To warm up for our online preview of Beyond the Visible and Q&A with Halina Dyrschka on Wed 7 Oct, and to brighten up these grey days, we've selected some of our favourite documentaries about visual artists and their work.
Director Halina Dyrschka had a challenge in creating her new documentary Beyond the Visible – presenting the life and work of Swedish abstract painter and spiritualist Hilma af Klint, and at the same time probing why such a talented, innovative and prolific artist has been left out of the story of art history for the best part of a century.
To warm up for our online preview of Beyond the Visible and Q&A with Halina Dyrschka on Wed 7 Oct, we’ve selected some of our favourite documentaries about visual artists and their work.
Take your mind away from these grey and rainy days with our list of docs to watch online.
Cutie and the Boxer / Dir. Zachary Heinzerling / 2013 / 82 mins
A tale of two artists, a chaotic 40-year marriage and a lifetime of dedication to art. “Boxing” painter Ushio Shinohara left Tokyo for New York in 1969, destined for fame and riding high on the exuberance of youth. When 19-year-old Noriko moved to New York to study art, she fell in love with Ushio, abandoning her education to become his assistant and later wife.
Now 80, and finally sober, Ushio still treats his wife like an assistant. But over the course of their marriage, the roles have shifted, and Noriko, like her work, is evolving.
Keith Haring: Street Art Boy / Dir. Ben Anthony / 2020 / 89 mins
Using an extraordinary cache of previously unheard interviews with Keith Haring, director Ben Anthony weaves together a vivid profile of the iconic artist, who died from an Aids-related illness at the height of his fame, aged just 31.
Connecting the dots between his belief that “art should be for everyone”, his ubiquitous public street art and his mass manufactured merch, Keith Haring: Street Art Boy captures the wild, creative energy of the 1980s New York art scene and the passionate kid from small town Pennsylvania who blazed his trail through it.
The Mystery of Picasso / Dir. Henri Georges Clouzot / 1956 / 78 mins
In 1955, French director Henri-Georges Clouzot (Diabolique) joined forces with his friend Pablo Picasso to make a new kind of art film.
Trying to capture the moment of creativity, they placed the camera behind a semi-transparent canvas, shooting as Picasso created a series of pictures from black and white drawings to full-scale coloured paintings.
The resulting film shows, from the reverse side, brushstrokes becoming works of art.
Kusama – Infinity / Dir. Heather Lenz / 2018 / 78 mins
In this compelling documentary, director Heather Lenz tells Yayoi Kusama’s story from childhood to present day, in the words of the artist herself.
Kusama candidly discusses how her cosmic and obsessive art practice is generated from childhood trauma, and reveals the chronic depression she suffered after well-known artists remodelled her work in their name.
Mapping out the history of contemporary art through Kusama, Lenz offers a bright perspective on a world that finally recognises the power of this fearless artist – who continues to furnace her insatiable radicalism right into her ninth decade.
I convert the energy of life into dots of the universe
Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow / Dir. Sophie Fiennes / 2011 / 105 mins
Sophie Fiennes gives a fascinating insight into the life, work and mind of German artist Anselm Kiefer by immersing us in the sprawling landscape of ‘La Ribaute’ – the derelict silk factory and grounds in the South of France, taken over and adapted by Kiefer to house studios, pavillions and his elaborate installations.
My Rembrandt / Dir. Oeke Hoogendijk / 2019 / 97 mins
A Scottish aristocrat, a jet set collector, and a young art dealer taking an outrageous punt on his own instincts and a tonne of chutspah.
Oeke Hoogendijk’s charming documentary explores the wonder of Rembrandt through the stories of the art lovers, collectors and dealers whose passions and livelihoods centre around the Dutch Master.
Leaning into the Wind / Dir. Thomas Riedelsheimer / 2017 / 97 mins
Leaning into the Wind follows British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy on his exploration of the world through his ephemeral and permanent workings on the landscape, cities and with his own body.
Tracing the effects of time on nature, art and the human body, this illuminating film looks at the power and fragility of life through the mind of one of the UK’s greatest artists.
Marina Abramovic – The Artist is Present / Dir. Matthew Akers & Jeff Dupre / 2012 / 106 mins
Seductive, fearless and outrageous, Marina Abramovic has been redefining what art is for nearly forty years. Putting her own body at the centre of her work, she creates visceral performances that shock and move us.
Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre’s 2012 documentary follows the Serbian performance artist as she prepares for a retrospective of her work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Bill Viola: The Road to St Pauls / Dir. Gerald Fox / 2017 / 82 mins
When world-renowned American video artist Bill Viola was commissioned to make a pair of permanent installations for St Paul’s Cathedral, it was the start of a twelve year journey for the artist and his long-standing collaborator, wife Kira Perov.
Director Gerry Fox began filming as Viola’s ideas for the altarpieces were taking shape, and continued following progress over years of development and production until, in 2016, the second piece, Mary, was installed alongside 2014’s Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water).
Over the course of more than a decade, Fox intimately captures the detail of Viola’s creative process and the collaborative relationship between the husband and wife team.
You can watch the film on Guidedoc
National Gallery / Dir. Frederick Wiseman / 2014 / 180 mins
Considering art, artists and by extension the viewing and appreciation of art, we couldn’t help but include documentary legend Frederick Wiseman’s glorious contemplation of London’s National Gallery.
In his distinctive style, the film is a carefully observed portrait of the gallery’s working life from top to bottom. Going behind the scenes and with open access, Wiseman follows the restorers, curators, executives and visitors to take us to the heart of the museum.