Tag Archives: Vancouver Art Gallery

Artist’s Talk: Wolfgang Tillmans

In October 2016 Wolfgang Tillmans gave a lecture at the Vancouver Art Gallery. I was unable to make the lecture but was very pleased to see that the lecture has been recorded and posted on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s website. The Canadian Art Foundation, in partnership with the Vancouver Art Gallery, hosted this talk with  Wolfgang Tillmans. Tillmans was joined in conversation by New York– and Toronto-based writer and critic Tom McDonough, a lead contributor to the recently published monograph Wolfgang Tillmans: What’s wrong with redistribution? (Walther König).

One of the most influential artists of his generation, Tillmans has radically redefined how photographic images are made, exhibited and encountered.

Vancouver Art Gallery (2016)

This talk was Tillmans’s first visit to Canada in more than 20 years.

I made brief notes while watching the video as he presented images from numerous bodies of work.

  • Clothes are great interest to him. What fascinates Tillmans is the air between our clothes and our body. The clothes are like a membrane between us and the outer world.
  • Borders: visible and perceived borders. Always shows his large scale photos as unframed prints.
  • Approach to his work – asks “is this possible?” Experimental approach works on conceptual, technical and contextual levels – looking at what colleagues have made in the past. Find architectural landscape fascinating.
  • “What’s wrong with redistribution?” exhibition. Truth study installation centre – table top installation consisting of 28 hollow-core doors, raised glass with space between photos and glass. Makes pictures with light-sensitive papers. All centred around truth or claims of truth e.g. articles of weapons of mass destruction in 1990’s.
  • Times Mirrored series – today is history – it is not so far away.
  • Distinguishes between his lens based work and non-lens based work. With his non-lens based work he likes to evoke associations of reality within the brain (with light sensitive papers).
  • Has an impure approach to the idea of authenticity. His work was often described as authentic pictures of youth (ref his nude photos taken in his 20’s) but he didn’t have a documentary approach or needed to be a chronicler. Mixed stated/unstaged and found/unfound situations. Doesn’t distinguish between them. Saw sexuality as the centre of the problems of the world. Doesn’t want sexuality to be sensationalist, just wants it to be part of normal life.
  • Doesn’t categorise his work into subject matter. Different subjects are treated as parallel. Always resists the paradigm of the serious.
  • Explained his Brexit campaign (image and text). Originally made posters typographically (no pictures), then realised they would be more emotive with images. Launched a campaign – something imbued in the pictures – ideas of a border. Intentions behind the camera go into the picture and become visible.
  • Installation strategy: Photography sits wonderfully on pages or in a magazine, but it can’t allow for spatial experience. he wants to make contemporary pictures in spaces – amazing laboratory. Never felt the reason that everything should be arranged in linear format. Uses floor to ceiling. Matrix that he has been using for the past 25 years is 10 x 15 cm then 30 x 40cm then 50 x 60 cm and then the large format prints. A page is flat. The interest in the gallery is showing the object of the print. What is often misinterpreted in the beginning as a grunge or slacker, careless attitude of just taping the prints to the wall, was actually an exploration of how he could show the purity of the naked sheet of photograph in a room without hiding it behind perspex or window mount or frames and he has always considered prints as very, very shallow cubes that have a dimension off the wall. They have space.
  • Some reoccurring questions regarding his use of space cropped up in the Q&A session. He emphasized that one has to have an awareness of the space – see if it touches or not, does it have a tiny bit of air or does it squash – depth is not often resolved in museums. One needs humility in front of the object. He doesn’t control everything. Observes cause and effect. The only thing in art that matters is the question “how is it made?”

The moment you think you have mastered something, you have lost it.

