Research point: Cubism

25th February 2020

The idea behind this exercise is to imaginatively combine the different photographs into a single conclusive design. Have a look at some Cubist paintings and sculpture as inspiration. Notice how one object blends into another and how different viewpoints of the same object co-exist in surprising ways. The classic example of this is Picasso’s combination of the front and profile of a face, as in Weeping Woman, which you can see on the Tate’s website.

OCA Foundations in Photography Course Folder Pg 128

My life has always been involved around art and photography. Whether reading about it, visiting galleries or creating it. I have been to two art colleges and have studied with the OCA many moons ago so I was pleasantly surprised to be going back to the good old visual subject of ‘Cubism’.

We are asked to look at the Weeping Woman by Picasso. It has examples of fragmentation especially with the hands as well as multiple views of the head in that the face is presented straight on to the viewer while the hair is shown as the side view. The painting is after the Analytical period of Cubism so it is very colourful.

Weeping Woman 1937 Pablo Picasso
Image from Tate tate.org.uk

Cubism

Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque developed the movement Cubism which represented a reality of an object or a person from different views of the subject within the same picture plane. The resulting images appeared fragmented and abstract. Cubism can be divided into two different stages and it is the first stage called analytical cubism that I am researching.

The objects within the paintings, although abstracted because of the dissection of the subject, multiple viewpoints and overlapping planes which cause fragmentation, can still be recognised. The fragments are usually in the centre of the canvas and often the boundaries between object and background blend together. The other feature about this period of cubism is the simplified monochromatic palette used, muted browns or warm greys, blue and ochre. Black is used for outlines and contours within the compositions which helps identify planes and whites are used to show surface highlights.

Analytical Cubism rejected single point perspective. The artists believed that viewing a subject from one fixed perspective did not depict the truth of an object and that it also did not show the object in multiple different lights of the day. With this as a concern they began to show objects from multiple angles and in different lights so they were therefore producing artworks that showed the objects and portraits conceptually, based on knowledge rather than visual information the way things are seen.

In Analytical Cubism, not only do the planes of the objects fuse with their backgrounds in places but some of the planes are transparent so that you can see the planes that are behind them.

A good example of multiple viewpoints can be seen in Metzinger’s Tea time (2011) which can be seen above. This is a simple example but very effective and it shows the decisive splitting of the cup into two halves and shows the viewers two angles at once, head on (left) and from above (right).

Portrait of Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler 1910 Pablo Picasso
Image from The Art Institute Chicago artic.edu

I chose the above portrait by Picasso as an example of the monochrome tones used and to show how the planes would merge into each other so that object and background in places would become one. You can also see how the fragmented shapes are geometrical.

Quote below about the above painting is from The Art Institute Chicago’s website:

Forms are fractured into various planes and faceted shapes and presented from several points of view. Despite the portrait’s highly abstract character, however, Picasso added attributes to direct the eye and focus the mind: a wave of hair, the knot of a tie, a watch chain. Out of the flickering passages of brown, gray, black, and white emerges a rather traditional portrait pose of a seated man, his hands clasped in his lap.

Art Institute Chicago artic.edu
Bottle and Fishes c.1910-2 Georges Braque
Image from Tate tate.org.uk

Due to the fact that the exercises I am studying are connected with still life I have chosen a still life as the last Analytical Cubism painting to analyse. Here we have Georges Braque’s Bottle and Fishes, 1910-12. The accompanying text for the painting on the Tate website is:

Ordinary objects – a bottle and fishes on a plate, laid on a table with a drawer – have been dramatically fragmented to form a grid-like structure of interpenetrating planes. The traditional domestic subject matter and sober colours in this work can be seen as a reaction against the luminous hues and free expression of Braque’s earlier fauvist paintings.

Gallery label Tate 2012 tate.org.uk

I remember when I had first seen this painting, I was drawn towards the blues and ochre colours with the dark shadow areas. When looking closer the forms began to take more of a shape and as I studied the painting I could make the subject matter out. I love the fragments in this painting as they are like stepping stones and block towers and give such a sense of solidness although they are many parts of objects and surfaces.

Conclusion

I am probably going to annoy quite a lot of art historians with my conclusion. I believe that Analytical Cubism’s strengths lay in its break through idea of producing different viewpoints and light sources for the viewer to respond too. However, I do think that both Picasso and Braque and those who produced artworks within Analytical Cubism’s movement, did not explore or develop the concept enough.

Modern artists and photographers have developed Picasso’s initial idea and I just wished that he had just tried to think beyond the shapes and planes and the fragments and really thought about the visual cleanliness that was needed for the viewer to appreciate the subject. If we take another look at Jean Metzinger’s Tea Time and the cup for instance the clarity that the cup has in providing the sense of different viewpoints is far cleaner than some of the work where the geometric shapes, the many fragments and lines seem to fight manically for a place on the canvas.

Now that I have written my post on Analytical Cubism I will research how this beginning idea of multiple viewpoints and fragmentation has developed in photography and research some great photography work by David Hockney, Maurizio Galimberti and Brno Del Zou. It is a style that so many people now emulate so I will also look at the everyday photographer who has come up with some good takes on FRAGMENT PHOTOGRAPHY.


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