Sculptor vs. Painter

A feud in the Russian avant-garde

The Last Futurist Painting Exhibition of 1915 was fast approaching. Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin, two notable figures in the Russian avant-garde, vied for ways to outdo each other.

Both artists moved toward abstraction, concealing the direction their new work would take until the day of the exhibition. The exhibition opened in an unheated building in St. Petersburg. Tensions between Malevich and Tatlin were high. According to this article by Kevin Kinsella, “.. fisticuffs between Malevich and Tatlin were broken up…Tatlin and his crew moved their works to another room, posting a sign over its door: ‘Exhibition of Professional Painters.’”

Malevich called his new form of painting “Suprematism.” Suprematism was abstract painting taken to the limits of simplicity. Beneath the simplicity, however, was a complex ideology. Malevich wrote about the ideas behind Suprematism in difficult-to-decipher texts on the non-objectivity and the spiritual dimensions of the paintings.

Tatlin’s pieces,known as “counter-reliefs,” abandoned painting entirely. They would inspire Constructivism, an art movement tied to the Bolshevik revolution that sought to make art with a social and political function. “Tatlin’s Tower” and the “Letatlin” flying machine were designed by Tatlin in the spirit of Constructivism.

Despite the conflicting perspectives of Tatlin and Malevich, both had a great influence on Russian art. Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitzky, Lyubov Popova, and others combined the geometrical abstraction of Suprematism with the social conscience of Constructivism.

Next Story — How to Look at Art
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How to Look at Art

Much energy, effort, and tuition money is spent studying art. Works are preserved, interpreted, and categorized. Theories are formed about themes and motives of artists and their respective movements. Words are layered excessively in an attempt at understanding why a piece of art was made, how a person came to make it, and what it means in the context of art history. The comics I've created for this 10-part series are no exception. All of this academic and curatorial sweat is poured out for a noble purpose. But sometimes it misses the point.

Art is there to be experienced. It can inspire wonder, provoke strong emotions, and alter perception. It is meant to be loved, despised, or puzzled over, but never politely ignored. Go to a museum, a gallery, a sculpture garden, a public space. Look at art. Experience art. Make art.

This comic features sculptures (note — not all are drawn to scale) by the following artists: Auguste Rodin, Fernando Botero, Alberto Giacometti, Louise Bourgeois, Henry Moore, Henri Matisse, Max Ernst, Émile-Antoine Bourdelle, Barbara Hepworth, Isamu Noguchi, and Jean (Hans) Arp.

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A New Style

The Art of De Stijl and Neo-Plasticism

Many decades after its creation, the work of Piet Mondrian still feels current. His grid paintings are an iconic (and often parodied) emblem of modernism. Lesser known is the work of Theo van Doesburg, another key figure in the Neo-Plasticism art movement. Van Doesburg founded the journal De Stijl (“The Style” in Dutch), which promoted the group’s tenets of simplicity and abstraction. In many ways, van Doesburg was a more complete artist than Mondrian. He was an influential writer, painter, typographer, and architect. He published a variety of work in De Stijl under pseudonyms and also contributed poetry and prose to the Dada movement.

Van Doesburg broke from Mondrian over the use of (*gasp*) diagonal lines in his compositions. That’s the problem with strict utopian rules — they are easily broken.

Here’s a list of works referenced in this comic, in order of appearance:

Gerrit Rietveld, The Red and Blue Chair, 1918

Gerrit Rietveld, Schroeder Table, 1922

Gerrit Rietveld, Hanging Lamp, 1920

Theo van Doesburg, Composition VII (the three graces), 1917

Theo van Doesburg, Contra-Composition V, 1924

Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-1943

Theo van Doesburg, Contra-Construction Project, Axonometric, 1923

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red, 1937–42

Theo van Doesburg, Abstraction of a Cow, 4 stages, 1917

Next Story — My Neighbor Magritte
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My Neighbor Magritte

The surrealist next door

René Magritte is not my favorite painter. His Surrealist visions are smooth and perfectly rendered, but they lack the bold color and shadowy mystery of say, a Giorgio de Chirico canvas. Still, he is perhaps the most successful artist at achieving the purpose of the Surrealist movement, as stated by André Breton : “to resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.” By favoring direct representation of ethereal imagery over stylistic innovation, his works feel less like pieces of art than objective accounts of lucid dreams. And all those faceless men in suits and bowler hats are decidedly creepy.

Below is a list of the Magritte paintings referenced in this comic, by order of appearance. If you are in New York between September 28, 2013 and January 12, 2014, The Museum of Modern Art will be hosting an exhibition entitled “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1928-1936.”

The Treachery of Images, 1929

The Empire of Light, 1954

The Man in the Bowler Hat, 1964

The Castle of the Pyrenees, 1959

Key to Dreams, 1930

Personal Values, 1952

The Human Condition, 1933

The Portrait, 1935

The Unexpected Answer, 1936

The Son of Man, 1946

Golconda, 1953

Next Story — Georgia’s World
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Georgia’s World

A journey through the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the first painters to capture my imagination — I loved her use of color and the way her paintings bridged realism and abstraction. She remains one of America’s most beloved modernist painters,the kind whose work you might find in a special exhibition at MoMA or on a poster in a college dorm room. Her paintings are intimate, immediate, and iconic.There’s also the Freudian interpretation of her flower paintings — a subtext that created much publicity for her work, but that O’Keeffe never fully endorsed. Her paintings of the American Southwest are equally sensual and mysterious.

Last week I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The museum features a handful of well-known O’Keeffe paintings, many lesser but nonetheless fascinating works, and some ephemera from her work and life. A couple yellowing sketchbooks showed early studies next to the completed paintings. There was a gallery of black and white photos of O’Keeffe at various stages of her life — she gained acclaim in her late twenties and made art well into her late 90s. My experience of the art was deepened by a week spent taking in the New Mexico landscape. It’s a place as stunning and serene as O’Keeffe painted it.

Here’s a list of the Georgia O’Keeffe works I adapted for this comic, in order of appearance:

Black Door with Red, 1955

Patio with Black Door, 1955

Red Canna, 1924

City Night, 1926

Black Place II, 1945

Blue and Green Music, 1921

Blue Lines X, 1916

Deer’s Skull with Pedernal, 1936

Evening Star VI, 1917

Abstraction, 1916

Abstraction, 1946

Pelvis Series — Red with Yellow, 1945

The Lawrence Tree, 1929

Green Patio Door, 1955

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