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WHO IS…PAUL NASH?

Posted 5 January 2017 by Kat

Who is he?

Paul Nash is one of the most important British artists of the early twentieth century. Let’s meet him!

Black and white negative, Paul sketching [Whiteleaf?] date not known, Tate Archive, © reserved

Photographer unknown, Black and white negative, Paul sketching [Whiteleaf?] date not known, Tate Archive, © reserved,

What is he most famous for?

Born in London in 1889, he is most famous for his landscape paintings, which look mysterious and sometimes slightly spooky.

Paul Nash, Pillar and Moon 1932–42, c. Tate

Paul Nash, Pillar and Moon 1932–42, c. Tate

The features in his landscapes often seem to be more than just a tree or a hill. They have characteristics that make them look like animals, people, or other strange creatures. When he was young Paul Nash was fascinated by a group of tall elm trees that grew at the end of his garden. These trees were very old and he thought they looked as if they were ‘hurrying along stooping and undulating like a queue of urgent females with fantastic hats’.
Do you ever look at things in the landscape like gnarled tree trunks or clouds (like below) and think they look like animals, people or monsters?

Paul Nash, Flight of the Magnolia, 1944, c. Tate

Paul Nash, Flight of the Magnolia, 1944, c. Tate

Look at the picture below. It looks like a beach inhabited by a very weird bunch of sunbathers! How do you think he made it?

Paul Nash, Swanage c.1936, c. Tate

Paul Nash, Swanage, c.1936, c. Tate

That’s right – he used collage. He collaged photographs of sticks and other bits of nature. (You could have a go at making your own eerie Paul Nash inspired landscape by sticking photos of twigs, leaves and other natural objects with funny shapes to a drawing or photograph of a landscape).

Where did his ideas and style come from?

There were two big things that influenced Paul Nash: abstract art and surrealism.

Abstract art is art that doesn’t try to show accurately how something looks. Artists change how things look to create a particular feeling or emotion. Sometimes they do this by using unexpected colours, shapes or messy brush marks or by changing the perspective and adding objects that look odd.

Do you think this picture looks like a real scene? What words would you use to describe it? How has Paul Nash made the landscape look a bit strange?

Paul Nash, Landscape at Iden, 1929, c. Tate

Paul Nash, Landscape at Iden, 1929, c. Tate

The ideas of the surrealists also influenced Paul Nash’s style. The surrealists were a group of artists who, in the 1920s began to make art and creative writing inspired by thoughts that are hidden deep in our brains – that we might not even know we have!

They were interested in the ideas of a famous psychologist called Sigmund Freud. A psychologist is someone who investigates people’s minds and tries to understand how they think. Freud called these hidden thoughts ‘the subconscious’. Sometimes these hidden thoughts appear in our dreams.

Anything else we need to know?

During both the First and Second World Wars Paul Nash was an official war artist. A war artist is someone paid by the government to paint or draw events that were happening in the war.

Paul Nash’s paintings didn’t just document the war in a straightforward way. In this painting, the huge red watery sunset adds a powerful feeling of sadness to this scene of a crashed plane.

Paul Nash, Bomber in the Corn, 1940,.

Paul Nash, Bomber in the Corn, 1940, c. Tate

Would you like to see a pile of dead monsters?

Paul Nash, Totes Meer (Dead Sea), 1940–1 c. Tate

Paul Nash, Totes Meer (Dead Sea), 1940–1 c. Tate

This is one of the most famous paintings Paul Nash painted during the Second World War. It looks a bit like the sea with spiky silvery waves doesn’t it? He called the painting Totes Meer (which is German for Dead Sea). Can you work out what is piled up in this graveyard?

Paul Nash called them ‘enchanting monsters’…

Look closely, can you see wings and wheels? The ‘waves’ are in fact lots of crashed and broken aeroplanes. Look even more closely and you might see a ghostly white bird flying in the sky…

So, Paul Nash liked dreams, landscapes, magic and the surreal! Let us know what you think about Nash in the comments. Make your own imaginary landscape using materials at home or on the My Imaginary City game.

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WHO IS…HILLA BECHER?

Posted 22 July 2016 by Kat

Why do we take photographs? Sometimes to capture something amazing – fireworks or a beautiful crazy sunset; or perhaps to remember something – like a fantastic day out with friends.

Now look at these photographs taken by German artist Hilla Becher and her husband Bernd. What do you think about them?

Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher, Pitheads, 1974, © Estate of Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher

Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher, Pitheads, 1974, © Estate of Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher

I bet you’re thinking: ‘How can such matter-of-fact photographs of boring buildings be art?’

Don’t worry this is what lots of people thought when they first saw these photographs. But when you find out about Hilla Becher they make much more sense!

