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Emil Nolde – Let’s Mingle!

emil nolde and naziism

Emil Nolde was a German-Danish Expressionist painter, known for his unbridled passion for a rather crude but compelling style of artwork that was labelled as “degenerate” by Hitler and the Nazis, whom Nolde admired and sought acceptance by.

But how could he gain acceptance back then, when the bulk of Nolde’s very expansive body of work seemed to take the sacred and make it profane, or reveal a vulgar side of humanity that was not ready to seen by common folk?  Did Nolde himself not see this?  Or was he too busy pushing boundaries in a time and place when this was less than appreciated?

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For some reason, Nolde believed he would be accepted and embraced by Germany, which he loved, but his reward for his creativity was to become an outcast.

Degenerate Artist

emil-nolde

Irony could be applied to Nolde in several ways through his life.  For one, he supported the 3rd Reich, but his painting style was seen as abhorrent by the persnickety political party.  Unrequited love, it seemed.

Second irony was that, while the Nazi’s hated his art for being primitive and unethical, they ironically somehow managed to give Nolde free promotion, by way of an 1937/38 “degenerate” art show which many German people saw. More on this show in a moment.

As with today’s so called “cancel culture”, which sees people emotionally react with extreme un-acceptance to anything that disagrees with their fickle sensibilities, the Nazi’s too felt it appropriate to suppress creative expression as they rose to power, deeming Nolde’s artwork morally questionable and highly objectionable.  In other words, they tried to have him censored, or “cancelled” as we call it in 2020.

What did the Nazi’s object to about Nolde’s work, you ask?  Well, for one thing, Nolde’s work displayed some wild tendencies, both in terms of brushstroke and subject matter, depicting provocative nudes moving in savage ways, as well as exploring the culture of other races.  This type of curiosity was the opposite of the Nazi’s worldview.  Nolde also made some sort of mockery of religion.

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So, in their particularly heinous way, the supremely pompous Nazi’s took all of the aforementioned wretched artwork, like that of Nolde’s, which they (the Nazis, with Goebbels being the spearhead of the movement) then placed in one show in Munich to show what unpatriotic, unacceptable art looks like.  This is the show I mentioned – the Degenerate Art Show.

Here is a video talking about the event.

By all accounts, Emil took all of this rejection in stride, as it never once prevented him from continuing to create.

Despite all challenges he faced through his life, what with being somewhat of an outcast in his homeland, Emil Nolde never stopped creating, becoming increasingly dynamic and bold with his artistic vision of the world.

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Background

Let’s go back to the beginning, when this future rabble rouser was born.

Emil Nolde was born on 7th August 1867 in Nolde, Germany. His real name was Emil Hansen, but he changed it to match the name of his home town at the Danish-German border in later years, when he became a more well-known artist.

nolde watercolor

He wasn’t interested in painting at first, but the boy’s attraction to art became clear in his teenage years.

At 17 years old, the young man started an apprenticeship as a wood sculptor and draftsman at the Sauermann furniture factory and wood-carving school in Flensburg.

As he got older, Emil worked as a woodcarver in furniture factories in Munich and Karlsruhe, where he also attended the school of applied arts and took figure-drawing classes.

His first experiences with painting led him to the Friedrich Fehr’s (pictured below) painting school and later to the Hölzel school in Dachau.

Friedrich Fehr’s painting school

In 1899, he traveled to Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian and undertook his own studies in the famous center of every young painter – the Louvre.

At the beginning of the 20th century, following his marriage with a Danish actress, Ada Vilstrup, the artist has changed his name officially from Hansen to Nolde.

Ada Vilstrup and emil nolde

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The couple was travelled together through Denmark and Germany, until their relocation in Berlin, which became their home.

Growing Hunger for Art

At the beginning of the 20th century, Emil Nolde became an active member of a rich cultural and social life in Germany.

nolde art

For a while, he participated in the art group named “Brücke” (The Bridges), during which he met a famous Expressionist, Norwegian Edward Munch, whose artworks Nolde admired.

Even though they didn’t become close friends, they followed each other careers as long as they lived.  Their work, after all, does share some similarities in its brazenness alone, you might say.  Both artists certainly knew their way around a tortured face.

emil-nolde-1

Ideas and Themes

Next to his active social life, Nolde was inspired to create artworks, which reflected various themes and ideas.

Since he was an Expressionist and had used many vivid colors in his works, one of the objects he enjoyed painting was flowers.

emil nolde flowers

Art historians have noted that Nolde was inspired by a Dutch master Vincent Van Gogh, who used many bright colors and had created his iconic sunflowers.  That said, Nolde was no slouch with flowers himself.

Next to these flowers, Nolde painted poppies and typical field flowers. His vibrant colors and dynamic brushes made them come alive.

In 1909, he started to create religious theme paintings – “Last Supper”, “Pentecost”, “Derision”, etc.  He did so in a way that confused some of his countrymen – were religious works supposed to look like this?  There was something odd about his depictions of religious scenes that did not sit well with the powers that be of that time.

nolde pentecost

This idea of religious paintings did not leave him, and he continued along with this theme for a couple of years, and during 1911-1912 he painted one of the most important artworks in his career – the nine-piece “Life of Christ”.

nolde life of christ

“I followed an irresistible desire to represent profound spirituality, religion, and tenderness without much intention, knowledge, or deliberation.” – Nolde had written in his memoir.  While this may have been his view of his own work, there was something unsettling about his work that would go on to rankle people.

That said, another theme that was important in Nolde‘s paintings was dance and dancers. He was amazed by this magnificent type of performing art, and loved to explore it in his work.

For instance, while spending his days in Berlin, Nolde was a frequent visitor at many theaters, circuses, cabarets, and cafes, where he had an opportunity to observe performers’ body movements and make his sketches.

Some of his well-known works of this period are “Wildly Dancing Children” (1909), “Dance Around the Golden Calf” (1910), and “Candle Dancers” (1912).

candle-dancers-1912

Living During Difficult Times

Many artists, who had worked during both World Wars, have been surrounded by uncertainty, poverty, and have been affected by different political regimes.

Since Nolde was living and working in Germany, his works were being watched by the Nazi Regime, as mentioned.

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And now we come full circle.

As I said, Emil Nolde did not take a neutral position during the Nazi Regime. Art historian Peter Selz in his book, dedicated to German painter, had described Nolde’s personal views as anti-French and anti-Jewish.

According to him, the artist had expected to play an important role in the early 1930s, when Nazis came to power, therefore he found the right environment to fulfill his opportunistic ideas.

Although he did get attention from the Nazi party at the beginning of their ruling period, the attention he wanted was not the attention he got, and  Nolde’s works were exhibited at the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich, in 1937.

To reiterate, Nolde was a very bold painter who loved color.  The Nazi agenda was not inclined to have emotions stirred that they did not fully oversee.  This is how Nolde had his falling out with the rising totalitarian force.

nolde flowers

After his works were confiscated by the party, Nolde fought to get them back and succeeded.

Even after his own experience showed that he could have not trust the Nazi regime, he still continued support for Germany to win World War II and did not give up his beliefs.

