Showing posts with label Picabia (Francis). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Picabia (Francis). Show all posts

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rainbow Connection: Rock Music Illuminated by Andi Watson

“It never phased him that we’d call out different tunes from the stage and change the set around endlessly to stop from being bored,” Radiohead front man Thom Yorke says of the group’s lighting and stage designer Andi Watson. “It meant that it became less of a show of self aggrandizement for the artist, impressing an audience for its own sake and filling a huge space, and more a response to what was really happening musically night by night.” In Bullet Proof... I Wish I Was: The Lighting and Stage Design of Andi Watson, Christopher Scoates and others examine just how Watson sculpts light to help audience connect with the music of acts such as Lenny Kravitz, Oasis, Counting Crows, and especially Radiohead, with whom Watson’s worked since meeting them in 1993 up to and including their last tour in support of In Rainbows. Using the whole spectrum of aesthetics and technology, Watson’s “rainbow connection” with audiences not only draws heavily from artistic influences of the past, but also spotlights a brighter, greener future for the field of lighting and stage design. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Rainbow Connection."

[Many thanks to Chronicle Books for providing me with the image above and a review copy of Bullet Proof... I Wish I Was: The Lighting and Stage Design of Andi Watson by Christopher Scoates, with a foreword by Thom Yorke and essays by Dick Hebdige and J. Fiona Ragheb.]

[All apologies to Kermit the Frog for borrowing the title of his hit song for the title of this post.]

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sibling Rivalry

What must it have been like growing up the brother of Marcel Duchamp? Gaston Duchamp, better known as Jacques Villon, must have felt overshadowed at times by his little brother, twelve years his junior. Born July 31, 1875, Villon took his new name in honor of French poet François Villon and set out to create his own type of poetry separate from that of his famous sibling Marcel and his lesser-known artistic siblings Raymond and Suzanne. In prints such as The Cards (above, from 1903), Villon shows his debt to the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose stunning graphic style swept through Europe and changed the way Villon and other graphic artists who followed went about their work. While Marcel delved into the deep thought experiments of Dada and Surrealism, Villon traveled in Fauvist, Cubist, and Abstract Impressionist circles, slowly moving away from the Post-Impressionism of Toulouse-Lautrec to a more modern look.

Villon excelled at printmaking and etching. The Checker Table (above, from 1920) shows Villon trying his hand at Cubist etching. (I wonder if Villon and Marcel, famous for his love of chess, ever squared off over a board or two.) The board and the table it rests on seem to be disassembling themselves off into space, much like Marcel’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 painted eight years earlier. Like Marcel and so many other European artists, the 1913 Armory Show served as a coming out party for Villon, introducing his art to an American audience for the first time. While some of those artists met resistance from the American markets, Villon found a second home and acceptance for his more accessible Cubist works such as The Checker Table.

While Marcel always seemed to be an art movement unto himself, always wary of labels and the very nature of institutionalized art itself, Villon seems more at home in groups, helping others find an audience. Although Marcel and Raymond also helped form the Puteaux Group that included Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay, and Fernand Leger, Villon more than his brothers organized the Section d'Or exhibitions that brought those innovative artists to the public eye. In Villon’s Self-Portrait from the 1950s (above), he seems almost forbidding, perhaps poking fun at his open, inviting character. Marcel always seems to be in exile from himself and art, while Villon always seems secure in his place in the world and art-making. Perhaps the younger brother could have learned a few things from his older brother. Just the choice of the graphic medium, with its easy reproduction and often illustrative nature, speaks of Villon’s greater desire to communicate in contrast to his still-befuddling, often overshadowing younger brother.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Series of Tubes

An artist that should find a place in U.S. Senator Ted Stevensheart, Fernand Leger took the Cubism of Braque and Picasso and rounded it off, creating his own form of Cubism later known as Tubism. (And, no, surfers did not call it “tubular.”) Born February 4, 1881, Leger painted works such as The Card Players (above, from 1914) while still under the influence of Italian Futurism. In The Card Players, Leger creates players more machine than human, consisting of a series of tubes connected together more than anything resembling flesh and blood. A friend of other abstract artists such as Robert Delaunay and Francis Picabia, Leger painted in an increasingly abstract style up to his involvement in World War I, which changed his work immensely as the marriage of man and machine no longer seemed like such a fine idea.

After the war, Leger returned to a more classical style of painting in works such as Three Women (above, from 1921). The rounded forms and cylinders of Tubism remain, but Leger paints here flesh and blood rather than the cold, hard steel of The Card Players. Like many artists between the wars, Leger couldn’t return to a purely abstract style or develop a purely classical one, so he creates hybrids such as Three Women, a unique take on the nude that borrows from everyone from the Greeks up to Cezanne in portraying the nude female body. Whereas some of his abstract brethren, such as Picabia, followed the path of chaos even further after the Great War, Leger stepped back from the precipice and reevaluated his art.

