Pablo Picasso

Art and Suffering by Chris Hall

Pablo Picasso, Woman with Bangs, (1902)

It is too easy to become jaded, numb, cynical, and mean. The world gives us ample opportunity, for damn sure. Nights full of tears, years of continued disappointments. And even when you taste success, love, friendship . . . nothing lasts forever. Sometimes you want to scream into the night, shake the stars for all they promised you. That is alright. But then when the morning comes, that is when the real struggle begins. You cannot give up hope, you cannot succumb to the easy temptation to become jaded, numb, cynical, and mean. I make dark cynical art sometimes, and that is fine for its honesty and catharsis - it serves a purpose, screaming into the night - but the best art might still be the triumphant art, the art that seeks the light of the Sun and the Moon and attempts to make peace with the stars, the art that explores and transcends the human condition, the beauty of being human. It is a worthy pursuit, anyways.


I am weary of the trap many seem to succumb to, that is fetishizing one's suffering, romanticizing it as an integral part of artistic production.  Of course many in the art world today mock this notion to the point of denying that there is a connection between mental anguish and art at all - but there is sad documented truth in the cliché, that creative types do disproportionately suffer more mental health issues than those in the general population.  But to attribute suffering as the root cause for art production, or the greatness of a work of art, even, is a fallacy I no longer support.  I once accepted this idea, and it helped me get up in the morning and paint, but it got me nowhere and brought no peace.  It is possible to heal, to seek help, and still be a great artist.  The source of great art is the artist, not the suffering.

 

Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler by Chris Hall

Joan Mitchell, Edrita Fried, 1981

Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell.jpg

Joan Mitchell (1925 – 1992) was a “Second Generation” Abstract Expressionist painter and printmaker, born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of a dermatologist and a poet.  She studied at Smith College in Massachusetts and The Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned her BFA (1947) and her MFA (1950), respectively.  After moving to Manhattan in 1947, she had wanted to study at Han Hofmann's school, but after attending only one class she left, declaring, "I couldn't understand a word he said so I left, terrified."  With a $2,000 travel fellowship, she also studied in Paris and Provence, France, where she would spend much of her later life.

In 1949, Mitchell married the American publisher Barney Rosset, in Paris.  Rosset is, perhaps, best known as the man who published the controversial and sexually charged novel Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller.  Mitchell and Rosset soon divorced in 1952.  Mitchell would remain active in the burgeoning art scene of 1950's New York, despite the increasing amount of time she would spend traveling and working in France.  In 1955, Mitchell severed her ties to America, and moved to France to join the Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, with whom she would have a long, tumultuous relationship (1955 to 1979).  They would maintain separate homes and studios, but would meet everyday for dinner and drinks.

Joan Mitchell,  No Birds , 1987 - 1988

Joan Mitchell, No Birds, 1987 - 1988

In her early years as a painter, she was influenced by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Wassily Kandinsky, and later by the works of Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning.  Mitchell's work, like that of her Abstact Expressionist peers, are expansive, and usually made up of two panels.  The landscape was a primary influence on her subject matter.  Like fellow painter, Helen Frankenthaler, Mitchell would sometimes paint on unprimed canvas, but with gestural and sometimes violent brushwork.  She has described painting as, “an organism that turns in space.”

Beginning in the early 1980's, Mitchell's health began to fail, and it impacted her work significantly.  In 1984, She was diagnosed with advanced oral cancer and was she was advised to have jaw completely removed.  After a second opinion, radiation therapy was pursued, and her jaw was saved (although it would leave her jawbone dead).  Her health continued to fail, however, and she fell into a crippling depression complicated with anxiety.  While Mitchell had quit smoking, but she would remain a heavy drinker for the rest of her life.  With the help of a psychoanalyst, Mitchell returned to painting.  Long an admirer of Vincent van Gogh's work, Mitchell began to look at what is perhaps his final painting, his Wheatfield with Crows (1890) as a kind of suicide note, filled with hopelessness, despair, and death.  Mitchell made a painting entitled No Birds (1988) as a response and homage.  Like Van Gogh, Mitchell also began to investigate the subject of sunflowers, saying she wanted her paintings “to convey the feeling of the dying sunflower.”

Mitchell was also a great admirer of Henri Matisse, favoring his vivid use of color and the vivacity of his line.  She once claimed that, “If I could paint like Matisse, I'd be in heaven.”  In October of 1992, Mitchell flew to New York to visit a Matisse exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.  Upon her arrival, she was taken to a doctor and diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.  Mitchell returned to France on October 22, and entered the American Hospital of Paris.  Mitchell died on the morning of October 30, 1992.

Helen Frankenthaler 

Helen Frankenthaler (1928 – 2011) was a “Second Generation” American Abstract Expressionist painter.  She began exhibiting her large-scale paintings in galleries and museums in the early 1950's and is also labeled as being a Color Field Post-Painterly Abstraction artist.  Frankenthaler was included in the 1964 Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition curated by Clement Greenberg.  Post-Painterly artists generally set themselves apart from the “First Generation” of Abstract Expressionists by eliminating the emotional, mythic, and religious content from their work and for eliminating the highly personal, gestural, and painterly application of paint.

Growing up in Manhattan's Upper East Side, in a progressive Jewish family under privileged circumstances (her father Alfred Frankenthaler was a respected New York State Supreme Court judge), the Frankenthaler family encouraged Helen in her pursuit of art.  Frankenthaler found herself influenced by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock's paintings, and by the critic Clement Greenberg.

Frankenthaler studied art at the Dalton School under muralist Rufino Tamayo, and also at Bennington College in Vermont.  Upon graduation, she continued taking private studies with Hans Hofmann, in 1950, who she met through Clement Greenberg (with whom she would have a five year relationship).  Also in 1950, Frankenthaler saw Pollock's paintings for the first time (Autumn Rhythm, Number 30, 1950 and Number One - Lavender Mist, 1950) at Betty Parsons Gallery.  Of the works, Frankenthaler said, “It was all there.  I waned to live in this land.  I had to live there, and master the language.”  In 1958, Frankenthaler married “First Generation” Abstract Expressionist, Robert Motherwell, though they would divorce in 1971.  Because both Frankenthaler and Motherwell were both born to wealthy parents, and were known to host lavish parties, the pair became known as “the golden couple.”  Frankenthaler never considered herself a feminist, saying “For me, being a 'lady painter' was never an issue.  I don't resent being a female painter.  I don't exploit it.  I paint.”

Frankenthaler, like her Abstract Expressionist peers, is known for her large scale paintings with simplified abstract compositions emphasizing spontaneity, which she would make by laying her canvas out on the floor, a technique inspired by Jackson Pollock.  She once stated that, “A really good picture looks as if it's happened at once.”  Although she painted in many different abstract styles and used a variety of techniques over her 60 year career, she is best known for her color field painting using a “soak stain” technique, where she would heavily dilute her oil paint in turpentine which she would us to soak and stain her unprimed canvas.   While the technique produces a beautiful result, resembling the translucent application of watercolor, the major disadvantage of this method, however, is that the oil in the paints will eventually cause the canvas to discolor and rot away.

During the course of her life, Frankenthaler would be a faculty member of Hunter College and, in 1989, would be one of the few women artists to have a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

A common criticism of Frankenthaler's work, along with that her “Second Generation” Abstract Expressionist peers, was that it was “merely beautiful,” and without much substance, aping the style pioneered by “First Generation.”  But we do need beautiful things in the world, to give us pause in our lives.  Beauty is good medicine, good for the soul.  It heals.  Asclepius had five daughters who helped him in his practice of medicine:  Hygieia (Hygiene),  Iaso (Recuperation), Aceso (Healing), Panacea (Universal Remedy), and Aglaea (Beauty).  “Art,” Picasso reminds us, “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Grace Glueck's obituary in The New York Times summed up Frankenthaler's career thus:
“Critics have not unanimously praised Ms. Frankenthaler’s art. Some have seen it as thin in substance, uncontrolled in method, too sweet in color and too “poetic.” But it has been far more apt to garner admirers like the critic Barbara Rose, who wrote in 1972 of Ms. Frankenthaler’s gift for “the freedom, spontaneity, openness and complexity of an image, not exclusively of the studio or the mind, but explicitly and intimately tied to nature and human emotions."

Joel-Peter Witkin by Chris Hall

Joel-Peter Witkin (born 1939) is an American photographer, living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His photography celebrates the grotesque and society's outsiders, as he often uses dwarves, transsexuals, inter-sex persons, and the physically deformed as models.  His complex tableaux often recall religious themes, sex, death, and classical paintings. 

