Fernand Léger - Still Life with a Beer Mug - 1921-22 - 91 x 60 cm - oil on canvas
Cubism has intrigued many artists and Léger is showing a refined approach to this great consideration. In this painting he uses cubist shifting, which is showing two or more views of an object simultaneously. We see this at the top edge of the table and at the top of the mug. Léger broadened the shifting consideration to include integrations, most notably the integration of the vertical in the mug’s opening with the vertical black line above, providing a key connection in the composition. He has also done this on the mug’s handle and with sensitive restraint where the white line joins the white of the bowl containing the fruit.
Léger’s traditional modelling of thecurtain and the items on the table is perfectly restrained and beautifully balanced with the flattening of the background and floor. I like how we feel the roundness of the mug even though the shapes on the front are flat. How he combined cubism with it’s sense of space with the raising of the background and mug to the picture plane is wonderful. Can you feel the yellow and red shapes trying to come forward to the level of the mug and table top?
I’ll finish with a wonderful example of integration. Run your eye up the table leg below the fruit bowl. Do you feel the sense of the leg on the table top? That is why he painted the two shadowy shapes.
Léger enhanced and refined two great movements in twentieth century painting.
Direction VI - 2008 - 49 x 97 in (124 x 246 cm) - mixed media on canvas
This painting has a special place for me as it represents how wonderful it can be when a composition succeeds through the reductive process.
The seed of the painting is to convey movement as purely as possible without any superfluous markings or information. This can be very challenging, for it is not simplification just through omission and reduction. It is striving to have the viewer connect and participate at the primal level. Arranging and rearranging the markings until I respond is genuinely exhilarating. and It always seems to be a circuitous route..
Those small dancing angles are an invitation to engage and they may represent anything the viewer wishes. The colours and textures are open as well, and it is my hope the painting invites a different response with every visit.
I should mention a very important structural consideration. Note how the bottom edge of the light area curves upward at the right. To support this movement I provided a parallel line just above. This is very important for the composition and is meant to be felt more than seen.
I would like to share another detail which I feel is the finishing touch to the painting. When my eye comes to where the blue intrudes slightly into the light texture, gently holding me briefly, I smile. (see detail) The best notes appear when we are responding to the painting.
We artists put ourselves through a great deal to arrive where we initially intended, and to be truthful that place can be elusive.
Georgio Morandi – Still Life – 25 x 30 cm – oil on canvas
Morandi’s contemplative paintings speak to me and I quite often find myself visiting them for the appreciation of his mastery of the reductive process.
In this Still Life he arranged three items directly in front of each other creating a beautiful arrangement of shapes and lines. How he integrated the three with the table and background is absolutely gorgeous.
I love the elegant structure of the shapes, especially the relationship of the top of the spout with the rhythmic movement of the three marks at the right. The horizontal dark line holds them beautifully. (see detail image) I hope you can feel the relationships.
Two of the marks (above the dark line) and the top of the goblet seem to float, connecting our gaze to that sensitive horizontal shadow in the goblet’s top, and leading us to the oval top of the spout. We are then gently brought down to the wonderful dark structure. I mustn’t neglect another sensitive movement, leading our eye down the spout to the bottom edge of the ochre shape on the goblet. This in turn takes us to that magnificent small curved mark engaging us with the movements above.
The top of the goblet seems to be floating, energizing the painting brilliantly. Reducing the subject matter to an arrangement of shapes supports this consideration masterfully. The blending or integration of the objects with the background and table is visual poetry at it’s best.
Note how we seem to be both level with the goblet and slightly above it at the same time. I’m sure this is an homage to Cézanne.
The painting is an exquisite arrangement of shapes and lines revealing a level of sophistication and visual poetry I admire greatly.
Ben Nicholson - Still Life (Violin) - 1932 - 30 x 24 in - oil and gesso on board
This painting is an excellent example on how artists allow recent influences to show in their development. Nicholson engaged with Cubism as a means to refine and personalize his awareness of this major development in contemporary painting, and used it to provide a solid foundation for his journey towards abstraction. Here, like Picasso and Braque, he uses the picture plane while simultaneously shifting our view to provide the sense of space.
The lines of the grid are both in front and behind the violin, conveying the feeling of space. I love the repeating rhythm of a series of vertical rectangles and how their dance gently contains my perusal. Can you feel how the white one is nearer and the others recede? You are meant to sense this dance rather than see the harmony they provide in the composition. The two verticals patterned with dots is open to interpretation ( I think of the act of playing the instrument and the rhythmic lines at the upper left is the sound of the music.)
The wonderful “shifting of space” in the body of the violin, the positioning of the F-holes and showing us the side view of the neck and scroll not only shows Nicholson’s understanding of cubism, it also shows us his restraint and refinement of this great consideration in twentieth century painting.