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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.

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Marina Abramovic – Death Toll Rising

“Once, Picasso was asked what his painting meant. He said, ‘Do you ever know what the birds are singing? You don’t. But you listen to them anyway.’ So, sometimes with art, it is important just to look.”

Towards the late 1950’s, Abstract expressionism began losing impetus, and many artists across the world, especially in America and Europe, embraced performance art. In that context, Marina Abramovic’s work is typical of the ritualistic strain in the 1960’s performance art, and very often involves putting herself in grave danger and performing lengthy, harmful routine that result in her being burnt or cut, or enduring some privation.
 
Her work might be interpreted as having displaced art from traditional media, as she moved it straight onto her body.

Background

Marina Abramovic was born on November, 30, 1946 in Belgrade, the capital of what was than Yugoslavia to an affluent family with politically active parents. Vojin and Danica Abramovic were Yugoslav partisans during World War II, and continue their engagement in General Tito’s communist party.
 
They were awarded high positions in the public sector for their contribution during the war; her mother became head of the Museum of Art and the Revolution in Belgrade, and her father worked with state security and was in the Marshal’s elite guard.

Marina’s relations with her mother were always fought. Her mother took strict control of eighteens-years-old Marina and her younger brother Velimir; under her mother’s strict supervision, she experienced life as difficult and cold. Although her mother was traditional, difficult and sometimes violent, she supported her daughter’s interest in art, encouraging her to express herself creatively through drawing and painting and at twelve was given her own studio at home.

Marina, age 5, in Belgrade
Marina, Age 5, Belgrade

Body Art & The Rhythm Series

Marina studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, from 1965 to 1970; during this period her earlier figurative expressions became increasingly abstract. During her further studies at Krsto Hegedusic’s studio and at Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, from 1970 to 1973, she began to use her body as a tool in her art, creating performative art pieces, creating sound installations, but moving towards works that directly involved the body.
 
In this period Abramovic spent most of her time at the SKC, Studentski Kulturni Centar, a cultural center in Belgrade, where she met young conceptual artists such as Rasa Popovic, Nesa Paripovic and Rasa Teodosijevic.

In 1973, Abramovic met the artist Joseph Beuys in Edinburgh and later that year at the Cultural Center in Belgrade. His happenings made a strong impression on Marina and greatly influenced her work. The same year, she enacted the performance piece Rhythm 10 at Vila Borghese, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Rome.
 
This piece is the first of the five performances in The Rhythm Series, in which she explored the limits of her body and consciousness.

On the Rhythm 10, she used a series of 20 knives to stab at the spaces between her outstretched fingers. In the process, every time she pierced her skin, she used another knife from those carefully laid out in front of her.
 
Halfway through, she began to play a recording of the first-half of the hour long performance, using the rhythmic beat of the knives striking the floor, and her hand, to repeat the movements, cutting herself at the same time.
 
She understood that drawing on the audience’s energy drove her performance, which was marked in this piece, and this aspect became an important concept informing much of her later work.

Viewing both performance and art as reaching beyond the realm of awareness, Marina has created performances in which she sleeps or becomes drugged into unconsciousness to examine this aspect of life; she used performance to push her mental and physical limits beyond consciousness.

For instance, in Rhythm 5, 1974, she created a star shape with wood shavings covered in gasoline and lit the wood on fire. After cutting her hair and nails and than dropping them into the fire, she lay down within the burning star, a symbol of Communism in Yugoslavia, as well as a symbol of the occult.
 
During this performance, audience members realized her clothes were on fire and she had lost her consciousness due to the lack of oxygen they pulled her out, and the performance was ended.

 

Pushing the limits further, in the performance piece entitled Rhythm 0, with a description reading ‘During this period I take full responsibility’ and ‘I am the object’ Marina invited participants to use any of 72 objects on her body in any way, they desired, completely giving up control.
 
Those 72 objects included a feather, pen, saw, lipsticks, book, band-aid, rose, salt, gun, paint, bullet, scissors etc. The audience divided itself into those who tried to protect her wiping away her tears, and those who sought to harm Abramovic, holding the loaded gun to her head, and.
 
Eventually, after she stood motionless for six hours, the protective audience participants insisted the performance be stopped, seeing that others were becoming extremely violent.

This piece was an example of Abramovic’s belief that confronting exhaustion and physical pain was important in making a person absolutely present and aware of her/his self. The work is also reflected her intention to include the spectators in the process; her interest in performance art was to transform both the performer and the audience, as the participants in the show.

She said that the inspiration for such work came from both her experience of growing up under Tito’s Communist dictatorship, and of her relationship with her mother. Her work in Yugoslavia was much about rebellion, not against just the family structure but the social structure and the structure of the system there; she was trying to overcome these kinds of limits.

1975 and on

These pioneering works were created at the time when performance art was still a new emerging art form in Europe, and she had little knowledge of performance being outside Yugoslavia.

In 1975, in Amsterdam, Abramovic met the German-born artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay. He was a son of a Nazi soldier, born in 1943, in a bomb shelter in Solingen, an industrial city in Westphalia, Germany.
 
By fifteen, he had been orphaned, and was fending for himself. Marina met him on November, 30
th in 1975 in Amsterdam and their chemistry was immediate. According to her words, when she back to Belgrade, she got so lovesick that she couldn’t move or talk.
 
At the time, she was married to a former fellow-student from the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts, but it was an oddly slack union; both spouses still lived with their parents. A few months later, Marina ran away in Amsterdam, at twenty-nine, to rejoin Ulay, her soul mate.

Ulay and Abramovic made art for twelve nomadic years, from 1976 to 1988, the two were artistic collaborations and lovers. Amsterdam was their base, but their home on the road, on Europe was a black Citroën van, which figured in their symbiotic work in performance of ideal couplehood.
 
They also lived in India’s Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and with Australian Aborigines, and spending some time in Sahara, Gobi and Thar deserts.

They performed their works in gallery spaces, mostly in Europe; some of their best known works included Imponderabilia, from 1977; it included a naked couple planted like caryatids on either side of a narrow doorway at the entrance to a gallery, they backs to a frame.
 
Everyone who entered had to sidle past them, deciding which body to face.

Also, Breathing in/ Breathing out, 1977, in which they inhaled and exhaled from each other mouths until they almost suffocated. The performance named Rest Energy, from 1980, a highly intense piece that revealed the fragility of the line between death and life; it was only four minutes and ten seconds long.
 
Ulay and Abramovic faced each other, aiming an arrow a tense bow, just inches from her heart. They placed small microphones on their chests in order to make audible their increasingly rapid heartbeats in response to the growing danger.

Opposite Directions

When Marina and Ulay decided to end their relationship, they embarked on their last performance on March, 30, 1988, The Lovers; the walking along the Great Wall of China. Abramovic walked from the Shanhai Pass at the wall’s east end, Ulay walked in a opposite direction, from the wall’s western end near the Gobi Desert. After ninety days, they met and reunion marked a definitive end to their romantic relationship, as well as the twelve-year long artistic collaboration.
 
Their union was much battered and repaired, though it ultimately couldn’t survive the demands of such intense proximity or a discrepancy in ambition.

Since that point, they have had very little contact with each other, both proceeding independently with their own artistic career.

Marina returned to independent work and making it both solo as well as with artistic collaborators. In this period, she worked increasingly with video and sculpture; Transitory Objects for Human and Non-Human Use, which comprise objects meant to incite audience interaction and participation.

Blood and Bones

During the 1990s as a respectable performance artist Marina Abramovic taught at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin, as well as Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Hamburg and at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Braunschweig in Germany.

In 1997, Abramovic was invited to represent Serbia and Montenegro at the Yugoslavian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. But, she broke off the collaboration after a conflict with the Montenegrin minister of culture. However, the performance piece Balkan Baroque was shown instead at the Italian pavilion, where it caused a stir.
 
She was awarded the Golden Lion prize for Best Artist of the Biennale.

