August Artist Reads

It’s been a heckuva summer — one for the books! Even though the outlook remains unclear about when gallery operations or programming will return to what we think of as “normal,” artists have been getting in a lot of reading in the meantime! To give you some ideas for what to pick up if you’re wondering what to read next, here you’ll find titles that have been influencing each of their readers personally, creatively, and professionally over the past few weeks.

Justin Liam O’Brien, Tired in the days that passed away, 2020, Oil on canvas, 14 x 13 in. Image courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery.

Paolo Arao

Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000 by Roderick Kiracofe (Abrams, 2018). One of my favorite books, an abundance of gorgeous reproductions with details of some beautiful quilts. There’s also a collection of insightful essays from a range of writers, artists, and quilt makers.

String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art by Elissa Auther (University of Minnesota Press, 2009). A must-read for folks working with or interested in fibers/textiles.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World, 2015). I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version, read by the author. 



Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000 by Roderick Kiracofe (Abrams, 2018).

Rusudan Khizanishvili

Reading is a vital part of my life. I spent my entire childhood continuously reading  and I constantly still do today. I would like to single out few books and one essay which I have been very impressed and touched by lately:

The Touch by Daniel Keys, which I actually started reading during the pandemic time, and which left me very impressed and fascinated. It gave me emotional support, so I highly recommend this book. 

Desert by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. This book has become a kind of shelter for me. The action takes place at different times, but these actions are united by one and the same environment in the form of a desert, my favorite country and region, full of mystical energy.

The essay was written by New York-based Georgian independent curator Nina Mdivani called “Narratives Of Otherness: Metaphysics, Georgian Contemporary Art and Its Few Strands.” This wonderful essay is very important for me as a Georgian and for all Georgian artists as well. This recent essay tackles the complex narratives of Otherness as explored by Western philosophers and draws parallels to the phenomenon of Otherness in Georgian culture and contemporary art. Read the essay here.


Desert by J.M.G. Le Clézio, Translated by C. Dickson (Verba Mundi reprint edition, 2011).

Justin Liam O’Brien

Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojarowicz by Cynthia Carr (Bloomsbury, 2012). David Wojnarowicz was a street artist and writer from the 80’s who died of AIDS. He’s the reason I’m making the work I am today. This book gets into the weeds, but it moves quickly. She opens up this world around David that you don’t get from his own writing. Anyone that’s interested in the NY art scene in the 80’s or queer history should get this book.

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi (Bold Type Books, 2017). You can listen to this one on Spotify for free – highly worth the listen. It’s a history of racist ideas in America. It takes moments in American history and uses the story of notable individuals of that time (Angela Davis, Malcom X, W.E.B. Du Bois) to analyze the racism at play in that moment. It gave me some very necessary context to the killing of George Floyd and the history of violence against people of color in this country. 

The Queer Art of Failure by Jack Halberstam (Duke University Press, 2011). This is a fun non-conventional queer theory book. It cutely uses examples of computer animated films and cartoons to discuss heteronormative structures in western society and how queer people subvert them. This is probably a bad description of the book – forgive me, I’m still reading this one! I first started making art by way of video games and 3D animation (I went to Pratt Institute to study digital art) so it’s been very interesting for me to see these examples of animation used to explain complex social issues. It’s very heady but makes you chuckle at the same time. 



Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz by Cynthia Carr (Bloomsbury, 2012).

Sharif Farrag

I have been thinking about my own experiences growing up, how they’ve shaped me and how to continue growing. I get inspired by freedom and possibility, but am yearning for some balance with stories from the Arab American experience.

How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi (Penguin Books, 2009)

Bad as I Wanna Be by Dennis Rodman and Tim Keown (Delacorte, 1996).


Bad as I Wanna Be by Dennis Rodman and Tim Keown (Delacorte, 1996).

Cesar Piette

The Love of Painting: Genealogy of a Success Medium by Isabel Graw (Sternberg Press, 2019). This is a technical book on painting itself and its contemporary concepts and approaches. There are a lot of references and ideas on painting.

Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters, 1961-2007 by Gerhard Richter and Dietmar Elger (Thames & Hudson, 2009). I don’t know how much time I’ve read it but I like to read it again and again. I just love when artists express themselves with simple words and ideas and not with a complex art critic language.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankin by Yuval Noha Harari (Harper, 2015). A bit mainstream but really clear. When I paint I often listen to documentaries and I can’t stop watching some on human evolution and cosmos. The history of the civilizations are really young compared to the history of life itself and the planet, but even when we talk about 10,000 years, the human brain is not really able to conceptualize such numbers. It’s kind of fascinating.


The Love of Painting: Genealogy of a Success Medium by Isabel Graw (Sternberg Press, 2019).

Meryl Pataky

After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene by Jedediah Purdy (Harvard, 2018)

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press, 2018).

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (Liveright, 2018).

“Black Landscapes Matter” by Kofi Boone. This was an article from Berkeley School of Architecture, which I have not stopped thinking about since I read it and many projects are coming from this idea. [Editor’s note: A book of the same title is scheduled for release November 2020.]

A Brief History of Time by Steven Hawking (Bantam, 1988).


The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (Liveright, 2018).

Bendt Eyckermans

There are so many things that I would like to share, it is quite hard to decide what to mention and what not. Having read almost everything written by Oliver Sacks, my hunger for literature about neurology, and the workings of our brains (especially when it comes to memory and perception), hasn’t been satisfied yet. As a painter it has always fascinated me how that other painters throughout history have influenced the way an audience looks at an artwork. And I think out of this idea it is where my hunger specifically for neurological knowledge, with perception as a primary interest, has been born. So, I feverishly look for literature around these neurological subjects, with the genres ranging from fiction* to books of science, to develop my knowledge about how our brains work when it comes to perception, the processing of information and the impermanence of memory.

An example of a book that I read this month, which Oliver Sacks sometimes also references to in his writings, has the title The Invention of Memory by Israel Rosenfield (Basic Books, 1988). The book is quite interesting to read because it ventures into mapping the workings of the human brain on the basis of neurological defects. There are parts where the writing becomes quite heavy to process (which doesn’t make it any less interesting of course!). But I think there is a compensation for this because Rosenfield puts these findings and theories into dialogue with literature, visual arts and new technological advancements such as artificial intelligence which makes it a more pleasant piece of literature to read. 

A book of fiction that I absorbed this month and somewhat also helped feed this hunger is Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (published in Japanese by Shinchosha in 1985, and in English by Kodansha in 1991). It is a magical realistic romance about the virtual consciousness. Although I enjoyed Kafka on the Shore by the same author more (2002 in Japanese; translated to English in 2005), I really loved the two, absurd but still believable, worlds that Murakami has build in this book. 

Other than that, I  quite recently read Regarding the Pain of Others (1993) and Illness as Metaphor (1978) written by the amazing Susan Sontag. It is always a pleasure to hear her speak also. Sometimes when I am working in the studio I listen to one of her lectures/interviews/talks that you can find on YouTube.

And now that you are already on YouTube, I can also highly recommend on watching “Inna” an intriguing and dark opera composed and created by Mica Levi and Dean Blunt performed at the ICA. See it here.

* Literary fiction should not be excluded out of this because for example Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending (Knopf, 2011) is an interesting piece of fiction about how unreliable and misleading our personal memory and own narration in our brains can be. These sorts of literature also give me insight and perspective.


The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks (Gerald Duckworth, 1985).

Cameron Spratley

My Black Death by Arthur Jafa (Publication Studio, 2015). [Editor’s note: This essay appears part of a series of pamphlets called On the Blackness of BLACKNUSS as well as Everything But The Burden by Greg Tate (Broadway, 2003).] Everything But The Burden is an amazing text on its own, but Jafa’s contribution is a standout. He provides any young black artist with a sense of freedom while calling Jackson Pollock white trash. The non-western critique of modern art is as refreshing as it is empowering. 

“Kelly Walker’s Negro Problem” by Glenn Ligon [Read here.] This essay literally hangs on the wall of my studio. As all artists are drawn to this moment in history and are wondering how to help, please do not look to Kelly Walker as any sort of guide.


“On the Blackness of BLACKNUSS” Pamphlet set (Publication Studio, 2015). 

Thom Trojanowski

Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schultz (Penguin, 1977). This book was actually recommended to me by my uni tutor, Neil Tait, after our first meeting. I bought it and have taken it everywhere with me but for what ever reason only started it the other day. So I’ll get back to you on a full review! 

HEADS – UDLI Editions. This zine is put together by the artist and fashion designer, Jason Wright. It’s a compilation of images from artists. As simple as that. I just like everything that UDLI is about and myself have many of their clothes. Catch them @liver_ideas

A Mycological Foray: Variations On Mushrooms by John Cage (Atelier Editions, 2020). Living out in the forest, autumn is a very important and exciting time in our calendar. A good part of the morning is set aside to find the most delicious and interesting mushrooms we can for dinner that evening. I was recommended this book by the artist Aimee Parrot as she is fully aware that I’m a fun gi. 

The Souls Of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois (A.C. McClurg & Co., 1903). With the recent and deeply important human rights uprising, a conscious effort needs to be made by all to learn and understand more. 

Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel (Little, Brown, 2018). When my wife Stevie (@steviedixx) and I visited the hugely promoted Ab Ex show at the RA a couple of years ago, we left stunned at the little to no representation of female artists. Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler, to name just a few, that were integral to helping shape one of the world’s most important art movements. This books highlights these wonderful names. 

