Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"We float like two lovers in a painting by Chagall"

Marc Chagall, Above the Town, 1887, oil on canvas.

I’m a big fan of The Weepies. Their song, Painting by Chagall, has always struck me as romantic and raw but I’d never seen in any work by Chagall so the exact meaning and symbolic nature of the song I was unsure of.

It all makes sense now.

The chorus-
“Sometimes rain that's needed falls
We float like two lovers in a painting by Chagall
All around is sky and blue town
Holding these flowers for a wedding gown
We live so high above the ground, satellites surround us.”

Beautiful and idyllic without Chagall’s painting in mind, Above the Town makes the lyrics all the more enchanting. The two lovers in the painting could be on their way to elope or simply on a voyage on the gusts of love. Either way, it’s all equally charming to me. Maybe even wishful thinking. But that’s what Chagall’s paintings were all about.

Chagall was known for capturing somewhat whimsical scenes. This painting touches on the essence of childhood with simple lines and warm colors while still carrying an air of complexity with the mere subject matter of two lovers.

The Weepies song ends with the line, “Still everybody says that if they had the chance they'd fly like we do.”

Who knows, maybe Chagall was trying to say that love can make you feel like a kid; free. And who wouldn’t want that?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Parisian Evening

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Ball at the Moulin de la Galette, 1876, oil on canvas

This image depicts a day in the life of a Parisian evening at the famous dance hall in 1876. Couples dancing, groups talking and drinks flowing, Ball at the Moulin de la Galette portrays one of Renoir’s most favorite subjects.

The bodies and faces of the subjects are muddled but this was part of Renoir’s technique, not a flaw. As an impressionist painter, he worked closely with Claude Monet and their influence upon each other is obvious. Renoir was interested in the patterns and shapes light makes as it catches his subjects dancing about and socializing.

Splotches of diluted color or extra saturated color make patterns on the faces and elegant outfits. The splotchy technique that Renoir loved to experiment with creates this mood of intimacy where the viewer simply sees figures instead of individual characters. It is just as a viewer from a block away would see this image in the present time of 1876.

The faces and individual people are less important than the impact of the entire group of young, fun Parisians. In Renoir’s use of his “rainbow palette” the painting still has dimension and life which, otherwise, would have had a good possibility of being obsolete because there is no interesting or clear central figure.

Shades of pink-reds, dusty blues and charcoal create an image full of life. In Renoir’s great artistic ability, he could turn an unclear depiction of social life into a piece full of buzz and conviction.

His friends, being some of the subjects in the painting, act as Renoir’s more decipherable figures in the painting. Also in focus are the city light poles.

Just as the light defines the technique and mood of the painting, so do his friends. A social scene rooting at the core of the painting, Renoir’s friends are also part of this root.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

No beginning. No end.

Jackson Pollock, Number IA, 1948, oil on canvas

Pollock is a true innovator in the art world. Although violent in method, and also said to be violent in person, he gave an entirely new light to the already popularized method of Abstract Expressionism.

The piece says chaos and drama and evokes an unmatched feeling of pandemonium that you simply can not look away from.

This technique he created is called Action Painting and allows Pollock himself become a part of the painting by pouring and flinging paint onto an unstretched canvas with sticks or knives. The technique ultimately creates an entanglement of lines and blotches almost like a bundle of nerves in your brain all perfectly color coded.

The color palette, in itself, is dark and austere. The only color that really stands out from the giant cluster is the smears of rust on the bottom left.

A mere splash of color, the rust offers life into an otherwise monochromatic painting. Monochromatic should not be confused with dull however seeing that this painting is full of emotional expression and freedom.

Pollock was quoted as saying, “I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them…I can control the flow of paint: there is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end.”

Pollock didn’t need to represent his dark emotions by drawing a figure drinking in a dark room alone. Instead, with abstract lines and curves he created a similar emotion in a much more subdued way.

Pollock’s seemingly troublesome life ended in 1956 in car crash. He had an immeasurable talent that has been mimicked for years now but never in quite the same honest, moving manner.

Some might argue that this isn’t art, just scribbles of paint. However, it’s the way the lines fuse together and colors scream of helplessness that the painting is so much more than a mess. It’s a mess that represents the artisit's life.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Emil Nolde, Red Poppies, 1920, watercolor on paper

This is a splotchy image of a perfect flower.

Nolde depicted the raw beauty of red poppies in a way that had been previously untouched. Before his expressive interpretation of the poppy, this image would have been rendered with more classical techniques.

Paintings were expected to be accurate and not necessarily artistic before his time, however Nolde did not see art in this way and was hence one of the first Expressionists.

The poppies ooze expression and emotion, just as the category Noble painted in suggests, with his watercolor technique. There is a quality of imperfection within its artistic value. Smeared watercolor paint blur sharp lines into beautifully bleeding lines, and yet still keeps its artistic integrity. At no point does the viewer think, “A first grader definitely must have painted this.”

If anything, the imperfection of the piece makes it relatable to a broader span of viewers. Just as our lives our sometimes messy, smeared or flawed, there is always someone that will see beauty in that whether it be a significant other, a friend or a god.

The shades of pinks and reds clash as they merge together in the composition and the green from the vines have smeared into the center of some of the flowers which is completely sloppy usually avoided at all costs. Artistically, this watercolor is everything we try to steer clear of.

