Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Juan Gris: Spanish Painter, Illustrator, and Sculptor

"Cézanne made a cylinder out of a bottle. I start from the cylinder to create a special kind of individual object. I make a bottle out of a cylinder." - Juan Gris

One of Gertrude Stein's favorite artists, and the only Cubist talented enough to make Picasso uncomfortable, Juan Gris built upon the foundations of early Cubism and steered the movement in new directions. A member of the tight-knit circle of avant-garde artists working in Paris, Gris adopted the radically fragmented picture spaces of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, imparting to his works a bold, graphic look. Gris's paintings are immediately distinguishable from theirs, informed by his background as an illustrator, with a slick, almost commercial appearance, and crisp design elements throughout.

Cubism, highly influential visual arts style of the 20th century that was created principally by the artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in Paris between 1907 and 1914. The Cubist style emphasized the flat, two-dimensional surface of the picture plane, rejecting the traditional techniques of perspectiveforeshortening, modeling, and chiaroscuro, and refuting time-honoured theories that art should imitate nature. Cubist painters were not bound to copying form, texture, colour, and space; instead, they presented a new reality in paintings that depicted radically fragmented objects.
One of the most influential art movements of the early twentieth century and one that remains a major source of inspiration for many artists today is Cubism. You may wonder, what is Cubism, how did it get started and why is it so important?
First of all, Cubism marked a major turning point in the whole evolution of modernist art. It is credited for having paved the way for the pure abstraction that dominated Western art for the next 50 years. It inspired future movements including Futurism, Constructivism, Dada and Surrealism.
Its influence was also felt in the field of literature, most notably in the writings of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and William Faulkner, who applied the principles of abstract language, repetition and use of multiple narrators. And, in music, the composer Igor Stravinsky credited Cubism for having an impact on his work.
The term is broadly used in association with a wide variety of art produced in Paris (Montmartre, Montparnasse and Puteaux) during the 1910s and extending through the 1920s.
The movement was pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, joined by Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger and Juan Gris.
The late works of Paul Cézanne’s representation of three-dimensional form are credited as being primary influences that led to Cubism.
The French art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term Cubism after seeing the landscapes Braque had painted in 1908 at L’Estaque in emulation of Cézanne. The painting Le Viaduc de L’Estaque above is one of those paintings. Vauxcelles called the geometric forms in the highly abstracted works “cubes.”
In addition, other influences on early Cubism have been linked to Primitivism and non-Western sources.
In Cubist work up to 1910, the subject of a picture was usually discernible. During Analytic Cubism (1910–12), also called “hermetic,” Picasso and Braque so abstracted their works that they were reduced to just a series of overlapping planes and facets mostly in near-monochromatic browns, grays, or blacks.
The Cubist painters rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that artists should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening. They dismantled traditional perspective and modeling in the round in order to emphasize the two-dimensional picture plane.
They reduced and fractured objects into geometric forms, and then realigned these within a shallow, relief-like space. They also used multiple or contrasting vantage points.
By taking these measures, they destroyed traditional “illusionism” in painting and radically changed the way we see the world.
Unlike Picasso and Braque, whose Cubist works were practically monochromatic, Juan Gris was known for painting with bright harmonious colors in daring, novel combinations in the manner of his friend Matisse.
He painted in the style of Analytical Cubism, a term he himself later coined. Affter 1913 he began his transition to Synthetic Cubism, with extensive use of papier collé or, collage.
It’s important to note that Picasso and Braque also introduced the Cubist collage as an important new modern art form. The origins of collage can be traced back hundreds of years, but this technique made a dramatic reappearance as an art form of novelty by these artists. They used fragments of mass-produced popular culture into pictures, thereby changing the very definition of art.
“Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection”
Over the past 40 years, Leonard A. Lauder, the philanthropist and cosmetics billionaire, has selectively acquired masterpieces and seminal works to comprise the most important collection of Cubist Art that has ever existed in a private collection. Lauder, who began developing his love for Cubism in elementary school, has promised to give his entire collection, currently consisting of more than 80 works of art and growing, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 2014 the museum presented a major exhibition “Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection” which featured paintings, collages, drawings, and sculpture by the four preeminent Cubist artists: Georges Braque Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso.
When Lauder was asked why he decided to gift the Metropolitan Museum such an extraordinary collection, he stated, “I wanted to transform a museum… and I believe it will transform the Met.”

Key Ideas
Whereas Picasso and Braque delighted in destroying the conventions of painting, Gris's chief aim was to please the eye. As the artist himself put it, 'I prefer the emotion that corrects the rule'. Despite his radical treatment of the picture space, his well-balanced compositions, saturated colors, and traditional subjects popularized the avant-garde movement.
Like Picasso and Braque, he incorporated newsprint and advertisements into his work. Whereas they tended to snip these elements into smithereens, however, he leaves more of the original pieces of ads and newsprint intact, as if to preserve the integrity of the originals. In lifting popular culture into the realm of high art, he is an important forerunner of Dada and Pop artists, among them Marcel DuchampStuart Davis, and Andy Warhol.
He was among the visionaries (poets, choreographers, musicians and visual artists) who built pathways among the arts. His costumes for the Ballet Russes show his commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration, an idea that gathered momentum and became central to contemporary art.

