Circus, better worlds and color fields

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 @ 11:52 am | About My Art, New Paintings, Personal

Some folks say that my art reminds them of a circus, which doesn’t sound like a compliment and isn’t taken a such (neither as an insult). Let me explain how the circus comes in. At http://pablo-picasso.paintings.name/blue-period I describe how in the 19th century the circus in general (and the circus clown in particular) was generally seen as representing the artist and his position within society. Picasso in particular took that comparison to heart and during his blue and rose periods incorporated  many circus scenes into his art. From there on the circus seizes to be an explicit subject in his work, but the circus spirit and atmosphere continues to be present in his work.

The thing with artists is that they are impressionable bastards, they absorb their experiences. And so, without realizing it, I incorporated the circus atmosphere into my work just by Picasso’s influence. Maybe the influence has many other sources, but it seems to me that Picasso has been one of the most influential people of the 20th century. Picasso wasn’t even the most talented painter of his time, but while his contemporaries confined themselves to their niche, Picasso took a very broad approach to art, and culture in general. Similarly, it has been said that one of Mick Jagger’s main merits was/is that he understood what made his generation tick – not just the music.

So I have no special relationship with the circus and I’m not the reincarnation of Picasso, nor do I have any kind of metaphysical, New Age-styled bond with Picasso’s spirit, I’m just the product (among many other things) of his influence. Like Picasso’s generation kept referring back to Classical art, while radically breaking with it, I keep referring to the 19th century, both in my taste of art and music, with Modern Art serving as a bridge between then and now.

Now we know the similarities, it becomes more interesting to determine the difference between my art and Picasso’s. I don’t want to go through all of it, but while looking at Joan Miró’s work I realized that Miró, as a very old painter, was able to successfully incorporate the abstract expressionistic style of the 1950s into his work. I woud say that Picasso made similar attempts, but not successfully. Maybe he was too tied to his figurative upbringing and that abstract expressionism required the line of thought of pure abstract art, which Picasso could never connect to. Or maybe he just lost his flexibility at some point and remained tied to the 19th century, his later paintings still have that flavour.

Since 2006 I’ve been trying to connect to post-WWII abstract art, which I think can be best seen in

The White Rectangle, abstract art by Marten Jansen

The White Rectangle

The thing with 1950s abstract art is that it’s messy, so 1960s abstract artists went for purity, order and serenity (see http://painting.tk/art-painting.php for more on this), which they achieved, but at the expense of structural complexity to the point of triviality. So in the White Rectangle I went for purity while trying to retain complexity.

Now I feel again drawn to the 1960s side of the equation: the purity and serenity of color field painting, as it’s called. Actually color field painting is Piet Mondrian revisited. It has the same utopic, higher dimensional (almost symbolist) feel. The difference is that Mondrian’s works are all involved compositions, while color field paintings are all (yes – all – I’m so sorry) starting points rather than complete artworks. Nevertheless, the basic idea of color field painting is very valid and an inspiration.

So far I find it difficult to go down the path of color field panting, because my basic instinct is to want to express the way my soul sees the world: as a yucky place. Weird as that may be, I’m not an escapist. I don’t shun the influence of the world but see it as something that must be lived. In fact, if there’s something that gives me the creeps it’s utopism and it’s propensity for higher and better worlds. Dutch and French artists are both avid utopists for different reasons. The Dutch are plainly naive and think their higher worlds and visions can be made into reality, while the French are aware that the world is up to no good but regard it as a matter of savoir vivre to try to invoke higher dimensions and idealized worlds.

I think Vincent van Gogh was an odd combination of the two. Many people regard him as a naive fool for saying things like “This world is the best of all possible worlds” but it seems to me that he would say that to aggrevate people and there was always something very realistic in his work and his written observations of the world. On the other hand, true to the Dutch tradition of taking the hypes of the time overly seriously and then thinking they invented the concept, he tried to bring fine art to potato picking day laborers and tried to establish an artists colony which was attended by Paul Gauguin only, because he could use Theo’s allowance.

Everyone has his own brand of naivity, so do I, but as an artist I feel drawn to Edvard Munch who tried to confront and use his demons rather than to try to escape to a more heavenly place. When he had cured from his neurosis, he realized his art had lost its essence, so he went to a slaughter house in order to witness the killing of a bull and be shocked back to genius. Of course it didn’t work and while he remained one of the best expressionists of his time, his work had lost its content.

I neither have nor need a neurosis (at least, not one that bothers me) in order to be an artist, but I will ascend to heaven no sooner than I kick the bucket and before that I will want to create an art that spills the guts of Planet Earth for all to see, by which I mean that I want to feel I’m in touch with (my perception of) reality at all times. At the same time I’m an aesthetic, because there’s never just ugliness, there’s beauty too. At a loved-one’s funeral the sun may shine and the setting may be beautiful, adding to your grief to which the universe is indifferent. But tomorrow is another day, as there’s no dignity to survival, just genetics, and if I may, a little bit of humor.

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