Suggested Research – Louise Bourgeois

I did not recognise the name Louise Bourgeois, but when I looked at her work I instantly knew her HUGE spider sculpture, MamanMaman is a bronze, stainless steel, and marble sculpture, which depicts a spider. It measures over 30 ft high and over 33 ft wide and was created in 1999 by Bourgeois as a part of her inaugural commission of The Unilever Series (2000), in the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern. The original was created in steel, with an edition of six subsequent castings in bronze. It includes a sac containing 26 marble eggs, and its abdomen and thorax are made of ribbed bronze.

It would seem that Bourgeois had a fascination with spiders from early on; there is a small ink and charcoal drawing dated 1947.


It alludes to the strength of Bourgeois’ mother, with metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection.Her mother Josephine was a woman who repaired tapestries in her father’s textile restoration workshop in Paris.

‘The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.’

Her father was apparently ‘a tyrannical philanderer’ and after her mother died in 1932, she swapped her studies in maths to art. Her father thought ‘modern artists were wastrels’ and refused to support her, however she continued to study by joining classes where translators were needed for English-speaking students, these translators were not charged tuition.  During one of these classes she met Fernand Léger who advised her that her future was as a sculptor, not a painter.

Turning to her father’s indiscretions for inspiration- he had an affair with the family Nanny over several years- Bourgeois’ artwork is famous for its exceedingly personal themes: the unconscious, sexual desire, and the body.

Using art as a catharsis Bourgeois ‘transformed her experiences into a visual language using mythological and archetypal imagery’, utilising objects such as spirals, spiders, cages, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize the feminine psyche, beauty, and psychological pain.

I really like her piece of work 10am is when you come to me. I love the symbolism of the time shared together with her assistant, the motif of the hand to symbolise dependency and support, the colour red to possibly symbolise emotional intensity and the musical score paper it is painted on ‘further emphasises the rhythm of Bourgeois and Gorovoy’s relationship’.


A full explanation of the piece is on the Tate website here.

It took a long time for Bourgeois to receive any real recognition and finally had her first retrospective in 1982, held by the MoMA in New York City. This was followed by another in 1989 at Documenta 9 in Kassel, Germany. In 2000 her works were selected to be shown at the opening of the Tate Modern in London and in 2001, she showed at the Hermitage Museum. Although Bourgeois exhibited with the Abstract Expressionists such as Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, and her work has much in common with Surrealism and Feminist art, she was not really part of any particular artistic movement.

On the Tate website there is a short video interview she gave.

More of her work is described here.

Like Kienholz she drew on personal experiences and passions for political and social issues to inform her artwork. Bourgeois created artwork for the AIDS activist organization ACT UP in 1993 and in 2010 she promoted LGBT equality by creating the piece I Do, depicting two flowers growing from one stem, to benefit the nonprofit organization Freedom to Marry. Bourgeois said ‘Everyone should have the right to marry. To make a commitment to love someone forever is a beautiful thing.’


Although an artist/sculptor rather than a photographer Louise Bourgeois was a brilliant person to research, as she once more underlined the way you can draw on personal/shared experiences to influence your creative processes in different directions. Also her use of quite surreal metaphors for ordinary everyday subjects was enlightening.

Suggested Research – Edward Kienholz

Edward Kienholz 1927-1994

I’d never heard of Edward Kienholz therefore was intrigued over what I might find ‘challenging’ about his work when Russell suggested I look…on Googling him I soon found out why he is described as an ‘artist of unwavering originality, critical insight, and notoriety’; he certainly does seem to produce some obscure and in some cases repulsive, looking work!

His huge life-size three-dimensional tableaux were ‘immersive environments’ that strongly reflected upon ‘contemporary social and political issues of late twentieth-century America.’ These tableaux were mainly made from discarded items.

Kienholz was married several times, but eventually settled in a stable relationship with his fifth wife, the artist Nancy Reddin Kienholz, who worked closely with him in the conceptualisation and fabrication of his later works.