Wolfgang Tillmans (2016)

Reference List

Vancouver Art Gallery (2016).  Artist’s Talk: Wolfgang Tillmans [user-generated content online] Creat. The Candian Art Foundation and Vancouver Art Gallery. 5 January, 2017. 1 hr 47min 05 sec Available at: https://vimeo.com/198274114 (Accessed 13 May, 2017)

Walker Evans – Depth of Field

I was so excited when I saw mention of an upcoming Walker Evans’ exhibition almost a year ago on the L’Oeil de la Photographie website. The exhibition did not disappoint! It was co-organized by the Josef Albers Museum Quaddrat and the High Museum of Art, in collaboration with the Vancouver Art Gallery. It is the first encompassing retrospective exhibition of Evans’ work since 1971 and features more than 200 black and white and colour prints from the 1920s through to the 1970s, including his iconic images made in during the Great Depression. The exhibition and its companion publication explore the transatlantic roots and repercussions of Evans’ contribution to the field of photography and examine his development of a lyrical documentary style, in which a powerful personal perspective is fused with a rigorously detailed depiction of time and place (Vancouver Art Gallery).

Untitled, Self-portrait, Cuba 133 by Walker Evans
Untitled, Self-portrait, Cuba 133 by Walker Evans

The exhibition was well laid out. Evans’ work was displayed in chronological sequence beginning with his early works which mainly focused on ‘abstractions of architecture, showing a clear interest in the constructivist style form Germany  and Russia’ (Hill, 2015:30). Images ranged from a variety of angles of the Brooklyn Bridge to high-rises in Manhattan and the Chrysler building under construction. Hill (2015: 31) describes his style as ‘more dependent on form than content’ during this period.

Wash Day, ca 1930 by Walker Evans
Wash Day, ca 1930 by Walker Evans

While Evans was overseas in Paris, he befriended Hanns Skolle and Paul Grotz and embraced the Neue Sachlichkeit concepts. Hill suggests that a better translation for this concept would be “Thingness” (Hill, 2015: 31). The Neue Sachlichkeit photographers work was characterized by images that focused on everyday and non-beautiful – recognition of the banal as worthy subject matter.

Berenice Abbott, 1930 by Walker Evans
Berenice Abbott, 1930 by Walker Evans

According to Jerry L. Thompson (2015: 95) Walker Evans did not like doing portraiture work, although he did do a large number of them in his studio. He suggests that possibly Evans only did studio portraiture in order to make money and pay the bills, but he found no art in it.

When Evans was working as an artist to photograph people, he usually chose not to rely on any formula productive of the sort of consistency desirable in a professional practice. Even when working indoors he typically started with seeing, rather than with some preconceived (and verbal) notion of what he was after.

Thompson (2015: 96)

Evans’s Cuban oeuvre (which was to provide photos for Carleton Beals’s book The Crime of Cuba) denotes the emergence of his singular style. Evans was heavily influenced by Paul Strand’s work, particularly Strand’s Blind Woman image. The Cuban project also provides a checklist of Evans’s emerging methods and demands:

  1. He continued to work in series.
  2. He appropriated files from newspapers and these were incorporated into his essays with due credit given.
  3. His 31-photo essay was negotiated separately as an independent commentary from Beals’s text.
  4. He had control of the editing, sequencing, titles and placement.
  5. He made a serious effort to control the dust jacket design of the book.
Halsted Street Chicago (Two Blind Street Musicians) 1941 by Walker Evans
Halsted Street Chicago (Two Blind Street Musicians) 1941 by Walker Evans

A portion of the exhibition was devoted to his photographs of African sculptures and the Antebellum architecture found on the American sugar plantations. Many of these images had me thinking about the movie Gone with the Wind.

Obviously the most impressive section of the exhibition was his work associated with the Farm Security Administration which ranged from 1935 – 1938.  Refusing to make images for political of propaganda purposes, Evans pursued his own agenda. “Well, a subsidized freedom to do my stuff! Good heavens, what more could anyone ask for! … I had a whole hot year tremendously productive (quoted in Mellow, p. 266)” (Hill 2015: 162).

For me the most impressive image in the exhibition would have to be the photograph of Sharecropper Bud Fields and his family at home. Hale County, Alabama, 1936. Unlike most of the other images in the collection, this photograph was at least a metre wide so the visual impact was quite stunning. Surrounded by white mat and frame, the texture of the wooden wall boards and floor just jumped out at the viewer. The subjects’ gazes are intense and candidly honest, demanding a respect which only really becomes evident when viewed at that size. Every aspect of this image is tact sharp and shouts out for the viewer’s scrutiny. I felt so engaged with this image I felt as if I was standing in the room with these people.

