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Timothy Wat, Concepts, 2011

(Modernism) This booklet is the culmination of a survey course on Modern Art. Our task was a simple one: to select and describe ten Modern Art pieces, conceived between 1789 and 1950, with one hundred words... What we discovered was not simply a thousands words but a glimpse of the treasure of art in concepts and expressions of pure human passion reaching for timeless truths.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937



Guernica is Picasso’s interpretation of anguish. Who is inhuman enough to not understand its torment? Angularity envelopes the background and foreground and sets the scene in sharp movement. He painted it during the time of the Spanish Civil War, depicting the German bombing of the city of Guernica. The synthetic interpretation of Cubism disregards a linear time and sweeps together separate events of pain and disassociation into one grand panorama -- perhaps to represent all time. Speaking of timelessness, the minotaur makes his appearance in the scene, an inspiration from the Surrealist’s use of the Greek mythological creature at the time. In the 1930’s, the minotaur replaced the harlequin as a common motif in his work.

Joan Miro, Carnival of Harlequin, 1924 (Surrealism)


With Miro’s colourful and imaginative rendering he blurs the border between reality and imagination and entices one to imagine along with him the playful scene portrayed in the Carnival of Harlequin. The more one examines the contents of the scene, the more imaginative one must become to interpret it. For example, if the Harlequin is the humanoid with the circle of blue and red for a face, why can’t other character’s with human features be interpreted as people as well? With this perspective, we trace the elongated hand back to a bottle shaped person, with ears larger than head, with one eye, and who is pouting? We realize that Miro is a comedian but we also realize that he is questioning our perception of the world around us.

Marc Chagall, Resistance, Resurrection, Liberation, 1937-52 (Cubist, Symbolist, Fauvist)


“The army advanced, and the Jewish population fled at the same pace, abandoning the cities and villages... I wanted to put them down on canvases, to bring them to safety.” - Chagall Having survived the Communist Revolution of Russia and World War I, a colourful Resistance, Resurrection, and Liberation witnesses loudly and vibrantly for Marc Chagall of the depth of hope in survival to his Jewish kinsmen experiencing (and who have experienced) the horrors of the holocaust. To bear witness to this fact and to strengthen the credibility of his message, Marc Chagall, palette in hand, inserts himself into the midst of activity in each scene, as if to prove that he is capable of empathizing with the emotions of the people and offer this optimistic colour in the dullest of times. “In Resistance he lies prostrate in the foreground as if struck by an apocalyptic vision. In Resurrection he hangs upside down beside Jesus’ legs, as if crucified by the suffering he perceives. In Liberation he is shown at the easel, re-creating a vanished world.” Through the symbolic work and his role within its narrative, Chagall speaks didactically to the artist’s role in society as a powerful witness. 1

1 Pacoud-Rème, Elisabeth. “Resistance, Ressurection, Liberation.” The Art of Marc Chagall. (retrieved August 9, 2011)

Marc Chagall, Resistance, Resurrection, Liberation, 1937-52 (Cubist, Symbolist, Fauvist)


In the monumental triptych by Marc Chagall, colours reveal the futility and valiant bravery of Resistance, pain and beauty of Resurrection, and the triumph of Liberation. They speak vividly as if to offer hope in the dullest times. The first scene begins by a combination of raging violent activity enveloping the people in red and hopelessness that engulfs the city in a gloomy bluish brown. Its only signs of hope are brought by appearances of yellow and a bloody white animal leaping across the sky. The red and blue transition naturally into the second scene, but here, the blue is reinterpreted with a wash of the cleansing purity of white. Seemingly bringing forth this resurrection is a magical yellow at the centre of the canvas that is slightly brighter than all the other yellows. The finale is overwhelmed and bathed by a glorious yellow that envelops a scene of joy in marriage, rebuilding and celebration. At its centre is the blood of the martyrs described in dark red in contrast to the bright blue on the woman, which is now allowed to flourish brightly. As an overall arc, the colours describe the satisfying outcome of perseverance in a grand narrative of cold trial and warm fulfilling liberation.