In 2019, Germany‘s Chancellor Angela Merkel removed two Emil Nolde‘s paintings from her office.

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Poor Emil, the Nazis didn’t like you because you were too provocative, and today’s politicians don’t like you because you liked the Nazis.  Can’t win, can you?

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At any rate, this symbolic gesture of having his artwork removed attracted a lot of media attention, and was quickly understood as a non-acceptance of the artist’s pro-Nazi beliefs from the past.  As I said at the beginning, Emil Nolde was an enigma – a proud nationalist who was rejected by his own countrymen for being seen as anti nationalist.  Oh the humanity!

Still, I hope you have enjoyed this little exploration of his life and work.

Recommended Videos about Emil Nolde:

Edvard Munch – Bowing Out Of The Dance Of Life

Who Are The Best Abstract Expressionist Painters?

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Robert Rauschenberg – The Controversy of Being Yourself

Robert Rauschenberg was an influential, non-traditional American artist heavily influenced by the New York School, who were a group of artists, poets, musicians, and dancers who were reaching their peak popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Robert was a progenitor of the pop art style, often mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Jackson Pollock for his revolutionary approach to modern art, mixing together styles of art such as print-making, collage, photography, and sculpture.

Robert Rauschenberg

Background

Robert Rauschenberg was born Milton Ernest Rauschenberg on October 22, 1925, in Porth Arthur town in Texas, USA.  He was one of two children (he had a sister named Janet) and he was raised in a Fundamentalist Christians household. 

Rauschenberg was dyslexic growing up.  That said, at the young age of 16, he went on to study Pharmacy at the University of Texas. Soon after, he served in the United States Navy, where he worked briefly as a mental hospital technician until his discharge in 1945.

Following that, in 1947, he enrolled into Kansas City Art Institute.  Shortly thereafter, he went to Paris, where he continued his studies at Academie Julian.

Thinking back on this decision, Rauschenberg would joke that it was 40 years too late, as this great city, known for its artistic flair, had changed greatly from the beginning of the 20th century when it was mecca for many famous painters.  Still, he made friends there, as well as his future wife and ex-wife, painter Susan Weil.

Rauschenberg's Canyon

In 1948, he returned to the USA, where he resumed his artistic studies at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he had the opportunity to be taught by the German artist Josef Albers, a founder of the Bauhaus, who tried to rid Rauschenberg of his experimental tendencies.  Thus, they clashed, and soon Rauschenberg became the pupil of John Cage, who better suited his experimental nature.

While in New York in 1949-1951, Rauschenberg encountered many contemporary artists who influenced him and vice versa, such as Vaclav Vytlacil, Morris Kantor, Knox Martin, and Cy Twombly.  While in New York, Rauschenberg had his first solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery and his popularity begin to grow exponentially.  This exhibition featured his “combines”, which combined painting and sculpture.

should love come first 1951

Robert Rauschenberg

Combines

Robert Rauschenberg invented a new term in the art world: “combine”. This fusion of sculpture and painting became his signature, as many of his works featured this new style which basically helped invent the term “pop art”, which has been mostly associated with Andy Warhol.

In this vernacular of this type of artwork, different kinds of materials can be used, such as newspaper clippings, paints squeezed directly from the tube or various wooden, metal, or plastic parts put together into one whole artwork.

rauschenberg 1954

According to art historians, Rauschenberg wanted to bring simple objects from daily life into the artwork, showing that artists and their works are part of the same world, they are the same regular human beings as non-artists, interacting with the same “stuff”.  This may have influenced Warhol to film people eating hamburgers – we don’t know.

Art critics and researchers tend to think that Rauschenberg gave a sort of cultural permission to creators to create whatever and how they want – a dangerous idea to be sure.

Artworks

Throughout his sixty active working years as an artist, Rauschenberg had created many works from all different kinds of materials, many of which challenged viewers as to what art is and is not, and what it may or may not include.

Once he said that he used to go out in New York streets looking for various objects which can be useful for his artworks. From pins to waterpipes – his work materials included a wide range of objects, newspapers, paint, pictures, and even stuffed animals.  Maybe even his own band-aids…one never knows with this fellow which might end up being sucked into the work.

rauschenberg

In his paintings or sculptures, Rauschenberg did not avoid using such American symbols as a national flag or public figures such as the former president of the United States, John F. Kennedy.  His work was, in its own way, controversial to some, just by including certain symbols and images.  Imagine Rauschenberg trying to work in the year 2020…would be tough, with Cancel Culture seemingly on the rise.

However, it should be said that the main objects in his works remained simple, mostly from the home surroundings such as furniture, car wheels, or simple beach umbrellas.  Ordinary everyday things.

Rauschenberg and Abstract Expressionism

Ever since Rauschenberg started to develop his artistic ideas and create his works, he was never quite sure of his end point, but he definitely knew who he does not want to be: an Abstract Expressionist.

He decided to be different and expand boundaries of art as it was popular at that time. No doubt it was brave to create works which cannot fit in any concept of art.

In 1953 Rauschenberg had created probably the most controversial of his works. He took one of the most popular artists in New York, a Willem de Kooning painting, and started to erase it.

erased a de kooning drawing

The process took two months and yet the drawing was not erased fully, Rauschenberg had achieved his goal. Later he described this act not as a negation, but as a celebration.

After long years of creating his artworks, at the age of 72, Rauschenberg shared that working and creating always gave him joy, a celebration of unity with everything, and being the least self-conscious he could be.

Although Rauschenberg’s artworks are controversial, he remained authentic and showed what real freedom in the art world looks like. Today his works are exhibited in the most popular modern art museums all over the world.

Videos about Robert Rauschenberg

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The Iconic Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock has had a tremendous impact on the art world during his tumultuous 44 years of life. The youngest of five, Jackson grew up to be an influential pioneer in the abstract expressionism movement.

Jackson Pollock struggled in his life with addiction, and he had a volatile personality, coupled with a need for reclusion.

He married artist Lee Krasner in 1945, who ultimately became a massive influence on his career and his work.

jackson pollock lee krasner

Pollock died in 1956 at the age of 44 in an alcohol-related car accident. He was honored after his death with a memorial exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Tate in London.

Pollock was well known for his techniques used in his most famous works. Pouring and splashing paint onto a large surface, called action painting and the drip technique, allowed for his work to be viewed from any angle.

He used his whole body to create his work and incorporated a dancing style into his work. His work was met with divided responses from the critics, which was loved by some and hated by others.

One of his paintings, called Number 17A, was sold for $200 million USD in 2016 to a private seller.

Number 17A

“It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.” – Jackson Pollock

Influences

In 1929, he studied in New York at the Student’s League under Thomas Hart Brenton.

During his time there, he worked with the regionalist and surrealist styles. He was influenced by Mexican muralist work by painters like Digo Rivera. In 1939 during a Picasso exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, it inspired Pollock to change his style.

pollock the she wolf

Jackson Pollock had some notable influences in his work. Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Thomas Hart Benton were among the most significant, but Ukrainian-American artist Janet Sobel was a direct influence on his technique development. He has admitted that her work made an impression on him.

