Thursday, 14 November 2013

Facing the Modern Exhibition - National Gallery

The interest in this exhibition for me was to see portraits by Gustave Klimt and Egon Scheile, although the thrust of the exhibition was to explore portraiture in the light of the historic background of the Austro-Hungarian empire, focusing on Vienna.  Through the portraits it is possible to gauge the impact of social economic changes during the period up to the First World War, when ideologies were see-sawing, from relative equality and liberalism in the late 1800s to the collapse of the Empire after the First World War, when Makart was producing traditional portraiture.

The fortunes of new immigrants led to the desire for family portraits.  These were initially painted in the traditional style.  As tensions started to display themselves with the move away from modern multi-culturalism, families were confined to their homes and the portraits of the time displayed some of those tensions, particularly through the portraits of artists like Egon Schiele.  Some artists used themselves, their family and friends as models in order to explore new ways of painting.

There is a typical 'Victorian' macabre interest in death and deathbed portraiture which coincided with the increasing pessimism felt by dispossessed. At this period the mood was echoed by the loss of Klimt and Schiele, the latter died as a consequence of the worldwide Spanish 'Flu epidemic. Some of the work by artists was therefore unfinished or abandoned, suggesting the failure of the Empire.  Nonetheless, the innovative art that was explored at the time sets a regenerative tone to the historic context.

The work of Schiele, for me stood out and I was impressed by the beauty of the subtle colour and  bold brushwork.  Klimt had produced two in memorium paintings of a young girl, the first was rejected by the family who commissioned a second which depicts the girl as living and smiling.  The original remained more moving though less colourful.  It was also interesting to see a Klimt worked in a very traditional David/Ingres style.

The Kokoshka portraits displayed the style that would eventually mark him out as an Expressionist painter reminiscent of The Tempest.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Calligraphic Painting

Calligraphic painting follows on from biomorphic painting and there is a fine line between the two at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Paul Klee's They're biting, makes an interesting comparison with one of Archile Gorky's paintings, which features lamps and what looks like a ceiling fan.  The forms grow from biomorphic shapes, and likewise with Klee, although one can identify the fish etc. the shapes are almost biomorphic. Klee's painting Cosmic Flora of 1923 hints at callibraphic marks.

Stuart Davis in 1924 was probably the first to introduce text and advertising with his Odol painting, wich eventually led to Pop art.  Charles Demuth was also painting at this time and in 1928 painted I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold. Even earlier, Joseph Stella, in his Battle of Lights, Coney Island painted in 1914 introduced calligraphy for the name of the Park.

Franz Klein painted large black paintings which featured calligraphic shapes which are almost Eastern in influence. He uses calligraphic marks quite differently from other artists by enlarging them and painting them in black as the only subject matter of the painting.

Willem de Kooning also used a mixture of biomorphic and calligraphic motifs in his work which is identified as action painting because of these interesting gestural marks which have been worked at speed.

Adolph Gottlieb's painting, The Alchemist, uses symbols and pseudo textural marks in a grid construction, and in this particular case it relates to the subject of the painting as the symbols are scientific in character.

Jasper John's uses calligraphic text in his painting Periscope, and in his readymades.  He also uses text for Savarin, the name of the Toffee tin, as well as beer cans and the figures in  work that alludes to dollar bills. Any Warhol, uses text on soup tins in the same way, and of course text appears when using collage, particularly Richard Hamilton.

It's difficult to define Jackson Pollock's work as calligraphic, I would say more biomorphic, and in this way he uses paint in a similar way to Willem de Kooning, and later Frank Stella.

Robert Cottingham's photorealistic work features text but in an illustrative way, not as a motif, in much the same way that Roy Lichtenstein includes it as " speech bubble" text.

Cy Twombly uses text a lot in his paintings and of course many  Conceptual Artists do to, particularly with Blinkey Palermo's Latitude and Date paintings.

Action Painting, White Painting, All-over Painting

Jackson Pollock, Naked Man with Knife, Moon Woman cuts the Circle
Willem de Kooning, Nude Figue, Woman

Mark Tobey, Northwest Drift
Cy Twombley, Untitled

Lee Krasner, Untitled
Ad Reinhaardt, Abstract Painting, Red