Who was she?

Hilla was born in 1931 in Siegen, Germany. From a young age she was interested in photography so her mum (who was a photographer) bought her a really nice camera. Her first job was working as an assistant to a very old-fashioned photographer. He used ancient cameras and nineteenth century techniques. But rather than thinking ‘Uh-oh get me out of here!’, Hilla realised that she could learn a lot of useful skills from him. Which she did! She learnt how to take amazing, detailed photographs.

Hilla met Bernd Becher in 1959. He was a painting student fascinated by industrial buildings. But he didn’t feel that paint could properly capture these fantastic structures. Luckily Hilla was on hand to help! She showed him how to take perfect photographs that captured every detail. From then on they collaborated: travelling around the world for the next 40 years and photographing over 200 industrial buildings including coal bunkers, winding towers, pitheads and factories.

Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher, Water Towers, 1972–2009, © Estate of Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher

Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher, Water Towers, 1972–2009, © Estate of Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher

Why industrial buildings?

Hilla and Bernd loved the design of these buildings – as everything about them was functional. An exhibition of their photographs in 1969 was called Anonymous Sculptures. This tells us something about how they saw these structures. They saw them as huge sculptures with strong impressive shapes. The structures have been compared to minimalist sculptures such as those by Donald Judd. In fact people often refer to the Bechers’s photographs as sculptures!

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1972, © Donald Judd Foundation/VAGA, New York and DACS, London 2016

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1972, © Donald Judd Foundation/VAGA, New York and DACS, London 2016

But as well as showing us their hidden beauty, the Bechers wanted to make sure that the buildings are remembered. As, unlike sculpture, these structures are knocked down when they are no longer needed. In fact many of them have already disappeared.

How did Hilla and Bernd create their photographs?

Hilla and Bernd photographed each building in exactly the same way: always on cloudy days (so there were no shadows); always from the same angles; and always in black and white (and never with any people)! They then made groups of photographs that showed the same type of structure. By doing this they created a pattern of shapes and forms.

Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher, Blast Furnaces, 1969–95, © Estate of Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher

Bernd Becher and Hilla Becher, Blast Furnaces, 1969–95, © Estate of Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher

They loved the rhythm created by these groups, as Hilla said:

‘By placing several cooling towers side by side something happened, something like tonal music; you don’t see what makes the objects different until you bring them together, so subtle are their differences.’

The point of photography is to ‘take a long look’ at something. And this is exactly what the Bechers’ photographs let us do. They don’t use arty effects or filters or unexpected angles. They just let the structures do the talking.

What did people think about their work?

At first other photographers and curators didn’t get the Bechers’ work and didn’t understand why it was art. But some of the greatest art can’t always be explained…and people soon recognised that these photographs were extraordinarily beautiful. In fact Hilla and Bernd’s matter-of-fact ‘show it how it is’ style has inspired lots of contemporary photographers including Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth.

Thomas Struth Shinju-ku (Skyscrapers), Tokyo 1986 1986, © Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth, Shinju-ku (Skyscrapers), Tokyo 1986 1986, © Thomas Struth

What do you think now?

You could say that Hilla and Bernd were doing exactly what we do when we take a photograph. She was using photography to capture something amazing and awe-inspiring – and also recording and remembering.

Next time you see a huge old industrial building, take a long look. Is there anything beautiful or amazing about it…(Its shapes, its sheer size or perhaps a detail)? Photograph it…as it may not be there next time you’re passing!

You can see Hilla’s work in the flesh at Tate Modern now! Let us know what you think in the comments.

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WHO IS…GEORGIA O’KEEFFE?

Posted 25 May 2016 by Kat

What do you think this is a painting of?

Georgia O’Keeffe Abstraction White Rose 1927 Oil on canvas 36 x 30 (91.4 x 76.2) Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation and Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe, Abstraction White Rose, 1927, Oil on canvas, 36 x 30 (91.4 x 76.2) Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation and Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Yes – It’s a flower, but it doesn’t look little and fragile as we usually expect flowers to look.

Why did Georgia O’Keeffe decide to paint it like this? This is what she said:

‘Nobody really sees a flower really – it is so small we haven’t time – and to see takes time… So I said to myself “I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it”’.

Who is she and what is she famous for?

Born in 1887, Georgia O’Keeffe was an American artist known for her emotional responses to nature. She is most known for her paintings of flowers and desert landscapes. She played an important part in the development of modern art in America, becoming the first female painter to gain respect in New York’s art world in the 1920s. Her unique and new way of painting nature, simplifying its shapes and forms meant that she was called a pioneer. The artwork below is a landscape. Do you see how she has simplified the clouds, sun and mountains?

