Blog: An up-close look at the mind of an artist

By Saskia Monshouwer

Yesterday my day was filled with watching films and attending an artists’ talk. Among the films I saw there were two documentaries — a genre that is the core of the CTFP festival — about artists David Hockney and Patrick Neu. Because of my profession I see a great deal of art documentaries, but I never considered them as a category of their own. Watching these films, it felt very familiar — being married to an artist myself, I recognized many things. It felt as if I found myself in an artist studio, of which I must have seen at least three hundred, maybe more, during the last twenty years. (This is a strange and a little bit shameful confession).

So it felt like the films had much familiar ground for me. First up was Hockney (2014) by Randall Wright: A straightforward documentary following the best classical traditions of the trade about British artist David Hockney, who made a significant contribution to the development of the British pop art movement. He was one of those young people that made London swing in the sixties. I enjoyed the beginning of the film and the story of the artist’s youth: Hockney is a good draftsman and you can only admire him when we see him escape his hometown Bradford as a young man, to paint in London and later on in New York. I was especially moved because his work reminds me of a good friend that passed away a year ago. Just some five years younger than Hockney he was fascinated by the same kind of synthesis that characterizes Hockney’s work. Both worked with a mix of realistic drawings and abstract paintings. Towards the end of the film and the autumn of his life — Hockney is 78 now and still painting — the music and the film become increasingly merrier. The film could have had a better presentation of Hockney’s work for my taste.  

This was in stark contrast to the documentary The Salamander Complex (2015), directed by Stéphane Manchematin and Serge Steyer, which I absolutely loved. Not only because of the beautiful, lustrous, black and yellow fire salamander that wanders into the frame two or three times, but also because of its precision and silence: In one glance we understand what the work of artist Patrick Neu is about. Whether you like his work or not is not so important; we can instantly see we have to take the artist and his work very seriously. Even though his interests and his way of life (living next to a national park in the Alsace in France) differ very much from my experiences in Amsterdam, it felt as if I understood the artist. 

During the film we see Neu making glas harnesses, and paintings in wineglasses blackened with smoke. We observe him and his wife as they are cooking: she carefully and slowly folds dumplings, which he tenderly brushes with egg yolk. This intimate scene indirectly shows how important precise craftsmanship is to his work. But this is not the crux. Preparing an exhibition with his gallerist in Palais de Tokyo in Paris, we are also confronted with his intelligent way of dealing with meaning and form. We see Neu hanging a wing made of wax on a white wall in the huge, semi-industrial space of Palais de Tokyo. In this white surroundings, the color and form of the wax wing seem to disappear, which is exactly what he wants to achieve. All of Neu’s works deal with the mystery of lingering and disappearing. I loved the photography of the film and the silence, which was sometimes broken by punk music or the nice Swiss-French dialect of Neu and his parents.   

An intriguing and overwhelming day that left me with much food for thought, with still so much more I would like to write about yesterday’s events.

Saskia also attended Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan’s artist talk and their screening of Maripa Fatu at SMBA. Their latest feature film, Episode of the Sea, will be screened on 8 May. The artists’ approach in both films are strongly interwoven; in her blog of 9 May Saskia will elaborate on both Episode of the Sea and the filmmakers' artist talk. 

She will also write a joint review, to be published next week, of Ben Rivers’ film The Sky Trembles, the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes are Not Brothers (screened yesterday at Rialto), and his short film There Is a Happy Land Further Awaay, which will screen on 11 May at Tetterode.