My Favourite Famous Artists

Famous artists are a source of inspiration for many artists through the ages and around the world. So in case you are wondering, here is my list,  in alphabetically order, with a brief reason why they have made it to this list.

Leonora Carrington

Carrington was born in Britain but lived most of her life in Mexico. And she makes this list as you was one of the found members of the Surrealist movement of the 1930s. I came across the work of Carrington while studying the Surrealist manifesto as part of my English degree. Her work is full of enigmatic symbolism and she said some very strange, yet exciting things. For example, what do you make of this statement:

Houses are really bodies. We connect ourselves with walls, roofs, and objects just as we hang on to our livers, skeletons, flesh and bloodstream. I am no beauty, no mirror is necessary to assure me of this absolute fact. Nevertheless I have a death grip on this haggard frame as if it were the limpid body of Venus herself.

You can see some of Leonora Carrington’s work at MoMo. I think I am attract to the unconventional. And I think Leonora Carrington makes my list because you has a way with words as well as the paintbrush.

Tracey Emin

Emin is famous for “that” bed isn’t she? Have you seen it? I’ve seen it several times I think, once in London and I think once in Liverpool. The bed certainly gets around doesn’t it. Emin states:

I think because it caused such a fuss at the time, and people remember it, and because I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life in an art gallery, ever. So I think it still is seminal, it still has a presence, because almost everyone has been there, to a certain degree, and can relate to it. People respond to it in a very human way and take it far more seriously now than they did 20 years ago.

The bed was/is revolutionary as a piece of art. I was impressed by her drawings too see in Tate Liverpool not long ago.

Vincent van Gogh

I think it is van Gogh’s colourful life that initially attracts me to his paintings. If I said “van Gogh” to someone they would either say “isn’t he the one who cut off his ear”, or “is he the one who painted Sunflowers?”. Or perhaps you think of his “Starry Night”? van Gogh was a post-impressionist painter from the Netherlands. His father was a minister of religion and his mother was an artist. It is from his mother, Anna Carbentus van Gogh, that Vincent got his love for art, nature and colour. Thank you Anna Carbentus for passing on these aspects of life to your son.

Frida Kahlo

Kahlo is a bit of a mystery – but I think that is how she would have like it. If you have done any type of art I think you may relate to this:

The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration. – Frida Kahlo

If you have have a look at why I paint  you will see that, while I have an idea of what I am going to work on, the plan is very fluid shall we say. Kahlo was born in Mexico in 1907. Kahlo’s bio is quite similar to that of Van Gogh in that it is full of drama.  Andre Breton, one of the founding members of surrealism, and Kahlo met in 1938 where Breton proclaimed that Kahlo was a surrealists. I didn’t know that until I started researching for this article – but it doesn’t explain why there is something about Kahlo’s work that attracts me, and many others.

Wassily Kandinsky

One of the first art essays I ever wrote was about Kandinsky and Mondrian. And I am very attached to their work to this day. Kandinsky’s colour, movement and form bring light to my eyes. If Kandinsky really said this its very poetic isn’t it:

Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.

As a 19th century Russian artist Kandinsky is seen as one of the leaders in the field of abstract art. He used colour and form to represent the ideas in his work, instead of taking a figurative approach. It is understood that it wasn’t until his 30th year that Kandinsky decided to pursue the artistic path. Influenced by the French impressionists, Kandinsky’s first abstract watercolour, “Untitled” was unveiled to the world in around 1910. Where would we be now without abstract art?

Piet Mondrian

The structure, rhythm and use of colour in Mondrian’s paintings, such as “Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow”, came together to create a new style of art which Mondrian called “Neo-Plasticism” (aka The New Plastic Painting). The plastic arts included sculpture and in the case of Mondrian, painting on canvas. And it seems that Mondrian liked flowers too:

I, too, find the flower beautiful in its outward appearance. But a deeper beauty lies concealed within. P. Mondrian

I’ve also found out some very interesting things about Mondrian that I didn’t know. Mondrian will always be one of my favourite artists as it brings together colour and structure in such an interesting way.

