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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.

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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

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The Impressive Doris Salcedo

doris salcedo

Doris Salcedo is from Bogotá, Colombia, and was born in 1958. Her life dramatically influences her work in Colombia, and the lives of victims of trauma in Colombia.

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She utilizes commonplace items in her installation work, such as furniture, grass, concrete, clothing, and flowers.

Some themes she has aimed to express are memory loss, pain, trauma, loss, and emptiness. Being an artist has been her lifelong dream.

Artist Dream

“I always wanted to be an artist. I cannot name a date when that came to me; it has always been there. Living in Colombia, in a country at war, means that war does not give you the possibility of distance. War engulfs reality completely. In some cases, people can be killed or wounded at war, but in most cases war just distorts your life. It throws a shadow over your entire life.”

This video should give you a closer look to get you familiarized with Doris and her beliefs.

Doris Salcedo is featured in our article, “What is Installation Art?”

She continues, “War creates a totality and you are embedded in it. It’s like being engulfed in a reality. Political events are part of everyday life here, so art and politics came to me as a natural thing, something that has been very much present in my life from the start.”

Doris Salcedo attended Bogotá University, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1980. She majored in painting and theater.

In the early 1980s, Doris moved to New York and began sculpting, while earning her Master’s.

This is where she became influenced by other artists who were using political and challenging themes in their works.

This inspired her to draw from her home country and the heartache it had experienced with war.

She draws on her own experiences but also speaks for victims of senseless crimes and terrible issues that plague Colombia. She has interviewed victims to gain insight into their trauma to create many of her most famous pieces.

Some of her most notable installation pieces are the following:

Plegaria Muda

plegaria muda

A rough translation to ‘silent prayer,’ this piece is a series of sculptures that make up the shape of a coffin, from two handmade tables.

There is grass growing in between the tabletops. This piece symbolizes and pays tribute to the victims of gang violence, particularly the enormous gravesites where victims of gang violence are buried in Colombia.


Flor de Piel

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Created in 2013 and acquired by the Harvard Art Museum in 2014, this piece was part of her solo exhibition Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning.

The tapestry measures 340 cm x 500 cm and is made up of thousands of hand-sewn rose petals. This piece was to pay homage to a nurse that was tortured to death during the Colombian war.


Shibboleth

Shibboleth_Tate_Modern

Located in Tate Modern in London, her installation here was a massive crack in the flooring. She is the first artist ever to change the physical building of Tate Modern.

This piece was to symbolize the wedge between victims and the social forces that divided and armed people against one another.

It also represents a significant divide between the rich and the poor. Particularly in Colombia, there is a clear divide and brokenness between cultures, and that was meant to be evoked by this piece.


Atrabiliarios

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Made from plywood, thread, sheepskin, animal fibers, and shoes. There are six different styles of this installation piece.

In the ‘shoes’ piece, the shoes were all worn previously by victims who had been declared missing.

Families of missing women donated the items. This piece represents being “permanently suspended between the present and the past” and bringing awareness to the memory of those who are missing, or their whereabouts are unknown.

Atrabiliarios is meant to be a portrait of disappearance and survivors mentally being distraught with no closure.


Istanbul

salcedo-01

This installation piece is constructed from 1,550 wooden chairs piled between two buildings. The central theme behind this creation was a topography of war.

About Istanbul, she says, “Seeing these 1,550 wooden chairs piled high between two buildings in central Istanbul, I’m reminded of mass graves. Of anonymous victims. I think of both chaos and absence, two effects of wartime violence. What I’m trying to get out of these pieces is that element that is common in all of us. And in a situation of war, we all experience it in much the same way, either as victim or perpetrator. So I’m not narrating a particular story. I’m just addressing experiences.”


Unland

doris salcedo the orphan's tunic

Created from 1995-1998, Unland is comprised of three sculptures. It’s meant to represent testimonies given by children who witnessed their parents murder in the Colombian Civil War.

Doris traveled across the country to collect statements from participants and how this shaped their lives. The three sculptures are called Unland: the orphan’s tunic, Unland: irreversible witness, and Unland: audible in the mouth.

Two wooden tables are fused into one, and combined by the legs being removed on each end. There are thousands of holes in the top of the table, which has human hair and silk threads sewn in. The wood has deep cuts across it, to signal the damage done in the war.


Accolades and Importance

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Her list of accolades is impressive, to say the least. She’s been awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship, The Ordway Prize, from the Penny McCall Foundation, Velázquez Visual Arts Prize, Hiroshima Art Prize, Inaugural Nasher Prize for Sculpture, Nasher Sculpture Center, Rolf Schock Prizes in Visual Arts and The Nomura Art Award.

Doris Salcedo creates installation pieces that provoke thought and tackles tough, taboo subjects from objects with little significance.

She has played an important role in her Colombian culture, being a voice for victims of trauma and political injustices. Art has always been her passion for many reasons, and she has turned that into a lifelong career and been a guiding force in her niche.

“The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with meaning they have required in the practice of everyday life…then, I work to the point where it becomes something else, where metamorphosis is reached.”