It’s a prime example of our lives. We grow from the vines and smear paths with other friends, lovers and family, which all leave stains, but somehow we continue to grow and sway towards different paths to repeat the process again and again. We try to avoid it but the just as watercolors bleed irrepressibly, so do our lives.

Although it sounds tragic, it’s clear to see in the watercolor, Red Poppies, that this vicious life cycle of hurt, pain, memories and growth is absolutely beautiful and often essential.

Friday, October 30, 2009

True of False

Rene Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1928-9, oil on canvas.

"C’est n’est pas une pipe."

Having taken French the majority of my college career, this is an easy translation for me. Magritte wrote on the bottom of his painting, “This is not a pipe.”

You might be saying to yourself, this is definitely a pipe. However he meant it to be read in a literal sense. The piece of work is not a pipe; it’s an image of a pipe.

You can’t use the pipe to smoke tobacco with nor can you actually pick it up in your hands. It’s a representation, image, fa├žade. By this, Magritte was questioning the “standard” rules and stigmas of society with a simple statement about a pipe. He evokes further thought in a social context with an image that did not need a descriptive statement to begin with.

By challenging what most would assume to be a pipe, the artist questions what is real and what is simply a mirage. This isn’t just referring to the inanimate but can also be applied to the society as a whole.

In a world surrounded by people who say one thing and mean something else, act one way when they act another way around someone else, promise with empty promises and cave in to what’s the norm when that is simply not who they are, is a daily struggle for me to wrap my head around. Magritte had this same struggle and almost made a parody of it with this image.

His artistic skill is also notable. What makes the message behind the piece articulate is his accuracy in painting. The pipe looks real and has this sort of commercial feel as well. Magritte’s artistic skill and technique is definitely up to par with his social activism.

The Treachery of Images goes along with this idea that art is more than something good to look at. Art acts as a social message, that is very effective in conveying a message in a non-intrusive medium. You can choose to see behind the image of the pipe or simply take the image for its face value.

Either way, there are always two ways to look at the world. Accept what you see or question it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Abstract Modern

Morris Louis, Alpha Phi, 1961, acrylic on canvas.

This painting conveys abstract painting at its finest. Simple, clean and bright this painting is something I imagine seeing at Ikea as one of their many mass-produced canvases. While there’s something ordinary and unoriginal about this painting, at the same time, the technique used to create Alpha Phi makes it truly unique.

This is literally a one-shot technique. Louis would pour paint down the two bottom end corners of the canvas, leaving the center of the canvas bare. There were no re-dos once the acrylic paints were poured. The technique is abstract visually but concrete theoretically.

There’s a sense of flatness in the painting as there is no complete image or message. There is simply an idea on the canvas. A thought. Some lines. And the lines lead the eyes into the center of nothingness.

Louis used an interesting perspective that, to me, conveys an open spatial emotion that is refreshing. Where most artists have visions of grandeur and intricate scenes, meanings and frames, Louis uses the lines and blankness to speak for itself. It represents however much the viewer chooses to dig into.

In a museum in London or in the living room of an uber-chic, uber-clean lined California home, the painting is applicable to any intellectual perspective. The image could simply be a fun-colored zebra print, or much more as a symbolic image of life and death.

It’s in the simplicity that I see so much more than a living room piece. To me, the lines Louis poured are like the lines on you hand, each one a symbol and measure of a trait, and even bigger, a life journey. The lifelines, if you will, hit this middle space of void where what is to come is ambiguity. It’s for you to journey through and find.

This beautiful abstract piece illustrates an abstract idea of life and what’s to come. Sometimes the blank space on a canvas can say a hundred times more than a fortune of someone else’s future by a painter.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Love in the Eye of the Beholder

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907, Oil on canvs.

My first impression of this piece is that it’s a train wreck. It’s ultra mod with the mosaic titled bodies and somewhat haunting with the odd shapes of the bodies as well as the odd, muted choice of colors.

Despite all of my pre-conceived, negative thoughts about this piece, The Kiss, I can’t help but love it. It’s ultra-mod; but that’s what makes its fresh and interesting to the eye. The forms of the man and woman and discoloration of their flesh is peculiar; but that’s why I’m entranced by it. Strangely, all of its negative points are also its strong points.

The squared mosaics on the man’s body and the swirls on the woman’s body almost acts as a key to the painting as if the female and male are coded. The languid position of the woman is somehow romantic and endearing while the male is, although brash with his hands and face pushed against the woman’s, somehow endearing too.

The image of the two essentially represents a passionate love. The woman’s eyes are shut, her feet are popped up and she’s sitting in a field of flowers which is the ideal setting for any self-proclaimed princess. Realistic aspects like these make such a daunting painting relatable.

This chaotic, overly-dramatic, sometimes even called pornographic painting played a big role in the Vienna Succession which was a movement against the traditional notions of art. Although this bold painting was unrecognized and misunderstood at the time, now it’s similar to the work you’d find in a chic art gallery in New York.

Ahead of its time, this is essentially a mythical, idealized image of love. Perfect in its own right, this kiss of evident passion is simply Klimt’s idea of romanticism. While ours may include a couple glasses of wine, a starlit sky and an adoring embrace, we all have our own image of love.