AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO BOHEMIAN PARIS

Dominican Artist Jaime Colson- Self-Portrait- Matthews Gallery Blog

Jaime Colson (1901-1975) was a teenager when he left his homeland of the Dominican Republic to study art in Spain. The talented young painter landed smack in the middle of the Spanish avant-garde, rubbing elbows with Salvador Dali and befriending Rafael Barradas and other artists. Colson lived there for six years and developed a surrealist style. His next move was to perhaps the only place that could be stranger than España surrealisto: 1920’s bohemian Paris.

Colson arrived in the City of Lights in 1924, at the height of Gertrude Stein‘s reign as a powerful salonnière and premiere champion of modernism. In Paris, Colson met Picasso and Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Leger. He soaked up modernist innovations—and quite a lot of absinthe—like a sponge. Four years later, as a full-fledged Parisian, Colson painted the latest addition to our collection:

Jaime Colson- Cubist Still Life- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

Colson’s Cubist Still Life offers an essential review of the original vie bohème, a painted guide to the colorful, booze-soaked existence of the Lost Generation. Its skewed lines and wild patterns capture all the dynamism of a moveable feast, and the pall of the “green fairy” hangs over its heart. Without further ado, here are seven details that set the roaring scene…

Jaime Colson- Detail of Cubist Still Life- Matthews Gallery Blog

Colson painted Cubist Still Life in 1928, the same year Rene Magritte made his famous Ceci n’est pas une pipeThe pipe that appears near the center of the composition is at once an homage to Magritte’s French surrealism and a nod to Colson’s Spanish surrealist past.

Jaime Colson- Cubist Still Life Details- Matthews Gallery Blog

Pernod Fils was the reigning brand of absinthe in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The anise-flavored, bright green spirit was formulated in Switzerland, and its distillery in Pontarlier, France churned out as much as 30,000 liters of absinthe per day. Knock-offs abounded (Pernot, Perriot and Parrot among them), some of which contained toxic substances and were cheap enough to appeal to many a town drunk. In 1910, the French consumed 36 million liters of absinthe in a year, but by 1915 the drink had been demonized and banned.

After World War I, Pernod Fils introduced a new, lower-proof liqueur d’anise, which is the drink Colson would’ve encountered during his Paris years. However, the famous absinthe pictures by Picasso, Lautrec, van Gogh and the like hail from the golden age of the beverage, before the ban. Perhaps the ghostly bottle of Pernod Fils and the empty glass below it are Colson’s tribute to a madcap age that his contemporaries remembered with longing.

Jaime Colson- Cubist Still Life Details- Matthews Gallery Blog

A cubistic guitar and a trompe-l’œil glimpse at the French newspaper Le Journal refer to modernist art forms Colson was exposed to in Paris. In 1912, Picasso began experimenting with collage, incorporating scraps of fabric and other materials into his oil paintings. Picasso’s Still Life with Chair-Caning, one of the first fine art collages ever made, is on an oval canvas and features a scrap of furniture material. Picasso’s close collaborator Braque soon followed suite, using glue to attach wood-grain papers to his cubist canvases. Colson replicates similar patterns and textures using oil paint in Cubist Still Life.

In late 1912, Picasso made artworks using clippings from Le Journaland also created three dimensional collages called art assemblages, including a cardboard guitar. These are Colson’s strongest references to his modernist contemporaries in the painting, directly addressing Picasso’s tendency to weave real-world events into his works and distort objects in groundbreaking ways.

Colson lived in Paris until 1934. After a short stint in Cuba and another stay in Europe, he returned to the Dominican Republic with a head full of revolutionary ideas. He began blending his European influences with Dominican subject matter, creating images of the rich central American culture the likes of which had never been seen before. Along with Yoryi Morel and Dario Suro, Colson is known as one of the founders of the modernist school of Dominican painting, and is considered one of the great Latin American masters of the 20th century.

Learn more about Jaime Colson on our homepage, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news.

 

 

OUTSIDER/INSIDER: Abstract Expressionism at Matthews Gallery

Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell at Matthews Gallery Boxer (left) and Motherwell

It was Mark Rothko’s 111th birthday this Friday, and the occasion has us pondering one of the 20th century’s most polarizing art movements: abstract expressionism.

Three artworks by renowned abstract expressionists have recently landed on our walls. The first two are heavily impastoed oil paintings by Stanley Boxer, who resolutely clung to the far fringes of the movement. Determined to defy labels, he was furious when art critic Clement Greenberg called him a color field painter, and yet the arc of his creative explorations closely paralleled that of his abstract expressionist contemporaries:

In the manufacture of my art, I use anything and everything which gets the job done without any sentiment or sanctity as to medium. Then, too, I have deliberately made a practice of being “visionless”… this is, I go where my preceding art takes me, and never try to redirect the future as to what my art should look like. This is a general credo and foundation for everything I have ever done and stands firm in its solidity as this is written.

