Expat

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Journey to the Conceptual


“I think making art means working with meanings,
especially today when art is predominantly referential.”
Anna Ostoya

A self-proclaimed “professional artist,” the Polish born New York based, painter, photographer, collagist Anna Ostoya believes that making a “ton of money” would be detrimental to her art.

As she told Zoo Magazine’s Marta Gnyp “Making tons of money. That’s not my goal. I think that such commercial success is dangerous and artists should avoid it if they want to keep the high quality of their work…  I’ve never understood people who get excited about making lots of money or about becoming famous. It seems to me that money and fame decrease one’s freedom, one’s time and one’s space. I want to have my time and my space; I want to explore what I want to explore, which is not my sellout potential.”

It is instead an exploration that not only investigates the ambiguity of meaning and constructions of historical and social narratives but also the medium chosen for her depictions.

As she told Osmos’ Jovana Stokic “I decide on a media in relation to a problem I want to tackle. It’s a conceptually grounded decision.”

Growing up in Krakow, Ostoya was more interested in writing and drama than art.

As she explained “As a teenager I was interested in literature and in theatre. But it seemed impossible to follow these interests professionally. To become a writer meant studying in Poland and I didn’t want that. To become involved with theatre meant working with a lot of people and I wasn’t good at that… I became committed to art and I started believing in it when taking drawing and painting classes with Barbara Leoniak, a sculptor, after graduating from high school.”

Ostoya moved to Paris in her early twenties to study at the Parsons School of Art and Design which was followed by a stint at Frankfurt’s Städelschule before a period at the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York.

It is a journey that has informed Ostoya’s art making where content and form are two sides of the same coin, not that dissimilar to the relationship that exists between an artist and their audience.

About which Ostoya has said “Whenever I moved the change seemed traumatic. Each move exposed me to a new set of ideas and references, new behaviors. Nothing seemed stable; it was painstaking to make sense of the world… That changing of context has shaped my approach to art and life… Art is made, experienced and explained through references, mostly art-historical ones. Using these references in a way that transforms the established meanings has an emancipatory potential… I believe that being serious about the content demands being serious about the form. I think about the form through the content and I want the viewer to think about the content through the form.”


Ostoya’s current exhibition Slaying in on show at New York’s Bortolami Gallery until the 23rd of April.


Friday, February 26, 2016

Realism as an Emotional Truth


“It’s not so much what you depict but how you depict it.”
Paul Fenniak

The Canadian artist Paul Fenniak takes the inspiration for his paintings from movies, books and newspaper stories which he re-interprets as imagined narrative portraits that explore overlapping realities.

As he explained in a Laguna College of Art + Design lecture it is imperative “that you can keep a space open for the intimate and personal in this mass media dominated world.”

In his dream like pictures, Fenniak paints in a realistic style imbued with symbolic meaning.

As he has said “one needs to balance realism’s wealth of experience and symbolism’s depth of feeling – you have to look in two directions at once.”

With Bachelor of Fine Art from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario and a Master’s from 
Concordia University in Montreal, Fenniak contends that “Art can make you feel less alone… Increasingly it struck me that painting of this kind had a particular capacity for creating an intimate encounter of a kind that lent itself to exploring the mystery of another person and thereby enhancing empathy.”
  
As New York’s Forum Gallery says about his work “Fenniak’s paintings have luminous surfaces and compelling images that offer a combination of disquiet, uncertainty, urgency, calm, and spirituality. His painting style contains a contrast of inner light with his attention to detail, texture and atmosphere.

In his complex narratives, Fenniak combines autobiography, dreams, art historical references and the implications of contemporary life to explore the hidden recesses of the human psyche.

And about which he freely admits he is “Sacrificing the documentary realism of external fact to get to an emotional truth.”

Fenniak’s current exhibition of New Paintings is on show at New York’s Forum Gallery until the 19th of March.






  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mapping as Identity


“All maps lie. All maps distort.”
Paula Scher

As an antidote to the corporate design perfection she produces in her day job as a partner at Pentagram Design the graphic artist Paula Scher paints maps informed by hierarchies of information and how it can be manipulated to emphasize the cartographer’s chosen content.