Sources:

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

https://art21.org/artist/doris-salcedo/

https://art21.org/read/doris-salcedo-variations-on-brutality/

https://whitecube.com/artists/artist/doris_salcedo

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/doris-salcedo-2695

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/salcedo-unland-audible-in-the-mouth-t07523

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The Life & Art of Judy Chicago

An incredible career that spans five decades, Judy Chicago is an artist, author, feminist, educator, and intellectual.

judy chicago art

The Dinner Party, International Honor Quilt, The Birth Project, Powerplay, and The Holocaust Project are her most notable projects, and her art has been exhibited in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Asia.

Equal parts sculptor, installation artist, feminist, and harnesser of the zeitgeist, she has known her calling since a young age

Background

Judy Chicago was born in 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. Heavily influenced by her mother’s love of the arts, at the tender age of three, Judy started drawing and attended some classes at the Art Institute of Chicago.

judy chicago young

By the age of five, she knew she “never wanted to do anything but make art” and began pursuing her passion further.

“Once I knew that I wanted to be an artist, I had made myself into one. I did not understand that wanting doesn’t always lead to action.

Many of the women had been raised without the sense that they could mold and shape their own lives, and so, wanting to be an artist (but without the ability to realize their wants) was, for some of them, only an idle fantasy, like wanting to go to the moon.”

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She attended UCLA on a scholarship and graduated in 1964 with her Masters of Fine Arts. In 1965, Judy held her first solo show.

It was at the Rolf Nelson Gallery in Los Angeles, and she was one of four women who participated in that show.

Judy refuses to participate in any show that has a ‘women’ or ‘Jewish’ label attached to it, like the California Women in the Arts exhibition, as she feels that there should be no labels attached. During this time, Judy began sculpting.

judy chicago minimalist sculpture

Fresno State

As she began her experimental gallery of sculptures and drawings that were, in her words ‘minimalist,’ Judy’s work was at the forefront of the conceptual art movement in LA.

She began experimenting with lighting, pyrotechnics, and smoke to create an atmosphere for her exhibits.

She wanted to feminize and soften the playing field, and she began exploring sexuality in her work, and this became a turning point for her craft.

In 1970, Judy began to teach full-time, teaching women’s only art classes at Fresno State College.

fresno state college feminist art program 1970

It was the first of its kind in the United States, and Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro would go on to renew the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts.

Judy is known as a leader and pioneer of feminist artists, and for a good reason.

Womanhouse was a collaborative project that used the artists’ problems as women as inspiration.

“The aim of the Feminist Art Program is to help women restructure their personalities to be more consistent with their desires to be artists and to help them build their art-making out of their experiences as women.”

womanhouse

This project displayed Judy’s own identity struggle as an artist.

Judy appears in our feature article, What is Installation Art?

The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party, possibly her most famous work, has a permanent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Five years and $250,000 later, this work is Judy’s triumph.

the dinner party

Tables set up in a triangle formation with 39 place settings, each commemorating an important woman in history. This piece took over the work of over 400 people to come to fruition.

Each place setting is unique, with a china plate that is hand-painted and deliberately embroidered runner. The floor beneath the table has the names of 998 women and one man who has made a mark in our history.

Each piece of artwork has an abstractly painted vulva-styled form. There was some resistance from the people in the art world for this piece, but at the time that it came out, it toured to 16 venues in 6 countries and is now a permanent fixture in Brooklyn.

Here’s a look…

The Birth Project

The Birth Project took another five years to create, finishing up in 1985.

Judy realized that there were no representations of birth in western art or none that she could immediately think of.

The Birth Project uses the iconography of women giving birth to celebrate motherhood. While motherhood was not for Judy, she was inspired by women who choose motherhood.

Powerplay

After The Birth Project, she went back to independent studio work and created Powerplay, a series of drawings, paintings, weavings, bronze reliefs, and cast paper.

This piece explored the female gaze and how power has affected men.

The Holocaust Project

The Holocaust Project, a collaboration with her husband, Donald Woodman, touched on her interest in male power in regards to the holocaust.

During this time, Judy became more interested in exploring her Jewish heritage, and her work began another shift.

In the span of eight years, she and her husband finished the piece that documented the victims of the holocaust, during a time she was facing her own personal loss.

The passing of her brother and her mother aided her in creating the visual and written art components of this piece.

The Holocaust Project explores the themes of victimization, injustice, cruelty, and oppression. There are a variety of mediums used in this project, including stained glass and metalwork.

Books

Judy has penned many books in her career, and she has been included in numerous publications. Her work has been published in a variety of languages, so she still reaches a global audience.

judy chicago beyond the flower

Her work has been the subject of articles, history texts, and her goal to create a piece of art history has been realized. Art curators and historians have studied her work, and the impact of her work will be reviewed for years to come.

At 81 years old, Judy is still holding exhibitions and talks scheduled into 2020. She even has an Instagram account that has over 31,000 followers.

She says “I love that so many young people follow my Instagram and come to my openings. It means that my work is still vital. When you’re old, that’s important.”

judy chicago

Judy Chicago has been a monumental contributor to feminist art, in a variety of mediums.

From her drawings and paintings to her incredible installation art of The Dinner Party, Judy has and will continue to inspire young artists for years to come.