His Work

Pollock used sticks, basting syringes, hardened brushes, and other random items as applicators for household paints. He suggested that his use of these paints were a natural part of his growth in a time of need, rather than using typical artist paints.

Jackson Pollock is thought to have coined the action painting style. His style allowed him to create immediate art, without regard for small details or time-consuming techniques. He broke boundaries by applying paint to the canvas from all directions.

Here is some old footage of Pollock doing painting in his “action” style.

“My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor, I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.

I continue to get further away from the usual painter’s tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.

When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise, there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.” — Jackson Pollock, My Painting, 1956

the accountant painting pollock

The technique he used to create his drip paintings helped steer the direction of American art in a new direction and was one of the most individual styles of the century.

His style was a large piece of the abstract expressionist pie; his creations evoked emotion, demonstrated mood, and expression while giving a sneak peek into the mind of the creator.

Another technique Pollock used was the All-over Method. There is no real emphasis in the piece, and the canvas is covered corner to corner.

When he reached a super-stardom level, he abandoned his signature style, and this era produced paintings darker in nature. They’re referred to as his black pourings, and they were not well received by the masses.

pollock dark paintings

Pollock was giving his work traditional names until eventually, he decided to number them because they were more neutral than conventional titles. He didn’t want to influence his viewer’s opinion of his work in any way.

His work has been both highly criticized and adored by many. Over the years, his paintings have been the subject of various debates trying to deem his paintings as iconic or meaningless.

His Legacy

Jackson Pollock quickly rose to fame, but he continued to question the relevance of his artwork, and the height of his career peaked in the early 1950s.

Jackson Pollock is still known as an innovator in the art community in the abstract expressionism movement. He has inspired countless artists to abandon boundaries and take risks.

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Artists like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Arshile Gorky, Pollock’s style, and fame helped draw attention to these artists at this time.

He single-handedly changed the trajectory of a whole genre of art during his lifetime, and his premature death cemented his legendary status. His paintings still sell for millions of dollars, and he is still tremendously influential to artists who are still finding their signature style.

The home that Pollock shared with his wife Lee is now a museum. People travel from all over the world to see Pollock’s studio, where the floor still looks like one of his many creations. This is a place that helped bring a new style of art into popularity.

“The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.” – Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock Videos

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Pollock

https://www.jackson-pollock.org

https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/jackson-pollock-quotes

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/a-23-2005-10-15-voa2-83123777/123976.html

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Piet Mondrian – from De Stijl to Broadway Boogie Woogie

piet mondrian

Pieter Cornelis Mondrian was a Dutch painter, became one of the first well known Abstract art painters and with his unique style influenced many modern art creators.

Background

Piet Mondrian was born on 7th March 1872 in Amersfoort, Netherlands.

He was a second child in a family, which was filled with artists, so art became a part of Piet‘s life naturally at an early age.

His father, together with his uncle, used to paint local landscapes and even was a qualified drawing teacher. According to historians, his uncle was the person who has taught him basics of drawing.

While growing up in the Amersfoort, Mondrian saw how the whole town was changing.

A new shopping street, tramway, and railway – becoming a modern city, Amersfoort showed that the world was changing and becoming a new, industrial place with new shapes and ideas.

piet mondrian young

According to Inge Vos, who leads a guided tour about Mondrian‘s life, all these changes could have had an impact on Mondrian‘s interest in technology and change that developed his style into minimalistic and abstract.

piet mondrian self portrait

Practicing to become an artist

In 1892 Mondrian enrolled the Academy of Fine Art in Amsterdam.

At that time, he was working as a drawing teacher, but also was working on his own style by painting traditional Dutch landscapes of fields with windmills and rivers.

He was experimenting with the primary colors by combining Post-impressionism and Fauvism painting styles.

A good example of his work could be “Evening Red Tree”, created between 1908 – 1910.

Piet_Mondrian,_1908-10,_Evening;_Red_Tree_(Avond;_De_rode_boom),_oil_on_canvas,_70_x_99_cm,_Gemeentemuseum_Den_Haag

This painting combines a realistic object, a tree, and an expressive palette of colors, which was inspired by another Dutch painter – Vincent Van Gogh.

After creating this drawing, Mondrian visited an exhibition of cubists’ works in 1911 in Amsterdam.

He was so inspired by what he saw, that shortly after, he decided to move to Paris and get to know more about Cubism and meet a leader of this movement – Pablo Picasso.

In the spring of 1912, Piet painted “The Flowering Apple Tree”, which shows how Mondrian was influenced by Cubism.

the flowering apple tree 1912

This work combines his ideas of traditional painting and strict shapes of Cubism.

Thus began the beginning of his way towards becoming a painter of a totally new area of minimalism and abstract art.

De Stijl

When World War I started in 1914, Mondrian was visiting the Netherlands and he decided to stay till the conflict will end.

At that time he was describing himself as a Cubist, but he was still looking for an inspiration to convey his ideas and improve as an artist.

This is why he joined “De Stijl” (The Style) – a movement of the artists and architects, dedicated to the neoplasticism ideas.

Together with the movement, the other Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg released a magazine with the same name “De Stijl”, which gave a voice to the artists to spread their ideas and theories about the art.

De_Stijl,_Vol._1,_no._1,_Delft,_October_1917_(detail)

This activity of Mondrian is considered as interesting and unique because most of the artists didn’t write about their ideas, they used to paint as the only form to express it. That said, manifestos were becoming all the rage.

On the other hand, Mondrian was becoming an abstract painter and to avoid wide interpretations of his art, it was better to talk about his ideas to the public.

France: Evolution of an artist

The end of World War I marks Mondrian’s journey to becoming one of the more unique and modern abstract art purveyors of his time.

In 1918, when Piet returned to Paris, he started to create grid-based abstract paintings, which combined clear black lines and vivid primary colors of yellow, blue and red.

Mondrian,_Composition_with_color_planes_and_gray_lines,_1918

Between 1920 and 1921, more and more space in his drawings was changed by involving a white color, leaving bright primary colors just as details in the whole space.

London and New York

Fear of the growing power of Fascism in Europe led Mondrian to run from Paris to London in 1938.

Piet_Mondrian_and_Pétro_van_Doesburg

It was mainly because his art didn’t fit in any rules of regime, which was uprising very fast in Europe.

For the safety of expressing his ideas along with he himself, the artist left Europe in 1940, shortly after World War II had started. New York was a breath of fresh air to Mondrian.

A modern city with inspiration at every corner, fulfilled with a new culture and jazz music, which Mondrian enjoyed a lot, and the most important – freedom to create whatever he wanted and dreamed of.

Piet Mondrian was not married, but according to historians, he uses to go out to the jazz concerts a lot, where he could dance and flirt with beautiful women.

Influence of American culture: Broadway Boogie Woogie

In 1943, Piet Mondrian finished his work called “Broadway Boogie Woogie”, which was different from his abstract works.

The style of this painting was similar to previous works: he painted small and larger squares by using primary colors by invading a simple white, but the main difference was, that this works was inspired and even wanted to repeat the things of the real-life such as busy daily life in Manhattan.