Sharecropper Bud Fields and his family at home. Hale County, Alabama, 1936 by Walker Evans
Sharecropper Bud Fields and his family at home. Hale County, Alabama, 1936 by Walker Evans

Having research Walker Evans for an earlier segment of this module, specifically his subway portraits, it was quite fascinating to see this collection of portraits as well as the concealed camera that he used to make these photographs in the exhibition. From various reports I had previously read, I had envisioned the camera to be a lot smaller, but it is quite large and the lens is not exactly discrete either. Such a protuberance between his coat buttons would definitely have garnered a few strange looks (which it did as evidenced by one or two of the portraits).

Contax II 35 mm camera used by Walker Evans for the New York subway portraits
Contax II 35 mm camera used by Walker Evans for the New York subway portraits

I also enjoyed Walker Evans’s series of signage photographs and his series on banal items. I was not aware that he also took photographs of this sort prior to viewing the exhibition. There were a few beer can tab images in the collection, but the collage below was my favourite, simply because of its textuality, quirkiness and originality.

Collage of beer can tabs, ca 1972 by Walker Evans
Collage of beer can tabs, ca 1972 by Walker Evans
Signs by Walker Evans
Signs by Walker Evans
Kitchen wall, Alabama Farmstead, 1936 by Walker Evans
Kitchen wall, Alabama Farmstead, 1936 by Walker Evans

There was also an entire section devoted to Evans’s Polaroids. According to the wall text he acquired a Polaroid camera in the last two years of his life and according to him, he “felt quite rejuvenated by it …True, with that little camera your work is done the instant you push that button. But you must think what goes into that. …It’s the first time, I think, that you can put a machine in an artists’ hands and have him then rely entirely on his vision and his taste and his mind” (Hill: 2015: 370).

This was a huge, well laid out exhibition to take in and is well worth a second look. The hefty (and extremely pricey – $95) accompanying publication is liberally spiced with essays and interesting backstories as well as most of the images in the exhibition, which I look forward to delving into in more depth. I certainly came away from the exhibition with a better understanding about the identity of Walker Evans.

Reference List

Hill, J.T. (2015). ‘Origins and Early Work, 1926 – 1931’ In: Liesbrock, H; Shapiro, M; Bartels, K (dir) Walker Evans: Depth of Field. Vancouver Art Gallery. London: Prestel Publishing pp 30-34.

Hill, J.T. (2015). ‘Farm Security Administration, 1935 – 1938’ In: Liesbrock, H; Shapiro, M; Bartels, K (dir) Walker Evans: Depth of Field. Vancouver Art Gallery. London: Prestel Publishing pp 162 -164.

Hill, J.T. (2015). ‘Polaroid Instant Color Photographs., 1973 – 1975’ In: Liesbrock, H; Shapiro, M; Bartels, K (dir) Walker Evans: Depth of Field. Vancouver Art Gallery. London: Prestel Publishing p 370.

Thompson J.T (2015). ‘”Quiet and true”: The Portrait Photographs of Walker Evans’ In Liesbrock, H; Shapiro, M; Bartels, K (dir) Walker Evans: Depth of Field. Vancouver Art Gallery. London: Prestel Publishing pp 95 – 100.

Vancouver Art Gallery (2016) Walker Evans: Depth of Field [online]. Available at http://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/the_exhibitions/exhibit_evans.html [Accessed 4 December, 2016]

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (n.d.) Blind | Paul Strand [online] Met Museum. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/33.43.334/ [Accessed 4 December, 2016]

Images

Evans, Walker (1936) Sharecropper Bud Fields and his family at home. Hale County, Alabama [online]. Medium: 1 negative : safety ; 8 x 10 inches or smaller. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsc-00234 (digital file from print) LC-DIG-ppmsca-12880 (digital file from print) LC-USF342–T01-008147-A (b&w film dup. neg.) LC-USZC4-4898 (color film copy transparency from print). Call Number: LC-USF342- 008147-A [P&P]. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 USA . Available at: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/fsa/item/fsa1998020957/PP/ [Accessed 4 December, 2016]

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Panel: Photographs – In and Of the Street (Harry Callahan: The Street)

The Vancouver Art Gallery has published its recent presentation and panel discussion In and Of the Street relating to the Harry Callahan exhibition. The speakers were: Grant Arnold, Audain Curator of British Columbia Art, Vancouver Art Gallery; Helga Pakasaar, Curator, Presentation House Gallery and Stephen Waddell, Artist and Guest Curator of An Agreeable State of Uncertainty.

