Monday, October 24, 2016

Top 100 women / Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman

American artist and photographer, famed for her self-portraits in disguise, subverting notions of identity and gender

Emine Saner
Tuesday 8 March 2011 00.05 GMT

he work is what it is and hopefully it's seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work," says Cindy Sherman about her art, "but I'm not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff." But feminists were eager to claim her, inspired by her photographs that were not self-portraits but spoke of gender, identity and power.

In her early Untitled Film Stills, Sherman, always her own favourite muse, appears as B-movie cliches – as sex object or domestic drudge. In her Centerfolds series, she appears as a seductress and in another as terrified and vulnerable. Sherman, 57, has become everything from career woman to clown, beauty to hag, doll to dead, playing with disguise and stereotypes.
Her work, spanning more than 30 years, has made her one of the most important, and collected, female artists in the world. Last year, a 6ft photograph of Sherman as a muddied corpse sold for a record $2.7m (£1.7m).

Top 100 women / Paula Rego

Paula Rego

Paula Rego

Portuguese painter who broke boundaries at the Slade School of Art and was nominated for the Turner prize in her 50s

o look over Paula Rego's body of work is to look over the landscape of women's experience: desire, abortion, rape, female circumcision, childbirth, family relationships, dominating and being dominated by men; her masculine female figures are sometimes lonely, but usually fierce and often bent on revenge. Success came relatively late in life – a graduate of the Slade School of Art at a time when female artists were taught how to support and inspire their "superior" male artist partners ("women were good either for going to bed with or making good wives – particularly if they came with their own money and could support the men".)

Rego, now 75, was in her 40s before her first big solo exhibition, and in her 50s when she was nominated for the Turner prize. Although she was made a dame last year, Rego was born in Portugal and in 2009, Paula Rego – House of Stories, a gallery dedicated to housing her work, opened in Portugal. Germaine Greer, whose portrait by Rego hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, says, "No other artist has ever come close to capturing Rego's sense of the phantasmagoria that is female reality."

Top 100 women / Patti Smith

Patti Smith

Patti Smith

The pioneering punk musician, poet and political activist broke through the male punk movement without chasing fame or money

t was the most electrifying image I'd ever seen of a woman of my generation," Camille Paglia said of the cover of Patti Smith's debut album Horses, which was released in 1975. That photograph, taken by Smith's friend and sometime lover Robert Mapplethorpe, revealed her as defiant and without pretension, with an unkempt masculine beauty – and she has remained that way ever since

She is inspirational, not only because she broke through the heady male punk movement, but because she has integrity and loyalty to her art, resolutely never interested in chasing fame or money. Smith, 64, is a poet, photographer, artist, mother, political activist and a voracious reader and writer. "All I've ever wanted, since I was a child," she says, "was to do something wonderful."

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Suzanne Vega / How we made Tom's Diner

Suzanne Vega: how we made Tom's Diner

‘It’s a real place and I’m mentioned in their menu now. But they call me Susan Vega – and I still have to pay for coffee’

Interviews by Dave Simpson
Tuesday 18 October 2016 07.00 BST

Suzanne Vega, singer-songwriter

When I was at college in Manhattan in the early 1980s, I used to go to Tom’s Restaurant on 112th and Broadway for coffee. I liked its ordinariness: it was the kind of place you’d find on any corner. One day, I was in there mulling over a conversation I’d had with a photographer friend, Brian Rose, about romantic alienation. He told me he saw his life as if through a pane of glass. I came out of Tom’s with the idea of writing a song about an alienated character who just sees things happening around him. I was walking down Broadway and the melody popped into my head.
The line about the actor “who had died while he was drinking” was true: William Holden’s obituary had been in that morning’s paper. The “bells of the cathedral” were those of St John the Divine up the street, though I made up the bit about the woman “fixing her stockings” and changed “restaurant” to “diner” to make it rhyme.


I imagined the song as some kind of French film background music, played on a piano, but I don’t play piano so I recorded it a capella for my Solitude Standing album and didn’t think much more about it. Three years later, I heard that two young English guys called DNA had put a beat to it – and I cringed. I’d just had a big hit with Luka, which – unfortunately, despite its dark subject matter, child abuse – lent itself to all sorts of parodies and covers, most of which I hated.

Tom's Diner -Suzanne Vega
I feared more of the same, but to my great relief I loved what DNA had done. I thought it would be played in a few dance clubs and that would be it, but it surpassed everyone’s expectations. I even got a plaque for it being one of the most played R&B songs – funny for a folk singer.

