Newest Art Reviews

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Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn

4.5star.jpg Biography

John Craske was a fisherman, from a family of fishermen, who became too ill to go to sea. He was born in Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast in 1881 and would eventually die in the Norwich hospital in 1943 after a life which could have been defined by ill health. There were various explanations for what ailed him, what caused him to sink into a stupour, sometimes for years at a time and he was on occasions described as 'an imbecile'. But John had a natural artistic talent, albeit that his work had to be done on the available surfaces in his home. Chair seats, window sills, the backs of doors all carried his wonderful pictures of the sea. Then he moved on to embroidery, producing wonderful pictures of the Norfolk coast - and, most famously, of the evacuation at Dunkirk. Full review...

Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Equus, Waiting for Godot and A Mid-summer Night's Dream – three very distinctive plays, and my favourite three, out of which you won't often get me choosing just one. But were I to do so, it might actually be the last, for the simple reason I would delight in playing any and all characters from it. Yes, I know Hermia and Helena look a bit implausible now – but I put it to you stranger things happen on stage… Some of the strangest things involve a player himself, a lowly actor who gets given an ass's head and is forced to be the enamoured of a fairy queen. It's this section of the play that this book concentrates on, in quite stunning form. Full review...

Origami, Poems and Pictures by The British Museum

5star.jpg Crafts

Sometimes you find a delight of a book. On an afternoon when it was unseasonably cold and decidedly wet I discovered Origami, Poems and Pictures and I was transported to Japan. As the title suggests we're looking at three celebrated arts and crafts: the ancient art of paper folding, haiku poetry and painting. I'll confess that it was the origami which caught my attention, but I was surprised by the extent to which the rest of the book caught my imagination. We begin with something very simple: a boat and in case you're worried, all the entries have a degree of difficulty (from 'simple' through to 'tricky') and this one is at the lowest level. Full review...

Travels With My Sketchbook by Michael Foreman

4star.jpg Art

I guess the best children's literature can do away with complete veracity, as long as it has something about it that is recognisable – a little of the spirit, heart and character of the real thing, whatever it may be. And if that's the case then it definitely applies to children's literature illustrations, such as those provided close on two hundred times by Michael Foreman. This prolific artist leapt at a scholarship in the US when he'd completed his official, formal studies, and it would appear – huge credits list regardless – that he's never stopped moving since, as this book takes us to all corners of the world, and back home again. Full review...

Stephen Biesty's Trains by Ian Graham and Stephen Biesty

5star.jpg Art

Trains look imposing, but true fans (little boys, usually from about three years old and upwards) want to know what lies beneath the skin which you can see. They want to know how it works. Getting to grips with one in real life is quite a big ask, but the next best thing is Stephen Biesty's Trains which features trains from all over the world and spanning the early steam train (complete with cow catcher) right through to the trains of the future which can reach a speed of 430 kph and don't even run on rails. Once the train reaches a speed of 150 kph the wheels are raised and the train is held up by magnetic forces alone. Full review...

The Vanishing Man - In Search of Velazquez by Laura Cumming

5star.jpg Art

Pitching up at an auction and picking up a lost masterpiece for a pittance is the dream for most art lovers. That seemingly happy circumstance happened to bookseller John Snare at a sale in 1845 and is the centrepiece to Laura Cumming's excellent The Vanishing Man – In Pursuit of Velazquez. Full review...

A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex and the Mind by Siri Hustvedt

4star.jpg Politics and Society

I must confess that A Woman Looking spoke to me on a profound, intimate level. This is in part due to the apparent similarities between me and Siri Hustvedt - we are both feminists who love art and also love science in a world which emphasises that these two passions are mutually exclusive. What Hustvedt suggests in A Woman Looking is that it is the similarities between these two areas we should emphasise and that a cohesive, inclusive approach towards art and science could help fill the gaps in both disciplines. Full review...

