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How were artists and designers affected in the 30's and 40's by social, political and economic changes?
My aim is to show how three seemingly different and un connected artists from different parts of the world converged in the same place at the same point in time I hope to give you an insight as to how their paintings and designs have evolved and matured to be almost un recognisable from their early works.
My chosen artists are Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Marcel Breuer.
Piet Mondrian was a Dutch born painter (March 1872- February 1944),He is the oldest of my chosen three, he was heavily influenced by the Hague school which was primarily just a name given to a group of artists living and working in ''The Hague'' between 1980 and 1890 this group of artists used really dull colours to create their paintings and got nicknamed 'the grey school', this is quite interesting as all the other artists that inspired him were very imaginative with their use of colour Mondrian also looked to artists such as Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Van Derlech and Doesbury for inspiration. His early works were very impressionistic mainly paintings of landscapes and still life drawings and paintings of objects he could see from his house. Mondrian was put into the genre of 'cubist' and has been associated with cubism ever since his work developed beyond recognition between the world war years every painting he did seemed to get squarer and use a smaller colour palette.
His first work to depict primary colours was 'Avond' (the French for evening) a picture of a tree with no leaves painted with very dull shades of red and blue with splashes of blood red and neon blue, In this painting Mondrian was trying to mimic the style that was so frequently used in such works as those by Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso. In completion of this piece he developed a desire for a more spiritual knowledge. As with many artists he was stifled and suppressed as the ever advancing fascism cut its way through a vunerable and depressed 'between war' culture in Europe. Mondrian went to America, to New York, a lone satellite of free expression, freedom in an 'anything goes' culture where one could grow, experiment and develop one's own distinct style without any barriers and threats. It was here that Mondrian developed his somewhat map style works that were bold and daring with there use of colour.
Next I have chosen Jackson Pollock (January -1912 - August 1956)an American born painter from Wyoming, Pollock was an abstract expressionist greatly influenced by Mexican muralists and surrealist automalism. Although his influences came from such complicated art movements his early abstract expressionist works are now seen as a for runners of pop art. He was a desperately troubled genius fuelled by the madness of alcohol his life revolved around where his next drink was coming from that even in a culture of depression and prohibition he found a way to remain almost totally inhibriated. Pollock was always striving for perfection a need to be different and this torment can be seen in his works. Jackson Pollock now an independent and troubled man gravitated to New York where his works metamophasised greatly, Perhaps due to pressure of work or maybe the uncertainty of world events or his detonating personal life or maybe just his ever increasing alcohol dependency.
My third and final choice is the amazing artist, architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer a Hungarian born genius that has inspired thousands (May 1902- July 1981) He both studied and taught at the famous German Bauhaus. The curriculum of which shared elements of craft, technology of industrial production and elements of visual art. Breuer was a pioneer famed for his tubular steel furniture designs. As with many independent and forward thinking minds he felt compelled to leave mainland Europe during the between world war years because of the rise of Nazism, anti Semitism and the general fascist surge. Initially he went to London but after a few years he gravitated to the vibrant and relative safety of New York, it was here that his need for inspiration was fulfilled. He had the ability to make concrete look soft and flowing and gave modernist simple elegant lines a need for beauty in basic simpleness.
In 1908 Mondrian painted 'the red tree' which is part of a set of paintings that depict trees in different ways and angles. The tree is centred in the painting and as was quite usual for him he only used a couple of colours only two or three on his large paintings when I look at the paintings it makes me think he painted in this was to give the feeling of space rather than use the generally accepted aspects of form and distance. But this particular painting is just simply a tree, there is no debate and no need to ponder its inner soul and meaning. But two years later he went back to the painting and sucked all the colour out of it and brought it back to the start to just express himself with just the pure outline of the image I believe this was the start of Mondrian's obsession with line.
The Red Tree' - (1908)
The second painting I have chosen by Mondrian is 'Broadway Boogie Woogie' (1942-43) this was sadly his last painting this particular painting was described as ''neoplasticism'' which basically means ''new form''. His painting is abstract and somewhat map like in form using only primary bold colours in blocks and is supposed to depict the vibrancy of a city almost in motion that never sleeps, a brightness that never fades and a tribute to city life at least that's what I see when I look at it but even then at first I had to be told what it was supposed to be, it isn't instantly recognisable. Piet Mondrian (1940) ''Curves are so emotional'' New York gave him a deep insight to his mind to escape the horrors ensuing around him. Could this have been a natural progression of maturity in his work without the social and economical troubles he had to face around him during this period of would for example his 'Red tree' still have been just a tree?
In 1946 Jackson Pollock painted 'The Key' this is a typical painting of the time when Abstract impressionism was emerging as an art form. Breaking away from convention of form, moving the goal posts as it were in the aim to be thought as an accepted art form, not only the painting but how the painting was created was now just as important if not more so. Pollock was a highly talented and fragile man tormented by demons of his own making as well as those demons of reality of the times of which he lived.