Suzanne Vega / ‘It’s taken me a while to say, You are what you are, it’s fine’

Suzanne Vega: ‘It’s taken me a while to say, You are what you are, it’s fine’

The 80s pop-folk star talks about her confused identity growing up, and her new album drawn from her one-woman play about US writer Carson McCullers

Andrew Anthony
Sunday 9 October 2016 10.00 BST

uzanne Vega, the youthful lone voice of folkish revival in the 1980s, is now a 57-year-old woman but she remains, as she always has been, a mysteriously protean presence. She’s elfin small with large blue eyes and a face that tends towards cool inexpressiveness. She tells me that she’s often mistaken in the street for other people. “I’ve been told I’m Cynthia Nixon, Beth OrtonIsabella Rossellini and Molly Ringwald,” she says, shaking her head with bemusement.

Which one, I ask, does she most enjoy being confused with.
“Oh Isabella Rossellini. I was like, holy cow, thanks!”

Small blue thing 
 Suzanne Vega
Vega says she’s fascinated by the idea of “pretending to be other people”, and she’s auditioned unsuccessfully for several high-profile film parts down the years. She was up for the role of the underground musician in Desperately Seeking Susan, but lost out to Madonna. She got rejected as a nun in Sister Act, because her audition was “too dark”, and nearly played opposite Tom Cruise in The Color of Money.
She hasn’t yet landed a film role but in recent years she has acted the part of another young woman who found fame early and was hailed as a prodigious talent – the writer Carson McCullers. Five years ago Vega performed a musical stage piece she had written, Carson McCullers Talks About Love, portraying the alcoholic, disabled writer with her endlessly complex bisexual romantic interests and embittered literary rivalries. Now she has a new album out, Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening With Carson McCullers, based on the songs from that show, which she has rewritten and will be performing this week at several venues across the UK. Is it radically different from the original?
“The original play was actually done when I was in college. So this is the third version. I ripped it up because I was unhappy with it. I was trying something experimental and I felt it didn’t come off. This new version is more a classic one-woman show.”
Vega has been intrigued by McCullers ever since she read the short story Sucker as a teenager. Vega started out as a dancer at New York’s School of Performing Arts (immortalised in Fame) but dropped out to study English and drama at Barnard. One day her drama tutor set a project in which students were asked to come dressed as a real person who was dead, and they had to field questions as though in a TV interview. Vega decided to read a large biography of McCullers overnight.
“I really got into it. I could act out all these things I wasn’t inclined to do privately. She drank, she smoked, she apparently had all these affairs with different men and women. So I did my senior thesis on her and then put the project away for 30 years.”

Marlene on the Wall
Suzanne Vega

In the meantime, of course, she came to prominence as the singer-songwriter of Marlene on the WallLuka and Tom’s Diner. She arrived in the mid-1980s, aged 25, during the height of female flamboyance, when Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were strutting their exhibitionist stuff. By contrast she looked as if she was going for a coffee in the student union. “I always felt that I knew myself pretty well and I didn’t really bother with having an image,” she says.
But pop abhors a vacuum, so the image she got lumped with was of an earnest young folk singer who was too po-faced to play the game. In truth she was not immune to the pressures of success. By her third album, Days of Open Hand, released in 1990, she felt trapped by industry expectation.
“We worked for a whole year on that album. In the end I wasn’t really happy with it and there was this palpable sense of disappointment that we’d only sold a million copies. Now that seems really ridiculous. It felt like a crime that we didn’t sell three million!”

 Watch the video for Suzanne Vega’s Luka.

Subsequently her sales have steadily diminished, though she retains a hardcore of devoted fans. There is an echo here of McCullers’s career, who also started out with great success, publishing her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, in 1940 at the age of 23. Although she continued to produce acclaimed works likeReflections in a Golden Eye and the collection The Balad of the Sad Cafe, she began to fall out of fashion towards the end of her career, and when she died from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 50, she had been supplanted in the public imagination by other southern writers such as Harper Lee, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

