Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Free Radical

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (above) today seems like the comfort food of Post-Impressionism. Georges Seurat, born on December 2, 1859, spent over two years painting it, from 1884 to 1886, meticulously implementing his Pointillist technique, which he termed Chromoluminarism. Whenever I look at it I hear the gentle piano works of Erik Satie. However, both Seurat and Satie were the radicals of their time, disrupting the status quo artistically with their bold new ideas regarding art and music. Whether this radical art reflected Seurat’s possibly radical politics remains a mystery.

Paul Signac, Seurat’s friend and fellow pointillist, painted a befriended his fellow anarchist Felix Feneon. Feneon, in turn, saw Seurat’s La Grand Jatte as a revolutionary statement on class conflict in France. Feneon saw sarcasm in Seurat’s depiction of the moneyed classes. Seurat remained silent throughout his short life on such issues, preferring to concentrate on his revolutionary art. The MOMA’s current exhibition of Seurat’s drawings, such as At the Concert Européen (above, from 1886), shows his amazing draftsmanship, which reproduced in graded shades of grey the same effect he achieved in points of color. Seurat’s drawings almost appear like ghostly photographs, with the figures melting into the shadows around them.

Seurat died of causes still under dispute in 1891, leaving works such as Circus (above) unfinished. Dead at the age of 31, he painted in the pointillist style for a brief 8 years. Like so many other artistic movements, Seurat’s pointillism involved a utopian dream, specifically the belief that color could be used to create harmony and emotion the same way that musical notes created harmony and emotional effects in music. In the final analysis, Seurat’s radical scheme longed for the status of comfort food all along, a harmonious experience as soothing as Satie’s compositions. Where Seurat would have taken his art had he lived longer is a great “what if?” Signac lived long enough to find the bold colors of proto-Fauvism creep into his pointillism. Would Seurat’s misty Island of La Grand Jatte have glowed with neon, acid color? Would we know Seurat at all if his work had taken that same turn?

No comments: