The Founding Father of Modernism

by Louise Coleman


Who doesn't enjoy a bit of Jeopardy?

Who doesn't enjoy a bit of Jeopardy?

A while ago now, the final Jeopardy! question within the category ‘History of Art’ asked the contestants to answer the following: who was the founding father of modern art?

As usual with IQ-testing game shows, the risk of saying the wrong answer, hurting your pride and potentially your ego far outweighs the self-satisfaction of a correct answer. However, with this particular question, the answer was plain as day.

It had to be Paul Cezanne. One of the most important painters of the 19th century, his unparalleled technical approach to painting was admired and mimicked by many of the great artists from the 20th century art movements, who saw Cezanne as an icon for his expressive use of colour and new, heavy-handed technique. There was no quandary, the answer would be Cezanne.

Paul Cézanne, self-portrait, ca 1880

Yet Alex Trabek, the host, did not concur. The other contestants had no new suggestions, and he was forced to reveal the answer: Francisco de Goya.

Amid a foundation in modern art by means of readings, teachings and research, this was a perplexing outcome. The devout standpoint on the subject contrary to, in my opinion, majority belief piqued my interest. What made Goya the most plausible patriarch of modern art?

Francisco José de Goya, Self portrait with spectacles, ca 1800

Arising from the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution, the birth of modernism was characterised by the challenging of realism and its subsequent fusion with abstraction. A new art was ignited: one that not simply recorded a picture of the world, but one that imprinted a complex and intimate perception of it.

The position of “first modern painter” has always been fluid, and often darts from one 19th century artist to another. Whittling down the parentage of modern art to a single artist is a subjective review, and often depends on which exhibition, artwork or artist currently has the critic’s attention.

However, Cezanne has remained a firm favourite for the role. Nature was a fascination for Cezanne, and this subject matter carried him through his progression from natural, light-filled paintings, typified by the Impressionistic aesthetic, to a new era of painting, Post-Impressionism, where he united colour and form through emphasis on structure and solidarity. His technique is distinguishable by thick layers of pigment, vigorously applied using small, pixellated brushstrokes, to construct planes of colour and distorted tonal variations.

Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue, 1885

Goya arrived on the scene earlier than Cezanne, who began his technical experiments with still-life paintings in the mid- 1870s. Goya was a court painter to the Spanish Crown in the 1780s, until he became seriously ill in 1792, leaving him permanently deaf. It was from this point his art began a metamorphosis, as his style became less inhibited and revealed bold, penetrating characterisations that were almost caricature - unprecedented in contemporary religious art. His painting turned to a darker subject matter after the Spanish Civil War, in a period known as the ‘Black Paintings’, as Goya illustrated his embitterment and disillusion towards society.

Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819-23

Cezanne and Goya applied similar stylistic techniques, such as the bold handling of paint and contrasting lights and darks, but in subject matter they starkly differentiated. Nevertheless, the crucial discrimination between the artists is how each perceives the connection between the subject matter and artistic technique. Cezanne used painting to indulge his technical experiments in the manipulation of the classical laws of perspective, with the natural subject matter taking a backseat to his practical artistic evolution in colour, space, and tone. Goya, however, utilised painting as an act of story-telling, to illustrate and emphasise the travesties he had witnessed through his technical expertise in dark tonalities and heavy brushstrokes.

Goya is the “first modernist” by lineage: he held particular importance for 19th century French Impressionist painters, such as Delacroix, Manet and Degas. Cezanne’s influence over the address of form and colour appeared later, and directly influenced 20th century artistic movements such as Cubism, Fauvism and successive avant-garde artists.

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People

Jeopardy was correct in that Goya was technically the first influence on modernism; his deep pessimism and expressive searching was unprecedented in paintings, and would be significant for generations to come. But Cezanne’s analytical approach to painting also left its mark, as can be seen in the Cubist works of George Braque and Pablo Picasso to name a few.

In uniting and comparing the art of Cezanne and Goya, their roles are illuminated in the carving of modernism. Appointing one ‘patriarch of modern art’ fundamentally neglects a crucial facet of modernism; either the evolution in subject matter is overlooked, or the growth of technical ability is sidelined. But when it does come time to choose a winner, as the final question in Jeopardy for example, it is interesting to observe and analyse why that artist was chosen, and who was inevitably left in the dark.

Happy Friday!

Happy Friday!

Make the most of this b-e-a-UTIFUL weather and wander down Queen West to check out our Divergence exhibit! 

There are over 70 graduating artists from Humber's Creative Photography program, and our walls are filled to the brim.

There are also some fancy snacks and a cash bar until 9pm this evening for you to enjoy.

Your Friday night = sorted.

He agrees.

Can't wait for you to check it out!

Contemporary Art Controversies

 

whitecube.com

Myra by Marcus Harvey (1995)

'Myra' by Marcus Harvey sits large at 9 x 11 feet, and depicts the infamous 'Moors Murders' killer Myra Hindley. Through the use of imprints from a cast of a child's hand in black, grey and white, the painting is a version of the iconic police photograph that was plastered in newspapers for decades after her convinction.

Harvey stated that "she probably didn't do any of the murders," but nonetheless its showcase in the Sensation exhibit at the Royal Academy in London spurred an outcry, as the mothers of the victims protested, the painting was vandalised, four members of the Royal Academy resigned, and even Myra herself wrote from prison that the art be removed.

In the end, the painting remained for the remainder of the exhibit, albeit flanked by security guards and covered with a plastic shield. 

saatchigallery.com

Piss Christ by Andre Serrano (1987)

Andre Serrano's 'Piss Christ' is a photograph of a wood and plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine.

The work won Serrano several awards, including a $15,000 fellowship from Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SCCA), funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). As an additional aspect of this award the work was exhibited in a three-day show, ending in January 1989, which drew letters of outrage from two hundred members of congress, demanding why federal money was used to support blatantly blasphemous artwork. 

More recently, a print of 'Piss Christ' was ruined by Christian protesters in 2011 while on exhibit at a contemporary art museum in France. 

However, the meaning behind this work was distorted, as the artist did not have the intention of denouncing religion, rather he merely wanted to depict the cheapening of Christianity within today's commercial society.

complex.com

Shark by David Cerny (2005)

Prague-born artist David Cerny is known for his controversial works - babies crawling up towers, Sigmund Freud hanging from the side of a building, and Peeing Statues (surely self-explanatory).

However, his 'Shark', inspired by Damien Hirst's 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' (1991), is an extraordinarily disturbing piece showcasing a startlingly realistic sculpture of Saddam Hussein submerged in a formaldehyde-filled tank.

This artwork was released in 2005, just a year before Hussein was executed, and was subsequently banned from several countries including Poland and Belgium for its shocking subject matter.

saatchiart.com

How Ya Like Me Now? by David Hammons (1988)

David Hammons intended this mural as a statement against black leaders' assimilation into white politics, but it became furthermore controversial due to the situation in which it was presented.

Hammons depicts a portrait of Jesse Jackson with bleached hair, white skin and blue eyes, with the lyrics 'How Ya Like Me Now?' from musician Kool Moe Dee scrawled below. The juxtaposition of the portrait with the rap lyrics intended to further illustrate the widening gap between the hip-hop generation and civil rights activists. 

It was installed in a city-owned park in Washington DC as part of an exhibition about black culture, but its installation by three white assistants was found by a crowd of young black men, and naturally such a scene discovered without further explanation was presumed negatively: a sledgehammer was taken to the work and it was torn down. It now resides in a private collection in Washington. 

The Top 10 Art Sales of 2013

As you may know, 2013 was a big year for the art market.

More than likely you were caught up in the wave of coverage spanning Francis Bacon's expensive painting of Lucian Freud, or perhaps you remember the sale of Koons's 'Balloon Dog (Orange)' to newsprint magnate Peter Brant for an extortionate amount of cash.

Bloomberg recently printed the 'best of' list for auction sales in 2013 and it's a stunner, with the lowest amount at the $46 million mark. Experts are worried about a bubble, and as Kathryn Tully points out, these ten sales accounted for 669 million or 5% of total auction sales in 2013.

 “These prices are being driven by excess cash,” said Anders Petterson, the founder of ArtTactic, to The New York Times. “But if prices rise too much, this clique could lose interest and move on to something else, and if they lose interest, a lot of other people would lose interest as well.”

The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) has released its annual findings on the art market, portraying valuations that magnify the cause for concern. The total value of transactions for 2013 was close to the highest amount ever recorded, and while there was also an increase in market transactions, the two do not correlate

Clare McAndrew, the founder of Arts Economics that carried out this study, summarised that this reveals a top-heavy market: "A significant part of the uplift of the market was due to higher priced works, rather than simply more works sold."