Little colored squares symbolize its buildings and the whole microflora of a city.

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Next to that, it looks very dynamic too, like a boogie-woogie dance style and what is also interesting, from nowadays perspective it looks like a scene from the 90‘s computer game, which is fascinating.

Piet Mondrian was highly influenced by the American culture, he enjoyed nights out in the jazz clubs, which clearly inspired him to live the life he wanted and to shout to the world about a new modern era.

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Videos about Piet Mondrian

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Vincent van Gogh and The Path from Dying Alone in an Asylum to Most Popular Painter Ever

Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch painter, one of the most important post-impressionists of Western art history.

Vincent was immensely talented, a talent which was always known to his loyal bother Theo.  Vincent wrote to Theo at the end of his life when Vincent was institutionalized.  Vincent was always down on his luck for his entire life.

Despite his mental health problems, from which he suffered for many years, Van Gogh left many inspiring works, which shaped modern art.

Not merely shaped modern art, but Vincent’s art is actually more synonymous with fine art.   His work has been celebrated across the world by those who appreciate his color choices, and his way of capturing the world.

irises

The sad irony is that Vincent, in his own time, was a “nobody”.  If only Vincent could have seen into the future.

Vincent is known for cutting his own ear off,  and as a poster boy for the tortured artist.

Vincent-Van-Gogh-Artist-Figure-5

Poster boy couldn’t be more literal in this case.  Vincent and his hacked off ear, have appeared now on countless posters.  Many of his other posters feature views he painted while his mental state was crumbling.   At that time, Vincent was institutionalized at the Saint-Paul Asylum, in St-Remy de Provence, near Arles, in Southern France.

Here’s a video tour…

In fact, part of the journey of this blog article is to trace the interesting path from a mentally unwell person, dying alone in an asylum, to being on posters in peoples’ homes and on sketchbooks around the world.

vincent van gogh larrge sketchbook

These days, everyone recognizes his brushstrokes and the way he depicts the light in the sky, pastoral scenes, and faces.  It is as distinct to many of us now, just like a signature.  The man behind these strokes only became known in this way after his death.

But let’s travel back to his beginning…

Background

Vincent van Gogh was born on 30th March 1853, in Zundert, Netherlands. He grew up in a middle-class family and got interested in painting at an early age at his mother’s suggestion.

When Vincent was growing up, he was a serious and calm person and after he became an adult, he wasn‘t sure which path he should choose.

vincent van gogh young photogaph

In 1869 his uncle obtained a job position for him as an art dealer at Goupil & Cie in London, England.

Vincent kept a close relationship with his brother Theo, by frequently writing letters to each other.  Theo’s wife, being privy to all the correspondence between the two brothers, described Vincent’s years in London, working as an art dealer, as the best in his life.

letters to theo

He was good at his job and it brought him so much happiness. Unfortunately for Vincent, happiness was a fleeting state of mind as he suffered various mental health issues from an early age which always dragged him down.

Van Gogh‘s father was a minister of a Dutch Reformed Church, so religion had always played a special role in his life.   At one point, as a young student, Vincent tried to pass the exam for theological studies at the University of Amsterdam.   When he failed to pas the exam, Vincent was determined to seek out his path in life.

van gogh photo

Becoming a painter

 

Van Gogh birthplace Zundert via Van Gogh Museum

As he continued on his path of self discovery, never once did he stop sketching and painting those important images that surrounded him….still life and farm life.

While Vincent continually doubted himself as an artist, his brother Theo was the one, who encouraged Vincent to keep painting and become a professional artist.

vincent van gogh early work

When he moved from his parents home in Etten to the Hague, his cousin Anton Mauve gave him his first professional drawing lessons in which Van Gogh learned about perspective,  and how to apply paint in watercolor and oils.

With his basic knowledge of painting, Vincent came back to his parents’ home in December 1883, where he could practice by painting ‘peasant life’.

One of his known early works is called “Potato Eaters“, which consists of dark colors, and illustrates a  typical family of the 19th century, eating dinner.

van gogh potato eaters

In Vincent‘s letters to his brother Theo, he explained that the idea of showing peasant‘s hard work by painting their bony hands was more important than drawing everything according to art rules.

This thought of his shows that, Van Gogh from the beginning of his career decided not to be a traditional painter and create only according his own perspective and imagination.

The Path From Unknown to World Famous

Since Vincent‘s brother, Theo was living in Paris at the end of the 19th century, the painter used to spend some time there.

At that time, Paris was an important centre of art for painters in Europe.   Surrounded by modernists, Vincent honed his style one step at a time.  More color was introduced.

van gogh

In 1888, Van Gogh moved to the city of Arles, in the south of France, where his style became more and more free and expressive.

He painted local landscapes of yellow fields and beaches, when french painter Paul Gauguin joined him.  They started to live and create together.

They painted each other‘s portraits, talked about painting and art very passionately.

van-gogh-and-gauguin

From 1888 until Vincent’s death in 1890,  he created his best works of art.  It also marks an incident, which is well known and inseparable from his personality. During one of the discussions with Gauguin, Vincent injured himself and cut his ear.

After this incident with his brother, Theo knew clearly, that Vincent struggled with mental illness and for some time he needed to break with painting, and pay attention to his health.

His Last Year

Things went downhill quickly.  After the ear incident, Vincent was kept at the Psychiatric Hospital in Saint Rémy.

During this time, his brother Theo married Johanna Bonger in Amsterdam, who gave birth to a boy, who was named after his uncle Vincent.

van gogh's family

Vincent was happy for his brother and decided to give him a painting as a gift. Unfortunately, he didn‘t know then, that his painting “Almond Blossom” would become one of his most beautiful and well-known works.

It was interesting that Van Gogh was very ill at that time, but the painting was bright and peaceful, which reflects the relationship he had with his brother Theo.

almond blossoms

In early 1890, Theo was still working as an art seller in Paris when at the exhibition in Brussels, he brought six of Vincent‘s works, including “The Red Vineyard“, which was sold.

More importantly, that exhibition was official appreciation from people, including Paul Gauguin, who was impressed by Van Gogh‘s skills.

Regardless of this recognition and the public‘s positive reactions to his paintings, Vincent still struggled mentally, and couldn’t find peace within himself.

Vincent van Gogh shot himself on the 27th of July and died from injuries on 29th in 1890.

van gogh death suicide news

Morbidly ironic is that even today the gun that he used is famous…

the gun that killed van gogh

Vincent Van Gogh was looking for his path in life, and faced many challenges.  Instead of giving up, he never  stopped creating beautiful art.  Van Gogh’s style became well known all around the world and brought joy to the art lovers everywhere.

Vincent van Gogh’s tragic life still resonates today with many mentally ill people, regardless of how happy they seem, or how much people try to help them.

Vincent van Gogh was a passionate man and a very talented painter.  He was able to capture the world in a unique way, even though his life was tragically ending.

His brother Theo died only 6 months after Vincent from syphilis.

Graves_of_Vincent_and_Théodore_Van_Gogh

Recommended Videos about Vincent van Gogh



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Meet Mark Rothko

Rothko-New-portrait-photo-color

Mark Rothko was an academic. He skipped grades, spoke four languages, and received a scholarship to Yale. He was a self-taught, diligent creator, and his ability to learn drove him to become an artist.

