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Re: [BKARTS] artist biographies

Thanks Betty
Great resource!
----- Original Message ----- From: "Betty Bright" <bright@xxxxxxx>
To: <BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Tuesday, January 03, 2006 12:40 PM
Subject: [BKARTS] artist biographies

Thank you again to all who sent along recommendations of artist biographies. Here is the complete list of biographies and autobiographies, plus a few of artist sketchbooks (I didn¹t make note of all these, sorry). I¹ve included reader comments on the books. Enjoy! Betty

For artists in their own environments you might consider books dealing with
artists and their studios, for example: Seidner "Artists at Work" a very
recent book; Micucci, "Artists in Residence" (on 8 19th c artists in Paris);
Sandra Philips work on the homes and studios of the Hudson River School

Two volumes of Henri Matisse biography, by Spurling, and the recent
biography of Wilem de Kooning. Both put the artists in context historically
and in their culture and the authors are quite knowledgeable about the art
of both, the influences of people and life experiences, as well as the
general history of art.

I recently read these books on Escher and found them comprehensive and
insightful; most useful in considering the effects of Escher's work on
various artistic strands. Schattschneider, D. (2004). M.C.Escher - Visions
of Symmetry. New York: Shamballa Publications. Schattschneider, D. & Emmer,
M. eds. (2003). M. C. Escher's Legacy: A Centennial Celebration. New York:
Springer Verlag.

Tennessee Williams's autobiography, MEMOIRS. What I like about it is his
unabashed candour. His determination to tell his story his was, and to be
open about his life. Regardless how unconventional  or "against the grain"
it may have seemed to others.

ON.C.Wyeth'  by David Michaelis. I recommend it as a very well written and
annotated book that reveals much about both Wyeth and his background as an
artist and also his family, many members of which became artists. A good
companion book to this is the 'The Wyeths',a volume of letters edited by
Betsy James Wyeth.

I found that Calvin Tomkins book "Duchamp A Biography" was interesting and
informative along with being a fun book to read. From the start to finish
(450+ pages) it was hard to put down. The biography is successful because it
not only reads like a historic novel explaining how Duchamp was affected by
in the world (social, political and artistic) around him but also expands on
how his work in turn effected the world he lived in and the world we live in
today. Another ingredient that makes this book successful is that it touches
upon other theorists of Duchamp with an open minded opinion about those
theories that give you a place to start if further reading on Duchamp is

A delightful fictional biography by William Boyd, Any Human Heart. Boyd also
wrote the infamous biography, Nat Tate: An American Artist, which turned out
to be an elaborate practical joke on the art scene."...On the eve of April
Fool's Day in 1998, the elite of New York's artistic and literary circles
gathered to celebrate the launching of Boyd's biography of a rediscovered
American artist, Nat Tate. Tate, an abstract-expressionist painter, had
associated with artists such as Picasso and Braque, but then methodically
destroyed most of his work and committed suicide at age 31, throwing himself
off the Staten Island Ferry and into artistic obscurity. Boyd and David
Bowie (a director of 21 Publishing, which produced the book) solemnly read
excerpts from the biography and were surprised and gratified as they mingled
with the guests to hear that a few people attending the party remembered
meeting Nat Tate. The only problem was that Nat Tate never existed: the
biography was completely fictional. Its credibility was boosted by
facsimiles of the artist's recently discovered drawings (created, for the
most part, by Boyd himself), grainy pictures of the artist and his
acquaintances (taken from collections of anonymous photographs), and an
endorsement on the dust-jacket by writer Gore Vidal (who was in on the joke
as well)."... Christopher Grobe, Yale Review of Books

Benvenuto Cellini's Autobiography. Why I like it? Because it's in his own
words and was not filtered by another. It was great learning what a true
renaissance artist thought of himself and his life. Doesn't get much more
real than that! (of course Benvenuto could have been writing fiction!) And I
liked Lust for Life, the story of Vincent Van Gogh, by Irving Stone. I'm not
going to declare it great literature or anything, but the very readable
narrative makes the characters come alive in a better way than just listing
the facts. And most of the story is based on factual events, etc. That one
book inspired me to really become an artist. I guess in both cases I was
attracted to the artist's experience and =

Utopia Parkway: The Life and Works of Joseph Cornell, by Deborah Solomon.
Full of detail, a real feel for the seclusive life lived and moved beyond
through the works.

