sunnuntai 30. syyskuuta 2012

Artist of the Month: Henri Rousseau.

Hi guise! 
September is over already? I have been so busy that I didn't even notice.
Something quite embarrassing happened to me on friday (28th). I'm a part-time waitress and on friday I had my very first French couple. What made the situation embarrassing for me was that I could remember how take their order in french, even though I have been studying french for 3 weeks!!! Q_Q of course the couple didn't know this, but I was just so frustrated and embarrassed that I didn't know how to ask what they'd like to drink/eat in french. And we had just done restaurant conversation in class on the day before! *sigh* Naturally when I went to bed that night I suddenly said to myself: Qu'est ce que vous voulez prenez? Even though it means 'what would you like to have?' I think it would have sufficed. But yeah, the situation was all over already.

The Equatorial Jungle 1909.

This month's artist is Henri Rousseau, a French fine artist who is the established father of Naïvism. Soft yet vivid colours, exaggerated flora, highlighted backgrounds are classic Rousseau. Naturally Rousseau didn't know this at the time, but he had began to establish the characteristics for naïve art Sadly Rousseau wasn't appreciated in his own time, people didn't regard his paintings as art. Just like with other really appreciated artists, Rousseau's genious wasn't discovered until years and years after his death. And now we are left to analyze what naïve art is about, what Rousseau was about.

Naïvism is a movement that is devoted to simple childlike images in subject matter and technique. In the past naïve art was hardly considered as art because it was practised by non-professional artists or children. However Henri Rousseau showed that people who practiced Naïvism had their own expressive vision. Rousseau was born in May 21st 1844 in Laval France. Unlike many other Fine Artists Rousseau was completely self-taught. Rousseau admitted that he had received some advice from Academic painters, but other than that he had no education in art. Rousseau attentend the Laval High School as a day student, but he switched to a boarding school after he and his family had to leave Laval upon the seizure of their house. As a student Rousseau was mediocre, but he did rather well in drawing and music and won many prizes. After high school, in the early 1860's, Rousseau began to study law and worked for a lawyer, but later he "attempted a small perjury" and moved to serve in the army for four years. After his father died Rousseau along his mother moved to Paris in 1868. To support his mother Rousseau became a customs officer. He was married twice, and with his first wife had six children (only one survived). In 1871, he was appointed as a tax collector on goods entering Paris. It took Rousseau almost fourty years to start painting seriously and it took nine years more until he could retire from his day job and become a full time artist. What I find encouraging is that Rousseau wasn't one of those artists who got famous really young. Rousseau had a family to support and unfortunately art wasn't going to bring in the dough. So he did what was logical and got a job.

Self-portrait 1890
When Rousseau gradually began to paint he first painted portraits of people, cityscapes and everyday tasks and activities. Rousseau's paintings of Paris are especially interesting. From 1886 Rousseau began to show his work in the Salon des Indépendants regularly. He enjoyed some success and his paintings were noticed and commented on, but the public wasn't really into his portraits and landscapes. Being able to exhibit his work in the Salon, Rousseau started to familiarize himself with the works of innovative artists. He came to know the museums in Paris and visited exhibitions. He read many books about the artworks of all eras and familiarized himself with how-to-paint manuals. Through photographic reproduction he got to study various landscapes and locations. While another review said that Rousseau's city- and landscapes are rather restricted and lack scale, I find them very charming. They may not be as detailed as his jungle paintings, but they look decorative. I personally think that people shouldn't dismiss them because they look childish, but see the elaboration Rousseau expresses. The technique is the same and the colours are very similar between the jungle paintings and the city paintings, the only distinction is the colour white that Rousseau used a lot in his city- and landscape paintings. Rousseau's "Self-portrait" from 1890 looks fantastic. It has that authenticity and wonder every artist aspires for. It is a given that the painting looks very monotone, but if you study it closely you'll see that Rousseau's knowledge of dimension and proportions are in tact. If you remove the giant Rousseau from the scene the proportions seem to look alright. In his city-and landscape paintings Rousseau showed that his independent studying paned out. Although he neglected a few rules concerning shadows and debth, but other than that we can see that Rousseau knew how to paint 'right'. It just wasn't his style. I just have to respect him for not getting in involved with all the academics and did what he wanted to do. In this painting, the dimenssion would look alright if Rousseau hadn't distorted it by adding a character that changed the whole look. It's Rousseau himself that changes the look of the painting. In 'The Flamingoes' it's the giant flowers that change the scene. Even though the whole image should now be perversely wrong both of these paintings are 'saved' by Rousseau's genuine painting style. However, the change doesn't happen automatically because the characters literally amalgamate into the scene so it doesn't seem odd that there are giant people or giant flowers in the scene. In fact the giant Rousseau and the flowers seem to be quite at home in the scenes. 
Naïvism is uniquely different from any other artistic concept, yet it demonstrates similar arrangement as inspirational and coherent as any other art genre. This is one of the reasons I like naïvism so much, it's so versatile. You see, naïvism usually looks like it didn't take a genious to make such 'a simple' image, but in truth naïve art requires a lot arranging and insipration before it can be executed. Not to mention achieving the right look and mood can be tricky. Naïve art takes insipration from the real world, but fantasy and the artist's imagination are also important factors. Hence one could say that subject is the most influential factor in Naïvism. Rousseau had never been to a jungle or a desert in his life, yet he made such vivid and accurate paintings of them (within Naïvism terms of course) . Rousseau's jungles came from illustrated books, the Zoo and the botanical gardens in Paris. He would spend hours sketching the animals or the plants. He met soldiers who had survived the French expedition to Mexico and listened to their stories about the subtropical country they'd exprerienced. (who said you personally had to be there to understand its beauty ^_^ Although, I'd like to go there anyway). ''Use your imagination'' could as well belong to naïve artists, because that's what they (we, am I naïve too...) do.