The Balkan Baroque piece was created in response to the innumerable deaths that had taken place in the former Yugoslavia. In this performance, Marina spent four days, six hours a day, sitting on top of 1,500 cow bones in a white dress, washing each of these bloody bones, surrounded by projected images of her parents and herself.

The accompanying sound included her recorded description of methods used in Balkans for killing rats and her singing of her native folksongs. The performance progression was made visceral due to the fetid smell and unbearable heat of the basement room.
 
For the artist, it was not enough to simply recount the number of people lost in modern-day wars in Balkans. She aimed to remember the lives, hopes and efforts of individuals killed by carefully touching and cleaning ‘their’ physical blood and bones.
 
The comparison between the inability to scrub all the blood and the inability to erase the shame of was is a concept that Abramovic viewed as having universal reach.

 

 

Butcher Knives Ladder

In the early 1970s, while many artists made very little effort to capture, or document, their performances on video. They felt that the true performance could never be repeated.Marina Abramovic has since argued for the importance of continuing the life of performance art works through re-performance; the only real way to document a performance art piece is to re-perform the piece itself.

In 2002, in The House with the Ocean View, Abramovic spent twelve days in the Sean Kelly Gallery without speaking, eating and writing. Contained within three so called rooms built six feet off the ground, she slept, urinated, drank water, showered and gazed at the spectators wearing a differently colored outfit each day.
 
She could walk between the rooms, but the ladders leading to the floor had rungs made of butcher knives. In this performance, Marina ritualized the activities of daily life, focusing on the self and simplicity while eliminating all aspects of dialogue and narrative.
 
She stated that she saw this piece as an act of purification- for her, but also for any viewer who entered the space. Additionally, the piece was a shift from the masochism of her earlier works to performances that focus on ideas of presence and interaction, although there is still the element of danger (present in the butcher knives ladder).

 

One of the key figures of performance art, Marina Abramovic was part of the earliest experiments in this media, and nowadays, she is one of the few pioneers of the generation still creating and working in this field.
 
She has been, and continues to be, an essential influence for performance artists and contemporary art in general, making work over the last several decades, especially for works that challenge the mind and the limits of the body.
 
Abramovic’s feminism has always been a mythical rather than a political; her confrontation with the physical and self and the primary role given to the body, a female body have helped shape the direction of Feminist art in the second half of the 20
th century, especially in the 1990’s.

 

Retrospective

In 2010 the MoMa in New York City held a wide-ranging retrospective of Abramovic’s work, The Artist is Present. From opening time to closing, eight to ten hours a day, and for seventy-seven days, she sat immobile at a bare wooden table, gazing into space. Members of the audience participated by sitting in a chair opposite Abramovic’s; her intention was emotional connection with anyone who wanted to look at her however long.
 
It was an experiment that had never been tried before; The Artist is Present is the longest durational work ever mounted in a museum.

 

In order to give new life to older performance work, both, hers and the works of others artists, Abramovic create the Marina Abramovic Institute for Preservation of Performance Art, opened in 2012, in Hudson, New York.
 
As a non-profit organization, the Institute supports teaching, preserving and founding performance art, ensuring legacy for performance art and for the ephemeral art itself.

 


 

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How Georgia O’Keeffe Changed The World

GeorgiaOKeeffeInChemise

A prolific artist, Georgia O’Keeffe spent 70 years making art and contributing to the development of American modernism ⎯ she produced more than 2000 works over the course of her career. She was a prominent member of the creative Stieglitz circle, influencing early American modernists.
 
She is notable for her role as a pioneering female artist ⎯ although she disavowed their interpretation of her work ⎯ she was a strong influence on the artists of the Feminist art movement, including Miriam Shapiro and Judy Chicago, who saw feminine imagery in O’Keeffe’s flower paintings.

Family

O’Keeffe was born on November, 15, near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1887, as the second of seven children. Her parents grow up together as neighbors; her father Francis Calixtus O’Keeffe was Irish, and her mother Ida Totto was of Dutch and Hungarian heritage.
 
As a child, O’Keeffe developed a curiosity about the natural world and an early interest in becoming an artist. Art appreciation was a family affair for O’Keeffe: her two grandmothers and two of her sisters also enjoyed painting.
 
She came from a family where female education was stressed and she was fortunate to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, from 1905 to 1906; in 1907, O’Keefe moved in New York, attended classes at the Art Students League and learn realist painting techniques from art-teachers William Merritt Chase, F.
 
Luis Mora and Kanyon Cox. In New York, she expanded her ideas about art by visiting galleries, in particular, Gallery 291, owned by photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. This place was one of the first few places in the United States where European avante-garde art was exhibited.
 
Georgia O’Keeffe was, for the first time, exposed to popular European artists such as Henri Matisse and Auguste Rodin.
GeorgiaOKeeffeInChemise

Love

Few years later, in 1912, and after attending a drawing class at the University of Virginia’s Summer School, she began focusing on her art. Alon Bement, her teacher, professed an innovative teaching style that was heavily influenced by the artist Wesley Dow, whose approach to composition and design was influenced by the principles of Japanese art.
 
While teaching at Columbia College in South Carolina in 1915, Georgia O’Keeffe begun experimenting with Dow’s theory of self-exploration (through art); she took natural forms, such as clouds, waves and ferns, and begun a small series of charcoal drawings that simplified them into expressive and abstracted combinations of lines and shapes.
 
She mailed a few of them to her friend Anita Pollitzer, a former classmate, who brought the drawings to the attention of Alfred Stieglitz in January 1916. Recognizing her potential, Stieglitz exhibited ten of her charcoals at his Gallery 291, and this began their professional relationship.
 
While O’Keeffe continued to teach, she returned to New York in 1917, to view her first solo exhibition, arranged by Stieglitz at 291. During that time, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz began a love affair that would last until his death.
 

Alfred Stieglitz attached this photograph to a letter for Georgia O’Keeffe, dated July 10, 1929. Below the photograph he wrote, “I have destroyed 300 prints to-day.
 
And much more literature. I haven’t the heart to destroy this…”

 

Shape & Color

O’Keeffe incorporated the technique of other artists and was especially influenced by Paul Strand’s use of cropping in his photographs. She was one of the first artists to adopt the method to painting by rendering close-ups uniquely American objects that were highly detailed yet abstract.
 
While some of these works are highly detailed, in others, she stripped away what she considered the inessential to focus on shape and color.
 
Blue II, from 1916, is indicative of O’Keeffe’s early monochromatic drawings and watercolors, which evoke the movement of nature through abstract forms. While the curvilinear form in Blue II is reminiscent of a plant form, O’Keeffe was playing the violin that would have been in O’Keeffe’s line of sight as she played.
 
The intense blue color suggests that she may have been familiar with Wasily Kandinsky’s notion that visual art, like music, should convey emotion through the use of color and line.

Live & Paint

In 1918, Stieglitz offered to financially support O’Keeffe for one year so that she could live and paint in New York; she took a leave of absence from her teaching position and for the first time dedicated herself solely to making art.
 
Meanwhile, Stieglitz divorced his first wife and he and Georgia O’Keeffe married in 1924.
 
As an artist, Stieglitz, who was 23 years older than O’Keeffe, found in her a muse, taking over 300 photographs of her, including both portraits and nudes. As an art dealer, he championed her work and promoted her career.
 
During the 1920s, Stieglitz introduced O’Keeffe to the Stieglitz Circle, his friends and fellow artists, including John Marin, Paul Strand, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley. Georgia O’Keeffe was profoundly influenced by Strand’s photography and the camera’s ability to behave like a magnifying lens, as well as Charles Sheeler’s Precisionism.

Flowers

Following these interests, she began making large-scale paintings of natural forms at close range, and, during this time, also switched from watercolors to oil paint. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe was recognized as one of the most significant American artists of the time and her art begun to command high prices.
 
