The Sun, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, 6 October-11 November; Yinka Shonibare CBE: Ritual Ecstasy of the Modern, Cristea Roberts Gallery, London, 22 September-4 November; Shonibare’s public work Hibiscus Rising, commissioned by the David Oluwale Memorial Association for Aire Park, Leeds, as part of Leeds 2023, is unveiled on 25 November. Between April and September 2024, Shonibare will have a solo exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries, London. He will also participate in Nigeria’s Pavilion at the 60th International Venice Biennale from April 2024.
4. A brush with... Analia Saban55:38Analia Saban talks to Ben Luke about her influences—from writers to musicians and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped her life and work. Saban, who was born in 1980 in Buenos Aires and now lives in Los Angeles, examines, unpacks and plays with the medium of painting. She explores its materiality, its iconography and its history, reflecting on the origin and hue of colour pigments and the properties of media, the weave of canvas, the nature of brushwork, the conventions of depiction, and more. Her approach is consistent with the strategies of conceptual art yet it is abundantly physical and visual. She discusses her decision to move her studies from film to art after an epiphanic visit to New York museums; her profound friendship with her tutor at the University of California, Los Angeles, John Baldessari, and how it affects the presence of humour in her work; the perfect balance in the music of Keith Jarrett; and how Julia Kristeva’s writings on abjection prompted some of the darker thoughts in her work. Plus, she gives insight into her life in the studio, and answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?Analia Saban: Synthetic Self, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles, 15 September-28 October; Group exhibitions: Woven Histories: Textiles and Modern Abstraction, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma), 17 September–21 January 2024; Eternal Medium: Seeing the World in Stone, Lacma, until 11 February 2024; Chosen Memories: Contemporary Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift and Beyond, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, until 9 September.