Witkin was born to a Jewish father and Roman Catholic mother, who soon split because of they were unable to overcome their religious differences.  His twin brother, Jerome Witkin, and his son Kersen Witkin, are also painters.  Between 1961 and 1964, Witkin was a war photographer documenting the Vietnam War.  He attended Cooper Union in New York where he studied sculpture, attaining a Bachelor Arts degree in 1974.  Later he would get his Master of Fine arts degree from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.  Witkin claims that his photographic sensibility springs from an event he witnessed as a young child, an automobile accident in front of his house in which a little girl was decapitated:

“It happened on a Sunday when my mother was escorting my twin brother and me down the steps of the tenement where we lived. We were going to church. While walking down the hallway to the entrance of the building, we heard an incredible crash mixed with screaming and cries for help. The accident involved three cars, all with families in them. Somehow, in the confusion, I was no longer holding my mother's hand. At the place where I stood at the curb, I could see something rolling from one of the overturned cars. It stopped at the curb where I stood. It was the head of a little girl. I bent down to touch the face, to speak to it -- but before I could touch it someone carried me away.”

Witkin's favorite artist is the early Italian Renaissance painter Giotto.  His photographic techniques draw on early Daguerreotypes and on the work of E. J. Bellocq, who also specialized in photos of society's outsiders.  Bellocq is known for his haunting photographic portraits of Storyville prostitutes in New Orleans and images of life in the opium dens in the early 20th century.  Like William Mortensen (a fellow champion of the grotesque), Witkin also uses techniques to manipulate the image, such as scratching the negative, bleaching and toning the print, and a hands-in-chemical printing process.

Witkin also uses corpses and body parts in his photographic arrangements.  I have not posted any of these photographs (interesting though they may be to look at) as I believe the dead should be respected and not used for art (documentation in war photography is another subject all together, and the ethics even here are in a moral gray zone).  To get around restrictive US laws, Witkin creates his photography using the dead in Mexico.

Many critics have come out to label Witkin's transgressive photography as exploitative, made to purposefully shock a weak stomached, bourgeois public.  Corpses and body parts aside (the dead have no choice as to whether or not to be included in art), I believe that Witkin's use of subjects that society would rather ignore is a noble occupation with a long tradition, from Diego Velazquez to Pablo Picasso.  Showcasing society's outcasts and outsiders in art forces people to acknowledge their own prejudices and hypocrisies.  And once you get past the initial shock of the grotesque and unfamiliar, many of Witkin's photographs can become quite beautiful.

Joel-Peter Witkin's work was the major source of inspiration (along with Francis Bacon) for Mark Romanek's video for the Nine Inch Nails song Closer.

Jackson Pollock Part One by Chris Hall

“Painting is self-discovery.  Every good artist paints what he is.”  Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) is a legendary figure in 20th century art.  He was the first American artist to gain an international reputation as an innovator without having studied or worked in Europe, the birthplace of modernism.  His challenging abstract imagery and unusual painting technique are still controversial today.  Pollock is best known for his unique style of drip painting.  Regarded as reclusive, he had a volatile personality, and struggled with alcoholism for most of his life.  In 1945, he married the artist Lee Krasner, who became an important influence on his career and on his legacy.  Some have argued that the troubled and reclusive Pollock would not have been successful without Krasner's tireless efforts to promote him.  Pollock died at age 44.  Along with other American celebrities who died before their time, such as Elvis, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe, his life has become mythologized and become a part of American collective identity.  

Pollock's Shift from Radical Politics to Mythic Visionary

Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, in 1912, the youngest of five sons.  He grew up in Arizona and in Chico, California.  While living in Echo Park, California, he enrolled at Los Angeles' Manual Arts High School, from which he was expelled for protesting the  school's special treatment of athletics and the ROTC.  During his early life, Pollock explored Native American culture while on surveying trips with his father.  Pollock would count Native American art as his first and primary influence.

Growing up in California, Pollock's interest in art was supported by his father, Roy Pollock.  Jackson became interested in the work Albert Pinkham Ryder.  Another influence was his art teacher at Manual Arts High School, Frederick Schwankovsky.  Schwankovsky, who was a Communist Party member, would go with Pollock to Communist meetings at the Brooklyn Avenue Jewish Community Center in East Los Angeles and to spiritualist Madame Blavatsky's Theosophist Society, where he learned about the connection between avant-garde art and radical politics and perhaps gained an interest in the works of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro.  

In 1930, Pollock followed his older brother Charles, and moved to New York City, where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League.  Benton's rural American subject matter, know as Regionalism, would have little lasting influence on Pollock's work, but his rhythmic use of paint and his fierce independence were more lasting.  Benton used Pollock as a model for a steel worker in his mural America Today (1930 – 1931) in the New School for Social Research.  While Benton was not a Communist, he was sympathetic to leftist and progressive politics.  His art champions the working class and many parallels can be drawn between his work and Socialist Realism.  During the Great Depression, a lot more people were open to radical politics as a possible solution out of economic woe.  Pollock recalled his father frequently defended the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.  Pollock, who grew up in a left leaning family, found in Benton a surrogate father figure.    

1933 was a watershed year for Pollock, America, and the world at large.  Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as president of the United States, and Pollock watched as Diego Rivera painted his mural Man at the Crossroads at Rockefeller Center.  Soon, Pollock's taste for avant-garde art and radical politics led him to break away from Benton.  Pollock was becoming more interested in the Mexican muralist painters Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco.  All three were known for their radical politics, with Rivera and Siqueiros being active members of the Communist Party.  

In 1936, Pollock attended Siqueiros' political art workshop and quickly became a part of his inner circle.  Siqueiros was a Stalinist and would later attempt to assassinate Leon Trotsky in 1940.  Pollock collaborated with Siqueiros and his entourage in creating a float for the May Day Parade which featured a Wall Street capitalist holding a donkey and elephant, indicating that both parties were controlled by big money and thus were enemies to the people, and a large ticker-tape machine being smashed by a hammer emblazoned with the Communist hammer and sickle.  When the Great Depression began to ease, thanks to Roosevelt's New Deal and his WPA programs, many people, including Pollock, began turning away from radical politics.  Siqueiros's experimental techniques, however, (such as pouring liquid paint) would have a lasting impact on Pollock's art.

From 1935 to 1943 Pollock worked for Roosevelt's Federal Art Project, the visual arts arts arm of the Work Projects Administration.  The FAP's primary goal was to employ out of work artists.  These artists were hired to primarily to create art for public spaces.  The FAP was divided into mural arts, sculpture, easel painting, and graphic arts.  Pollock worked for the easel division.  By 1936, the FAP employed over 6,000 artists.  FAP artists created more than 200,000 works of art.

“I don't paint nature.  I am nature.”  Jackson Pollock.

In 1938, Pollock had a mental breakdown and was hospitalized for four months for alcoholism.  Recent historians have speculated that Pollock might have suffered from bi-polar disorder.  Whatever the reason, from 1938 to 1942, Pollock underwent Jungian psychotherapy, first with Dr. Joseph Henderson, and later with Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlo.  When World War II broke out, Pollock's Selective Service status of 4F for medical reasons (neurosis) kept him from being drafted.  Henderson engaged Pollock through his art, encouraging him to make drawings exploring Jungian concepts and archetypes.  These would later feed his paintings and shaped Pollock's understanding that his pictures were not only the outpourings of his own mind, but also, perhaps, the universal expression of mankind's modern condition and the terror of having to live in the shadow of nuclear war.

During this time, Pollock grew more interested in mythology and began using his art and dreams as healing tool and a method to explore the inner self.  Henderson and  Staub de Laszlo had also reawakened Pollock's interest in Native American art.  Some Jungian analysts believe in the controversial theory that a colonizing people inherit the racial memory of the natives they displace.  Henderson and Staub de Laszlo encouraged Pollock's exploration of Native American inspired art.  Pollock began attending demonstrations of Native American sand painting at the Museum of Modern Art and attended a workshop hosted by the Austrian-Mexican Surrealist in exile, Wolfgang Paalen (which, incidentally, was also attended by future Abstract Expressionists Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottleib, and William Baziotes).  Paalen was famous for his fumage technique of making images from the smoke produced by candles.  He was also an expert on Native British Columbian Totem art.  Paalen's lengthy article, Totem Art, would later be a significant influence upon Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists.

In 1936, Pollock had for the first time briefly met Lee Krasner, but the two would not meet again until 1941.  In time, their relationship would bring Pollock some of the few spells of calm and happiness he would ever know.  Despite hs personal problems, Pollock remained bullishly confident in his art.  Krasner, impressed with Pollock's work, introduced him to her teacher, Hans Hofmann.  Hofmann was equally enthusiastic, and a friendship between the two men soon developed.  Once, Hofmann was said to have remarked that Pollock needed to work more from nature, to which Pollock replied, “I don't paint nature, I am nature.”

Picasso's Erotic Art by Chris Hall

Picasso dressed as Minotaur.

Picasso dressed as Minotaur.

“Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.”  Pablo Picasso.

