Friday, December 9, 2011

Excursion into Fauvism

My Trickster, charcoal and oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm


My exploratory efforts with this self portrait can be seen in my previous blog post where i have discussed the thematic, autobiographical elements of this self portrait.

In this post i wish to consider artistic elements.

In my quest for expressive mark-making, i have turned to Fauvism.

Nicolas Pioch describes this brief early art movement as follows:
"French Fauvisme, style of painting that flourished in France from 1898 to 1908; it used pure, brilliant colour, applied straight from the paint tubes in an aggressive, direct manner to create a sense of an explosion on the canvas. The Fauves painted directly from nature as the Impressionists had before them, but their works were invested with a strong expressive reaction to the subjects they painted".

John MacTaggart explains that,
"Fauvism was not a formal movement with a manifesto of rules and regulations. It was more an instinctive coming together of artists who wished to express themselves by using bold colours, simplified drawing and expressive brushwork. 'Les Fauves' simply believed that colour had a spiritual quality which linked directly to your emotions and they loved to use it at the highest possible pitch".

Nicolas Pioch attributes the advent of Modernism to Fauvism:
"The advent of Modernism if often dated by the appearance of the Fauves in Paris at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. Their style of painting, using non-naturalistic colors, was one of the first avant-garde developments in European art. They greatly admired van Gogh, who said of his own work: ``Instead of trying to render what I see before me, I use color in a completely arbitrary way to express myself powerfully''. The Fauvists carried this idea further, translating their feelings into color with a rough, almost clumsy style.

The Fauvists believed absolutely in color as an emotional force ... color lost its descriptive qualities and became luminous, creating light rather than imitating it".

Fauvism was around for only a few years and was the subject of much derision at the time. It was essentially subsumed into assorted German Expressionist movements which in turn are a main influence on my artistic practice. To me, Fauvism is an inspiring early form of Expressionism.

But why have i troubled myself, and you gentle reader, with all this detail about Fauvism? Not just for the sake it but to help me stake a claim. So many people i meet, and even fellow artists here in the blogsphere, hold the tacit assumption that portraiture is about the skill of painting accurate descriptive  likenesses of sitters. The tacit assumption is that a painted portrait must bear a photographic resemblance to some particular person in form and color. One hundred and ten years ago Fauvism established how limited such expectations are. Fauvism helped Kandinsky to boldly claim, "There is no must in art, for art is free" and this is a basic premise of my art practice.

John MacTaggart  describes the technique of Matisse, the lead Fauvist of the time:
"At first glance, the apparent freedom of his style seems to deny any skill or technique, but when you begin to analyse his effective use of visual elements you start to realise that there is an instinctive sensibility at work. The key to his success in using such exaggerated colours was the realisation that he had to simplify his drawing. He understood that if he intensified the quality of colour for expressive effect, he must reduce the amount of detail used in drawing the shapes and forms of the image".

The image that i have painted has turned out to be more controlled (contrived?) than i intended.  (Hardly the automatic painting of the Surrealists as a way of tapping the Unconscious - but then, Sigmund Freud was underwhelmed by their efforts at the time). That is because as the colour intensity increased i intuitively decreased the amount of detail in the drawing. It has consequently become more iconic and symbolist than purely expressive. I have taken a particularly perverse delight in contradicting the three dimensionality of the charcoal drawing in my application of colour. So it reads a bit like an impossible figure - apt for The Trickster.

But the image lacks a looseness and freedom that i value and i am beginning to understand that my penchant for monochromes derives from the liberty they give me with form and surface.

So my next portrait (currently in progress) will aim for plastic spontaneity in materials handling. With a restricted, non-realist palette (thanks, Fauves) i hope to find expressive force in what Keats called negative capability. More on Keats and negative capability then.



  1. I love "the fauve" -)) this post is great harry, thank you, and your work is fantastic in all way.. You leave nothing to the case.. You are great

  2. I find this portrait exciting in the use of color. And I love what Taggart said that, for the Fauvists "colour had a spiritual quality which linked directly to your emotions and they loved to use it at the highest possible pitch". I believe color does have an emotional and spiritual quality that speaks to certain people. I think the only way this could have been a stronger portrait is, with the colors used and the minimal drawing, you were looking straight at the viewer - in their face, so to speak. Looking forward to more, Harry!

  3. Thanks for those affirming comments, Laura.
    Warm greetz.

  4. Hi Rhonda. Yes, the realisation that colour need not only be descriptive but can be symbolic or simply expressive of emotion is hugely liberating for a painter.

    Thanks for the suggestion about the direct gaze. It will be my next project.

  5. This is a fauve class!
    Excellent work!!
    Good health and creations to the new year!!

  6. Hey Harry :Is a pleasant surprise to read this excellent text for the Fauvist movement, and I admire many of my works are based on these principles pictorial.
    The Fauvism movement was relatively short, lasting between 1898 and 1908, but has revolutionized the concept of color in modern art. The artists of this new style applied to his work a poetic energy through vigorous line, simplified forms for the application of dramatic colors and intense.
    In the summer of 1905, Matisse and Derain painted together "a golden light that eliminated the darkness." They started using complementary colors applied vigorous bidding, seeking something more than the luminosity of the Impressionists, bringing a stunning view of the Mediterranean sun.

    Later, when some of these collectors showed some paintings of the South Seas, made by Gauguin ​​, they saw confirmed his theories about the subjectivity of the actual colors and then Fauvism came about as a new movement in art.

    A curious passage of Matisse
    Matisse created a dividing line in the interpretation of optical color.;

    someone asked to Matisse;

    The nose of a woman can be green??????

    Yes, Matisse replied! provided that the amendment adds expression to painting. Matisse said: "I do not paint women , I paint pictures."
    I think this answer of Matisse, explains a good part of the Fauvist movement and thinking of artists who were of Fauvist movement !
    Congratulations on your painting and your excellent research!!!

  7. Hi Harry , I love strong colours , of course..... (:
    Great self-portrait !
    Less drama and sadness in this one ; to me it looks like you are waiting for something , may be good .
    a big hug

  8. WonderfulWork...ThankYouForSharing

  9. Thank you Harry for being such a good educator! Most of my students have never heard of Rembrandt let alone Matisse. It's appalling.

    Connecting color with emotion is precisely why they were called Fauves (wild beasts). As far as I am concerned the wilder the better. Color manipulated for luminosity and for spatial effect in the hands of a master can be spectacular. Rock on!

  10. whoa! a truly arresting portrait--the colors and expression are so dynamic!

  11. Thanks, Jaime. Great new year for you too.

  12. Paulo, thanks so much for the information on Matisse! "I do not paint women , I paint pictures." Yes, exactly!

    This is my interest in Fauvism, as illustration that i do not paint people, i paint paintings.

    Have a great new year.

  13. Hi Marialuisa. Yes, less drama this time. But the next one i'll be back to form, lol.

    Interesting thought that what i've actually painted is an optimistic self. Must be the our new puppy, Corki the Corgi, working its magic.

    Have a wonderful Christmas.

  14. Thanks Skizo. You are such a master of design and mystery of human forms that your comment is much appreciated.

  15. Hi Davida. Yes, i takes patience to be a teacher. Students don't know so much and just as they get to know, next year's intake arrives and they don't know just as much all over again!

    Though the reason i went into some detail on Fauvism is strategic rather educational. No doubt most followers of this blog are already quite familiar with Fauvism. Therefore this post is not so much to inform as to help me prepare a case - a rationale for my artistic practice. Articulating that case is part of my degree work.

    To advance that rationale and stake a claim i've now added a para to the original post. Thanks for getting me thinking further.