‘I do not think art can change the world. I do think art can educate, inspire, empower people to act.’ – Judy Chicago

Sources:

http://www.judychicago.com

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

http://www.artnet.com/artists/judy-chicago/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/54456.Judy_Chicago

https://www.glamour.com/story/judy-chicago-feminist-artist-interview

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Steve McCurry – Revealing The World’s True Colours

steve mccurry photo war

Steve McCurry is an American photographer and photojournalist. 

steve mccurry young

Background

He was born on April 23, 1950 in Philadelphia. Steve studied Film at Pennsylvania State University. After graduation in 1974, he started to work for a local newspaper called The Daily Collegian and started his career as a photographer.

After a few years of working as a freelance photographer, McCurry made his first trip to India.

Back then, he didn‘t know that this country would be the start for his international career, filled with many trips to countries, which suffer from armed conflicts, war, and poverty, but also will give him huge resources to know different cultures and take fascinating pictures.


India

Everything started from a one-way ticket. India for the first trip was chosen not accidentally. Its rich culture promised many vivid and lively shots.

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Through his career, McCurry had visited India many times and collected wide spectrum of pictures. From cities full of people like Mumbai or Kolkata till farmscapes in the Uttar Pradesh area.

While traveling through these places, he started to create spectacular portraits of locals, surrounded by cows and busy with their daily works. You can see deep looks, which catch your attention and give you the feeling, that behind every person, it doesn‘t matter if he or she is young or old, is an individual and unique story, which Steve was trying to bring to the world.

young boy with a gun to his head

India is very generous of giving the photographer plenty of colors – red, orange, blue or green and that perfectly reflects at Steve’s photos. You can see different fabrics on people’s bodies or turbans on men’s heads.

By taking these pictures, the photographer shows, that huge part of India‘s culture can be disclosed exposing the vivid colors of locals, because it seems like every person he shoots is one of a kind and unique.

Steve said: “I think that joy of photographing in India is that you never quite know what is waiting for you around the next corner. There is always, what‘s delightful, horrified, something that you never saw before, something who always can strike you in the face”.

Steve-McCurry-Holu-a-festival-that-welcomes-spring-is-celebrated-with-public-spraying-of-colorful-powders.-Rajasthan-India-1996

The artist emphasizes a picture he took in the Rajasthan region, saying that circumstances were favourable, when suddenly dust storm started and it created an exclusive atmosphere for the shot.

Group of women were hiding from the storm covered in the circle and started to sing.

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What McCurry likes of this picture, is how fabric was blown during the dust storm and the fabrics itself symbolize the past, cause they aren’t produced anymore and also the trees are symbol too because there is a big desolation of trees in that part of the country.


Afghanistan and the big break

While being in India, Steve McCurry accidentally snuck into Afghanistan, just before it was invaded by Soviet troops.

He needed to be very careful: shave his beard, put the same clothes as locals wear and especially hide his cameras in a bag.

At that time, there was a military zone with the armed Pakistani soldiers and the whole region was unsafe but also very interesting for a photographer.

khumari afghanistan

When he sent films with pictures back to his family, one of them were printed in Geo magazine and The New York Times, but the real break happened when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan later the same year and then the appearance of these photos was vitally important for all printed media.


The famous Afghan girl

When photo of the Afghan girl was printed on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985, it became one of the most popular and iconic pictures in the whole photography history.

The picture was taken at the refugee camp during the Soviet invasion. McCurry remembered, that there was a full class of children, but one girl took his attention from the entering in the classroom, because of her incredible green eyes and mesmerized look.

Steve-Mccurry-Afghan-Girl-Pakistan-1984

At first, a girl was a bit shy, because probably it was the first time in her life when somebody was taking pictures of her, but her teacher told her, that it would be important to let the whole world see her.

To create this portrait the circumstances were perfect – right light, good background and an expression of the girl‘s face.

The authenticity of a girl brought success, because she didn‘t pose, just sat calmly and looked into the lens.

The picture of a girl symbolizes the fear and horror of war and perfectly illustrates how one image can describe individual experiences during a difficult situations of the country during the war.

About the inspiration: “I think what inspires me, is that incredible world we live in, all the ways people live their lives, come out of the mountains, wearing this jewelry, hats, and in the middle east women covered to the top – all of this area of culture is happening in the same little particular place of dust. I am amazed by how we all are the same, we do the same things, we all do them erratically in different ways. So I think the thing, which inspires me is the traveling, absorbing and wandering around this amazing planet”.

And where is that famous Afghan girl now?  Here she is speaking with the BBC.  Clearly the photo was a mixed blessing for her.


Family

Steve McCurry is married and has a daughter, who was born in 2017. He loves to travel with his family to various countries, he hopes, that his daughter could know other cultures, meet different people and learn to speak several languages, because for him it is important, that she could feel comfortable in different parts of the world.


Published works and achievements

Steve McCurry has published books including: The Imperial Way (1985), Monsoon (1988), Portraits (1999), South Southeast (2000), Sanctuary (2002), The Path to Buddha: A Tibetan Pilgrimage (2003), Steve McCurry (2005), and Looking East: Portraits (2006), In the Shadow of Mountains (2007), The Unguarded Moment (2009), The Iconic Photographs (2012), Steve McCurry Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs (2013), From These Hands: A Journey Along the Coffee Trail.

Through more than 40 years of his career, Steve received various awards, including Medal of Honor for coverage of the 1986 Phillippine Revolution given by White House News Photographers Association, Golden Doves for Peace journalistic prize issued by the Italian Research Institute Archivio Disarmo in 2018.

