8 Artist Biographies to Enjoy This Winter

January 11, 2021

With all the COVID-19 restrictions around the world, we're going to be spending a lot of time at home this winter. With all this free time on our hands, it would be nice to cozy up with some bestseller artist biographies. Often unusual and thrilling, the lives of artists and the way they shaped their practice have always interested and fascinated the general public.

The genre first dates to the Renaissance with Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, the volume that defined the very term Renaissance. With his original and soaring vision plus his acute aesthetic judgements he is now considered one of the most influential art historians of all time.

Here are 8 artist biographies that you would definitely enjoy this winter.

Georgia O'Keeffe By Roxana Robinson

One of the greatest modernists, Georgia O'Keeffe had an extraordinary and rich life marked with intense relationships—with family, friends, and especially with fellow artist Alfred Stieglitz. In 1989, Roxana Robinson published a definitive O'Keeffe's biography, which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

The book draws on many sources closed to writers during O'Keeffe's lifetime, recounting not only the story of her artistic achievements but also her feisty personality and the controversial events of her life. The author was given the co-operation of the O'Keeffe family and access to the letters between the artist and her circle.

The new edition of the book features a new foreword by the author as well as previously unpublished letters of the young O’Keeffe to her lover, Arthur MacMahon.

Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art By Phoebe Hoban

Despite his unfortunately short life and career, Jean-Michel Basquiat left an enormous impact on the world of art. An exceptional and innovative artist who never favored a single medium, he worked with immediacy and vigor with any materials at hand, challenging traditional hierarchies of painting and drawing.

The first biography of this charismatic figure, Phoebe Hoban's book charts his turbulent childhood, explosive dealings with the elite art world, relationships with such figures as Andy Warhol and Madonna, and his rise to fame, which led to a death from a drug overdose at the age of twenty-seven.

Diane Arbus: A Biography By Patricia Bosworth

One of the most renowned photographers of the 20th century, Diane Arbus is celebrated for her poignant portraits of individuals on the margins of society such as street people, transvestites, nudists, or carnival performers, her work has been described as bizarre, fantastical, and psychologically complex all at once.

In her groundbreaking biography, Patricia Bosworth investigates the private life behind Arbus's controversial art. The book charts everything from her pampered Manhattan childhood, her passionate marriage to Allan Arbus, their work together as fashion photographers, the emotional upheaval surrounding the end of their marriage, and the radical, liberating, and ultimately tragic turn Arbus's art took during the 1960s when she was so richly productive.

Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa by Marilyn Chase

The American artist Ruth Asawa is best known for her looped-wire sculptures, which challenge conventional notions of material and form. Forging an unconventional path in everything she did, she continued to experiment with different media throughout her career.

In this compelling biography, Marilyn Chase offers a complex and fascinating portrait of the artist, drawing on Asawa's extensive archives and conversations with family, friends, teachers, and critics. The book also features over 60 reproductions of Asawa's art and archival photos of her life.

Gluck By Diana Souhami

A gender-bending 1920s artist, Gluck is known for emotive, humanistic paintings that were stunningly modern. An artist and rebel, she rejected her family name, along with the dress and confines of her gender. Her desire to define herself by her own standards extended not only to her name, but also to every aspect of her life. Gluck's works took in everything from portraiture to floral painting, however, she refused to identify with any particular school or painting movement.

Diana Souhami’s spirited and insightful biography of the artist captures this paradoxical, talented and unusual woman in all her complexity. The author presents a familiar enough tale of the price of artistic genius.

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Arguably one of the greatest artists of all times, Leonardo da Vinci set the foundations of modern art-making, and embodied the concept of the polymath to the full extent. Aside from painting, he also devotedly explored architecture, human anatomy, botany, music, engineering, cartography.

The #1 New York Times bestseller, Walter Isaacson's book brings the iconic artist to life, drawing from thousands of pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work. Connecting his art and science, the book highlights da Vinci's genius and passionate curiosity, careful observation and playful imagination. The author explains how Leonardo’s delight at combining diverse passions remains the ultimate recipe for creativity.

The Success and Failure of Picasso by John Berger

One of the most important figures of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso continuously experimented throughout his career, completely redefining artistic practice and its purpose. Working in a range of mediums, his work matured from the naturalism of his childhood through Cubism, Surrealism and beyond, shaping the direction of modern and contemporary art through the decades.

In his book The Success and Failure of Picasso, the famed art critic John Berger examines most prodigious and enigmatic painter and the Spanish landscape and very particular culture that shaped his life and work. Embracing history, politics, and art, Berger gives us the full measure of Picasso's triumphs and an unsparing reckoning of their cost. 

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

An iconic 20th-century painter, Frida Kahlo is best known for her monumental canvases imbued with intricate, symbolic narratives of loss, death, and selfhood. Her life has become as iconic as her work, since her personal experience served as the greatest source of inspiration throughout her entire oeuvre.

In her engrossing biography, Hayden Herrera made the iconic artist fully human. She charts her life her childhood near Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution; a devastating accident at age eighteen; her marriage to muralist Diego Rivera and love affairs with men as diverse as Isamu Noguchi and Leon Trotsky; her association with the Communist Party; to her absorption in Mexican folklore and culture.