His skills were intrinsic, as he had very little training in the discipline. Once he realized his art could be a tool of religious and emotional expression, he embraced it. 

mark rothko self portrait

He wanted to bring you to tears. He would even withhold selling you a painting if you didn’t respond in a genuine way, and you were only purchasing from him to be fashionable. 

Seeing an art student sketch a model while visiting a friend at the Art Students League of New York was what started it all for Rothko. Something inside him immediately responded and prompted him to find a way to express himself through art. 

He created 863 pieces over his career, and some of them reside in New York, Madrid, and Daugavpils. 

Tragically, he died by suicide in 1970 at 66 years old. 

mark rothko abstract painting

“I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on, and the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions….If you…are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point.”

Influences

The artists he worked with and looked up to most included Max Weber, Paul Klee, and Georges Rouault. 

Much of Rothko’s work came from intellectual influences. His interpretation of the work of Friedrich Nietzsche heavily influenced him.

What was happening in Nazi Germany at the time, and the aftermath took a toll on him as well. He was a dedicated socialist, so many of his works had political themes and social circumstances littered throughout. 

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He also drew inspiration from mythology, stating the “archaic artist … found it necessary to create a group of intermediaries, monsters, hybrids, gods, and demigods…without monsters and gods, art cannot enact a drama.”

early mark rothko

His Work

There were three main phases in Rothko’s style of art: Realist work, Abstract Expressionism, and Colour Field. 

early mark rothko

Realist Work

The Realist style he adapted was early on in his career before he was a full-time artist. Surrealism and artists like Joan Miro primarily influenced him.

The way that surrealism promoted psychologically compelling ideas inspired some of his best work. His style quickly moved in a more abstract direction.  

Abstract Expressionism

His work was entirely abstract by the 1940s, and he was part of the abstract expressionist movement, along with Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Willem de Kooning.

While there weren’t many similarities between these artists, their goals of creating pieces that expressed raw emotion and their free spirits. They preferred to avoid the label “abstract expressionism,” because they wanted their work to speak for itself. 

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“I do not believe that there was ever a question of being abstract or representational. It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing, and stretching one’s arms again, transcendental experiences became possible.” – Mark Rothko

Colour Field

Ultimately becoming his signature style, his colour field pieces are his most well-known. He didn’t use aggressive techniques to portray his concepts but was more deliberate and contemplative in his application of the colours in his work.

color field red and yellow 1968

Comprised of large blocks of colour, typically horizontal rectangles, he aimed to display the rawness of human emotion on the canvas. 

His peers and friends weren’t sold on the methods of his work, and they expected the general public and critics to reject them, but that couldn’t be further from what really happened.

The underlying concepts were well-received because his techniques were organic, emotional, and luminescent.

mark-rothko-untitled

His genius punctured the viewer right in their heart, and this would be the medium he would use to create his art until he passed. 

“I would like to say to those who think of my pictures as serene, whether in friendship or mere observation, that I have imprisoned the most utter violence in every inch of their surface.” ― Mark Rothko

His most famous works are the Scenes in the Subway series, The Seagram’s Murals, and The Rothko Chapel.

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His Influence and Legacy

Rothko’s final wishes were that his work would be left to his foundation. He wanted to have a school created as a place for new artists to learn and be inspired and encouraged.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of drama surrounding the provisions in his will, and greed came into play by his executors. Eventually, the rights were rightfully turned over to his son and daughter. 

The impression he left on the world of art is a profound one.

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He avidly worked against the “rules” of art and became a visionary. He continues to inspire up-and-coming artists from all over the world, and his impact is still lingering.

He was a risk-taker and was confident in his convictions, becoming a notable inspiration for generations to come. His work is still in museums across the globe today, and he is the face of modern art and walking your own path.  

“When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain.

rothko no. 73

He continues, “Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I shall not venture to discuss.

But I do know that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.” ― Mark Rothko

Rothko is featured in our article, “Who Are The Best Abstract Expressionist Painters?

Recommended Videos about Mark Rothko

These are some of the best videos I could find about Mark Rothko which are worth a watch.

Sources: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Rothko

https://www.moma.org/artists/5047

http://www.markrothko.org

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Who Are The Best Abstract Expressionist Painters?

who are the best abstract expressionist painters

The abstract expressionism art form sprung onto the scene in the 1940s and 1950s by some influential artists. Still, this genre can be traced back to having been popular for over a century.

The art form is denoted by its colourful spontaneity, gestural strokes and marks, and the ability to evoke emotion. 

abstract expressionist painting

The types of abstract expressionism include action painting and colour field painting.

Spontaneous brush strokes and gestures characterize action painting, and colour field painting is characterized by artists working with a large area of a single colour. 

Here are some of the best artists of the abstract expressionism art genre.


convergence

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock is the poster child for the Abstract expressionist movement in the 1940s and 1950s. He was well known for his drip paintings, and they were popular because of the unmatched creativity at the time.

His process coined the action painting title, and he achieved a level of fame that was comparable to what Andy Warhol would achieve decades later.

jackson pollock photo

Pollock put his canvas on the floor, pouring paint, impulsively brushing and creating his masterpieces. Pollock was a leader in the genre, and he would go on to influence future artists in their work. 

“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

Here is an interesting video documentary on Jackson Pollock.

Read our article, “The Iconic Jackson Pollock


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Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell was part of the new wave of abstract expressionists who took the genre and softened it, giving it a lyrical and emotional direction.

Another action painter, she used her gestures to become a massive part of the American movement, even though she mostly worked and lived in France.

Joan-Mitchell

She was inspired by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. She is one of the genre and eras few female creators, and she received massive critical acclaim and public recognition. 

“My paintings are titled after they are finished. I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me – and remembered feelings of them, which, of course, become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me.”

Watch this documentary, “Lady Painter”, about Joan Mitchell.

Read our feature article, “Joan Mitchell – To Define A Feeling”


clyfford still

Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still was lesser known than his New York School peers, but he was a pioneer in the genre, creating a style of work that had little to no clear concept or subject matter.

He worked in the colour field painting form, and the common theme in his work is the struggle between nature and the human spirit.

Clyfford Still photo

He was a bit controversial, being labelled as a complicated character to deal with in the art community, as he turned his back on the New York art scene. 

“These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them, I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation.”

Read our article, “Clifford Still – Thrusts of Joy” to learn more about the artist


worm jacques rosas

Jacques Rosas

Jacques Rosas is a famous artist who works in many different genres, including abstract expressionism, pop art and street art.

He has become popular because of his work being placed in TV shows and films, so it reaches millions of viewers on a weekly basis.

jacques rosas photo

He has been commissioned by many celebrities and continues to be a force in the genre.


gagosian helen frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler was a leading contributor to postwar American art. Her work has spanned and been exhibited for over six decades, and she continued to grow and adapt to an ever-changing art form.

