A career’s worth of Laing’s writing about art, culture, and their role in our political and emotional lives. She profiles Jean-Michel Basquiat and Georgia O’Keeffe, interviews Hilary Mantel and Ali Smith, writes love letters to David Bowie and Wolfgang Tillmans, and explores loneliness and technology, women and alcohol, sex and the body.
Yes, you’re in for a treat ... There are few voices that we can reliably read widely these days, but I would read Laing writing about proverbial paint drying (the collection is in fact quite paint-heavy), just as soon as I would read her write about the Grenfell Tower fire, The Fire This Time, or a refugee’s experience in England, The Abandoned Person’s Tale, all of which are included in Funny Weather ... Laing’s knowledge of her subjects is encyclopaedic, her awe is infectious, and her critical eye is reminiscent of the critic and author James Wood ... The articles included from the column she wrote for frieze magazine are often politically charged, deepened by their fresh artistic comparisons and laced with philosophical musings. The collection also includes the most thoughtful, well-researched and concise description of contemporary art that I have read, and I would urge everyone to read Free if you want it: British Conceptual Art if you think that contemporary art is distinctly Not Your Thing ... With a grace and benevolence similar to Sinéad Gleeson, she pens portraits of artists, writers and singers from the latter half of the 20th century which are rich in detail, suffused in empathy and astute in their socio-political contextualisation. To be drawn in a Laingish light is to be considered searchingly but always with a whole heart ... Her sensitivity to colour, coupled by her ever sharpening vocabulary leaves the reader scrambling to search for the artwork in question ... Her book reviews are, unsurprisingly, radiant ... gives the reader a tangible sense of the sprawling garden of work which Laing has planted. She is to the art world what David Attenborough is to nature: a worthy guide with both a macro and micro vision, fluent in her chosen tongue and always full of empathy and awe.
Laing herself is a watcher that would make [Grace] Paley proud. Her outward-looking essays are by far Funny Weather’s strongest. Among the book’s finest sections are 'Reading,' which is devoted to book criticism; 'Funny Weather: Frieze Columns,' which combine art criticism with cultural commentary; and 'Artists’ Lives,' a vivid series of biographical sketches ... Laing is remarkably good at conjuring paintings rather than summarizing them ... Laing is a tremendously gifted genre-mixer, and her writing flourishes most when its topic requires her both to observe and to imagine, if not invent ... Of Funny Weather’s essays, the Frieze columns are the bluntest, the oddest, and the best ... Funny Weather is an invitation to Laing’s imaginary museum, where minds if not bodies meet, and where true hospitality resides.
Most of the pieces in this volume fit more cleanly into one category or another, and in general the separation is well received. A dozen or so serve as wonderful little biographies of creative figures — writers and visual artists mainly, as well as filmmakers, performers and others ... Laing’s arts writing is sharp-minded, and her manner is generous toward both subject and reader ... These more personal, more poetical pieces may certainly persuade readers that the creative work she highlights, the product of open and tolerant minds, is on the side of right. Of course, getting through to people on the other side is a challenge that neither artwork nor rational argument can always meet. Still, Laing has faith in the role that art can play.