Tabish Khan the @LondonArtCritic takes a break from exhibitions to recommend his top art books to read this Summer. Each one comes with a concise review to help you decide whether it’s for you.
Muse by Ruth Millington, illustrated by Dina Razin – published by Square Peg
An excellent look at the artist’s muse and demystifying the idea of them as merely a passive object of passion. Taking on a mix of contemporary and past artists it shines a light on those classified as muses, gives them agency and the major impacts they had on the lives of artists.
Art Against Despair: Pictures to restore hope by The School of Life
Part art history book, part self-help book this illustrated book lives the idea that art should inspire us, with each chapter taking a different artwork and showing how it can lead us to live better lives ranging from Old Masters like Rembrandt to a ‘selfie’ on Mars by the Curiosity Rover. It’s all about the power of art, through art that can be joyous or sombre, and there’s a welcome freshness to it.
Marina Abramovic by Ossian Ward, published by Laurence King
This illustrated biography of one of the most important contemporary artists is a helpful and succinct whip through of her career, containing details of some of her most important works including her partnership with fellow artist Ulay. It’s digestible in one sitting and contains everything someone new to her work would need, or for those who’ve experienced one work and want to explore her previous works.
Masterpieces in Pieces by Ingrid Swenson & Mary Auld, published by Hachette
Getting people into art starts with children and this introduction to overarching categories such as portraits and animals in art is a great starter using examples from ancient through to contemporary art, from Old Masters such as Leonardo da Vinci through to Faith Ringgold. The authors have picked a diverse spread of artists, both in terms of gender and race to move away from the usual approach of a Western and masculine look at art history. Plus the use of questions and referring to other artworks, is great for young inquisitive minds.
Portrait of Britain: Volume 4 – published by Hoxton Mini Press
These 200 photographs capture a Britain coming out of lockdown so there are plenty of portraits of medical workers and the obligatory working from home shot. There’s also hope for the future with the first Hijab wearing boxing coach, Black Lives Matter protesters and on the cover an elderly woman embracing virtual reality. Some fantastic works that capture what Britain is today.
The Fine Artist in Me by Irfan Virk
This is an enjoyable meandering farce of life in an art college playing into the stereotypes of conceptual artists, and written by an artist so he knows how to capture it well. A highlight is the students who have formed a performance piece of essentially being cricket players who have their own pavilion in the canteen and break out into spontaneous matches.
The Colour Storm by Damian Dibben, published by Penguin
What elevates this piece of historical fiction is that it’s set in Renaissance Venice with the main character as painter Giorgione, with cameos from other famous figures from art history including Michelangelo. The hunt for a mysterious new pigment takes its time to get going, before a dramatic climax.
Marina Abramovic photo: Marco Anelli, courtesy of the Marina Abramovi? Archives. All other images courtesy author / publisher.