In one of O’Keeffe’s first large- scale renderings of flower, Petunia No.2.,which represents the beginning of her exploration of a theme that would mark her career, she magnifies the flower’s form to emphasize its shape and color.
 
Her flowers images often received interpretation that O’Keeffe disagreed with, particularly from feminist critics who saw her paintings as veiled illusion to female genitalia.
 
For Georgia O’Keeffe, there was no hidden symbolism, just the essence of the flower. In addition, the anatomy of the petunia is incredibly detailed, and O’Keeffe may have been emphasizing the androgyny of the reproductive parts in order to counter the idea that her subject matter was connected to her gender.

New Mexico

Around 1929, O’Keeffe fascination with the landscape of New Mexico began, and she became enamoured with New Mexico’s landscape of barren land, vistas and local Navajo culture; works produced from this landscape captured the beauty of the desert, its vast skies, distinctive architectural forms, and bones which she collected in the desert.
 
O’Keeffe’s eventual purchase of two properties in New Mexico further connected her to the land.
 
Through the precise rendering of the weathered skull’s surface and sharp edges in Cow’s Skull: Red, White and Blue, from 1931, she captures the essential nature of the skull while also referencing the transience of life.
 
Isolated on canvas, divorced from its desert context, O’Keeffe uses the cow’s skull and the red, white and blue background to represent both naturalism and nationalism, or the relationship between the American landscape and national identity.
 
Moreover, the subject could allude to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, thereby making an environmental and economic statement; what is clear that O’Keeffe created a memento mori that elevates this relic of the New Mexico desert to the status of an American icon.

Retrospective

During the 1930s and 1940s, O’Keeffe’s popularity continued to grow and she was honored with two important retrospectives, in 1943 at the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 1946 at the MoMA, their first retrospective of work by woman.
 
Georgia O’Keeffe split her time between New York, living with Stieglitz, and painting in New Mexico. From the 1940s on, O’Keeffe’s art was outside the mainstream as she was one of the few artists to adhere to representation in a period when others were exploring non-representation or had abandoned painting altogether.
 
Back in New York, Stieglitz had begun to mentor Dorothy Norman, a young photographer who later helped manage his gallery, an American Place. The close relationship between Stieglitz and Norman eventually developed into an affair. In his later years, Stieglitz’s health deteriorated and he suffered a fatal stroke on July, 13, 1946, at the age of 83.
 
O’Keeffe was with him when he died and was the executor of his state.
 
In 1949, three years after Stiegitz’s death, O’Keeffe moved permanently to New Mexico. During the 1950s, she produced a series of works that featured the architectural forms of her patio wall and door at Abiquiu, one of her two homes near Santa Fe.

Essence

O’Keeffe’s landscape paintings are similar to her flower paintings in that they often capture the essence of nature as the artist saw it without focusing on the details. In Black Place, Gray and Pink, from 1949, O’Keeffe emphasizes the wide open spaces and emptiness of the landscape around her New Mexico ranch that she purchased in 1940-vistas that are the opposite of her claustrophobic cityscapes.
 
Her paintings of the area capture the sense of place and her attachment to it. The often surprising reds and pinks of the land in these paintings are accurate renderings of the colorful desert scenery.
 
Despite waning popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, a retrospective held by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970 revived her career and brought her to the attention of a new generation of women in the era of feminism.
 
O’Keeffe’s subject matter was always inspired by her life and the series Sky above Clouds, from around 1964/65is no exception, as the painting speaks to her many travels in the 1950s and 1960s. While en route to the Far East, she became intrigued by the view of the clouds below the airplane and sought to render this aerial view in paint as if to symbolize her own expanded view of the world.
sky-above-clouds-iii

High Horizon

Remarkably, as she was nearly 80 years old at the time, she began stretching enormous canvases nearly 24 feet wide, to capture the expansiveness of the scene. This painting, with its high horizon line and simplified clouds that extend beyond the frame, shows the influence of Eastern landscape painting, which also employs a high horizon line with a broad view of the land.
 
In her later years, O’Keeffe suffered from macular degeneration and began to lose her eyesight. As a result of her failing vision, she painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972; her urge to create did not falter.
 
With the help of assistants, she continued to make art and she wrote the bestselling book Georgia O’Keeffe (1976).
 
Her last paintings consist of simple abstract lines and shapes and hearken back to her early charcoal drawings.
 
Georgia O’Keeffe died on March, 6, 1986, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and her ashes were scattered at Cerro Pedernal, which is depicted in several of her paintings.

 

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Concerning The Spiritual In Art With Vassily Kandinsky

yellow-red-blue by vassily kandinsky

Perhaps the greatest meditation on how art serves the soul came in 1910, when Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky published The Art of Spiritual Harmony, an exploration of the deepest and most authentic motives for making art.

Uber Das Geistige in der Kunst (Concerning the Spiritual in Art) completed in 1910

A pioneering work in the movement to free art from its traditional bonds to material reality is one of the most important documents in the history of modern art. It explains Kandinsky’s own theory of painting and crystallizes the great ideas that were influencing many other modern artists.

Kandinsky’s words were written in the period between the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the consumer society, ring with remarkable poignancy today.

Kandinsky’s ideas are presented in two parts. In the first part called “About General Aesthetics’’, issues a call for a spiritual revolution in painting that will let artists express their own inner lives in abstract, non-material terms.
 
Just as musicians do not depend upon the material world for their music, so artists should not have to depend upon the material world for their art. In the other part, “About Painting’’, Kandinsky discusses the psychology of colors, the language of form and color and the responsibilities of the artist.

 

Several Circles - Wassily Kandinsky
Several Circles – Wassily Kandinsky

He begins by considering art as a spiritual antidote to the values of materialism and introduces the conception of ‘’stimmung’’, an almost untranslatable concept, best explained as the essential spirit of nature. He considers that in great art, the spectator, as a viewer, or a witness, does feel a corresponding thrill in himself.
 
Such harmony or even contrast of emotion cannot be superficial or worthless; stimmung of a picture can purify the spectator. Such works of art at least preserve the soul of coarseness, they ‘’key it up’’ to a certain height, as a tuning-key the strings of a musical instrument.

Regarding the tendency of the general public to reduce art to technique and skill, Kandinsky argues that its true purpose is entirely different and adds to art history one of the most beautiful definitions of art:

“In each picture is a whole lifetime imprisoned, a whole lifetime of fears, doubts, hopes, and joys. Whether is this lifetime tending? What is the message of the competent artist? … To harmonize the whole is the task of art’’

the blue rider by wassily kandinsky
The Blue Rider – Wassily Kandinsky

Kandinsky admonishes, the conception of l’art pour l’art– art for art’s sake, produces a neglect of inner meanings, a lament perhaps even more sad and ominous in our age of permanent commodification of art as a thing to transact around- to own, to purchase, to display, rather than an experience to have.
 
The spiritual life to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement upwards and forwards. That movement is the movement of experience, it may take different forms, but it holds at bottom to the same inner thought and purpose.
 
As an explanation, Kandinsky offers a visual metaphor for the spiritual experience and how it relates to the conception of genius:

’The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment the greater it is in breadth, depth, and area.
 
The whole triangle is moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards and upwards. Where the apex was today the second segment is tomorrow; what today can be understood only by the apex and to the rest of the triangle is an incomprehensible gibberish, forms tomorrow the true thought and feeling of the second segment.

At the apex of the top segment, only one man often stands. His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they abuse him as charlatan or madman.
 
(—)In every segment of the triangle are artists. Each one of them who can see beyond the limits of his segment is a prophet to those about him, and helps the advance of the obstinate whole.
 
But those who are blind, or those who retard the movement of the triangle for baser reasons, are fully understood by their fellows and acclaimed for their genius. The greater the segment, so the greater the number who understand the words of the artist…’’

 

sky blue kandinsky
Sky Blue – Wassily Kandinsky

For Kandinsky, art is a kind of spiritual anchor when all other certitudes of life are unhinged by social and cultural upheaval:

“When religion, science and morality are shaken … and when the outer supports threaten to fall, man turns his gaze from externals in on to himself. Literature, music and art are the first and most sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself felt.
 
