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Archive for the ‘Cubism’ Category

MondrianTree6

Oh, trees!

If you’re a Mondrian-lover you stand in front of one of his paintings, like the one above, and exclaim, “I just love the way he painted trees!”  Right?

You have a friend who doesn’t understand Mondrian, so you volunteer to give her a tour of the moderns at the Art Institute of Chicago or the MoMa.  You position yourselves in front of the Mondrians, and you learnedly explain that here we have the essence of tree-ness.  Right?

Mondrian was painting simplified trees.  Right?

Mondrian drew diagrams of trees. Right?

Abstract trees. Right?

Oh, please!

No one has ever looked at a Mondrian and seen trees. Right?

Right!!!!!

Then why do we constantly get the evolution of his paintings—The Mondrians—from trees.

http://emptyeasel.com/2007/04/17/piet-mondrian-the-evolution-of-pure-abstract-paintings/

MondrianTree1

[The] process of simplification and reduction would continue until he wasn’t even painting from nature at all.

The rise of Cubism also gave Mondrian a means to segment and reduce objects to their most basic forms.

MondrianTree2

Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) lived in Paris when he was in his early 40’s.  There he met Braque and other Cubists.

To interpret Cubism as “reducing objects to their most basic forms”  is as blatantly ridiculous as the other cliché about cubism, namely that a cubist painting shows us an object from all four sides.  I’ll post just one example here, Picasso’s “Portrait of D.H. Kahnweiler,” 1910. Have a good look. You are seeing Mr. Kahnweiler’s “basic forms” and you’re seeing him from all “four sides.” Correct?

kahnweil

Really?

LOOK!

Cubism is so scary to think about that people, even otherwise intelligent people, repeat these absurdities about “basic forms” and “four sides.”  You’ll find this sort of thing not only on internet pages but, with more academic circumlocutions, in serious publications. The Cubists—Picasso and Braque–are scary to think about because they made a clean break with the past.  Naughty, naughty. Thou shalt honor thy father and mother…  The only father the Cubists honored was Cézanne and he, in Robert Hughes’ words, painted DOUBT.

Let’s see now, we don’t have any commandments honoring doubt.

In 1910, art that threw out all previous assumptions was difficult to take.  Still is.  But doubt is so much more invigorating than having answers without first having questions.  Medieval certainties and Renaissance illustrations of mythological characters are not invigorating, are they?!

The Cubists—and they didn’t call themselves that—came up with something new.  The painting is now not an illustration but a work in its own right.

You must be kidding?  In its own right?  The audacity!

That’s right.  Audacity.

So, are Mondrian’s paintings abstractions or essences or diagrams of trees?  No.  They are something completely new.  They stand in their own right as objects.  Something to contemplate.

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TreesNot

One of the painters in my “What Would Mondrian Do?” group often brings photos of flowers and trees to class to kick off a painting session.

Keven Wilder is an accomplished painter.  The collectors of her work eagerly follow her latest output. The reception of this painting has been enthusiastic.

I’m glad.  I find the enthusiastic response of non-representational art very encouraging.  It’s a measure of progress in human consciousness, I think, not to be tied to the literal.

Nobody looks at this painting and says, “Oh, yes, trees. I see the blue sky and the vertical tree trunks and the horizontal branches.”

People who love this painting love it even after they find out that the artist started with a photo of trees against a clear sky.  They don’t get hung up on trees.  Sorry there.

People who love this painting love its color, shapes, texture, process, surprises.  It’s not an illustration, abstraction or diagram of anything.  It’s an object in itself.

An object of contemplation.

Keven Wilder showed this painting at the Ethical Humanist Society earlier this year.

Thank you, Keven!

http://ethicalhuman.org/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/exhibit-at-ethical-humanist-society/

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CubistWindowBlueFinal
The layering in this painting is uncanny, so pay attention. You think the “window” in those Cubist browns (1) is on top of the blue CubustWindowFinalAnalysis“background.” Look again. Those browns used to cover the whole painting and then the blue (2) washed over everything, leaving that “window.” That created enough of a puzzle, but the artist felt the painting needed a line somewhere in the blue expanse. Indeed. The line materialized, quite literally, not as paint but as a piece of yellow yarn, which was glued onto the canvas with acrylic matte medium. The effect of this humble yellow line is that it amplifies the three-dimensionality of the pictorial space, in that we now have the illusion of a horizontal plane below the yellow line and above it, a wall. Now the “window” really pushes forward. As you look at this, you know you’re being fooled by the simplicity of means and at the same time you gladly give into the illusion.
Keren Vishney, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”

