At 75, British-born prolific art writer Berger (Ways of Seeing) is a longtime farm dweller in the French Alps, which may help give his prose its much-praised unadorned directness and earthiness. This weighty tome selects essays from previous volumes, including The Sense of Sight and Keeping a Rendezvous. They include terse meditations on painters like Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, Goya, Poussin and Gauguin, as well as sculptors like Lipschitz, Brancusi and Zadkine. There are farm-inspired essays like "A Load of Shit" and stark personal essays with a peasant-like directness: "When my father died recently, I did several drawings of him in his coffin. Drawings of his face and head." This stance makes his thoughts about artists, whether praising Picasso or decrying the British painter Francis Bacon, seem all the more authentic and credible. Piles and piles of prejudices here wind up being eminently readable because they're expressed without ornate flourishes and in a plain-spoken (sometimes overly so) stance. In the tradition of energetic British eccentrics, Berger has contributed much to writing on modern art, often speaking sense and doing it more entertainingly than most salaried newspaper specialists. (Dec.)Forecast: Berger's Ways of Seeing is still a campus favorite for intro. to art classes, and these essays should be a sure thing for most college libraries. But Berger has enough name recognition to reach literate non-specialists, and the book should make it into many public libraries and gift tables. The author's 75th birthday makes a good hook for rousing regular art readers and getting them to make a Berger purchase.
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John Peter Berger was born in London, England on November 5, 1926. After serving in the British Army from 1944 to 1946, he enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art. He began his career as a painter and exhibited work at a number of London galleries in the late 1940s. He then worked as an art critic for The New Statesman for a decade. He wrote fiction and nonfiction including several volumes of art criticism. His novels include A Painter of Our Time, From A to X, and G., which won both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Booker Prize in 1972. His other works include an essay collection entitled Permanent Red, Into Their Labors, and a book and television series entitled Ways of Seeing. In the 1970s, he collaborated with the director Alain Tanner on three films. He wrote or co-wrote La Salamandre, The Middle of the World, and Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000. He died on January 1, 2017 at the age of 90.
Geoff Dyer was born in Cheltenham in 1958. He currently lives in London.