Artists don’t know where they are going but they persist nonetheless. Call it courage – or folly – but this openness to the accidental seems a key ingredient of artistic inspiration, a theme running through this issue. Richard Long RA, whose handprint graces the cover and whose work is in ‘Modern British Sculpture’ at the RA, embodies this in his walks, where he makes art from elements he finds in the landscape and photographs it (RA Magazine Winter 2010). He also brings the landscape into the gallery, with installations of stones and murals made of mud, blurring boundaries between painting and sculpture.
Long’s work defines what has been called ‘the expanded field’ of sculpture, which arguably began earlier in the 1960s after Anthony Caro, William Tucker and Phillip King knocked sculpture off the plinth and onto the ground. All three are now Academicians and are represented in ‘Modern British Sculpture’. When Tim Marlow asked Caro about the ‘Eureka’ moment when everything changed, he replied, ‘When you start these things you’re often groping in the dark… you just do it and it feels right’.
Stephen Farthing RA reveals his creative process in ‘The Back Story’, an exhibition of his paintings and drawings and the second of the RA’s ‘Artists’ Laboratory’ series. Farthing has just edited a survey of art history, and his work often references artists of the past, such as Boucher and Raeburn. It is, he says ‘the best way of making sense of who you are as an artist.’
The novelist Tracy Chevalier looks back at the creative evolution of Vermeer, pointing out that he was not always the exquisite painter of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. As a young man, he painted religious subjects awkwardly until he found his inspiration by focusing on tiny everyday details, such as soft furs and shimmering gold buttons.
Picasso was inspired to paint what some regard as the best works of his career by a love affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, a beautiful woman half his age, as Simon Wilson writes. Whatever one thinks of his womanising or her tragic suicide, the images of her in the Kunsthaus Zürich’s restaging of Picasso’s first retrospective provide a glimpse of the passion that fuelled his creative genius.
Picasso and the Surrealists inspired the fashion designers of their time and have continued to influence fashion to this day. Style guru Peter York decodes the array of fashion-as-art exhibitions this season. Meanwhile, the RA’s third GSK Contemporary exhibition ‘Aware’ explores the relationship between art, fashion and identity today, bringing together artists such as Gillian Wearing RA and Yoko Ono, with designers such as Martin Margiela and Alexander McQueen.
Tabitha Jackson, the new arts commissioner for Channel Four, revels in boundary-blurring, behind-the-scenes peeks at the creative process. She wants to make arts programmes that ‘get away from the sense that art is the preserve of the sophisticated and cultivated and set in big gold frames'.
I suspect she would get along brilliantly with the architect Will Alsop RA, whose abstract paintings feed his architectural imagination and who is building a cavernous arts space ‘with no agenda’ beneath his Battersea studio. His unorthodox approach doesn’t cost any more, he points out, and is a lot of fun. ‘There is a tendency... to dismiss something because it looks fun: if it’s fun it can’t be serious. There’s nothing more serious than fun.’ Let that be an inspiration to us all.