Steve McCurry

His works were exhibited in the exhibitions in New York, Hong Kong, Brussels, and other cities. The most important – his works inspired many photographers and creators around the world.

To see Steve McCurry‘s pictures you can visit on of the following sites:

https://www.stevemccurry.com/

https://www.facebook.com/stevemccurrystudios

https://www.instagram.com/stevemccurryofficial/?hl=en


Steve McCurry Videos

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Amrita Sher Gil – The James Dean Effect

Amrita Sher Gil is one of the most impressive and the most gifted Indian artists of the pre-colonial era.

Amrita_Sher-Gil_2

India’s Revolutionary Artist

She is considered as a revolutionary woman artist and pioneer of modern art in India, and often referred to along with Frida Kahlo for aesthetically blending traditional and Western art forms.

She was born on January, 30, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Her mother Marie Antoniette Gottesmann was a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer, and her father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia was a Sikh aristocrat and a Persian and Sanskrit scholar.

She developed an interest towards painting at her early childhood, by the time she was five. In 1921, Amrita’s family shifted from Hungary to the beautiful hill station of Shimla, due to financial problems.

amrita sher-gil

The young Amrita started to learn painting at the age of eight, trained under Major Whitmarsh and Beven Paterman.

A few years later, she joined a famous art school in Florence, Santa Annunziata, where she was exposed to the works of Italian artists, which furthered her interest in painting.

santissima-annunziata-church-florence2

Months later, Amrita and her mother returned to India.

Realizing Potential in Paris

In 1926, Amrita’s nephew Ervin Baktay, an Indologist aware of her amazing potential, played a crucial role in pushing her to pursue an artistic career.

At the age of 16, she went to Paris with her mother and started training under Pierre Vaillend and Lucien Simon at Grande Chaumiere, and received a formal education at the École des Beaux-Arts.

academie-de-la-grande

She spent five years in Paris. It was a period of experimentation, and a period of exploring her own hybrid identity. Sher-Gil was fully aware of her exotic beauty, sometimes wearing western clothing, and sometimes wearing a sari.

During the initial stages of her career, her works were profoundly influenced by Western art, reflected academic style in which she was trained. It was the Western European idiom with its naturalism and textured application of paint.

In the early 1930s, many of her pieces included paintings of her Parisian life, still life studies, nude studies, portraits of her friends and fellow students, and the significant corpus of the self portraits, for which she is often considered as narcissistic by many.

The self portraits captured the artists in her many moods-pensive, joyous and obscure, while revealing a narcissistic line in her personality.

amrita sher gil

Pitiless Eye, Melancholic Soul

In 1932, she created The Young Girls: the two women- Amrita’s sister Indira sits on the left clothed in chic European style and a French friend Denise Proutaux partially undressed figure in the foreground.

The two women, one assured the other awkward with her face buried beneath streaming hair have been as personifying two different side of the artist herself.

Sher-Gil was the youngest and the only Asian artist to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. The painting was gained wide recognition and was awarded a Gold Medal at the Parisian Grand Salon in 1933.

One of Sher-Gil’s professor predicted that her works would make more sense in the East, judging by the rich colors that she usually used in her painting.

Sher-Gil created self-portraits that represented her grappling with her own identity. These paintings often reflected troubled and introvert woman caught between her Indian and Hungarian existence.

amrita sher gil self portrait

Gaugin’s Disciple

She was profoundly influenced by the simplified and symbolically charged paintings of Paul Gauguin. It became explicit in Self Portrait as Tahitian (1934), where Sher-Gil appear in a three-quarter profile naked to the waist, and looking beyond the frame of the picture.

Her body is depicted in Gauguin’s technique of the female nude with a distant, obscure expression of her face. She self-consciously plays on her status as the exotic other in Paris.

amrita-sher-gil-self-portrait-as-a-tahitian-1934-trivium-art-history

In 1934, Sher-Gil returned to India in order to find a mode of delineation appropriate to her Indian subjects.

Decoding Indian Traditions

A few years later, 1937, in order to decode the traditions of Indian art she began her journey to the south India, a journey that shaped all her future work.

Sher-Gil was deeply moved by the plight of unprivileged people and common villagers; she explored the sadness felt by people, especially women, giving voice and validity to their experience.

It would reflect in her work South Indian Trilogy (Bride’s Toilet, Brahmacharis and South Indian Villagers Going to Market) are much different from the prevalent realist watercolor mode of Indian painting at that time.

Her artistic style and technique was indeed fairly unusual in India. Influenced by the wall painting of the Ajanta Caves, she attempted to fuse their aesthetics with the European oil painting techniques.

She had learnt to incorporate Indian traditions in her work and rediscovered her purpose in painting. Once she even wrote to a friend saying that Europe belongs to the artists such as Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse while India belongs to her.

Her artistic style was in marked contrast to that of her contemporaries in India – Nandalal Bose, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Abanindranath Tagore, who belonged to the Bengal school, as the first modern movement of Indian art.

She considered the school retrograde and blamed it for the stagnation in Indian painting of that time.

self-portrait

In the following years, her work had a tremendous impact on Indian art. As an exceptional colorist, Sher-Gil was able to achieve special effects with colors that were bold and unbridled, in opposite to the pale hues in vogue among her contemporary colleagues. 

