A brush with...
A brush with... Sarah Lucas
An 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.
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4. A brush with… Nalini Malani58:43Nalini 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 Sedira01:03:54Zineb 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 Whitney54:02Stanley 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 Sasnal46:29Polish 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 Henrot59:51Camille 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.
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.