Grant Arnold who was the curator of this exhibition went into various details of Callahan’s method of photographing, using the street as a stage and his interest in photographing women on the street lost in thought, how female identity is constructed and the sense of time passing that one perceives in his photographs.

Helga Pakasaar focused more on the intersession between private and public identities and drew inspiration from other photographers such as Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Dora Maar who were surrealist photographers. She also referenced the typology in Walker Evans’ work Labor Anonymous. Other photographers referenced were Vivian Maier, William Klein, Helen Levitt, Anthony Hernandez, Katie Grannan and Paul Graham. Pakasaar was of the opinion that Callahan’s street photography involved an obscuring of the social identity.

Stephen Waddell’s presentation focused on “campaigners and drifters”.  He considered various photographers who were working in the same time period as Harry Callahan. According to Waddell a campaigner is someone like Walker Evans who has a game plan for his projects. A drifter on the other hand is someone who is not concerned about identities or moralities and allows the moments to lead him on a path of discovery. Interestingly he made the statement that street photography as a genre is dead and ended around 1958. He later amended his statement to say that street photography was on “pause” and that photographers now needed to do something else. I don’t think I agree with his statements as I think street photography today has evolved in line with current social concerns. The social issues today are very different than what they were in the 1930’s. Back then the world was affected by the Great Depression, now we are concerned with global warming and sustainability. Some of the photographers featured in his presentation were Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Eva Besnyo, Vivian Maier, Saul Leiter, William Eggleston, Garry Winogrand (who he described as the ultimate drifter) and Craigie Horsfield.

The video concluded with a question and answer session.

Reference List

Vancouver Art Gallery (2016).  Panel: Photographs – In and Of the Street [user-generated content online] Creat. Vancouver Art Gallery. 22 August, 2016. 1 hr 54min 59 sec Available at: https://vimeo.com/179774933 (Accessed 23 September, 2016)

Harry Callahan

Eleanor and Barbara n.d. By Harry Callahan
Eleanor and Barbara n.d. By Harry Callahan

Our course manual refers us to the work of Harry Callahan with special emphasis to his projects where he photographed his wife and daughter in the streets of Chicago. As I recently viewed the Harry Callahan | The Street exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, I am not going to do a further write up here, but will link back to my gallery write up as my write up covered quite a few aspects of his works.

Reference List

Harry Callahan | The Street [online] Lynda Kuit Photography Identity & Place. Available at: https://lyndakuitphotographyiap.wordpress.com/2016/07/17/harry-callahan-the-street/ [Accessed 18 September, 2016]

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BHARTI KHER – Matter

Bharti Kher was born in England in the 1960’s and received a B. A. Fine Arts-Painting from Newcastle Polytechnic in 1991. In 1993 she moved to India and currently lives in New Delhi. Bharti Kher’s exhibition Matter is her first major exhibition in North America. The exhibition is very varied featuring sculptures, painting and photography. The Vancouver Art Gallery blurb on Kher talks about her ‘iconic bindi paintings’ and even after looking at her works I still hadn’t a clue what ‘bindi’ was. So I turned to Wikipedia for a quick reference.

Bindi is the small red dot that Hindu and Jain women wear on their foreheads. It is considered the point at which creation begins and is also likened to the third eye. The bindi is a motif that Kher uses throughout her work.

The sculpture below consists of a sturdy display cabinet especially built for historical anthropological displays which is counterbalanced by the expressive bindis and wax markings below the surface of the glass. The shattered glass of the display cabinet represents a break with tradition. There were four such installations, each with differing contents, but dazzlingly beautiful.