Some of the best examples of her work such as Village Scene, Siesta or In the Ladies’ Enclosure represented the poor state of women and other unprivileged people.

tribal women amrit sher gil paintings

Understanding

The painting Three Girls, from 1935, shows melancholic women wearing passive expressions; their solemn brown faces a contrast to the vibrant reds, ambers and greens of their clothing.

The mood is dispirited – the women are waiting for something they doubt will ever come along. Sher-Gil lived between worlds, between West and East, in searching for a sense of belonging.

So, she understood the emptiness and loneliness of those women, since their moods were a certain reflection of her own.

In 1941, Sher Gil moved to Lahore, an undivided part of India, where the art was appreciated at that time. In this phase of her life, she produced some of her most known painting such as Tahitian, Bride, Hill Scene and The Red Brick House.

Amrita_20Sher-Gil_20-_20View_20From_20Majita_20Jouse_large

Living Free, Dying Young

Amrita Sher-Gil was a free spirit who led a somewhat careless life; she was bisexual and had numerous relationships.

Regarding her sexuality, her biographer Yashodhara Dalmia in Amrita-Sher-Gil: A Life (2006) wrote it was (partly) a result of her broad view of woman as a strong individual, liberated from the social conventions.

She formed an intimate friendship with the painter Marie Louise Chassany who was a fellow student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Some art critics believed her painting Two Women reflected their yearning for one another.

Sher-Gil saw marriage as a way to gain independence from her parents. In 1938, she married Dr. Victor Egan, her Hungarian first cousin, revealing afterward that she was pregnant; Dr Egan arranged for an abortion and performed it.

She was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. She never painted Nehru, as she stated he was ‘’too good looking to be painted’’.

In 1941, days before her first solo exhibition in Lahore, she became ill. A few months later, she died at the age of 28.

The real cause of her death was never ascertained. The cause was believed to be complications from a second abortion performed by her husband.  Her mother accused Dr Victor Egan, for her demise.

Her unfinished works reveal a move toward abstraction and incorporate richer colors that the colors seen in her previous paintings.

The artwork of Amrita Sher-Gil has been declared as National Art Treasures by the Government of India.

In 1978, India Post released a stamp of her ‘Hill Women’’. The Indian cultural center in Budapest has been named after her. The 100th anniversary of Amrita Sher-Gil’s birth was declared as the international year of Sher-Gil by UNESCO, in 2013.

The complexities of her life made her both, an outsider and insider, as did her ambivalent sexuality and identity-pushed her to constantly reinvent her artistic style and visual language.

She sought to adjust and reconcile her enthusiastic response to traditional art-historical resources with her modern sensibility.

Recommended Viewing on Amrita Sher-Gil:

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Rob Skeoch – Interview on Street Photography and What it means to be a gritty outlaw

searching for china 2

Today I speak with pro photographer Rob Skeoch, whom I met through a street art show we’re having together along with sculptor Barbara Di Renzo at the Homer-Watson House and Gallery in Doon, Ontario called Inside/Out (Street Art Bombing).

Here’s Rob swimming with a shark somewhere.  Rob looks, oddly enough, quite at home, while the shark looks rather incredulous about things.

rob skeoch

Here’s the show poster:

Street art is a term that may seem rather nebulous to some, even myself (who has been labelled a street artist and is involved in a show about street art), but I wanted to take this opportunity to explore it more, via this interview with Rob (who also fulfills the qualifications for being a street artist in one way or another).  If anyone should know, it’s apparently us!

Here’s some of Rob’s photography hanging in the gallery, looking good and rather mysterious!

homer watson house and gallery show with rob skeoch

Sit back, relax, and enjoy my interview with Mr. Rob Skeoch!


How long have you been doing photography and what got you interested in photography to begin with?

Rob: I’ve been doing photography for most of my life. Starting in high school in the camera club that provided photos for the yearbook.

I always found it fascinating and there was nothing else I wanted to work at. It’s funny how something you first try in high school can still be interesting to you forty years later.


What was the first camera you owned?

Rob: My very first camera was the Kodak X15, a plastic point and shoot with a drop in film cartridge.

Kodak X15

I used this type of camera in high school, until I bought a Pentax F camera in my final year of high school.


What passions do you have other than photography that might surprise people?

Rob: I’ve only been interested in two things for most of my life, photography and scuba diving.There’s nothing as exciting as diving with sharks or any of the big fish.

Last week I was diving in the Red Sea and later this spring I’m in the Philippines, mostly shooting underwater video.


What is a “photo essay”?

Rob: A photo essay is just a story that you tell through a series of photos. Maybe it’s two pictures or maybe it’s a collection of 20-30 shots. If presented properly, in a sequence that makes sense you can make a stronger point than you can with just one photo.

(The following piece was taken from Rob’s photo essay, Streets of Steel, about the city of Hamilton, Ontario – Click here to view more of this and other photo essays by Rob Skeoch)

In a sense the photo essay is a connected group of photos that are telling a story through a similar point of view.

Street photography is usually just one photo so it tells a more limited story. A group of street shots don’t always form into a photo essay either sometimes they’re just a group of photos about a similar thing but each saying something unique.


What type of street photography do you feel that you do?  Do you ever stop to define it as a particular genre or sub-genre?

Rob: Right now my street photography is more linked to portraits on the street. It’s an area I’m planning to explore this summer.

These portraits are different than straight Street Photography which tends to be more random and might be more sophisticated compositionally than portraits would be.