The man who would become Juan Gris, one of the leading figures in Cubist painting, was born José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González-Pérez in Madrid in 1887. The thirteenth of fourteen children, he attended Madrid's Escuela de Artes y Manufacturas from 1902 to 1904, where he studied mathematics, physics, and mechanical drawing. Though he was a strong student, the rigidity of academic life did not appeal to him, and his natural ability in drawing encouraged him to shift his focus to the study of art.
Early Training
After leaving school, he studied painting under the tutelage of José Moreno Carbonero, a respected and sucessful artist in Madrid who had himself taught Salvador Dalí and Picasso. It was in 1905, while working under Carbonero, that González-Pérez changed his name to Juan Gris. He sold all his possessions and moved to Paris in 1906, shortly after the death of his father, and would remain in the city for much of his life. However, since he had dodged Spain's obligatory military service, he had no passport and could neither leave France nor return to Spain.
During his early years in Paris, he worked as an illustrator and satirical cartoonist for a variety of magazines and periodicals. He settled in the Montmartre artist commune Bateau Lavoir, where he met Picasso, Braque, Matisse, and the American writer Gertrude Stein, who would become a lifelong admirer and collector of his work. As he developed relationships with fellow artists, he began to devote more energy to his own painting. Following in the footsteps of Picasso and Braque, he initially worked in the style he would later define as Analytic Cubism, known for its monochromatic color, use of linear grids, and breaking down of a subject into geometric planes. While he clearly had enormous respect for Picasso, the older man may have been threatened by the younger's talents, or simply annoyed by his flattery, leading Stein to note that, "Juan Gris was the only person whom Picasso wished away."

Despite the lopsided nature of their relationship, his portrait of his mentor attracted the acclaim of fellow artists and critics when it was exhibited at the Salon des Independants in 1912. That same year, he signed a contract that gave the German art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (who also worked with Picasso and Braque) the exclusive right to sell his work. After several years of financial difficulties in Paris, the arrangement gave him greater stability and allowed his work to reach a broader and more influential audience.

Mature Period
Though many recognized his talent in its own right, his work followed the austere monochromatic style of Analytic Cubism in the early 1910s, and moved in the direction of Synthetic Cubism - a subsequent phase, distinguished by a broader, bolder use of color and a collage-like approach to composition - from 1914 onward. Departing from Picasso and Braque somewhat, his work from the latter period is distinguished by its move away from shattering abstraction and use of bright, harmonious colors in daring combinations.
As was the case for many artists of the time, the outbreak of World War I threw his personal and professional life into a state of flux. The war disrupted his business relationship with Kahnweiler, though he received financial help from Gertrude Stein. He also spent time with Matisse in his studio at Collioure, in the south of France near the Spanish border. In 1916, he signed a new contract with French art dealer Leonce Rosenberg, another hugely influential collector of modernist art. His work from the early war years examines the interplay between objects and their shadows, and reintroduces complicated planar intersections, sumptuous colors and textures.

Toward the end of the war, he spent several months in Touraine, the native region of his French wife Josette. This period, unique in his art, focuses on depictions of traditional peasant figures, linking him to a broader shift among European artists during and after the war. Increasingly, these artists turned away from the avant-garde disruptions and reinterpretations of form that marked the early 1910s, and instead approached traditional techniques and subject matter with renewed interest that would persist throughout the remainder of his career.

Though he experienced periods of illness and financial strife during the war years, his reputation was steadily rising. He was awarded his first major solo exhibition at Rosenberg's Galerie l'Effort Moderne in Paris in 1919. The following year, he participated in the final major exhibition of Cubist painters at the Salon des Independants.

Late Period
He had been painting prolifically during and after the war, though in 1920 he became ill with pleurisy, a lung inflammation then often confused with tuberculosis. In an attempt to recuperate, he spent the winter at Bandol, on the southeastern coast of France. While there, he spent time with the Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, and the two discussed ideas about staging and costumes for upcoming productions. Their conversations eventually yielded a full collaboration, with Gris designing costumes and sets for the Ballet Russes from 1922 to 1924.

