Saturday, April 22, 2017

Can't Help Feeling Blue

Pablo Picasso began a series of paintings known as the “blue period” between the years of 1900 and 1904. Although the essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and green are closely followed by sets of warm rose colored paintings, historians believe these works reveal a personal psychological depression. From the beginning of the Blue Period, Picasso was concerned with going straight to the sources of art, forgetting traditional principles learned, in order to rediscover the innocence and spontaneity of primitives. Pierre Daix claims that this observed; if we insist on Picasso’s sincerity, we must accept that it cannot be independent of suffering. For Picasso, art is the offspring of sadness and suffering. He believes that sadness lends itself to meditation and that suffering is foundational to existence.[1] This being said, I think it is imperative that we identify a theme and connect Picasso’s “The Blind Man’s Meal” with others by observing color choices and subject matter. If we believe that this work was created in a time of sorrow, and formally depicts a hopeless situation, then perhaps the following works will do something of the same. The blue color scheme then, necessitates a somber mood for the following pieces.

Paul Klee, Still Life, 1927, oil on gypsum construction, 1984.315.49
The first piece in this curation series is Still Life by Paul Klee. Klee focused on a “less is more” complex as he simplified forms and used only primary colors and their compliments. The dishware set on the table are arranged uncomfortably together as if abandoned or altogether untouched. The colors of this piece are dark. A good deal of blue is used either on its own or mixed with red to make a plum color. The still life has an eerie quality to it as the viewer is forced to look upon it without really being “invited” into the space. I feel an urge to act. Although the chalices are arranged circularly (much like The Blind Man’s Meal composition), I want to reach for a goblet on the table and interact with it, I want to create energy.

Mary Cassatt, Lady at the Tea Table, 1883-85, oil on canvas, 23.101
The second piece is Lady at the Tea Table by Mary Cassatt. I find the connection with Picasso’s The Blind Man’s Meal here in that the painting is of only one person interacting with a table setting and in the prominence of the color blue. Although Cassatt is painting during the Impressionist movement, unlike Picasso in the Avant Garde, they both respond to the human body with casual simplicity, the sitter has either an indifference to the viewer (Cassatt) or an unawareness of the viewer (Picasso). Both bodies in these pieces are reaching for an object on their tables which is a comforting relief as opposed to the previous Still Life with was left literally and symbolically untouched.

Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, 1662, oil on canvas, 89.15.21
The third piece is Young Woman with a Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer. Thankfully, the woman here is animating the space where motion and warmth seemed void in the Still Life and even The Blind Man’s Meal and Lady at the Tea Table. However, the woman is alone at the meal table. She is downcast much like Picasso’s blind man, and she is engulfed in once again: blue hues. Although Vermeer’s original intent was to portray an ideal woman in an ideal home, her posture and surroundings (when accompanied with the rest of the curation) could suggest otherwise.

Pablo Picasso, Seated Harlequin, 1901, oil on canvas, 60.87
The fourth piece is from Pablo Picasso of the Seated Harlequin. This was a piece made during his blue period, and therefore an obvious companion to The Blind Man’s Meal. Seated alone at a table with no particular interest in the meal before him, this harlequin was intentionally given the attributes of a Pierrot, a melancholy, cuckolded clown who loses his love. Some writers suggest that because of the figure’s pensive mood and the character Pierrot’s unrequited love, that he parallels Carles Casagemas. This was Picasso’s dear friend who had committed suicide of whose death these writers believe primarily affected Picasso’s blue period works.

Unknown, Dish with Gardenia, late 16th century, Jingdezhen Ware, 19.28.10
The Fifth and final piece I am adding to the curation is of the Dish with Gardenia. I wanted very much to include a physical object to the collection to resurrect the common theme which holds the other paintings together. Every painting thus far has included some kind of dishware and always with blue tones. Here we have a simply crafted dish with blue flowers on it. The flowers are not particularly beautiful, and if anything seem a bit frail. But this pairs rather well as a physical embodiment for the figures in the previous curations. In this exhibition, we are all invited to look upon these figures as they dine, prepare to dine, or leave the scene altogether. The Gardenia dish lets the viewer’s eye rest easily on a 3-dimensional object that otherwise is so obstructed and simplified on canvas. The fact that it is alone and not displayed with a set physically symbolizes the solitude portrayed in the rest of this collection.

[1] Pierre Daix. Picasso. New York, 1965
- Daix was a French journalist and writer, friend and biographer of Picasso.

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