Dog on a Digger: The Tricky Incident by Kate Prendergast

5star.jpg For Sharing

I'm going to tell you a story about Dog, Man, Lady and the Pup. They all work on an industrial site - in fact Dog and Man live there in a caravan and Man drives the sort of digger which is dreamed about by boys large and small. Lady and the Pup run the snack bar and one day as they're all having something to eat, the Pup goes missing. Man and Lady search everywhere but it's Dog's sharp ears which finally track him down - caught in a branch over a fast-flowing stream. And it's Dog who works out how to rescue him. I needed 88 words to tell you that story, but Kate Prendergast does it without using a single one - and she tells it in a far more engaging way than I could ever manage. Full review...

How to Read New York: A Crash Course in Big Apple Architecture by Will Jones

5star.jpg Travel

New York is home to some of the most iconic and instantly-recognisable pieces of architecture in the world. The city is a mishmash of architectural styles, a place where Classical and Colonial meet Renaissance and Modernist. The result is a glorious fusion that works perfectly and upon closer inspection has a plethora of secrets just waiting to be revealed. Welcome to New York... Full review...

Dogs on Instagram by @dogsofinstagram

3.5star.jpg Pets

I'm a sucker for dogs: I can't walk past one in the street without stopping and having a conversation, sometimes without bothering to speak to the owners, so a book of pictures of dogs was going to be right up my street. The wildly popular @dogs_of_instagram, run by Ahmed El Shourbagy and his wife Ashley and launched just four years ago gives us this book of over four hundred photographs of dogs. Originally I had no intention of reviewing it: in fact I wasn't even intending to read the book, just to have a quick flick through, but within five minutes I was showing other people in the office the picture of the Weimaraner riding a bicycle. Full review...

The Munich Art Hoard: Hitler's Dealer and His Secret Legacy by Catherine Hickley

4.5star.jpg History

One of the most newsworthy events in modern art history happened seemingly by chance. When tax police raided the house of an aged man in Munich it was because they assumed he had been moving too much money about and paying no tax – this six months after he was seen on the train between Bavaria and Switzerland with 'nearly too much' cash. The investigators had no case, but he had something much more complex and rich – a massive legacy of 20th Century German and European art. But that collection had to have an origin – one of dubious and at times nefarious beginnings, and one that could have quite a rich and convoluted background. Hickley, in these pages, gives us much in the way of context as well as ironing out those convolutions, so this story is both of interest to Nazi historians and art scholars – as well as to those larger numbers who just like a good story told well. Full review...

Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World by Wade Graham

4.5star.jpg History

Between 1950 and 2014 the world's urban population increased from 746 million to 3.9 billion. The urbanising trend is set to continue with the United Nations predicting that by the middle of the century 66% of us will be city dwellers, a massive six billion people. How have city planners and architects tried to cope with the recent surge? How can they avoid repeating mistakes from the past? Both of those questions are considered in Dream Cities – Seven Urban Ideas That Shape The World, Wade Graham's excellent field guide to the modern world. Full review...

Mapping the Airways by Paul Jarvis

4.5star.jpg Art

Before I start, there is nothing wrong with being an anally retentive trainspottery type. Having said that, do you see what on the front cover of this first edition marks this book out as being completely and utterly for the trainspottery type? It is the fact that the foreword is both credited, and dated. Yes, unless a major change was imminent and the Executive Chairman of BA was going to be someone else within weeks, this book gladly states that March 2016 was when he put finger to laptop and came up with his page-long contribution. Have you ever known such attention to detail? I guess it's to be expected, when the book concerns such a singular entity as the visual history of charts and maps as used by the airlines that became British Airways. Full review...

Penguins and Other Sea Birds by Matt Sewell

4.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

I've always been fascinated by Penguins: I think it's because they look so smart and striking, yet survive in extreme conditions, so the opportunity to review a book which contains fifty penguins and other seabirds was too good to miss. Just the pictures would have been enough - the minimalist watercolours of street artist and ornithologist Matt Sewell - but Sewell's whimsical wit and ability to teach without being preachy makes this a book to treasure. Full review...