As she told Slate’s Kristin Hohenadel “My paintings are pretty dizzying. More than you ever wanted to know about everything. They’re about information overload.”

The 67-year-old Scher took up painting her maps 18 years ago whilst working on a project for Citibank.

As she explained to The New Yorker’s Julie Belcove I designed the logo in the first client meeting and spent two years having to make mind-numbing presentations.”

Scher’s cartography follows in her father’s footsteps. He was involved with making maps for the US Geological Survey and showed her how easy it is to distort information to emphasize a certain point of view.

Painting her maps by hand, Scher uses geography to create a sense of culture and identity. She is more interested in creating a sense of a place rather than an accurate rendition.

About which she says “There’s nothing scientific about it. It’s all emotional and has been since the first series of maps. They’re all connected in that they’re based on what I call [the] abstract expressionist information used in painting versus digital form to create a sense rather than trying to be accurate… It’s not perfect, but it asks questions. And I like a little imperfection in my life—and work.


Scher’s current exhibition U.S.A. is on show at New York’s Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery until the 26th of March.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Context Matters


“I like my exhibitions in Egypt more than my exhibitions abroad”
Randa Shaath

For the Palestinian photographer Randa Shaath who was born in the United States, grew up in Lebanon and currently lives in Egypt, where she teaches photography at the American University in Cairo, the context surrounding a photograph is paramount.

This is particularly true for her work which is based in the Middle East. It is an ethos she developed working for six years working as the Al Shorouk daily newspaper’s photo editor and over a decade as a photographer for Al-Ahram Weekly

As she explained in Marwa Zein’s short documentary film Randa “When September 11 happened everyone was in shock and disbelief and everyone was glued to their TV’s. So some official from an American organization called me and told me to go down into the street and photograph the people dancing in celebration of what had happened that day. I told him, you mean I should go down into the street and document what’s happening on the Egyptian streets?

He told me, No I want the people who are dancing in the streets. I told him there are no people dancing in the streets. He told me, no there are people dancing in the streets! And he yelled at me a bit and then hung up. He called me about five times that day telling me that there are a lot of American magazines waiting for these pictures and saying they would pay a lot of money.

I tried to explain to him that if it were a matter of me documenting the actual situation that would be fine. But for me to go in search of people dancing, well, they could be people dancing at a wedding for example! And even if there were people dancing, one would have to explain the history of the Middle East and everything in order to understand why some family would be dancing in such circumstances. But for me to capture people dancing just like that takes it completely out of its historical context. So I refused and he hung up and hasn’t phoned since. He was an occasional source of income and he hasn’t phoned me since.”

This devotion to context also drives Shaath’s personal work. Like her 2002-2003 series Under the Same Sky: Rooftops in Cairo which was shown in New York at the Aperture gallery in 2005. In which Shaath captures scenes from the rooftops that surround her high rise apartment whilst being invisible from the street.

Shaath’s latest series of works goes inside the buildings documenting domestic spaces exploring the question “when does one feel at home?


Forty works from this series are in her Indelible exhibition which is currently on show at Cairo’s Gypsum Gallery until the 5th of April




Saturday, February 20, 2016

Views of Time & Space


“For art to be great, it must possess the following three qualities:
Accuracy, Realism and Freedom.”
Zhong Biao

The Chinese artist Zhong Biao’s journey to achieve this goal is based loosely upon the philosophical teachings of Zen Buddhism.

As he told Art Depot’s Yin Sugiao “I am definitely influenced by Zen teachings, although I have never made any research into that area. 

Zhong is actively concerned with expressing the duality of reality that he labels as State and Form.

About which he says “Form is visible, State is invisible, Form is the appearance of State, State is the source of all Form. Whether you are in commerce, politics or arts and culture, it is essential to grasp the ever-changing idea of State, and to allow it to be revealed. If you are in commerce and you are able to grasp the situation, revealing the situation will bring about business opportunities. In politics, if you know the broad tendency of development and move in accord with it you will achieve greatness. In the same way, in the world of art, when an artist’s work manages to accurately reveal that State and its form of development in a certain time and place, that work will touch the collective subconscious of its audience, it will be opportune within its own time.  If you think that an accurate revelation of form is the truth, then you’re wrong! Because State changes with the passing of time, to attain new forms, if you fail to return constantly to the State and move in harmony with it, your artwork will be locked forever in the time in which it was born.”

