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What art that brings you comfort right now? What art do you want to be thinking about? In this episode, we make a book of art by Alec Soth, Miyoko Ito, Giorgio Morandi, Vija Celmins, Sam Gilliam, Sheila Hicks, and Wayne Thiebaud. Make your own art book and share it with #youareanartist.

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I'm making a book today - an art book.

One filled with poorly reproduced images of art that brings me comfort, or art that when I think about it brings me comfort, because even good digital images can't come close to recreating what a real-life art encounter is like - in physical space where you can sense its texture and dimensionality and changing appearance as light shifts and you shift around it. I miss real life.

But even when there's not a global pandemic, we often settle for these not artworks to remind us of the real artworks. It's why we have art books, museum Instagram accounts, and this channel. We like to be reminded of artworks even if we can't experience them firsthand, even if we've never seen them before or never will.

Robin O'Neil gave me this idea. She makes painstakingly detailed, often monumental drawings of imagined landscapes. She also makes these little lo-fi books of art that inspires her practice - images she wants to be thinking about as she goes about her work.

Robin doesn't copy the images, but uses them as jumping-off points - reminders of the inventiveness of others and looks for ways their work might inform her own. My book is gonna serve a different purpose. Over the past week I've been thinking about the artworks that I want to be reminded of right now, whose existence in the world gives me some sense of reassurance; of calm, reminding me that yes, there are whole other worlds out there - objects, histories, and other sensing, feeling beings.

The first work I'm gonna put in my book is a photograph by Alec Soth titled "Cammy's View, Salt Lake City" taken in 2018. It's from his series "I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating". A fantastic series title if ever there was one, taken from a 1917 poem by Wallace Stevens titled the "Gray Room". Each picture in the series is an interior shot or a portrait in an interior.

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The result of Soth's interactions with individuals across the US and Europe, and his consideration of the limits of what a photograph can convey about the inner life of its subject.

I liked this photo before, but it resonates even more strongly now. There's an overwhelming quiet about the picture.

It's gauzy light and selective focus obscuring what's outside, and drawing my attention to the stack of holy books on the windowsill. And of course, the bird. It's a pet bird, I think a cockatiel?

Anyway it's a domesticated animal, one that has counterparts in the wild but that exists within the framework a human has constructed for it. From the window it can see out to the wider world of Salt Lake City, a climate it's no doubt not suited to, but inside here it's safe. The bird's not in a cage, but it's still caged - granted some freedoms but not in charge of its destiny.

We are the bird. We are always the bird to some extent, but we are really the bird right now. Soth's stated goal while making these pictures was to simply spend time in the presence of another beating heart.

Here, I'm not sure if that beating heart was Cammy's. It's her view we're told - her space, her books, her pet - or if it's the beating heart of the bird that we're spending time with. Maybe it's both or neither.

A photograph grants us certain access to a space, a subject, or a moment, but it does not and cannot recreate it fully. I identify with the bird, but I also connect with the conundrum of representation the image embodies. We have our space, our lives, other people have theirs, and there's only so much we can do to bridge that divide.

The next work is another window of sorts. This one a painting by Miyoko Ito titled "Oracle" made in 1967 and 68. I learned about her work when I was in college in Chicago, where Ito was based for most of her career, and her canvases have always fascinated and mesmerized me.

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Like much of her work, this composition is grounded and solid, but the expert application of carefully calibrated color makes it atmospheric and light.

It's abstract, but with playful references to lumpy, organic and human forms. Like these funny tongues right here and this hair stuff over there.

It feels like we might be simultaneously inside and outside. This herringbone pattern reminding me of floorboards, and a framed window out to a gradient of blue. But then there are multiple horizon lines. A desert-like landscape view here, a sea meets sky view there.

Ito had a difficult life which included narrowly escaping the 1923 Tokyo earthquake and being pulled from college in the US during World War II and sent to an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, and later, living through breast cancer. She was much admired and influenced many, but Ito was largely an outlier - carving her own path and practice despite and alongside the trends and movements.

She struggled with her mental health throughout her life, but made her work seven days a week, viewing her painting as a kind of therapy. "I have no place to take myself except painting," she said in 1978. The precision and singularity of Ito's vision both excites me and leaves me with a feeling of profound calm. Her paintings are places I want to take myself all the time, and especially right now.

One of Ito's favorite painters was Giorgio Morandi who I'm including in the book next. There's a lot written about this guy. An Italian artist very well known for his still life paintings of pretty basic objects arranged on plain surfaces.

He started making still lifes in the 1910s and just kept on going - collecting bottles, boxes, jars, pots, pitchers, and the like, and replaying them again and again in different configurations. This work and all of his works are just so careful.