Betrayal of causes once held dear 2016 by Bharti Kher
Betrayal of causes once held dear 2016 by Bharti Kher

Much of Kher’s work explores spirituality and the role of femininity in society. I found her photography very unsettling. There were a series of images in which she was addressing identity where she had combined the forms of woman and animal. Personally while I found the photographs interesting technique-wise, I found them rather grotesque and disturbing. Take the image below: a female form holding a tray of cupcakes strategically positioned in front of her breasts (reminds me of the Calendar Girls movie). The face half human half animal (either a pig’s snout or a dog/wolf’s nose), one human leg, the other an elegant horse’s front leg. Kher’s interpretation is below the photograph, but I’m still having trouble with it. Perhaps over the course of time I may change my opinion, but for now I’m sticking with my original reaction – disturbing.

Choclate Muffin 2004, from Hybrid Series by Bharti Kher
Choclate Muffin 2004, from Hybrid Series by Bharti Kher

The Hybrids were amorphous creatures who were part woman, part animal—you don’t know which is more animal or more woman—multi-dimensional, multi-faceted: she is the goddess, the housewife, the mother, the whore, the mistress, the lover, the sister… everything. She is at one state extremely powerful but kind of fragile in some imperfect way. It was very clear that the background of the works was an inside space; this is a domestic space and so within their own realm they were: all seeing, all knowing, all speaking, all powerful and yet not.

Bharti Kher (2013)

Of all her work on display, I least liked her photography. Her  sculptures were well crafted and thought provoking.

Six Women, 2013-15 by Bharti Kher
Six Women, 2013-15 by Bharti Kher

The sculptures of the Six Women above are plaster casts made of six sex trade workers in Kolkata. Appartently Kolkata is home to India’s largest brothel based industries. The women represent the aging female body as a counterpoint to the “forever 21” scenario which plays out in society today. I found this installation quite moving. The women are probably all outcasts from their own communities, forced to take up sex-trade work in order to survive. So sad!

The installation below speaks to me of servitude, about the way women are treated in some cultures – no more than a chattel. The removal of the head, which has turned into a skull (signifying decay) and the substitution of branches in place of the head could speak to way women are ignored (relegated to blend into the background). The top of the skull is covered with bindi sperm dots, perhaps signifying the cycle of life.

And the while the benevolent slept, 2008 by Bharti Kher
And the while the benevolent slept, 2008 by Bharti Kher

 

Reference List

A conversation with Bharti Kher [online] MOMMY by Susan Silas and Chrysanne Stathacos. Available at: http://www.mommybysilasandstathacos.com/2013/11/01/a-conversation-with-bharti-kher/ [Accessed 23 July, 2016]

Bibliography

Bindi (decoration) [online] Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bindi_(decoration) [Accessed 23 July, 2016]

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Harry Callahan | The Street

I was pretty excited to see that a photographic exhibition on Harry Callahan’s work was scheduled for the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) at the beginning of the year and doubly so when I received my course materials for Identity and Place and saw that he was one of the referenced photographers to study in Part 2. This is definitely a first for me.

I did take photographs in the gallery, but due to the strong lighting there was just too much reflection, so I bought the exhibition catalogue and make the photographs from there, so please excuse my wonky perspective lines. I have straightened them out as far as I can in LightRoom.

The exhibition at the VAG is quite extensive. The VAG acquired almost 600 Callahan photographs through the generosity of the Rossy Family Foundation in 2013 and the collection is representative of the full chronology of Callahan’s career and themes that he worked on, from nature studies to portraits of his wife and daughter, to street photography in the cities of Chicago, Detroit, Providence and Cairo. The actual exhibition features more than 120 photographs of urban environment, beginning with his multi-exposure images in the 1940s and concludes with the multi-panel images of Peachtree Street in Atlanta made in the 1980s and 1990s.

From the Peachtree series | 1987-90 by Harry Callahan
From the Peachtree series | 1987-90 by Harry Callahan

Callahan did not adhere to the idea of previsualization that Adams and the Group f/64 advocated at that time and his ideas of self-expression were contrary to the idea of merging functionality with aesthetics as projected by Moholy-Nagy as well. Throughout his career he used experimental techniques.

