A brush with...
A brush with… Phyllida Barlow
In March this year, we went to Finsbury Park in London to the home of Phyllida Barlow to interview her for the A brush with… podcast. Tragically, Phyllida died just a few days later. So this conversation is a tribute to one of the most significant British artists of recent years. Ardently committed to sculpture and convinced of its special power, she was coruscatingly erudite and perceptive, yet also irreverent and suspicious of orthodoxies. This was evident in her combinations of simple materials such as wood, plaster and scrim, cement, paint and fabric in extraordinary sculptures and installations. She managed to achieve at once awkwardness and grace, humour and pathos, the grand and the intimate. Among much else, Phyllida discusses the morality imposed on sculpture in her art school days, the underacknowledged “dirty side of making” in Marcel Duchamp’s work, her admiration for Louise Nevelson and Eduardo Chillida, the writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky and the films of Robert Bresson. Plus she answers our usual questions, including a moving response to the ultimate question, “What is art for?”
Phyllida Barlow, Chillida Leku, Hernani, near San Sebastian, Spain, until 22 October; The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Toronto, 8 September-4 February 2024.
View all episodes
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.
3. A brush with... Alvaro Barrington54:22Alvaro 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.
2. A brush with… Mandy El-Sayegh01:00:20Mandy El-Sayegh talks to Ben Luke about her influences—from writers to film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped her life and work. El-Sayegh, born in Selangor, Malaysia, in 1985 and now living in London, makes paintings, sculptures, installations, videos and performances that assemble disparate materials to explore the human body and mind within diverse social, cultural and political contexts. Moving freely and intuitively across these disciplines and media, she creates arresting correspondences between image and text, between the natural and the artificial, and between the senses and the intellect. She discusses growing up with a reproduction of Albrecht Dürer’s Christ on the Cross on the wall, the power of Paul Thek’s diverse work, her love of the South Korean artist Keunmin Lee’s paintings, the poetry of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and the films of David Cronenberg. Plus, she gives insight into life in the studio and answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: “what is art for?”Mandy El-Sayegh, Interiors, Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 1-30 September; Mandy El-Sayegh: In-Session, Tichy Ocean Foundation, Zurich, until 30 November; the book The Makeshift Body: Mandy El-Sayegh, Black Dog Publishing, published in September, £29.95/$39.95
1. A brush with... Larry Achiampong01:08:08In this first episode of a new series of A brush with…, Ben Luke talks to Larry Achiampong 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. Achiampong was born in London in 1984 to parents from Ghana, and he explores his personal and communal heritage through media including film, sculpture, installation, sound and performance. He uses diverse visual languages, drawn from popular culture like gaming, comics and Hollywood movies, as well as video art and conceptualism, to explore the legacies of colonisation and entrenched inequalities in contemporary society relating to class, gender and race. He veers from documentary to speculative fiction, often within the same piece. Achiampong discusses the profound early influence of Adrian Piper’s art and the films of Spike Lee, the poetry of Claudia Rankine, how he draws on video games and comics as well as art, and his rejection of the term Afrofuturism. Plus, he gives insight into his life in the studio, and reflects on our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?Larry Achiampong: Wayfinder, BALTIC, Gateshead, UK, until 29 October 2023; Larry Achiampong and David Blandy: Genetic Automata, Wellcome Collection, London, until 11 February 2024.
4. A brush with... Jeremy Deller01:03:07Ben 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.
3. A brush with... Jacqueline Humphries58:33Ben Luke talks to Jacqueline Humphries about her influences—from writers to film-makers, musicians and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped her life and work. Humphries, born in 1960 in New Orleans, US, and now based in New York, is an artist who has pushed painting into new territories. She is mindful of the medium’s history but embraces technologies and explores their impact on this time-honoured discipline. Her practice, which now stretches across five decades from the late 1980s to today, is rigorous, irreverent and consistently surprising. She discusses the early influence of Édouard Manet and a late revelation about Caravaggio, key relationships with fellow painters like Charlene von Heyl, her admiration of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, and her fascination with the video game Dwarf Fortress. Plus she answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: What is art for?Jacqueline Humphries, Modern Art, Helmet Row and Bury Street, London, until 22 July; We Smell Gas, Reena Spaulings, New York, until 25 June; From Andy Warhol to Kara Walker: Scenes from the Collection, Museum Brandhorst, Munich, Germany, until 14 July; To Bend the Ear of the Outer World: Conversations on contemporary abstract painting, Gagosian, London, until 25 August.