(The following piece was taken from Rob’s photo essay, Searching for China – Click here to view more of this and other photo essays by Rob Skeoch)

searching for china rob skeoch photograph


Do you have any primary influences that made you want to be a photographer? (these don’t have to be other photographers per se)

Rob: There’s so many great photographers who work in the genre but some work worth considering would be from Eugene Smith or Peter Turnley.


How important is presentation with your work and how do you go about it?

Rob: Part of communicating through photography, whether it’s fashion or something from the street is how the viewer experiences the artwork.

If you take great photos and hide them in a shoebox, you’re not really communicating. It’s only by having your artwork out there that the circle becomes complete.

I’ve tried shows using different gallery techniques to get people looking at the show to really see the photos.

Right now my work is printed small so people have to lean in to see it. The small print size forces them to do that. Is it the best way to go? I’m not sure. A small print will rarely have the impact of a larger one but it’s something I’m exploring.

rob skeotch

Will I make 5×7 prints for my next show? Likely not as I want to try different ways to present the work. The great thing with small prints is they’re like jewels hanging on the wall, each one very intimate. Plus the smaller size makes them available to a greater range of collectors.

Photography has become a funny business for those trying to make money at it. The opportunities have never been greater for the real top level shooter while the middle of the road talent is likely making no money at it.

With so many photos being taken and so many genres of photography, it’s hard to find a thread that links everyone together.

Being curious is likely a good trait to have if you want to be an artist, but on the other hand limiting your interests might be needed if you want to rise above the level of hack and take things to a higher level.


You work with a large company currently.  How do you approach work differently for them than you do for yourself?

Rob: For me, I work at Sony in a demanding job, so photography is an outlet from that work, and street photography is my genre because I can do it anywhere

I don’t have to have much time set aside for it, can find a subject anywhere, and don’t need much gear.

If I’m shooting digital I likely only have one camera and a small zoom with me, and if I’m shooting film I likely have one or two lenses and an old Leica film camera.

Although I work in the digital imaging department at Sony, shooting on film is often a nice break from digital and then having to edit on the computer. It’s great to be in the darkroom instead. 

The other thing about shooting film is you get to use some of the all-time classic cameras now that they’re less costly because most people want digital cameras.

With the better cameras the “user experience” is so much at a higher level it just makes the entire process that much more enjoyable.


To see more of your work, where should people go?

There is more work over at robskeoch.com


Thanks Rob!

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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.

Related Videos:

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Otaku Subculture History

A wide range of youth subcultures have appeared in Japan since World War II, many of them shocking polite sensibilities and subverting mainstream society with behaviors considered self-centered, hedonistic and deviant.

Among the subcultures that attract the most attention, both among the public and in academic circles is the otaku, the notoriously obsessive fans of anime, manga, video games and other forms of Japanese popular culture.

Otaku: The Social Phenomenon

Since their emergence in the 1970’s and 1980’s, otaku have become a major social phenomenon, engendering widespread fascination as well as fear, disapproval and misunderstanding.

The rise of an otaku identity in Japan has inspired films, books, and art movements, that both demonize and celebrate fervent fan subculture.

Generally styled as “geeks” or “nerds’”, otaku are pictured in Japan’s collective imagination as socially maladjusted young men dressed un-stylishly (often sporting backpacks and anoraks), physically unattractive (usually overweight and gawky), and unnaturally fixated on some narrow corner of mass culture.

Otaku is a vernacular term used by amateur manga and anime fans and artists to refer to themselves. Otaku is a polite, almost stiffly formal way of saying “you” in Japanese.

Combining the honorific prefix o- with taku, meaning “house”, it literally translates as “your house” and carries connotations of detachment and impersonality.

In English, the equivalent might be referring to someone as “sir” or “ma’am”.

How this word, generally associated in postwar Japan with the kind of scrupulously polite language housewives would use with neighbors and acquaintances, came to describe obsessive, introverted young fans of popular culture is uncertain and continues to be the subject of much speculation and debate.

The first publication of the term “otaku” outside of the fan culture is generally credited to Akio Nakamori, who, in 1983, adopted the term to describe the social phenomenon of hardcore fandom in Japan during this time.

Nakamori chose the term otaku to describe what he identified as the particularly driven characteristics of fandom, in preference over the more conventional term, nekura ( maniac or enthusiastic fan).

Nekura means ‘black’ and ‘dark’ and evokes the quality of a melancholic and extremely introverted character.

Miyazaki Tsutomu AKA The Otaku Killer

The widely publicized arrest of 27-year-old Miyazaki Tsutomu in 1989 was a key marker for the negative perception of otaku in public discourses.

Miyazaki was arrested for the abduction, murder and mutilation of young girls. Searching his home, police found evidence that he had murdered four young girls. They also found a collection of 5,763 videotapes and pornographic and pedophilic anime filled from floor to ceiling.

Public debates focused on Miyazaki as a socially alienated youth who was disconnected from reality and immersed within an otaku fantasy.

Japanese media persistently associated Miyazaki with otaku and dubbed him ‘’The Otaku Killer’’; the image of his room-unoccupied and windowless with videotapes stacked to the ceiling around a small, rumpled bed – became the dominant impression of an entire otaku subculture.

The outcome of his trial hinged on the question of his sanity, with the court concluding he understood the consequence and severity of his crime and sentencing him to death. He was executed in 2008.