The Flamingoes 1907.

The first condition for the practice of Naïvism is not to wilfully aim at being naïve. Naïve art cannot be imitated because the results would be as fake as, for example, a copy of abstract art. Trust me, if you are sincere with your style, it's really difficult to try to copy someone else (yes I know that there are artists who specifically copy old master's works, but that's a whole different genre). The beauty of a true naïve artist is their need to paint, arising from their soul, not from their skills. It is based on the necessity to express the self, a necessity which is much stronger than the artist's skills of creation. The old cynic in me would say that this is just an excuse bad artists use to mask their lack of painting skills, but I create naïve art myself so I understand what painting from the necessity means. I'd like to quote Mr. Carl Jung now “One might say that naïve painters have certain pictorial ideas circulating in their subconscious which quite spontaneously demand to be given release”. Jung is certainly right. To Rousseau it wasn't important for his paintings to look accurate, they were the expression of his needed for release and necessity to put his vision across. While some of the paintings were carefully mapped out the vision was still the most important factor of the painting process. In Rousseau's paintings we can see the similar accuracy of details on the background and the foreground. Some naïve artist cherish that 'children's finger paintings' look more than others, but I believe Rousseau was more into finding a style that lingered somewhere between child-like and modern (make note that at that time, there were many rising art genres, including Impressionism. Remember to check my review on Claude Monet). Many things were happening in the arts at that time, and yet Rousseau's work managed to shock people. His flat and childish style was ridiculed by many critics. I can imagine how it must have been like for him to be so sincere with his work and yet nobody understood it. Well that's not it, people at the time didn't like Rousseau's painting's because they weren't accustomed to his look. It's that irony again that great artists are only appreciated after their dead. Never the less, some of the observers thougt that even though Rousseau painted like a child, he showed sophistication and authenticity with his technique. While 'interviewing' my BFF he gave me a two syllable description on Rousseau: 'original genious'. This shocked me a little because I didn't expect him to give a positive review. As a former rookie artist himself, I didn't expect him to like naïve art because I was under the impression that he only valued, like art art, like accurate art, trees look like trees and people look like people etc. But after this he went back to being himself and said that Rousseau's work was a typical counter reaction for the late 1800's narrow-minded academics.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surpris!) 1981.

In 1891 Rousseau's “Tiger in a tropical storm (Surpris!)” was exhibited in the Salon des Indépendants and he received his first serious review. The young artist Félix Vallotton wrote: "His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed; it's the alpha and omega of painting." What's so charming about this particular painting is the scene itself. This is one of my favourite's from Rousseau. The critics didn't like it for it lacked in debth, but I don't see it like that. “Surpris!” may seem monotone, but it expresses Rousseau's sense of colours really well. Rousseau didn't mean to paint realistically, what matter was how he envisioned and executed his paintings. The rain in the painting is exeptionally well made. This painting (and many other Rousseau paintings) was built up meticulously in layers. He used a large number of green shades to capture the lush exuberance of the jungle. It's difficult to tell just by looking at that image, but I think in reality we could be able to see all those layers (Oil paint can get very thick the more layers you add) The rain in the painting is extraordinary. It took me a while to figure out how Rousseau acchieved that effect. I knew he couldn't have swipped a large paint brush across the wet paint, because that would have damaged the finished layers. I later read that Rousseau devised his own method for depicting that lashing rain. He trailed strands of silver paint diagonally across the canvas, a satin-like technique William-Adolphe Bouguereau used in his paintings. That is ingenious! Who said you can only use paint brushes.