Henry Rollins 20 – homemade zine by Henry Rollins and Raymond Petition. I love punk, and anything around it. I lucked out and found this one of 100 risograph copies that these two made together in their apartment. Filled with hard and spiteful poetry about the people who live in Rollins’s building, and illustrated by Petition. One of the most fragile bits of paper I own. 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor Books, 2015). A pocket size book that you can devour in a train journey. Tiny but by no means weightless. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. 


John Cage: a Mycological Foray: Variations on Mushrooms by John Cage (Atelier Editions, 2020).

Hangama Amiri

This summer I’ve been really interested in reading The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin (Belknap Press of Harvard, 1999), written between 1927-1940, and its flaneur, the wandering observer who explores urban riches at leisure, interested yet detached. I paired those essays with Michael Foucault’s “Heterotopia: Worlds Within a World,” mirroring but delineating what is outside, marking the displacement of an object from its origin, from “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias.” Read more here.


The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin (Belknap Press of Harvard, 1999)

Chris Hood

I began quarantine reading some darker novels, but did not quite anticipate the tone of the world around me would keep shifting in that direction. So I have been a bit more cerebral and purposeful in my reading recently. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality by Jaron Lanier  (Henry Holt, 2017) has been a thoughtful and informative look into the earlier days of Silicon Valley and future potentials of virtual reality. I am particularly interested in his recalling a bug in early VR that wildly shifted the scale of a hand to building size and the brain’s ability to accept and reorient to new and surreal spatial dimensions. Perception is a tool and is malleable and evolving!

I would also recommend How to See: Looking, Talking, and Thinking about Art by David Salle (W.W. Norton, 2016), but less for the pleasure and more for a brass tax survey of an entrenched blue-chip art insider. I have tremendous respect for Salle’s paintings and his thoughtfulness in writing and bringing forth difficult to discern minutia of art looking. He is able to elucidate qualities of a painting so hard to pin down that can only be put into words with a lifetime of spent effort. However, he so continually delights in praise for artists that align clearly with the party-line that the book becomes more of a testament to haute bourgeoisie New York taste. Perhaps this can be helpful in its own right. But the many praising passages on Alex Katz, for example, are not shored-up by the admission that he is the author’s hero and the two have been friends for many years. Perhaps from someone with such clear talents for writing and painting, more might be learned from art that challenges how he sees rather than confirms it.


How to See: Looking, Talking, and Thinking about Art by David Salle (W.W. Norton, 2016).

Charlotte Edey

Bluets by Maggie Nelson (Wave Books, 2009). Intimate, thoughtful and heartbreaking exploration of all the shades of the colour blue.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (J.B. Lippincott, 1937). It was a revelation when I read it, and was the first book I knew I needed to revisit at the start of lockdown. Lush, lyrical, sublime, important. 

The short story “Hidden History” from Incidents at the Shrine by Ben Okri ( Random House, 2015). Feverishly imagined short story on class and decay in a British city.


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (J.B. Lippincott, 1937).

Anna Perach

My current favourite read is Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality by Federico Campagna (Bloomsbury, 2018). This book gives a fascinating account of how a world perception that gives place to a state of “in-between” and revisits magic practices that were marginalised by centuries of rationalist thought and the regime of production could be the answer to our current state of crisis.

Another one is: Wild Women: Contemporary Short Stories by Women Celebrating Women, edited by Sue Thomas (Abrams, 1994). This is a wonderful collection that often using the constructs of folktales to describe current experiences of women.


Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality by Federico Campagna (Bloomsbury, 2018).

Andrew Salgado

ART/WORK: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As Your Pursue Your Art Career by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber is that “art business” book that every working artist needs to read, the sooner the better. Basically everything they didn’t teach you in art school, and how to navigate the art world and manage a studio career.

My favourite and most inspirational books are: 

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean (Random House, 1998) is a true story that deals with passion, obsession, and the pursuit of beauty. It’s informative, interesting, mysterious, and strangely eloquent and tragic. I first read it about 15 years ago and go back to it every few years. 

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (originally published by Dell, 1969) is the thin classic (in the ilk of 1984, Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm) that most people seem to have not read. It’s about WWII, time-travel, and reality. You can read it in one sitting. Its heart-breaking and also laugh out loud funny. 

The Stranger by Albert Camus (published in French by Gallimard in 1942, in English by Hamish Hamilton in 1946). This will undoubtedly come up a few times if you ask people working in art. It’s absolutely staggering.  

Right now I’m reading London Fields by Martin Amis (Jonathan Cape, 1989).

The Stranger by Albert Camus (published originally in French by Gallimard in 1942).

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