Picasso, like Klimt, believed that all art is erotic.  It is an interesting argument, one that I might have subscribed to in Picasso's time, before the proliferation of overly intellectualized, sterile, and cold conceptual art.  While all art in Picasso's time might have been erotic, this did not prevent Picasso from producing drawings depicting overt sexuality.  Here are some little drawings of Picasso's that I've managed to track down, dating from 1902 to 1968. 

Pablo Picasso Part Two by Chris Hall

“There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence transform a yellow spot into a sun.” Pablo Picasso.

Referencing Picasso's earlier Proto-Cubist work, the Surrealist writer and poet Andre Breton declared in a 1925 article that Picasso was “one of ours.”  Picasso had largely sublimated eroticism and psychically charged ideas in his art since 1909, when he moved on to Cubism and Neoclassic art.  After things began to go sour with his wife Olga, these themes started to return to his work.  Although he retained the spacial relationships of Cubism, he seems to have rediscovered the primitivism and eroticism of his earlier works.  Picasso's work during the last half of his career did not vary in style as drastically as it did during the first half.  Still, there are subtle differences to be found.  Picasso's work during the second half of his life is often categorized by the woman he happened to be in love with at the time . . . and there were a lot of women.

“Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.”  Pablo Picasso.

“The chief enemy of creativity is 'good' sense.”  Pablo Picasso.

Marie-Therese Walter

Perhaps this new found primitivism and eroticism was due to the influence of Picasso's new mistress, the blond and athletic Marie-Therese Walter.  Pablo Picasso met Marie in 1927, as she lived across the street from the Picasso family.  Their relationship began when she was 17; Picasso was 45.  Marie, with her telling blond hair, became a model for many of Picasso's paintings.  Picasso managed to keep his affair with Marie a secret from his wife Olga until 1935, when someone informed Olga that Picasso had gotten Marie pregnant.  Olga and Picasso separated.  He refused to divorce Olga, to prevent her from acquiring half of his wealth, and they remained legally married until her death in 1955.  Meanwhile, Marie gave birth to a daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso.  Picasso, not wanting to settle down with a family, moved on from Marie in 1936.

 "What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has nothing but eyes if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician . . .? Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being, constantly aware of what goes on in the world, whether it be harrowing, bitter, or sweet, and he cannot help but be shaped by it . . . No, painting is not interior decoration. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy."

Guernica

In January of 1937, Picasso was commissioned by the Republican government of Spain for a mural to be displayed at the World's Fair in Paris.  By this time, there was already a Nationalist Fascist uprising being led by General Francisco Franco, which threatened to collapse the democratically elected Republican government.  On the 26th of April, 1937, Hitler showed his support of Franco by sending his Condor Legion of Luftwaffe warplanes to bomb and strafe the Basque town of Guernica.  The bombing is considered the first raid on a civilian population by a modern air-force.  

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

Picasso had already started working on his commissioned mural, but on learning the news of Guernica, he scrapped his original plan and began work on a new painting.  The completed work, Guernica, would become a Modern Art masterpiece, and is often heralded as one of the best anti-war works of art ever created.  For many people, Picasso's Guernica is to art what Beethoven's 9th Symphony is to music.  Following the World's Fair in Paris, Guernica embarked on a world tour, fostering international awareness for the plight of Spanish refugees following the Fascist Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War.  Guernica was eventually entrusted to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  Picasso stipulated that Guernica was not to return to Spain until liberty and democracy had been restored.  While living in Nazi-occupied Paris during the Second World War, one German officer, upon looking at a photograph of Guernica in Picasso's apartment, allegedly asked him, “Did you do that?”  Picasso replied, “No, you did.”  Francisco Franco died in 1975, and Guernica was returned to Spain in 1981.  

Dora Maar

Like Spain, Picasso's personal life while creating Guernica was also in disorder.  His mistress Marie-Therese Walter had given birth to their daughter, Maya  Widmaier-Picasso, but Picasso had already moved on to his next mistress, the photographer and painter Dora Maar.  Dora had met Picasso in 1936, and was documenting his painting of Guernica.  Marie became jealous when Picasso fell in love with Dora.  Marie and Dora once accidentally met in Picasso's studio while he was painting Guernica.  When asked about it later in life, Picasso said that the two women demanded that he choose between them.  He told Marie and Dora that they had to fight it out amongst themselves, at which point the two women began to wrestle.  Picasso described it “as one of his choicest memories.”  Picasso left Marie for Dora, though he continued to support Marie and their daughter, Maya, for the rest of his life.  In 1977, Marie chose to end her life by hanging.  With Marie out of the way, Dora became Picasso's constant companion, and the subject of many of his paintings.  While Marie is often shown as blond and bright, Dora is often shown as being sad, dark, and in pain.

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  Pablo Picasso.

“It takes a long time to become young.”  Pablo Picasso.

Dora Maar stayed with Picasso for the nine years.  She wanted to have children with Picasso, but was often sad because she was sterile.  Dora was introspective, and Picasso called her his “private muse.”  She was his “woman in tears.”  Nevertheless, the always restless Picasso found a new mistress in 1943, Francoise Gilot.  When the relationship was revealed in 1944, the long suffering Dora entered treatment with the famous psychiatrist, Jacques Lacan.  Dora would return to art after Picasso, painting, taking photographs, and writing poetry, though she would die a recluse, poor and alone.   

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”  Pablo Picasso.

“To draw you must close your eyes and sing.”  Pablo Picasso.

Francoise Gilot

Picasso met the young art student Francoise Gilot in 1943.  She was 21, Picasso 62.  They would spend ten years together.  Francoise wrote in her diary that Picasso once took her to see an old woman, Germaine Pichot.  Germaine was Picasso's love interest in 1901, and the girl who had earlier spurned Picasso's best friend, Carlos Casagemas, leading to his suicide.  Picasso said to Francoise, “I want you to learn about life . . . That woman's name is Germaine Pichot.  She is old and toothless and poor and unfortunate now.  But when she was young, she was very pretty and she made a painter friend of mine suffer so much that he committed suicide . . . She turned a lot of heads.  Now look at her.” 

Picasso would have two children with Francoise, Claude, born in 1947, and Paloma, born in 1949.  During this time, Francoise reported that she was frequently harassed by Picasso's legal wife (he was still married), Olga Khokhlova.   Francoise grew tired of Picasso's many infidelities, and left him in 1953.  Eleven years later, Francoise published her book, “Life with Picasso.”  Picasso tried to stop the book from being published, unsuccessfully.  The book was printed in over a dozen languages and sold over a million copies.  Afterward, Picasso would refuse to see his children by her, Claude and Paloma, ever again.

“Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon. When we love a woman we don't start measuring her limbs.”  Pablo Picasso.

“There are only two types of women - goddesses and doormats.”  Pablo Picasso.

Genevieve Laporte

Picasso began seeing the 24 year old Genevieve Laporte while still in a relationship with Francoise Gilot, in 1951.  Genevieve was a former French resistance fighter, writer, and model, and had met Picasso for the first time at age 17 in 1944, while conducting an interview for a school newspaper.  Picasso would dedicate some of his paintings to Genevieve, and when Francoise Gilot left Picasso in 1953, he asked her to move in with him.  Genevieve, aware of Picasso's reputation, refused, and shortly afterward, also left him.

“Every positive value has its price in negative terms... the genius of Einstein leads to Hiroshima.”  Pablo Picasso.

“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”  Pablo Picasso.

Jacqueline Roque

1953 found Picasso dejected and alone for the first time in many years.  And while his work was still in high demand, the art world's attention had shifted away from Paris and Picasso, and toward New York and the Abstract Expressionists.  The ever optimistic Picasso soon rebounded, however, and later that year he met Jacqueline Roque, at the pottery where he created his ceramics.  She was 27, he was 72.  

Picasso romanced Jacqueline by drawing a dove on her house in chalk, and by bringing her a single rose everyday until she agreed to date him, six months later.  When Picasso's first wife, Olga Khokhlova died of cancer in 1955, he was free to marry.  Picasso and Jacqueline married in March of 1961.  He would paint over 400 portraits of her (160 of which were created in 1963 alone), more than any of his other loves.  She is recognized by her elongated neck, high cheekbones, and classical features.  They were together for 20 years, until Picasso's death in 1973.  Jacqueline prevented Claude and Paloma, Picasso's children by Francoise Gilot, from attending the funeral, and she entered legal entanglements with Francoise Gilot concerning the distribution of Picasso's estate.  In 1986, at age 59, Jacqueline Picasso killed herself by gunshot. 

“It means nothing to me.  I have no opinion about it, and I don't care.”  Pablo Picasso on what he thought about the first moon landing, quoted in The New York Times, (7/21/1969).