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PosingPicassoAvignon1
You’ve seen it hundreds of times in art books. And now there it is: Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon. In the flesh, in the canvas, in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This famous painting, this icon, yes, icon, of modernism. You’ve flown thousands of miles to get to New York, you’re modern, you’re not shocked by this shocking painting, you’re cultured, civilized, you’re familiar with its origin myths and the various interpretations offered by art historians. You know that Picasso’s early sketches show a medical student entering a brothel, that the red light district in Barcelona, where Picasso spent his teen age years, was along a street called Avignon. You’ve studied every passage of this painting from reproductions in art books: the course handling of the drapery, the aggressive fruit bowl, the terrifying masks. And here it is and here you are. It looks just like the reproductions in the books. It’s big and you knew that PosingPicassoAvignon2all along. There is no surprise, there’s nothing new here at all, nothing to learn, nothing to experience. So there’s nothing for you to do but stand in front of it like a good tourist and do the touristy thing; you ask your friend to take a picture of you standing in front of Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon.
In 1936 in an essay called The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Walter Benjamin said when people go to museums now, they don’t go to see art, they go to see the original of what they’ve seen before in reproductions. There’s no surprise, no experience, no epiphany, no shock, no aesthetic experience. What they’re curious to see is the original that spawned so many reproductions.
That’s what I witnessed earlier this month when I spent a day at the MoMA. Les Demoiselles D’Avignon drew a crowd. I inched my way close to the painting’s edge and looked closely at the brush work. Very clean, very neat. No overpainting that would leave previous layers to peek through (pentimento). No reworking. No pencil or charcoal lines to lay out the composition.

A less famous painting of Picasso’s, Night Fishing in Antibes, was not mobbed and attracted only the occasional poseur. Famous because it was a Picasso, but not as widely reproduced. Hence a smaller crowd.

PosingPicassoNightFishing

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PicassoNudeDrapery
Drapery? Where? You mean those whitish-bluish triangles and trapezoids?
Picasso was twenty-six when he painted this. By the time he was fourteen, he had mastered the skill to create the illusion of drapery or any other illusion he might have felt like creating. There was big money in illusions in the 1890’s. But not for Picasso. With Picasso the illusion-achievements of the Renaissance come to an end. And that means, for one thing, drapery is dead. Finished.
The question is, do you have to master the Renaissance skills of drapery, anatomy and perspective to be an artist? The answer is “no,” but it’s an uncomfortable no. I’m uncomfortable about dismissing the value of drapery drawing/painting for two reasons. One is in the looking: drapery in an image draws the viewer in and focuses the mind like a labyrinth; more on this in the next post. The second reason is in the doing and for similar reasons: drawing drapery develops visual concentration since you are always drawing from the image in your mind; and it focuses the mind, resulting in the kind of high that comes from a)intense concentration on a limited problem and b) repetition of minutiae. This is drawing for the sheer pleasure of drawing, meaning the “high” you get from moving that pencil.

Drapery
This is my pencil drawing of some drapery I set up for a demo in drawing class last week. Students watched over DraperyGreenDemomy shoulders and asked questions. As I was drawing I explained the procedure. This 17”x11” page took about an hour. Without my talking, I estimate it would have taken less than a half hour. It looks so easy and the principles of light-shadow-reflected light are a piece o’cake.
But the doing takes practice. But, hey, it’s not like there’s ever nothing to draw. Look around you. Throw your coat over a chair, leave the dish towel on the kitchen counter, don’t make your bed—drapery drapery everywhere….
In “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the need and result of practice. He has made the 10,000 hour rule famous: to get good at anything takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice. That comes to 3 hours a day.

130207DilbertHoursPractice
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In 1910 in an ornate little church in Borja, a village in northeastern Spain,  a local painter named  Elias García Martínez filled a narrow white wall space with a little fresco called “Ecce Homo.”  It shows a scroll on which the suffering thorn-crowned Jesus-head is turning its eyes skyward.  Over the years the fresco deteriorated and Mrs. Cecilia Giménez (below), with the permission of the priest, set out to restore it to its original, of which she had a photo to work from.

The news broke last Friday and over the weekend little Borja was overrun with hundreds of tourists who were eager to see what was universally called a “botched restoration.”   One tourist, interviewed on Spanish TV, said that the original was nice, but this she really likes.

Now what?  What can the church and the town do?

1) Paint over the fresco with white paint and forget about it.