In the 1960s Kienholz took an even grittier approach to his materials than his predecessors by utilizing discarded objects that appeared grimy and damaged. In large-scale installations with life-sized figures and built environments, Kienholz made his work physically and emotionally immersive, breaking down the comfort zone between the art and its audience.

Echoing the degraded, filthy quality of his materials, his sculptures and tableaux often evoke American society’s sexual prudery, political corruption, moral hypocrisy, and oppression of marginalised groups. These works are designed to evoke complicated responses of revulsion and guilt, often making viewers feel complicit in their atrocities.
Due to its controversial subject matter and its unflinching portrayals of sex and violence, Kienholz’s work was frequently the target of debates over obscenity and the appropriate use of public funding for the arts, foreshadowing discussions about contemporary art that still continue to this day.

The more I found out about him the more I wanted to discover, looking on YouTube for videos of his installations was definitely eye-opening. His work is visceral, ugly, deformed, in some ways incomprehensible, whilst at the same time sending exactly the right message, which inexorably draws you in – well it did me. I could not just look and comment on one single installation.

The following block quote descriptions are all taken from the website The Art Story.

The Illegal Operation (1962)

Artwork description & Analysis: Made nearly a decade before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion in the United States, The Illegal Operation depicts the scene of an abortion at a time when the procedure was practiced in secrecy, often in dangerous and unregulated conditions. This early sculpture, created out of found objects including a shopping cart, a wooden stool, and a standing lamp, is a prime example of Kienholz’s Funk art assemblage. Its title hints at the taboo debate surrounding abortion rights, while its crudely hewn composition – with the cart reconfigured into a chair, the lampshade tilted askew, and the linens darkened with filth – suggests that something is clearly amiss. Through its visceral imagery, the sculpture draws attention to the country’s problematic handling of the abortion issue during the middle of the twentieth century. This piece was also based on Kienholz’s personal experience of abortion, since his wife at the time had undergone the same procedure during this period and was forced to do so illegally. Like much of his later work, The Illegal Operation broaches a controversial topic while insisting that matters of political and social discourse are never unwarranted artistic subjects.


I like the way he drew upon personal experiences a well as world events to base his pieces on.

The Back Seat Dodge ’38 (1964)

Artwork description & Analysis: When this work was displayed in Kienholz’s 1966 solo show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it caused an uproar, leading some local authorities to call it pornographic and others to plead for its removal from the exhibition. The sculpture portrays a youthful couple engaged in sexual activity in a truncated 1938 Dodge coupe with its passenger seat door propped ajar. The woman, cast in plaster, lies across the seat with the man, formed out of chicken wire, lying on top of her; the two figures are surrounded by beer bottles. As Kienholz has noted, this piece represents an adolescent experience common to many young adults who grew up in the new age of the automobile and is based on his own early sexual experimentation. The work, which can only be seen by gazing through the open door, gives the sense that the viewer has intruded upon the scene as a voyeur. By embedding the scene within the car, dimly lit by the car’s headlights and cab light, Kienholz engages simultaneous reactions of discomfort, revulsion, interest, and curiosity that evoke the mid-twentieth century American public’s attitudes towards sexuality.

What attracted me to this piece was that it could be altered by changing the lighting, which gave a completely different atmosphere. Again he was drawing on personal as well as most contemporary, Western adolescent experiences.

He may or may not have got inspiration from a Bobby Smith image taken in Tampa Florida in the 1950’s simply called The Back Seat of a Car.

Bobby Smith was the first female “messenger boy,” and co-founder of the Metropolitan Community Church in Tampa, Bobby Smith’s personal and professional photographs include both portraits and “everyday” shots of the LGBT community. The collection consists of nearly 450 photographs documenting Tampa’s Gay and Lesbian communities from the 1950s to the 1970s. Images of popular hang-outs, such as Jack’s Place, Knotty Pine, Jimmie White’s Tavern and the Brass Rail, are included. A small sample of the collection has been digitized and are available online at


The Beanery (1965)

The walk-in installation The Beanery is one of Kienholz’s most admired works. Inspired by Barney’s Beanery, a seedy pub located off the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles that was a famous hangout for celebrities, musicians, and artists, the work reconstructs a typical bar scene filtered through Kienholz’s unwieldy lens. While the installation reconstructs the general layout of the pub, The Beanery is also surreal, featuring denizens with faces formed out of clocks, all of which are set to the same time of 10:10. Kienholz has noted that time is suspended in the installation to underscore the escapism of the bar’s clientele; as he stated, “A bar is a sad place, a place full of strangers who are killing time, postponing the idea that they’re going to die.” Only the figure of Barney, the pub’s owner, has a human face, which acts as an emblem of the merciless passage of time.

