Kazimir Malevich, Suprematism, 1913
Lucien Freud, Portrait of a Man, 1954
Kazimir Malevich, Red Square (Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions), 1915
Helen Grace, Serious Undertakings, 1983
Polio Patients in Iron Lung Respirators
Although, I can't remember exactly where I saw it, Walt Disney's ground-breaking film The Living Desert (1953) has had an impact on my work and, perhaps, even my personality, although I'm not sure how. In 1953, it's 69 minutes transfixed me.
I also vividly remember the closing of schools and swimming pools because of the polio epidemic in New Zealand in 1948. The virus attacked children sometimes overnight, quietly and often with little more than a slight hint of unwellness. The photographs of the victims in primitive iron lungs, their heads protruding, paint brushes clenched in their teeth — these images terrified me.
Now I want to photograph heart-lung machines. My very last wish immediately before a heart operation last year, before the anaesthetist stopped my heart and put me into a death-like state, was to photograph that beautiful, clever machine, sitting there at my bedside ready to do its work. I have talked to the hospital; there is a possibility that I will be given access to it, this time camera in hand.
Diego Velázquez, The Toilet of Venus, 1647-51
Alexandra Bachzetsis is based in Basel and Zurich, Switzerland. A Piece Danced Alone will be performed at Art Stations Foundation, Poznań, Poland, on 17 October and From A to B via C at Centre Pompidou and Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris, France, on 23 and 24 October.
Sigmar Polke, Reiherbild VI, 1969
In a recent exhibition I curated for Nottingham Contemporary and Tate Liverpool, entitled ‘Encounters and Collisions’, I juxtaposed two paintings by the artist Beauford Delaney. One work from the mid-1950s depicts his great friend and supporter, the writer James Baldwin, of whom Delaney made many tender portraits. The other was Untitled (c.1958), a lyrical abstraction in creamy yellow and ochre brush strokes. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1901, moving to Greenwich Village in 1929 and then to Paris in 1953, Delaney spent his artistic career pursuing the truths that lay behind the world of appearances. His portraits of friends and lovers, and his investigations into the spiritual aspects of light and colour, converged in the paintings he produced in France, a country which served as a refuge for many African-American artists and writers seeking to ease the bite of American racism after the end of World War II.
I count Delaney and Baldwin as two of my many queer predecessors. I love Delaney’s indifference to the division between various modes of painting and his unflagging optimism, and I love Baldwin’s fierce critiques of American culture and society and his belief in the world-altering power of the bonds of love. My coaldust paintings, which use passages from Baldwin’s seminal essay ‘Stranger in the Village’ (1953), reference both men and, as Delaney did, attempt to blur the line between the figurative and the abstract.
Baldwin wrote of Delaney: ‘The darkness of Beauford’s beginnings, in Tennessee, many years ago, was a black-blue midnight indeed, opaque and full of sorrow. And I do not know, nor will any of us ever really know, what kind of strength it was that enabled him to make so dogged and splendid a journey.’ I hope, when I am gone, someone will say that my journey was a dogged and splendid one too.’
Chris Martin’s show at Anton Kern last year was as good a show as any I’d seen all season. I like the fact that his work isn’t hooked into one style; he has three different approaches going on at once.
His painting technique is like a traditional abstract expressionist’s: it is consummate, and there are very few people who can paint nearly that well.
The size and scale are great, and everything has a lot of substance.
There was a painting like a Malevich that I thought was fabulous.
I also thought, ‘Gee, that’s the best I’ve seen anyone use glitter.’ It takes the paintings and makes them contemporary. Usually, glitter is in a contained area. Chris Martin uses it like weights and it spreads: these were the most radical of his paintings.
All in all, I thought it was a terrific exhibition in regard to how masterfully he handles size and scale. I look forward to seeing his next show.
Alex Katz lives in New York, USA. This year, he has had solo shows at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York, and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, USA. ‘Brand-New & Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s’ is at the Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, USA, until 18 October. ‘Alex Katz: This Is Now’ will run at the Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, from 23 October until 7 February 2016.
First published in Issue 4