Posts Tagged ‘American Modernism’

Real busy this morning but wanted to share some paintings and a short video/slideshow of the work of the great American Modernist painter John Marin, who was born in 1870 and died in 1953. He was a pioneer in the medium of watercolor as well as the merging of abstraction and realism in his paintings.

His transparent and translucent colors and the freedom with which he painted, along with the ever freshness of his work,  really inspired me early on. Each painting seemed to be an improvised performance, like a visual jazz riff. Though my style has diverged greatly from his, I still find myself wanting the looseness and immediacy of expression that his work so often displayed.

Take a look and a listen. The music behind this slideshow is Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose played by James P. Johnson who was a great pianist and composer, a pioneer in the stride style of jazz playing. Good stuff.

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Many of us are familiar with the work of Stuart Davis (1892- 1964), the American Modernist whose paintings presaged the Pop Art of the 60’s.  They were bold and colorful abstracted collages that use imagery from the landscape of the popular culture at the time they were created, creating works that immediately evoke a time.  When I see them I a transported to the New York or Paris of the 40’s and 50’s, with Jazz and poetry blossoming in the aftermath of a devastating war that really changed our perceptions of the world.

But it is Davis’ early work that always intrigues, particularly a small group that was painted not to far from where I live.  There are three landscapes painted just over the state line  in rural Tioga, Pennsylvania in 1919 that are very different from the work for which Davis is best known.  They show a young artist still working in the style of those artists who inspired him, trying on their style and brushstrokes in an effort to find his own voice. 

You can see how  he had been affected by seeing the work of Van Gogh and Picasso for the first time at the legendary Armory Show in 1913, where his own work hung among the emerging giants of modern painting.  Davis was then a student of Robert Henri and painted in a style associated with the  NYC Ashcan school of painters , of which Henri was a leader.  These three pieces have thick. expressive stokes of paint and scream of Van Gogh and have few hints at where Davis’ road would eventually lead him.

The pieces are very accomplished and have a certain charm but it is obvious that they are still derivative and that Davis is still in the midst of his evolution from talented mimic to an original voice.  To me, they are an interesting insight to how we synthesize our broad spectrum of  influences into something truly original.  I would be hard-pressed to say that the man who painted these pieces would eventually become a leading light of abstract modernism but they somehow moved him along in his search for his own distinct voice.  It only goes to show that we should take in everything that excites us even if it seems out of our normal area of comfort.  It may open new and exciting worlds to us that we could never foresee.

Stuart Davis--Self Portrait 1919


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And the New Day Approaches...This is another new piece that I’m calling  And There is a New Day…  It’s a 24″ by 30″ canvas and is in the obsessionist style that I have been primarily focusing on lately, which is closer to traditional painting than the usual style I have used for the past 13 or 14 years.

I really like the feel of this painting.  The underlying texture is such that it really allows the darkness to show through while still bearing lighter paints above.  This texture also gives a slightly ragged edge on the lines, which really alters the overall look.  It gives it a less controlled feel.  It reminds me , in a way, of some examples of German Expressionism and American Modernism of the  early 1920’s.  This piece still is more controlled than many of the pieces that it brings to mind but still has the give and take of light and dark that I so admire.

The theme of this piece is a familiar one for me.  There is sense of being caught in a pause, waiting for the onset of something.  A new day.  A new wind.  A new path.  In this case, it is light of the new day breaking over the horizon.  I like the way the light breaks into confetti-like dabs of color.  It creates a real vibrancy, a sense of movement forthcoming that is spreading over the sleeping village.  The houses have no windows or doors, as is usual for such pieces of mine.  I sometimes think the absence of the doors and windows symbolizes sleep in my paintings but I’m not really sure if that’s all I really see.  There are other times when I think they symbolize a general inward turning, an introversion where there is no awareness of the outside world.  Sometimes, I just think I like the look without the windows or door.

I like that there’s a little mystery in that interpretation, even for myself.  The excitement in painting for me is in not knowing what will emerge.  The day that I know how everything in one of my paintings will turn out or be translated will be the last day I need to paint.

This painting makes me glad that I do still need to paint…

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