Suzanne Vega - Gypsy

Just as Vega had started out as a dancer in New York, McCullers initially set out on a different track, studying piano at Manhattan’s Juilliard School. But after developing rheumatic fever, she took up writing seriously.
Often bracketed in the genre of southern gothic, McCullers wrote about her characters with an acute appreciation for human diversity and vulnerability. For Vega, the novelist was decades ahead of her time.
“From her disabilities to her bisexuality, what she called her dual nature, she was so modern. She was interested in writing from the point of view of black people. And she embodied these things. It wasn’t just ‘Oh I think I’ll write about civil rights’. She was deep in everything she wrote, and I think she suffered from it too.”
Like her heroine, Vega also has a gift for narrative empathy. Her songs often feature characters that feel novelistic in their realisation. After all, Luka was about the abuse of a young boy. At her best she brings to bear formidable powers of writerly observation, which may have something to do with a slight outsider’s perspective developed in her unorthodox cross-cultural upbringing.
Vega grew up in the Latino neighbourhood of East Harlem in New York and until she was nine years old, she believed that her stepfather, the Puerto Rican writer Ed Vega, was her father.
“I didn’t know my real father at all,” she says. “It was a huge shock and very embarrassing. All kinds of issues came up, mostly of identity. Because I was raised to be a proud half-Puerto Rican girl, and I loved my grandmother and aunt and I’d been to Puerto Rico, and I spoke Spanish and ate Puerto Rican food. And suddenly to be told that I was not Puerto Rican at all, that I was white!”

In her teens and early 20s, when she was reading a lot of revolutionary writers, she felt uncomfortable with her ethnic status. “It’s taken me a while to say ‘You are what you are, it’s fine’.”

She didn’t meet her biological father, Richard Peck, until she was in her late 20s, after she had gained international recognition. She says they have been in each other’s lives ever since and that he’s been very understanding of her sense of dislocation, having been an adopted child himself.
For the past 10 years she has been married to a lawyer called Paul Mills, and she has a 22-year-old daughter from a previous marriage to the musician and record producer Mitchell Froom.
If her own personal life is pretty stable, that wasn’t the case with McCullers. She married a soldier and wannabe writer, Reeves McCullers, when she was just 20, and thereafter suffered a torturous relationship based on that familiar but unhealthy dynamic of not being able to live together, and not being able to be apart.
It ended 16 years later, after various splits and reconciliations, a divorce and remarriage, with Reeves killing himself in what he hoped, mistakenly, would be a double suicide pact with his wife.
“They were almost always out of control,” says Vega, “but they really sort of needed each other. She took his name, but he kept trying to take bits of her identity, forging her cheques and professing to have all this writing talent himself, though he never put anything on the page.”
There were rumours, the kind often associated with successful women, that it was Reeves, who was the real author of the work. Vega knows the syndrome well. Her first husband produced her fourth album, which marked a significant shift towards a more electronic style of music. At the time there were suggestions that Froom drove the change.
“There was a camp of people who said, ‘Oh she changed her style to suit her husband’, which is nonsense. I hired him to do the thing that he did, and he did it really well, and that’s what I wanted him to do.”

But while McCullers was the obvious author of her own work, Vega believes her writing lost something when Reeves died, some of its earlier passion and social vision. What McCullers never lost, and Vega makes gentle fun of in one song entitled Harper Lee, is her competitive spirit. The song runs through McCullers’s opinions of other writers – “Virginia Woolf/She leaves me cold/I recognise the genius/But I’m twice as bold” – and boasts the catchy chorus: “Oh, Harper, Harper./Lee. Lee. Lee./She only wrote that one book!/I’ve written more than three.”
“She was trained by her mother to be a genius,” Vega says of McCuller’s motivation. “So you get the sense if you’re not a great genius maybe your mother won’t love you. She wasn’t going to let that go, and if that wrecked your marriage, well then that’s just too bad.”

I ask her if she feels competitive with other musicians.
“Yes,” she says without prevarication. “I have a jealous streak. I’m jealous of other people’s success, their acclaim, their recognition I guess. But over the years I’ve had to say, you just have to put that away. What I’m not jealous of is people’s freedoms. Because I’ve done what I’ve wanted. So I don’t begrudge anybody’s art. But sometimes I say, ‘Oh, they’re not up to much.’ I have to wrestle with that, though, because ultimately it will poison your art.”
A former Orange prize judge, she says she doesn’t read much modern fiction, preferring classics like Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, the Brontës, James Joyce and Hemingway. The most up-to-the-moment novel she has read recently is 25 years old – Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which she didn’t finish first time round. She appreciated the satire much more this time.
But what she really loves are biographies, particularly of creative people. Although she’s very careful about maintaining the privacy of her own life, she’s not one of those artists who argue that it’s all about the work. For her, it’s knowledge of the life that enhances appreciation of the work.

