Thursday, 18 September 2014


Georges Seurat developed his individual style of painting using dots of contrasting colours close to each other so that they would merge visually in the eye of the spectator.  His idea was that it would produce a brighter effect.  In fact the process was rather laborious and ended up with rather dead paintings.  He also wanted to remove the Romantic element that people like Degas and Monet had introduced with Impressionism.  This effectively led to a flatter painting that might be said to be one of the many pre-cursors to abstract painting.

His style was emulated by Paul Signac who used Pointillist techniques in a slightly different way, placing cool and warm colours beside each other, the strokes were more like small dashes than dots.  They result still lead to pictures that lacked animation and liveliness.

Matisse tried this technique only once as far as I can see and Pissarro too introduced it into his work for a short while, but after the freedom of the Impressionist style of painting, both artists eventually abandoned it and returned to the freer more expressive style. Howard Hodgkin uses the dot almost as a construction.

Dots, however, have always had an attraction for artists even to the present day.  Roy Lichtenstein used the Benday dot emulating the comic print process in his work.  Aboriginal painting consists only of dots arranged in mystical patterns.  Ellsworth Kelly painted Spectrum Colour arranged by Chance, and of course Damien Hirst spent sometime developing Spot Paintings, which some people said was a way of  printing  money.  One of his Spot Paintings was sent up in Beagle 2, but the space craft was lost in 2004 – maybe it is still out there somewhere in deep space.  Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist, uses the polka dot almost exclusively in her work.  

It begs the question, what is it about the spot or dot which captivates the artist? The circle is a natural eternal form which at the same time is enclosing, it hints at infinity through cosmic associations and for that reason is also mystical, romantic and perfect, it can be used alone to great effect as Van Gogh used it in the Sower, but when used en masse it becomes a repetitive building block, a honeycomb of strength, which is how Howard Hodgkin used it.  Can the same be said of any of the other geometric shapes, I don’t think so, the nearest might be the triangle, and the combination of both the triangle and circle, for me is the ultimate symbol of infinite perfection.

The idea of using the frame as part of a painting is an extension of Jackson Pollock’s field painting, it enables the work to spill over into real space, rather than confining it within a framed space on a wall.  I personally don’t think it quite works, it has an awkwardness about it like a constantly hovering mosquito that you want to flit away.  Ludwig von Hoffman who was part of the Munich Secession and also a symbolist decorated his frames, as indeed to Klimt and Jens Ferdinand Willumsen who did it in Jotunhein to separate those who sought a link between the infinitely great and small and those men without a goal .Also Adria Gual-Queralt and Georges Roualt. Such decoration of frames may have  engendered.   The idea of decorated frames as a contemporary interior design style, which have now become rather passé.  That is the difficulty with 20th and post 20th Century art where movements come and go almost like fashion.  If artists  wish to achieve recognition and have a particular penchant for a style that has passed, it seems they are forced to consider the current avant garde trend, i.e. installation, conceptualism and so on, regardless of which direction their own inclinations and talents lead them.  Debuffet's inclination was presaged on the notion that the public were being effectively duped by non-artists into seeing only "framed" works.  Howard Hodkin's painted frames was also a reference to a similar desire for art to evolve and expand beyond the conventional.

Friday, 12 September 2014


It is interesting to look as artists past and present and to see the influences from earlier artists affecting the techniques and ideas of later artists.  It is also illuminating to see how sculpture and canvas painting rub shoulders when thinking about artists who open up the painting's surface sometimes eliminating the canvas altogether to produce wall sculptures.  For example Tatlin whose corner Reliefs used modern everyday materials to display sculptural works that were placed in the corner like Russian icons.  Jean Arp also created wooden wall objects that might be regarded as sculptures, except that they maintain the traditional placement on walls. 

Using shaped canvases Elizabeth Murray achieved a similar effect to Arp but her work is on shaped canvases.

It is also possible to think of Matisse's cut-outs as an "open" canvas.  It isn't quite a collage but explores flat planes in similar ways to the work of Ben Nicholson.  Picasso also used materials to open up the canvas, for example rope to form a sort of frame.  He also made a guitar out of sheet metal which was wall mounted and virtually crosses the boundary, as the work of Arp and Tatlin did, between wall mounted object and/or sculpture.

Lucio Fontana slit or cut his canvases to create a fractured surface, literally opening the canvas.  Max Ernst created a canvas, Two children threatened by a Nightingale, that opened in a different way, using a wooden gate to gain access to the canvas. 