Boxer, who died in 2000, would have loved Grace Glueck’s New York Times review of a 2004 exhibition of his late works. She notes that he was “never part of a movement or trend,” but rather driven by paint’s “physical possibilities without script or program.”

Abstract Paintings by Stanley Boxer- Matthews Gallery Blog Atriumofashreddednight  (top) and Crisppitchofsigh, Oil on Linen

Glueck ends the piece with a brief analysis of Boxer’s titles, lyrical lists of words that are jammed together in unbroken strings. The works in our collection, for example, have names that read like fragments of beat poems: Atriumofashreddednight and Crisppitchofsigh. Glueck writes, “As Boxer joked in his titles, these canvases, more than most, do not really lend themselves to verbal exposition. They live for the eye, to which they bring deep satisfaction.”

Boxer’s titles provide a link to Robert Motherwell, the other abstract expressionist represented in our collection. Unlike many “abex” artists who labeled their canvases using dates or arbitrary numbers, Boxer and Motherwell were unapologetic in their wordplay.

That’s where the similarity ends. While Boxer considered himself an isolated frontiersman of abstract painting, Motherwell was an eager icon of abstract expressionism. He coined the term ‘New York School’ to describe his revolutionary circle, which included Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and acted as a spokesperson for the movement in the world of academia.

If Boxer’s titles were little more than impressionistic quips, Motherwell, who was a scholar before he became a “serious artist” and wrote numerous essays on aesthetics, chose names that have inspired endless analysis. His most famous series of paintings, Elegies to the Spanish Republic, chronicles the Spanish Civil War in bold strokes of black and white and subtle passages of ochre, blue, green and red.

Mainly, I use each color as simply symbolic: ochre for the earth, green for the grass, blue for the sky and sea,” Motherwell wrote. “I guess that black and white, which I use most often, tend to be protagonists.” In varying contexts, each color holds a universe of meanings. To fully understand the use of ochre in Motherwell’s Spanish Elegies, “You would have to know that a Spanish bull ring is made of sand of an ochre color,” the artist wrote.  Other works that feature ochre, like Western Air or Personage, with Yellow Ochre and White, would naturally spark different associations. 

Robert Motherwell- Africa 4- Silkscreen- Matthews Gallery Blog Robert Motherwell, Africa 4, Silkscreen

What to make of our Motherwell silkscreen, titled Africa 4? Motherwell completed the Africa suite in 1970, the same year he created his Basque and London suites. They were his first projects entirely devoted to silkscreens, and a divergence from the heavily layered nuances of his oil paintings. Here his black abstract forms stand crisply against their off-white backgrounds, although on closer inspection, their tumultuous edges still seem to weave in an out of focus.

“All my works [consist] of a dialectic between the conscious (straight lines, designed shapes, weighed color, abstract language) and the unconscious (soft lines, obscured shapes, automatism) resolved into a synthesis,” the artist wrote in 1944.

Motherwell first explored the concepts of automatism and the subconscious with a group of Parisian Surrealists, including Duchamp, Ernst and Masson, who had fled Europe during World War II.  Their ideas would help shape the spiritual side of abstract expressionism, a spontaneous, intuitive element that Motherwell carefully balanced with his more intellectual inclinations.

Motherwell’s connection to the Surrealists lends us a potential clue to the significance of the ‘Africa’ title. In his 1946 essay ‘Beyond the Aesthetics‘, Motherwell discusses the life of French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, who helped inspire Surrealism. In the final decades of his life Rimbaud quit writing and set off on an African expedition, a leap of faith that Motherwell compares to the Surrealists’ break from Dada and formation of a new movement:

Like Rimbaud before them, the Surrealists abandoned the aesthetic altogether; it takes a certain courage to leave poetry for Africa (as Rimbaud did, fh). They revealed their insight as essentially moral in never forgetting for a moment that most living is a process of conforming to an established order which is inhuman in its drives and consequences. Their hatred sustained them through all the humiliating situations in which the modern artist find himself, and led them to conceptions beyond the reach of more passive souls. For them true ‘poetry’ was freedom from mechanical social responses. No wonder they loved the work of children and the insane – if not the creatures themselves.

Perhaps Motherwell’s Africa suite represents a similar journey, a leap into the unknown that is a clear break from previous adventures. Just as Rimbaud abandoned an intellectual pursuit for one centered on travel and action, and as the Surrealists broke from the societal battles of the Dadaists to explore dreamscapes, so Motherwell’s stark Africa forms landed him in a new realm of image-making. Perhaps he sought to prove that even the most distinctly divided blacks and whites could possess endless shades of grey.

Learn more about Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell on our website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for more gallery news.