2) Hire a competent painter to duplicate the original and forget about the temporary embarrassment.

3) Leave it as it is now, the “botched restoration,” the “monkey face.”

The first two options seem to be out.  The organizer of the town’s patron festival is already happy about the new fame of Borja.  On the web, 18,000 people have signed a petition stating that the fresco should stay as it is now. A Facebook page, called “Señoras que restauran Cristos de Borja” has 38,874 fans and 58,048 followers (as of this writing), many of whom have created their own versions of the fresco. Here’s one, inspired by Rafael.  For more,  see https://www.facebook.com/SenorasQueRestauranCristosDeBorja

Let’s consider option #3.  The face as it is now is a confrontation with modernism.  The modern mind is rooted in the 17th century, when Leeuwenhoek first saw microbes through his microscope’s lens, Montaigne (a little earlier)  introspected and doubted, Descartes doubted himself to exhaustion and John Mill studied various translations of the Bible and said, whoa, we have 30,000 problems here. To name just a few of the people who showed us that things are not what they appear to be and that the mind makes stuff up.

Mrs. Giménez, in her mid-80’s, is now world famous.  She is notorious.  How could she do such a thing?  She’s apparently surprised at the results of her effort.  Is she crazy? Couldn’t she see what she was doing?  She may be asked to have her head examined and her introspection and free-associations would be interesting, but not as interesting as the FACT that we now have this image she made up.

That’s what’s important:  she made it up.  And another thing: the original fresco from 1910 by whatshisname was also made up.   Let’s see, what else can we name that’s been made up:  Michelangelo’s David, Michelangelo’s Adam, Rafael’s madonnas, Leonaro’s Last Supper;  Klimt’s Kiss, Munch’s Scream;   Egyptians invented Isis and Osiris, the Greeks invented Zeus and Athena, and so on and so forth.

The human imagination makes stuff up. You won’t find that statement anywhere in the 12th century.  The clerics who are ringing their hands over this fresco problem haven’t traveled through the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th, when Picasso and others blew the roof off our skulls.

When Picasso painted Gertrude Stein 1905 and 1906, she sat for him an estimated eighty-plus times.  Towards the end of 1906 he got stuck, dissatisfied with how he had painted the face.  We can only wish we had a documentation of that stage of the work. (We know Picasso owned a camera.)  In the fall of 1906 he went to Spain and when he came back he painted over the face. Giving into his fascination with African, Oceanic and early Iberian art, he now turned Gertrude’s face into a mask.  In other words, he invented.  He made it up.  We look at this painting at the Met and think it looks like Gertrude Stein—after all, that’s the title on the wall label—but at the same time we know IT’S ALL MADE UP.  It’s this awareness that makes us modern.

Picasso would have loved this “botched restoration.”

Sources:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/24/world/europe/botched-restoration-of-ecce-homo-fresco-shocks-spain.html?hp

https://www.google.com/#q=Borja+Fresco+site:youtube.com&sa=X&ei=Gog_ULqbHI7W9QT_m4GgBg&ved=0CDsQ2wE&hl=en&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=6c862fd85693d052&biw=1012&bih=589

http://www.spiegel.de/reise/europa/jesus-fresko-in-borja-stuemper-kunstwerk-zieht-hunderte-touristen-an-a-852168.htmlhttps://www.facebook.com/SenorasQueRestauranCristosDeBorja

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Picasso was born October 25, 1881, in Malaga, Spain.  He spent his teen-age years in Barcelona, a hot bed of anarchy in the 1890’s.  His friends were anarchist writers and artists, ten and twenty years older than he:  Santiago Rusinol (1861-1931), Ramon Casas (1866-1932), and Isidro Nonell (1873-1911).  They discussed the writings of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and Nietzsche.  They were anti-church and anti-government, outraged by the impoverishment of Spanish peasants who poured into the cities.  They believed that an artist has to transform himself, to overcome his past and create himself anew.

Picasso is often presented as anti-intellectual and a-political, an image he himself encouraged. But, in fact, he wrote poetry.  He wrote a play in which Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir read the leads.  His dealer H.D. Kahnweiler said, Picasso was completely unpolitical, but Picasso joined the Communist Party in 1944. The newspaper clippings he collaged into his late cubist work all deal with the horror of war.   Picasso is a complex character.  Well, I just thought I’d mention this on his birthday

“Yo Picasso,”  1901.  Oil on canvas, ~ 73 cm x 65 cm.   (I, Picasso)

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