Although the starving artist in the garret is no longer the favourite public stereotype, painters and sculptors remain something of a mystery even to those who spend time looking at their work. So a film that helps to explain their assorted motivations can only be a good thing, and one as lucid and entertaining as Jake Auerbach’s latest offering, The Last Art Film (available on DVD at £16.99), should be welcomed with open hearts and minds.
Jake Auerbach is a distinguished film-maker with a string of successful artist documentaries behind him (his subjects have included Sickert, Freud, his father Frank and Allen Jones), and he has distilled all his experience of the strange ways of artists into this 94-minute film. It is thematically arranged, exploring the practicalities of art training and studio practice, juxtaposing interviews with various living artists (Tom Phillips, Michael Craig-Martin, Grayson Perry, Tracey Emin, Joe Tilson and his son Jake, Gary Hume, Celia Paul) with quotes from the dead great (Delacroix, Degas, Matisse, Titian, Gauguin).
The film fruitfully explores how different artists are from other people and what it is they actually do, without arriving at any restrictive conclusions. Networks of friendship and influence emerge: Frank Auerbach taught Tom Phillips, Craig-Martin taught Hume. Paula Rego recalls getting bad advice from Victor Pasmore and encouragement from Lowry; her own advice is ‘just keep at it – don’t give up’. But in the end, the mystery remains. As Picasso said: ‘Painting makes me do what it wants.’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 24 November 2012