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He'd sometimes take hours to arrange his objects, and you can feel that.

These things weren't casually set down in the strangely aligned and ordered manner, and they weren't painted in a casual manner either. The forms aren't crisp, but you can tell that they're exactly as the artist wanted them to be.

The tones are precise as is the light and shadow. It's abundantly clear that it was Morandi's intensive looking that brought this work and all his work into the world. I'm including it in my book because I want to give my own surroundings the kind of careful attention Morandi gave his own.

He rarely left Italy and painted the same bottles and cans over and over again, but his visual world was immense - infinite. Another acute observer is Vija Celmins, and next I'm gonna add an image from her work beautifully titled "To Fix the Image in Memory" created from 1977 to 1982. What you're seeing here is a rock alongside Celmins' recreation of that rock.

For the series, she found 11 rocks in nature, and then cast them in bronze and painted them to resemble the original rocks as closely as possible. They are displayed all together, so that it's then left to you to work out which are the real rocks and which their recreations. And no, I'm not gonna tell you which is which.

What I love about this is that it forces close observation. Not the kind of cursory looking we often do in a gallery or artbook, but the kind of intense, close-up, sustained scrutiny that enables us to appreciate Celmins' remarkable achievement in verisimilitude, as well as the intricacies and details of the specific rock she's chosen for this exercise. Something as common as a rock has become extraordinary because of the artist's active looking and the extreme care she took in reproducing it.

After all that exactitude we really need to loosen up a little, and to do that we're gonna include this work by Sam Gilliam titled "10 27 69".

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It's one of Gilliam's drape paintings - an approach the artist landed upon around 1965, inspired in part by the laundry hanging on clotheslines that he could see from the window of his DC studio.

He had been experimenting with materials in the lead up - pouring paint colors, folding wet canvas to imprint lines and forms, working consciously in the language of the Washington Color School. But Gilliam's drape paintings were the first to get rid of the stretcher bars completely, taking paint stained canvas and draping and hanging it in arrangements on the wall or floor or suspending it from ceilings.

They can be arranged and rearranged, necessarily different every time they're installed. Painting had been a flat affair and Gilliam made it sculpture. The title, clearly a date, October 27th, 1969, roots it firmly in time.

Much was happening in America and in particular DC - the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, anti-Vietnam War protests. Gilliam had made another painting that same year titled "April 4" which was the first anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. For me, the drape paintings both referenced that time, and are also their own world apart - embodying rupture and freedom and change and also bringing me joy whenever I've encountered them in a gallery and reveled in their tactility and resplendent color.

While we're reveling in tactility and color, let's bring Sheila Hicks into the mix. This is her monumental installation "Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands" created in 2016 and 17, which I lucked into seeing at the Venice Biennale. This pathetic computer printout is about the opposite of an experience of this work - an immersive environment of color created through the placement of soft bales of fiber and hanging tapestries.

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You really want to lie down in this, but aren't allowed to for reasonable safety concerns. So in some ways it's better to just see the work here like this without the overwhelming temptation to take a nap in it.

Sheila Hicks herself can lie in them though, and I'm happy to know at least someone can. Hicks' interest in the handmade is evident here and throughout her work, and it's the handmade that I find myself yearning for right now - not Zoom meetings and Instagram stories, but texture and warmth and three dimensions.

Even the acoustics change when you enter a room with a work by Hicks in it. I want to luxuriate in this environment as a fully sensing being, but for now I'm just gonna transport myself there mentally and try to appreciate the domestic environment I find myself in right now. This seems like a good place to stop, but I feel like maybe we need a snack?

Let's add a Wayne Thiebaud painting in here - "Dessert Tray" from 1992 to 1994. It looks delicious. I have a very uncomplicated relationship with this painting, not unlike my relationship with dessert.

I love how the paint is applied thickly like frosting, and I find it very satisfying and untroubling. Well that was easy. I made a book filled with art I want to think about right now.

I found this lovely little painting my daughter made and doesn't care if I cut up that I'm gonna put on the cover, too. What art do you want to think about right now, or wish you could see firsthand? If you want, make your own art book in whatever way you like, using the materials you have around and share it using the hashtag you are an artist.

Or if you're interested in making some real-life art of your own, check out this other book I made that to a heck of a lot longer. It's filled with art and ideas and 53 assignments based on the practices of a wide range of brilliant artists working today. Click the link in the description to find out more.

Thanks to all of our patrons for supporting the Art Assignment, especially our grand masters of the arts David Golden and Divideby Zero Collection.

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(outro music)