As one of Kienholz’s most ambitious installations, this work also highlights the artist’s prowess as a craftsman. The tableau, which includes seventeen individuals scattered throughout the scene, combines cast elements with found objects that have been cleverly woven together; some figures are engaged in private interactions, creating multiple simultaneous narratives that are united through the looped soundtrack of clinking glasses and laughter that plays whenever the installation is displayed.

This installation has in recent years been re-displayed, with the museum concerned trying to restore it.

Continue reading “Suggested Research – Edward Kienholz”

Suggested Research – Edward Hopper

Garry Winogrand extolled the virtues of looking at other arts and elements in normal life to give inspiration. Russell also suggested that I take a look at the work of Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper 1882 – 1967

Edward Hopper  was a prominent American realist painter and print-maker. He died in 1967 and sadly his wife died ten months later. She bequeathed their joint collection of more than three thousand works to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Other significant paintings by Hopper are held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Des Moines Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Hopper mainly painted from two primary sources: the common features of American life  and its inhabitants and seascapes and rural landscapes. Urban architecture and cityscapes also were major subjects often depicting the city as desolate and dangerous.

Hopper’s individuals, usually depicted isolated and disconnected from their environments either literally by glass windows or metaphorically through formal means, are manifestations of the artist’s focus on the solitude of modern life. The starkness of detail and unmodulated revelatory light in many works builds a tension, drawing the viewer’s attention away from the given subject, and suggesting much about his emotional experience. In this way, the artist’s work acts as a bridge between the interest in everyday life exhibited by the contemporary Ashcan School and the exploration of mood by later existential artists.

He loved to create moods and atmosphere by using light and shadow: bright sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows it casts, played ‘symbolically powerful roles’ in Hopper paintings such as Early Sunday Morning (1930), Summertime (1943), Seven A.M. (1948), and Sun in an Empty Room (1963). His use of light and shadow have frequently been compared to ‘the cinematography of film noir.’ His use of saturated colour also heightened the contrast and created mood and atmosphere. Rooms by the Sea touched on the surreal.

Said to be  attracted to ‘an emblematic, anti-narrative symbolism’ he ‘painted short isolated moments of configuration, saturated with suggestion’ with his ‘silent spaces and uneasy encounters…[touching] us where we are most vulnerable.’ The images are said to have ‘a suggestion of melancholy.’

The best-known of Hopper’s paintings, Nighthawks (1942), is one of his paintings of groups. It shows customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner. The shapes and diagonals are carefully constructed. The viewpoint is cinematic—from the sidewalk, as if the viewer were approaching the restaurant. The diner’s harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, enhancing the mood and subtle emotion. As in many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal. The restaurant depicted was inspired by one in Greenwich Village. Both Hopper and his wife posed for the figures, and Jo Hopper gave the painting its title. The inspiration for the picture may have come from Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Killers, which Hopper greatly admired, or from the more philosophical A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. In keeping with the title of his painting, Hopper later said, Nighthawks has more to do with the possibility of predators in the night than with loneliness.

Continue reading “Suggested Research – Edward Hopper”

Suggested Research – Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson was born in 1962 in Brooklyn, his career has spanned three decades with his work exhibited widely in the United States and Europe and included in many public collections such as The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Brooklyn Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

His most well-known bodies of work are probably Natural Wonder, Twilight, Dream House (a 2002 commission by The New York Times Magazine), Beneath the Roses, and Sanctuary.

Beneath the Roses, a series of pictures that took nearly ten years to complete—with a crew of over one hundred cumulatively—was the subject of the 2012 feature documentary Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, by Ben Shapiro.