Detroit | 1943 by Harry Callahan
Detroit | 1943 by Harry Callahan

The above image of Detroit is a multiple exposure using eight or more frames to create an intricate layered image of the city life. To me it represents the chaos, hustle and bustle of the streets in a large city. The image is filled with details, no one specific point to lock focus on, compelling the viewer to scan the image in all directions, almost as if one is trying to cross a busy street. Diagonal lines abound in this image lending credence to the movement that is happening in the various layers.

… the dynamism of the picture’s formal structure, which seems to sweep the viewer along with the crowd, counters the profound sense of alienation embodied in most of Callahan’s later images of urban space.

Grant Arnold (2016: 14)

The exhibition catalogue describes this image as having a “gloomy tonality” (p.14) and while I can see that the overall middle gray tone might appear gloomy, I find myself very intrigued by this image. It almost has a Dickensian feel to it and scenes of the workhouse and child labour spring to mind. I suppose that is rather gloomy! Yet still I feel the need to peel away the individual layers to see more.

Callahan’s series of women’s faces on the street were made using a telephoto lens and the women were all unaware of their portraits being taken.  No background details are visible. There is a sense of intrusion into their private lives in all these images. We see glimpses of women lost in thought, frowning in pain, tired and chatting to an unseen companion, isolated in the city life.  The compositions are so tight that the tops of their heads are cut off or their mouth and chin. So close that we are forced to look at the individual features of each woman’s face, thereby putting us in an intimate posture with the women. Nevertheless, the viewer is left asking the question – who are these women and what is their story. Callahan leaves the answer to that question to us.

Another trope that Callahan used when making photographs of people on the street was to photograph in dark shadows “in which the chasm-like darkness of the street is alleviated by only the occasional shaft of light that penetrates the shadows of the surrounding towers, briefly illuminating a pedestrian on the sidewalk” (Arnold, 2016: 14). These photographs are very dark and mysterious, the subjects only partially touched by light depicting the ominous, dangerous places that every city has.

The third image in the gallery above of La Salle Street, was created by running roll film through the camera twice. This resulted in pictures where only the darkest areas show up in the prints (Pultz, 2016: 29).

Eleanor & Barbara, Chicago | 1953 by Harry Callahan
Eleanor & Barbara, Chicago | 1953 by Harry Callahan

Callahan’s street photography style was different when photographing his wife, Eleanor and daughter, Barbara. He photographed them snapshot style on the streets posing at well know sites in Chicago. In all the photographs Eleanor and Barbara small (almost dwarfed) by their surroundings.

In Chicago, Fall 1958 (first in gallery above) we again see Callahan’s method of catching pedestrians in bright light before dark forms and shadows. His “vantage point seems to immerse the subject in a sea of impenetrably dark tones, making the scene seem distant, as if a memory recalled in a moment of reverie, rather than lived experience” (Pultz, 2016: 30)

Abigail Solomon-Godeau ( (2007) says of Callahan’s photos the opposition between Callahan’s vision of the city – alienated, inhospitable, antisocial and oppressive – and his depiction of women subjects begins to reveal the oppositional structure of domestic of ‘natural space’ versus public space; spouse versus stranger; elemental, sexualized body versus objectified alien body” (Grant 2016: 19). The second photo in the gallery above bears out Solomon-Godeau’s statement, making a broad reference to female objectification with the pornographic pose superimposed above the woman walking in the street.

The third image in the gallery above is another example of Callahan’s multiple exposures. We see images from a large electronic billboard or TV, probably from a soap opera superimposed over the facade of a building that looks very much like a law court. In the foreground two figures walk hand in hand into superimposed text. Perhaps a play on the dramas that play out in law courts, likening them to soap operas?

Atlanta | 1985 by Harry Callahan
Atlanta | 1985 by Harry Callahan

Of all Callahan’s photos on display at the exhibition, I would have to say that his multiple exposure work caught my attention the most. Ever since working on Assignment 2 in Context and Narrative, I have found myself drawn to this type of work, and hopefully I will have more opportunities to experiment with this technique myself.

