Intimate portraits of artists
The surprise magazine we delivered to Stack subscribers in February is Balcony – an arts title that specialises in getting unusually close to the artists it features, it peers into their lives to paint an intimate picture of their influences, ideas and anxieties.
Editor Audrey Rose Smith and creative director Vicente Muñoz both work in the art world, and the magazine grew out of their frustration with the commercial, event-driven narrative that tends to dictate which artists are covered in the mainstream press. They wanted the freedom to showcase the artists they find the most exciting, rather than the ones whose works demand the highest prices, or who secure the most popular shows. So they hit upon the idea of focusing on the artist as an individual, with the art itself taking a secondary role.
It’s a neat reversal of the way art is ordinarily encountered, and allows for details and perspectives to emerge that wouldn’t otherwise be seen, revealed through the careful and deliberate work of designers Ben Fehrman-Lee and Julia Novitch.
The piece on photographer and conceptual artist Sarah Charlesworth, for example, (pictured above) is written by her daughter Lucy, and includes a childhood memory in which she recalls her mother applying cortisone cream to her hands every evening after damaging them while making her series Natural Magic. The pictures shown alongside Lucy’s text were taken to test exposures and document the process of making Natural Magic.
Looking at the shots of melting hands and burning gloves, the image of a 10-year-old girl watching her mother becomes particularly affecting. In fact it’s striking that the finished artworks are not shown as part of the piece, as though the polished artifice of the art needs to be kept separate from the work that went into creating it.
The opposite is true for the long interview investigating the life of Eduardo Solá Franco (above), which presents several of his artworks alongside archive photography and pages from his Illustrated Diaries. The result feels like a holistic reconsideration of an artist who was considered unfashionable in his own time, providing a level of appreciation that wasn’t granted to him while he was alive. As Solá scholar Rodolfo Kronfle Chambers says: “I think Solá presented his work as a puzzle that could only be finished after his death, a sort of grand lifework, a symbolic self-portrait whose scattered clues he left all over…”
This artistic sleuthing is testament to the fact that, of course, all artworks are affected by our understanding of the people who created them. It’s impossible to disentangle one from the other, and by investigating the character of the creator, Balcony’s approach either provides a fresh perspective on familiar work, or presents the reader with a fascinating entry point for an artist they hadn’t previously come across.