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A brush with...

A brush with... Jeremy Deller

Season 16, Ep. 4

Ben Luke talks to Jeremy Deller about his influences—from writers to film-makers, musicians and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped his life and work. Deller, born in London in 1966, has created some of the most extraordinary works of recent decades, acting as a catalyst for exhibitions, films, events and happenings that often involve numerous collaborators. His works reflect on social movements, communities and countercultures, the history of art and design, pop-cultural forms and celebrated public figures. He discusses the early influence of Francis Bacon, how Mike Kelley was an important figure in defining the possibilities of art’s relationship with popular culture, the power of Gitta Sereny’s pivotal biography of Albert Speer, his ongoing engagement with music in various forms, and much more. Plus, he gives insight into his studio life and answers our usual questions—including the ultimate: “What is art for?”


Jeremy Deller, Art is Magic (book), Cheerio, £30/$60; Art is Magic (exhibition), Frac Bretagne, La Criée contemporary art centre and Musée des beaux-arts, Rennes, until 17 September; Jeremy Deller: Welcome to the Shitshow!, Kunsthalle Charlottenberg, Copenhagen, until 6 August.

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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
  • 2. A brush with... Alex Katz

    47:04
    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.
  • 1. A brush with… Shahzia Sikander

    01:04:35
    Shahzia Sikander 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. Sikander, born in 1969 in Lahore, Pakistan, trained in the tradition of Indo-Persian manuscript painting and has used its forms, techniques and language as a launchpad for a wide-ranging engagement with colonial and postcolonial histories, with feminism, gender and sexuality, and with cultural identity and narratives around race. Working in drawing, painting, animation, video, mosaic and most recently sculpture, she has created a body of work in which existing and invented images and forms are juxtaposed to vivid and poetic effect. Technically exquisite and conceptually profound, her works have an instant impact but reward slow looking with layered narratives, references and histories. She discusses her early discovery of Michelangelo in Lahore, explains how she has channelled the “soulfulness” Eva Hesse found in minimalism in her response to historic manuscript painting, reflects on the importance of her teenage experience of Mogadishu, Somalia, and speaks about the enormous importance of poetry to her work, including the US writer Adrienne Rich’s translations of the Indian poet Mirza Ghalib. Plus, she gives insight into her life in the studio, and answers our usual questions, including which artwork, if she could only have one, she would most like to live with.Shahzia Sikander: Collective Behavior, Palazzo SoranzoVan Axel, Venice, Italy, 20 April-20 October; Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio, US, 14 February-4 May 2025; Cleveland Museum of Art, 14 February-8 June 2025. Shahzia Sikander: Havah…to breathe, air, life, University of Houston, Texas, US, until 31 October; Entangled Pasts, 1768–now: Art, Colonialism and Change, Royal Academy of Arts, London, until 28 April 2024.
  • 4. A brush with… Nalini Malani

    58:43
    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.
  • 3. A brush with... Zineb Sedira

    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.
  • 2. A brush with... Stanley Whitney

    54:02
    Stanley Whitney 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. Whitney, ​​born in Philadelphia in 1946, makes abstract paintings that feature interlocking rectangles, squares and bands of paint whose intense colours hum with musical resonance and rhythm. Rigorously structured yet full of improvisation and unexpected incident, his paintings are both arresting and slow-burning: they grab you with their bold hues and hold you with their complex harmonies and dissonances, their sense of constant movement. He is particularly known for his square-format paintings of the past two decades but his career has been a lifelong search for a distinctive form of painting—one that, as he has said, is defiantly abstract yet contains “the complexity of the world”. He reflects on his encounters with an early mentor, Philip Guston; being painted by Barkley Hendricks, a fellow student at Yale; and his close friendship with David Hammons. He discusses his love of Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paolo Veronese and Henri Matisse, as well as the work of Gees Bend quilters. And explains how he connects this deep love of painting to musical greats including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Charlie Mingus. Plus he discusses in detail his life in the studio and answers our usual questions, including “what is art for?”Stanley Whitney: How High the Moon, Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Buffalo, US, 9 February-27 May; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, US, 14 November-16 March 2025; Institute of Contemporary Art /Boston, US, 17 April 2025–1 September 2025; Stanley Whitney: Dear Paris, Gagosian, Paris, until 28 February.
  • 1. A brush with... Wilhelm Sasnal

    46:29
    Polish artist Wilhelm Sasnal 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. Sasnal, born in 1972 in Tarnów, Poland, has made one of the most significant contributions to painting in the 21st century. He works with photographic imagery, drawn from an array of sources including newspapers, film, music videos, album covers, graphic novels, historic art and, crucially, his own photographs, including those taken on his smartphone, of his family. He also makes films, both in collaboration with his wife Anka and on his own. The result is a body of work that engages profoundly with contemporary life and the saturation of images that accompanies it. He discusses his array of source images and the process of choosing and using them, and how he has balanced the public and private across his career. He talks about risk-taking and allowing the paint to dictate the path of a picture. He reflects on how music was the spur for his discovery of art, and how it continues to be central to his work today. He talks about artists as diverse as Degas, Seurat, Sigmar Polke and Wolfgang Tillmans. And he answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: “What is art for?”Wilhelm Sasnal, Sadie Coles HQ, Kingly St, London, until 16 March; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 30 March-1 September; Wilhelm’s film The Assistant will be screened later in 2024.
  • 4. A brush with... Camille Henrot

    59:51
    Camille Henrot 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. Henrot was ​​born in 1978 in Paris and studied film at the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in the French capital. She uses drawing, painting, sculpture, installation and film to reflect on a huge range of subject matter, from anthropology and the climate emergency, to biodiversity and motherhood, to art history, literature and the excesses of the digital experience. At the heart of her practice is a concern with different forms of language and knowledge and how they are structured and composed. Her work emerges from deep research and is full of intriguing contradictions, awash with fragmentation and disruption yet pregnant with humour and delight. Henrot grapples with the stuff around us and within us; her art explores distinctively how the empirical and the subjective, the outer world and her own private realm, intersect. She discusses her early and enduring passion for the art of Saul Steinberg and Louise Bourgeois, a profound friendship with the architect and thinker Yona Friedman, finding a kindred experience in the work of Hélène Cixous and Clarice Lispector, her use of musical playlists in the studio, and her fascination with the sadistic violence of Disney cartoons. Plus, she gives insight into her life in the studio and has a profound answer to our ultimate question: “what is art for?”Camille Henrot’s books Milkyways and Mother Tongue are published by Hatje Cantz and priced £22 and £48.