My work is a sort of post-Cubist variation with a twist and a triple lindy—if you feel you really have to put it in a neat box and tie a tidy bow around it with a cute label.
It’s been a challenging, gratifying, and successful transition for me and my collectors. It’s always been a direction I wanted to go, but I didn’t think the market would accept it. (I know enough now to know I don’t know anything.) But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, isn’t there? Because of the Cubist element in my work, I often hear things like this at the art fairs as well as in the gallery:
“It looks like Picasso to me!”
“Oh, how so Picasso-esque!” (Yep, “Picasso-esque,” said with a straight face to her companion. Her friend wasn’t impressed either and a gave me an embarrassed smile.)
“Is Picasso your biggest influence?”
“Do you have Picasso envy?” (the second most asinine thing I have ever heard).
“Are you related to Picasso?” (the MOST asinine thing I have ever heard).
It is difficult to be a painter. I’ve always said if everyone could do it, they would. But, it’s beyond difficult—even impossible—to be a painter in the 20th and 21st centuries without being influenced by art history in general and by Picasso, Braque, Gris, and the other Cubists in this particular case.
Picasso is certainly the best-known of the Cubist painters, probably due to the popularity of Guernica and his other recognizable works, and therefore his name has become synonymous with Cubism even though he was involved in other movements. (And despite the fact that so many more artists than Picasso were involved in Cubism—and some were arguably even better than he.)
The reasons for this are plenty, but much of it has to do with Picasso’s incredible ego as well as his name-recognition (aka, branding) campaign throughout his life and our own educational system’s tendency to compartmentalize artists rather than focus on the movements in art history. That’s how I get some people standing in front of my paintings asking if I am related to the only artist most people can name outside of the “Campbell Soup Guy” and “the guy that, you know, got his ear cut off.”
Yep, recycled yard art and ducks made of rocks and wrought iron are here to stay for some people, they will always have a market at the art shows. But, some people really do love art and they really do just want to learn and know and grow. Soooo, I’m going to tell you a little bit about my work.
Wanna hear it? Here goes:
Cubism was identified and developed by several—not one, several—artists who traced their influences back to Cezanne and even African sculpture.
Picasso was brilliant, manipulative, innovative, and had a massive ego. He successfully managed to associate his name with an art movement and of course he is one of my influences as a painter—one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, how could he not be an influence?
But my main influence? Not Picasso. Naaah. Not really.
Marcel Duchamp and Henri Matisse are the most influential artists for me in my work. Duchamp for the idea of movement and random chance. Matisse for raw color and brushwork.
Duchamp was a contemporary of Picasso. He only painted a few canvases before moving on to sculpture “readymades” and more. He took things to the next level and I am trying to push it even further.
Cubist painting was known for still imagery and a quiet, subdued, or even neutral palette. This design element dates mostly back to Cezanne, and then to African art circulating in Europe, but it was the standard for the compositions at the time. (Some of it had to do with availability of colors for them to use as well.)
Duchamp knew Cubism and decided to place an emphasis on “movement” in his paintings. His famous Nude Descending a Staircase shows that motion, implying the movement of a figure walking down stairs from several different angles without actually showing the figure. This goes leaps and bounds beyond Cubism.
The action he painted is recognizable and the palette is loud compared to other Cubist work at the time. This is what I am doing as well.
When you see several eyes, noses or heads in my compositions, you are seeing the same figure in motion on the canvas—not six eyes and three noses, but 10-20 or more permutations of the same figure(s).
Duchamp also focused on elements of random chance influencing his work. His “readymades” and sculptures were heavily influenced by what he had available and the environmental effects and accidents that happen during and after the creative process.
Even his “stoppages” were random measuring devices meant to standardize the idea of chance in his work. Almost all of my work begins with black paint smeared around on the canvas. The images become apparent on the smeared paint on the surface and the painting begins from that point. The origin of my work starts from a random image or impression of paint on canvas about 99% of the time. The trick is to bring it to life—to accept what “chance” or “fate” has provided and to go from there.
Matisse was a rival of Picasso and a master of color—especially for his time. I’ll never make it to his level, but I always work toward using intuitive color rather than the “right” colors. There is very little gray in my palette. I use a layering technique to make the colors more vibrant. This layering of colors and underpainting along with loose brushwork, again influenced by Matisse makes the painting more dynamic.
Other influences? Modigliani, Tamayo, the Fauves, the German Expressionists, Cezanne, the list goes on.
I’d encourage anyone reading this to talk to me in person or online about art and tell me what you like and don’t like—what you want to see and what you want to avoid. Discuss what really moves you and what is insignificant.
You are most welcome to come stand in my booth with your ams crossed and chew on the tip your sunglasses while you gaze at my work. You can call my art “beautiful” or call it “garbage” or anything in between—but please, don’t say “Picasso-esque.”
It’s not a word and it sounds foolish and contrived. And besides, I just might write about you.
“Picasso-esque.” Good God.
George Carlin was right, there probably isn’t much hope left for our species.
To learn more about John Stillmunks and his art, please visit hisblog orflickr page.
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