Here's the list of the most expensive lots sold at auction in 2013, courtesy of artnet:

  1. $142.4 million: Francis Bacon 'Three Studies of Lucian Freud
    Christie's, New York, November 2013
  2.  $105.4 million: Andy Warhol 'Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)'
    Sotheby's, New York, November 2013
  3. $58.4 million: Jeff Koons 'Balloon Dog (Orange)'
    Christie's, New York, November 2013
  4. $58.3 million: Jackson Pollock 'Number 19'
    Christie's, New York, May 2013
  5. $57.2 million: Andy Warhol 'Coca-Cola (3)'
    Christie's, New York, November 2013
  6. $56.1 million: Roy Lichtenstein 'Woman with Flowered Hat'
    Christie's, New York, May 2013
  7. $50 million: Alberto Giacometti 'Grande tête mince (Grande tête de Diego)'
    Sotheby's, New York, November 2013
  8. $48.8 million: Jean Michael Basquiat 'Dustheads'
    Christie's, New York, May 2013
  9. $46 million: Mark Rothko 'No. 11 (Untitled)'
    Christie's, New York, November 2013
  10. $46 million: Norman Rockwell 'Saying Grace'
    Sotheby's, New York, December 2013

The New Way To Buy And Sell Art

Welcome to the new world of the online art gallery.

In conjunction with our physical gallery, we have launched a brand new online Shop For Art. We are so excited to expand the reach of our Toronto artists, and draw you into a previously unseen collection of contemporary Canadian art.

We exhibit a wide range of contemporary artists, all currently living and working in Toronto. Check out some of the talents that have been hiding out there!

If you're looking for an original gift, to browse up and coming artists, or a creative place to get inspired, take a gander through our collections. Or alternatively, if you're an artist currently living in Toronto make sure you take advantage of our free month to exhibit online, with your own profile.

Whatever the motive, take a moment to look through our Shop For Art – the modern space connecting buyers with artists and art they love. 

www.twistgallery.ca/shop-for-art

Sneaky Preview Of Our December Exhibit

We took a moment to ask the artists of Lives (on Canvas) specific questions about their artistic method and what makes them tick. The answers may truly surprise and inspire you.

Minimalist artist Carl Andre wrote, “Art excludes the unnecessary.” In what ways do you find the minimalistic style accurately demonstrates what you want to convey through your art?

Lynn Brophy: At this moment in my art-making life, I am fascinated with minimalism in a whole range of expressions:  minimal colour palettes, minimal tonal differences/contrast, minimal 'objects' on canvas - and all the combinations these variations can encompass. I am curious about how little can have an impact, leave an impression, elicit a feeling or feelings.

I disagree with Andre's dictum that art excludes the unnecessary. Some art and artists indeed embrace this as a goal - to pare down to bare essentials, insofar as each artist understands and interprets them.

To extrapolate, however, from a personal decision, passion, goal, exploration to a general statement about all of art - that goes much too far for me. The art I love includes the 'unnecessary'. I love over-the-top, riotously extravagant art.  I love art that spans the entire continuum between minimalism and 'maximalism'.

While I greatly admire Carl Andre's contribution to minimalism in particular and to art in general, his approach does not define art. It is part of a much larger, richer, more robust and inclusive tradition of human creative expression.

A number of your paintings are abstract, and a number are figurative. What determines both an abstract and a figurative painting in your mind? Does the style directly relate to the way you experience a scene?

Deborah Clarke: To me the essential difference between figurative and abstract art is that figurative art is derived more clearly from the real world around us, it is easily recognizable.  Abstract art can be independent from tangible, visual references.  However, the dividing line is often wonderfully undefined!

In my own work I enjoy the freedom of abstract painting, like dancing without choreography.  Abstraction appears to be the only way for me to capture the mood and visual ‘enormity‘ of landscape scenes.      

When painting a more palpable object, the human form, a flower or tree, I choose a  more representational approach but I still take liberties with style and form and flirt with my use of colour.

What would you say changes in particular about the style and technique of your portraits as time goes by and your children mature?

Patricia Dundas: It's not really that my style has changed as my children have matured or that the techniques I use have changed. With every painting I do I’m a little more relaxed, and every painting is a little bit better than the one before it. I think that I have learned to make features a little clearer and that makes for a better portrait. It has nothing to do with the children getting older but more to do with my skill developing.

If you were to choose a destructive event or current situation that particularly incenses you, what would it be? How do you channel these emotions into your painting?