Francois Rouan stripped the canvas from its frame, cutting it into strips then wove it into a new image.  Michele Whiting used a similar technique, but she used photographs instead of canvas.

Rauschenberg uses various materials to his canvas and sometimes takes us into the canvas with an object, for example his goat painting or the painting with the chair placed in front of the canvas which then becomes part of the painting.  

Kenny Cole produces massed wall mounted boxes which open to reveal poetry and images, almost like opening a cupboard.

We then begin to move closer to installation which is the next stage in this artistic practice.  

SUPREMATISM (Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism)

Following on from Cubism, the art world was finding new ways of expressing form and indeed movement.  Picasso and Braque led this revolution and in Italy Futurism with artists such as Carlo Carra and Umberto Boccioni, movement in works of art were taken to new levels. Gleizes and Metzinger, in their essay on Cubism, wrote: "Let the picture imitate nothing and let it present nakedly its raison d'être"¹  This was a defining statement for the whole of the 20th Century, it expressed the wish to expunge representational art. In Holland the Dutch school through a group called De Stijl, people like Mondrian and Van Doesburg further explored this new plastic art which totally ignored the appearance of things, i.e. natural form and colour, in favour of positional relationships, i.e. how one thing relates to another in an harmonic way.

Meanwhile during the Russian Revolution of 1917, art reflected the massive rate of historic and social change that was taking place in the country. Under the patronage of Ivan Morozov, the then modern works of Cezanne and Mondrian , Matisse and Picasso became part of his collection.  Influenced by the latest work from the West artists such as Mikkhail Larionov and Natalia Gonchorova became leaders of the avant-garde.  However, they eventually left Russia with the Impressario, Diaghilev as designers for his ballet. 

The gap was filled by the artists Kasimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin, who were soon discovered by the remaining Larionov group.

Malevich started to develop a type of Cubism similar to that of Leger and Picasso, which eventually led to fragmented collage similar in style to the work of Kurt Schwitters of the later Dada movement.  He worked for Kruchenikh's Futurist opera where he designed costumes and backdrops, one of which was a square divided into black and white triangles.  This idea led to the purely abstract squares, oblongs and triangles which formed the basis of Suprematism.

Tatlin's art took a slightly different path.  He moved to Moscow in 1910 and started exhibiting with the Larionov circle and was influence by him and Goncharova.  But in 1913 he quarrelled with them and eventually ended up in Paris seeing the collage work of Picasso which was to inspire Tatlin who then returned to Moscow.  The First and Last Futurist Exhibitions then followed, where both artists exhibited their work, but eventually in separate rooms as Tatlin regarded Malevich's work as amateur. 

After the Revolution changes in the Art Colleges produced the Vkhutemas where Malevich, Tatlin, Kandinsky and Pevsner had studios.  The Institute of Artistic Culture was formed and Kandinsky formulated their programme.  His ideas were radical and influenced by his religious beliefs, he was a Theosophist like Mondrian.  However, he left Russia and his programme was introduced at the Bauhause in Weimar. 

Malevich was sympathetic to Kandinsky's ideas but remained independent.  When invited by Chagall to become a tutor, Malevich accepted but took advantage of Chagall's temporary absence to declare himself Director and change the name of the school to College of the New Art.  He introduced Suprematism believing it to be more pure than Futurism and Cubism, as a non-objective art form. He met with opposition from the Constructivists who held that  'absolute' objective objects were constructed in the same way that universe constructs its mathematical orbits. Tatlin was more sympathetic to the Constructivist ideals and designed objects including the Monument to the Third International Exhibition of 1919-10.  Eventually as the new Central Government became established, the avant-garde movement of Constructivism was decried and Kandinsky, Pevsner and Gabo left Russia in 1922 to work at the Bauhaus.  El Lissitzky's work was heavily influenced by Malevich and his 'Proun' abstracts were geometric designs for offering a combination of art using imagery and lettering in new ways.  His street poster "Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge" illustrates this.  He too left Russia in 1922 and became influential on De Stijl, and the Bauhaus, eventually returning to Russia as a designer of exhibitions and posters.  The Bauhaus effectively adopted some of the ideas of Constructivism through the Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who said that art "is the senses"²

Reference: Modern Art edited by David Britt, Cubism, Futurism and Constuctivism, J M Nash, Published 1974
1. Page 191
2. Page 201