Art Quarterly, winter 2014: The bigger picture
- 1 December 2014
Art photography, Maggi Hambling and a lost Hockney masterpiece – Art Quarterly editor Claire Wrathall introduces the latest issue of our members' magazine.
In his book Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art to be Understood, Grayson Perry asks Martin Parr what makes a photograph a work of art, to which the photographer replies that all it needs is to be 'bigger than two metres and priced higher than five figures'.
Certainly the C-print from one of British photographer Dan Holdsworth's large-format Blackout series (from which this issue's cover is a detail) is a large-format work, measuring 1770 by 2260 mm. Andreas Gursky's Rhein II, which hangs in Tate Modern, is larger still at 2063 by 3575 mm. But each is a work of art for reasons far beyond Parr’s jokey answer. As Rachel Spence points out in her essay ('It's the making, not the taking'), photography of this kind has little to do with point and shoot.
Holdsworth, she explains, spent more than a decade photographing – in colour – the Sólheimajökull glacier in Iceland on large-format film using very long exposures, then digitally scanning the images and inverting them into negatives. This is no snowscape then; the glacier, he says, 'was almost entirely black, composed of volcanic debris, melting out of the ice'. Holdsworth calls it 'mapping the sublime'. As Spence observes, 'Their feathery, limitless crests recall Turner's unstoppable skies and Caspar David Friedrich's fog-swept seas.'
Darren Almond, another artist who works with cameras not brushes, also mentions Turner and Friedrich in this issue’s Q interview, in which he talks about the writing that informs his practice.
For as is evident in John Akomfrah's remarkable video installation, The Unfinished Conversation, which the Art Fund has helped Tate and the British Council to acquire jointly and is the subject of Steve Hopkinson's piece, words often have a part to play in inspiring and informing photography and video art. Hence Akomfrah's use of texts by Mervyn Peake, Charles Dickens and William Blake, who also features in Colin Harrison’s story on the brotherhood of artists known as the Ancients ('Brothers in art').
Of course, Blake was a painter as well as a poet, and there is plenty of painting in this issue too. Martin Gayford talks to David Hockney about an all but forgotten, hitherto unseen masterpiece that he has given to Tate; the influence of Fra Angelico; and the maddening difficulty of painting blank walls.
And, as three exhibitions of her work open in London, Maggi Hambling talks about her recent work – her war-inspired paintings and sculpture, opening at Somerset House in March, and her latest monotypes and sea paintings, Walls of Water, now at the National Gallery – which like Dan Holdsworth’s manipulated landscapes, at least when seen close up, reveal an extraordinary range of intense colours.
Inspired by the 'unnervingly high, roaring, anarchic waves' of the North Sea, they are also, as it happens, larger than anything she has painted: each comfortably more than two metres wide. 'Which for someone as short as me,' she notes drily, 'is quite an achievement.'
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