Diana Ericson: To be incensed by destructive events would be to blame. Certainly, scientists have convinced us that humans share a large part of the responsibility for the increasing number disaster landscapes that we see today. We are too many. We live in the wrong places. We want too much. We don’t share enough. But this is who we are, and this is what we do. Inventing, creating, striving, wanting, improving, expanding, and destroying has been the history of our species. The results are on the landscape.

I think that those who think about landscape have accepted that we need to change and to live more lightly on the earth. Many are working worldwide to bring about radical new ways to build, to travel, to power our lives. Many of us are making changes in our individual lives in response to these consequences on the landscape.

But the question remains: As a species, can we – will we – change? My paintings are asking this question. I don’t think they are about blame. I think they are more contemplative than emotional: This is who we are and what we do. But can we change?

In your artist statement you explain that you are drawn to the “beauty and resilience of walls over time” and often bury meaningful elements or text within your paintings. What kind of elements do you bury, and why do you hide them?

Susan Friedman: My paintings are initiated by an intention; each inspired by my response to the natural world, a world event, a personal experience, or simply by the beautiful texture of found materials.

In the paintings inspired by walls I have included newspaper articles, graffiti, and personal photographs. I do not set out to hide any of these elements. It is all part of my process; abstracting, layering, being spontaneous and listening to what each piece requires in that moment. What eventually is buried informs the painting giving it depth, no matter how minimal its ultimate availability. My hope is, that at completion, each painting resonates with the original feeling that inspired the work.

You state, “Making art is an act of pure faith”. Could you expand on that assertion? And if you were to choose, which artist’s painting inspires you the most?

Madelaine Roig: I think creating anything is an act of faith because to do so means bringing into being something from nothing.  The question arises: Will that something embody beauty, meaning and value?

Since I paint without any preconceived idea or image, I must hold faith that whatever is driving the momentary mark-making will eventually lead to a finished piece I find arresting, cohesive and ultimately revealing. There’s no guarantee, and it is not always the case.

I begin with emotion, whatever is most pressing, writing and scribbling on the canvas in a fast and furious manner.  Thus the underbelly of each piece is a kind of journal entry which will mostly be covered over, or may appear in parts as illegible graffiti.

There are countless artists whose paintings inspire me, so it is really impossible to choose. But I find I am drawn back to a handful of mid-century abstract expressionist artists to view their works again and again. Artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly.  It was such a wildly experimental time in the arts, and I think that excitement, freedom and passion stirs me to paint.

Alain de Botton and John Armstrong believe that art can be used to help us interpret our problems. Drawing from your artistic statement, where you say that art helps you to pinpoint your own mood and feelings, how effective would you think art would be as a kind of therapy?

Candace Séguinot: Alain de Botton is one of my favourite authors because he writes simply in a familiar voice and yet manages to suck you in to a recognition of fundamental, universal truths. Those truths for me are not so much about problems and how art can help you understand them but about the nature of reality. Yes, I’m sure that art therapy can be helpful, to answer your question, but the process of making art and the process of viewing art are both therapeutic in a broader sense, a meditative sense. They take you into the moment. There is no room for anything else when you are fully present . And as with meditation, you long for an optimal, all-absorbing experience, but to get there you need to drop your expectations and desires and simply be with whatever is.

You describe your paintings as an “obsession” that you become attached to. Does this artistic process ultimately make it difficult for you to sell and part with your work?

Marilyn Vasilkioti: A painting becomes an “obsession” to me when I have given up on art as an experiment and I begin to have distinct ideas of how it should turn out. Spontaneity is lost and I become obsessed in having the work completed as I believe it should be, rather than a more creative process that brings me to the “end of the work.” The obsession is very much about the process and completion. Upon completion, when I am satisfied with the work, I am able to disengage from the painting and have no qualms of giving it up for sale or as a gift. By that time I’m usually involved in thoughts of, or actually in the process of creating another piece of work. When I am dissatisfied with a painting, I don’t want to sell it as the quality is a disappointment to me. I am able to put it aside and work at it another time. I have completed or changed work as much as a year or two later.

Lives (on Canvas) is on from December 3rd - 21st at Twist Gallery.

A Chat With Our October Artist

A curious fellow with a mouthful of a name, we were determined to learn a little more about our artist of the moment Eugen-Florin Zamfirescu – or Florin for short.