The key' - (1946)
The second painting I have chosen by Jackson Pollock to compare which is my personal favourite is ''Lavender Mist'' which I went to see when It came over from the NGA in Washington DC, the painting was on display in the Tate Liverpool gallery for about 6 months you can't compare anything to the real image its stands so tall, its so tall it almost makes you feel 5 centimeters high you can almost feel the energy coming off the canvas and going right up in your face. The painting was originally called 'Number 1' as Pollock preferred not to influence what ones inner self was in a painting it was his wife Lee Krasner that named the painting, and several other paintings of this period. The paintings Jackson Pollock did were nick named ''action paintings'' they were named this because Pollock felt that he just did the paintings he said in an interview Amy Reynolds (1947:12) ''When I'm painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It's only after a get acquainted period that I see what I've been about.''
this specific action painting (lavender mist) was painted as were many of his drip technique paintings they were constructed on the floor where he drizzled paint in vast swatches and flumps with sticks and turkey baister's full of liquid paint in erratic disorganised spats lines and swirls to many this technique produced masterpiece upon masterpiece but to others it came across as a mess any child could create on a wet afternoon in left alone This debate has been pondered by many for many years. But Jackson Pollock himself says,
Deborah Solomon (2001:89) 'On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.
Lavender mist is a huge painting as I stated previously its some 3 meters long and it has an amazing depth to it and it offers a strange sense of tranquillity which is quite unexpected from such an apparently crudely thrown together explosion of colour. Was this the chaos of reflection of Pollock's inner self, the depravation of the society with which he grew up in or his need to self combust. I think that events around him drew him to this spectacular extreme of works and New York's extremes were fertile soil for a tortured soul.
In 1925 Marcel Breuer created one of his most well known pieces the 'Wassily chair'. Taking inspiration from observing bicycles especially their handle bars he bent tubular steel and took reinforced leather to produce a fashion icon the likes of which can still be found in any dentists waiting room or even in the many branches of IKEA. Still as trendy and coveted today as 80 odd years ago. A first and a breakthrough in use of material and simpleness of form
constructed in 1943 in long island New York, Like many of his building designs he used the 'bi-nuclear principle' which divided living and sleeping areas into two separate wings rather like a butterfly. His use of simple forms to achieve basic building solutions were very innovative and ahead of his time. Creating a fluency of both horizontal and vertical elements as if carved in butter, natural and man made products used in symbolic order as to appear as one. He was a master of his craft, located in Long island this suburban dwelling was the first to be built and encompasses all the components that made Breuer such a pioneer I believe that he was greatly affected by events in his life that tried to suppress his individuality. For example Nazism, the closure of the Bauhaus, Hitler's suppression of art and free thinking. His move to New York enabled him to continue his experimentation of materials and form to do something totally unique. Be himself surrounded by similar free thinking and expressive peers.
The 20th century will forever be associated with Nazism, Fascism and world economic depression but it will also be recognised for the dynamic and liberating art it spawned, without the great works of any artist in this era the worlds art as it stands today would be flat, plain and boring just like it was before I'm not saying that the art didn't lack talent and a great showcase of craftsmanship but it was all much of a muchness really wasn't it?
My three chosen artists and designers are from their apparently different genre's there is a beauty through simplicity of basic line and use of colour. A growth of personal knowledge and a need to find practical applications for their works. The between war years were a time of extreme adversity, poverty, financial collapse and moral decay. In their own unique way they managed to shake off the oppressive and open their minds to a new world order of boldness, clean sharp lines, yet a softness and a needing for change to use ones mind to explore the deeper thoughts inside rather than to state or show the obvious.
I have chosen two works from each of the artists and designers in hope to show the growth and maturity of their works during those tortured times. The 3 people appear to be totally separate representing three vastly varying genre's all with a definite starting point and specific style, but each shows a beauty through simplicity of basic line and colour, growth of personal knowledge and practical application through a time of extreme worldwide adversity and moral decay of a world in economic depression they all found they need to shake off the oppressive nature of existence at this time to clear and open ones mind to a new world order, of clean sharp lines of boldness and use the mind to explore deeper thoughts inside rather than just see the obvious. This need is evident in their work the culture that ensued in the relative safety of the enclosure of style and inventiveness which was and still is evident today. New York is an inspiration of old and new intertwined with the eccentricities of its individuals to create a bigger being a natural progression of both maturity and understanding to emphasise that art grows, it develops with age as events and gained knowledge mould the artists and this then reflects in their reaction to world events. Creating dynamic and spectacular works that will be remembered for a very long time.
Would the three be as illustrious in their fields with out the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century? Somehow I think not. Like a journey from A to B it all depends on the route life takes you on.