She worked with the colour fielding technique, and she was inspired by Hans Hofmann, Greenberg, and Jackson Pollock’s work.

helen-frankenthaler.jpg!Portrait

Her work has been studied and has been part of many retrospective exhibitions, and it is critically acclaimed and award-winning.

“One really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it. It looks as if it were born in a minute.”

Here is a video documentary featuring Helen Frankenthaler from 1993 that you might like to watch.


woman 1 willem dekooning

Willem de Kooning

One of the most well known and esteemed abstract expressionists, Willem de Kooning adopted the abstract technique while never letting go of the human form in his work.

He admired Rembrandt, Rubens, and Ingres, but was also inspired by Picasso and Matisse.

willem de kooning photo

He embodied the reputation of an alcoholic, troubled painter, which ended up costing him much of his personal life and health. 

“Art should not have to be a certain way. It is no use worrying about being related to something it is impossible not to be related to.”

Watch this documentary called “Willem de Kooning: A Way of Living” to find out more about the artist.


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Vasily Kandinsky

Around the early 1910s, Vasily Kandinsky was one of the first abstract expressionists. Truly abstract artwork, he stated, should be “art independent of one’s observations of the external world.”

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He believed and taught that colour could be separated from any external references for his artwork purposes. 

 “Colour is a means of exerting direct influence on the soul.”

Read our article, “Concerning Spiritual Art with Wassily Kandinsky”


mondrian-painting

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian’s name is closely connected to Modern Art. His geometric squares of bright, primary colours with thick, black borders are famously known and regarded in the community.

He started his art career heavily influenced by Seurat and Van Gogh. Still, he eventually settled into his unique style.

piet mondrian

The goal of his work was to attain a spiritual connection with the divine, which forced it to become increasingly abstract. 

 “Abstract art is not the creation of another reality but the true vision of reality.”

Here is a cool video about Piet Mondrian called “A Life in 10 Snippets”.  Worth a watch!


rothko color field

Mark Rothko 

Along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko is one of the most famous abstract expressionists.

His style is much different than his peers, as he diffused paint over his canvas, versus the gestural brushstrokes that the genre mainly demonstrated.

mark rothko

His exemplary work consists of large blobs of paint stacked over each other and painted backdrops, with a bright contrast in colour. His goal was to evoke a range of emotions from his admirers. 

“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academic painting. However, there is no such thing as good painting about nothing.” 

I recommend this documentary called “The Case For Mark Rothko” to learn more about the artist.

Read my article, “Meet Mark Rothko” to find out more about the artist


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Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin was a Canadian-born artist who is considered an innovator of minimal art. However, she thought herself an abstract expressionist.

She was consistently seeking a level of perfection in her work, working with grids, bands and little colour to express her concepts. 

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“My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.”

Watch this great documentary about Agnes Martin called “Beauty is in Your Mind”.


Sources for this article: 

https://www.ranker.com/list/famous-abstract-expressionism-artists/reference

https://www.timeout.com/newyork/art/best-abstract-artists-of-all-time

https://www.theartstory.org/movement/abstract-expressionism/

https://www.theartstory.org/artist/de-kooning-willem/

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/a/abstract-expressionism

https://www.saatchiart.com/jacquesrosas

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Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art

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Alexej von Jawlensky – Abstract Heads

Alexej von Jawlensky is a Russian Expressionist who joined German avant-garde during the early 20th century by mostly creating mesmerizing portraits.

Alexej von Jawlensky

Background

Alexej von Jawlensky was born on 13 March 1864 in Torzhok, Russia. His family moved to Moscow when he was ten years old and after he enlisted in military training, he had visited the Moscow World Exposition and got interested in painting.

That interest quickly began to grow and Alexej started to study painting in St. Petersburg. He had a sociable character, which helped him to get into touch with famous Russian painter Ilja Rapin and later with an older and richer artist Marianne von Werefkin, who made a huge impact in his later life.

alexej-von-jawlensky-bärtiger-alte

Munich – a magnet for artists

Munich was very popular for artists at that time when Alexej moved in in 1896 together with his supporter Marianne von Werefkin, who was his main sponsor to create by providing him financial and emotional support for many years.

He started to study there in the art school by famous Slovene realist painter Anton Ažbe. After much studying, he moved from an academic painter to an innovative colorist.

1911 Alexej von Jawlensky (Russian artist, 1864-1941) Spanish Woman

During his years in Munich, Jawlensky has developed his painting style and created many mesmerizing works. Next to his artistic work, he also participated as a social and active member of the German art community.

Jawlensky together with Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter created various groups of artists such as the Neue Künstlervereinigung München and the Blaue Reiter who promoted art styles, prevailed in Europe at that time.

Jawlensky‘s private life was complicated (art historians have different opinions about his relationship with Marianne von Werefkin), but in 1922 he married Werefkin‘s maid Helene Nesnakomoff with whom he already had a son Andreas.

Style

While creating his style, Alexej was influenced by Russian religious art especially by Russian icons, which reminded him of his childhood in Russia.

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A huge impact for him as an artist had other painters like a Fauve style painters Henri Matisse and Kees van Dongen. Their works gave him an inspiration about expressing emotions by using thick strokes of vivid colors.

Since Jawlensky painted mostly portraits, it was very important for him to analyze and convey his imagination of the human‘s heads shapes and forms.

On one of the most well known Jawlensky‘s works called “Blue cap“, all dominant colors are very vivid: red woman‘s blouse with the yellow dots, unnaturally bright pink skin, green and red background and blue hat – all colors merge altogether which shows a strong mood of the work.

blue cap

The manner to highlight the edges of the person‘s face and body by using a dark blue or black brush came from another expressionist Kees van Dongen who used it in his works in a more subtle way.

This portrait of a woman was painted around 1912, just before the First World War and was influenced by Fauve art, but also at the same time trying the new style Abstractionism, which started to be more and more popular in Europe.

This portrait by Jawlensky is unique because of its painting style collected and created from all the inspiration he could have got at that time. It was sold for 6 million dollars and now belongs to a private collection.

“Abstract Heads”

During his active working years, Alexej was following various art styles, including Cubism.

In his several series of paintings called “Abstract Heads”, which were created between 1918 and 1935, he painted abstract faces that combined horizontal and vertical lines and brightly painted blocks of pigment.

jawlensky abstract heads

The viewer can see the influence of Cubism in these works. For creating these type of artworks, Jawlensky was highly interested in Indian philosophy, especially Indian yogis, which inspired him to paint by forgetting any kind of individualism and focusing on the basic elements which make these paintings look organic and unique.

Alexej von Jawlensky died in 1941 when he was 77 years old. He is buried in the Russian Orthodox cemetery in Wiesbaden, Germany. Most of his works are kept at the Museum Wiesbaden, others are in other german museums.

In 2019 his works were exhibited in Gemeentemuseum, the Hague in the Netherlands and also the special exhibition, together with works of Marianne von Werefkin, called “Lebensmenschen” was opened on 22nd October 2019 in Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany where both artists spent years together and will last until 16th of February 2020.

