Though not every artist is fortunate enough to be able to afford a dedicated space in which to create, everyone has to live somewhere. Creating some forms of art doesn’t usually take up a lot of room, such as writing, smaller handicrafts, and the like. But many artists’ work takes up larger spaces, and many just prefer to live in spaces whose whole being inspires them.
Artists in Residence: Seventeen Artists and Their Living Spaces, From Giverny to Casa Azul, written by Melissa Wyse and illustrated by Kate Lewis, gives us a glimpse into the living situations of 17 different artists, from Georgia O’Keeffe to Claude Monet to Hassan Hajjij. This book illustrates, in a literal sense, each artist’s living spaces, where they create, where they rest and relax, and where they become inspired. Each section includes plenty of biographical information about the artist, as well as a historical lead-up to talking about the living spaces. The focus of the book is definitely on the houses/lofts/cottages where these artists lived and worked, and not so much on their actual art. But it gives us a perspective on the lives of the artists that you don’t get by studying one of their paintings.
Artists tend to look at the world and their lives differently from how others do. Their living spaces often reflect that, and we find them living in unusual locations such as the middle of nowhere in New Mexico or in a series of hangers and a quartermaster’s house in west Texas, instead of the more typical 3-bedroom, 2-bath, sprawling ranch house with attached garage on 1/4 acre with a swing set. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter type of residence; I live in something similar myself (though with a much smaller yard). But artists need to fill their heads with new ideas that haven’t been thought of before, and living in a cookie-cutter house doesn’t usually suffice; they need something more out of the ordinary. Their homes and spaces are often yet another muse by which to be inspired.
In Artists in Residence, each artist or pair of artists (if they shared a living space) gets 8-12 pages of verbal and painted description of their lives and their living spaces and how their lives intersected with the spaces. In those pages, you learn what brought each artist to the profiled location, and how it affected them and they, it—artists often curate and treat their space like a canvas, creating an environment that reflects their tastes and goals, or it is sometimes a counterpoint to their art, an escape from colorful chaos. There are brief touches on each artist’s artwork and style, but the homes are the focus of the book.
The painted illustrations—based on photographs, in-person visits, or verbal descriptions found in their research in cases where the place no longer exists—give us a look into the spaces, with views of whole rooms, pieces of furniture, walls, bowls, views out the windows, or outside views looking toward the spaces.
Wyse’s words paint the pictures as well as Lewis’s artwork does, and you do get quite a feel for each place as you read. You may also find yourself inspired by what you see and read, driving you to want to create artwork in your own spaces. Perhaps you’ll even transform a room or corner of your house to feed your creative side, where you can spend time and refill your cup. Perhaps you already have a space like that, filled with furniture and items that make you feel at home and make you smile. Perhaps you have a sunny corner with a comfortable chair and a nice view.
Some of the living spaces contained in the book will grab you right away, planting the desire to visit them yourself, or to arrange your own living space in a similar way. Fortunately, some are able to be visited, such as artist Donald Judd’s two homes, one in New York City and one in Texas.
Though Lewis’s artwork is lovely and does a good job highlighting notable areas or items from each artist’s living space, I wish we could see that alongside some of each artist’s artwork. But the focus of the book is on the spaces themselves, and it’s easy enough to look up some art on our own. The author and illustrator purposely didn’t include photos of the living spaces because they wanted to capture how each space feels/felt, but in some cases that makes it harder to visualize the space without a more detailed visual. Some of the spaces no longer exist, though, so photographs wouldn’t even be possible.
But overall, whether you’re an artist yourself or are just looking to be inspired, Artists in Residence is a lovely read that you will turn to time and time again for new perspectives and ideas. The book should appeal to those interested in biography, art history, interior design, and even armchair travel. The list of artists includes both the well-known and the lesser-known. Perhaps it will inspire you to seek out some of these artists and learn more about their art, after learning about their lives and living spaces.
Note: I received this book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.
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