Giacomo Balla (1871 – 1958)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive here for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com. 

A leading artist of the Futurist movement, Giacomo Balla differentiated himself from his fellow members by focusing less on the violence and power inherent within machines, and more on a personal envisioning of modern existence that was at once both lyrical and witty.

Street Light (1909)

street-light-1909

Although if may take a minute or two to notice upon first viewing, when the initial onslaught of Street Light’s kaleidoscopic majesty subsides, a shape begins to flesh out around the exploded middle –  a design that concurs with the title.This is not a sun obliterating within itself we must remember then, but a street light. One whose shape appears slightly anachronistic to the modern eye: the light having two poles which crest over it rather than one that keeps it perpendicular, the top of it a wizard hat that allows it to beam outward rather than a flattened roof which keeps its eyes down.

Below the lamp itself, there is a small curve inward which allows a golden purity to collect in a grin. Across the searing middle it seems as if a star is exploding:

IMG_1475

Balla’s paint here is remarkably detailed, with all the various colours blending believable as if churning together amid unimaginable heat. Layers upon layers of tones coalesce to create a thick focal point which throbs and sways with a gripping intensity.

The sense then is of something mythic. The moon itself at the top right appearing but a longer flicker amongst many. With the omnipotence at the center worshipped and rushed at by continually inventive loops and ticks of paint drawn inward. Again though, Balla knows to remind us that this is but merely a lamp rather than a supernova. So he paints the exterior as gloomy aisles, dimmed spots where the seemingly limitless power of the light cannot affect.

Subservience as a thematic idea within Street Light feels valid as this is something common to the Futurists work as a whole. Those who praised and magnified the might of then nascent technology. Perhaps the visage of the lamp within their own time would’ve been far more exciting than its appearance to us today. Or, perhaps the painting is merely reminder that there is true beauty and marvel to be found within the everyday electrical devices that we now disregard in our daily interactions. To uphold the mundane is a common figuration in painting, regardless of the era. And here Balla touches on a consistent thread in a manner both edifying and invigorating.

Pessimism and Optimism (1923)

pessimism-and-optimism-1923

You would assume that the dominant black here is pessimism and the lighter blue shade mix is optimism. The more that Pessimism & Optimism is explored however, the less such surgical division seems necessary as the two appear to intersect and influence each other, just as the pure form of each emotion in reality is inevitably tempered by the other. Balla’s depiction then seems more of a rumination on the interaction between emotions amidst experience, rather than merely pitting the polar opposites against each other.

Pessimism is a thick, black, pointed shape, its long spiky talons thrusting out as an inquisitive parry. Across what seems its rear there is a panoply of small pyramids which ridge up in a sense of menacing proportion evoking  an odd sense of unease. There is no softness, no relent from this angular frame. It seems to be perched mostly on a single, diatonic hoof, whose shape is mimicked in various forms throughout its body creating an expansive sense of the thing.

Optimism’s blue is far more interesting in its conception. It isn’t as on the nose as it could’ve been, indeed Balla might have employed more obvious greens & yellows, evoking jubilance and uplift. But he goes more for the cooler tones of blue and white, creating a sense that optimism is a thing to shade yourself with rather than to embody and cling to. The completeness of some of the shapes, in particular the deep ovals at the top right, are a wonder to behold in their execution. To the caustic definition of pessimism, optimism is a sea of soft waves and positive swoops.

As aforementioned,  the two exist not as portraits individually however, but as interacting forces. Within the deepest pit of pessimism’s black we can still see shades of blue infused with its own colour. Likewise, optimism still holds shades of grey within its curve edges. Each emotion is one and the same.

This a painting to ruminate on for far longer than it seems. One whose message and subsequent technical expression is simple, yet the inference forces deep examination of both the canvas and oneself.

For more Kweiseye on Futurism, see earlier blog pieces:

David Bomberg (1880 – 1957)

Christopher R.W Nevinson (1889 – 1946)

Enjoy reading that? Click HERE to see a list of all the artist analyses on Kweiseye to date.

To keep up with the blog and all the art I write about, follow me right here on this blog or here @tomkweipoet

Standard

David Bomberg (1880 – 1957)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

Around the dawn of the 20th century, paintings could suddenly be anything they wanted to be. Freed from the onus of being fundamentally representational by the then widespread use of photography, canvases began to speak new languages, taking heed from their unstable, technological age.

