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A brush with...

A brush with... Yinka Shonibare

Season 18, Ep. 1

In 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.

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  • 1. A brush with... Michaël Borremans

    59:23
    Ben Luke talks to Michaël Borremans 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. Borremans, born in 1963 in Geraardsbergen in Belgium, is one of the most original painters working today. He marries a technical brilliance, born of a careful study of the style and touch of the Old Masters, with a sensibility and atmosphere that are completely his own. Though they depict figures, objects and environments, his paintings remain enigmatic, refusing to settle into easily readable narratives. They are full of uncanny detail and incident which is all the more pronounced because of his sensual handling of the paint. Though he is a perceptive observer of people, things and space, Borremans says he paints culture as opposed to nature. When he makes a painting of a human face, for instance, he is not concerned with the mimetic process of portraiture, rather with a perception of the ineffable nature of human psychology; with what it might mean to be—and to represent—a human being today. Even though it is characterised by an often absurd playfulness, an abiding sense of isolation and disquiet permeates Michaël’s work. He discusses the ongoing influence of Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez and Jean-Siméon Chardin, the inspirational comedy of Monty Python, the profound writing of Vladimir Nabokov, and his love of music by everyone from Franz Schubert to Taylor Swift. He gives insight into life in the studio and answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?Michaël Borremans: The Monkey, David Zwirner, London, opening in London Gallery Weekend, 31 May-2 June, and then 6 June-26 July; Michaël Borremans: The Promise, Prada Rong Zhai, Shanghai, China, until 9 June;  Michaël Borremans, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, the Netherlands, 30 November-23 March 2025
  • 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

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    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.
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    58:43
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  • 2. A brush with... Stanley Whitney

    54:02
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