The best new art books for summer

Published 2 June 2016

Michael Prodger heads for the beach with his pick of the best holiday reads on artists – in fact and fiction.

    • Elizabeth Fullerton, Artrage! The Story of the? BritArt Revolution

      Artrage! The Story of the Brit Art Revolution by Elizabeth Fullerton

      For this vibrant account of how Hirst, Lucas, the Chapmans et al came to noisy prominence Elizabeth Fullerton interviewed 50 artists and observers. She pieces together what happened between the 1988 Freeze show that introduced the Young British Artists and the 2004 Momart fire that saw them flicker out as a group. What was it like to be part of it? “It felt,” says Sam Taylor-Johnson, “like we were a rock band on the road.” Thames & Hudson

    • Donald Woodman, Agnes Martin and Me

      Agnes Martin and Me by Donald Woodman

      Donald Woodman met Agnes Martin – recluse and painter of delicate grids that formed a lovely show at Tate Modern last year – in New Mexico in the 1970s and became her assistant. The portrait he paints is not of an artist of contemplative calm, as her pictures suggest, but a rebarbative, domineering and self-centred character. Woodman overlooked these traits (despite his own suicide attempt) because he recognised they made her the painter she was. Lyon Artbooks

    • Ghislaine Kenyon, Quentin Blake: In the Theatre of the Imagination

      Quentin Blake: In the Theatre of the Imagination by Ghislaine Kenyon

      Quentin Blake had his first cartoons published in Punch while still a schoolboy and went on to become Roald Dahl’s indispensable ally and Britain’s best loved illustrator. His scratchy penmanship and whimsically subversive humour are instantly recognisable, but the man himself isn’t: Kenyon’s study of the inimitable Blake, now 83, is richly illustrated and its revealing interviews give a welcome insight into this most distinctive artist. Bloomsbury

    • Rachel B. Glaser, Paulina & Fran

      Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser

      Paulina and Fran meet at art school, become friends, dream of genius, fall out. The writing in this novel is sassy: “Why did you come to art school if you don’t make art” Paulina is asked. “For the memories.” And indeed this coming-of-age story of intense relationships, oddball wannabe artists and shifting allegiances is full of scenes that stick in the mind, all fuelled by fast-talking characters who mix the naive with the knowing. Granta

    • Lisa Stromme, The Strawberry Girl

      The Strawberry Girl by Lisa Stromme

      Johanne Lien is a go-between; the lovers she brings together are the painter Edvard Munch and Tullik Ihlen, the daughter of a well-to-do family holidaying in a fishing village in the Norwegian fjords in the summer of 1893. Munch is already infamous, while Tullik churns with sexual awakening: it is a set- up that demands a crisis. In her debut novel, Stromme adroitly imagines the forces that lay behind The Scream. Chatto & Windus

    • Simon Bill, Artist in Residence

      Artist in Residence by Simon Bill

      This satirical novel of London’s contemporary art scene follows an unnamed artist on his creative and financial uppers. While imbibing whatever he can get at private views (a show of Cibachrome prints of celebrities’ thumbs at the Black Hole Gallery, for instance), he is offered the job of artist in residence at a neurological institute in Gray’s Hospital. So begins his entertaining and enlightening entanglement with the amnesiac Emily and the mysteries of the brain. Sort Of Books

    • , Six Facets of Light

      Six Facets of Light by Ann Wroe

      Light – intangible, elusive, vital – is the very stuff of art. Here, during a series of walks along the Sussex Downs, Wroe meditates on its protean qualities and uses the insights of a series of painters – from Fra Angelico to Turner and Ravilious – to tease out its nature. She switches from thoughts about an English lane to Coleridge, Thoreau, Samuel Palmer, larks, ragwort and Ravilious’s taste in poetry, in effortless and beguiling succession. Jonathan Cape

    • Dan Fox, Pretentiousness: Why it Matters

      Pretentiousness: Why it Matters by Dan Fox

      Pretentiousness, not an alien concept in the art world, should not be despised but lauded, says Dan Fox, co-editor of frieze magazine. Yes, it has a downside – blather and second-rate thinking – but it is vital in pushing culture forwards and countering social conservatism. Fox’s lively essay lays out his case with references from Plato to Brian Eno and even a slice of autobiography. “Pretentiousness is always someone else’s crime,” he notes, but we should make it ours too. Fitzcarraldo

  • Michael Prodger is an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman. He is an art historian, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham, and a former literary editor.

    • Enjoyed this article?

      Become a Friend to receive RA Magazine

      As well as free entry to all of our exhibitions, Friends of the RA enjoy one of Britain’s most respected art magazines, delivered directly to your door. Why not join the club?

      RA Magazine