The key to keep making art is to focus on the many positives that it brings
words by phil grabsky
It would be easy to focus on the difficulties involved in making feature films but issues of finance, lack of time, finding the right path creatively, non-payment of monies owed to you, maintaining key relationships, these are nothing new to artists through the ages. If you want to understand Mozart or Beethoven then you need to understand how they coped with all five of those factors. Indeed it’s true of every artist we have featured in our 23 EXHIBITION ON SCREEN films that we have made so far. But the key, the absolute key, is to keep making art and to focus on the many positives that it brings. The past few months have been extremely busy and challenging for us in all sorts of ways but what I carry with me, what I choose to focus on, is the many extraordinary moments I’ve had in galleries, on shoots, in the edit suite and at screenings. So here are five recent moments that come to mind:
1 – Russia is quite frankly a pain to get to. It’s the most complicated visa process (and not cheap) but once you’ve arrived in a city like St. Petersburg, you can put that behind you and begin to enjoy the experience. St. Petersburg is fascinating, somewhat wild and stimulating all at the same time. This is the third time I’ve been and the first time I’ve seen it in the sun (albeit with a chill from nearby Finland at all times). I was filming in the majestic Hermitage – perhaps the biggest art museum in the world - that is really quite extraordinary and, as you’d imagine, full of treasures. We know the gallery well and it is always a pleasure to work with them. This time I was there primarily to film their two Leonardo paintings The Madonna Litta and The Benois Madonna. There is fierce competition to be this museum’s most popular artwork but the Hermitage’s director told me that it remains the Madonna Litta. The attribution to Leonardo is not undisputed but it is certainly a remarkably beautiful painting. We were filming on the day the gallery was shut to the public and thus had all the time we needed to film them which meant I also really got to look very closely. A few special tour groups passed by and what struck me was that no-one looked longer than it took to take a snap on their phones. Crazeee.
2 – It was a thrill to have YOUNG PICASSO play at both the Málaga and Barcelona film festivals. I must have done about 20 interviews for TV, radio and press – some even in Spanish (thank you Channel 4 for paying for me to learn Spanish 30 years ago). The standard of questions was very high – they had all done their research and of course watched the film. I was worried that they would be critical of a non-Spaniard making a film about Picasso – but not at all. In fact, they all were delighted with our decision to make a film about him and, moreover, focus on his early years. I am quite careful with how many festivals I enter as they are very time consuming and can eat into your local audience rather than build it up. On the other hand, I do love attending festivals and seeing other films and meeting some film-makers. As ever, there simply isn’t enough time to do everything. The main thing was that in both cities – so closely associated with Picasso – the film was received really well – not one word of criticism from anyone. Sadly there was a hastily organised general election on the first day the film was released to Spanish cinemas which hurt us badly. But the distributors intend to repeat the film soon.
3 – We have recently finished a special commission for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. There are 5 paintings on display around the world of Van Gogh’s sunflowers in vases. These are in Amsterdam itself, then Philadelphia, Tokyo, Munich and London. They rarely travel and are never seen together. Until now. We filmed each of them and created an installation of 5 vertical screens showing the paintings alongside one another. This has just gone on display at a fascinating new exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum focussed on the recent conservation of their sunflowers in a vase painting. We are now in the process of making a film about these paintings and indeed the sunflowers and its history through art for Season 8 of EXHIBITION ON SCREEN. We have already filmed some wonderful interviews and new scientific discoveries. Watch the film if you want to see how the paintings looked when they were first painted. You’ll be amazed.
4 – I have been thrilled by the artworks that making EASTER IN ART has led to me to look at, some for the very first time. I’ll be honest: religious art of this type is not where I would normally gravitate to but, my word, if you do stop to look at the art that has been made to reflect those final few days of Christ’s life it is utterly staggering. Our teams have been filming all over the world – it is surely the most painted moment in history – and the film will be absolutely full of masterpieces by the greatest of artists and some of the lesser known. So many stand out already but if I was put on the spot to mention one that I had really never even noticed before it would be Dali’s Crucifixion at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
5 – Australia and New Zealand have always been firm supporters in our films and I have made a point of visiting cinemas there every year or two. It has become harder of the last few years as we have more competition in the arts area and indeed in the area of Event Cinema more generally but we receive so many emails and Facebook/Instagram comments from both these countries that motivate us to keep delivering new films to ever more cinemas. What I particularly love about both countries – apart from the wonderful landscapes and much more besides – is not just how enthusiastic in person our audiences are but how knowledgeable they are too – the question and answer sessions are always really interesting. It is a long way to go but I can’t wait to return.
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Thanks for reading!