The figure of Miyazaki still haunts the public perception of otaku.

Degrading Values over the Decades

This subculture associated strongly with antisocial fantasies and habits both violent and sexually perverted became a lightning rod in intense and histrionic public debates over social decay and the deteriorating values of Japanese youth.

For many Japanese, otaku meant an increasing number of sullen youth who would voluntarily taken leave of reality.

In 1960, youth were involved in radical political movements and new popular cultural activities such as manga consumption.

In the early 1970s in parallel with the expansion of these culture industries, youth were considered to be self-consciously immature, regressive, and dysfunctional, because they emphasized individualism and a lack of affiliations with organizations.

In the 1980’s, the mass media and culture industries were criticized for encouraging youth culture for its individualism.

For example, the ‘crystal tribes’ who were considered to be passionless cultural connoisseurs.

In the mid 1980’s, a new term emerged to differentiate a new generation of affluent, consumer oriented youth – shinjinrui ( new human race).

Otaku culture emerged within these contexts, and came to embody in the public imagination a particular section of youth who were considered the embodiment of fragmentation, individualism, and infantilism.

The interpretation of fans as symbolizing the decline of community, with audiences being passive consumers of mass media, resulting in pathological fans who are unable to differentiate between fiction and reality, is also considered to be an unacknowledged critique of postmodernity.

Trivia Addicts

From the start, what seemed to characterized otaku, beyond their apparent social ineptitude and isolation, was the compulsion to amass huge amounts of trivial information on obscure, narrow and often juvenile subjects from animated television series to pop music idols to tropical fish.

What set otaku apart from previous generations of devoted fans, was the power and connectivity afforded by the Internet. It provided new means for collecting information and sharing it with like-minded enthusiasts.

What was also striking about this new social formation of highly wired and technologically adept fans, was its sheer size: from the 1980’s on, Japan was said to have a population of at least 100,000 (and perhaps as many as one million) hard-core otaku.

Some scholars describe a long-running power politics surrounding the subculture. The ‘bad’ otaku shuts off from society, in a room with the objects of consumption, not participating in ‘normal’ forms of social formations.

Miyazaki embodied this stereotype and his prominence strengthened it.

In addition, we think of otaku as a male, but before 1989, they were often describes as both women and men behaved in ways the older fans or outsiders found unacceptable.

Before the killings, the otaku men were often portrayed as failures – economically, socially and sexually.

The term came out of the subculture as a negative self-description, but only after Miyazaki did it take on the stronger implication of social pathology.

Roots of Otaku

Many social critics and psychologists have argued that the roots of otaku behavior lay within Japan’s highly structured, even oppressive, educational, and social systems.

They have suggested that the information fetishism of otaku stems from the rigid routines of Japanese schooling, which emphasize rote learning and the memorization of vast quantities of fragmented facts.

The social awkwardness and reclusive tendencies of otaku, meanwhile, were widely understood to be reaction against the pressure for conformity, emphasis on the group, and elaborate standards of decorum that characterize Japan society.

Japan has always been known to be a strict culture, with high suicide rates compared to other countries, especially in modern times.

Japan’s otaku subculture has evolved in a variety of new directions. While many early otaku were fixated on science fiction, the imaginative and visually rich realms of manga and anime soon became the most widespread obsession.

Gyaru-Ge

By the start of the new millennium, otaku interest became overtly sexualized. There was a proliferation of gyaru-ge (‘girl games’, dating simulation software) and female fantasy characters introduced in manga, anime or as collectible plastic models.

The characters are generally depicted as cute, vulnerable and sexually alluring.

Otaku adopted the almost indefinable term moe (derived from two homophonic verbs meaning ‘to burn’ and ‘to bud’) to describe a kind of profound infatuation for these fictional female creation – perhaps platonic, or rooted in frustrated sexual desire.

The discourses around otaku culture shifted as intellectuals such as Otsuka Eiji and Okada Toshio began to emphasize otaku culture as a symbol of Japan’s information society.

This shift also contributed to and was influenced by a transformation in defining manga, and the promotion of certain forms of manga artistic lineage, as part of national culture within and outside of Japan.

Surging Into The Mainstream

The long-term transition in otaku tastes, from science-fiction and animation to pursuits viewed by the larger society as perverted, pornographic, and pedophilic, was driven by the mainstreaming of anime and manga in the 1900’s.

As the Japanese public came to accept forms like anime, otaku felt compelled to move on to more outrageous and offensive obsessions in order to maintain their distance from polite society and their resistance  to its niceties.

Today, the image of otaku in Japanese media is quite consistent in general. The label has lost some of its sting.

The Akihabara district of Tokyo, known as ‘electric town’ for its high concentration of stores selling household appliances, has become a well-known otaku destination since the late 1990s.

Akihabara now has hundreds of businesses, including ‘maid cafés’, where young female waitresses costumed as servants or anime characters wait on costumers, which cater to fan obsessions.

Local authorities have embraced that identity, welcoming fans and holding frequent festivals.

Increased public recognition has helped broaden culture; no longer confined to the image of a person-less room overstuffed with pop-culture cargo, otaku can take on more positive meanings.

It’s not just the obsessive, withdrawn loner, although that picture may never completely dissipate; now it can be the passionate expert.