Reference List

Arnold, Grant (2016) Harry Callahan: The Street In Harry Callahan | The Street. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery.

Pultz, John (2016) Harry Callahan’s Modernist Photography and the Street in the Cold War Era In Harry Callahan | The Street. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery.

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Picasso: The Artist and His Muses

This exhibition on Picasso staged by the Vancouver Art Gallery is not just an exhibition of his works, but more a tribute to his muses – his lovers who inspired his creations. In order to keep everything straight in my mind, I have tried to include some background and brief histories on each woman, who was an artist in her own right.

“To my misfortune, and maybe my delight, I place things according to my love affairs.”

Pablo Picasso

The exhibition pays homage to six women in Picasso’s life and really tells their stories through his artwork. The first woman in Picasso’s rakish life was Fernande Olivier who he met in 1904, during his Blue Period, where he painted the urban life of Paris and Barcelona in blue and blue-green tones. She moved in with him the following year initiating his transition into the Rose Period. The works in this period had more earthy and warm tones, depicting scenes of harlequins and carnival performers. Picasso was extremely jealous of her. Picasso often painted her in the nude or while she was dressing. It was during this time that Picasso began depicting the body in form of different planes and new ways of using space and object references. Picasso was fascinated with Spanish and Portuguese sculptures and African masks and he found inspiration in their geometric lines for his paintings. After mutual infidelities, the couple separated in 1912.

Standing Nude (Femme Nue), 1910: Fernande Olivier by Picasso
Standing Nude (Femme Nue), 1910: Fernande Olivier by Picasso

Olga Khokhlova was a Russian ballerina and became Picasso’s first wife, marrying him in 1918. The couple met in 1917 when Picasso was working on the stage design for the ballet Parade in which Khokhlova was performing.

Olga Khokhlova and Pablo Picasso
Olga Khokhlova and Pablo Picasso

Picasso explored Cubism for approximately seven years. The painting below was made shortly after Picasso met Khokhlova and shows a return to naturalism. He continued to integrate classicism into Modernism and looked at traditional Greek mythology and Christianity subjects for his inspiration. When their son, Paulo was born, Picasso’s art began to focus on timelessness and Neoclassical representations of motherhood. In the late 1920’s, however, Picasso began to seek out the company of Marie-Therese Walter who became his long-time mistress. He and Khokhlova separated in 1935, when Walter fell pregnant, but Khokhlova remained his legal wife until her death in 1955.

Head of Woman (Olga), 1917 by Pablo Picasso
Head of Woman (Olga), 1917 by Pablo Picasso

The theme of motherhood was an extremely important theme for Picasso while he and Khokhlova were together and he frequently painted her and his son as “Madonna and child” showing tender emotion.

Maternite, 1924 by Pablo Picasso
Maternite, 1924 by Pablo Picasso

Marie-Therese Walter met Picasso when she was just 17 and Picasso was immediately enamoured by her classical Greek-like features. Because he was still married to Olga Khokhlova, their affair was kept secret for most of the duration of their relationship. Picasso allegorized Walter in his works, often depicting her as eternal youth, and developed visual codes to portray her in disguise. His Bather series evolved during the early years of their relationship. Around the time that Walter gave birth to their daughter, Picasso’s roving eye had noticed photographer, Dora Maar.

Femme endormie dans un fauteuil, 1927 by Pablo Picasso
Femme endormie dans un fauteuil, 1927 by Pablo Picasso

Femme endormie dans un fauteuil depicts the transition from one lover to the other. The open vagina-like mouth and flushed cheeks in this portrait are sexually charged, depicting a sleeping Walter, a favourite motif used for Walter. However it is believed that by depicting four or more strands of hair are a coded reference to Khokhlova and therefore this painting references his transition of combing features and characteristics of his muses. Picasso’s painting style changed drastically after meeting Walter. He began to distort figures, creating angular and erotic lines. Themes of erotic fantasy and fertility abounded during this period.

