Staying indoors may not provide many silver linings but one it does provide is the gift of the ‘pausa’. A break from our rigorous schedules might actually let us settle down with a good book (and actually finish it!). To save you trawling through Google and Amazon Reviews, our tutors have compiled a list of some of their favourite artist biographies (listed below in no particular order). For us at AHA, we like to understand the minds of the makers that we teach, speaking of them as if they were long lost friends. It is in recognising that these artists were humans that ate, slept, had flaws, doubts and dreams like you and I, that a further magic can be revealed in what they produce.
1. Georgia O’Keefe
Roxana Roxanne Before she became the most famous female painter of the 20th century, Georgia O’Keeffe was an outsider in a field largely dominated by men. The first biographer to be granted access from O’Keeffe’s family, writer Roxana Robinson reveals new information about the icon’s intense personal relationships (in particular, with her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz) and her struggle for independence as an underdog of artistic modernism.
2. The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
One of the most important autobiographies from Renaissance Italy. Cellini’s story is filled with as much adventure and intrigue as any work of fact or fiction. Cellini was a talented artist, spirited writer, a murderer and a thief. He never wasted time with humility when describing his achievements, and included kings, popes, dukes and Michelangelo as his close friends and patrons. Not only is it a brilliant and humourous read, but Cellini’s autobiography gives us an insightful view of everyday life in Renaissance Italy.
3. Matisse, Hilary Spurling
Hilary Spurling brings to life the man behind the masterpieces with her deeply personal portrayal of Henri Matisse. Conjuring his works through the lens of his personal life and volatile career will have you moved in ways you might not have imagined.
4. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol
In his autobiography, published in 1975, the private Andy Warhol talks about love, sex, food, beauty, fame, work, money, success; about New York and America; and about himself – his childhood in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, good times and bad times in the Big Apple, the explosion of his career in the Sixties, and life among celebrities.
5. Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art by Susan Aberth and Leonora Carrington
The first biography of Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington (born 1917). A writer and painter, Carrington ran away at the age of 19 with her lover Max Ernst. From London to Paris to Mexico City, she works closely with the great Surrealist artists and Mexican modernists. The authors looks closely at her influences and interested in alchemy, the occult and indigenous Mexican culture.
6. Martin Gayford, Michelangelo: His Epic Life
There are hundreds of books on Michelangelo – some good, some dull, some terrible. For those who want the full play-by-play of Michelangelo’s accomplishments and the gaps in between, this lengthy bio is a detailed, witty and surprisingly modern account.
7. Chagall, My Life
‘Here is my soul. Look for me here; here I am, here are my pictures, my roots’ wrote Chagall. One gets the same sensation reading Chagall’s autobiography as when viewing his paintings. His dreamlike reflections are peppered with his own illustrations which beautifully illuminate the 20th Century artist’s unwavering relationship with Jewish tradition and Russian folklore. His fluidity of language makes you feel like you’re reading an extended poem.
8. Ansel Adams, An Autobiography
A bestselling autobiography that was finished shortly before Adams died in 1984. Adams considers his six decade career as a photographer, conservationist, teacher and musician. A sensitive and warm account of his many adventures and friendships in America and beyond.
9. Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston, Musa Mayer
A memoir rather than a biography, Night Studio is the compulsively readable story of Musa Mayer’s relationship with her father, the painter Philip Guston. The book gives unmatched insight into Guston’s artistic output through an account of the relationships that both interfered with, and made it possible.
10. Caravaggio, A Life: Helen Langdon
Helen Langdon uncovers his progress from childhood in plague-ridden Milan to wild success in Rome, and eventual exile and persecution in the South, and sets his work against the political, intellectual and spiritual movements of the day. Fully illustrated, her dramatic portrait shows Caravaggio’s life to be as sensational and enigmatic as his powerful and enduring art.
11. Van Gogh – Dear Theo
Irving Stone edits the huge collection of letters that survive from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo. They are raw and heartfelt. An insight into Van Gogh’s concerns about life and thoughts on the art world.