Major exhibitions of his work took place at the Galerie Simon in Paris and the Galerie Flechtheim in Berlin in 1923, and at the Galerie Flechtheim in Dusseldorf in 1925. It was during these years that he achieved the peak of popularity and renown that he would know in his lifetime. He was also making his most forceful articulation of his theories on art and aesthetics, delivering his lecture, 'Des possibilites de la peinture' at the Sorbonne in 1924. In it, he describes his belief that a painting was not merely a representation of an object from reality, but something that the artist recreates and reinterprets through his craft.
He was unable to bask in his successes for long, due to ongoing - and worsening - health problems. In 1922, he moved out of central Paris to the suburban area of Boulogne-sur-Seine, in the hopes that a quieter rural atmosphere would ease his chronic asthma. From late 1925 onward, he battled consistent kidney and cardiac ailments. He died in 1927 of kidney failure, leaving behind his wife and young son. He was only 40 years old. In response to Gris's death, Stein wrote a memorial titled The Life and Death of Juan Gris, in which she describes him as "a perfect painter."
He established himself as one of the most distinctive figures in Cubism during his relatively short life. His paintings combine different viewpoints of a subject in one image, calling attention to the limitations of traditional perspective and striving toward a new way of seeing that reflects the complexity of the modern age. Though primarily associated with painting, Cubism also exerted a profound influence on 20th-century sculpture and architecture. The liberating formal concepts initiated by Cubism also had far-reaching consequences for Surrealism, Dada, and the rise of midcentury Abstract Expressionism. While Picasso and Braque are most often credited with creating the new visual language of Cubism, his distinctive interpretation of the style directly influenced artists such as Salvador Dali, Joseph Cornell, and Diego Rivera, among many others. In The Secret Life, Dali writes, "my first cubist paintings... were directly and intentionally influenced by Juan Gris." His incorporation of brand logos and newspaper typography also anticipates the Pop art movement in the years following the Second World War, particularly in the works of artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Portrait of Picasso (1912)
Artwork description & Analysis: Gris idolized Picasso. A clever tribute to his mentor, his portrait depicts Picasso (founder of Cubism) in the Cubist style. Palette at the ready, Picasso is literally larger than life (taking up most of the space on the canvas). Working primarily in cool hues of blue, gray, and brown, he fractures the sitter's face into a prism of planes and geometric shapes that resolve into the parallel lines in the background. All parts of this picture seem to be in motion. While he and his fellow practitioners produced many more chaotic images, elements of formal portraiture, such as the legibility of the sitter's features, symmetry of the pose, and high-collared jacket (as opposed to a painter's smock), indicate his respect for the subject. It is entirely in keeping with the Cubist mission, however, in its divergence from traditional representation and effort to capture the dynamism of modern life.

Cubism derived its name from remarks that were made by the critic Louis Vauxcelles, who derisively described Braque’s 1908 work Houses at L’Estaque as being composed of cubes. In Braque’s painting, the volumes of the houses, the cylindrical forms of the trees, and the tan-and-green colour scheme are reminiscent of Paul Cézanne’s landscapes, which deeply inspired the Cubists in their first stage of development (until 1909). It was, however, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted by Picasso in 1907, that presaged the new style; in this work, the forms of five female nudes become fractured, angular shapes. As in Cézanne’s art, perspective is rendered through colour, with the warm reddish-browns advancing and the cool blues receding.

The movement’s development from 1910 to 1912 is often referred to as Analytical Cubism. During this period, the work of Picasso and Braque became so similar that their paintings are almost indistinguishable. Analytical Cubist paintings by both artists show the breaking down, or analysis, of form. Picasso and Braque favoured right-angle and straight-line construction, though occasionally some areas of their paintings appear sculptural, as in Picasso’s Girl with a Mandolin (1910). They simplified their colour schemes to a nearly monochromatic scale (hues of tan, brown, gray, cream, green, or blue were preferred) in order not to distract the viewer from the artist’s primary interest—the structure of form itself. The monochromatic colour scheme was suited to the presentation of complex, multiple views of the object, which was reduced to overlapping opaque and transparent planes. These planes appear to move beyond the surface of the canvas rather than to recede in depth. Forms are generally compact and dense in the centre of an Analytical Cubist painting, growing larger as they diffuse toward the edges of the canvas, as in Picasso’s Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1909–10). In their work from this period, Picasso and Braque frequently combined representational motifs with letters; their favourite motifs were musical instruments, bottles, pitchers, glasses, newspapers, and the human face and figure.
Interest in this subject matter continued after 1912, during the phase generally identified as Synthetic Cubism. Works of this phase emphasize the combination, or synthesis, of forms in the picture. Colour assumes a strong role in these works; shapes, while remaining fragmented and flat, are larger and more decorative. Smooth and rough surfaces may be contrasted with one another, and frequently foreign materials, such as newspapers or tobacco wrappers, are pasted on the canvas in combination with painted areas. This technique, known as collage, further emphasizes the differences in texture and, at the same time, poses the question of what is reality and what is illusion.

While Picasso and Braque are credited with creating this new visual language, it was adopted and further developed by many painters, including Fernand LégerRobert and Sonia DelaunayJuan GrisRoger de la FresnayeMarcel DuchampAlbert Gleizes, and Jean Metzinger. Though primarily associated with painting, Cubism also exerted a profound influence on 20th-century sculpture and architecture. The major Cubist sculptors were Alexander ArchipenkoRaymond Duchamp-Villon, and Jacques Lipchitz. The adoption of the Cubist aesthetic by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier is reflected in the shapes of the houses he designed during the 1920s.

It Paved The Way for Pure Abstraction

Another artist in the Cubist movement is Fernand Léger. In 1911 the hanging committee of the Salon des Indépendants placed together the painters identified as ‘Cubists’. Léger, along with Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, Delaunay and Léger were responsible for revealing Cubism to the general public for the first time as an organized group.

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