Photography exhibition – Magnum Photos: where ideas are born, Compton Verney
Some artists repudiate chaos, others revel in it. Francis Bacon fell into the latter category as evidenced by his London studio at 7 Reece Mews which he kept for more than three decades. The space, which was moved to his hometown of Dublin six years after his death in 1992, was covered in paint stains and cluttered up to his knees, so much so that it’s a wonder he managed to reach his easel given the amount of paraphernalia he had to wade through in this modest 4m x 6m room.
But of course, being Bacon, the mess mattered as much as every brushstroke. The sheer volume of these objects – paint cans, brushes, magazine clippings, books, discarded canvases and empty champagne cases, among others – was a tangible tribute to Dionysian abandonment, as if no other environment could sustain the “visual shock he was looking for. transmit in his moving canvases.
By contrast, 93-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s studio is an environment of assiduous precision conducive to meditative thought applied to his signature abstract compositions. This shows that artists’ studios reveal a wealth of clues about the characters who work there; their methodologies as well as their private predilections.
Now a new exhibition, Magnum Photos: where ideas are bornaims to highlight the relationship between artistic expression and the comfort of space seen through the lens of 20 modern and contemporary Magnum photographers including Martin Parr, Robert Capa, Eve Arnold, Inge Morath, Thomas Hoepker and Abbas who imbue each frame with their own emotional and creative insights.
About sixty portraits of leading artists are presented in the exhibition allowing visitors to wonder about the intimate universe of production that animates their work. Famous faces at work in their studios include Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Ai Weiwei, Salvador Dali, Tracey Emin, Louise Bourgeois, Keith Haring, Henry Moore, Roy Lichtenstein as well as Kusama and Bacon.
Kahlo’s shot is particularly poignant: it shows the artist painting from his wheelchair in the last months of his life. Photographed by Werner Bischof in 1954, Kahlo has a watchful look on her face and is framed by the angular lines of her wooden easel and toolbox. It’s an iconographic shot that accentuates the strong, dignified character of her subject as she sits surrounded by a hazy display of tiny sculptures that seem to enjoy the ceremonial magic of her practice.
Divided into three themes – In The Studio, The Moment of Creation and A Portrait of the Artist – the exhibition also captures the rare moments when great photographers meet great artists. Curator Amy Orrock explained the dual appeal of this unusual exhibit: “The fascinating photos in this exhibit document the wide range of ways artists have worked over the past 100 years. It also captures a myriad of artistic personalities, from the most private and serious to the fearless, performative and playful.
Held in Compton Verney, a Grade I listed Georgian mansion set in 120 acres of Grade II listed Lancelot “Capability” Brown Park in Warwickshire, the Magnum Photos: where the ideas are Born show until October 16. See more at comptonverney.org.uk