You May Also Be Interested In…

Marianne von Werefkin – Women of Expressionism

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The Dadaistic Life of Max Ernst

Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation. – M. Ernst

Dadaism was a movement of the grotesque, absurdity, and an expression of the modern world meaninglessness. Not only paintings, sculptures, and poems artworks, but the life of artists was an artwork itself.

Max Ernst’s life wasn’t an exception.

Early life

Maximilian Maria Ernst was born in 1891 in Bruhl, Germany as the third of nine children in a strict middle-class Catholic family. His parents were devoted Christians who were raising their children to be religious, God-fearing and capable individuals.

His father was an amateur painter and he introduced painting to Max at an early age, which will further determine his life path.

Philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry were areas that first interested him, so he went to study it at the University of Bonn.

He was visiting asylums and got fascinated with the artwork of mentally ill people. But he abandoned this studies because he realized that he had more interests in the arts, claiming that his interests included anything connected to painting.


Love for Painting

His love for painting was the main reason he decided to dedicate his life to it.

In the earliest days of his painting career, he met works of the most famous artists of all time, such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Cezzane and Picasso, who influenced Ernst’s further work.

His favorite themes were fantasy and dreams, and he adopted an ironic style that juxtaposed grotesque elements alongside Cubist and Expressionist motifs.


War and Dada

After finishing his studies, Ernst was forced to join the German Army in World War I as a part of the artillery unit, so he was directly exposed to the drama of warfare.

The war was ruinous for this young soldier, but inspiring for him as an artist. He became highly critical of western culture and these charged emotions directly fed into his vision of the world as irrational – an idea that became the basis of his artwork.

Memories of the war and his childhood helped him create absurd, but interesting scenes in his artworks. In 1918, after returning from the war, he took painting seriously.

With Jean Arp, a poet and an artist whom he met before having to go to war, he formed a group of Dada artists in Cologne.

They edited journals and created a scandal by organizing a Dada exhibit in a public restroom. More important are his collages and photomontages he started making in 1919.

His collages represent an important phase of Dadaist art.


Collages

He was using different materials in creating collages, such as illustrated catalogs, photographs of various animals, drawings etc, which resulted in creating somewhat futuristic images.

One of these compositions is Here everything is still floating (1920), a startlingly illogical composition made of cutout photographs of insects, fish and anatomical drawings ingeniously arranged to suggest the multiple identities of the things represented.

He approached descriptive expression with his collages. Besides that, a three-dimensional spatial perspective and dreaming illusionism of Giorgio de Chirico heavily influenced his work.

Adjustment to his take on Chirico’s style moved him away from Arp’s plain drawings and provided a transition that later became an illusionist branch of surrealist painting.

Arp’s and Ernst’s attempts to reach “beyond painting” – Arp with his low, painted and machine-cut reliefs, and Ernst with his collages – don’t represent an attempt of anti-art, as much as a response to feeling that the pre-war art was too hermetic and aesthetic.

Their work made a base for painting-poetry that lived through Dadaism and inspired quarter century of Surrealism.

Ernst’s unique masterpieces enabled him to create his own world of dreams and fantasy, which helped him to heal his personal issues and trauma.


Surrealism

In the 1920s, Surrealism occurred.

In 1922, Ernst moved to Paris where he became a founding member of the Surrealists, the group that gathered artists and writers whose work outgrew from the unconscious.

In 1923, Ernst finished his Men Shall Know Nothing of This, known as the first surrealist painting.

He was one of the first artists to apply The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud to investigate his deep psyche to explore the source of his own creativity.

In 1929, he started using techniques of decalcomania – transferring paint from one surface to another by pressing the two surfaces together, and frottage – pencil rubbings of the things such as wood grain, fabric or leaves, to stimulate the flow of imagery from his unconscious mind.

These techniques resulted with the accidental patterns and textures that made the artist contemplating free association to suggest images he subsequently used in a series of drawings (Histoire naturelle, 1926) as well in many paintings such as The Great Forest (1927) and The Temptation of St. Anthony (1945).

Ernst gained quite a reputation despite his strange style.


Also in 1929, he turned to collage again and created The Woman with 100 heads, which represents his first collage novel.

Not long after, he created the collage novels A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil (1930) and A Week of Kindness (1934).

After 1934, his attention was oriented towards sculpture, where he was using improvised techniques just as he did in painting.

For example, Oedipus II (1934) was cast from a stack of precariously balanced wooden pails to form a belligerent-looking phallic image.


Moving to the United States

At the beginning of World War II, Ernst moved to the United States. There he joined his third wife Peggy Guggenheim, who helped him to break through American art scene, and his son, American painter Jimmy Ernst.

While living there, he concentrated on sculptures such as The King Playing with the Queen (1944), which shows the influence that African culture made on him.

He helped to form American art during the middle of the twentieth century, thanks to his ingenious and extraordinary ideas that were different from those of other artists of that time.

Ernst’s obvious denial of conventional styles and imageries in painting was what fascinated American artists.

New and innovative ways of painting interested young American artists, so this unique style of Ernst gained the attention of painters who became familiar with his work.

Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning playing chess with figures that are Ernst’s creation

Conclusion

In his later years, he divorced Guggenheim and married Dorothea Tanning, a surrealist painter who lived in Sedona, Arizona.

They were traveling to various places to learn more about different art techniques. The couple settled in France in 1953. A year after, Ernst received the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale, a prestigious awards contest.

Max Ernst died in 1976, in Paris, only a day before his 85th birthday. His legacy lived on as he was inspiring artists throughout the world.

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The Superflat Art Movement And Its Purposeful Absence Of Depth

It can be seen that embedded in the apparently vivid Superflat works, with their total absence of depth, are a variety of cultural, political, social, and historical contexts concerning the relationships between high art and subculture, between Japan and America, between contemporary art and capitalism. If we place these contexts within brackets and pretend to ignore them, the strength of the high quality, super flat surface is most apparent, but the moment we summon up these contexts, the picture starts to hint at endless meanings. Smoothness and complication, beauty and high-functionality, Murakami imbues his paintings with unparalleled structure, a structure that resembles an incredibly carefully planned, highly-functional cyborg.

                               Minami, 2001.

Superflat

Superflat was launched in Tokyo, 2000, through the Superflat exhibition which was designed to travel globally. An elaborate, bilingual catalogue Super Flat was produced to accompany the exhibition which included Murakami’s “A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art”.

It was the first in a trilogy of exhibitions curated by Murakami. According to the artist, the trilogy of Superflat exhibitions were constructed to provide a cultural and historical context for the new form of Superflat art that he was proposing, and which was specifically exported for Western audiences.

The theory of Super Flat art is a manifesto for Murakami’s concept of a new form of art emerging from the creative expressions produced in Manga (graphic novels), video games, anime (Japanese animation), fashion and graphic design.

In this theory Murakami identifies Superflat as a genealogy of aesthetics tendency in which contemporary Japanese culture has inherited a spirit of artistic innovation and creativity from the Edo period, 1600-1867.

The concept of a Superflat aesthetics lineage draws significantly on Japanese art historian Tsuji Nobuo’s Kisō no Keifu (Lineage of Eccentrics, 1970).