While naïve art is mostly about simple everyday experiences, it remains uninfluenced by common art traditions. In both the artist comes to grips with their personal experiences which encourages them to paint pictures that mirror their memories, desires and vision. However naïve artist is specifically ignoring such attributes as perspective and proportions because the impact of the picture as a whole excists solely in the mind of the artist. Naïve artist's demonstrates instinctive and sometimes surprising colour choices. I, for one, do not like bold colour combinations, like the ones Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso used. Some artists detest bright colours because they find them at odds with the scene they are creating. Some artists have no problem with colours because they know how to control them and how to achieve the desired look. And then there are those who simply enjoy all colours, and see the possibilities they offer. This is precisely the area in which the naïve artist most often displays his/her inborn talent. Rousseau's palette, for example, is a mixture of earthly colours. I discovered that many art critics seemed to think that the gentle colours were symbolic to dreams. In “Surpris!” we see how the murky-earth tones create such light yet expressive painting. Whilst in “The Flamingoes” we see a much more sensitive yet playful side of Rousseau's sense of colours. ”The Flamingoes” for example has a totally different impact on me than “Surpris!”. “The Flamingoes” is a sensitive and happy painting and I especially like the warm pink Rousseau used on the flowers. The murky pink (almost purple) flamingoes add a nice contrast to the scene. For some reason the giant flowers don't look out of place at all. The palm trees and the people on the background make this a realistic scene and not at all fantasy like. If this painting was ment to be a dream, to me it doesn't seem so at all. To me it looks like this place could excists in reality.

The Sleeping Gypsy 1897.

It is said that  in the world the naïve artist lives in bears the stamp of narrative authenticity. Hence we could assume that Rousseau's paintings are fantasies of his. His jungle paintings especially express great sense of storyline. The story isn't complicated nor scandalous, but rather descriptions of what goes on in the jungle. “Surpris!” expresses both movement and story because in the tiger's eyes we can see the surprise and rage. The original story is that the tiger is about to pounce on its prey. But to me it looks like the flashing lightning scared the tiger, by revealing its hiding place. "The Equatorial Jungle" to me looks like it was made by Tove Jansson. Those animals looks so much like some of the characters in the Moomins, and I swear that that painting would make a perfect Moomin story! It looks so mysterious yet darling. Not at all threatening even though it's a jungle, and jungles are supposed to be scary because all kinds of ferocious animals live there. But those two don't look ferocious to me, just mysterious. Perhaps this jungle was ment to be a dream too. The soft colours surely suggest it. I indeed think that the whole Tove-Jansson-look gives this painting a dream-like atmosphere, and which I, by the way, don't get from Rousseau's other paintings. Even if Rousseau ment to tell a specific story with this painting or with "Surpris!", he was kind enough to leave room for interpretations. “The Sleeping Gypsy” is a different story too. It gives me a totally different feeling than the other paintings. To me it seems like a gypsy has fallen asleep and he/she dreams about a lion coming to investigate him/her. OR my other interpretation is that the gypsy is a sleep and a lion has come to see what the gypsy is doing. It sounds much cuter ^_^ The dark colours were a surprising choice, since so far Rousseau had only used soft earthly colours. Yet these soft yet really dark colours seem to fit into Rousseau's style. I'm not sure if this was just an experiment, but this happens to be one of Rousseau's most famous paintings. It seems to combine that dream like state and what Naïvism is. In Naïvism the images are narratives of sort, which then carry the viewer away. If I remember right, one of the books I read listed which Rousseau paintings were dreams or imaginary. But I think it's much more fun to leave it up to the viewer to decide whether any of Rousseau's paintings are dreams.

As I said before, naïve art cannot be copied for it comes from within. Rousseau demonstrated this in choice of colours and subject. To me Rousseau's landscapes seem like they are the dreams and the jungles are real. And perhaps this is because his inspiration came from stories he heard from the soldiers. Naïve artists live in their dream lands and conjure images by their own fancy. The paintings created after those images, illustrate the lives and experiences of the person who painted them, as all naïve art does. 

I hope you enjoyed my review on Henri Rousseau. 
Thank you for reading and see you later!


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