Despite the positive image of otaku that is emerging, particularly in relation to the export of manga and anime, attention needs to be given to the persistently negative images of otaku and its continued marginalization within Japanese society.

Otaku are also often linked in the public imagination with hikikomori (reclusive shut-ins), chronically unemployed NEETs (‘not in employment, education or training’) and freeters ( youth floating between dead-end, part-time jobs).

All groups are stigmatized in public discourse as symbols of the alienation and drift of Japan’s younger generation today.

The positive image of otaku conflicts with otaku self-definition that emphasizes, as matter of positive subjectivity, their social unacceptability.

Whether it is conceived positively or negatively the continual emphasis is still identifying otaku as different to other consumers of media forms.

Related Videos

Here are two videos related to otaku you might like to watch.  First there’s Akihabara Geeks, the 2005 documentary.

Also, check out the 1994 documentary, simply called “Otaku”.

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Sava Šumanović – A Tragic Painter In A White Suit

Life is only one sad nothing. – S. Šumanović

Sava Šumanović’s life was brilliant, joyless, inspiring, sad, noble, tragic – all at once.

This artist was born in 1896 in Vinkovci (then in Austro-Hungary) as an only child in a respectable and wealthy family. When he was four years old, the family moved to Šid, a small town in West Serbia.

Sava’s father wanted for his only son to be a lawyer, but young Sava had different wishes. He had been fascinated by art since his school days. So, he resisted his father’s wish and went to Art Academy in Zagreb, instead of Law School.

He organized his first exhibition in 1918, at the very end of the studies. He earned great reviews and his popularity and influence had been gradually increasing since that moment. Symbolism and secession made a great impact on these paintings.

In 1920, he went to Paris, which is one of the most important points in his career. He spent six months there, painting and studying from French painter and teacher Andre Lhote, a cubist.

Rising Star

Lothe made a great impression on Sava, a young rising painter, who started to express himself through cubism and constructivism, just like his mentor.

Thanks to that, Šumanović became a pioneer of modernism in Serbian, Yugoslav painting. But introducing the Yugoslav audience to modernism wasn’t easy.

Namely, after returning from France, he organized an exhibition in Zagreb, but was deeply disappointed for criticisms being highly negative.

In his opinion, the problem for this outcome was the unadaptable Zagreb audience that wasn’t ready for anything new. He wasn’t an exception. He was rejected because he brought something new.

After coming back to Serbia, he started painting females and landscapes from around Šid. These motifs will dominate his paintings till the very end of his creation.

In 1925, he went to Paris one more time, but this time it wasn’t so bright and satisfying as it was when he first went there. He made some of his most famous paintings then – Drunken boat, inspired by famous Arthur Rimbaud’s poem with the same title, and Breakfast on Grass.

Struggle and Joy

Also, he participated in The Salon d’Automne (1926). Despite all that, he was coming across divided reviews, and those negative ones had a negative influence on his mental health.

His entire life in Paris in 1925 was a fierce struggle in himself, fighting against regret, against sentimentalism. Therefore, he painted pictures in a bright tone with a joyful coloration.

But it didn’t help – the real life was too damned, ugly and sad. Difficult working conditions, unsatisfying criticisms, a humiliating situation with a visa and a series of personal events made him psychically exhausted.

In order to get some rest, the painter returned to his homeland. In September 1928, he organized an exhibition in Belgrade which met excellent reception with the audience. 

Later that year he went to Paris, again. It was his last stay in The City of Light. Paintings Red carpet, Lying female act, Luxembourg park in Paris… But his health condition soon got worse, and in 1930 he came back to Belgrade for treatment.

Two years after rest cure he returned to beloved Šid, this time for forever.

Knowledge and Experience

That decade (1932 – 1942 after he came home till his tragic death) was the most active period of his artistic creation. This period is considered the most important phase of his work and is called Šid’s phase.

Sava came back as a mature artist, full of knowledge and experience. He had ideal working conditions there. He was completely dedicated to painting. He had realized that he could fulfill his highest aim, which was to come up with his own style.

He didn’t want to be a Cubist, or Symbolist, or Impressionist, or anything else, but himself. And he succeeded it, he named his style as I can and ken.

This painter spent a lot of time in nature, enjoying Srem landscape and finding inspiration and motifs for his future paintings.

He was always going for a walk at the same time, wearing a white suit and carrying an umbrella. He was carrying his umbrella even in Summer, to protect the white suit from mulberry stains.

During this decade, Šumanović painted over 600 paintings. The most significant are two cycles – Šidijanke (which means women from Šid) and Grape harvesters.

The first cycle was completely presented at the exhibition in Belgrade in 1939. Grape harvesters is considered the beginning of a new cycle that was interrupted by the tragic death of the painter.

Murder

He was murdered during World War II. He had just finished Grape harvesters when pro-fascist collaborators came and took him in the dawn, 28 August 1942.

Two days later, 30 August, Sava Šumanović and 120 people from Šid, were unknowingly convicted, tortured and shot and then buried in mass grave in Sremska Mitrovica.

His mother succeeded to save his paintings during the war.

She also succeeded in creating a gallery in one of the family houses and gave the works of her son to Šid town. Gallery Sava Šumanović was founded in 1952 and Savas’s paintings still live there.

Here is a video that talks about Sava Šumanović. Unfortunately, it is not in English.