Seeing the War: The Stories Behind the Famous Photographs from World War II by David P Colley

4star.jpg History

As anybody could tell, a still photograph is only part of the truth, if that. There is a beforehand we don't see, and an after we can only fantasise about unless we know otherwise. Take the famous image of wartime grunts pushing the flag pole upright – an icon of the War in the Pacific for the US soldiers, and the films made about Iwo Jima since. But other images of the war have been just as long-lasting, and the people in the photos don't always have movies made of their full story arc. This book is a collection of the images, and a corrective to that narrative lack, giving much more of a full biography with which to pay tribute. Full review...

Little People, Big Dreams: Frida Kahlo by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Eng Gee Fan

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico. When she was a young schoolgirl she contracted polio and was left with a leg which was skinny as a rake, but she bore the problem stoically and in some ways delighted in being different. Then one day Frida was in a bus which crashed into a car. She was badly injured and even when she was over the worst she still had to rest in bed and filled the time by drawing pictures, including a self portrait. Eventually she showed her pictures to a famous artist - Diego Rivera - who liked the pictures, and Frida. They married and Rivera encouraged Frida's painting. She exhibited, eventually in New York, to great acclaim. Full review...

The Wild Swans by Jackie Morris

5star.jpg Confident Readers

The most well known version of the wild swans is probably the one penned by Hans Andersen. This extended retelling by Jackie Morris adds depth, emotional resonance and a number of new twists to the tale. As in most versions, Eliza and her brothers live a happy and privileged life until their father's remarriage brings jealousy, mistrust and trouble in its wake. The brothers are magically changed into wild swans and it is up to brave Eliza to rescue them. Full review...

The Art of Stephen Hickman by Stephen Hickman

4star.jpg Fantasy

Stephen Hickman has been a well known artist in the Fantasy and Science Fiction worlds for a number of years now, having created covers for authors such as Harlan Ellison, Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, and Larry Niven. His paintings are vibrant, kinetic, sometimes scary, often sensual, traditional, and yet modern. The Art of Stephen Hickman collects hundreds of these paintings, and the artist himself provides an intriguing commentary alongside which offers a fascinating glimpse into the artistic process. Full review...

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Mark Burstein (editor) and Salvador Dali

4star.jpg Confident Readers

If you don't know the story now, then where have you been for a hundred and fifty years? A young girl sees a hurrying white rabbit, follows it, falls down a hole, fails to recognise the 'stranger danger' in partaking of random foods and drinks just because of a label on them, nearly drowns a whole menagerie of animals in a lake of her own tears, takes advice from someone on drugs, plays cards, or croquet, or both or neither, and wakes up to find it all a dream. Someone else tried out such gibberish on a young girl, wrote it down in a flurry, made a hugely successful name for himself, and woke up to find even at this remove that most people (unlike me) adore the thing. But it's not just for now, its 150th birthday, that the work gets reprinted. In the 1960s, someone came up with the idea to put the esoteric, surreal and daft mind of Salvador Dali in cahoots with the esoteric, surreal and daft world of Carroll's Alice, and the result was a very rare and valuable edition – a box set of illustrated booklets, perfectly suited to the very surrealistic 105th birthday. Since getting sight of one is like seeing a flat clock in Dali's pictures, this decent hardback replication is the nearest you'll get to owning one of the most special of Alice editions. Full review...

Practical Landscape Painting: Materials, Techniques & Projects by David Hollis

4.5star.jpg Art

Almost any of us can visit the countryside and capture the view in our memory or on our camera with comparatively consummate ease. However capturing it in paint is more difficult and yet something some of us (me included) dream of. It was therefore with great excitement that I picked up this compact book of seven lessons in landscape painting. As I believe (with good evidence) that I have the artistic ability of a house brick, it would be a challenge but I also have a dream to follow. Full review...

Mythology: An Illustrated Journey Into Our Imagined Worlds by Christopher Dell

4.5star.jpg Spirituality and Religion

What does a rainbow mean to you? How would you explain the creation of the world if you had no science as such, or the changing of the seasons? What other kinds of natures – chaotic trickery, evil personae or even the characteristics of goats – people your world? And why is it that the answers man and woman have collectively formed to such questions have been so similar across the oceans and across the centuries? This highly pictorial volume looks at the mythologies that formed those answers, and locks on to a multitude of subjects – blood, music, godly activity – to show us what has followed. Full review...