Crewdson’s photographs usually take place in small-town America, but are dramatic and cinematic featuring often disturbing, surreal events that usually take place at twilight. In creating what he calls ‘frozen moments’, he has developed a process akin to the making of a feature film. Operating on an epic scale, he uses a large crew to shoot and then develop the images during post-production.They are elaborately staged and lit using crews familiar with motion picture production using motion picture film equipment and techniques.

He created a body of work titled Twilight ‘where every detail was meticulously planned and staged, in particular the lighting. In some instances, extra lighting and special effects such as artificial rain or dry ice are used to enhance a natural moment of twilight. In others, the effect of twilight is entirely artificially created.’

Crewdson has cited the films Vertigo, The Night of the Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blue Velvet, and Safe as having influenced his style, as well as the painter Edward Hopper and photographer Diane Arbus.

He gave an insightful interview to The American Reader about his techniques as a ‘director’ and how little he tries to interact with his ‘subjects’, how he constructs his scenes, one was a scene from psycho…

 AR. …we learn that the bathroom is a reconstruction of the bathroom in Psycho. Do you want viewers to recognize these symbols and be subconsciously affected?

GC: Right. Well, in that particular case, for me that was the starting point. I started thinking of motel rooms, and I thought of that motel room in Psycho. But that was just a starting point, and through the process of making the picture, the picture changed.

I think subconsciously we all have a connection to that imagery and a certain kind of dread.

AR: Do photographs naturally inspire or have more potential to inspire dread? It’s so interesting that you used that word because I’ve felt that in front of photographs before and I’ve just never put my finger on it. Is there just something about a still image?

GC: That’s an interesting proposition. I do think that dread is about a certain kind of expectation. And the fact that a picture can never resolve itself the way a movie can—maybe that’s a specific kind of dread that becomes associated with a picture.

I also found this observation very telling

AR: Towards the end of the documentary you talk about the inevitable disappointment of this imperfect translation of the image in your mind into what it becomes. Are you always disappointed?

GC: Yes. I think that’s the nature of representation. No matter what it will disappoint, it will fail in some way.

But that’s also part of the magic of art. If every picture met my expectation in exactly the right way, there’d be no mystery; there’d be no gap between what’s in my head and the picture I make. So it’s necessary. But it sure disappoints you. It’s also what propels you to make the next one.

Continue reading “Suggested Research – Gregory Crewdson”

Suggested Research – Martin Parr

Martin Parr, where do you begin with a Magnum photographer like Martin Parr? He has had around 40 solo photobooks published, and has featured in around 80 exhibitions worldwide – including the international touring exhibition ParrWorld, and a retrospective at the Barbican Arts Centre, London, in 2002. He has also curated work the exhibition Strange and Familiar at the Barbican in 2016.

It isn’t simple enough to call him a documentary photographer he is more ‘a chronicler of our age.’ So much so that he has just been commissioned by the BBC to make their new idents.

Renowned for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, I hope that the series of images Parr captures across the year will document everyday Britain in all its glory and serve as a fascinating and lasting record of 2017.

He is said to transcend ‘the traditional separation of the different types of photography’ using a strategy which presents and publishes the same photos in the ‘context of art photography, in exhibitions and in art books, as well as in the related fields of advertising and journalism.’

At first glance, his photographs seem exaggerated or even grotesque in fact he could be a modern day, colour Diane Arbus; strange motifs, garish colours and unusual perspectives. Revealing in a ‘penetrating way how we live, how we present ourselves to others, and what we value.’

But that isn’t what all of his work is about. Much of it is but some isn’t. In particular I love his recent work on The Rhubarb Triangle which focuses on one small industry and tells its story from beginning to end. I also liked his earlier work The Non Conformists which focused on one small community. What I am not so keen on is the garish images that to me are not a gentle mocking of the English at play but a more critical and condescending social commentary, for example ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85, but that’s just my take on some of his stuff. The rest I find quite stunning. And even the images that make me inwardly cringe I have to admire because they are or were summing up our society. His images are not only interesting as in visually appealing but they are also meaningful, as in they inform us about society and ourselves.