Georgia O'Keeffe, Red and Orange Streak, 1919, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1987

Georgia O’Keeffe, Red and Orange Streak, 1919, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1987

Interestingly, O’Keeffe was fascinated by the bones and skulls she found in the landscape. She said, “To me they are as beautiful as anything I know…The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert even tho’ it is vast and empty and untouchable.” Do you agree? Why do you think she painted them so large in front of the landscape?

Georgia O'Keeffe From the Faraway, Nearby 1937 Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA) © TBC on receipt of permission

Georgia O’Keeffe From the Faraway, Nearby 1937 Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA) © Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1959

How did she develop her style?

Georgia knew from the age of 12 that she wanted to be an artist. She went to art school but what she was taught there didn’t seem relevant to the way she wanted to paint. Then in 1912 she discovered the revolutionary ideas of an artist and designer called Arthur Wesley Dow. He emphasised the importance of composition – which means how you arrange shapes and colours. As O’Keeffe explained: ‘His idea was, to put it simply, fill a space in a beautiful way’. This was a light-bulb moment for her and from then on she began to experiment with shapes, colours and marks.

Georgia met other artists who, like her, were experimenting with abstract art. Art in the 1920s was exciting. Artists didn’t just want to show how something looked but were using colours, shapes and brush-marks in unexpected ways to express meanings, ideas and feelings. This encouraged Georgia to develop her own unique style – a combination of abstract and realistic.

What inspired her?

http://kids1.tate.org.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/blackmesalandscape.jpg

Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II 1930, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (Santa Fe, USA). Gift of The Burnett Foundation
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

Look at this painting of hills. Although you can recognise what it is, it also has a strange and powerful atmosphere that a photograph of the landscape, or a more traditional, straightforward realistic painting, wouldn’t have.  What words would you use to describe this landscape?

It was painted in New Mexico, USA. Georgia first visited New Mexico in 1916 and fell in love with the dramatic desert landscape with its rugged mountains. This is what she said about the landscape:

‘As soon as I saw it, that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before but it fitted to me exactly. There’s something that’s in the air, its just different. The sky is different the stars are different, the wind is different’.

On the Road

Georgia wanted to stay as close as possible to the remote landscape places she loved, she travelled around the desert drawing and painting. She battled the heat and heavy wind and camped out under the stars. Luckily she had favourite mobile studio with her – her car – which she’d specially adapted as a place to work.

Have you ever visited a landscape that has taken your breath away? Next time try putting those feelings across using shapes and colours and try, (as Georgia says) to ‘fill the space in a beautiful way’.

You can see some of O’Keeffe’s beautiful artwork for yourself at an upcoming exhibition at Tate Modern. Remember you go free – as its free to go to all Tate exhibitions if you are Under 12. :)

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WHO IS…MARTA MINUJÍN?

Posted 20 April 2016 by Kat

Marta Minujín started off as a painter, but from the early 1960s she began to use materials that weren’t really thought of as ‘proper’ art materials, like mattresses and cardboard boxes.

Marta Minujín in Paris with her work Mattress before destruction Courtesy the artist

Marta Minujín in Paris with her work Mattress before destruction.  Courtesy the artist

She was a pop artist and like other pop artists was inspired by popular and commercial culture such as advertising, Hollywood movies and pop music. She liked the printed surfaces of the boxes she used with their logos, adverts and texts and these surfaces became part of her art.

But it wasn’t just the surfaces of the boxes that she liked. Inspired by the ideas of an artist friend called Alberto Greco, she began to manipulate the boxes, and other found objects, into shapes and structures so that they became something people could interact with. She made assemblages (like 3D collages) and environments that could be crawled into, or rolled on top of or laid upon.

And that was where the artwork, Mayhem started. Mayhem (which is La Menesunda in Spanish) gives us some clues about the work and also about what the artist is like – playful, fun and not always doing things she should…

Marta Minujín, LA MENESUNDA (1965) c. Marta Minujin

Marta Minujín, LA MENESUNDA (1965) c. Marta Minujin

Minujín was invited to make a work in 1965 for the Torcuato Di Tella Institute (an art museum) in Buenos Aires. But rather than making something to be shown in the space which visitors could look AT from a polite distance, she made the space INTO an artwork that people had to go into in order to experience it.

La Menesunda was a labyrinth of 16 environments, (an environment is an artwork that people can go into). Each one provided a completely different experience for the visitors, so they weren’t quite sure what they were going to get next. And if you think visiting the dentist in an art gallery isn’t confusing enough, she also created a walk-in freezer complete with hanging meat (made from cloth, luckily); and a mirrored room with black lights, falling confetti and the smell of frying food.