Georgia O’Keeffe

O’Keeffe is famous for her flower paintings  which to us now, although amazingly beautiful, may not seem groundbreaking. But in her time Georgia O’Keeffe was a pioneer or twentieth century art. As well as flowers, she painted animal skulls and Mexican desert landscapes. But it is her flower art that gets the headlines. And why not! They are gorgeous and full of hidden meaning I am sure. Jimson Weed sold in 2014 for $44.4 million making it the most expensive painting sold by a female artist ever sold at auction. O’Keeffe certainly had the confidence to say….

Men put me down as the best woman painter… …I think I’m one of the best painters

Along with her trailblazing artist qualities O’Keeffe is held up as feminist icon during her lifetime and since. From a brief look at her history it seems that she was a reluctant feminist icon and this was a title put upon her by others.

Pablo Picasso

Born in Spain in 1881 Picasso was all things creative. He is famous as an painter but he also created sculptures, wrote plays and poems and worked as a printmaker. Picasso, like many artists I know, didn’t stick to one style of painting. I doubt he would have liked to be put in a box. And reading something about his lifestyle and creative career the thought of having restrictions imposed on him would have been abhorrent I think. I really like this Picasso quotation……

The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?

I can’t find where this was written but I suspect there maybe more to it. Anyhow, even if it is out of context it ticks a box for me. I was surprised to find out while researching for this article that Picasso was accused of stealing the Mona Lisa. Find out some more somewhat surprising facts about Pablo Picasso.

Paula Rego

If she really said this (and I think she did) isn’t it inspiring:

Art is the only place you can do what you like. That’s freedom.

Dame Maria Paula Figueiroa Rego DBE RA was born in 1935 in Portugal and is best known as a painter and printmaker.  Rego studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and now lives and work in London.

I watched a really interesting documentary from the BBC archive  about Rego where I really  got to understand and appreciate her paintings. Much of her work is allegorical, political and humorous in places.  Now Rego is working predominantly with pastels on paper, board and canvas.

If you get a chance to watch the documentary you will see how she opens up to her son for the first time and reveals what has really been going on in her life and her mind. Search on Google for “Paula Rego: Secrets & Stories” and sit down and be taken into her world for 90 minutes.

Bridget Riley

Stripes. I think of stripes when I think of the artist Bridget Riley. Born in 1931 Riley is much more than a painter of stripes. Born in London Riley attended Goldsmith’s and the Royal College of Art. She started painting in an impressionist style then transitioned to pointillism around 1958. Then her work in an “Op-art” style emerged around 1960.

Speaking about her landscape art Riley said that:

For me Nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces – an event rather than an appearance – these forces can only be tackled by treating colour and form as ultimate identities, freeing them from all descriptive or functional roles.

Think about that a bit…..a “dynamism of visual forces”…and then go onto Google and see some or Riley’s paintings and you will see what she means.

There is much more to Bridget Riley than stripes.

Leonardo da Vinci

When you start to look, even for 10 minutes, at what da Vinci achieved then if he is referred to as a genius anyone would find it hard to dispute. As a painter, designer, architect, sculptor, engineer and scientist da Vinci is one of the most influential artists of all time.

In 1472 da Vinci started painting and drawing with a brotherhood of Florentine artists. When he dies in 1519, aged 67, he left many drawings, paintings and diagrams to his favourite pupil, Francesco Melzi.

I have been fortunate to see some of his notebooks and they are amazing. The detail that remains after all these years reveals is intelligence and skill.

A good painter is to paint two main things, namely, man and the workings of man’s mind. The first is easy, the second difficult…..

Of course, we should think wider now when da Vinci refers to “man”.

To paint the workings of the mind is what I believe many of the artists in this list have achieved. Some artists paint what is in their own mind and other paint the mind of others.

So there you have it – my list of famous artists that I have been inspired by. To be honest  I think I am going to have to add to this list in the future – there as so many artist that inspire me.

Which artists are you inspired by?


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