To which he adds that the present is invisible “Owing to the greatness of distance, however fast the speed of light is, it still takes eight minutes and nineteen seconds to travel from the sun to the earth. The sun which we see is always to sun of 8.19 minutes ago. In that case, the moon that we see is the moon 1.28 seconds ago, and what we see one kilometer before us is what was there 3.34 microseconds ago, and when two people are face to face, no more than a meter apart, what they see is the other person as they were 3.34 Nano-seconds ago. No matter how close we come, what we see is the past, we will never see the true face of the present.”

As Chinese contemporary art critic Paul Manfredi wrote in an essay for Zhong’s current exhibition: “The blend of figural and abstract is broadly emblematic of Zhong's work, both as a painter and a thinker. His goal is to use painting to challenge the limits of space and time which frame our experience.”

Whilst the philosophical underpinnings of Zhong’s paintings drive his vision he is content to let his audience define their own meaning.

As he told My Modern Met’s Eugene Kim "I don’t want to force my own understanding or interpretation of my paintings on the audience. The mixture of images within each of my paintings is like a combination of controversial elements in life. We don’t have to understand everything we see in each painting. Like life, we cannot understand everything that we have seen or experienced. In my paintings, Eastern and Western, historical and modern opposites coexist, reflecting the reality of today’s lifestyle."


Zhong’s current exhibition The Other Shore is on show at New York’s Klein Sun Gallery until the 19th of March. 


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Abstracted Landscapes



"Over succeeding decades I have travelled throughout many parts of Australia
 and much of America."
David Blackburn

The American writer Henry Miller said about travel “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” It is an aphorism that particularly applies to the British abstracted landscape painter David Blackburn.

An only child Blackburn spent much of his youth painting and walking the West Yorkshire moors that surrounding his home in the market town of Huddersfield.

Whilst studying at the Royal College of Art during the 1960’s Blackburn met and studied with the Austrian artist Gerhard Frankl who introduced him to pastels. A medium Blackburn was to use for the rest of his life.

About which Blackburn has said “I'd never seen pastel used to produce such intensity and depth of color. It had an extraordinary looseness and freedom, which suggested huge spaces, shimmering light and a feeling of cold. I found it a revelation. He became almost a father figure to me. Gerhard was an Austrian-Jewish émigré who'd settled in London: his family had perished in the Holocaust. He was an art historian as well as an artist and he taught me how to look at pictures.”

A year after graduating from the Royal College of Art, Blackburn traveled to Australia to teach at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. During his three years there he discovered the light and space that is central Australia aka The Outback.

Which Studio International reported Blackburn as saying “The Outback had been a revelation, and suddenly the drawings became full of glowing reds and blazing oranges, with the sky taking up half the picture plane. As the feeling of this huge space, along with a strange dreamlike quality, entered my work the European concept of foreground, middle distance and background came to seem irrelevant.”

After several further visits to Australia and a sojourn on the East Coast for the United States Blackburn settled in country of his birth.

As he told the Wall Street International “It’s what I know – the hills and valleys, the history, the mix of urban and rural, old and new: the sheer texture of the place.”

Although Blackburn added a caveat, as he told the Huddersfield Daily Examiner "But my private ‘valley of visions’ remains a mixture of the wet moorlands of Yorkshire and the heat and color of central Australia."  


A retrospective exhibition of Blackburn’s work is currently on show at the London gallery, Messum’s, until the 11th of March.


Monday, February 15, 2016

The Magic of Art


“Through painting one can bring together all the different fractured moments
of the self into an authentic wholeness.”
JooYoung Choi

Like the world renowned writers JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis the Korean born American artist JooYoung Choi has created a world of her own invention which she depicts through painting and video rather than the written word. Choi’s paracosm The Cosmic Womb is an autobiographical narrative of the events and relationships that have shaped her life as an adopted Korean infant brought up by American parent’s in the Land of the Free.

