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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Numb and Alive


Alexi von Jawlensky, Schokko, oil on board mounted canvas, 1910.
This piece evokes drama. Although the woman depicted is emotionally dead, the bold colors create the emotion instead. Reduced to simple lines and stark primary colors, there’s still intensity in Jawlensky’s methods.

The woman’s face is mask-like in her facial features and sickly green color. Her eyes are mere slits seeing out into the world and her lips are slightly puckered with inner-thought. The nose is long and droops with the oval shape of her face.

The portrait of the woman is intended to depict a well-dressed and well-off woman of the ages, but instead illustrates a lifeless form with life only in the bold contrasts of color.

The woman’s hat adds vibrancy to the image with flowers and loud feathers around the brim of the hat. The hat, in itself, is probably the most energy-infused aspect of the portrait.

Her dress is much simpler in contrast. The shape of the dress is just a tombstone outline with a neck stuck on top of it, suggesting it's lifeless nature. The square, possibly lace, neckline essentially cuts off the neck of the woman. There’s no hint towards a sexual meaning in this closed off neckline.

Besides the restraining neckline, there is also the ribbon tied around the middle of her neck which more obviously implicates the idea that this woman is being suppressed or marginalized in some sense. Tied as if physically straining her from speech, the idea that there is a pent-up issue, is made clear.

This piece was titled in reference to the model’s request for hot chocolate, or Schokko. Without the back-story, hot chocolate as the title of this painting would seem ironic to me because everything about this image is chaotically spicy while a title like hot chocolate would imply that the image would be in warm shades of brown.

As a whole, this painting interprets this idea that even in the most emotionally numb times in our lives, we can still appear to be full of energy simply by the colors we evoke, just as in Jawlensky's work. Put in the right vibrant pink backdrop of the world, the dullest red and the most lifeless face can appear cheerful.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Good Life


David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967, acrylic on canvas.


This should be a movie still from The Graduate. A classic 60s, clean line house in the background, the breezy Californian palm trees standing tall and a perfectly geometric pool screams the good life of Ben Braddock.

I imagine the splash in the pool belongs to Dustin Hoffman. After a mid-night run in with Mrs. Robinson, he jumped off the diving board as a sort of a re-birth to cleanse his wrong-doings.

Outside of the undeniable resemblance to The Graduate, there is a certain moment that this painting is depicting. This splash in the pool is a fleeting moment where Dustin Hoffman, in our case, jumps in the pool to escape from life for one short second. Unseen by the viewer, the only trace of the person is the big splash. Dramatic.

It’s a childhood dream of ours, that has still stuck with me, to flee when we’ve done something we regret. Even when we simply want to fall off the face of the earth for just a second. Hockney depicts this escape as a splash, in a picturesque setting.

There is also a pop art element to this painting. The symmetrical, contrasting planes of color have a pop art sense that was quickly becoming the art of the moment.

However, there is more depth than in Andy Warhol’s pop art work because of the details and also because it’s not a portrait. It's far from a portrait because their is no visible subject.

A shadow of the neighborhood shines from the mirror-like windows and the empty director’s chair creates a notion that the person jumping in the pool is important. Also, the splash itself has a lyrical dimension as the thin lines almost look like abstract body forms.

Whether that emblematic splash is Dustin Hoffman’s or my own, it’s executed beautifully and, most importantly, portrays that brief instant where we can truly be invisible.