Art Quarterly autumn 2015 – out now

  • 1 September 2015
  • By Claire Wrathall
  • Editor, Art Quarterly

In the autumn issue of our exclusive members' magazine Sam West speaks on the wonders of Auerbach, Mat Collishaw talks to Don McCullin, and the terrible truths of Goya's paintings are revealed.

Mat Collishaw, an image from whose Insecticide series is shown on this issue’s cover, has long been celebrated as one of the so-called YBAs, who emerged from the fine-art course at Goldsmiths in the late 1980s. His recent and emerging work is stronger than ever, broad in reference, disquieting and affective. 

Aesthetically beautiful his images may be, but there’s an underlying horror once you realise what you are actually looking at. As the critic Jonathan Jones puts it, this is ‘art that lures the eye, only to punish the mind’. It is art that makes you think, a point the great photographer Don McCullin – a veteran of the conflicts in Congo, Vietnam, Cambodia and Beirut, so no stranger to harrowing scenes himself, with whom you will find Collishaw in conversation on page 54 – makes too. ‘When I take a picture of pain and suffering, you look at it, and it’s straightforward. You expect to see what you see. Whereas your work goes into all sorts of knotted and difficult things.’

Inevitably, their conversation turns to Goya and his, in Collishaw’s words, ‘way of crystallising that moment between life and death’. (For the record, the cover shows a moth in extremis.) Take, for example, Goya’s painting The Third of May 1808, which Rachel Spence, whose illuminating essay on Goya begins on page 40, calls ‘the most powerful statement against conflict the world had ever seen’. Its force, she writes, ‘lies, paradoxically, in its humility’. Here is a man ‘caught at a moment of existential vulnerability, helpless as a rabbit in the Grim Reaper’s headlights’. 
 
Their dialogue also considers photographic practices. Collishaw has made photogravure etchings of his Insectide series; McCullin is currently producing platinum prints. ‘They look like engravings,’ he says. (Platinum produces an exceptionally broad range of tones.) ‘They’re really quite beautiful.’

Of course, the use of powdered precious metal in works of art dates back at least as far as the Renaissance. Take metalpoint, a drawing technique that uses a stylus of gold or silver, most readily associated with artists such as Leonardo and Dürer but still used today by the likes of Susan Schwalb, Bruce Nauman and Jasper Johns. On page 64, the British Museum’s keeper of prints and drawings, Hugo Chapman, celebrates six centuries of this exquisitely wrought practice.

There is more gold on page 48, where we look at the immense contribution to scholarship and museum collections made by metal-detectorists, who spend their weekends sweeping fields in search of treasure, the official term for finds that are at least 10 per cent gold or silver and believed to be more than 300 years old.

Bronze, however, is the metal most associated with Alberto Giacometti, who is celebrated this winter with an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. On page 68, Martin Gayford considers his influence on the great artists of post-war Britain, notably Auerbach (to whom the actor Samuel West also pays tribute on page 96), Bacon and Freud, who, contrary to what he had supposed from his work, found Giacometti ‘an extremely amusing, humorous man. Not grim at all.’ 

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