This is sort of a repost. It is an article by art critic Andrew Lambirth in this morning’s Sunday Telegraph. An interesting take on the artist v critic:
“Writers about art are not necessarily artists themselves, but when they are, the insights of the practitioner invariably substantiate their judgments. One or two of the better art critics of recent years have also been painters. I’m thinking particularly of William Packer of the Financial Times and William Feaver of The Observer. Both have now retired from the weekly grind to write books and give more time to their painting, but the activity of making art gave their journalistic pronouncements an authority other writers lacked.
“In the past there have been such distinguished artist-critics as Wyndham Lewis, John Piper and Michael Ayrton, all of them equally at home in words as in visual images. By contrast, many of today’s art writers are drawn to the subject because they like the ideas behind it, the cultural and historical context that offers so much scope for theory and speculation. Very few are interested in looking at the material properties of the paint or bronze and explaining them formally, yet these physical attributes are precisely what distinguishes painting or sculpture from, say, literature. You would expect a music critic to be able to read music, yet too many contemporary art critics cannot read a painting or a sculpture.
“Over the years, one or two people have asked me – on the strength of my writing about art – whether I was painter. I have always felt flattered by this, but have hitherto replied that I don’t make art. That wasn’t strictly true because, for the last quarter of a century, I have sporadically made objects and collages, mostly out of junk.
“The activity has been private, for my own interest and amusement. Until last year I had never admitted to it publicly, but then an artist friend, Eileen Hogan, asked me to submit some work to the prestigious open exhibition, The Discerning Eye, held at London’s Mall Galleries. Hogan, a distinguished painter of landscapes, London squares and portraits, had seen things by me and urged me to exhibit. Her enthusiasm was a tonic, and last summer, in a burst of sustained activity, I made some 20 collages, many of them incorporating found objects and photographic imagery against oil-painted abstract backgrounds. From this group, six were chosen for the Mall Galleries, and my exhibiting début became a reality.
“I recommend the practicalities of public exhibition to anyone who writes about art and who has never tried to show their work as an artist. The critic often takes for granted the logistical challenges facing the aspirant exhibitor. For a start, all work has to be framed, and because I was entering collages that contained fragile objects (bits of wood, plastic cowboys, jewellery and so on) stuck to the surface of the works, they also had to be behind glass to protect them. I won’t mention the expense, as the main problem was transport. I live in Suffolk, and I don’t drive. It was impossible to carry six framed collages on the train on sending-in day, but I was saved from hiring a specialist art shipper by a combination of kind friends offering lifts and good old London taxis.
Homage to Eileen Agar by Andrew Lambirth
“Once delivered, you can forget about the work until the evening of the private view, which turns out to be the most crashing let-down because all the people you most want to come cry off for one reason or another. And nothing sells – though traditionally the PV is the best time for sales. Coping with the nerves and the anticlimax is one thing, but raised hopes are far worse. I received an email during the run of the exhibition offering congratulations that one of my collages had sold. I was delighted: at least now most of the framing bill would be covered. A red dot went up and I was looking forward to a cheque, when I was calmly informed that my cherished sale had been a clerical error. My disappointment was compounded when I went to collect the work afterwards, and the only collage that was wrapped was the one that was supposedly sold. The other five were handed back to me naked, and all that was offered was a pile of squares of bubble-wrap the size of small handkerchiefs – worse than useless for large framed works.
“Well, that was my first experience of exhibiting professionally. It taught me to have zero expectations, but it hasn’t put me off. Now that I’ve finally overcome my modesty, I’m about to show my work again, this time at the Minories in Colchester, a public gallery run by Colchester School of Art, in an exhibition arranged by the Suffolk dealership of Cobbold & Judd.
“Richard Cobbold and Emma Judd risked doing something I would never have dared: they approached my old friend Maggi Hambling, an artist of international standing, and asked if she would be in a show with me. Rather to my amazement, she accepted, but then she has always been tremendously supportive, and treats my collage-making to incisive comments and warm encouragement.
“I make no great claims for these collages, though they are a sincere expression of my interests and passions – a love of colour and texture and shape, of other art (I like making homages to artists I admire) – but most importantly, they feed back into my writing by informing more profoundly my critical understanding of art.
“To put it simply: making art helps you to realise how difficult it is to be a professional painter or sculptor, and gives you an idea of the practical problems and formal issues that underlie the everyday practice of the visual arts. And if it makes me a better critic, that can’t be a bad thing.”
‘Five Mornings’, new oil paintings by Maggi Hambling and collages by Andrew Lambirth can be seen in the Ballroom of the Minories, Colchester, from March 8-14. To watch a video of Maggi Hambling discussing her latest work, visit telegraph.co.uk