The featured image was taken as I walked across the famous wobbly bridge from St Paul’s Cathedral across to the Tate Modern gallery. I was going to meet up with an OCA tutor and group of students to see the Modigliani exhibition. We met up with the tutor Gerald Deslandes, and received a brief introduction and then went on in. Although I went in with two others we didn’t stay together for long, though met up a few times around the show.
I made notes on aspects of the images that I found intriguing as I went along. Some of the most significant of these are:
- Modigliani seems to have taken a journey into art that started reasonably traditionally, that is with studies and attempts at observational representation. Fairly quickly, however, he develops a more stylised approach and plays down realism in exchange for a more interpretive style. This seems to be a journey towards his “Artistic Voice” (which seems to be related to “mature style”.) If the exhibition hadn’t started with some fairly traditional studies I would have wondered if part of his style was a lack of drawing skill. The “Equestrienne (L’Amazone)” and “Etude De Nu” show examples of his more observational work. The exhibition showed study sketches that seem to be for Equestrienne (L’Amazone) and were more observational in nature than the final painting.
- Some of the backgrounds are highly complex, with multiple washes of colours to keep the background interesting. Similar to some of the colour work by the Abstract Expressionists. This can be seen to a degree in “Equestrienne (L’Amazone)” above. It is more evident, however, in “The Beggar of Leghorn” and “Portrait of Pedro” (both displayed in the exhibition).
- He sometimes had to reuse canvasses. This was pointed out in “Bust of a Young Girl” and “Naked Study” (both 1908) within the exhibition.
- Bust of a Young Woman, 1908. What an expression on her face! Still a significant level of representation.
I like “The cellist”. Provides an air of contemplation. Portrays a strong atmospheric element.
- His brushwork is quite impressionistic (i.e. rough) much of the time. The brushwork on the flesh is also quite interesting, though at a distance it produces a good effect. Close up it is quite stippled in places.
- I found the sculptural drawings (i.e. Caryatid 1913-14) interesting. Also when comparing these to his direct stone sculptures. These forms are quite distorted in many ways – almost “primitive”. This is presumably intentional, as the narrative at the exhibition discusses his access to and influence by African works. This seems to be part of the development of his “Visual Language” that carries through to what the exhibition describes as his mature style. (e.g “swan-like necks and blank almond shaped eyes”)
- The relationship between photographs of the subject of many of the portraits and the portrait itself is interesting. The portraits are almost caricatures in some ways.
- 1914, Portrait of Diego Rivera. I found this one interesting though it is still quite stylised and impressionistic. It seems to provide a slightly more realistic view whilst still containing plenty of atmosphere and character
- The nudes have highly exaggerated and sexualised forms. e.g. Nude on Divan (Almaisa), 1916 or Nude 1917.. This is artwork produced fir the pleasure of men (I.e. The male gaze) rather than a portrait or image of femininity. (Compare this to Jenny Saunders) Some of the poses are quite strange as well. In nude 1917 the model clutches her own breast and groin, for example.
- There is a distinct change in style and palette when the artist moved south to Nice. The narrative of the exhibition presents this as due to a jack of professional models, which is believable, I suspect, however, that the more from Paris to a more rural location may also have had an impact. The light would be different, as would the general expectation and ambience. I actually prefer many of these images to those of Paris personally.
Food for thought
- What does all this this say about development of Visual Language and Personal Voice? The exhibition shows quite acutely the development of one artist, and leads me to consider my own journey. Musings for the long term there.
- What is a “Mature style”? Is this about finding a trick an sticking with it, or what the artist is most famous for? The usage seems to vary, especially since it isn’t always an artist’s last style.
After lunch the tutor gave us a tour of a section of the Tate Modern, which gave us the opportunity to get an idea of the museum’s contents and context with his experience. It was as interesting as the main exhibition in many ways. There was a series of themes in the section of the Museum we were touring, including:
Making sense of our modern world and it’s relationship to art of the past and possible future. A tower of radios, for example, is a contemporary reference to the tower of babel.
- Political and social commentary, such as the ‘society of the spectacle’ and the replacement of class with tribes.
- The impact of consumerism and the language of the sign
As discussed by Gerald, much of Modern art seems to be comment on our world as it has become: Corporations, Globalisation, Mass manufacture and (to a degree) the failure of the vision of modernity. As artists perceive the world around them they seek to comment on it – and hopefully influence it. One artist places instructions to make a Molotov cocktail on a coke bottle and puts it back in circulation. Another builds an image of a paperclip out of paperclips. I find myself reflecting on the reasons behind this and its position in society. I feel that this is partly directed to getting people to consider their position in the world. Alternatively, however, it might be considered s being more about how clever the artist is. I suppose the truth is ‘it depends’.
Making a furry teacup almost certainly made some people think. From the descriptions of the story, however, it’s production was more to be with a female artist successfully making her place in the male dominated world of surrealism. The Gorilla Girls might approve.
Images: The images selected are been chosen for their availability of the Internet , however, may not always exactly match those in the exhibition.