They reflect the dark picture of the present time and show the importance of what at first was only a little point of light noticed by few and for the great majority non-existent. Perhaps they even grow dark in their turn, but on the other hand, they turn away from the soulless life of the present towards those substances and ideas which give free scope to the non-material strivings of the soul.’’

But, despite this eternal spiritual element, Kandinsky recognizes that all art is inescapably a product of its time. Examining the music of Wagner, Debussy, and Schoenberg, each celebrated as a genius in his own right, he wrote that “the various arts of today learn from each other and often resemble each other… The greatest freedom of all, the freedom of an unfettered art, can never be absolute.
 
Every age achieves a certain measure of this freedom, but beyond the boundaries of its freedom the mightiest genius can never go. But the measure of freedom of each age must be constantly enlarged’’
and he also adds that the cross-pollination of the different arts can inform and inspire one another… “The arts are encroaching one upon another, and from a proper use of this encroachment will rise the art that is truly monumental.
 
Every man who steeps himself in the spiritual possibilities of his art is a valuable helper in the building of the spiritual pyramid which will some day reach to heaven.’’

 

yellow-red-blue by vassily kandinsky
Yellow-Red-Blue by Vassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was synesthetic, greatly influenced by Goethe’s theory of the emotional effect of color. He considers the powerful psychic effect of color in the cohesive spiritual experience of art: “Many colors have been described as rough or sticky, others as smooth and uniform, so that one feels inclined to stroke them (e.g., dark ultramarine, chromic oxide green, and rose madder).
 
Equally the distinction between warm and cold colors belongs to this connection. Some colors appear soft (rose madder), others hard (cobalt green, blue-green oxide), so that even fresh from the tube they seem to be dry.
 
The expression “scented colors” is frequently met with. And finally the sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would try to express bright yellow in the bass notes, or dark lake in the treble…Color is a power which directly influences the soul.
 
Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.’’

Considering the color and the form, and defining form as ‘’the outward expression of inner meaning”, Kandinsky examines their interplay in creating a spiritual effect: “This essential connection between color and form brings us to the question of the influences of form on color.
 
Form alone, even though totally abstract and geometrical, has a power of inner suggestion. A triangle (without the accessory consideration of its being acute — or obtuse — angled or equilateral) has a spiritual value of its own.
 
In connection with other forms, this value may be somewhat modified, but remains in quality the same. The case is similar with a circle, a square, or any conceivable geometrical figure, a subjective substance in an objective shell-The mutual influence of form and color now becomes clear.
 
A yellow triangle, a blue circle, a green square, or a green triangle, a yellow circle, a blue square—all these are different and have different spiritual values.’’

 

Composition-VI
Composition VI – Wassily Kandinsky

Considering the inherent aesthetic intelligence of nature, he returns to his piano metaphor: “Every object has its own life and therefore its own appeal; man is continually subject to these appeals. But the results are often dubbed either sub- or super-conscious.
 
Nature, that is to say the ever-changing surroundings of man, sets in vibration the strings of the piano (the soul) by manipulation of the keys (the various objects with their several appeals)’’

There is no ‘’must’’ in art, because it springs from an inner need – the psychological trifecta built up of three mystical elements:

  • Every artist, as a creator, has something in him which calls for expression( the element of personality)
  • Every artist, as child of his age, is impelled to express the spirit of his age( the element of style), dictated by the period and nationality to which the artist belongs
  • Every artist, as a servant of art has to help the cause of art( the element of pure artistry); it is constant in all ages and among all nationality
Improvisation 28 (Second Version)
Improvisation 28 (Second Version) – Vassily Kandinsky

Sharing in Schopenhauer’s skepticism about style, Kandinsky predicts that only the third element “which knows neither period nor nationality’’, accounts for the timeless in art:

“In the past and even today much talk is heard of “personality” in art. Talk of the coming “style” becomes more frequent daily. But for all their importance today, these questions will have disappeared after a few hundred or thousand years.
 
Only the third element ( pure artistry) will remain forever. An Egyptian carving speaks to us today more subtly than it did to its chronological contemporaries; for they judged it with the hampering knowledge of period and personality.
 
But we can judge purely as an expression of the eternal artistry.

Similarly — the greater the part played in a modern work of art by the two elements of style and personality, the better will it be appreciated by people today; but a modern work of art which is full of the third element, will fail to reach the contemporary soul.
 
For many centuries have to pass away before the third element can be received with understanding. But the artist in whose work this third element predominates is the really great artist.’’

Furthermore, Kandinsky points out, the true artist gives credence only to that inner need, and not to the expectation and conventions of the time. “The artist must be blind to distinctions between “recognized” or “unrecognized” conventions of form, deaf to the transitory teaching and demands of his particular age.
 
He must watch only the trend of the inner need, and hearken to its words alone. Then he will with safety employ means both sanctioned and forbidden by his contemporaries.’’

 

decisive pink kandinsky
Decisive Pink – Wassily Kandinsky

This is the reason why theory invariably fails to capture the essential impulse in art, and he offers a beautiful disclaimer of his own theoretical treatise: “It is impossible to theorize about this ideal of art.
 
In real art theory does not precede practice, but follows her. Everything is, at first, a matter of feeling. Any theoretical scheme will be lacking in the essential of creation — the inner desire for expression — which cannot be determined.
 
Neither the quality of the inner need, nor its subjective form, can be measured nor weighed.’’

He also considers the paradox of what we refer to us as ‘’beauty’’, which is more of a theoretical agreement based on convention, rather than a true spiritual response ‘’ “Outer need” … never goes beyond conventional limits, nor produces other than conventional beauty.
 
The “inner need” knows no such limits, and often produces results conventionally considered “ugly.” But “ugly” itself is a conventional term, and only means “spiritually unsympathetic,” being applied to some expression of an inner need, either outgrown or not yet attained.
 
But everything which adequately expresses the inner need is beautiful…which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul’’.

 

movement 1 wassily kandinsky
Movement 1 – Wassily Kandinsky

Reflecting on the birthplace of art, Kandinsky return to the conception of a creative freedom: “The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way. From him it gains life and being.
 
Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in its material and spiritual life. It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad one.
 
If its “form” is bad it means that the form is too feeble in meaning to call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul… The artist is not only justified in using, but it is his duty to use only those forms which fulfill his own need… Such spiritual freedom is as necessary in art as it is in life.’’

Eventually, he brings everything full-circle to the metaphor of the spiritual triangle, reexamining the essence of art and the core responsibility of the artist:

‘’Art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul …If art refrains from doing this work, a chasm remains unbridged, for no other power can take the place of art in this activity.
 
And at times when the human soul is gaining greater strength, art will also grow in power, for the two are inextricably connected and complementary one to the other. Conversely, at those times when the soul tends to be choked by material disbelief, art becomes purposeless and talk is heard that art exists for art’s sake alone…

 

braunlich
Braunlich – Wassily Kandinksy

It is very important for the artist to gauge his position aright, to realize that he has a duty to his art and to himself, that he is not king of the castle but rather a servant of a nobler purpose.
 
He must search deeply into his own soul, develop and tend it, so that his art has something to clothe, and does not remain a glove without a hand. The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.
 
(…) The artist is not born to a life of pleasure. He must not live idle; he has a hard work to perform, and one which often proves a cross to be borne. He must realize that his every deed, feeling, and thought are raw but sure material from which his work is to arise, that he is free in art but not in life’’.

