Transformations: Creating Character in Contemporary Photography

Transformations: Creating Character in Contemporary Photography 

Kristine Somerville 

Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us. . . .There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.  

—Virginia Woolf, Orlando 

As a child during the ’60s, I fell in love with the adventurous styles of the era, with their bright colors and patterns, variety of materials and textures, and extreme shapes, from form-fitting to free-flowing and voluminous. I had several pieces of clothing that I adored: a silk shirt patterned with wide-eyed, lush whiskered cats, light blue patent leather saddle shoes, and a richly embroidered peasant top. I was an awkward, shy child who hid behind her mother when strangers spoke to her, but I was extroverted in my sense of style. The flashier the clothes, the better I liked them and the braver I felt when venturing out into the world. 

The Art of Indifference: Duchamp and the Legacy of Readymades

The Art of Indifference: Duchamp and the Legacy of Readymades

I believe art is the only form of activity in which man shows himself to be a true individual.

— Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp never sought fame and certainly not infamy. His natural disposition was one of detachment; he was uniquely indifferent to money, attention, and a wider audience for his work. What he preferred instead was time and freedom to engage in radical experimentation. Yet he created controversy with works of art that today are among the most influential of the modern era.

The Charm Offensive: Magritte’s Influence on Contemporary Art

The Charm Offensive: Magritte’s Influence on Contemporary Art

Kristine Somerville

 

“All I know of hope, I place in love.” —René Magritte

During the World War II, René Magritte aimed through his painting to launch what he called “a charm offensive.” In opposition to the brutality of the war, he wanted to find some pleasure for himself and others. He wrote, “The German occupation marked a turning point in my art. Before the war, my paintings expressed anxiety, but the experiences of the war have taught me that what matters in art is to express charm. I live in a very disagreeable world, and my work is meant as a counter-offensive.” He went on to explain that “it lies with us, who have some notion of how feelings are invented, to make joy and pleasure.” Magritte was criticized by his fellow surrealists, particularly André Breton, who publicly opposed what he considered a simplistic notion. He thought it ridiculous to foster “charm, pleasure, sunshine” at the exclusion of “sadness and boredom.”

 

Clash: Punk’s Influence on Contemporary Art

Clash: Punk’s Influence on Contemporary Art

Kristine Somerville

Punk rock isn’t something you grow out of. Punk rock is an

attitude, and the essence of that attitude is “give us some truth.”

—Joe Strummer, the Clash

 

The punk movement burned bright for four years beginning with Television’s performance at CBGB in the Bowery in 1974 and then flaming out in 1978 with ex-Sex Pistol Sid Vicious’s murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen and his overdose four months later. During that brief period, there were iconic albums by the Clash and the Sex Pistols in London and the Ramones, Patti Smith, and Suicide in New York. There was also the slashed, shredded, and zippered fashion of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, who crystalized and commercialized punk fashion at their boutique SEX at King’s Road.

Mash-up: The Enduring Fusion of High Art and Mass Culture

Mash-up: The Enduring Fusion of High Art and Mass Culture

In 1912 at his Boulevard Raspail studio in Montparnasse, Picasso hung a changing installation of collages on a beige wall over a cot scattered with pillows and papers. He displayed six or seven pieces of new work selected from the nearly hundred collages he had created that year. Most notably, he shared variations on a study of a guitar, a paste-up of wallpaper and cardboard on newsprint. When artists heard about Picasso’s new work, they flocked to his small studio to get a look. Intrigued by the method, futurists such as Gino Severini, Umberto Boccioni, and Giacomo Balla began using collage as a method of enriching the surfaces of their works. Picasso’s displays of simple cutting and pasting of the detritus of daily life was declared “a pasted-paper revolution.” The idea moved quickly; collage becoming a favorite medium among international modernists for its playful, ephemeral style and quick, spontaneous process—what Picasso called “one mad rush.”

Neo Rococo: The Work of Nine Contemporary Artists

“We must begin by saying to ourselves that we have nothing else to do in the world but seek pleasant sensations and feelings.”

—Madame du Châtelet, natural philosopher, mathematician, and author

The rise of rococo was presided over by Louis XV’s longtime official mistress, Madame de Pompadour. With a bourgeois background and a Cinderella-like ascent to the highest echelon of early eighteenth-century French society, she faced pressure to fit in at court and had to work hard to maintain her role as controller of the king’s daily life. She used patronage and collecting art to signify her authority. Her taste for the newness of rococo, with its emphasis on fantasy and imagination, soon made it popular among the French elite. Madame de Pompadour, one of several of François Boucher’s portraits of her, captures her beauty and taste and the sumptuous appeal of rococo as she reclines languorously on an elegant sofa in her boudoir, the epitome of ease and refinement. For twenty years, she reigned unchallenged as the “godmother of rococo.”

Art Feature

When visiting a city, I take solitary, late-night walks, enjoying the feeling of being both lost and at home. Cities at night with their empty streets become a dreamscape of shadow and light. With your senses on high alert, the sights and sounds are magnified.

Dream Logic: The Art of Ten Contemporary Surrealists

Once in a dream I sat reclined in an old-fashioned dentist’s chair at the center of an empty stage illuminated by a single white spotlight. Over my right shoulder, a kangaroo in a surgical mask, its eyes large and brown, with glamorous lashes, held in its five-fingered paw a whirling drill. An audience dressed in fine Victorian evening wear shouted “Bravo” as the kangaroo filled my molar with gold. While many theories have tried to explain the phenomenon of dreams—that they represent a dramatization of personal concerns, a processing of intense emotions, a rehearsal for threatening situations, or, most recently, random neural activity—I woke with a feeling of pure pleasure, delighting in the power of my imagination to stage a comic surrealist tableau. Nietzsche wrote, “The wonderful illusions of the world of dreams, in the creation of which each man behaves as a real artist, are the premise of every kind of visual art.” The absurdist drama staged by my unconscious mind reminds me of the crucial role of dreams in the formation of some the most interesting art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Visual Burlesque: Ralph Barton and Puck Magazine

Jazz-Age illustrator Ralph Barton sported an exaggerated urbanity. Elegant and handsome, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a slight frame, he dressed in flawlessly tailored suits with striped shirts, matching collars, a cravat, and suspenders. Often he carried a walking stick and in his wake left a trace of Chanel No. 22. He bought the finest champagne, wine, and cigarettes and in his work was particular about pens, paper, and ink. After his first visit to France in 1915, he returned a full-bore dandy, out-fopping the French. But his cultivated sophistication and aspirations were born of provincialism. Even when he lived in a penthouse filled with rare books and art, was one of the highest-paid illustrators in New York City, and married and dated an array of beautiful, rich women, he never stopped fighting his way out of the “Kansas City mud.”

Making It Modern: the Art Deco Illustrations of Ernesto García Cabral

Mexican caricaturist, cartoonist, and illustrator Ernesto García Cabral’s work illustrates the reach and popularity of art deco. While he was a prolific artist, creating several thousand cartoons and caricatures, his commercial work for magazines, in particular his covers for the Magazine of Magazines, brought him fame for an innovative, fluent style that employs the wide-ranging motifs and subject matter of deco.

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