How Painting Happens (and Why it Matters)

Martin Gayford

Drawing on decades of conversations with practising artists, Martin Gayford offers intimate insight into the practice, meaning and potential of painting.

Painting is an almost inconceivably ancient activity that remains vigorously alive in the twenty-first century. Every successful painting creates a new world, which we inhabit for as long as we care to look at it. Paintings can incorporate profound ideas and paradoxes that can be grasped without words. For those who dedicate themselves to it, the art of painting can become an all-consuming, lifelong obsession. It is a subject on which painters themselves are often the most incisive commentators.

Martin Gayford’s riveting and richly illustrated book deftly brings together numerous artists’ voices, past and present. It draws on a trove of conversations conducted over more than three decades with artists including Frank Auerbach, Gillian Ayres, Frank Bowling, Cecily Brown, Peter Doig, Lucian Freud, Katharina Fritsch, David Hockney, Claudette Johnson, R. B. Kitaj, Lee Ufan, Paula Rego, Gerhard Richter, Bridget Riley, Jenny Saville, Frank Stella, Luc Tuymans, Zeng Fanzhi, and many more. Here too is Vincent van Gogh on Rembrandt, John Constable on Titian, Francis Bacon on Velázquez, Lee Krasner on Pollock, and Jean-Michel Basquiat on Picasso.

We hear the personal reflections of these artists on their chosen medium; how and why they paint; how they came to the practice; the influence of fellow painters; and how they find creative sustenance and inspirationin their art.

How Painting Happens crosses the centuries to give us a wealth of insights into the endlessly compelling phenomenon of painters and painting.


Martin Gayford


Martin Gayford is a writer and art critic. His books include Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud; Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters; A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen and Spring Cannot Be Cancelled: David Hockney in Normandy, both with David Hockney; Shaping the World: Sculpture from Prehistory to Now, with Antony Gormley; Love Lucian: The Letters of Lucian Freud, 1939-1954, with David Dawson; and Venice: City of Pictures.