Josef Albers

Inspiration: Artists’ Artifacts

What can you tell about an artist from their tools? Would you be able to identify a famous artist just by looking at their desk? A campaign shot to celebrate the approaching Frieze New York art fair explores these questions in a series of still life images of the tool kits of famous 20th century artists. Photographed by Nicholas Calcott, the pictures include the tools of celebrated names such as Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Keith Haring. The images are below – but can you match the artist to their kit?

artists palettes

Helen Frankenthaler’s studio and archival materials. Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Archives, New York. © 2016 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. Photography: Nicholas Calcott

Take a close look and you’ll see tell-tale clues in every image. Josef Albers, the celebrated artist, educator and colour theorist, has a handful of colour palettes and palette knives. Luminary of the 80s New York art scene Keith Haring has cassette tapes and a trainer next to Japanese line art that echoes his own distinctive style. Pop Art painter and collage artist Robert Rauschenberg has a self-referential road sign and memorabilia of the moon landings. Jackson Pollock, mid-Century bad boy known as Jack The Dripper has a paint-spattered hammer. However his tool kit also features a rather neat sewing set. The pictures are as fun for the unexpected details they reveal as for the expected elements.

Josef Albers

Artifacts from The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Bethany, CT. © 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London. Photography: Nicholas Calcott

Jackson Pollock

Artifacts from Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner’s home and studio, East Hampton, NY. Courtesy Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. Photography: Nicholas Calcott

Keith Haring

Objects from Keith Haring’s studio, New York, NY. Courtesy Keith Haring Foundation Archive. Photography: Nicholas Calcott

Donald Judd

Artifacts from Donald Judd’s home and studio, 101 Spring Street, New York, NY. Courtesy Judd Foundation. Photography: Nicholas Calcott

It’s not just painters and graphic artists on the list. You can also check out the tools of Isamu Noguchi, most famous for his eponymous sculptural coffee table. The tools of his trade sit next to a miniature Zen rock garden and a paper monkey toy. Minimalist sculptor Donald Judd is represented with an immaculately paired-back set of measuring instruments, a chisel and a pair of glasses.


Materials from Robert Rauschenberg’s home and studio. Courtesy Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York. Photography: Nicholas Calcott


Artifacts from Isamu Noguchi’s studio, Long Island City, NY. Courtesy The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York. Photography: Nicholas Calcott

The full set of images can be seen at the Frieze website, here. Frieze New York will take place at Randall’s Island Park from May 5 – 7, 2017.

Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

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