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Visual Art Practice

Visual Art Practice joan mitchell.png

Visual Art Practice

Allen Fisher

This art-historical seminar is designed to encourage participation and engagement in meaningful creative practice. The student’s practice can be poetry or visual art, painting or installation or a combination of practices. The student’s brief will be entirely open.


The plan is to offer one or more illustrated talks and discussions around art works by a range of painters, sculptors, performance and installation artists. Each session is organised around a synthesis of artefacts and ideas with a variety of attentions. The approach uses historical subjects in combination with contemporary practice. A summary of the topic headings should begin to indicate the range upon which an individual seminar might draw.


1. INNOVATIVE BRITISH LANDSCAPE PAINTING from the eighteenth- century industrial age to contemporary practice. From Wright of Derby and Turner to Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham and Peter Lanyon, Emma Stibbon and Thérèse Oulton.

2. WILLIAM BLAKE AND VISUAL ATTENTION. An emphasis on the poet Blake as a visual artist involved in visually responding to his own work and to the work of others.

3. FROM NEW YORK HARLEM TO NEW MEXICO DESERT AND BACK INTO THE URBAN. Contrasts of work from Jacob Lawrence and the Harlem renaissance to Agnes Martin and Georgia O’Keefe in the desert, to Bob Thompson and Jean-Michel Basquiat in Los Angeles and New York. 

4. BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE. An attention to works by many of the artists and poets involved and some of the developments in works of Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.

5. JOSEPH BEUYS IN THE CITY IN THE LANDSCAPE. Attention to Beuys’ artworks and his ideas of ecology.

6. GERHARDT RICHTER: NECESSARY PRACTICE. Attention to his painting and photography and his conceptual understanding of art practice as necessary work.

7. FIGURATIVE AND LYRIC PAINTING. Taking a range of painters facturing work after 1950. Harry Thubron, Joan Mitchell, Jasper Johns, R.B. Kitaj and Paula Rego.

8. LAND ART AND URBAN ATTENTION. From work on the land by Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt to the urban contemporary work of Doris Salcedo and Mona Hatoum.


In further detail:


1. Innovative British Landscape Painting.

From the works of Joseph Wright of Derby and J. M. W. Turner to works by Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham and Peter Lanyon, Emma Stibbon and Thérèse Oulton. A series of Close Views of particular works and a discussion of relevant contexts from effects of the industrial revolution to contemporary planetary boundaries and resilience.


2. William Blake and visual attention.

Blake’s own work, but also his visual work with the poetry of Dante, John Milton, Thomas Gray and Edward Young. Blake as poet and painter, printer and imaginative thinker. ‘I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.’ (1)

 (1) William Blake, Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion, 1804, plate 10.


3. From New York Harlem to New Mexico and back into the Urban.

Contrasts of work from Jacob Lawrence and the Harlem renaissance to Agnes Martin and Georgia O’Keefe, to Bob Thompson and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Lawrence wrote, ‘I paint the things I know about and the things I have experienced … The things I have experienced extend into my national, racial and class group. So I paint the American scene.’ (2)

 (2) Holland Cotter, ’Jacob Lawrence Is Dead at 82; Vivid Painter Who Chronicled Odyssey of Black Americans’, New York Times, June 10, 2000.


4. Black Mountain College and an attention to selected works by Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.

Black Mountain College began in 1933 by John A. Rice, ‘born out of a desire to create a new type of college based on John Dewey’s principles of progressive education’. Josef Albers and Anni Albers came that year and Josef taught there until 1949. Charles Olson started work there in 1948 and became rector in 1951. ‘A partial list of participants at the college includes Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Jacob Lawrence, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Susan Weil, Ben Shahn, Ruth Asawa, Franz Kline, Arthur Penn, Buckminster Fuller, M.C. Richards, Francine du Plessix Gray, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Dorothea Rockburne and many others. The session will also invite participants to consider ‘The Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange’ (ROCI) began in 1984 as an effort to spark international dialogue and enhance cultural understanding through artistic expression. 


5. Joseph Beuys in the City in the Landscape.

In December 1978, Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) published, ‘Appeal for an Alternative’. Widely cited as the artist’s manifesto in which he set forth the policies of the future Green Party. The concept of social sculpture, which Beuys developed in the early 1970s, centred on the belief that art could include the entire process of living — thoughts, actions, conversation, and objects — and therefore could be enacted by a wide range of people beyond artists. Derived from his involvement with Fluxus and his radical pedagogical approach at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, Beuys’ ideas reflect his desire to seek an alternative to the chaotic political, economic, and social life of a divided post-war Germany through a work of art. His projects of social sculpture, include his Office for Direct Democracy and the Free International University.


6. Gerhardt Richter: Necessary Practice.

‘My sole concern is the object. Otherwise I would not take so much trouble over my choice of subjects; otherwise I would not paint at all. … My concern is never art, but always what art can be used for.’ (3)

 (3) Gerhardt Richter and Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings and Interviews, 1962–1993, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.


7. Figurative and Lyric painting.

This session takes a Close Views of work by five painters: R.B. Kitaj and Paula Rego’s emphatically figurative work is juxtaposed with complexed figuration in the work of Harry Thubron, Joan Mitchell, Jasper Johns. Writing about Mitchell’s work and the issue of rage in her work, Linda Lochlin quoted from Mary Ann Caws wrote, ‘Rage is … one of the great marvels of the universe, for it is large, lithe, and lasting.  I have come to treasure my rage, as I never could my anger. My rage possessed and is still undoubtedly possessing me, from inside, and did not, does not, cannot demand that I control it … Energy comes from, and is sometimes indistinguishable from this rage.’ (4)

(4)  Mary Ann Caws, ‘Rage Begins at Home’, Massachusetts Review, 34, Spring 1993, pp. 65-66.


8. Land Art and Urban attention.

For example: Doris Salcedo makes sculptures and installations that function as political and mental archaeology, using domestic materials charged with significance and suffused with meanings accumulated over years of use in everyday life. Salcedo often takes specific historical events as her point of departure, conveying burdens and conflicts with precise and economical means. Noviembre 6 y 7 (2002) is a work commemorating the seventeenth anniversary of the violent seizing of the Supreme Court, Bogotá on 6 and 7 November, 1985. Salcedo sited the work in the new Palace of Justice where, over the course of 53 hours (the duration of the original siege), wooden chairs were slowly lowered against the façade of the building from different points on its 

roof, creating ‘an act of memory’ in order to re-inhabit this space of forgetting.

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