Finding a starting point can sometimes be the hardest part of making art. Open Studio, a new book published by Phaidon, aims to help out in that respect with step-by-step guides to the artistic process from 17 high-profile artists including Marina Abramović, George Condo, Alex Israel, Rashid Johnson, KAWS, Maya Lin, Julie Mehretu, Wangechi Mutu, and Mickalene Thomas.
In the book’s introduction, authors Sharon Coplan Hurowitz (an independent curator and publisher) and Amanda Benchley (a filmmaker and journalist) hope that readers trying their hand “will translate, adopt, or even reject some of the information to reflect your own creative voice.” They continue: “Putting aside their art-world stature, each artist approached this challenge as a one-to-one exchange, collaborating with you.”
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The entries include images from inside artists’ studios and biographical information about their lives, practices, and how their careers took shape. And directions for each artist’s project explain what kind of workspace is ideal and the materials needed. Rashid Johnson’s offering, for instance, lays out instructions for a spray-painted work (titled Love in Outer Space) that calls for a variety of dry legumes and grains that, when scattered in a swirling pattern on a sheet of paper, create an abstract, ethereal effect similar to a nighttime sky.
Other entries lead to results that may be unexpected for some of the artists involved. Condo offers up a color-by-numbers project based on his recent painting Fashion Model (2019), which depicts an abstracted woman sporting a jaunty blonde ponytail. (A template for the piece is included as an insert in the book.) Abramović, for her part, offers instructions for a meditation-like activity that has helped her concentrate: counting and sorting grains of rice and lentils. “During the process you go through many different emotional stages, the first thing is amusement because you are fresh,” Abramović states about the exercise. “After 20 minutes, you start having this feeling of boredom and then incredible anger and you are questioning the purpose. Your breathing is very short, you are almost on the verge of a panic attack.”
Other highlights in Open Studio include a stencil insert for a text-based piece by Lawrence Weiner, a guide for sculpture by Wangechi Mutu, and directions for creating a weather vane by Sarah Sze. Readers will also find tips for making their own riffs on William Wegman’s Weimaraner portraits and a signature character by KAWS.
In their explanations, some artists in the book lend a bit of advice for readers who might be looking for sources of relief or distraction during an especially challenging year. “I was trying very much to reach into my imagination and look for that place of peace and wholesomeness,” Mutu says, “and I’m finding it now just actually through making things.”