The Beginning – Part 1
previous – Part 11
This is my continuing study of art that distorts, smears, or obscures the faces of its subjects. I am trying to get my head around this art – in all its forms. It seems to me to be almost an art movement – there are hundreds of artists that do this type of work exclusively. They are men and women from around the world. They are educated, self taught, professional, and hobbyist. They work in all different genres from photography to sculpture. I think ultimately my goal is to understand what this art says about our world, the culture of our world. I think that collectively this art is saying something about this moment, I think that it means something beyond simply someone smearing their fingers through the paint on a persons face. So I muddle, picking through the minutia of art, looking at different works, parsing them for meaning, comparing them and writing ridiculously ungrammatical sentences. As always if you see your art here and want me to remove it please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will take it down right away. None of this art is mine. All art is attributed, and if you click on it will take you to the spot where I found it.
Collage – Hand Me My Scissors and Glue!
Collage is a very old art. It is, in fact, as old as paper, when different pieces of paper could be glued onto each other to form a new representation. Many materials can be applied to an item to create a new piece of art – fabric, wallpaper, gemstones, beads, botanical materials, fur, and gold leaf to name a few. Here is a floral example by Mary Delany who was born in the year 1700:
Collage became more of a recognized art after it became a distinct part of modern art in the 20th century. See wikipedia for more history of the collage. Looking at an early example of collage that shows shall we say, defacement, and then comparing that to more modern renditions will hopefully help elucidate this modern trend and show more of its distinctive features. Here from 1920 is Max Ernst’s challenging work Pleiades:
Getting a handle on this piece involves some knowledge of mythology, as well as the complete work of art, which I had difficulty finding. The complete work included hand written notes by Max Ernest at the bottom, which translate to read,
Approaching puberty has not yet removed the fragile grace of our Pleiades/ Our Shadowy gaze is directed at the paving stone which is about to fall/ The gravitation of the waves do not yet exist VIA
So, there is a photograph of a nude, cut out and pasted on a painted blue background along pieces. And the cut out figure has one leg that is different than the other. There are also some vague “biographical notes” from the artist on how to read the painting. So just a few things to help understand this piece –
1. The nude is meant to represent Pleiades who are (were?) a constellation of stars named after a group of virgin nymphs who were transformed into stars by Zeus to save them from the hunter Orion . They were innocent – Orion was threatening their virtue. VIA
2. The nymphs were young girls – thus free, also free because of their innocence. The blue could symbolize their connection to water. They are in Greek Myth the daughters of Atlas the water god. Also the figure in the water is floating/flying again symbolizing freedom. VIA
3. There is a suggestion that this figure might represent Electra, who during the fall of Troy hid her face, which would account for the lack of a head on the figure. VIA
So that was the long way around, but the point is that this art is like the old religious paintings – it is full of signs and symbols. The art is not about the face being missing. The face being missing has a very specific meaning in relation to the whole rest of the piece. Also this is not introspective – the artist is not trying to say anything about his soul, or the inner turmoil of the person pictured. He is speaking to broad universal themes. Everything in this painting, including the words at the bottom of the painting is meant to read or deciphered. It is as if the artist is speaking to his viewer. Here is another collage from Bryan Wynter (1939) who influenced by Max Ernst:
This collage is also highly symbolic – all the figures are without heads. This has to do with the politics of the time (World War II in Europe) (See HERE for more biographical information on Bryan Wynter). Here in contrast is a more contemporary collage:
Although more contemporary (made within the last 5 years) this collage was created using essentially the same technique as the previous collage – photographs were cut and adhered to a background. The photo of the woman appears to not be contemporary (the flicker website indicates at least some of the photos used were taken in 1980). While Max Ernst and Bryan Wynter may have used contemporary images for their collages, current artists often used older, or ‘retro’ images. I think there is a practical reason for this – current images are under copyright unless they are owned by the artist. Also, Zeitgeist – the collage movement (is it a movement?) favors the retro look – many many collages are done in a retro style, such as:
Defacement and collage seem made for each other because it is so simple to snip off the face, or glue something else on the face. One artist has really thought deeply about the connection between the face, identity, and art. He replaced artists faces with a piece of their art. Roberto Voorbij created a whole series of these collage portraits for the site Artists Not Armies (see one of the portraits on there site HERE) – More portraits found HERE –
If in trying to understand an artist you replace their face with their art, then does it become like a math equation? Face = self = art = face? I found in googles library a bit of interesting thought on the face in art.
Ours is a structured universe whose main lines of force are still bent and fashioned by our biological and psychological needs, however much they may be overlaid by cultural influences. We know that there are certain privileged motifs in our world to which we respond almost too easily. The human face may be outstanding among them. Whether by instinct or by very early training, we are certainly ever disposed to single out the expressive features of a face from the chaos of sensations that surrounds it, and to respond to its slightest variations with fear or joy. . .Our automatic response is stronger than our intellectual awareness. (VIA Art Theory and Criticism: An Anthology of Formalist, Avant-Garde, Contexualist and Post Modern Thought Pg. 48 – Edited by Sally Everett)
So if it is ingrained in us to respond viscerally to the face in ways that we are not even aware of – an “automatic response” are these contemporary artists trying to tap into that? The earlier collage artists are using heavy symbolic references that require thought and contemplation, while the contemporary artists may employ some symbolic tropes but nothing so heavy handed as to write biographical notes or require complex lines of reasoning involving greek myths. It seems as if the modern collage artists are looking for an immediate visceral response, and using the face seems like a direct way to get that reaction. These following images are startling:
These collages have all been of the more traditional cut and paste type. There are also digital collages, and collages which explores modern issues specific to the face. Next however, I have had a revelation.