Toward the end of his life, Picasso's relevance had waned.  Some critics thought his later work was not as strong as his earlier work.  Many thought his style had changed little since the 1930's, while others detected subtle differences in his work each time he fell in love with another woman.  Late in his career, however, he began making interpretations of paintings by other famous artists.  These later works are now seen as being more expressionistic than his earlier surrealistic work, prefiguring the Neo-Expressionist wave of the 1980's.  Once again, Picasso was ahead of the curve.   

It seems so strange that Picasso, perhaps the 20th century's best known and greatest artist, can wreck such havoc on the lives of the many women whom he loved.  It is an irony that he was so cruel and insensitive to all those around him, yet he could produce such loving, and, at times, even sensitive art.  Picasso might have been a bastard in life to those around him, but he did great things for art and because of that, I believe it is alright to celebrate Picasso today.  Pioneers are the first to explore new territory, and Picasso was a pioneer.  Picasso was also a master, producing some of the 20th century's best known art.  After all he has done for art, how can we begrudge Picasso for his personal life problems?  We can't, we must take it all together in stride.  Certainly, we shouldn't gloss it over, but we should accept Picasso as a flawed human being and an artist.  

“Others have seen what is and asked why.  I have seen what could be and asked why not.”  Pablo Picasso.

Montparnasse by Chris Hall

Moise Kisling, Paquerette, and Pablo Picasso at Cafe la Rotonde, 1916.  Photo by Jean Cocteau.

Moise Kisling, Paquerette, and Pablo Picasso at Cafe la Rotonde, 1916.  Photo by Jean Cocteau.

"I aspired to see with my own eyes what I had heard of from so far away:  this revolution of the eye, this rotation of colours, which spontaneously and astutely merge with one another in a flow of conceived lines.  That could not be seen in my town.  The sun of Art then shone only on Paris."  Marc Chagall

Montparnasse is an area of Paris, France, on the left bank of the river Seine.  During the 1920's and 1930's, is was widely considered to be the intellectual and artistic capital of Europe, if not the world.  Staring in about 1910, artists began to migrate to Paris in order to participate in Paris' art scene, which was then centered in the Montmarte district (home to  Emile Zola, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, the Impressionists, and the 19th century avante-garde).  Finding the area gentrified, filled with Dandyism (the 19th century version of Hipsterism), and too expensive to live in, they began to move to Montparnasse.  Montparnasse was a gritty, socially downtrodden area of Paris, filled with tough talking immigrants.  Penniless painters, sculptures, writers, poets, and composers converged on the area for its cheap rent.  They often lived without heat and running water, selling their work for a few francs just to buy food.  They came from around the globe, converging on the City of Lights like moths to a flame, from Europe, including Russia and Ukraine, from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, Central and South America, and as far away as Japan.  Notable residents included Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, Erik Satie, Marc Chagall, Nina Hamnett, Max Jacob, Chaim Soutine, Georges Braque, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Amedeo Modigliani, Ezra Pound, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp, Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti, Moise Kisling, Jean Cocteau, Henri Rousseau, Constantin Brancusi, Isamu Noguchi, Stuart Davis, Alexander Calder, Juan Gris, Diego Rivera, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Tsuguharu Foujita, Marie Vassilieff, Alberto Giacometti, Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Pascin, Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Samuel Beckett, Joan Miro, and Hilaire Hiler.

By the 1920's and 1930's, Montparnasse was a thriving artist community and the heart of intellectual life in Paris.  This time, known as les Années Folles (the Crazy Years), almost rivaled Weimar Berlin's culture of excess and depravity.  Max Jacob said he came to Montparnasse to “sin disgracefully.”  The cafes and bars of Montparnasse were meeting places where new ideas were hatched.  It was a fertile crucible for the early Modern avante-garde movements.  During les  Années Folles, starving artists could occupy a tale all evening in one of Montparnasse's cafes and bars for only a little money.  If they fell asleep, the waiters were often instructed not to wake them up.  Arguments fueled by intellect and alcohol were common, and the police were rarely summoned.  If an artist couldn't pay a bill, some people, such as La Rotonde's proprietor, Victor Libion, would accept a drawing as collateral, holding it until the artist could pay.  There were times where the walls of the cafes were littered with art that make curators of today's great museums drool with envy.  But the good times could not last forever.  By the eve of World War II, most of Montparnasse's artists and intellectual's fled the country, many of them resettling in New York City, in the United States.  Montparnasse never regained its former glory.  Since that time, New York has been, arguably, the cultural capital of the world.

Pablo Picasso Part One by Chris Hall

“That fucking Picasso . . . He's done everything!”  Jackson Pollock

“To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic.”  Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) was a Spanish artist, who spent most of his adult life in France.  He generally regarded as one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century.  Picasso's earlier career is marked by his jumping from one avant-garde style to another, from Post-Impressionist and Symbolist work, to his Blue and Rose periods, Proto-Cubist Primitive work, Analytical and Synthetic Cubism, Neoclassic works, and then to Expressionistic Surrealist work.  

“Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.”  Pablo Picasso

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”  Pablo Picasso

Post Impressionist Period

The son of an art teacher, Picasso began studying art in the academic tradition at age 13.  At that age, Picasso already showed signs of great things to come.  In 1900, Picasso left Spain with his best friend Carlos Casagemas, to work in the art capital of Europe, the Montparnasse district of Paris, France.  Picasso lived in abject poverty and desperate circumstances with his roommate, the poet Max Jacob.  Not much of Picasso's earliest work survives, as Picasso reportedly burned a lot of this work for warmth when he first moved to France.  

“Painting is a blind man's profession. He paints not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.”  Pablo Picasso

The Blue Period

In 1901, Picasso's best friend Carlos Casagemas committed suicide over the unrequited love of Germaine Pichot.  Picasso's own depression following the suicide, the guilt of dating Germaine Pichot after his death, along with his poverty, would lead to the works of the Blue Period.  Earlier, Picasso's art was starting to attract attention, but just when people were getting acclimated to his work, he abruptly changed style to the Blue Period.  The subject matter of the Blue Period included starving mothers with children, beggars, and prostitutes.  The public found this work too depressing, and it did not sell, thus continuing the cycle of poverty.  

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”  Pablo Picasso

“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.”  Pablo Picasso

The Rose Period

In 1904, as Picasso's depression lifted, perhaps because of his new relationship with the bohemian artist and model Fernande Olivier.  Olivier was frequently a model for Picasso in what would become known as the Rose Period.  His colors and subject matter lightened considerably, as he began to paint circus people, acrobats, and harlequins in cheerful orange and pinks tones.  Circus people were still considered societal outcasts, but they were less taboo than his depictions of poverty in the Blue Period.  During this time, Picasso also met the Americans Leo and Gertrude Stein, who began collecting his work.  At one of their parties, he also met Henri Matisse for the first time, who would become his lifelong friend and rival.  

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”  Pablo Picasso

“I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”  Pablo Picasso

Proto-Cubist Work

In 1906, Picasso began to find inspiration in African sculpture and masks.  Parisians were being exposed to it for the first time as a result of French colonial expansion into Sub-Saharan Africa.  During this time Picasso was also influenced by Iberian sculpture and art from Oceania.  These new influences would culminate into Picasso's breakthrough painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907).   Picasso's Proto-Cubist work would easily transition itself to his next painting phase, Analytical Cubism.

“The world today doesn't make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”  Pablo Picasso

“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”  Pablo Picasso

Analytic Cubism

Picasso, with Georges Braque, is credited with the invention of Cubism.  The first phase, Analytic Cubism, began in 1909.  In Analytical Cubism, Picasso and Braque (and later many others) dissected and analyzed objects in terms of their shapes.  The broken up shapes were reassembled into abstract compositions, often painted in monochrome brownish and neutral colors.  Also, instead of the subject being depicted from one viewpoint, Analytical Cubism shows the subject from many viewpoints at the same time.  During this time, Picasso and company were notorious for their wild, bohemian lifestyle.  Picasso's friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, was arrested on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911.  Picasso was also brought in, but both were later exonerated.  

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”  Pablo Picasso

Synthetic Cubism

Picasso's Cubist innovations had given him some new fortune and fame.  In 1912, Picasso left Olivier for a new girl, Marcelle Humbert, who he called Eva Gouel. He had fallen madly in love with Eva, and would declare his love for her in the title of some of paintings.  Nevertheless, Picasso still managed to have an affair with another woman, Gaby Lespinasse, though he was devastated when Eva died of tuberculosis in 1915, age, 30.  As a Spanish citizen, Picasso was not expected to fight for France during the First World War.  He used this time to further develop his Cubist style, which became known as Synthetic Cubism.  Picasso created Synthetic Cubism in 1912.  Synthetic Cubism reintroduced color into Picasso's palette.  Through Synthetic Cubism, Picasso also gave the world another innovation, the collage and assemblage, which would have far reaching implications for Modern Art.  

“Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.”  Pablo Picasso

Neoclassic Works

In the summer of 1918, Picasso married the ballerina, Olga Khoklova, who he had met the year before in Rome, while designing a set for a ballet.  In the fall of 1918, the First World War ended.  Both of these things would have a calming effect on Picasso's art.  This era in Picasso's oeuvre  would become known as his Neoclassical Period.  The calmness of Picasso's work during this time, however, soon began to mask Picasso's troubled marriage.  Olga was all class and high society, while Picasso had more bohemian interests and pursuits.   Nevertheless, they had a child together, Paulo, born 1921.  Picasso's marriage to Olga would collapse in 1927, when he took the younger Marie-Thérèse Walter as his mistress.  Picasso refused to divorce Olga in order to prevent her from acquiring half of his wealth, as was French law, and the two would remain separated until her death in 1955.

Marc Chagall by Chris Hall

Marc and Bella Chagall.

Marc and Bella Chagall.

Marc Chagall (1887 - 1985) was a Russian-French artist and a pioneer of modernism.  Chagall was born near Vitebsk, Russian Empire (present day Belarus) in a poor Hasidic Jewish family.  Memories of his life growing up in Vitbsk would color much of future art.  Between 1906 and 1910, Chagall studied art in St. Petersburg, the political and cultural capital of the Russian Empire.  He frequently visited his home, Vitebsk, where he meet his first wife, Bella Rosenfeld.  In My Life, Chagall described his first meeting her: "Her silence is mine, her eyes mine. It is as if she knows everything about my childhood, my present, my future, as if she can see right through me."  Completing his studies, in 1910, the ambitious Chagall moved on to Paris.  

In Paris he created his own style of modern art based on his childhood experience of Eastern European Jewish folk culture.  The Paris avant-garde was dominated by cubism at the time, and many viewed Chagall's colorful, dreamlike paintings as a curiosity.  In 1914, a Berlin art dealer, however, found promise in Chagall's paintings, and invited him back to Berlin to exhibit there.  Chagall accepted the invitation, thinking he would pass through Berlin on his way Vitebsk, where he intended to marry Bella.  His plan was to stay just long enough for the exhibition and the wedding, and then return to Paris, but World War I intervened, and the Russian borders closed.  Chagall spent the war years in Belarus and in 1915 married his beloved Bella.  

When the Russian Revolution started in 1917, Chagall found himself in a dangerous situation, but also one with opportunity. As an artist, Chagall was respected in Russia, and he accepted a job to be Commissar of Arts for Vitebsk.  This would result in his founding the Vitebsk Arts College.  Chagall tried to create an atmosphere of diversity at his school, with artists working in a variety of different styles.  This fell apart, however, when several key faculty members began pushing Suprematist art, a minimalist aesthetic focusing on squares and circles, disapproving Chagall's “bourgeois individualism.”  Chagall resigned his post and moved to Moscow to work as a stage designer.  Moscow was not a good place to be during this time, as famine hit the city hard after the war.  When the Russian borders finally opened back up, Chagall, with Bella by his side, was determined to move back to Paris. 

Chagall moved back to the Montparnasse district of Paris in 1923.  On his way back to France he stopped in Berlin to recover the many pictures he had left there on exhibit ten years earlier, before the war began, but was unable to find or recover any of them. With all of his earliest work now gone, Chagall tried to recreate new ones from his memories of the past.  Paris between the wars was modernism's “golden age,” with the Montparnasse district being ground zero for the world's intellectual elite.  In this Parisian crucible, Chagall synthesized the art forms of Cubism, Symbolism, and Fauvism to create his own unique style.  He had some success abroad, with his first show in the United States, featuring about 100 works, in 1926.  He finally began to receive some attention in France, when in 1927 art critic Maurice Raynal included him in his book, Modern French Painters.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany.  Anti-Semitic laws were being passed and the first concentration camp at Dachau had been established.  Almost immediately, the Nazis began to a campaign against Modern Art.  Expressionist, cubist, abstract, and Surrealist, along with anything intellectual, Jewish, foreign, socialist-inspired, or just plain difficult to understand was targeted for removal, to be replaced by more accessible, realist work, especially heavy with German and patriotic themes.  Chagall was declared an Entartete Kunst, a “Degenerate Artist,” and his work was included in the famous Entartete Kunst exhibition in Munich, 1937.

When Germany invaded France, the Chagalls naively moved to the unoccupied south, in Vichy France.  They were unaware that the Vichy government was collaborating with the Germans to send French Jews to German concentration camps.  Chagall woke up to reality in October of 1940, when the Vichy government, under pressure from the Nazis, began to approve anti-Semetic laws, and French Jews were removed from public and academic positions.  By then, however, they were trapped.  America could be their only refuge, but they could not afford the ticket to New York, let alone the large bond that each immigrant had to pay upon entry to ensure that they would not be burden on the state.

Some circles in America, however, were sympathetic to the situation in France.  France had capitulated quickly, faster than Poland only the year before.  Paris was thought to be the center of civilization, and many were astonished to see it fall into Hitler's hands.  Chagall was not the only Russian or Jewish artist trapped in France; Chaim Soutine, Max Ernst, and Max Beckmann all sought to escape.  With help from Alfred Barr of the New York Museum of Modern Art, Chagall was added to a list of prominent artists whose lives were at risk and who the United States should try to extricate.  A rescue operation to smuggle artists and intellectuals out of Europe to the US by providing them with forged visas was started.  Chagall was one of over 2,000 people rescued by this operation and together with his family, he left France in May of 1941, when it was almost too late.

Chagall was awarded the Carnegie Prize in the United States in 1939, but he had no idea what kind of reception he would have stepping foot in America for the first time.  He found out that he was somewhat famous in the art world, and that his work was more appreciated in the United States than in France.  Chagall felt uncomfortable in his new role as artist-celebrity, in a foreign country where he could not even speak the language.  He felt lost at first, exiled in a strange place and time.  He spent a lot of time in Jewish communities, especially the Lower East Side, where he found familiar food and was able to read the newspapers printed in Yiddish.  Soon, however, he found that New York was full of artists, writers, and composers who, like himself, had fled from Europe during the Nazi invasions.  For the first time in his life, Chagall began to express interest in current events, and started painting the Crucifixion and scenes of war.  When he learned that the Germans had destroyed Vitebsk, the town where he was raised, he became greatly distressed.  He had also learned about the Nazi concentration camps.  During a speech in February 1944, he summed up his feelings:

Meanwhile, the enemy jokes, saying that we are a "stupid nation." He thought that when he started slaughtering the Jews, we would all in our grief suddenly raise the greatest prophetic scream, and would be joined by the Christian humanists. But, after two thousand years of "Christianity" in the world—say whatever you like—but, with few exceptions, their hearts are silent... I see the artists in Christian nations sit still—who has heard them speak up? They are not worried about themselves, and our Jewish life doesn't concern them.

On September 2nd, 1944, Chagall lost his beloved wife, Bella, due to a virus infection, which was not treated due to the wartime shortages of medicine.  Chagall's heart was broken, and he stopped painting for many months, and when he did resume painting, his first pictures were all concerned with preserving Bella's memory.  Chagall tried to fight bitter feelings.  He considered the possibility that their exile from Europe may have sapped her will to live, and that her death was just one of the millions of Jewish deaths that Germany was responsible for.  A few months after the Allies succeeded in liberating Paris from the Nazi occupation, Chagall wrote a letter “To the Paris Artists,” which was published in a Paris weekly paper.  In it he writes:

In recent years I have felt unhappy that I couldn't be with you, my friends. My enemy forced me to take the road of exile. On that tragic road, I lost my wife, the companion of my life, the woman who was my inspiration. I want to say to my friends in France that she joins me in this greeting, she who loved France and French art so faithfully. Her last joy was the liberation of Paris... Now, when Paris is liberated, when the art of France is resurrected, the whole world too will, once and for all, be free of the satanic enemies who wanted to annihilate not just the body but also the soul—the soul, without which there is no life, no artistic creativity.

By 1946, Chagall's art was becoming more widely recognized.  The Museum of Modern Art gave Chagall a retrospective, will work culled from his 40 year career as an artist.  America had welcomed Chagall with open arms, but France was his real home, and he began making plans to return to Paris at the first practical opportunity.  The Europe he returned to was a very different place from what he had left behind.  Paris was no longer the center of the art world; thanks in part to the influx of European immigrants during the war, New York was now the art capital.  But perhaps the most disturbing to Chagall was the fate of Vitebsk, his hometown in Belarus.  Vitebsk always had a sizable Jewish population.  According to the Russian census of 1897, out of the total 65,900 population, Jews accounted for 34,400, roughly 52%.  By the Second World War, Vitebsk's population had swelled to 240,000.  When the Nazis occupied the city in July 1941, they quickly established a Jewish ghetto, and from the 8th of October to the 11th, they massacred all of Vitbsk's Jewish inhabitants.  Later, much of  the city was obliterated in the ensuing battles between the Germans and the Red Army soldiers.  Of Vitebsk's 240,000 pre-war population, only 118 survived.  All Chagall had left of his past were his memories and his paintings. 

