A major new book from one of the world’s leading writers and art critics
John Berger, one of the world’s most celebrated art writers, takes us through centuries of drawing and painting, revealing his lifelong fascination with a diverse cast of artists. In Portraits, Berger grounds the artists in their historical milieu in revolutionary ways, whether enlarging on the prehistoric paintings of the Chauvet caves or Cy Twombly’s linguistic and pictorial play.
In penetrating and singular prose, Berger presents entirely new ways of thinking about artists both canonized and obscure, from Rembrandt to Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock to Picasso. Throughout, Berger maintains the essential connection between politics, art and the wider study of culture. The result is an illuminating walk through many centuries of visual culture, from one of the contemporary world’s most incisive critical voices.
This thick anthology of John Berger's previously published art writings, edited by Overton, the cataloger of his archive at the British Library, point to the many sides of the prolific English critic's writing career. Here, woven together, are mostly essays, but also poems, play fragments, novel excerpts, letters, and conversations, each seeking artists' perspectives (Berger begins by considering the unknown creators of the Chauvet Cave paintings and concludes with contemporary artist Randa Mdah). The result is alternately frustrating and enchanting. An essay on Edgar Degas is prefaced by a poem on one of the artist's bronzes; the section on Goya concludes with a passage from Berger's first novel. Some mash-ups are fluid, others less so, and readers must consult the back of the book for original titles, sources, and publication dates. But the project is redeemed by Berger's writing the laconic strength of his voice, the intimacy and generosity of feeling, and the colossal weight of his visual experience. Of Caravaggio, he writes: "His darkness smells of candles, overripe melons, damp washing waiting to be hung out the next day." On Rembrandt, Fernand L ger, Cy Twombly, and anything related to drawing, Berger is tremendous. 100 b&w illus.