Many, both artists & otherwise, decried the implications that new developments of the era could have on their lives. Whilst others, such as David Bomberg, positively embraced such changes. Indeed, prior to his own experiences within World War I, the artist was unapologetically enthusiastic about such growth, stating he felt that: ‘the new life should find expression in a new art, which has been stimulated by new perceptions’ – Bomberg would later radically change his painting style to a leisurely landscape approach upon witnessing the mechanised slaughter of the trenches.

Perhaps with these new forms of perception Bomberg was equally striving to develop new forms of appreciation. Exploring not only how to represent and imagine a thing, but how such a thing makes a viewer feel when it is looked at.

Jujitsu (1913)

Ju-Jitsu circa 1913 by David Bomberg 1890-1957

When I first started writing Poetry at around 14, I rallied against the rules. Whilst the books and their teachers urged me to stick to an Iambic plod and to organise my ideas within ancient, rehearsed shapes, I fought back, writing my verse as free as I quite liked. I soon found however that what I had at first judged as obstruction was, in fact, quite liberating. It seemed taking my past attempts and housing them in the aforementioned prescribed rhythms & shapes actually improved them in terms of engagement & coherence  rather than bogging them down. The art of them then seemingly coming from the tension between the mad abandon of my (in retrospect, truly terrible) verse and the structure enforced upon their misplaced wisdom.

A tension equally evident within ‘Jujitsu’, a wild, Futurist-Cubist combo that attacks the viewer from the off  by presenting two levels of perception. On the top layer we have a strict, regimented surface grid of diamonds. Not necessarily ordered in the sense that every split square side by side is the exact same size of width, but compare them to the splintered, fractious chaos beneath and they feel militaristic in comparison.

After noticing such unhinged disorder beneath the systematic pattern, the brain fights for order as it rallies between the two viewpoints. At times it feels as if Bomberg has created sharpened edges to the squares, limits that cut off certain subterranean moments at their point of realisation, shattering and casting them as glass. Up close, ‘Jujitsu’ is a thing enthralling and unreal. A place bordering on logic, only for such reasoning to crumble upon further exploration. There’s a primarily orange left for example and a deep, gentle blue right, yet flecks of the other seem to pop up teasingly within the other. The blue also feels more a part of a crumbling black and grey than a thing all of its own, a black which in turn appears confusingly at the top left of the image.

Through this odd disjunction at its heart, the painting positively pulsates. The patterning beneath seeming sometimes to slot perfectly into its own contained square, only for in other areas of the work the lower designs to splay out obnoxiously beneath the systematic sectioning on top.

At times pondering the piece I thought I saw figures within the painting. The title of the work feeling very literal to me as two orange clumps on the left emerged as men fighting, their feet in the lower grey portion a good starting point to trace upwards to fighting figures. Then, recalling the dialectic to and fro inherent within the thing, I took the idea of Jujitsu as a fighting style as metaphorical along with the painting ‘Jujitsu’ itself. Both artwork & combat-approach products of inherently skilled disciplines that appear wild in action but are, in fact, incredibly well executed.

The Mud Bath (1917)

The Mud Bath 1914 by David Bomberg 1890-1957

A far more vibrant, urgent painting, ‘The Mud Bath’ strips away the accompanying template of ‘Jujitsu’ to reveal the base fundamentals of human form beneath. In spite of the abstract figures and artificial palette, there is a distinct sense of jubilation, of celebration and worship. The pole at the centre seemingly no centrepoint for the figures, rather one they are passing across in their rush off the canvas.

Through a simple mix of five colours, Bomberg creates an uncharacteristically uncluttered work that allows the viewer to focus directly on the brittle, sensationally defined figures. At times some seem to rise up as revellers, their legs and arms in mania, others, such as those at the further right, appear to have folded into suggestion of numbers and shapes rather than fellow celebrants.

The inspiration for the work supposedly came from Schewzik Russian Vapour Baths in Brick Lane Whiechapel, near Bomberg’s home in London. A place used by the local Jewish population for cleanliness and religious observances. In his hands however the place becomes an amalgam of 3d shapes that seem to hinge on a pin yet somehow possess both verve and character.

 

Enjoy reading that? Click HERE to see a list of all the art analyses on Kweiseye to date.

To keep up with the blog and all the art I write about, follow me right here on this blog or here @tomkweipoet

Standard