Behind the scenes

Magnum Photos: Where Ideas Are Born – 20th century art icons in their studios

An intimate look at modern and contemporary masters shot by legendary Magnum photographers

Some artists repudiate chaos, others revel in it. Francis Bacon fell into the latter category as proven by his London studio at 7 Reece Mews which he kept for more than three decades. The space, which was relocated to his native Dublin six years after his death in 1992, was covered in splodges of paint and was knee-deep in clutter, 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 just as much as every brushstroke did. The sheer volume of these objects – paint pots, brushes, magazine clippings, books, discarded canvases and empty champagne crates among other things – was a tangible homage to Dionysian abandon, as if no other environment could nurture the desired “visual shock” he sought to convey in his soul-stirring canvases.

Yayoi Kusama in her Shinjuku studio, Tokyo 2016. Alex Majoli, Magnum Photos

Yayoi Kusama in her Shinjuku studio, Tokyo, in 2016

Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

By contrast, the studio of 93-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is an environment of assiduous precision conducive to the meditative thought applied to her iconic abstract compositions. It goes to show that artists’ studios reveal a wealth of clues about the characters that work there; their methodologies as well as their private predilections.

Now, a new exhibition, Magnum Photos: Where Ideas Are Born, aims to shed light on the rapport that exists 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 own creative insights.

Sixty portraits of seminal artists feature in the show allowing visitors to consider the intimate world of production that drives their oeuvre. Among the famous faces at work in their ateliers are 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.

The shot of Kahlo is particularly poignant: it shows the artist painting from her wheelchair in the final months of her life. Shot by Werner Bischof in 1954, Kahlo has an intent look on her face and is framed by the angular lines of her easel and wooden tool box. It’s an iconographic shot that heightens the strong and dignified character of its subject as she sits surrounded by an out-of-focus display of tiny sculptures who appear to be enjoying the ceremonial magic of her practice.

Andy Warhol, New York, 1964 by Eve Arnold, Magnum Photos

Andy Warhol in New York in 1964

Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

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 display: “The fascinating photos in this exhibition document the huge range of ways in which artists have worked over the past 100 years. It also captures a myriad of artistic personalities, from the private and serious to the fearless, performative and playful.”

Held at Compton Verney, a Grade I-listed Georgian mansion set in 120 acres of Grade II-listed Lancelot “Capability” Brown parkland in Warwickshire, the Magnum Photos: Where Ideas Are Born show runs until 16 October. See more at comptonverney.org.uk

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