A Big Important Art Book - now with women!

Danielle Kryser published by Running Press

Reviewed for CraftCourses by Pat Dew

Danielle Kryser has sounded a wakeup call with this gorgeous, vibrant book featuring the work of female artists from around the world. How can it be that we have not known of these amazing artists who create wonderful art across all mediums?  Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, born in 1755,  was supporting herself and her family by the age of fifteen with her portraiture and painted Marie Antoinette more than thirty times! As Annie Kevans (herself an innovative and fresh portrait painter)  says, ‘Despite the massive obstacles that faced female artists in the past many women did manage to have successful careers as early as the 16C’. That may be true but so few names are known to us.

Have you heard of Sofonista Anguissola? Me neither, but her paintings have been incorrectly attributed to such legendary artists like Titian and Leonardo da Vinci. Born in Italy in 1532 when women artists were mostly ignored her work was assumed to be ‘too feminine’. Is this because the art world has historically been dominated by the purchasing power of the, mostly male, patrons? How different is it today?

Look through this fascinating book and you will be heartened, overjoyed, amused, taken aback and perplexed by the sheer diversity and innovation of the female artistic, creative mind.

Look at the bizarre exuberance of Olek and  her ‘The Train That Stood Still’ or ‘Our Pink House’ or ‘Wall Street Bull’. How could a childhood in a dreary, industrial deprived Poland, what she calls a 'socialist realism’  bring forth such colour and sheer brilliance – ALL IN CROCHET! She says that the impoverishment of her early years taught her to make use of everything and anything she found – and from next to nothing she creates joyful, playful art to rival Gaudi.

I admire that so much of the art is intensely personal, sometimes echoing a vulnerability, a passion, a rage and often portrayed through domestic imagery that is thereby imbued with power. I love the work of Ilona Szalay who arrived in the UK from war-torn Beirut at the age of two. Such a rebel against the expectations laid on her to be feminine, passive and attractive she brought fire and power to her art. Her work is so very sensual, so intimate there is a spiritual  tenderness that, through using her own body as the well-spring image, she invites us to share her journey.

‘I could disappear into the process and think/feel nothing else. I would then emerge triumphant from my hyper focussed, almost trance-like state with a product, a trophy, something precious and tangible’.

Ana Teresa Barboza from Peru uses yarns and threads and wicker to depict and revere the natural art of her coastal home environment. Like so many of the featured artists, it was a difficult path for Ana to follow, many different jobs had to support her art before she became full-time. In those years she developed her knowledge and craftsmanship. This is what she says, 

'For me art is more related to concepts, trying to show us things from a different point of view .Craft is the manual ability that someone develops with a material and technique’.

The book frequently asks ‘what is the difference between art and craft’? There are many answers and I like the erudite ‘Art is about expression, craft is about execution’ from Erin Riley. Every artist must learn skills and techniques and practice diligently to master the materials they choose to use. This book shows us how life can be transformed by art, how the ordinary becomes extraordinary.  We are encouraged to learn skills but also break some rules and bring our own  perspectives and personal experiences to fruition.  It’s a wonderful book, a real eye-opener, and I think everyone who reads it or just browses through the pictures will feel their heart and mind quicken with the desire to create something unique and beautiful.

Buy it here.

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