An autobiography, The Sound of Sleat: A Painter's Life, by Jon Schueler. His
own words are priceless....his own self-judgments....his own descriptions of
trial and error...the intensity with which he pursued his goals and his
relationship to/interactions with the elements, the "art world",  other
people) are clear and highly engaging.

Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti, by Patricia Albers. For a
read about an absolutely fascinating life.

Selden Rodman's 'Portrait of the Artist as an American', the biography of
Ben Shahn. Not only is this a well written, fascinating book but it is
filled with wonderful sketches and family photos which are not grouped the
usual way but scattered about the book where they are actually mentioned. It
is also unusual in that it begins in the present,"Early in the evening of a
bleak November day in 1949 we sat by the open fire in the big studio behind
Ben Shahn's bungalow in Roosevelt, New Jersey." and works backwards through
his life to the closing line, "He was born in Kovno the morning of September
12, 1898." There are few books that I have read a second time but this one
is so interesting for the period of time and the people it covers that I
have gone back and re-read it several times over the years, each time
finding something new and interesting. It is also the kind of book that
makes you want to go off, as I did, and see some of places mentioned like
the mural he did in the school in Roosevelt, NJ.

Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit - Learn it and Use it for Life."

"Daybook, the Journey of an Artist" by Anne Truitt.

Dime Store Alchemy, by poet Charles Simic, a haunting collection of
vignettes that together form an unusual biography of Joseph Cornell and his

The reproduction of Frida Kahlo's journal is an amazing artist's sketchbook.

Rizzoli: Architect of Magnificent Visions, by Hernandez, Beardsley,
Cardinal. The book is less wordy than Utopian Parkway, but full of
reproductions of his intricate drawings/visions.

The National Library of Australia has been publishing the Diaries of Donald
Friend, one of Australia's leading artists from the 1940s through to the
80s. To date 3 volumes have been published and they are great. Volume 1,
This first volume covers Friend's early life as a student, his adventures in
Nigeria, and his experiences in the army during World War II. Including 100
drawings from Friend's diaries. Volume 2, Covering the period January 1944
to March 1949, The diaries speak about art, love, friendship, travel, and
much more, making absorbing reading as Friend experiences his final years of
war service, both in Brisbane and as an official war artist; his return to
Sydney where he lived with fellow artists in the colonial mansion Merioola;
his travels to the Torres Strait Islands; and time spent in the old
gold-mining town of Hill End. Including over 100 drawings from the diaries.
Volume 3, Covering the Period March 1949 to December 1966, sees Friend
travel to Italy, London, France, Spain and Sri Lanka before eventually
returning to Sydney. During this period he is also at Hill End (NSW), and in
Queensland, all the time producing art (winning the Blake Prize in 1955),
writing books, absorbing the influences of various cultures and meeting an
interesting range of people, including Attilio Guarracino, Peter Sculthorpe,
Patrick White, Robert Hughes and Ian Fairweather. They can be ordered from
the NLA website:

Mark Rothko anthology of his writings found and put together by his son.
Think the title is "The Nature of Art".

I just received a lovely and interesting large format book (read: coffee
table size) that fits into these categories too. "Illustrated Letters -
Artists and Writers Correspond" edited by Roselyne de Ayala and Jean-Pierre
Gueno (from Harry N. Abrams Publishers). It has letters with sketches from
Balzac, Delacroix, George Sand, Victor Hugo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Gauguin and
many more. I am particularly interested to see the handwriting of the

Naked Came I. I was impressed with the idea of eating nothing but lentil

The superb works by historian of science by Arthuir I. Miller (University
Col, London) I should say that they are different and highly worthwhile for
both categories. In two of his books ("Insights of Genius" MIT Press and
"Picasso and Einstein") Miller is interested in the creative process
particularly relating to the revolutionary period of 1895-1915. His insights
into Braque, Duchamp and particularly Picasso are inspired.  Also in both
books but more so in "Insights" (pp 431) he looks into the sketchbooks of
Picasso (and Poincare, but that is another story). Also on Picasso's
"Desmoiselles" see William Rush (editor) book on the large number of
sketches that P did for that same painting. Lastly there is John
Richardson's excellent biography of Picasso ("A Life of Picasso", beginning
in 1991).

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