Chagall chose to retreat from Parisian public life and settled in the Cote d' Azur, south of France.  Matisse and Picasso also lived nearby.  Although they were close in proximity to each other, and they sometimes collaborated, their work was different enough that they viewed each other as rivals.  They never became long-term friends.  Picasso, however, did respect Chagall's work.  Sometime in the 1950's, he said, “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.”

Chagall's post-war years were fruitful.  Through his daughter, Ida, he met Valentina (Vava) Brodsky, a woman from a similar Russian Jewish background.  She became his secretary, but after a few months agreed to stay only if Chagall would marry her.  The marriage took place in July of 1952.  Chagall's art practice also expanded to include sculpture and ceramics, as well as many large scale, public commissions for murals, stained glass windows, mosaics, and tapestries.

In 1963, Chagall was commissioned to paint the new ceiling for the Paris Opera, a majestic 19th century building and national monument.  Andre Malraux, France's Minister of Culture, wanted something unique and decided Chagall would be the ideal artist.  This choice would become a public controversy, as many disliked the idea of having the ceiling of the historic building painted by a modern artist, while the xenophobes objected to having a Russian Jew decorate a French national monument.  Magazines published condescending articles about Chagall.  Chagall commented to one writer that:

They really had it in for me... It is amazing the way the French resent foreigners. You live here most of your life. You become a naturalized French citizen... work for nothing decorating their cathedrals, and still they despise you. You are not one of them.

Despite the scathing criticism, the 77 year old Chagall continued to work on the project, which took him a year to complete.  The final canvas was nearly 2,400 square feet and required 440 pounds of paint.  The work paid tribute to the composers Mozart, Wagner, Mussorgsky, Berlioz, and Ravel.  Chagall was pleased with the work, and when it was unveiled in 1964, he felt vindicated when the press declared the new work to a great contribution to French culture.  Chagall had finally won over France.

Chagall would continue to paint until his death in 1985, age 97.  He was the last survivor of the first generation of European avante-garde artists, outliving Picasso, Matisse, and Miro.  The subjects that interested him most continued to be his memories of Vitebsk, musicians, lovers, the circus, Biblical subjects, and Jewish themes, always a colorful celebration of life and a defiant stance against the tragedies of the 20th century.  Chagall biographer Jackie Wullschlager writes that Chagall was:

a pioneer of modern art and one of its greatest figurative painters... On his canvases we read the triumph of modernism, the breakthrough in art to an expression of inner life that ... is one of the last century's signal legacies. At the same time Chagall was personally swept up in the horrors of European history between 1914 and 1945: world wars, revolution, ethnic persecution, the murder and exile of millions. In an age when many major artists fled reality for abstraction, he distilled his experiences of suffering and tragedy into images at once immediate, simple, and symbolic to which everyone could respond.

In his own way, then, it could be argued that Chagall was just as effective at combating darkness as some of the more politically motivated artists of his time.

Henri Rousseau by Chris Hall

Henri Rousseau,  Self Portrait of the Artist with a Lamp , 1900.

Henri Rousseau, Self Portrait of the Artist with a Lamp, 1900.

Henri Rousseau was a French Post Impressionist painter who worked in the so called “Naive” or “Primitive” style (I don't care for these terms, as they imply a negative connotation to me).  Rousseau was known by his nickname, “Le Douanier,” meaning “the Customs Officer,” for his occupation as a toll collector for the government.  Rousseau always aspired, in vain, to win the recognition of the conventional, Academic Art establishment.  For his efforts he was ridiculed in the press and by critics, who were prejudiced toward him because of his lack of a formal arts education.  Toward the end of his life, his work was appreciated by fellow art outsiders Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh, and would be held in high esteem by future generations of avant-garde artists, most notably the young Pablo Picasso.

Rousseau was a late bloomer and picked up the paint brush for the first time around the age of 40.  He was encouraged in his painting by his neighbor, the artist Felix Clement, who managed to obtain a license for Rousseau to make copies of art at the Louvre and other galleries.  In 1884 Rousseau submitted his work to the official Salon, but was rejected.  They found his paintings to be childlike and naive, lacking perspective and proportion.  But this would be only the first rejection, in a long career of many rejections from the traditional art establishment.

In 1886, Rousseau submitted work to the first Salon des Independants.  Rousseau would participate in the Salon des Independants every year between 1886 and 1910, except the ones in 1899 and 1900.  Anyone could participate in the Salon des Independants, as long as they paid the exhibition fee, and it quickly became a refuge for revolutionary and under-appreciated artists.  Rousseau's work would hang along side many other struggling artists, namely Georges Seurat, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent Van Gogh.

In 1888, Rousseau's first wife, Clemence, died at the young age of 37, of tuberculosis.  The memory of her would figure greatly in much of his future work.  In Promenade in the Forest of Saint-Germain, which he finished in 1890, Clemence is seen alone in the woods where they once liked to go on Sunday walks.  Her hand covers her heart, signifying passion or love, and the branch above her head, which is conspicuously cut off, might signify death.  Clemence is looking back with longing, but she must go on alone, leaving behind Rousseau and the children.  Promenade in the Forest of Saint-Germain was shown at the Salon des Independant, but because of its special meaning, it was not listed for sale.

Henri Rousseau often painted exotic jungle scenes populated with strange plants and animals.  While Rousseau did serve in the Army during the French incursion in Mexico, he was left stateside during the affair.  In fact, Rousseau never left France during his entire life; he was inspired to make his jungle paintings from his frequent visits to the Paris Zoo and the botanical gardens.  In 1890's there was a growing interest within the European public for exotic scenes from the tropics.  The late 19th century was the height of colonialist imperialism, and people were curious about the overseas territories that they felt belonged to them.  The darker aspects of colonialism, its exploitation of people and resources, was then unknown to most people back home.

Rousseau's first jungle landscape, Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) was exhibited in 1891 in the Salon des Independants, and found a small, receptive audience.  Simultaneously, Paul Gauguin was making art in Tahiti, and British author Rudyard Kipling was publishing the first of many stories and poems about India.  Despite the public's new interest in exotic subject matter, the critics were particularly savage, and once again ridiculed his work for what they perceived as an amateurish style.  In response, he would abandon the jungle landscape genre for some time.

In 1893, Rousseau asked for permission to retire early from the Customs House to paint full-time.  He was 49.  Rousseau's superiors and fellow workers had long supported him in his pursuit of painting, giving him the lighter work and  allowing him to paint while on the job.  His resignation was accepted and Rousseau moved with his family to the Montparnasse district in Paris, where he quickly established a studio.  Montparnasse, with its cheap rents and bohemian culture, would soon become famous for its population of young, struggling artists from around the world.

During all of the 1890's Rousseau continued to seek official patronage.  In 1893 he wrote a letter to the President of the Republic seeking assistance, and was rejected.  In 1898 he offered his painting, The Sleeping Gypsy, to the mayor of Laval for a considerable sum of money.  His offer was rejected.  In the same year, he submitted his plans for the decoration of the Vincennes Town Hall, and was rejected.  Two years later, in 1900, Rousseau offered to paint the Asnieres Town Hall, but was once again, rejected.

Rejected by the official art establishment and continually rebuffed in his attempts to find patronage and public commissions, Rousseau soon began to run into financial problems and he accumulated debts.  To make ends meet, he took up work as a part-time salesman for the Le Petit Journal, offered drawing lessons, and occasionally worked as a street musician.  Rousseau was a talented violinist and even managed to have a waltz he wrote for his first wife, Clemence, published by the Literary and Musical Academy of France. 

One day in 1908, a young Pablo Picasso was out shopping at the Père Soulier when he came across a stack of canvases being sold as work to be repainted over.  One of the paintings was a work by Henri Rousseau.  Picasso loved the painting and bought the canvas for five francs.  He did not see the work as amateurish and childlike, he saw it as charmingly nonconformist, as something unsullied by academia.  Rousseau had always tried to establish himself as a traditional painter, yet it was Picasso and the avant-garde artists, those rebelling against the academic tradition, who ended up championing his work.

Picasso tracked Rousseau down and introduced him to his social circle.  Some in his circle thought the untrained Rousseau a joke, a bumbling, old, naive curiosity, but Picasso and his friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, held genuine affection for him and his work.  Later that year, Picasso even hosted banquet for him in his honor.  Rousseau had always considered himself to be a traditional painter, not an avant-garde iconoclast.  Despite the constant rejection and ridicule, he tried hard to impress himself into academic and bourgeois society.  Still, Rousseau was happy that someone, finally, appreciated his work.  Rousseau would die shortly thereafter, in 1910, but his work would live on to become influential to several generations of avant-garde artists, including Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Max Beckmann, Wassily Kandinsky, the Surrealists, and the poets Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath.

