Music choices give away a lot about a person. It is a shorthand for all sorts of information about a person being interviewed, and often reveal a side you weren’t expecting. Not surprisingly BBC Radio Four’s Dessert Island Discs, and BBC Radio Three’s Private Passions are both hugely popular.
I have started to ask people to create their own personal gallery of favourite art, treasures and objects of curiosity. Again, the answers are not necessarily what you would expect, and there are many reasons for the choices.
This series of interviews starts with me. Hopefully it gives you an idea of what I am aiming at. Each person gets to choose 5 things – pictures, curiosities or treasures, and one bit of information, materials advice, ‘how to’, or whatever to pass on to others.
Lucien Freud, And the Bridegroom
This is a oil painting of Leigh Bowery, a regular model for Freud and Nicola Bowery, his wife.
I first saw this painting at the Whitechapel Gallery in the 90s. It was placed at the bottom of some stairs and you were forced to move towards this intimate scene of a sated couple on their grubby, uninviting sheets. And so drawn to it.
These photos of the two models and the final piece, by Bruce Bernard, look grim and staged, whereas the painting has a luminosity and warmth. I can’t imagine shouting in front of this work – they are so deeply asleep.
Freud has accentuated the bride’s fragility and the macho spread of the husband. The folds of the cloth echo the limbs of the models. The golden light on the wall in the painting contrasts with the dark, architectural feel of the screen and seems to reflect the difference between the man and the woman. They are touching.
I have seen the painting in various different galleries and I am always overwhelmed by it. This series of photographs describe why I enjoy Freuds interpretation of the scene. I love the painting.
Nicolas Poussin, The Triumph of Pan
The Dulwich Picture Gallery had an exhibition of works by Cy Twombly and Nicolas Poussin in 2011. I spent a day at the gallery drawing the pictures and falling in love with the works of both artists. One of my regrets is not having bought the book of the exhibition, Arcadian Painters.
The Triumph of Pan is a masterclass in composition. I have drawn it and painted it a number of times. It is unbelievably complicated. Each new attempt appears doomed to failure, but that doesn’t seem to matter; I learn something new each time. The colour isn’t very exciting but EVERYTHING else is. Because of the trees in this picture I look at the screen in the Freud and see the importance of that structure in the background
The other day I made a trip to the National Gallery to see the picture, and find the second goat. I hadn’t seen it for while, and it wasn’t on display. The Poussin Room had one Poussin. Is he so very out of fashion?
Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm, no 30
This is a great big drip picture. Lots has been written about it. I haven’t read anything about it
One of the things I love to see in a picture is the presence of the artist. Sometimes you can tell whether the artist was left, or right handed, you can feel their attitude to the sitter in a portrait, you can see a battle with composition and errors in a drawing. These things pass to the viewer through time and show the humanity of all involved.
In this work by Pollock you can feel his footsteps as he moves from one area to another, you feel the weight and direction of the paint. It is like a large scale doodle with instinctive marks and composition. And in addition there is the chaos of the paint.
I have seen this piece in different places and I find myself sitting in front of it for great lengths of time, and striding along beside it, trying to match Pollocks steps.
Ivon Hitchens, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Gauguin, Cezanne,
This is a bit of a cheat – there is no one picture from any of the above. I look to some of them for interest in colour or pattern, others for composition, line, and the looser sort of figurative work.
I think Ivon Hitchens would be surprised to represent this basket.
This picture doesn’t have the overwhelming joy of pattern and colour of Bonnard. It seems to lack the narrative and colour of Gauguin, and the apparent lightness of touch of Cezanne. However, I feel the influence of all of them in this work.
I love the combination of spontaneity and very deliberate marks. I love the slightly unusual shape of the canvas, encouraging you to explore. The colours make me think of spring in the English countryside.
Who could not be happy to be greeted by this picture each morning?
Sargy Mann, blind artist
This appears to be another cheat.
The Artist, Sargy Mann, went blind halfway through his life but he continued to paint. He was very keen on Bonnard and curated an exhibition at the Hayward.
There is a short film made by Sargy Mann’s son about him going blind and discovering he could still paint by referring to his internal landscapes, memories and views. The colours he used after he went blind are joyful, vibrant and uncomplicated.
It doesn’t matter if your tree is blue, the edges blurred, the drawing not photographically accurate. It should be true to you, what you see and how you want to represent it. Don’t edit yourself to someone else’s idea of what you should be able to see, but be ruthless, brave and true to yourself.
The British painter Sargy Mann was diagnosed with cataracts at 36, and went on to lose his sight completely. But in his mind’s eye his vision did not fade. Mann found new ways to keep working. Even before he lost his sight, Sargy Mann was obsessed with ways of seeing. As a young painter he was tutored by singular realists – Frank Auerbach, Euan Uglow – who insisted that an individual artist must be exactly true to what he saw…Tim Adams, The Observer, 2010
The bit of kit I regularly encourage others to use are the wonderful Anilinky, Brilliant Watercolours by Koh-i-noor. They are vibrant, bold, brash, fun and very cheap.
It has been extremely tricky to choose so few pictures – indeed I need someone to tell me to stop faffing about and choose number four and five. I could argue that Hitchens is clearly a product of all those others. And Sargy Mann, whose work I admire hugely, is a reminder to get on with painting and to relish it.
I have avoided the wonderful pictures by friends and relations, and those pictures that trigger memories unconnected to the works themselves.
I would Love to hear about your gallery. Please, please send me the pictures and works that you return to time and again. I am making a series of different galleries of art, treasures and curiosities to reflective different influences on artists and those interested in art.