 Watch the video for Book of Dreams by Suzanne Vega.

“Say Francis Bacon,” she explains. “You see his work on the canvas, but it’s so much more enriching when you know some of them are his lovers and this is how he lived. This is what his room looked like.”

I say it’s notable that Bacon, like McCullers, led a chaotic, alcoholic life.
“I think that’s why you become an artist,” she says, “to clear all that out. You have this troubled life and you figure, where am I going to put all this? And you put it on the canvas or the page as overspill in a way.”
What survives from that overspill is entirely unpredictable. I tell her that on the way to the interview, I suddenly found myself humming the insanely catchy melody to Tom’s Diner, and having to remind myself to stop, in case she thought I was mocking her.
She laughs, but she’s grown used to its background ubiquity. She wrote the song in 1982 and it lay dormant for five years, before becoming a huge global hit. Since then it has been covered, sampled and resampled by everyone from REM to Snoop Dogg.
As for McCullers’s legacy, Vega would like to see her read more widely. Her work, she says, is growing more relevant by the day.
“Even in the last five years between the last production [of her McCullers show] and this one, so much has changed. The fact that gay people can marry each other now is an amazing leap forward. And that, sadly, we have to have Black Lives Matter – that [campaign] would be shocking to her. She wrote about police brutality very early in her career. The things that she was thinking of, and embodied, are very current. So I think there’s a whole generation of people who might find in her a kindred spirit. They just don’t know.”
Perhaps, with Vega’s help, they will soon.


Suzanne Vega / One of the most brilliant songwriters of her generation

Suzanne Vega
One of the most brilliant songwriters 
of her generation

Widely regarded as one of the most brilliant songwriters of her generation, Suzanne Vega emerged as a leading figure of the folk-music revival of the early 1980s when, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, she sang what has been labeled contemporary folk or neo-folk songs of her own creation in Greenwich Village clubs. Since the release of her self-titled, critically acclaimed 1985 debut album, she has given sold-out concerts in many of the world’s best-known halls. In performances devoid of outward drama that nevertheless convey deep emotion, Vega sings in a distinctive, clear vibrato-less voice that has been described as “a cool, dry sandpaper- brushed near-whisper” and as “plaintive but disarmingly powerful.”

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Jenny Saville / 'I used to be anti-beauty'

Still (2003)
Jenny Saville
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2012
Photo by Triunfo Arciniegas

Jenny Saville: 'I used to be anti-beauty'

Saville made her name with giant paintings of fleshy, flawed bodies. She talks about being bankrolled by Charles Saatchi, how having children is changing her art – and the joy of late-night vacuuming

Emine Saner
Monday 25 April 2016 09.00 BST

t’s funny to think of Jenny Saville in her studio at 1am, music blaring, with vacuum cleaner in hand as she approaches one of her canvases and starts sucking great lines through her work. That it should be a Henry vacuum, the shamelessly anthropomorphised device, makes it even better: as he approaches Saville’s giant works, ready to wreak destruction, his expression will be one of eternal cheerfulness.

“I’m getting more sophisticated with working out how many suction techniques I can find,” says Saville with a laugh, as we stand in front of Ebb and Flow. This great tangle of bodies is part of her new show at the Gagosian Gallery in London.

Still (2003)
Jenny Saville
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2012
Photo by Triunfo Arciniegas

Saville is known as a painter, but this exhibition is of her drawings. It is a “massive” freedom, she says, to work in charcoal and pastel rather than oil paint. “Just because of the transparency of drawing, you’ve got the possibility of multiple bodies. It’s an attempt to make multiple realities exist together rather than one sealed image.” It means she can change direction quickly. “In two hours, you can put a leg in here, go right through a body, go right through genitals, one gender changes to another.”

Jenny Saville's first UK solo show opens – but mind the wet paint

Jenny Saville´s Reverse

Jenny Saville's first UK solo show opens – but mind the wet paint
Oxford exhibition includes the mountainous fleshy nudes she became known for in the 1990s, as well as days-old new work

Mark Brown, arts correspondent
Friday 22 June 2012 20.13 BST

It will astonish many people that Jenny Saville is opening her first solo show in a British public gallery, but the artist does not feeling upset or wronged.
"I don't have a complaint about not being fashionable, I don't feel I've been ignored. It's out of choice that I haven't shown in the UK," she said as she put the final touches to an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford.

