John Baldessari, Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell, 1966-1968
I’ve written about John Baldessari’s text paintings before but this seems like a good time to go back to one in particular: while I’m thinking about words of advice, Baldessari’s Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell seems like a good work to write about. There’s something pleasing – to me at least – about the idea of using the conventions of painting to produce something so unapologetically unpainterly. Lets face it, if Baldessari’s tips are even a little bit useful, by ignoring his own advice so comprehensively surely he’s ensuring his own work is unsaleable?
Except of course, he’s John Baldessari and as such he’s very far from whatever part of the art market it is that prefers paintings to be of landscapes, flowers or the madonna and child.
A simple visual link brings me somewhat unexpectedly from William Wegman to Edward Ruscha, not artists I’ve ever really thought of as in any way connected before. Admittedly, it’s a fairly tenuous connection but it was Wegman’s Spring that brought Ruscha’s Dog back to mind. There are the obvious similarities of dogness and wispy straw like stuff and the colour palette is fairly similar. And of course, as even vaguely regular readers of this blog will be aware, I’m not one to shy away from a link purely on account of its tenuousness. Plus, importantly, I really like Ed Ruscha’s work. Not that pieces like Dog are generally the works that come to mind when I think of Ruscha (which conveniently means he’s likely to crop up in another post sometime soon).
Though the degree to which hair can disgust is undoubtedly lessened by being mediated through photography or print, it nonetheless has a certain hold for me at least. I think it’s the connection with fairy tales and a sense that it’s in some way magical. I know nothing of spells at all apart from the opening lines of Macbeth but there’s hair right there, as far as I recall, so my mind makes that connection whether or not it would be borne out by, you know, actually looking stuff up. And of course, hair can stand in for the body. And in this lithograph by Kiki Smith, I think I’d argue that it stands in for both the artist and the process of recording in that the hair becomes a kind of drawing. Indeed, in this image the hair is Smith’s; the print is one of a folio of work in which Smith used imprints and photocopies of parts of her hair, face and neck as the basis for making prints.
Langlands and Bell, Air Routes of the World (Day), 2001
Air travel baffles me a bit. I sort of get the physics of the thing (not really, that baffles me too, but I get that it works) and rationally I know that everything’s really tightly controlled and monitored but looking up at the vapour trails on a clear day or watching planes coming in to land at Heathrow what I really don’t get is how the planes avoid each other so consistently. In a way, I suppose the sky is bigger than it looks but even so… The vapour trails don’t lie: that’s some complex dance going on above us.
In the hands of Langlands and Bell, air routes become a map of the world that effectively talks of global communication rather than geography. Mapping the world – or a section of it – according to where planes fly shows which cities are of global importance but with a few oddities in the mix in the form of hub airports which countless people pass through en route to somewhere else.
Tracey Emin, I didn’t say I couldn’t love you, 2011
I’ll start by owning up to the fact that I wouldn’t have gone to see She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, Tracey Emin’s exhibition at Turner Contemporary in Margate, if there hadn’t been a couple of other things on show outside the gallery that I particularly wanted to see. Over the years, Emin has made quite a lot of work I really like but most of it has been video and, with a few exceptions, I’m not crazy about her drawings, prints and paintings. But I was there so it would have been foolhardy not to take a look. I’ve seen enough of Emin’s work to know that at its best it can be genuinely affecting and that sometimes even the small, almost throw-away, drawings can be funny and occasionally hit a nerve or tell some sort of universal truth.
David Hockney, A Rake’s Progress, Plate No. 1 – The Arrival, 1961-63
If Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress was a morality tale for its time then it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s a tale that’s been retold by others for different times and changed moral imperatives. Over time inevitably, things change. There are few – if any – moral absolutes. Interpretation is key. Produced over two centuries after Hogarth’s series, David Hockney’s A Rake’s Progress tells the familiar tale of inheritance leading to a dissolute life and, ultimately, the mad house in a series of 16 prints: twice as many as the original, but fewer than the 24 plates apparently originally suggested to Hockney. Started while Hockney was still studying at the Royal College of Art, the series was largely made in London but is set in New York, where Hockney spent the summer of 1961. The rake here is Hockney himself, though he is drawing on his own experiences and twisting them to broadly fit Hogarth’s narrative, so that rather than receiving an inheritance from his father, Hockney’s rake gets money from a collector, though he is beaten down from $20 to $18 for his print.
William Hogarth, The Heir from A Rake’s Progress, 1732-33
While I’m thinking about artists reworking the work of others it seems pertinent to look at William Hogarth’s series of paintings A Rake’s Progress which has not only been reworked by other artists – not to mention being turned into an opera – but was reworked by Hogarth himself as a series of engravings a couple of years after he made the paintings. The series tells the story of Tom Rakewell who inherits a fortune, spends it on good living, gambling and debauchery before being imprisoned and ultimately ending up in Bedlam. It’s a story told succinctly in a series of eight images, first paintings then etchings. Hogarth saw this as an exploration of ‘modern morals’.
Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin, Deep inside my heart, 2009-10
Artists collaborating is hardly unusual. And, as the last few posts have shown, artists copy what’s gone before on a regular basis. And occasionally they go so far as to take someone else’s work and change it, like the Chapman brothers did when making Insult to Injury or like Robert Rauschenberg did, albeit with Willem de Kooning’s permission, when he rubbed out a drawing to make Erased de Kooning (1953). When Tracey Emin worked on top of a series of paintings by Louise Bouregois, she did so at Bourgeois’s behest, the two artists having met some years earlier and been in regular contact since; though Bourgeois wasn’t generally interested in collaborations, the two artists had shared preoccupations giving the idea of a joint work a certain appeal. As a collaboration what perhaps made this unusual was that Emin had the paintings for more than a year before deciding how to proceed. Do Not Abandon Me, the series of prints made from these images, was to be one of Bourgeois’s last works; although Bourgeois saw Emin’s additions – and was delighted with them – the work was not shown until after her death.
Jake and Dinos Chapman, Great Deeds Against the Dead, 1994
I’m sure there are other examples out there, but it seems to me it’s comparatively rare for reworkings of existing art to involve the move from two to three dimensions. Painting to photography, yes; printmaking to sculpture, no so much. But with a long-standing fascination with Goya’s portfolio of etchings The Disasters of War, that’s the approach Jake and Dinos Chapman took when making their sculpture Great Deeds Against the Dead.
After two consecutive posts about a body of work that – while not, in fact, devoid of laughs – is best described as thought-provoking and challenging and which raises questions about the worst aspects of twentieth century history, it seemed like time for a bit of light relief. It was thinking about seeing Yael Bartana’s work at the Venice Biennale that brought Urs Fischer to mind and though the Problem Paintings weren’t what I was initially planning to write about, they make me smile in just the right way so the work by Fischer I saw in Venice will just have to wait.