Nobuo identified a common disposition among six Edo artists to ‘the production of eccentric and fantastic images’, and also identified a tendency toward playfulness and eccentricity in contemporary forms of manga and anime.

Murakami extends Nobuo’s argument by presenting Superflat as an aesthetics that reinforces the two-dimensionality on the surface, a feature which he also recognizes in the paintings of the Edo Eccentrics (these include Iwasa Matabei, Kanō Sansetsu, Itō Jakuchū, Soga Shohaku, Nagasawa Rosetsu and Utagawa Kuniyoshi) and anime texts such as Galaxy Express 999.

The Superflat planar emphasis is achieved through a composition structure that directs the viewer’s gaze across the surface of the painting, rather than drawing it in through the conventions of Western linear perspective.

In addition, Superflat can also be used to describe the visual style of Murakami’s works.  In his own sculptures, paintings and other assorted productions Murakami appropriated the kawaii character icons and two-dimensional aesthetics of manga and anime and combines these with compositions and techniques derived from the traditions of Japanese painting.

Modern Art?  No, Modern Edo.

By connecting Edo forms of Japanese painting with the contemporary commercial expressions emerging in manga, anime, fashion, video-games and graphic design, Murakami presents Superflat as a merging of art and popular culture and a questioning of the culturally and socially constructed definition of art, especially in Japan.

In his own work, the artist reinforces this merging of art and commercial culture by producing sculptures, paintings, handbags, snack toys, key-chains, t-shirts, buttons, stickers and bandanas which are all based on the same Superflat iconography.

Murakami presents the production of his art as a business strategy and challenges the conventional avenues for the exhibition of art Japan.

Therefore, Superflat theory is also driven by a more politicized commentary on the modern institutions of bijutsu (fine art) in Japan.

Murakami rejects the modern institutions of kindai bijutsu (modern art) which he considers to be an incomplete importation of Western concepts and institutions of art since their adoption in the Meji period (1868-1912) as part of the process of modernization and westernization.

To Murakami, the innovation and originality of contemporary forms of commercial culture represents a continuation of the innovations introduced by the premodern eccentric artists.

Murakami argues that these qualities of creative invention and avant-garde spirit were excluded from the practices and institutions of bijutsu, and that it is the texts and practices of contemporary consumer culture that offer the re-emergence of what he considers to be authentic and original Japanese expression.

POKU

The concept of revolutionizing art was drawn from Murakami’s early aim to merge Pop Art with otaku production-consumption practices in order to create a new form of popular art, POKU.

Otaku refers to groups of manga and anime fun communities who are conventionally described as ‘hard-core’ and are prevalent throughout Japan.

While the aim of POKU was to market art in otaku cultural institutions, Murakami declared this project a failure and decided to focus on transforming the consumption of art in Japan and to bring a new form of art in Japan, although one that was still influenced by otaku culture, to Western art world.

Thus POKU was superseded by Superflat’s intention to harness the creative expressions being generated in the production-consumption of commercial culture more generally.

A critical component of this strategy is Murakami’s art studio/factory Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., formerly known as Hiropon Factory; the studio produces Murakami’s works and associated products which are sold  through the studio website and stores, but also provides exhibition opportunities for emerging artists.

Western Invasion or Eastern Affirmation?

However, Murakami’s concept of Superflat art, and the artworks that represent it, attracted significant media and gallery attention leading to an important turning point in Murakami’s profile in Western contemporary art worlds.

The subsidiary politic in Superflat is the affirmation of its Japanese identity in an almost recalcitrant swipe at Western art. Murakami presents it as a type of post-Pop, an indigenous expression of Pop Art.

At the same time, Murakami acknowledges the transformations of Superflat expression under the influences of Western culture.

This position is even more complex because Murakami also explicitly emphasizes his strategy to successfully sell work in the United States and European art markets- around 70% of his paintings and sculptures are sold in these markets.

Therefore while a key aspect of his project is to affirm the Japanese identity of Superflat art, it is also self-consciously presented in the codes of Western art worlds and art markets.

At the same time, Murakami is using Western art markets, and the popular appeal of Japanese consumer culture both in and outside Japan, in order to propose alternatives to the institutions and practices of bijutsu in Japan.

It is this tension and dialogue between the commodification of Superflat and the simultaneous challenge to existing forms of art production-consumption, through the merging of art and commercial culture, which makes the analysis of Superflat complex.

This complexity arises because the meanings of commodity, art and cultural identity are themselves contested concepts in contemporary culture, especially in the context of globalization.

Contemporary culture can be defined by the multidimensional relations that constitute the economic, cultural and political processes of contemporary globalizations.

Art, as a central mode of human ‘expressivity’, defines and shapes culture. As the interaction between social groups has become increasingly globalized, the meaning-making and expressivities associated with art have also become engaged through national and transnational gradients.

Murakami’s work and Superflat theory are significant as they expose the key debates in contemporary culture regarding the relationship between art and commodity which are part of broader debates on the meaning of art in relation to consumer capitalism and the production of art in the processes of contemporary globalization.

The formation of identity and expressive modes within a national genealogy becomes particularly problematic within a globalizing cultural sphere.

The articulation of a particular kind of ‘national identity’ in Murakami’s work problematizes the global-local compound and a cognition which celebrates hybridity and postmodern open identities.

The analysis of the concept and expression of Superflat demonstrates the potential for diverse interpretations which challenge and move away from Murakami’s own presentation and understanding.

Particularly, Murakami’s works and Superflat can be understood as expressions of the complex relations between cultural identity, art and commodity in the contemporary cultural context in which they are produced-consumed.

Trading Faces

The Japanese identity of Superflat is pretty complicated. Superflat echoes conventional constructions of a Japan/West binary which obscures the connections and power relation in this structure.

Secondly, while Murakami acknowledges the Western influences on the Superflat aesthetics, his simultaneous transposing of this hybrid identity into a reinforcement of a Japanese identity, characterized by cultural assimilation and hybridization, reinforces a unified national-cultural identity.

This identity is supported by the references between Superflat and already existing discursive constructions of Japanese culture and as flat.

Also, Superflat is part of ongoing trade relations and cross-fertilizations of visual culture forms between Japan and the West since the late nineteenth century.

These complex relationships demonstrate the need to locate Superflat in a global context and to critically interrogate Murakami’s concept and aesthetics.

Murakami’s work and Superflat art can be understood to articulate a postmodern aesthetics and conceptualization of art; the flattening of the distinction between commercial commodities and art and expressing the hybridizing effects of global cultural interactions.

The Superflat is terrain of contestation, making both the absence of hierarchical divisions between art and commercial culture and the presence of multiple structures demarcating the various social, political, cultural and historical contexts in which Superflat engages as it circulates globally.

This fluidity is often negated by the responses to Murakami’s work illustrated in the introductory quotes, which continue to affirm an art/commodity distinction: Murakami’s work is either defended as an aesthetic critique of the socio-cultural condition of commercial consumption or decried as a celebration of the lack of distinction between commercial production and art.

This simple dualism limits the understanding of Superflat and reveals the persistence, through debates, of the concepts autonomy, authenticity and aesthetic value in relation to definition of  cultural identity and art.