Jenny Saville / 'I want to be a painter of modern life, and modern bodies'

Jenny Saville: 'I want to be a painter of modern life, and modern bodies'

Rachel Cooke
Saturday 9 June 2012 21.46 BST

have a low-level dread of artists' studios, which tend to be full to overflowing with the (to me) highly distressing detritus of creativity: encrusted paint; cruelly abandoned canvases; ghostly dustsheets. But I find that I can just about cope with Jenny Saville's work space, which is in a shabby office building in Oxford, owned by Pembroke College.

For one thing, its scale works against claustrophobia; though she has had to remove ceiling tiles in a few places, the better to accommodate the taller of her paintings, it is nevertheless as big as a small supermarket. For another, it is divided, albeit haphazardly, into zones – broken-backed art books here, shrunken tubes of paint there – with a few feet of clear floor between. As we settle down with our mugs of Earl Grey tea, the spring rain fizzing against the windows, the feeling is almost – if not quite – cosy.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Does Jenny Saville fix it for you?

Does Jenny Saville fix it for you?

For once, I'm not offering an opinion, because I can't decide. Is feminist activist and YBA Jenny Saville the real deal or not?

Jonathan Jones
Thursday 29 September 2011 17.20 BST

Jenny Saville – good painter or bad painter? You tell me, because I'm not sure.
I used to be fairly sure she was a mediocre pseudo-expressionist whose rise to fame was down to the support of Charles Saatchi and a loud appeal to feminist cultural theory. In reality, I felt her paintings were too easy and glib in their mottled flesh, and just not serious enough about the challenge of depicting the human body with blobs of pigment on canvas. Lucian Freud's granddaughter she was not.
Saville is still a feminist: for the next couple of days you can see a work by her at the Gagosian Gallery in King's Cross, alongside pieces by a wide range of artists that go on sale in a charity auction this week on behalf of Women for Women International; she also co-organised the event. WfWI supports women in conflict zones around the world, and a gallery of great and good artists including Tracey Emin and Chuck Close have joined Saville to offer works to its cause.
So she is an activist, and her politics are real. She is also, by this time, plainly a serious painter, in the sense that she still keeps doing what she does – she also has a solo exhibition in New York at the moment – and succeeds in making it bite, somehow, into the culture. A row over a work by her on the cover of a rock album in 2009 typified the way she makes painting a force on the contemporary scene, able to shock and trouble a world far beyond art galleries. In this, she may not be so unlike Freud after all.
On the other hand, do her paintings possess enough real joy in the art of painting to make them live, in the long term, as art? Is she a powerful painter of visceral subjects or a pastiche of such a painter?
For once, I am not offering an opinion. I'm asking you. Is Saville the real deal or not?

Self-portraits / A voyage around myself

Jenny Saville

A voyage around myself

A collection of self-portraits from Joshua Reynolds to Jenny Saville gives a fascinating insight into how we view ourselves. And it's not always flattering

Peter Conrad
Sunday 30 October 2005 01.28 GMT

Moralists are always complaining about our lack of self-knowledge, but how can we be expected to know ourselves when it's so difficult for us to see ourselves? We are trapped in our bodies, obliterated by our own flesh; each of us is a subject, though other people see only an object.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Jenny Saville / Under the skin

Juncture by Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville

Under the skin

Jenny Saville's paintings are known for the mountains of flesh they reveal, but it is the neuroses bursting through that interest her, she tells Suzie Mackenzie

Suzie Mackenzie
Saturday 22 October 2005 00.13 BST

In August 2003, on her way back to London from a holiday in Sicily, the artist Jenny Saville stopped off in the island's capital, Palermo, for what she intended to be a single day's sightseeing, having never visited the city before. It must have been like entering not so much a new world, as her own world - the world she has carried around in her head since she was a child and which she has forged into those monumental flesh paintings, her unidealised naked bodies, which erupt and leak at us, and force us into new habits of perception. What is this thing, the body, her paintings ask, when it is stripped bare, denuded of personality and context, this thing that seems so much a part of us, and which we try so hard to look after and yet which betrays us, decays from within, and which, when it leaves us, takes us with it?

Trace, 1993
by Jenny Saville

alermo, she says, seemed to her just like a vast mutant body, a body that doesn't belong to anyone or to any one moment in time. "A mysterious hybrid of a city. Here you see can see a 1950s public housing building abutting a Norman church. An Arab mosque next to a Catholic church." And, just like the body, it bears the scars of all its violent and tumultuous history.