We can’t all get away to see places we love or experience new sights this summer, but the art world can bring us a change of perspective, heat, color, moonlight, and something to dream of, wherever we are.
1. Orange Market at Blidah by Henri Evenepoel
Henri Evenepoel is a Belgian artist associated with Fauvism, a style using strong brush strokes and colour and a high degree of abstraction. The name Fauvism was coined when an art critic slammed the movement’s artists as ‘fauves’ or wild beasts. Evenepoel died young, taken by typhus aged just 27 in 1899. He’d spent the winter of 1897-8 in Algeria due to poor health, where he experimented with how to paint the intense north African light. His Orange Market series was the result, blazing with colour and heat thanks to the use of flat tints to build depth.
An exhibition at the Fin-de-Siecle Museum in Brussels celebrates Evenepoel’s work this summer.
2. Gymnasium Series by Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi
South-African American artist, Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, uses human figures set in bold geometric blocks. A Tolland Award winner, her 2020 series ‘Gymnasium’ will give you a whiff of the Olympics this summer. But that’s not all. Her paintings are minimalist yet mysterious. Their simplicity belies an otherworldly quality which draws you in with questions about the relationships portrayed. You could spend a long time gazing at these.
3. Portrait of an Artist by David Hockney
David Hockney (born 1937, UK) is synonymous with images of cool blue pools with sun-crazed tiles, diving boards, underwater swimmers and onlookers; images that have become absorbed into our visual culture, a kind of language to convey 1960s California. In 2019, his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) gave him the record for world’s most expensive artist. It seems we can’t get enough of the sheen of sunshine and beautiful people, though there’s unspoken tension too. We long to be the one plunging through the water’s surface yet are forever destined to be observers.
Fans can see a new Hockney exhibition this summer at the Royal Academy in London, featuring works the 84-year-old ‘painted’ on his Ipad before they were printed on paper.
4. Viva la Vida by Frida Kahlo
At the end of the street where I used to live was a fruit-and-veg seller. You knew it was summer when the giant green watermelons arrived. Throughout the season, the guys there worked all day, slicing juicy watermelons into enormous wedges for the never-ending queue of thirsty customers. Hence this third choice: a still life of watermelons which was magic realist Kahlo’s final painting. Watermelons with voluptuous curves and jagged cuts saturate the canvas in bright pink and green, their seeds, symbol of new life dotted in black. ‘Viva la Vida’ or Long Live Life is inscribed on the inside of a watermelon half.
Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands last year postponed its major Viva La Frida exhibition . . . to this autumn, so it’s not too late to catch this unprecedented bringing together of two Kahlo collections.
5. Summer Moon at Miyajima by Tsuchiya Koitsu
Tsuchiya Koitsu, born in 1879 in rural Japan, did a 19-year apprenticeship as a woodcarver before becoming a New Print artist, blending traditional and Western values. A specialist in mood and emotion, in this 1936 painting he depicts the location of one of Japan’s most famous shrines in moonlight, deserted. The moon through the clouds, the gently glowing lanterns on deck, and the stillness of the water all capture the sultry feel of a summer evening. But is the small wasen boat coming or going?
6. A Successful Life – Chéri Samba
Growing out of the country’s independence in the 1960s, Samba was a co-founder of the Popular Painting movement. He engaged with the complexity of Kinshasa life through satire and humour. There’s a tradition in Kinshasa that artists display their work on the outside of their studios, which can all become very meta when the paintings depict the streets in which they hang.
One of my favourite of his works is Une Vie Non-Raté (1995) which also plays with this ‘inside-outside’ perspective. It shows an African family, mother cooking, children dancing near large speakers, father leaning on his Mercedes Benz. Like a piece of theatre, the ‘fourth wall’ of their home is missing – all is open to the elements (and the viewer). A traditional African home is shown in the background. It challenges stereotypes about developing countries while also questioning what success means. Every time I see the painting, I feel like I missed something last time. One to truly get lost in.
7. Déjeuner sur l’Herbe – Edouard Manet
Another painting that will have you disappearing down a referential rabbit-hole is Déjeuner sur l’Herbe by Edouard Manet. Scandalous at the time of production in 1862-3, it depicts a green glade where two women, one nude and one scantily-clad, have apparently been bathing and enjoying a picnic with two fully-dressed gents who seem rather uninterested in the ladies. The prudish critics perhaps missed the point. Manet was using the painting as a pretext just to paint – recreating elements of Old Masters, and this went on to inspire others, such as Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne, to create their own versions of Déjeuner Sur l’Herbe. Manet’s remains my favorite though. After all, who doesn’t like a picnic lunch and a swim with friends on a summer’s day?
8. Olive Grove Series – Van Gogh
What speaks more of heat and sun than a field of gnarled olive trees? Painted towards the end of his life, following the breakdown that lost him an ear, Van Gogh began painting the olive trees around his asylum in Provence. In letters, he described their colours to his family: ‘Silver, sometimes more blue, sometimes greenish, bronzed, whitening on the ground that is yellow, pink, purplish or orangeish to dull red ochre.’ He vowed to keep trying to capture the silveriness, which was hard – ‘the way sunflowers are for yellows.’ Apparently he was concentrating so hard he didn’t notice when cricket got stuck to his canvas – and it’s still there today.
9. Rhesus Macquaue Series – Chris Ofili
On the theme of unusual things to find on a canvas, Ofili is a British artist who uses Nigerian spiritual iconography such as elephant dung in his paintings. He explores faith and challenges how it is represented. The Tate Modern now owns a series he created for the Miró Gallery in Spain. It depicts a rhesus macaque monkey wearing icons like hats and jewels and holding a chalice. Spotlights overhead create a stained-glass window effect on the floor, placing the icons alongside each other in a religious atmosphere. The playfulness continues. Each painting is a different colour and titled Mono Verde, for example, or Mono Oro. In this way, the series puns on the Spanish word for monkey (‘mono’) and the British word ‘monochrome’.
10. Yosemite – Joseph Feher
While we’re here and dreaming about escape, let’s give Joseph Feher a round of applause. He was born in Hungary in 1908 and studied at the Academy Bella Arte in Florence, Italy and Bauhaus, Germany. After a scholarship at the Art Institute of Chicago he began working in commercial art and portraits. He went on to some dream jobs, including in the Academy of Arts in Hawaii, and being flown around the USA by United Airlines when he was commissioned by them to create adverts for cities until around 1949.