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.

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