The Hounds of Falsterbo by Jules Nilsson

4star.jpg For Sharing

In between the beach huts
Where the white sands meet the seas,
The heather meets the sand dunes
And long grasses dance the breeze. Full review...

Drawing Projects for Children by Paula Briggs

5star.jpg Crafts

Drawing Projects for Children is a beautiful, full-colour guide that encourages children to use a range of materials to create stunning and thought-provoking artwork. As the author points out, the end result is not always as important as the journey and this book helps children to move away from the more traditional, or 'safe' type of drawing styles and indulge in a little more experimentation and risk taking. The book is ideal for parents to use with their children, but each chapter is a self-contained lesson plan that facilitators and teachers can use with groups. Full review...

This is Not a Maths Book by Anna Weltman

5star.jpg Art

I have to admit, I wasn't a huge fan of maths at school. Maybe if I'd had this book when I was a child, I would have been. 'This is not a Maths Book' cleverly bridges the gap between maths and art and teaches kids how to make beautiful patterns and shapes by using mathematical principles. We learn about parabolic curves, Pascal's triangle, the stomachion, tesselation and 3D drawings. Because the pages are interactive and hands-on, kids are learning the rules of maths without realising it. After all, there is no reason why maths shouldn't be fun! Full review...

Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin by Andrew Wilson

4star.jpg Biography

On the face of it Lee McQueen might not have seemed like the ideal candidate for greatness in the world of haute couture. He was the youngest son of an East London taxi driver, but there was history in the rag trade within the family, although his father told him that if he wanted to sell clothes he should get a market stall. Determined to do it his way, Lee borrowed the money from a relative to enable him to attend Central St Martins after doing a tailoring apprenticeship. The name 'Lee' might confuse you, but at the time McQueen began his own business he was claiming benefits and decided to use his middle name to avoid detection. Full review...

Tell me a Picture - Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

When did you last read a children's book that absolutely flummoxed you in the way it showed or told you something you didn't know? (And please be an adult when you answer that, or else it won't be quite so impressive.) Back in 2001, Quentin Blake wasn't a Knight yet – he hadn't even got his CBE – but he did get allowed to put on his own show at the National Gallery, with other people's pictures that contain oddities, stories, unexpected detail – sparks on canvas and paper that would inspire anyone looking, of whatever age, to piece things together, work things out, form a narrative. The pictures came with no major labelling, no context – just what they held, and some typically scratched Blake characters discussing the images as a lead-in. They were simply hung in alphabetical order, and probably could not have been more different. This then is a picture book of the most literal kind, with 26 stories. Full review...

The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making by David Esterly

4star.jpg Autobiography

Bouncing between his studio in upstate New York and the sites of various English sojourns, woodcarver David Esterly's seems to be an idyllic existence. Yet it's not all cosy cottages in the snow and watching geese and coyotes when he looks up from his workbench. There is an element of hard-won retreat from the trials of life in this memoir, but at the same time there is an argument for the essential difficulty of the artist's life. 'Carvers are starvers,' a wizened English carver once told him. Certainly there is no great fortune to be won from a profession as obscure as limewood carving, but the rewards outweigh the hard graft for Esterly. Full review...

A Work of Beauty: Alexander McCall Smith's Edinburgh by Alexander McCall Smith

5star.jpg Travel

It might be simplest if I begin by telling you what this book is not. It's not a book of beautiful photographs (with some supporting text) of the places you'll almost certainly want to visit if you're visiting Edinburgh as a tourist. If that's what you want then there are dozens of such books available all over the city at a fraction of the cost of A Work of Beauty. This might have the look of a coffee table book (and it would certainly look impressive there) but it has a lot more depth and interest than you might expect. This is a book of Alexander McCall Smith's Edinburgh, the city he walks around every day, constantly seeing something new, something else with a story to tell. Full review...