More On Kandinsky:



 

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Edvard Munch – Bowing Out Of The Dance Of Life

the-dance-of-life

EDVARD MUNCH

(1863-1944)

‘’ From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity. ‘’

edvard-munchs-grave

Toward the end of the 19TH century, Sigmund Freud, a renowned psychiatrist, was investigating unconscious phenomena and the influence of childhood events on the causation of neurosis. At about the same time, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863- 1944) began to express his inner world through his artistic creations, giving birth to an exceptional art style which would later be known as Expressionism.

Edvard Munch’s mother’s premature death from tuberculosis was one of the most painful events in his life. She died in 1868, leaving Edvard, who was five, his three sisters and younger brother in the care of her much older husband, Christian, a doctor imbued with a religiosity that often darkened into gloomy fanaticism.

Several years later, the death of his older and favorite sister Sophie, to whom he had become attached in her place, compounded his tragedy.

During Munch’s critical stages of development, his father became emotionally unavailable after his wife’s death. All those losses and trauma were intensified by the poverty experienced by the Munch family. Thereafter, Munch’s father experienced fits of depression, anger and quasi-spiritual visions in which he interpreted the family’s illness and difficulties as punishment of divine origin.

He would often read to his children the ghost stories of Edgar Allen Poe, as well as the lessons in religion and history, instilling in young Munch a general sense of anxiety about death and morbid fascination with it.

Although he lacked his father’s faith in God, he had nonetheless inherited his sense of guilt.

Munch’s precocious talent was recognized very early. His personality and his art evolved progressively. It can be seen from two self-portraits; a small three-quarters profile on cardboard, painted in 1881-1882, when he was 18, depicts the artist’s good classic looks- straight nose, strong chin, sensual lips with academic correctness.

Five years later, Munch in a larger self-portrait is impressionistic and splotchy. His hair and throat blur into background, his outthrust thin and lowered gaze lend him an insolent air; red rims of his eyes suggests a boozy sleepless night, the beginning of a long descent into alcoholism.

edvard-munch-portrait

His first sexual experience apparently took place in 1885, when he was 21, with Millie Thaulow, a wife of a distant relative. He was thrilled and maddened while their relationship lasted and desolate and tormented, two years after, when Millie ended it.

Munch was fascinated by the theme of a forlorn man and dominating woman – Vampire (from 1893-94), and The Ashes (1894). In The Ashes, a woman reminiscent of Millie confronts the viewer, her white dress unbuttoned to reveal a red slip, her hands raised to the sides of her head, while a distraught lover holds his head in despair.

ashes

Although he began his artistic career as a student of Norwegian painter Christian Krogh, who advocated Naturalism, a realistic depiction of contemporary life, Munch developed a psychologically charged and very expressive style in order to transmit emotional sensations.

Munch, as a restless soul himself, believed that a painter mustn’t merely transcribe external reality, but should record the impact a remembered scene had on his own sensibility. His personal tragedies, sicknesses and failures fed his creative work.

One of Munch’s finest self-portraits, a lithograph of 1895, depicts his head with clerical-looking collar, materializing out of a black background: a thin white band at the top of this piece contains the year and his name and a corresponding strip below features a skeletal arm.

In an undated private journal he wrote:’’ I inherited two of mankind’s most frightful enemies – the heritage of consumption and insanity – illness and madness and death were the black angels that stood at my cradle’’.

One of Edvard’s sisters spent most of her life institutionalized for mental illness, and his brother, atypically robust for a Munch, died suddenly of pneumonia at 30. Only his younger sister, named Inger, who like him never married, lived into old age.

edvard-munch-self-portrait-1895

In 1889, Munch traveled to Paris on a state fellowship to study in the atelier of Leon Bonnat. Influenced as a young man by his exposure in Paris, he began to draw after Impressionists and Post-Impressionist painters such as Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, whose, sometimes, airy compositions differed dramatically from Munch themes of death and personal loss.

But, he progressed toward simplified forms and blocks of intense color with the purpose of conveying strong feelings. In early 1890, in a huff, Munch quit the class of Parisian teacher who had criticized him for portraying a rosy brick wall in the green shades that appeared to him in a retinal afterimage.

In 1889, while he was still in Paris, Munch received a letter. He read that his father had died of a stroke. Munch once observed – the death unhinged him. He was sobered by the responsibility and gripped by remorse that he had not been with his father when he died.

For his absence, he could not release his feeling of grief into a painting of the death scene, as he had done when his sister Sophie and his mother died. Night in Saint Cloud (1890), a moody, blue interior of his suburban Paris apartment captures his emotion and his state of mind; a shadowy figure in a top hat- his roommate Emanuel Goldstein, a Danish poet- stares out a window at the bright light on the Seine river. The evening light casts a symbolic pattern of a cross onto the floor, evoking the spirit of his devout father.

munch-night_in_st_cloud

In 1890s, following his father death Munch embarked on the most productive and the most troubled stage of his life. Spending his time between Berlin and Paris, he undertook a series of paintings that he called The Frieze of Life, the most artistically significant and popularly renowned of his entire career.

He produced this series consisted of 22 works for an exhibition of Frieze in Berlin, 1902. The paintings bore such titles as Jealously, Despair, Anxiety, Puberty, Melancholy, Death in the Sickroom, and anthology The Scream, which he painted in 1893.

Munch’s The Scream is a Mona Lisa for our time, an icon of modern art. As Leonardo da Vinci evoked a Renaissance ideal of serenity and the values of Humanism, Munch defined our own age and how we see it- wracked with uncertainty and anxiety.

It stands among an exclusive group, including Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Matisse’s Red Studio, comprising the essential works of modernist experiment and lasting innovation.

His painting of a twisted, sexless, fetal-faced creature, with mouth and eyes open wide in a shriek of horror, recreated a vision that had grasped him as he walked along the road overlooking the city of Oslo, one evening in his youth with his two friends at sunset.

It seems unlikely that he observed an actual person in anguish. As he later described it, the ‘’air turned to blood’’ and the ‘’faces of my comrades became a garish yellow-white’’ (—) ‘’I heard the enormous infinite scream of nature’’.

During this potential period, his style varies dramatically, depending on the emotion he was trying to communicate in a particular painting. He turned to an Art Nouveau sultriness for Madonna (1894-95) and psychologically laden and stylized Symbolism in Summer Night Dream (1893).

In his impressive Self-portrait with Cigarette in 1895, painted while he was feverishly engaged with the Frieze of Life, he employed the flickering brushwork of Whistler, rubbing and scraping at the suit jacket so that his body appears as evanescent as the smoke that trails from the cigarette he holds smoldering near his heart.

In a moving evocation of Sophie’s death, Death in the Sickroom (1893), he adopted the bold graphic outlines of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulouse- Lautrec. He and his sister loom in the foreground, while his aunt and praying father, who is obscured by her chair, attend to the dying girl.

Across the vast space that divides the living siblings, portrayed as adults, from their dying sister, the viewer’s eye is down to the vacated bed and the useless medicines around it.

death-in-the-sickroom-edvard-munch

Visiting Kristiania in 1898, Munch had met Tulla Larsen, who would become his cruel muse. She was the wealthy daughter of Kristiania’s leading wine merchant, and at the 29, she was still unmarried. He first set eyes on Tulla Larsen when she arrived at his studio in the company of an artist with whom he shares the space.

From the outset, she persuaded him aggressively. In his telling, their affair began almost against his will. He fled to Berlin, and that across the Europe-she followed him. He would refuse to see her, and then succumb.

Reconstruction of their tormented relationship has relied on Munch sometimes conflicting, but far from disinterested accounts. The Dance of Life (1899-1900), an homage of their relationship, set on midsummer’s night in Aasgaardstrand, the seaside village where he was with Millie Thaulow, and where he had a tiny cottage.

A vacant-eyed male character, at the center of the painting, representing Munch himself, dances with a woman in red dress- probably Millie. Their stiff bodies maintain an unhappy distance, and their eyes do not meet.

