Editor’s letter: welcome to the arts issue of the magazine

Jo Ellison on Donald Judd, Chuck Palahniuk – and finding art in unexpected places

Untitled works by Donald Judd in Marfa, Texas
Untitled works by Donald Judd in Marfa, Texas | Image: Donald Judd, 15 Untitled works in concrete, 1980-1984. Permanent collection, the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas. Photo by William J Laird, courtesy of the Chinati Foundation. Donald Judd Art © 2020 Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

I blame the dog for the fact that I have become a philistine. Seven years ago, pre-cockapoo, the art world lay before me like a giant snacking table of independent cinemas and galleries and dance shows and theatres and live-music venues. And then the dog arrived with its need for company and walks, and its insistence on lying on the sofa demanding to have its stomach rubbed while watching Netflix – and the opportunities for cultural outings started shrinking, shamefully, pathetically, ever smaller. I now consider it a great luxury to go to the cinema during dog-walking hours, or to attend breakfast previews of new shows on my way to work. Exhibitions come and go. I’ve given up on happenings.

How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison
How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison | Image: Marili Andre

Instead, the great outdoors has become my gallery: instead of walls, I must channel the spirit of the transcendentalists and marvel at the miracle of nature. It can be hard. I doubt Ralph Waldo Emerson would have been much inspired either if his muse had been a muddy Saturday on Wormwood Scrubs. Occasionally, however, great art and the natural world combine. Most weeks, the Henry Moore monolith at Kenwood House is about as close as I get to any art appreciation; and I always get a thrill from the ancient figures and Andy Goldsworthy-worthy hedgerow spirals marking the Icknield Way that trails the Chiltern Hills.

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Perhaps that’s why, like so many others, I am so fascinated by Marfa, the high-plains Texan outpost-turned-art mecca transformed by Donald Judd. The late minimalist sculptor is the subject of a giant retrospective at MoMA this spring, in which his work will be elevated to the loftiest of settings, but it’s in the natural environment of the desert, with its massive vistas, molten sunlight and open borders, that the pieces truly shine. 

The late sculptor Donald Judd in 1993
The late sculptor Donald Judd in 1993 | Image: Donald Judd, 1993, Architecture Studio, Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas. © Laura Wilson

Judd first visited Marfa in the 1970s, where he was inspired to plant a series of stunning outdoor installations so simple in style and execution that even a cockapoo could mark them. But Judd’s influence has cast an even greater spell. In this arts issue of How To Spend It, Rima Suqi describes the unique community that has evolved in tandem with the arts hub, and admires a cultural legacy that reverberates as widely as the artworks that Judd made. 

Spiralling hedgerows on the Icknield Way in the Chiltern Hills
Spiralling hedgerows on the Icknield Way in the Chiltern Hills

Of course, you don’t have to travel to have your artistic interests sated. I first encountered the Belfast-born painter Jack Coulter on Instagram, where he shares his kaleidoscopic visions with some 135k followers. Untrained, in the classical sense of the word, Coulter has the rare condition of synaesthesia, and his paintings help articulate the cacophony of colour that accompanies his sensory experiences. His is a fascinating, singular and often overwhelming point of view – and one that is rapidly gaining commercial traction. His studio images, alongside Francesca Gavin’s interview, provide a poignant portrait of the artist as a millennial provocateur.

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Social media also forms the basis of another feature – six fine art feeds to followInstagram can be a fearsome time waster, even more consuming than a dog, but in the hands of some curators it can become a thing of genius. Have you ever considered how many revolting images of the baby Jesus have been committed to canvas? Possibly not, but the people behind @gesubambinibrutti have amassed a collection that is quite hilariously grotesque. I also bow in admiration to the effort that goes into @artlexachung – the account that finds historic artworks that mirror the designer and fashion plate’s own inimitable style.

As such, I hope this arts issue has that same celebratory flavour. In my experience, the art world can often present as a strange and alien environment – full of fancy jargon and overbearing opinions. It can be terribly offputting. And yet, the good stuff is so good. It’s why I adore Chuck Palahniuk’s How I Spend It column about his skull collection: an enlightening examination of a pure – and quite perverse – private passion. And Camille Walala, who describes her ambition to make the world a brighter place in The Cause. Walala’s work is all about bringing colour to the world – and finding the joy. It’s surely an artistic sentiment we can all appreciate – wherever we are.

@jellison22

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