His observation on the British way of life is uncanny and his work ethic second to none. A friend of mine is in awe of his contacts and how he manages to get into places and situations to obtain his images.

I was lucky enough to attend a talk and on going to the joint exhibition with Tony Ray Jones Only in England, I remember the advice he gave to a fellow student about taking more interesting images he said ‘get out of London!’ As time has moved on I think his style has mellowed slightly and I prefer a lot more of his work now than I did previously.

He is another photographer who thinks you should take a lot of images but be ruthless when you edit. Due to his diversity he is again a photographer that you can keep returning to for inspiration with black and white, embedding yourself in a community as with assignment one, single shots that stand alone yet sum up an emotion or atmosphere, looking towards assignment two, and those which work as a narrative looking further on into the coursework.


Suggested Research – Arthur Fellig Aka Weegee

Born Ascher/Usher Fellig on June 12, 1899 in the town of Lemburg (now in Ukraine) his family immigrated to the United States, where his first name was changed to the more American-sounding Arthur. Arthur Fellig has the wonderful nick-name of Weegee…as the story goes this came about during his early career as a freelance press photographer in New York City. Quite frequently his nose for trouble/crime often led him to a scene well ahead of the police.

In reality he tuned his radio to the police frequency, but friends and colleagues linked him to the Ouija board. Spelling it phonetically, Fellig took Weegee as his professional name. One of the original freelance paparazzi or ‘ambulance chasers,’ being first on the scene allowed him to take the first and most sensational photographs of news events and offer them for sale to publications such as the Herald-Tribune, Daily News, Post, the Sun, and PM Weekly.

He was flamboyant and arrogant stamping ‘Credit Photo by Weegee the Famous’ on the back of his images. Gradually his images seeped into other areas, New York’s Photo League held an exhibition of his work in 1941, and the Museum of Modern Art began collecting his work, much which depicted ‘unflinchingly realistic scenes of urban life, crime, injury and death’, and exhibited it in 1943. Weegee published his photographs in several books, including Naked City (1945), Weegee’s People (1946), and Naked Hollywood (1953).

Weegee also worked in Hollywood as a filmmaker, performer, and technical consultant. His 1945 book Naked City was the inspiration for the 1947 film The Naked City. The Public Eye (1992), starring Joe Pesci, was based on the man himself.

Why he is important is because he invented himself. He started out in commercial photography, then forged his own career as a press photographer, worked in Hollywood on Dr Stangelove with Stanley Kubrik. Although mostly known for his crime scene images he also shot fun street images.

Weegee’s photographic oeuvre is unusual in that it was successful in the popular media and respected by the fine-art community during his lifetime. His photographs’ ability to navigate between these two realms comes from the strong emotional connection forged between the viewer and the characters in his photographs, as well as from Weegee’s skill at choosing the most telling and significant moments of the events he photographed.

He used  very basic press photographer equipment and methods of the era, a 4×5 Speed Graphic camera preset at f/16 at 1/200 of a second, with flashbulbs and a set focus distance of ten feet. He would hang around police stations looking for tips from the police, and Bowery nightclubs…synonymous now with Martha Rosler.


Continue reading “Suggested Research – Arthur Fellig Aka Weegee”

Suggested Research – Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand was the complete opposite of William Eggleston. Ignore the B&W over colour debate, Winogrand’s philosophy was shoot everything, shoot lots, Egglestone’s was…pfft if you don’t get it the first time then don’t bother, the first one is the picture.

Winogrand was a prolific photographer, never sat still, fidgeted when he did and on the whole was always out on the streets he died at the age of 56… (thank you Eric Kim for your amazing website full of info)

(Left behind at his death)

2,500 undeveloped film = 90,000 photos
6,500 developed (but not contact sheets) = 234,000 photos
3,000 contact sheets = 108,000 photos
Total: 432,000 photos

(In Winogrand’s Archive)

20,000 contact sheets = 720,000 photos
100,000 negatives = 3,600,000 photos
30,500 color slides = 1,098,000 photos
Total: 5,418,000 photos

If you have the time some great videos are here

Continue reading “Suggested Research – Garry Winogrand”