While living in the United States during World War II, Leger became less and less abstract in his style, creating works such as Three Musicians (above, from 1944). Like Picasso’s Three Musicians , Leger takes advantage of the interplay of the three figures and their instruments to create interesting contrasts of color and shape. Unlike Picasso, one of the sources of his early Tubist Cubism, Leger no longer relies on heavy distortion of the human form. Their faces are stylized masks in many ways, but nothing like the excessive primitivism of Picasso’s faces. Near the end of his life, Leger turned to Socialism in hopes of making a better world. His desire to bring a sense of humanity to the often cruel twentieth century succeeded in humanizing his art.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Paint It Black

In the 1970s, despairing over the fate of his art and his country, Leon Golub destroyed all of his paintings, wiping the slate clean. Born January 23, 1922, Golub underwent a second birth in that act, freeing himself to protest and document what he saw as the crimes against humanity committed by the United States of America. His Napalm Flag (above, from 1974) drenches the American flag metaphorically in the napalm used so mercilessly by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War. As Philip Guston targeted Richard Nixon through his art, Golub aimed more widely, targeting the whole dehumanizing process of war sanitized by the ideology of flags and nationality. From his great moment of doubt, Golub discovered a sense of purpose that would populate his art, sadly, for the next thirty years.

During the Reagan years of the 1980s, the era of Iran-Contra and Sandinistas, Golub turned his attention to the dynamics of terrorism and tourture. His Interrogation (above, from 1981) belongs to a whole suite of images of figures intimidating and torturing hooded victims. Although his figures are set in Central American conflicts, there’s a universality to Golub’s depictions that recall the brutality of the Nazis and presciently look ahead to the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. In The Abu Ghraib Effect, Steven F. Eisenman cites Golub’s work as one of the few examples working against the prevalent ostensibly pro-torture history of Western art. (My review of The Abu Ghraib Effect is here.) Sadly, where Picasso could impact hearts and minds with his Guernica, Golub’s works never gained the recognition required to make a difference, robbed of the necessary oxygen by a media complicit in the injustices.

Before his death in 2004, Golub summed up the meaning of his work: "I'm not going to change our country. . . I'm not trying to influence people as much as trying to make a record. I like the notion of reportage. I hope that in 50 or 100 years from now my work will still be telling a record of what Americans were doing in terms of force, domination, world interest. It's not a large part of history, but it's a crucial part." I’m not sure if Golub never intended to make a difference or finally resigned himself to mere documentation, but he never stopped painting injustice. In The Black Does Not Interrupt the Killing (above, from 2002), Golub smears black paint over a scene of a gun-wielding man grasping the arm of an unseen figure, mimicking the American media’s ability to black out or cover over injustice done in the name of “homeland security” or “the war on terror.” Although Golub’s work has been nearly covered over in our time, I wouldn’t be surprised if many years from now, when the real histories of our era are written, he emerges as the Goya of late twentieth century America.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stop Making Sense

Few artists made less sense yet said more in their careers than Francis Picabia. Born January 22, 1879, Picabia helped bring Dada to America and the world with works such as Portrait de femme aux allumettes, No. 1 (above, from 1923), in which Picabia creates a woman’s face with match sticks for hair and safety pins for eyes, repurposing those household items to create a wholly new way of looking at the human face. Marcel Duchamp hailed Picabia as the individual who bridged Europe and America for many artists as they fled the madness of World War I. Like Duchamp and his other Surrealist friend Man Ray, Picabia lived his life of Dada nonsense, rejecting the world that itself seemed to no longer act rationally.

Like the Italian Futurists, Picabia embraced the machine as the answer to all of the excesses of romantic humanism, creating works such as Machine Turn Quickly (above, from 1916-1918) as the wheels of destruction decimated Europe and wiped out a generation (including most of the Futurist artists themselves). Unlike the Futurists, Picabia knew when to stop, rejecting the dogma of the cult of the machine the same way he rejected all ideology and authority. Picabia actually began studying art with Alfred Sisley in the Impressionist style and later fell under the influence of the Cubists, but shed each of those influences in his personal journey to something uniquely his own.

In addition to painting and sculpture, Picabia wrote poetry, little of which has been translated into English and, from what I understand, wouldn’t make much sense if it was. In the 1930s, Picabia traveled in the French social circles surrounding Gertrude Stein and her literary salon, adopting the difficult, multilayered style of writing that he translated into paintings such as Hera (above, from 1929). Picabia creates a sense of three-dimensionality and depth through the multiple portraits superimposed upon one another, a form of Cubism that “surrounds” the figure yet, unlike classic Cubism, leaves the figure itself intact. Despite seeing Hera’s face several times, you never see her fully at any given time. Picabia always denies you the satisfaction of a connection. Picabia’s life itself denies you the same satisfaction, bordering often on nihilism in his Dadaist rejection of rationality but simultaneously and frustratingly suggesting the possibility of some great answer hidden beneath.