Max Ernst, L’Ange du Foyer, 1937 (Surrealism)

Apparition L’Ange du Foyer (The Angel of the Hearth and Home) is an apparition that appears from nothing. Inspired by the images that textures would suggest to him, Max Ernst developed the Surrealist technique of Frottage which involved a transfer of texture to a medium to receive an inadvertent pattern. It can be said that the act of transferring the pattern is the literal transferring of his imagination. The “accidental” pattern served as a medium of interpretation for him to dive into the realm of the imagination free of self-inhibition. The work speaks of the potent power of the imagination to create something out of nothing complete with characters, events, and material density in space and time.

Umberto Boccioni, The City Rises, 1910 (Futurism)

Force “We are the young and strong Futurists!” - Marinetti

The City Rises is a symbol of the Italian Futurist view of the unstoppable nature of untamed raw force. The futurists believed strongly in the power of optimism, youthfulness, willful intention, industry, speed, and upheaval to transport them through time to a novel future. To represent this, Boccioni reinterpret’s the divisionist technique of minute brush work to rationally depict light, into a systematic exploration of trajectory in the image. If mass is seen as masses of colour described by an accumulation of theses trajectories, his rendering becomes a complex visualization of force according to the Newtonian formulae for the calculation of force, where force = mass*vector over time (F = kg*m/s2).

Mikhail Larianov, , (Rayonism)

Energy Inspired by light and force, Larianov along with Natalia Goncharova, are known as the co-inventors of Rayonsim, a method of visual abstraction. In its quality of extreme visual abstraction it is an evolution of Boccioni’s exploration in The City Rises. From an aesthetic perspective it takes cues from the “scientific” exploration of light by Divisionism and mixes it with the expression of brushwork first developed by Cezanne thus reinterpreting the Divisionist concern of representing the beauty light, into a concern for representing the beauty of energy. Describing their method of work, Larianov and Gancharova explain, “we concern ourselves not with the objects themselves but with the sums of rays from them, we can build a picture in the following way: The sum of rays from object A intersects the sum of rays from object B; in the space between them a certain form appears, and this is isolated by the artist’s will.” In their dissolving of subject, what is left as a description expressing energy, force and dynamism itself.

Pablo Picasso, Three Dancers, 1925 (Cubism)

Shadow The shadows of love, sex, and death shift to the foreground as a major formal and plot device in the scene of The Three Dancers “thought to be imbued with Picasso’s personal recollections of a triangular affair, which resulted in the heart-broken suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas.”1 With nothing to hide, the shadow of love accentuates the shape of the woman in the foreground. It begins as a graceful line drawn down her back and that wraps around the front of her head as hair to elegantly drape her shoulders. Beginning to be shrouded is the shadow of sex. Cast on the erratic woman, it is the only shadow to not belonging to its owner. Given an eye and activity of its own, the shadow of death manifests overwhelmingly on the male figure. It rocks back and forth with his brown body pivoting around the form of white light that anchors him to the floor. 1

Tate Modern Curators, The Three Dancers, Tate Modern (read January 4, 2011)

Salvador Dali, Christ of St. John of the Cross, 1951 (Surrealism)


Despite their invisibility, truthful concepts are as real as the things we see and touch. In Christ of St. John of the Cross, Salvador Dali uses the loaded Christian concept of Christ’s eternal atoning sacrifice to depict the weighty realm of truth in vivid physicality. In his perspective, two stratified simultaneous realms exist divided by a surreal recession of clouds into darkness and a disparity in scales. In the overarching conceptual realm, the cross -- symbolic of truth -- is drawn back in perspective giving it an appearance of massive scale and weight. Along with the gravity of black, the conceptual realm bears down on the earthly realm below which operates unaware in its uncanny tranquil setting.

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow 1937 (de Stijl)


Mondrian developed the artistic method of de Stijl (the Style) as “the” extreme aesthetic abstraction of analytical Cubism to a purely aesthetic system. This arose from his conviction to come “as close as possible to the truth” resulting in the eventual reduction of his work to the rhythm of horizontal and vertical lines and basic forms and the purity of primary colours in a semi-free system. His paintings featured an exploratory nature and emphasized intuition. This culminates in his painting becoming purely about composition, which is strangely tangential to the characteristics of Jazz, the advante garde music form of the time also undergoing significant development at the time. During the time of this particular composition in 1937, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were discovering the paradigm evolution from swing to bebop.


This booklet is the culmination of a survey course on Modern Art. Our task was a simple one: to select and describe ten Modern Art pieces, c...

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