Free «Political and Cultural Backgrounds of Three Paintings» Essay Sample

Art is not something that comes out of the blue, out of nothing. It typifies and reflects the times. The artist and his art is a product of the age and its tools that are used to deliver the message of the era.

Pablo Picasso: “Guernica”

The painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso was a reaction to the bombing by Germany and Italy of Guernica in Basque Country at the time of the Spanish Civil War in April 1937. The Republican government of Spain asked Picasso to make a mega mural for display at the 1937 Paris International Exposition (World Fair). The tragedies inflicted by war are shown in the painting. The sufferings of innocent individuals unconnected with the war are depicted as well. The painting has been highly applauded and has become an immortal reminder of the ugliness of war; it has become an anti-war icon and a symbol of peace. Guernica has been taken around the world and it helped to focus on the Spanish Civil War (Rothman 289).

Guernica is an oil painting on canvas splashed with grey, white and black, measuring 3.5 meters x 7.8 meters. It is kept in Madrid at Museo Reina Sofia. Picasso wanted to draw the attention of the world to the devastated bombed town of Guernica. The air attacks were carried out by the Germans at the behest of General Franco’s nationalist forces at the time of the civil war. He completed this piece of art by the middle of June 1937. Guernica depicts the agony and anarchy war inflicts not only on humans but also on animals and buildings (Patterson 121).

The painting shows a room from the inside. On the left, there is a bull with large eyes standing over a woman who is grieving for her dead child lying within her arms. In the center, a horse is seen in agony as it is falling pierced through by a sharp weapon. The painting focuses on the gaping wound on the side of the horse. The horse forms two images that are “hidden” – the skull of a human overlays its body and a bull seems to gore the animal from below. The front leg of the horse forms the head of the bull that has kept its knee on the ground. The nose of the bull is formed by the knee cap of the horse and the horns are within the breast of the horse. The tail of the bull is like a flame complete with rising smoke that seems to appear on a window; the latter is created by a lighter gray shade encircling it (Attia 1569).

Below the dead horse there is the dismembered body of a solider, whose severed arm continues to clutch a sword that has flowers growing on it. There is a stigma on the open palm of the soldier – a symbol of Christ’s martyrdom. Over the head of the suffering horse there is a bulb, blazing like the eye of Evil. The light bulb is referred to in Spanish as ‘bombilla’, and as such it signifies the destruction of society caused by technology. There is the figure of a frightened woman to the horse’s upper right; she watches the scene spread out before her. She seems to have floated in through the window. Her floating arm holds a lighted lamp that is close to the bulb; it symbolizes hope clashing with despair (Lindaman 913).

A traumatized woman staggers in from the right moving towards the centre. She is below the female that appears to be floating and gazes up blankly at the blazing bulb. The tongue of the bull is replaced by daggers. On one shelf, a bird, most probably a dove is perched behind the bull. On the extreme right, there is a figure with upraised arms trapped by the fire from below and above. The right corner of the mural is marked with a dark wall with open door in it. The unfolding chaos in the mural is taking place within confined walls conveying the feeling of intense oppression from where there is no escape route. In Spanish culture the bull and horse are two dominating figures and they often appear in many ways in Picasso’s masterpieces.

James Rosenquist: “F-111”

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American artist James Rosenquist, born in 1933, is one of the leading figures in the movement known as pop-art. Born in Grand Forks, he was the only child of his parents who were of Swedish descent. His mother, a painter, encouraged him to take up this line. Rosenquist began by being a painter of billboards. Thus, it was a perfect background for someone who would enter the scene of pop-art with a bang. He applied the techniques of painting signs to mega paintings that he began crafting in 1960. Rosenquist adapted the advertising visuals, often vulgar, outrageous and funny to fine art. By drawing a room-scale piece in 1965 he got international recognition (Walker 38).

Rosenquist began painting the 86-foot long F-111 in 1964, which was historically one of the most turbulent years in the history of the USA. If we look at the painting, we will see that it is directly inspired by the advertising billboards and the mural scaled paintings that were popular at an earlier time, like Water Lilies by Claude Monet. At that point of time, the F-111 fighter plane was the newest and technologically advanced weapon and the picture was positioned in the four walls of Leo Castelli Gallery. The basic idea was to make the painting flying through the flake of the consumerism of the society and to question the death machinery of Vietnam (Goldman 46).