Tulla Larsen can be seen to the left, in a white dress, golden-haired, smiling benevolently. She appears again on the right side, but this time in a black dress; her countenance as dark as her dress with her eyes downcast in bleak disappointment.

the-dance-of-life

Larsen longed for Munch to marry her. Hesitating, even he went so far as to make a grudging proposal, he finally escaped from her to Italy and eventually to Berlin, in 1902, to stage The Frieze of Life Exhibition.

The same year, in summer Munch returned to his cottage in Aasgaardstrand, seeking peace but drinking heavily and brawling publicly; he failed to find it.

After more than a year’s absence Tulla Larsen reappeared in his life. Firstly, Munch had ignored her overtures, until her friends informed him that she was in a suicidal depression and taking large doses of morphine, he agreed to see her.

There was a quarrel, and the full story is unknown; somehow, he shot himself with a revolver, losing part of a finger on his left hand and also inflicting on himself a less obvious psychological injury. His anger intensified when Larsen, short time later, married an artist.

For instance, in his painting Golgotha (1990), prone to exaggerated feelings of persecution, he depicted himself nailed to a cross, magnified the fiasco in his mind, until it assumed an epic scale.

In the next few years, his drinking, which had long been excessive, grew uncontrollable. He wrote in his journal that ‘’ the rages were coming more, and more often now’’. Anguished as he was, he still managed to produce some of his finest work: Self- Portrait with a Bottle of Wine ( 1906) and tableau, executed in several versions, in which he uses himself as the model for the slain French revolutionary Marat, and Tulla Larsen is cast as Marat’s assassin.

edvard_munch_-_self-portrait_with_a_bottle_of_wine_-_google_art_project

In the fall of 1908, Munch collapsed in Copenhagen. Hearing hallucinatory voices and suffering paralyses on his left side, he was persuaded by his old roommate from Paris, Emanuel Goldstein to check himself into a private sanatorium on the outskirts of the city.

There he regained some mental stability and reduced his drinking. He departed in May next year, stronger and eager to get back to his art.

Most of art historians would agree that the great preponderance of his best work was created before 1909. His late years will be less tumultuous but at a price of personal isolation. In the following period of his life, there were not as many poignant paintings as there had been, when he was involved in life.

Returning to Norway in 1909, Munch began to work on an important series of murals for the assembly hall at Oslo University. The Aula Decorations, as the murals are known, signaled Munch new determination to look on the bright side, in this case quite literally.

In newly independent Norway, Munch was praised as the national artist. Along with his new fame came wealth, but not serenity. Maintaining his distance from an alternately adoring and scornful public, Munch withdrew to Ekely, an estate on the outskirts of Oslo, defending his need for isolation as necessary to produce his work.

At Ekely, he took up landscape painting, depicting the countryside around him, with bright color at first, later in bleaker tones.

Edvard Munch had never married, living alone on his estate for the last 27 years of his life, revered and increasingly isolated. He surrounded himself with his works that dated to the start of his long career.

He called his paintings his children and hated to be separate from them.

After his death, 1944, at the age of 80, on the second floor of his house, behind locked doors, it was discovered a huge collection of 1,008 paintings, 15,391 prints, 4,443 drawings, along with lithographs and lithographic stones, etchings, woodcuts, copperplates and photographs.

In a final irony of his difficult life, Munch is famous nowadays as the creator of a single image, which has obscured his overall achievement as a great and influential artist of modern art.

between-the-clock-and-the-bed

In self-portraits Between the Clock and the Bed from 1940-42, not long before his death, it could see what had become of the man who, hung back from ‘’the dance of life’’. Looking stiff and physically awkward, he stands wedged between a grandfather clock and a bed, as if apologizing for taking up so much space.

His ‘children’ arrayed the wall behind him, one above the other. Like a devoted parent, he sacrificed everything for them.

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We The Degenerates – The Work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

ernst_kirchner

“A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things.” Kirchner wrote this, and it illustrates his interest in the appearance, and in creating new appearances.

The new appearances are a defining trait of Kirchner’s work, but it is also shaped by the history of the period. Born in Bavaria, Kirchner thrived in Germany before World War I, but the growing tensions in Nazi Germany in the 1930s eventually led to his suicide.

ernst-ludwig-kirchner-oskar-schlemmer

He was a founder of Die Brucke, or the Bridge, a key artistic movement or group that led to the Expressionist movement. Both a painter and a printmaker, Kirchner was interested in the works of many historical German artists, including Albrecht Durer and Lucas Cranach.

Die Brucke revitalized the tradition of woodcut printing, as part of their interest in German history and art history. The manifesto of Die Brucke stated, Everyone who reproduces, directly and without illusion, whatever he senses the urge to create, belongs to us”.

kirchner-poster-1910

Kirchner’s Berlin studio was the center of Die Brucke. Models, part of their social circle, posed for the painters, and the overall atmosphere was free and open. Die Brucke thrived from 1905 until 1913, when the lives of the artists were shaped and changed by the coming of World War I.

Kirchner volunteered to serve, but was soon discharged due to mental illness. He was often in and out of care facilities thereafter, both for his mental health and addiction treatment, but continued to work throughout.

He was, prior to the dominance of the Nazi party, financially successful and well-respected by the art community. His work appeared in the 1913 Armory Show in New York City, and was collected by major U.S.

museums as early as 1921.

ernst_ludwig_kirchner_selbstbildnis_als_kranker_1918

Admitted to the Prussian Academy of the Arts in 1931, his success was soon to end. In the new climate of Nazi Germany, he could not sell his work, and he left the Prussian Academy in 1933.

He wrote that he was tired and sad, but that surely rumors of the torture of the Jews were untrue; he was especially bothered that his work, and that of Die Brucke, which had celebrated German tradition had been condemned as degenerate.

Degenerate Art

The Nazis included 25 of Kirchner’s works in the 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibit, and hundreds of his works were taken from museums and galleries. The Degenerate Art Exhibition was, according to the Nazis, designed to show works that “insult German feeling, or destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveal an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill”.

All of these works were from Weimar Germany, or Germany between 1919 and 1933.

kirschner

By the 1930s, Kirchner was living in Basel, Switzerland, but was increasingly worried about the actions of the German state. He was certainly deeply emotionally impacted by the Degenerate Art Exhibition and other actions.

Following the Anschluss or annexation of Austria in 1938, Kirchner shot and killed himself. He feared a German invasion of Switzerland. He may, also, have been deeply bothered by his own experiences in World War I, and worried about the potential of another, oncoming German war.

Kirchner relies upon bold areas of flat, often unmixed color applied quite boldly. The color choices and combinations are quite unconventional. Deep shades of red and blue are frequently paired with an acidic green tone, even in human figures.

His work was a reaction against Impressionism, but was influenced by Fauvism, and artists like Henri Matisse. While his work was bold, but fully pictorial early on, it became progressively more abstract over time.

ernst-ludwig-kirchner-the-living-room-1920-hamburger-kunsthalle-2

Throughout his career, Kirchner’s primary subject was the human form. He painted people, whether he was painting a street scene or an interior. His figures draw the viewer into the composition, but they’re not traditional figures.

These people often seem quite conflicted, driven by an array of modern forces that they themselves do not understand. In some cases, multiple figures are contrasted, providing a clear commentary on German society in the early 20th century. Businessmen may walk with prostitutes on the streets.

Other works are more traditional portraits, in Kirchner’s style, or images of his friends and colleagues. Kirchner also painted a number of self-portraits, frequently reflecting his health and personal experiences. These are the people of both pre-World War I Germany and the Germany of the Weimar Republic.

kirchner-art

Kirchner’s work provides a window into the thriving art scene of pre-World War I Germany, as well as the experiences of artists during and after World War I. Like so many other artists, Kirchner suffered deeply as the result of the Nazi party, accused of being a degenerate.

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Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art

andy-warhol-eating-a-hamburger

Two of the biggest art movements that have dominated the twentieth century are Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. While stylistically very different, both movements compliment each other and reflect the ever-increasing complexity that the 20th century saw with industrialization and globalization.

