‘All the Buildings* in New York; * That I’ve Drawn So Far’ by James Gulliver Hancock (Universe Publishing; Rizzoli) Life drawing is a true skill; it’s one that should be nurtured and encouraged. To be able to draw anything at any time is a great communication skill and must be very satisfying. My husband and my brother both have this impressive skill where they can draw anything to scale and proportion at will and I admire this honed talent. Sydney illustrator, Hancock, moved to New York and, as part of his way of getting to know the city, set out on a project to draw the buildings and details around him. ‘Drawing is my way of understanding the things around me; it’s how I get comfortable and intimate with them’, he explains. These drawings have been collected to create a fascinating guidebook of New York. Hancock’s observant and detailed artworks of each building and street scape are interspersed with interesting notes such as The Woolworth Building where Frank Woolworth paid $13.5 Million in cash for the construction and that it was the tallest building in the word from 1913 – 1930. We see the Hook & Ladder building where ‘Ghostbusters’ was filmed, the Puck Building where Puck from Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ adorns the building, the Washington Square Arch which commemorates the centenary of George Washington becoming president, the Flatiron building named because it is shaped like an old flatiron, the Chelsea Hotel which was home to Andy Warhol, Madonna, Frida Kahlo and Bob Dylan, Renzo Piano’s energy efficient New York Times Building, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art which is the largest museum in USA containing over two million works of art. This really is a beautifully designed reference book celebrating the details and streetscapes of New York.
‘The Artist’s Lunch; At Home With Australia’s Most Celebrated Artists’ written by Alice McCormick and photographed by Sarah Rhodes (Murdoch Books) I loved reading this book about eighteen of Australia’s contemporary artists including the late Margaret Olley. Each artist was interviewed over lunch in their home environment, which created an intimate setting where they discussed what makes them tick as they shared a favourite recipe or two. Beautifully designed in terms of layout, graphics and use of gorgeous images and artwork, we see how this range of creative people live and work. Luke Sciberras talks about buying his first set of paints on a trip to Sienna sixteen years ago and painting on vegetable crates. Dorothy Napangardi talks about collecting bush food and painting Dreamtime stories. John Olsen talks about Australians being ‘very quick learners. We do things whole-heartedly and with passion. We’re also very flexible and are open to new ideas’ and how for him cooking is a creative energy. Jason Benjamin, a former chef, is about the process of refinement both in the kitchen and at the artist’s easel and the joy of conversation at the table. Philip Wolfhagen finds cooking as much about restraint, purity and respect; not to ‘muddy’ ingredients (or colours) with other flavours (or pigments). Savanhdary Vongpoothorn speaks of her family’s escape from Laos. Allan Mitelman creates a fascinating list of ten paintings of food and ten tunes to cook by. Michael Zavros uses precision techniques to make his dishes exact replicas of photos in cookbooks and talks about the ‘return to beauty, perhaps in response to a lot of ugliness in the world right now’. Anne Zahalka speaks of recipes that she cooks from the cookbook that her grandmother who died in a concentration camp in 1945 gave to her mother as she escaped to England and Salvatore Zofrea talks about the importance of a meal as a means of connecting. A range of recipes from the artists completes this beautiful production.
’10,000 Years of Art’ (Phaidon) Such a lot of years and such a compact book! This is a brilliant book of 500 works of art in chronological order from 8,000 BC to now. Clearly set out, each page is dedicated to a work of art listing it’s date, country of origin, name, material/medium, size, where it is now, a clear photo, history and significance. By putting the works in chronological order you can see what was being created across the globe at the same time. Fascinating! We read of the c.1,600BC Rillaton Cup which was founded in 1837 in a grave by stone quarry workers in UK; ‘According to the ancient law of treasure trove, the cup, being gold, was declared property of the Crown. It remained in the British royal family for almost a century, most notably being used by King George V to hold his collar studs’. Other works include the 100BC Guantemalan mural discovered in 2001, an Italian glass vase from 10BC which inspired Josiah Wedgwood, a Roman floor mosaic from AD 150 with designs depicting debris thrown on the floor after a banquet, the AD 725 Ardagh Chalice from Ireland which has 354 pieces held together with only 20 rivets, the AD 805 Book of Kells from Ireland where a magnifying glass is required to see the fine details, Leonardo da Vinci’s technique of sometimes pressing his fingers in to the wet paint and the temporary works of Jeff Koons. A glossary at the back give a succinct description of styles, techniques and materials. Thank you to my husband for giving me this wonderful book.