It is also important to her that her art is for everybody (not just for people who like art). Do you think you would enjoy visiting Mayhem? Lots of people did. Although the Torcuato Di Tella Institute was a serious art museum, lots of people came to see Mayhem who had never set foot inside a gallery before. In fact there were queues right down the street to get in and 30,000 people visited the exhibition.

 

Marta Minujín La destrucción (The Destruction) 1963 Courtesy of the artist and Henrique Faria Fine Art New York

Marta Minujín, La destrucción (The Destruction), 1963
Courtesy of the artist and Henrique Faria Fine Art New York

 

So what’s it all about?

Minujín’s work is all about participation – or joining in. She makes art that people don’t just look at – but actively encounter. She wants people to be surprised and shocked, to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, and to become curious. She sees her role as intensifying people’s lives by getting them to experience things and feelings they normally wouldn’t.

Do you like the idea of art that you can interact with – or play in or on? Have you ever visited a museum or gallery and explored interactive art? Do you think it changes how you think about art?

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WHO IS…THEASTER GATES?

Posted 13 April 2016 by Kat

What are the basics?

Theaster Gates was born in 1973 in Chicago, USA where he lives and works.

The things he creates may stretch the idea of what we think of as art. As well as sculpture, installation and performance…he performs makeovers on old buildings.

Theaster Gates, Building, 2012, Photo: Tanja Jürgensen

Theaster Gates, Building, 2012, Photo: Tanja Jürgensen

What’s it all about?

All of Theaster Gates’s art is about one thing – making people’s lives better.

He studied urban planning at college – which is the planning of buildings, road systems and neighbourhoods – and uses what he learnt from this to improve and revitalise poor areas of cities. He does this in lots of ways: from doing up old empty buildings so that they become something useful, to organising conferences and other events where people can meet to discuss ways of making society better.

Theaster Gates, Otis in the garden, 2012, Photo: Ellinor Lager

Theaster Gates, Otis in the garden, 2012, Photo: Ellinor Lager

This type of art is called socially engaged practice. Socially engaged artists collaborate with other people or communities to try and fix problems and improve people’s lives.

What is he most famous for?

Theaster Gates, Archive House Past (2009) and Present (2013) photos: Sara Pooley 2013

Theaster Gates, Archive House Past (2009) and Present (2013) photos: Sara Pooley 2013

Theaster Gates is most famous for his ambitious architectural projects. One of the biggest of these is The Dorchester Project. This is still happening, but began in 2006 when he bought an abandoned building in Chicago. He collaborated with a team of architects and designers to do the building up. This old empty useless building, (and others which he has worked on since then), has been transformed into an amazing, buzzing and very useful place where local people can do all sorts of fun and interesting things.

Theaster Gates, Visitors on swinging bench, 2012 Photo: Katherine Finerty

Theaster Gates, Visitors on swinging bench, 2012 Photo: Katherine Finerty

They can borrow books and music from a library, go to concerts and performances, meet others and share ideas and go on swings. Theaster Gates calls his architectural projects ‘real-estate art’.

What else do we need to know about his art?

Recycling is important to Theaster Gates. He describes his building projects as part of a ‘circular ecological system’. As well as recycling found materials for the renovation of his buildings; the building work itself is paid for entirely by selling sculptures and artworks he makes from old bits and pieces he finds inside the buildings.

His sculptures and installations, (as well as performance pieces) explore the history and culture of black people in America.

Let’s look closer…

This artwork by Theaster Gates looks a bit like an abstract painting doesn’t it? But it isn’t what it seems! Look closely; can you see what it’s made from?

Theaster Gates, Civil Tapestry 4, 2011, © Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates, Civil Tapestry 4, 2011, © Theaster Gates

As well as recycling, the work has another important message. Theaster Gates made the work about a shocking event that took place in Alabama in 1963. Young black school children were marching peacefully to demonstrate for equal rights, when fire hoses were turned on them. The powerful jets of water injured lots of the children. Theaster Gates uses the fire hoses to symbolise the horror of this awful event.

By using events from black history as subjects for his art, he wants to make sure people know about them so they don’t let them happen again.

Hungry for more?

You may not think of food as art…but in Theaster Gates’s hands it is. He, along with foodie collaborators, often cooks Sunday soul-food dinners for lots of different people.

Theaster Gates, Youth Dinner, 2012, Photo: Malin Bernalt

Theaster Gates, Youth Dinner, 2012, Photo: Malin Bernalt

Soul food originated in the Southern States of America in black communities, and as well as enjoying its delicious flavours, people discuss, question and celebrate the histories of the people associated with it. So it’s food for thought, as well as for the tummy.

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