Henri Rousseau's Last Painting by Chris Hall

Henri Rousseau, The Dream, 1910

"It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between."  Diane Ackerman

Henri Rousseau finished The Dream in 1910.  It was one of his more than 25 jungle themed paintings.  But this one is different.  This one features a nude figure reclining on a divan.  The figure is meant to represent his first wife, Clemence, who died of tuberculosis in 1888, at the young age of 37.  According to his daughter, Julia, Rousseau was sometimes guided by the ghost of Clemence in his paintings.  The Dream depicts Clemence as she wakes into a dream after falling asleep on the red divan, which Rousseau kept in his studio.  She finds herself in a lush jungle landscape, dense with green foliage and lotus flowers.  Hidden in the dim, moonlit jungle she observes birds, monkeys, an elephant, a lion and lioness, a snake, and a snake charmer.  Her arm reaches out to the lions, while the snake charmer plays on a flute.  The snake's sinuous form reflects the curves of her hips and leg, as it slithers through the undergrowth.  

The Dream would be Rousseau's last work.  I can not help but to wonder what Rousseau was thinking at this point in his life.  He was an old man, his art unappreciated, except for a few young and up and coming avant-garde artists.  He had also buried two wives and six children, who he had loved dearly.  And now he had only a few months to live.  What did he think his legacy would be?  Was he at all hopeful?  Was he sad?  Did he think himself a failure?  Did he think his own life was a dream, and that he would wake up next to his beloved Clemence?

All of Rousseau's earlier work had been received negatively in the press.  He was frequently ridiculed, and was considered somewhat of a joke by mainstream critics.  But when the poet Guillaume Apollinaire saw The Dream, he said “The picture radiates beauty, that is indisputable.  I believe nobody will laugh this year.”  One of the few up and coming avant-garde artists who appreciated Rousseau's work, who saw past the bad press, was the young Pablo Picasso.  There would be a future for Rousseau's work.  Henri Rousseau died on September 2nd, 1910.

Sexuality and Erotic Art by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall,  Bow Legged Goddess Figure .

Christopher Hall, Bow Legged Goddess Figure.

Gustav Klimt and Pablo Picasso both said “All art is erotic.”  The drive to create and the sexual impulse is remarkably similar; it is defined by passion.  I think eroticism and sexuality are two different things, though they frequently overlap.  Erotic art needn't always be sexually explicit; a line can be sensual and color can be passionate, for example.  Sexuality, however, while frequently erotic, can also veer off into crude pornography, or scientific, medical investigation.

Eroticism can have a real spiritual depth.  There is nothing more erotic, to me, than gazing into the eyes of a lover, peering into the depths of their soul.  But this kind of erotic expression, this kind of love, is almost impossible to render in figurative art.  In my art I reserve this kind of eroticism, this kind of sensuality, for abstract expression, or for more formal qualities (such as line and color).

What follows are some of my drawings depicting or suggesting sexuality, which may or may not be erotic, depending your taste.  It should be noted that I sometimes find expressions of sexuality to be ridiculous and funny, and this attitude is often reflected in my work which has a penchant toward the “inappropriate.”  I do not find much of anything sexual to be inappropriate.  There is nothing wrong with sexuality; it is what makes us adults and human beings.  We should celebrate our sexuality, rather than be ashamed of it.  My erotic/sexual art is, of course, a celebration of sexuality, but also a criticism of puritanical tendencies in our society, and at times, a criticism of sexual exploitation and its vulgar, overuse in advertisement.  

"Why should I be ashamed to describe what nature was not ashamed to create?"   Pietro Aretino

"If you bring your sexual impulses to your creative work... you'll be working from deep in the genetic code, down where life wants to make new life and feel good in the process."  Eric Maisel

"The artist's experience lies so unbelievably close to the sexual, to its pain and its pleasure, that the two phenomena are really just different forms of one and the same longing and bliss."  Rainer Maria Rilke

"I can always be distracted by love, but eventually I get horny for my creativity."  Gilda Radner

"Erotic symbols are part of nature in their aspect of fertility and creativity and, as such, are an inherent part of Man's own needs and drive."  Bela Fidel 

"Aesthetic emotion puts man in a state favorable to the reception of erotic emotion... Art is the accomplice of love. Take love away and there is no longer art."  Remy de Gourmont 

"There is a connection between art and sex, with arousal in one realm speaking to arousal in another."  Laura Jacobs

"Even the most innocent of images can send subliminal messages of an erotic nature."  Julie Rodriguez Jones  

"The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting."  Gloria Leonard 

"Being sexy is kind of funny to me."  Reba McEntire

"It is sexual energy which governs the structure of human feeling and thinking."  Wilhelm Reich

"The difference between eroticism and pornography is one of art."  Andre Salvet 

"I do not deny that I have made drawings and watercolors of an erotic nature. But they are always works of art. Are there no artists who have done erotic pictures?"  Egon Schiele

"I am an abstract artist in the sense that I abstract. I cannot be called non-figurative while I am still interested in the modern magic of space, primitive sex forms, the sensual and erotic, disconcerting contours, the things of life."  William Scott 

"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it."   Oscar Wilde

"To deny sex is to deny life. To reject art is to impoverish yourself, rejecting pleasure and growth. To accept sex and art together is to add to oneself, to be positive instead of negative."  William Rotsler

Quotes On Art and Suffering by Chris Hall

Edvard Munch,  Starry Night , 1893

Edvard Munch, Starry Night, 1893

I have written some about what I think about art and suffering.  Here is a collection of thoughts by other people on the subject:  

What is the ‘raison d’etre; what is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be a painter and poet if it is not an act of defiance against man’s fall and an assertion that he return to the Adam of the Garden of Eden.  Barnett Newman

Make a child a painting and he’ll be happy for a day.  Teach a child to paint and he’ll be miserable for a lifetime.  Christopher Willard

I paint in order not to cry.  Paul Klee

 If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.  Yayoi Kusama

All great art comes from a sense of outrage.  Glenn Close

Painting is a source of endless pleasure, but also of great anguish.  Balthus

For me, painting is a way to forget life.  It is a cry in the night, a strangled laugh.  George Rouault

You never paint what you see or think you see.  You paint with a thousand vibrations the blow that has struck you:  how can you be struck and not cry out in anger?  Nicholas de Stael

Sometimes I find myself making love to my own misfortune.  Norma O. Abrego

One swallows something, is poisoned by it and eliminates the toxic.  A painter paints to unload himself of feelings and visions. Pablo Picasso 

For the creator himself to be the child new-born he must be willing to be the mother and endure the mother's pain.  Friedrich Nietzsche

Creatives with their Cats by Chris Hall

Ernest Hemingway, sharing part of his sandwich with one of his cats.

Ernest Hemingway, sharing part of his sandwich with one of his cats.

Cats are not completely tame, and neither are artists.  Their senses have not been completely dulled by civilization.  Isn’t it any wonder, then, that the two should get along so famously?  These are some of my favorite photos (and there were many) of creative types with their cats.  Enjoy!


Critical Paranoia and Artistic Vision by Chris Hall

I came to assist as a spectator at the birth of all my works.  Max Ernst.

You need both a bit of mind and a bit of mindlessness to make a painting. It's a play between control and surrender. Paul deMarrais

Let the painting tell you what it needs. Charles Reid

Painting is stronger than I am. It can make me do whatever it wants. Pablo Picasso

Painting is much like fishing. Sometimes we get hits and sometimes we get a glimpse of the phantom of the deep. Sometimes we sit adrift. But sooner or later, we get a keeper. Paul Allen Taylor

I say one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by an immense, long, deliberate derangement of all the senses.  Arthur Rimbaud

Christopher Hall, The Perfect Muse, from the "Divination Series," 1997

Many a great artist has relinquished control in their art making process in order to become a seer and discover psychic truths.  Art can become a doorway and a bridge to the subjective interior psyche, the collective unconscious, as well as objective reality.  By approaching the art making process without any premeditation for the results, you can discover unknown truths, subject matter (archetypal content), and composition.  The Surrealists used this process to great effect.  But this new way of seeing isn’t really new at all.  Leonardo da Vinci would instruct his students to use a perception technique where they would look into the stains and cracks of a plaster wall, or the patterns found on river rocks, and discover landscapes, battles, clouds, faces, and new attitudes, new meaning out of chaos.  This alternative form of observation is akin to divination, rolling bones, and shamanic vision techniques that go back to the dawn of mankind.  Max Ernst would call it “Regarde Irrite,” Dali, "Critical Paranoia.”

