Portraits: John Berger on Artists

Edited by Tom Overton. Verso (Random, dist.), $44.95 (544p) ISBN 978-1-78478-176-7
This thick anthology of John Berger’s previously published art writings, edited by Overton, the cataloger of his archive at the British Library, point to the many sides of the prolific English critic’s writing career. Here, woven together, are mostly essays, but also poems, play fragments, novel excerpts, letters, and conversations, each seeking artists’ perspectives (Berger begins by considering the unknown creators of the Chauvet Cave paintings and concludes with contemporary artist Randa Mdah). The result is alternately frustrating and enchanting. An essay on Edgar Degas is prefaced by a poem on one of the artist’s bronzes; the section on Goya concludes with a passage from Berger’s first novel. Some mash-ups are fluid, others less so, and readers must consult the back of the book for original titles, sources, and publication dates. But the project is redeemed by Berger’s writing—the laconic strength of his voice, the intimacy and generosity of feeling, and the colossal weight of his visual experience. Of Caravaggio, he writes: “His darkness smells of candles, overripe melons, damp washing waiting to be hung out the next day.” On Rembrandt, Fernand Léger, Cy Twombly, and anything related to drawing, Berger is tremendous. 100 b&w illus. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/2015
Release date: 10/27/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 544 pages - 978-1-78478-179-8
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