It can be termed as his singularly greatest contribution to the popular art form of the United States by its juxtaposition of imagery like a collage and gloriously vivid color palette. He used different techniques, like florescent paint, different types of sparkle dusts and even paints that are used to color jukeboxes to create the painting. The roll on pattern was done to give a radioactive fallout metaphor. What is most appealing to the viewers is that the painting is still fresh and still gives the idea of the painter (Cottington 76).

Rosenquist is known for his involvement in the movement of pop-art because of using imagery that is quite recognizable. He took fragmented and often disproportionate images and combined them, overlapping them on canvas to present visual narratives. The viewers could either be overwhelmed or confused looking at something mundane, as a box of detergent powder, as something provocative and abstract. The largest print in the world is said to be a print of his Time Dust measuring 7’x 35’ (Walker 38). Discover Graphics is another print of his celebrating a Smithsonian program on education. He has been recognized for his notable contributions to global culture. For over six decades he has been painting images from the world of popular culture. From the 60’s he helped to shape the world of art.

Speaking on the subject, Rosenquist said that painting, even the great masterpiece, is like peering through a hole or window sitting in Louvre. When asked if his images had meaning referring to culture or if they were only about color and form, he said that at first, it was only a big imagery. However, he added that later it took a different turn, when he put his personal stamp on all that was being looked upon. It was like questioning self-consciousness because of the color that creeps in through the sides of one’s eyes. It was like educating himself as he progressed with his creations.

Hannah Wilke: “SOS”

Hannah Wilke was born in New York in 1940 in the Jewish family migrating from East Europe. She has won international fame and her works are exhibited in gallery shows and group exhibitions. Wilke specialized in sculpture and ceramics. Her ‘vulva’ sculptures in terra-cotta were her first creations which won her recognition. It was the first time that vaginal imagery came to be explicitly incorporated in art. Her type of form became symbolic. Wilke used various colors, sizes depicting them through multiple media. Some were large ones installed on the floor. Her sensuality and sense of humor were coupled with the formal handling of the art (Zaytoun 139).

Her Starification Object Series (S.O.S) relating to art piece on photograph of the body created sculptures of the vulva. She made it out of pieces of chewing gum that she pasted on herself before getting photographed in various pin-up exposures. It was a cocktail of glamour being imposed on tribal imagery. The body with scars was a reminder of the days of Holocaust that satirized and exaggerated the cultural standards relating to beauty and fashion of the American woman.

Wilke also gave a public performance along this theme with the public chew gum in front of her before giving them to her for sculpting. She made use of colored pieces of chewing gum for projecting the individual. Wilke depicted complex layers all portraying the vulva. She coined the phrase “peformalist self-portraits” (Frueh 68) to give credit to the photographers who helped her; among them were her father and sister.

Wilke died of lymph cancer which was epitomized in her last creation Intra-Venus. It was published after her death in a form of a photo record of the changes in her body and decay due to chemotherapy and transplant of bone marrow. Her husband, David Goddard, took the shots. The viewer is confronted with intimate images of Wilke being transformed from happiness of middle age to baldness and damage. Intra-Venus is similar to Portrait of the Artist with her Mother, Selma Butter, in which her mother’s battle with cancer is depicted vividly. Wilke wanted Intra-Venus to be published to show how the clinical measures hide the reality and make dying a matter of “personal shame” (Dekel 157).

Wilke has often used herself in her works as a glamorous model. It has been interpreted as a focus on the Self, on Women and on the Feminism. On the other hand, some say that it is the reverse – destruction by the artist of typical cultural stereotypes depicting feminine vanity and beauty laced with narcissism. Some contend that the narcissism displayed by Wilke was a clever tactics of a feminist focusing on self-objectification aiming at re-establishing the erotic female form the exclusive domain of man’s sexual desire. She used this self-love as a potent instrument of critique that ultimately led to her defiantly implanting her own picture in the hallowed halls of male dominated art bodies (Frueh 69). While she was alive her works were publicized and exhibited. It generated a lot of controversy combining praise with criticism. Till recently the museums were reluctant to accept the works of female artists who typified protests. Wilke’s works did not fit into any typical style or genre.


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