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism (AKA The New York School) came out of America, in New York as part of a post World War II painting movement during the last part 1940’s. Abstract Expressionism was the first state-side art movement to achieve international attention, making New York the center of the art world within western culture and now in a place to compete internationally with Paris.

abstract-expressionism-vs-pop-art

The movement moved quickly throughout the United States with San Fransisco area soon becoming an artistic hub for Abstract Expressionism as well. Pop art, however emerged nearly a decade later in the mid-1950’s in Britain and later made it to the United States during the late 1950’s were it really took its roots.
 
With these two movements closely overlapping, it is important to understand the differences and similarities of these movements and their context within contemporary art history.

Here is a short documentary about abstract expressionist Carlos Garcia de la Nuez, just to get your mind percolating and give you a glimpse into the process that an abstract expressionist artist uses.


 

Non-Representational Art

In Abstract Expressionism there is no representation of person, place, or object. With a focus on spontaneous, subconscious expression; Abstract Expressionism focuses on the medium itself and exists without representation of subject. That is to say that these paintings make no attempt to capture the reality of the physical world.

Because of this, as well as Modernist influences, abstract expressionists believe that when you create art you should create art that can only be done using that medium. In this way, Abstract Expressionism is a celebration of the medium.
 
For example: Jackson Pollock created engaging, complex paintings by dripping paint onto canvas, as well Mark Rothko who largely created works of large coloured blocks on coloured grounds.

Here is a work entitled Excavation, by Willem de Kooning showing some of the characteristics of the style…

excavation-by-willem-de-kooning

Abstract Expressionism Isn’t Art

Of course, there are many critics, many of them armchair critics, who like to mock the expressionists for their apparent lack of talent, saying that abstract expressionism isn’t art. It is perhaps easy to see why people would mock the expressionists, in that abstract expressionist artwork is not at all similar to typical realist paintings people have seen throughout history.
 
There are often no people, or things that are recognizable on the canvas, and this results in frustration, confusion, and anger. Abstract expressionists often approach their work in a way that many have described as childish, or easy to imitate.
 
Detractors of abstract expressionism are quick to point out that even they could do this type of art.

In addition to all of this debate, Abstract Expressionists have proudly created art void of any notion that it was the artist’s job to interpret their art, which only serves to make matters worse for the viewing public.
 
They instead left interpretation to their viewer, and often that conclusion is a strong dislike for the work, as the viewer has no way “in”.

While Abstract Expressionism has been highly regarded for its merit within the art community, it may be inaccessible to a wider audience outside of the art community who may be seeking something tangible within art which they can relate to.

Watch this TED Talk which discusses the idea that even your cat could be an abstract expressionist, should they so desire to be.


 

Pop Art

In contrast to this, Pop Art typically has a very clear subject in its works. In many ways, Pop Art was a reaction to Abstract Expressionism. Rather than trying to create art that is a reflection of the medium, Pop Art typically used screen printing in order to mass produce its works.

You Can’t Talk About Pop Art And Not Mention Andy Warhol

While Abstract Expressionism created a void of interpretation; Pop Art had themes of consumerism and commentary on mass production deeply ingrained into nearly every piece to come out of the movement. Pop Art draws on recognizable figures from mass media, and draws the audience in with the familiar but challenges them by having it presented in a new, novel fashion.
 
In fact, in his now famous studio simply called ‘the factory’, Andy Warhol had a production line of artists creating his now iconic art work. With Andy, it didn’t stop at mass producing artwork and even getting others to do the work for him (while still calling it his own), he touched on other mediums such as film, of which he has several underground “classics” as well, such as his film about the Empire State Building, which literally watches the lofty structure for 485 minutes.

Another famous artist from the pop art movement, Roy Lichtenstein, combined hand painting with the mass production style of pop-art. He would create the initial image by hand, and then project it onto canvas in order to trace the image.
 
His art was in the style of mass-produced comic book style and never before seen within the art community.

Roy Lichtenstein - Live Ammo (Blang!), 1962

Pop Art Vs. Abstract Expressionism

While Abstract Expressionism works explored art in it’s purest form (authentic, expressive, void of meaning); Pop Art challenged what one can consider to be art by using images appropriated from our culture that exist all around us.
 
Because of this, some critics were enraged by the Pop Art movement as they did not feel that the image of a soup can, nor comic book images to have artistic merit. So, while abstract expressionism seemed to really irritate people for one reason, pop art had a similar effect, but for entirely different reasons.
 
One reason we can isolate, perhaps, is that Andy Warhol had the gall to eat a burger and film it. The ending really is the best part here, as those of you with a healthy sense of irony and cynicism will no doubt realize.

 

 

Colors That Rankle The Serious Observer

The use of flat bold colours and sharp edge, caused additional criticism to pop art as it looked more like design than any recognizable art at the time. However, Pop Art was providing a much needed commentary on art.
 
Not only that, it was doing so in a very fun, light hearted way. In addition to providing commentary, Pop Art moved away from Abstract Expressionism in that by using contemporary images that were familiar to people which in turn made it much more accessible than Abstract Expressionism.

1950s-pop-art

This is not to say that Abstract Expressionism was not without it’s critics, Abstract Expressionism was challenging artistic conventions in its own way, with many critics feeling that the works were overly simplistic, and that it strayed too far from what was what had been established as art.

While both arestylistically divergent, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism can be seen as providing similar artistic catharsis by challenging artistic norms and creating a dialogue. It is fascinating that they are able to achieve this both while being stylistically and conceptually separate from one another.

We’ll leave you with this for now. Art about art. How postmodern!



 

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What Is Expressionism In Art? Hint: It may include prostitutes

metropolis-george-grosz-1917

Expressionism is one of a number of art “isms from the early 20th Century. The movement developed between 1905 and the 1920s and reflecting a number of crucial themes. Artists were deeply concerned about the state of the world and modern city life.

Despite having some doubts about Modernity, artists were still captivated by the more “immoral” activities of modern life.

Later Expressionist work responded to the aftermath of World War I and its devastating effect on humanity. Most Expressionists were German, although other artists worked out of Russia, Norway, Czechoslovakia and Austria. The movement was adopted in film, music, art and architecture.

Directors like Robert Weine and Fritz Lang used Expressionism in their set design, costume and marketing.

Here’s Robert Weine’s film “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari” from 1920. As you will see, the aesthetic of expressionism hints at darker themes, and traces of madness and illusion.

With expressionist architecture, there was a similar leaning as with film in that architects were concerned with new forms, innovation, but also a certain oddness that permeates some of the greatest works. Architects like Bruno Taut and Erich Mendelsohn also began to explore Expressionism, creating two of the most iconic works of the day.

Perhaps you are familiar with Bruno Taut’s “Glass Pavilion” from 1914 (shown below).

taut_glass_pavilion_exterior_1914

…or Erich Mendelsohn’s The Einstein Tower…

the-einstein-tower

At the turn of the century, a shift in style lead Expressionists to reject Impressionist ideas. Where Impressionism was a more optical response to art, Expressionist art became more visceral. These artists wanted to capture more than mere fleeting moments in time.

They set about placing spirituality and authenticity back into art.

With Claude Monet’s famous “Bridge Over A Pond Of Water” from 1899, we see an artist who is attempting to visually capture the essence of a place, using light and color, and is arguably the opposite of the type of more symbolic and deeply personal work that the Expressionists would explore not long after this time.

bridge-over-a-pond-of-water-lilies

This desire to look “inward” began around 1890. Post-impressionists like Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh questioned Impressionism’s need to only paint what they saw. Instead, they considered emotions, memories, and their background in order to connect to viewers on a deeper level.

By using colour and shape they expressed how they felt about the world around them. Paintings became more abstracted than before, and the artists started to look at the way paint was applied to the canvas surface.