‘Letters to Klaus; Wonderful Envelope Art From Some of Today’s Best-Loved Illustrators’ by Klaus Flugge (Anderson Press) What a lovely idea for a book – publisher of Anderson Press (named after Hans Christian Anderson), Flugge, has collated the wonderful illustrated envelopes he has received over the years. The envelopes were framed on the walls in his office and the collection grew as people knew he appreciated them. ‘The art of letter-writing is in danger of dying out, I am sorry to say; all the more reason, then, for celebrating that art in this little book’, he says. There are wonderful envelopes from illustrator, David McKee (creator of ‘Elmer’) with a photo montage of Flugge sitting on the beach, others celebrating birthdays, Superman, Christmas and New Year. There are clever illustrations of the labyrinth of understanding the illustrator’s contract, trains drawn by Frederic Joos transporting the various stamps across the envelope, Philippe Dupasquier’s stunning design inspired by the stained glass design on the stamp he incorporated, envelopes with artwork by Susan Varley, Tony Ross and Axel Scheffler and beautiful calligraphy by Philippe Matter. It reminds me of a calligraphy course I did where the teachers incorporated the stamps when they were lettering their envelopes. What a lovely combination of skill, ingenuity and humour. All proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to Save the Children.
‘Art Is…’(The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Abrams) To me this book is all about the joy of art. Each of the 180 double pages is devoted to a reflection that is aimed to encourage readers to reflect, think and observe. All the works of art are found in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was established in 1870, so it’s a celebration of the museum’s amazing collection across it’s seventeen curatorial departments. We see Monet’s ‘Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies’, the Mesopotamian glazed brick panel of a striding lion, various Van Goghs including his ‘Self-portrait with a Straw Hat’, an Egyptian necklace, Pieter Brueghel’s ‘The Harvesters’, dresses by Yves Saint Laurent and by Hubert de Givenchy, a Chinese Ming dynasty jar, Calder’s ‘Four Directions’ mobile, Cezanne’s ‘Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses’, Seurat’s ‘Gray Weather, Grande Jatte’, a print of Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave at Kanagawa’, Cassatt’s ‘Lilacs in a Window’, Renoir’s ‘Two Young Girls at the Piano’, Vermeer’s ‘Study of a Young Woman’, Pissarro’s ‘Jalais Hill, Pontoise’, Klee’s ‘Temple Gardens’, Degas’ ‘The Dance Class’ and statue ‘The Little Fourteen-year-old-Dancer’, silk embroidery, sculpture, costumes, clothing, botanical illustrations and photographs. This book makes you think, reflect and enjoy the wide scope of artworks and remind you what is available to see at The Metropolitan Museum next time!
‘Carl Larsson’s Home, Family and Farm; Paintings from the Swedish Arts and Crafts Movement’ (Floris Books) This brand new book puts Larsson’s three books into one volume and changes the narrative to the third person instead of the original volumes. I think the book flows much better in this new format. Larsson is one of Sweden’s best-loved artists and his books are fascinating records of life from the end of the nineteenth century. From a childhood of desperate poverty and sickness, Larsson was determined that his children would grow up in a safer and happier environment than he had. He was already an artist in 1894 when it rained for six weeks without stopping in summer. Unable to paint outdoors, his artist wife suggested he paint scenes of their home. His house was unusual at the time because of its abundance of natural light and bright colours. The windowsills, panels and furniture were painted in blues, reds, whites and green. The water colour and ink paintings he created of their home were so popular that they were turned into a book and the images were so serene that some soldiers took a copy of the book with them to the trenches during WW1 as a reminder of home. Larsson went on to paint his house, garden, wife and seven children, life on the farm, Swedish traditions and celebrations. As a child, I was often given birthday cards with Larsson’s drawings on them – thank you to my parents and family friends who nurtured my love of this artist’s work.
‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ by Neil MacGregor (Allen Lane; Penguin Books) Based on the popular BBC Radio 4 series which was a fifteen minute session on radio over twenty weeks, this book discusses 100 manmade objects in The British Museum’s collection as a fascinating way of talking about history. Written by British Museum director, MacGregor, the book includes stone chopping tools, stone spearheads, a stone Indus seal, early writing tablets, papyrus, a gold cape, the statue of Ramesses II, gold coins and silver coins, the Rosetta Stone, scrolls, mosaics, the Sutton Hoo Helmut discovered in 1939, glass beakers, Ming banknotes, an Inca gold llama, a Jade dragon cup, Durer’s Rhinoceros woodcut, a mechanical galleon, a Mexican Codex map painted on bark, a map on a North American buckskin, the ship’s chronometer from HMS Beagle, a print of Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’, an early Victorian tea-set which tells us about the impact on an empire, a suffragette-defaced penny and a credit card. The objects are all described in an intriguing way pinpointing why they are so important and how they relate to world events, currency, discoveries, trade, religion and culture. Many objects have more than one photo so you can see them from various views. I found this a very readable history of interesting works of art.
‘Berthe Morisot’ by Kathleen Adler and Tamar Garb (Phaidon) A friend of mine in school art classes was the first person I ever heard mention Berthe Morisot, but I have never been able to find a good, interesting and thorough book on her works until now! This book is filled with images of Morisot’s stunning and perceptive works of art whilst relating her story in a fascinating way. I hadn’t appreciated how frustrating it must have been to be an outdoors painter in the nineteenth century as a woman; you had to have a chaperone as women were not to be seen by themselves, ‘This is one of the principal reasons why there are no female artists’, writes Morisot, you had to wait for a carriage and were not free to walk whenever and wherever you wanted, you were not included in regular informal meetings with other artists to discuss ideas and you could not ask men to sit for paintings. Rising above these restrictions, Morisot exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1864 and started exhibiting with the Impressionists from 1874 onwards. She posed for Manet’s painting ‘The Balcony’, married his brother and also posed for Renoir’s painting ‘Berthe Morisot and her Daughter’. As Adler and Garb write, ‘Morisot is an interesting case. A bourgeois woman who prided herself on her elegant and fashionable clothes, a mother and a wife who valued both these roles, a painter and colleague of the Impressionists, she was able to use her situation and her vision of the world to create a body of work’. Morisot paints sublime images of mainly domestic situations reflecting relationships and emotions with sublime use of colour, light and technique. Thank you, Melissa, for all those great times in art classes at school
‘Handwritten Notes To My Mother’ illustrated by Carla Shale (Hardie Grant) This is a beautifully produced compact book with hardback covers and deckled-edge pages. From spontaneous notes to considered poems and tributes, all the letters in this book show ways that express love to our mothers. Shale combines original artwork and photography to create an eloquent match of sentiment and design. Reading over the notes contained in this book make you reflect, appreciate and smile. Handwriting is something so personal, ‘(it) is the closest thing we have to conveying human emotions with bone, muscle and thought’, writes master penman, Michael Sull. I know that people are often self-conscious of their handwriting, but I think of a teacher of mine, Judy, who said, ‘If you receive envelopes in the post and some are window-faced typed envelopes and some are handwritten, which ones will you open first? If you can recognise the handwriting on any of them, then that is even more endearing’. I love handwriting, calligraphy, letter-writing and notes so this book was pure joy to read.
‘Passionate Patrons; Victoria & Albert and The Arts’ by Leah Kharibian (Royal Collection Publications) Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were a very interesting couple; throughout their twenty-one years of marriage they were enthusiastic supporters of the arts. They commissioned pieces, bought others and were keen to promote what they saw as the very best of modern design and manufacture. Before he was married, Prince Albert went on a Grand Tour of Italy in 1838, which had a profound impact on his appreciation and taste in art. He organized the Great Exhibition of 1851 to promote industry and to see a closer collaboration between artists, designers and manufacturers. The Great Exhibition included 17,000 exhibitors from around the world and was seen by six million people. Both the Queen and the Prince took lessons in etching, often making prints using each other’s drawings for inspiration. They commissioned a myriad of personal artworks such as superb stone inlays with their intertwined initials, bracelets of pebbles they collected on trips together, a chain and heart locket with a different coloured heart added after each of their children were born and a bracelet of miniature portraits of their children painted when they were each four years old. An interesting couple, who shared a love and support of the arts, Queen Victoria later opened the Victoria and Albert Museum, London which is devoted to art and design.
Read more of my reviews on books about art here.