You’re an awfully intricate artist and your art has an important back-story to it. Your hobbies include the study of astrophysics and philosophy, and you can count both Romania and Toronto as your homes.

Tell me, where do you start when you first get up in the morning?

There is no routine except that of daily hard work. I would start one day by painting for a few hours, then would read or compose music, then take a break to clear my thoughts, come back and continue to paint until late into the night. I could spend most hours just reading or working on a photography project or a short film…there are days when I take a stroll in Trinity Bellwoods and just think about a project; later on I might draw some sketches and then destroy it all to start afresh the next day. Some days I just like to go around Kensington market or one of the small shops in my neighbourhood and talk to the owners…

That sounds like quite the day. You obviously don’t have Facebook or you wouldn’t be so productive!

I do have Facebook, but I am one of those people who are curious and passionate about every subject. I am always flooded by questions – How are civilisations born? How do they develop? How do they fall, disappear and are reborn again? What factors contribute to all this? Can art help science and philosophy, and can it help humanity find answers to fundamental questions about our stay here on Earth? Can art help in finding solutions?

Which is your favourite piece out of the Whispering Civilisations collection?

One gets rather attached when spending over eight month with a canvas building the story within so it is really hard to choose. If I were to choose, I would say my favourite painting is always the last one as it allows me to dream of possibilities for the one to come after.

I like that decision; it gives the impression of an infinite number of endings to your story. Who would you say is your all-time favourite artist?

I would find it impossible to chose one artist when there are so many that played and are playing a great influence on me. If I were to mention a few: Caravaggio, Durer, Leonardo da Vinci, Dali, Rembrandt, Magritte, Brancusi, Turner, Vermeer…

As a self-described Modernist, what drew you to take a realist stance with your ‘Whispering Civilisations’ artworks?

I do not think I could classify myself as realist or modernist, I think I am a bit of both, depending on the project, the medium I am working in, what I want to convey to the viewer. I bet all my friends remember my Fauve period when my apartment was covered in splashes of violent red and green lines and dots.

With Whispering Civilizations I wanted to be able to convey the beauty of tall ships, the feeling of time, its permanence and its passing; I love old machinery, maps, old objects in general and wanted it all part of my paintings – adopting a realist style helped me achieve that.

In film, sculpture, music, I am still more of a modernist though. As an artist I tend to run away from definitions, and frameworks, and boxes. I am self-taught in painting and one reason in avoiding formal training was so that I can keep myself open to all possibilities.

Your Whispering Civilisations collection dominantly features ships – be it their intimate details or their impressive profiles. Are you a sailor?

I think I know intimately every sail and boat element in my paintings, every line and why it is there. I am a sailor, but just in my mind…

Finally, do you still plan on becoming an astrophysicist?

As a painter I work a lot with light, I play with its characteristics and thus I need to understand light. From here stems my interest in physics. I study physics on my own, it fascinates me. I never planned to become an astrophysicist, but I am sure in a parallel universe I am one.

Thanks for chatting with us, Florin!

Whispering Civilisations is exhibiting October 2nd-25th. The opening reception will be held on October 3rd, 6.30PM-9.30PM at Twist Gallery.

Opening Reception for ‘Emerging Moment’

Friday night was our opening reception for the Emerging Moment exhibit, showcasing the works of artists Martha Weber and Andris Piebalgs, both from Toronto.

The mixture of photography, technology, and a variety of diptych and triptych paintings were interspersed throughout the gallery, as the abstraction and photographic realism really muddled together.

As well as through dance performances and interactive touchscreens, the artists also suggested the memories of our “sudden connections to a wholly other” may be revealed through art.

This resulted in a crucial role of the human body to the artworks – whether they were naked with raw emotion or in carefree movement.

The paintings by Martha Weber used a variety of media and colours that had such a 3D presence you felt immersed within their textures.

What was the overall message? The artists’ focus on our unconscious minds as where these fleeting moments with spiritual forces frequent could parallel the psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious.

Jung believed all humans inherit a transcendental impersonal library of information, which basically points humankind in the right direction. He saw religious experiences as linked to the experience of these innate natures of the collective unconscious.

Through the mixed media and tunnelling photography, we are invited to delve into our minds to find these transcendent moments, in the hopes of emerging back on track and with a sense of psychic wholeness.

The photographs draw the spectator’s eye into the picture

Emerging Moment is on now until the end of September at Twist Gallery, 1100 Queen Street West. Hours: Tues-Sat 11-6.