Take a look at Paul Cezanne’s “Les Joueur De Cartes”, from 1892-95.

paul_cezanne_1892-95_les_joueurs_de_carte_the_card_players_60_x_73_cm_oil_on_canvas_courtauld_institute_of_art_london

So how did the Expressionists set about making their work feel more authentic? One way was to look at different cultures displayed in museums and at world fairs. Primitive art from both Oceania and Africa influenced the painting of faces and bodies.

19th-century-african-mask

Another way Expressionists made their art more “real” was by tapping into the intensity of their own emotions. Expressionism became an intensely personal body of work for these artists. Artists began to express their own reactions to the world with swirls and vigorous brush strokes.

New technology and massive urbanization altered peoples’ worldview, and the Expressionists were no exception. This migration to the larger cities brought new social problems that artists showed in their work.

 

New Schools For Artistic Expression

New schools of creative thought also emerged. Die Brücke (The Bridge) was formed in Dresden in 1905 continuing until 1913. The renowned artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner became the group’s spiritual conscience, and insisted on artists expressing their inner thoughts.

The work produced in Dresden mashed German art and Primitive African art with post-impressionist and fauvist influences.

die brucke

Other shared studios emerged in Berlin and Munich. Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider, 1911-14) was named after Kandinsky’s painting that graced the cover of the group’s manifesto. The school was established in Munich during 1911 where August Macke, Paul Klee and Franz Marc were major contributors .

These artists would become some of the most important artists of the movement.

blauereiter

New Objectivity

The third key group of Expressionists ran out of Berlin. The New Objectivity movement included Otto Dix and George Grosz who added a strong sense of Realism to their art. Their work was often satirical, commenting on wartime and post-war corruption.

This resignation and cynicism is seen in both Dix’s and Grosz’s works. Their “visual commentary” was aimed at the fruitlessness of World War I, and those who profited from the war.

Characteristics to look for:

Certain common characteristics are found across most Expressionist work. When you find yourself looking at any Expressionist work consider:

  • Expressionists were more spontaneous than other movements, and this is seen in the wildness of the brush strokes of many artists.
  • Colour – strong, vivid colours were used in much of the work, linking Expressionism to the Fauves’ use of intense colour.
  • Urban subject matter – including responses to migration, and the changes in technology and society at the time. The Expressionists has much to draw upon!
  • Objects were painted from an emotional inner sanctum. The artist drew upon this powerful emotion, often at the sacrifice of accuracy.
  • Figures and objects were often distorted and exaggerated (like that found in Oceanic and African Primitivist artefacts).
  • The importance of achieving harmony of forms was less important. Instead Expressionists concentrated on the highest intensity of expression possible
  • Swirls and the exaggeration of brush stroke create a sense of agitation. These techniques add to the vivid, jarring, distorted and exaggerated appearance of these works.
  • Extreme angles
  • Flattened forms

 

Themes -The City, Modernity and Alienation

metropolis-george-grosz-1917

The urban landscape of the early 20th Century became food for thought for some Expressionists. They started to paint their own reactions to the troubles of the modern world. These “painted social criticisms” of Modernity, highlighted the alienation of individuals who lived within the city.

This was seen in paintings by artists like George Grosz. His work commented on the social decay, alienation, and the corrupting force of Capitalism. Grosz’ paintings of prostitution for example, are visual commentaries on this social and moral decay.

 

Expressionist Works

Here is a selection of key Expressionist artists and their works. There are many great Expressionist paintings out there. Unfortunately, there are too many to show here. This is a small representative sample of different artistic styles from leading artists who worked within this movement.

Oskar Kokoschka – The Tempest (The Bride of the Wind), 1914

bride-of-the-wind-1914

(Characteristics: swirling forms, strong colour, spontaneous and exaggerated brush strokes, intensity of expression, flattening of forms)


Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Deutsch: Nollendorfplatz, 1912

kirchner_ernst_ludwig_3

(Characteristics: use of colour, the city as subject, strange distorted angles, exaggeration, flattening of the space)

Also by Kirchner is “Street, Berlin” from 1913…

(Characteristics: use of vivid colour, the city as subject, dense angular forms, flattened forms, influence of primitivism, jagged strokes, urban subject matter – a Berlin Street, including prostitutes)

Emile Nolde, A Long Time

a-long-time-emil-nolde

(Characteristics: use of vivid colour, expressive vigorous brush stokes, flattened forms)


Emil Nolde, The Prophet, 1912

emil-nolde-the-prophet

(Characteristics: the use of the wood cut was often used in Expressionist work. Jagged and distorted angles, Primitivism – a mask-like face, intense emotional impact- shown in the sunken eyes and hollow face, flattened form)


Wassily Kandinsky, Munich Schwabing Church of St Ursula

munich-schwabing-with-the-church-of-st-ursula-1908

(Characteristics: vivid strong colours, jagged angles of the buildings, flattening of form, spontaneous brushwork, urban subject – the factory and modernity)


Wassily Kandinsky, Concert

wassily-kandinsky-concert

(Characteristics: Clear use of bold vibrant colours, flattened space, expression of intensity, exaggeration of brush strokes)


August Macke, St Mary’s with Houses and Chimney, 1911

st-mary-s-with-houses-and-chimney-bonn

(Characteristics: strong use of colour, urban subject matter, distortion flattened forms, angular)


August Macke, Promenade, 1913

macke_promenade_gross

(Characteristics: flattened forms, distortion, bold and vivid colours, urban setting (walking in the Gardens), swirls and exaggerated brush strokes)


Franz Marc, The Large Blue Horse, 1911

franz-marc-the-large-blue-horses-1911-1349034265_b

(Characteristics: bold vibrant colours- purples reds pinks oranges and yellows, swirling motion of brush)


George Grosz, Suicide, 1916

george-grosz-suicide-1916

(Characteristics: Urban setting (alienation of his work seen in the dead man and the prostitute), vivid strong colours, extreme angles, flattened forms, jagged jarring and distorted)


George Grosz, Explosion, 1917

george-grosz-explosion-1917

This painting is also influenced by the Italian Futurists who were trying to capture the speed and violence of the city.

(Characteristics: Urban setting, vivid strong colours, extreme angles, flattened forms, jagged jarring and distorted)


Otto Dix, Picture of the Journalist Sylvia von Hardern, 1926

portrait-of-the-journalist-sylvia-von-harden-by-otto-dix

(Characteristics: Urban subject- journalist, flattened figure, distortion(face) and Primitive mask-like quality, intense use of strong colour, exaggeration of form (hands))

Other Expressionists worth investigating include: Marc Chagall, Max Beckmann, Lionel Feininger, Paul Klee, Max Pechstein, and Czech Alfred Kubin …

Expressionism’s Power To Influence

Expressionism inspired the work of new generations of expressionists in the second half of the Twentieth Century, namely Abstract Expressionists and Neo-expressionists.

Abstract Expressionism (AbEx)

Abstract Expressionism surfaced in the USA around 1945 and was particularly strong in New York during the post war period. The emotional outpourings of the artists have often been linked to the feelings of disillusionment, and horror, experienced after two world wars.

Mark Rothko, Light Red Over Black, 1967

light-red-over-black

Characteristics & Background

  • Developed in the U.S. that had now become the centre of avant-garde art in the world.
  • included work by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, amongst others
  • lack of defined figures
  • very gestural strokes of the paint brush, linked to earlier Expressionism
  • use of colour an essential part of the work
  • divided into colour-field painters, (Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman) and the more gestural works (Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning)

Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1952

Characteristics & Background

  • Rooted in German Expressionism and hit the world stage during the 1970s
  • Movement include US artists but also German, Italian and French artists
  • Revival of formal elements of both Expressionism and AbEx
  • Re-establishing subjectivist approach and the return to more personal expression by the artist
  • Flashy textural brush work and distorted figures re-emerge for the Expressionist movement
  • Works by Julian Schnabel and Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter and Francesco Clemente in particular

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting (809-4),1994

gerhard-richter-abstract-painting-809-4