Sunday, May 29, 2011

on Cubism without genuflecting

My professor of painting at Academy at the beginning of each fall semester delivered a lecture on cubism. It was his firm opinion that without understanding rudimental principles of cubism there could be no understanding of Modern Art and any student of his atelier had the task to absorb these principles. It seemed as if there in front of us, aspiring to be artists a vast new world was about to be unveiled, shimmering with unlimited creativity and uncharted realms for artistic discoveries. What thrill, what heady joy!
Within next quarter of an hour he drew a table with chopped parts showing both  front view as well as back, or sides- something crippled and put forcefully together . He explained that cubism, unlike all the art before allows showing far more about an object, indeed all we can know or observe about it. Filtered light from the skylight shone on those beautiful faces of youth rapped in communal sense of understanding: we want fervently to be part of that aesthetic progress, creative freedom and spanking-new modernity. Seeing and painting reality with the same eyes as some uninitiated plumber or a naïve cleaning maid- oh, no; that would be falling down, back in time into the beat-up bin of used-up, soiled, exhausted descriptions of the visible world.
When I looked inside of my mind I realized I could not be a table-chopper, cubifier of reality no matter how much creativity and discovery it suppose to contain.It struck me that cubism is only pretending to be serious inquiry about visible world while in fact it was no more than a silly “style” leaving in its wake tornado-tossed piles of chopped faces,objects [mostly Spanish guitars and flattened lemons] hardly inviting a second glance.

It is probably true that there would never be Gothic style without Romanesque style preceding it. Gothic could only grow out of Romanesque architecture. Art history has to look at the emergence of cubism differently. Art historians who wrote on the subject portray the emergence of cubism as if it was an organic, necessary consequence of progressive march of modern art that lead from Cezanne to Braque and Picasso and on.
Far from any historical necessity cubism was born the very way that any seasonal fashion does: by the whimsy, caprice of audacious fashion-designer. It could have been ‘everything elongates”, or “ let’s paint blimpy people against a skinny backgrounds”, or “from now on we flatten everything as if  it was run-over by a steam-roller” but we will not call it a hoot; we shall call it a new style, straight from Paris.
To my knowledge only penetrating and independent mind of Paul Johnson[in “New Art History”] wrote of cubism as “fashion” rather than style.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Natural Shapes

However much I delight in reading from time to time d’Arcy W. Thompson’s “On Growth and Form” I believe he overstates the effects of physical forces on shapes that nature takes. Certainly the physical laws are constraining, making only some shapes possible but the very shapes, the body-plans, the designs are not originating within them. The origins have other source. Having the same, exactly the same materials and exactly the same external conditions should result in the same outcomes, but that is not the case. Far from it: nature produces endless varieties under the same physical limitations.
There are 616 kinds of radiolaria, all running away from any proximity of simplicity and all fancifully different, excessive, overdecorated, taunting anyone who ever wanted to find randomness in nature.
                                                    Ernst Haeckel illustrated 400 of them.

And below are some examples of diatoms as shown on photographs from Advanced Architectural Studies of Catalonia:
Some fifty years after Ernst Haeckel’s drawings another book of great and lasting influence was published in Germany, Karl Blossfeldt’s “Art Forms in Nature”. This time they were black and white close-up photographs of plants.
Perhaps because Blossfeldt was a sculptor his images show monumentality, solidity and some quality that might be described as proto-architecture or “ur-form”.

                          And three splendid portraits of vegetables by a British gardener Charles Jones:

Like two sides of human face, which never match exactly and yet form harmonious symmetry Blossfeldt's and Jones's close-up photographs show both great regularity as well as minute deviations from absolute symmetry or regularity. That quality makes natural shapes “natural”. Human eye trained from birth to distinguish real, natural shapes from artifice spots fakes instantly. To learn drawing is to bring onto paper all the observed descriptions of the natural shapes in view. At times when observation of natural forms is rejected in favor of some arbitrary style Apollo weeps.
Process of drawing encompasses many tasks but the very central one is that drawing is a concentrated, committed, passionate dedication to know the world. Without the close observation that drawing provides one is no more than a tourist in the temple: smiling approvingly, strolling about and taking in the sights but not seeking intimate engagement, just amusedly passing by on the way to the Final Bus.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

European Figurative Sculpture XX century

There is so much excellence in figurative sculpture of XX century in Europe I am at great pain having to limit all that splendid art-work to a sampling due to constrains of a little blog. From the rocks of Gibraltar to the Ural Mountains figurative sculptors were still chipping away marbles and making plaster molds for bronzes as if fourth century B.C. in Attica was just yesterday.

Enric Casanovas

Gerhard Henning

Kurt Schmid-Ehmen

Anton Hanak                                   

                                                                 Charles Despiau

Marnix D'Haveloose

Aristide Maillol.

Arno Brecker

Paul Lewandowski

Alfred Auguste Janniot

Paul-Francois Niclausse

Francis Derwent Wood

Alfred Gilbert

Thomas Brock

Pier Pander

Adolph von Hildebrand

Imre Csikasz

Vanja Radaus

William Reid Dick

Stephan Sinding

The selection above shows sculptors who were adhering very closely to the observation of the models with strong conviction that strict realism makes truth beautiful.
Now let us look at art of those sculptors with visions propelling them away from strict realism and imbuing their sculptures with expressiveness uniquely their own.

Antoine Bourdelle

Ernst Barlach

George Minne

Francesco Messina

Venanzio Crocetti

Jan van Luyn
Libero Andreotti

Leon Ernest Drivier


Stanisław Szukalski

Quirino Ruggieri


                                                                        Katte Kollwitz

                                                                      Gustav Vigeland

                                                                    Renee Letourneur

                                                      Giacomo Manzu 

Quite different culture is represented here than the one that proclaims Alexander Calder’s play-pen doo-dads to be great art, would you agree?