I did not need the Surrealists to introduce me to Critical Paranoia, I was already sensitive to the art of Looking/Seeing and I discovered the technique on my own.  Even as a boy I would use my active imagination to transform shapes on a wall into birds, clouds, and human faces.  My real breakthrough in using Critical Paranoia in art came in 1997 with my “Divination Series.”  For this series, consisting of 16 works, I would tear up photocopied pages from a book on Marc Chagall’s art and randomly glue down the pieces on to a prepared panel.  I would turn my Paranoiac Critical eye to the gaps and creases between the torn pieces of paper and seek out images, subject matter, and composition, which I would then develop with crushed and diluted oil pastels.  

Soon afterward I would turn this new process of perception into direct painting.  I would go into the undergraduate studio at night, when it was quiet and free from distraction, and, with the aid of alcohol (only just enough to loosen the brain) I could escape rational thought, shake off notions of reason, taste, and morals.  I could enter into a meditative, trancelike, hallucinatory state of being.  This was my ecstatic working process, my tools necessary for the disruption of the everyday tyranny of the banal.  I would begin by making fluid, random marks onto a canvas or panel.  After the first brush stroke, the canvas began to assume a life of its own and I became both governor and spectator to my own event.  I would look into these marks and begin to see things from deep within my subconscious, and, if I was lucky, deeper still into the collective unconscious.  In the words of Gordon Onslow-Ford, I was a “pioneer artist (who) becomes a SEER with insight into the vast expanses of the inner worlds and their correspondences to the nature of the universe.”  

In my writing from the time I would compare myself to a deep sea diver into the sea of the unconscious, Theseus finding a way through the dark labyrinth (hoping to not lose the string that would guide me back home), an explorer of subterranean worlds, pulling the manhole cover over my head, or a artist-hunter entering the dark woods in search of truths to bring back to civilization.  It takes fortitude to keep painting like this.  I discovered many monsters lurking in the back channels of my mind.  I burned out sometime around 2000 and began to look for other modes of expression.  Around this time I began painting flowers from direct observation.  But that is another story to write about.  I still work, from time to time, using the Critical Paranoia technique, but I no longer use it exclusively.  

The Art of Stealing by Chris Hall

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to."  Jim Jarmusch

Good artists copy, great artists steal.  Pablo Picasso.

Pablo Picasso,  Guitar , 1913

Pablo Picasso, Guitar, 1913

Maybe Picasso is referring to the collage elements in some of his work, where you steal elements from newspapers and advertisement, cultural clutter, and transcend the original.  It is important to transcend the original if one wants to create a valid work of art, or else you are creating homage (and there is nothing wrong with that, but you can not build a career on homage).  The process of artistic theft has been around since the first artists; it is a grand tradition that works in a variety of media. 

Sound artists Negativland steal from a variety of sources and create true sound collage.  For one album, they ripped of a U2 song and outtakes of American Top 40 DJ Casey Kasem cursing while dedicating a U2 song to a dog named Snuggles.  Negativland was sued by both Casey Kasem and Island records.  Artist Girl Talk, however, famous for his pop song mash-ups, pays homage.  Clever as the work is, Girl Talk’s work does not always transcend the original sources.  I get the same pleasure out of listening to a Girl Talk song as I do listening to the original sources (and often, I prefer the original).  Below are links to listen to examples from Negativland and Girl Talk.

If you are going to steal, use the theft to make a better art, and if you can’t do that, make a different or critical interpretation from the original source.  If you can’t do that, well, then you’ve made homage . . . and if your original source is something banal, such a newspaper, or cultural pollution such as an advertisement, well, then you done the world a bad thing by creating more useless clutter. 

In the above quote, Jarmusch says “select only things to steal that speak directly to your soul.  If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”  I have to agree.  Sherrie Levine, who uses theft to critic modern art, chooses work that for some reason does not speak to her soul and it reflects in her work, which is definitely inauthentic.  Levine would most likely say that is the point, to challenge notions of authenticity.  I would then have to ask, why?  Why is it so important for you to produce work that is so decidedly inauthentic?  What are you trying to challenge?  Below are two works "by" Sherrie Levine.  The first is a pixelated photo of Cezanne painting, followed by a black and white photograph of a Van Gogh portrait.

Gauguin: Imagined Paradise by Chris Hall

A successful businessman, Gauguin soon rejected bourgeois values to paint full-time.  His family, his wife of eleven years and their five children, rejected his new lifestyle and asked him to leave.  Like his friend Van Gogh, Gauguin was susceptible to depression, and he had on at least one occasion attempted suicide.  Despite his desire to become a success in the Paris art world, in 1891 Gauguin sailed to Tahiti, in order to escape European civilization with “everything that is artificial and conventional.”  

Paul Gauguin, Where Do We Come From?  Who Are We?  Where Are We Going?, 1897

Gauguin seeks a romanticized paradise in Tahiti, but he quickly finds the realities of living as an artist abroad overpowering his imagined paradise.  Imported art supplies are expensive, the locals were willing to model for him in exchange for gifts, but they do not accept him, and no one in Tahiti will buy his work.  Despite living frugally, he suffers from financial worries and attempts suicide by drinking arsenic in 1897. Finding Tahiti too expensive, he leaves for the Marquesas Islands.  Soon Gauguin gets into legal trouble for taking the natives’ side against French colonialists and on 27 March 1903 Gauguin is charged with libeling the Islands’ governor.  He is fined 500 francs and sentenced to three months in prison.  Upon appeal, he had his sentence reduced to 500 francs and one month in prison.  On 8 May 1903, before he could serve his time in prison, Gauguin dies from a morphine overdose at the age of 54.  

Paul Gauguin, c 1895

Paul Gauguin, c 1895

While Gauguin was a little more successful in the Paris art world than his friend Van Gogh, he never really broke through.  Acknowledgement of the importance of his work would come after his death.  Both Van Gogh’s and Gauguin’s work would come to heavily influence the next generation of Modern artists, including both Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

In an effort to devalue his work, much has been made about Gauguin’s life abroad.  Deconstructionalists are now looking at his life and work through the lens of post-colonialism and feminism.  Some have even argued that despite his championing of native rights against colonialist incursion, his presence on the island alone is enough to condemn him.  Others have made much about Gauguin’s abandoning his family.  He never abandoned his family, he was asked to leave, and even then, he kept in contact with them until his death.  In many ways Gauguin was a terrible man, his temperament, excessive drinking, and bullying of his friends are recorded, but perhaps the one thing that we can find to irrecoverably stain Gauguin’s life is his taking of an underage mistress while living on Tahiti.  Yes, we can find this deplorable, but I do not think it is enough to damn the work he produced.  While the artist’s life and the artist’s work sometimes inhabit the same time and place, it is important to remember that they are in fact, two different spheres.  You can’t simply damn the artwork for the sins of the artist.

Below are some of my favorite works by Paul Gauguin.  Click the image to enlarge.

Defending Modernism by Chris Hall

I support classic Feminism and consider myself a champion of equal rights and opportunity, but I do not get why Feminist and Post-Colonial Deconstructionist critical theory seem so hell bent on destroying Modernism.  I have yet to be convinced that Modernist aesthetics equals political repression, homophobia, misogyny, sexism, anti-Semitism, racism, Fascism, imperialism, and colonialism, all accusations leveled toward the movement.  It just doesn’t balance.  Clearly there are some bad apples, but I do not see why it has to spoil the whole bunch. You need not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  There might have been a few examples of intolerance among art, artists, and critics, but I do not see how this is endemic of the Modernist mission as a whole.  

Much of what Feminist and Post-Colonial criticism finds problematic in Modern Art can not be proven as concrete examples of racism and misogyny.  We can never clearly know what goes on in the mind of the artist during an artwork’s creation without an explicit explanation.  Consider Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907.  Does Picasso’s rough portrayal of Barcelona’s prostitutes make him a woman hater or is the portrayal a representation of the psychological uncomfortably of the client/viewer and prostitute/art relationship?  And what about Picasso’s appropriation of African masks?  Is his borrowing of another culture’s aesthetics done with admiration for the art or with Colonial insensitivity? 

Considering the Modernist mission . . . to wake people up from their slumber, does shaking an audience out of complacency necessarily mean that you are elitist, self righteous, or Fascist?  No . . . I don’t think so.  I believe that argument was applied to Modernist Art (which championed artist-as-hero art) in order to make room for less ambitious, quieter art (which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily).  There is room for both the heroic and the humble in the Art World.  Quiet, humble art expresses as much a philosophy and rhetoric as larger, louder, and heroic art does.  So, if believing in something, having a point of view, and expressing it is considered Fascist, well then, both camps are guilty.  

 Picasso’s  Les Demoiselles d’Avignon , 1907

 Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907