Although Stuart Davis did not travel to Paris until 1928, he was well versed in avant-garde European art, including the innovative still lifes of of Pablo Picasso. Super Table (1925) experiments with the nature of the genre, toying with issues of illusion and perspective. Davis was also influenced by popular advertisement imagery, and his graphic style evokes the mechanical, cartoon like forms of commercial printing that were the hallmark of American culture
After arriving in Paris in 1882, Louis Anquetin studied at the Atelier Cormon, where he met and befriended Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The frenetically innovative Aquetin was, in Lautrec’s words, “the glory of the studio.”
Both artists focused on la vie moderne, particularly the nocturnal life of Paris. This painting (1888) depicts an unescorted woman walking through the garden of Élysée Montmartre, a dance hall that predated the Moulin de la Galette and the Moulin Rouge, both locations also painted by Lautrec. Who she is remains a mystery, but her unusual printed dress and extravagant hat, more costume than fashion, suggest she might be an off-duty performer. In contrast to the female figures who lurk among the trees in the background, Anquetin’sélégante appears at ease in the spotlight, not a visitor but a part of this popular entertainment spot.
An Elegant Woman at the Élysée Montmartre was photographed in the Art Institute Chicago.
Asger Jorn (1914 – 1973) was a founding member of CoBrA, a European artists coalition active from 1948 to 1951 that emphasized material and its spontaneous application. Even after 1957, when Jorn began participating in the Situationalist International — a group of writers, artists and theorists who sought to destabilize societal practices and structures — he continued to work within the CoBrA aesthetic, as seen in A Soul For Sale (1958 –59). With its expressive brushwork and its collapsing of foreground and background, figuration and abstraction, this painting articulates some of Jorn’s most significant interrogations of the precepts of geometric abstraction.
Though Paul Jenkins (1923 – 2012) briefly worked among the painters of the New York School, he remained committed to representational art until 1953, when he moved to Paris. There, he discovered the lyrical painterly style of abstraction known as Tachisme. Many artists associated with this movement attempted to express the unconscious mind directly through the act of painting. Jenkins, a devotee of the era’s popular writings on Zen, sought to join this ideal of unmediated expression with his spiritual convictions, aspiring to uncover metaphysical truths by relinquishing conscious control. His early explorations of this approach yielded turbulent, atmospheric compositions like The Prophecy (1956), that seemingly envision a plane of existence without articulated material differentiation.
Hailed as “the perfect painter” by avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, Juan Gris developed his signature approach to Cubism beginning in 1911. Using classic café subject matter — such as the newspaper, seltzer bottle, and glass seen here — Gris made subtle adjustments to the conventions of picture making that render ordinary objects both familiar and newly intriguing. For example, in The Checkerboard (1915) and its bird’s-eye view of a tabletop, a cunning reorganization of pictorial space places objects that should have volume into a single compressed plane. With a nod to play, Gris shows us a fragmented checkerboard, an emblem of the strategy and gamesmanship at the center of his art.
After Kurt Seligmann (1900 – 1962) settled in Paris, his sinister, biomorphic compositions gained the attention of Andre Breton, who invited him to join the Surrealist group in 1937. With the outbreak of World War II, Seligmann became the first Surrealist to arrive in New York, and he was instrumental in the emigration of most of the movement’s leading figures. Transformed by contact with new cultures, Seligmann’s work continued to evolve, and as the Surrealist’s acknowledged expert on magic, he infused his paintings with mythology and esotericism. Indeed, the year he made this work, Magnetic Mountain(1948) he published The Mirror of Magic, a history of the occult. The winding forms and mystical quality of this canvas would influence a new generation of American artists, including his student, Robert Motherswell.
It was at the Five Points Festival that I spotted this amazing painting by artist Paul Fernandez-Carol that mashes up The Beatles with characters from Star Wars in a very clever way. On one hand, we could be looking at The Beatles, dressed in their colorful, highly-recognizable satin band suits from the Sgt. Pepper-album cover — Ringo in Pink, John in Yellow, Paul in Blue and George in Red — who are avoiding being recognized by wearing disguises on their heads. On the other hand, this might be the Star Wars saga characters of a Scout Trooper, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and an Imperial Stormtrooper (who are all distinguishable by the helmets they wear) posing as The Beatles. Who can say? Speaking of posing, I believe that the figures’ poses in this painting were copied from This Photo of the Fab Four taken in 1967 during a promotional photo shoot for the Sgt. Pepper album cover. You can see more art by Fernandez-Carol on his page at Seven Arts Gallery.
One of the most versatile and inventive English artists of the postwar era, David Hockey settled in Los Angeles in 1964. An especially iconic example from a group of double portraits of friends and associates from the 1960s, American Collectors (1968) depicts the contemporary-art collectors Fred and Marcia Weisman in the sculpture garden of their of their Los Angeles home. As stiff and still as the objects surrounding them, the couple stands apart, his stance echoed in the totem pole to the right, hers in the Henry Moore sculpture behind her. Brilliant light flatters the scene and sets the couple in sharp relief; they seem oblivious to each other as well as to their art
The Drinkers (1890) was painted during Vincent Van Gogh’s time in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, a small town in the south of France. Van Gogh was highly productive during this time, but he struggled to maintain confidence in his own abilities as painter. To retrain himself, he made a number of copies after the works of artists he admired, which freed him from having to produce original compositions and allowed him to concentrate instead on interpretation. Van Gogh borrowed this composition from a black and white print after Honore-Victorin Daumier, but the vibrant colors were his own invention. The greenish palette may be an allusion to the notorious alcoholic drink, Absinthe.
Chicago-based surrealist Gertrude Abercrombie (1909 – 1977) was acclaimed for her enigmatic paintings of stark interiors and illusory landscapes. On first glance, Self Portrait As My Sister (1941) appears to be relatively straight-forward representation, lacking the idiosyncratic imagery of her complex, dreamlike works. But Abercrombie was an only child, and the title’s allusion to a sister heightens the paradox of the painting. She frequently used self-portraiture as a means of trying on new guises and personas, later observing, “It’s always myself that I paint, but not actually, because I don’t look that good or cute.” Indeed, in her records she referred to this work as “Portrait of Artist as Ideal.” Her reference to a fictitious and prettier sister hints at desire to be a different person, a longing she could satisfy through her painting.