Last Friday I visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park to meet with the American artist Leonardo Drew as he unveiled his latest commission, Number 360 for the YSP’s eighteenth-century Chapel (on until October 2023).
In his abstract work Drew avoids working with found material, instead treating objects to appear found, and with the material almost acting as instruments making symphonies, in the case of Number 360 creating tension and turbulence but also this lovely sense of peace. It really looks special in the meditative Chapel and surrounded by early spring park life.
Drew’s work carries weight and meaning, yet he purposely numbers his work, instead of naming, so to encourage the viewer to make up their own mind, for the artwork to become a mirror, and for it to continually evolve with each interaction.
There’s a lovely sense of freedom to this. Of letting go.
Our conversation went from the process of art making, to the meaning of art, politics, religion and what it means to be human.
‘In Water Lilies #1, I integrate Monet’s Impressionist painting, reminiscent of Zenism in the East, and concrete experiences of my father and me into a digitised and pixelated language,’ explains Ai Weiwei of his latest and largest Lego artwork based on the painter’s Water Lilies (1914-26) and created for Design Museum London to coincide with Ai Weiwei: Making Sense, the artist’s biggest UK show in eight years.
He continues, ‘Toy bricks as the material, with their qualities of solidity and potential for deconstruction, reflect the attributes of language in our rapidly developing era where human consciousness is constantly dividing.’
Depicting the lily pond and garden at his home in Giverny, Normandy, Water Lilies beautifully captures nature’s serene beauty. And by choosing Monet’s painting, but then working with cold plastics and standard colours, Ai wants us to challenge our notion of reality and beauty.
And to add to the disorientation, on the right-hand side sits a dark portal, representing the door to the underground dugout in Xinjiang province where the young artist and his father, one of China’s most renowned poets, Ai Qing, were forced to live in exile in the 1960s. It forms a stark contrast to the waterlily paradise that dominates the scene.
‘Our world is complex and collapsing towards an unpredictable future,’ says Ai. ‘It’s crucial for individuals to find a personalised language to express their experience of these challenging conditions. Personalized expression arises from identifying with history and memories while creating a new language and narrative. Without a personal narrative, artistic narration loses its quality.’
At over 15m long and made from nearly 650,000 studs of Lego bricks in 22 colours, Water Lilies #1 will span the entire length of one of the walls in the Design Museum gallery in London when it goes on exhibition next month.
Tyler Hobbs is an Austin-based leading generative artist who is on show at the moment at Unit London and will be heading to Pace Gallery in New York later in the month.
Hobbs has a straightforward, systematic way of making artwork. It involves processes, procedures and algorithms. His generative art combines abstraction with information and communication technologies – perhaps two of the most exciting movements of the last century in art and science. Hobbs may write code to develop programmes that generate artwork, knowing the programmes will lead to a distinct creation. Or he may give in to chance – something that I wasn’t quite expecting on seeing his work.
And it’s been fascinating hearing his approach to involving technology so seamlessly in his work so the human and machine creation feels collaborative – almost natural
He tells me: “Randomness plays a large role. I try to find a balance between order and disorder or between structure and chaos. I want to give the programs the freedom and ability to surprise me and to escape the limitations of my imagination. Randomness is the ingredient that creates that opportunity.”
Artists, of course, have long been fascinated by new techniques and technology. Think of Joshua Reynolds’ camera obscura, or Andy Warhol’s polaroid artworks, and David Hockney’s current embrace of immersive art.
The artist Kazimir Malevich write in his ‘On New Systems in Art’ in 1919: “Art advances inexorably … Life develops with new forms; a new art, medium and experience are necessary for every epoch. Not seeing the modern world and its achievements means not participating in the triumph of modern transformations.”
Alice Neel, activist, feminist, humanist, warm and passionately non-conformist, is one of the leading painters of our time. Working predominantly in New York, where she lived most of her life, and in the intimate surroundings of her home rather than a studio, from the start of her long career Neel was drawn to raw moments of intimacy, painting neighbours, artists, activists, labour leaders, Black intellectuals, queer couples — often painting those excluded from portraiture. “I’m a collector of souls,” she wrote. “I paint my time using the people as evidence.”
‘Alice Neel: Hot off the Griddle’ at the Barbican gallery captures the spirit of this remarkable painter of the 20th century who, despite her figurative work being so unfashionable, refused to conform to the art movements of her time.
And she was a gifted portraitist; her gaze penetrates deep inside each of her subjects, all of whom are treated with respect, compassion, humour and equal attention, be it her fellow artist Andy Warhol caught at his most vulnerable (1970), the youthful poet and writer John Perreault (1972), head of the US Communist Party Gus Hall (1981), a couple of privileged Wellesley College girls (1967), her neighbour Carmen and child (1972), or indeed herself, painted in 1980 at a ripe age of 80.
As a side note, it’s interesting to compare Neel’s self-portrait with Lucian Freud’s ‘Painter Working, Reflections’ (1993), also his only full-figure naked self-portrait, painted as the artist turned 70. Whereas Neel reveals a touch of vulnerability in her pose, seated in an armchair, paintbrush in hand, cheeks flushed, Freud stands arrogant, full of ego, tough – yet both artist appear triumphant.
The Barbican’s gorgeous exhibition, with its warm colours and textures, offers an intimate encounter with the artist. Neel’s work is as fresh and relevant and powerful today as it was then. And, as the exhibition catalogue nicely points out, it speaks of our concerns and struggles, who is represented and why, highlighting the political nature of how we look at others, and what it is to feel seen.
‘Alice Neel: Hot off the Griddle’ is at the Barbican gallery in London until May 21, 2023.
As the director of the Design Museum in London, Tim Marlow is on a mission to transform the institution into a lively space that examines and showcases all sorts of different idea, and from multiple perspectives.
I met up with Marlow at the west London museum to see what the former Royal Academy of Arts director has in mind for a museum dedicated to contemporary design.
During our long conversation he said: “I’d like to get to a position where I can raise enough funding so we can be the museum that examines and showcases all sorts of different ideas. We are the national design museum and should be doing this.”