Thursday, January 9, 2014

Juan Gris and Cubism

Cubism had changed art forever in conception and definition.

" This revolutionary method of making a pictorial image was invented jointly by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the first decade of the 20th century. Although it may appear abstract and geometrical, Cubist art does depict real objects. These are "flattened" onto the canvas so that different sides of each shape can be shown simultaneously from various angles. Instead of creating the illusion of an object in space, as artists had endeavoured to do since the Renaissance, Cubist art defines objects in the two-dimensional terms of the canvas. This innovation gave rise to an extraordinary reassessment of the interaction between form and space, changing the course of Western art forever. "[1]

Juan Gris, Portrait of Picasso, 1912, oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

Juan Gris (1887-1927) was a Spanish painter born in Madrid who lived and worked in France most of his life. He is known as one of the artists who contributed to the further development of Cubism after 1912.

Juan Gris' portrait of his friend and fellow countryman, Pablo Picasso, in 1912, is recognized as an important Cubist painting done by an artist other than Picasso or Georges Braque.

At a Sorbonne lecture in Paris in 1924, Juan Gris stated, "Cubism is not a manner but an aesthetic, and even a state of mind; it is therefore inevitably connected with every manifestation of contemporary thought. It is possible to invent a technique or a manner independently, but one cannot invent the whole complexity of a state of mind."[2]

Juan Gris, Glass of Beer and Playing Cards, 1913, oil papier collé on canvas, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio.

The development of Cubism came in two phases:

'Analytical Cubism,' between 1908-1912, whereby most of the Cubist works had been developed from the observed and experienced subject, in accordance with Paul Cézanne's practice; in the second phase, 'Synthetic Cubism,' between 1912 - 1919 and persisting into the 1920s, the subject was less emphatic. Picasso claimed that form, colour and medium would dictate the subject.

The use of papier collé or collage marked the beginning of 'Synthetic Cubism' with its inclusion of mixed media, "of added materials and painted textures, in a denser, more decorative and colourful surface... In Synthetic Cubism, the flat surface of the canvas is treated as solidly opaque, nothing penetrates below its surface into imaginary depth. Its opacity is further emphasized by the applied materials that often stood out from the surface. The artist's freedom from illusionary 'representation' also brought another important change."[3]

Juan Gris, The Sunblind, 1914, collage with chalk marks on canvas, Tate Gallery, London.

Juan Gris, Still Life with Guitar, Book and Newspaper, c.1919, oil on canvas, Kunstmuseum, Basel.

Juan Gris had said, "No work which is destined to become a classic can look like the classics which have preceded it. In art, as in biology, there is heredity but no identity with the ascendants. Painters inherit characteristics acquired by their forerunners; that is why no important work of art can belong to any period but its own, to the very moment of its creation. It is necessarily dated by its own appearance. The conscious will of the painter cannot intervene."[4]

Juan Gris, Still Life with Bordeaux Bottles, 1919, oil on canvas, T. and A. Werner Collection, Berlin.

Juan Gris' art remained essentially Cubist in form until his death in Paris. He died in 1927 at the young age of forty.

Images from Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved February 18, 2008.

[1] The Art Book (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1996), Glossary.

[2] Response to a questionnaire, from "Chez les cubistes," Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, ed. Félix Fénéon, Guillaume Janneau, et al (1925-01-01); trans. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Juan Gris, His Life and Work (1947).

[3] Judith Clark, The Illustrated History of Art (New York: Mallard Press, 1992), 178.

[4] "On the Possibilities of Painting," lecture, Sorbonne, Paris (May 15, 1924), printed in Transatlantic Review, #16 (June 1924) p. 482-488; trans. Douglas Cooper in Horizon, #80 (Aug. 1946) p. 113-122.

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