Dora Maar was professional photographer specialising in fashion and advertising and was an active member of the Surrealist group. Other members of this group were Man Ray, Lee Miller and Roland Penrose. From her work she created uncanny photomontages. Maar and Picasso became romantically involved in 1936.

Group of friends in Paul Cuttoli's garden in Mougins, left to right: Ady, Marie and Paul Cuttoli, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar, photographed by Man Ray 1937.
Group of friends in Paul Cuttoli’s garden in Mougins, left to right: Ady, Marie and Paul Cuttoli, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar, photographed by Man Ray 1937.

Maar was an artist in her own right, and had her own photographic studio in Paris. Her connections with anti-facist and socialist movements prompted her to document the impending global economic crisis. The two artists fed off each other, each inspiring the other. The Spanish civil war lead Picasso to make his first political oevre, Guernica, while Maar documented the creation of this painting through her photography. Maar had a rather turbulent personality and Picasso often painted her in deep psychological states, and called her his ‘weeping woman’.

Weeping Woman, 1937 by Pablo Picasso
Weeping Woman, 1937 by Pablo Picasso

In Weeping Woman, Picasso returns to Cubism once again, breaking up the geometry of the face with harsh angular lines, dynamic streams of tears flowing from one eye and harsh cross hatching markings on the handkerchief Maar presses to her eyes, the raw emotion of despair quite visible.  Maar was the inspiration for a series of the weeping women featured in the Guernica painting.

Guernica, 1937
Guernica, 1937

Francoise Gilot, a young art student, met Picasso in 1943. It was during their early years together that Picasso was introduced to pottery. Picasso did not paint Gilot realistically, preferring to depict her in floral form. Gilot had two children by Picasso, a son, Claude and a daughter, Paloma. Gilot tired of Picasso’s philandering ways and left him in 1953. After the children were born, Picasso’s art depicted joyous family life, often from a child’s point of view. As Gilot and Picasso drifted apart, Picasso’s work changed from joyous to harsh, violent lines and saw a return of the weeping woman images he had depicted when he was with Maar.

Francoise, 1946 by Pablo Picasso
Francoise, 1946 by Pablo Picasso

Jacqueline Roque met Picasso at a pottery workshop in  Vallauris in the south of France in 1953. It was at this time that Gilot’s relationship with Picasso was floundering and Roque and Picasso became an item. After the death of Olga Khokhlova  in 1955 proposed to Roque who agreed to marry him in 1961. The period with Roque, which lasted until Picasso’s death in 1973, was exceptionally creative for him. Upon his death Roque suffered greatly from depression for a time. She became responsible for his legacy, donating various works to museums. She took her own life in 1986.

Femme au fauteuil (Woman in Armchair) Jacqueline Roque-Picasso by Pablo Picasso, 1960
Femme au fauteuil (Woman in Armchair) Jacqueline Roque-Picasso by Pablo Picasso, 1960

The painting above depicts a double face motif, something which Picasso used quite often in his work in his Maar period. Roque’s face is split in two: one half looks at the viewer, while the other has the illusion of being swept away.

This exhibition was quite the eye-opener for me. A total of 67 works, including 27 canvasses and 40 sketches, drawings, prints, and sculptures were featured and to a photographer, this work is rather mind boggling. What clearly came across was Picasso’s style was continually changing. He was always developing new ideas and trying different techniques. His work was heavily influenced by all his relationships. I can’t say that I “get” his work, but I did come away with a better understanding of “why” he painted his women’s features as he did.

There is a good video about this exhibition below (see Moriarity, Wayne in Bibliography) where senior curator Ian Thom comments on the intricacies of the exhibition.

Bibliography

Moriarity, Wayne (2016). Some fascinating facts from VAG’s Picasso Show [online]. The Province. Available at: http://theprovince.com/opinion/columnists/wayne-moriarty-some-fascinating-facts-from-vags-picasso-show [Accessed 10 July, 2016]

Epps, Philomena (2016) The Women Behind the Work: Picasso and His Muses [online] AnOther. Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/8799/the-women-behind-the-work-picasso-and-his-muses [Accessed 10 July, 2016]

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