As Choi says on her website “My paintings are based on an imaginary world that combines my personal story with the cultural influences of Korean and America with my love of pop culture… I feel that my own identity was challenged often as a person of Korean descent who only knew that of the American culture as a child. Furthermore, my paintings reflected the search for a true self that is beyond the simple terms of merely American or Korean, but rather, an authentic self that is an individual mixture of experiences.

Growing up in Concord, New Hampshire with only 0.2% of the population being Asian, Choi felt isolated and was very aware of being the “other”.

As she told the Huffington Post “Three years before I was adopted, the 1980 census stated that my hometown had about 60 Asian people in it, out of a population of about 30,400. I only knew a small handful of adopted people. Often I was reminded by other children that I looked 'different' or I was so 'weird'… As a child, I used popular media and art to make sense of my situation of feeling and looking so different than those around me.”

Reunited with her birth family and despite the language difficulties Choi forged a loving relationship with them in 2007 and 8. But the issues of “adoption, race, systemic oppression, loss and liberation” Choi said are still a major concern and subsequently influence were work.

Like the portrayal of her adoption agency ID number K833796 being broken up and assigned to her mythical character’s names that are associated with being a scientist, having the ability to morph into flowers or always wearing yellow.

As she explained to the Houston Chronicle’s Molly Glentzer "I wanted to take that from something negative to positive."

And whilst Choi’s backstory has dramatic overtones her paintings and videos have an unabashed hopeful perspective.

For as she says "Through art we have this magical power. We can change reality, re-wire how we feel about our past and maybe take back moments that were unresolved or never came to full vision."


Choi’s current exhibition Paracosmic Alchemy is on show at Houston’s Anya Tish Gallery until the 12th of March.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Pop Noir with a Dash of Drama


“Whatever I did, I did it to show myself! could do it.”
Rosalyn Drexler 


The multi-talented, New York born Rosalyn Drexler is a novelist, a playwright with an Emmy and three Obie’s to her credit, a visual artist with over twenty solo exhibitions and for three months in 1951 she was the professional wrestler Rosa Carlo, the Mexican Spitfire."  

Drexler’s earliest art works were found object sculptures which were first shown at New York’s Rubin Gallery which closed shortly after and induced her to switch to painting.

As she told the ArtblogMy earlier work was found object sculptures. I used to find stuff in empty lots and on the beach… Rubin Gallery lasted one to two seasons. You know why? The woman [who owned the gallery] showed her sister’s work. We [other artists] just came in. And nothing happened with her sister and then it closed… Women were not bankable at that time. Every other male artist…other galleries came along. I received no offers. In my naiveté I thought it was because I was not a painter so I must make paintings.”

The paintings Drexler made were brightly colored cartoon and film noir inspired works utilizing images taken from magazines and B movie posters which she would collage and paint over. Essentially self-taught, Drexler relates her style to the coloring books of her childhood.

As Hyperallergic’s John Yau reports her as sayingI adored my coloring books… I was addicted to outlining the pictures in contrasting colors, and enjoyed staying within the lines. Needed the control. My work begs for control. After all, I captured the images and buried them: now they want to escape. They lie layered and still, unable to move. They are contained and I can breathe a sigh of relief.

Drexler’s dual interests in writing and painting have happily co-existed over the years although the influence of her theatrical knowledge and experience can be seen in her later paintings.

But as she told the New York Times’ T Magazine ‘‘I never wondered which was more serious. I was always so full of work and happy to be working. I was not thinking about my, quote-unquote, ‘career.’’’

And now at the end of her eighth decade, the Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum has the retrospective exhibition Rosalyn Drexler: Who Does She Think She Is? on show until the 5th of June.




Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Art of Collaboration



“One thing I have learned is you can't control art, just shape it.”
Matthew McVeigh

The creation of a theatrical performance is a collaborative endeavor where the director, the performers, the designers and the musicians come together to give life to an author’s vision. Whilst performances may vary from performance to performance or from production to production the longevity of the work is dependent upon the quality of the script, the score or the choreography.

This collaborative approach is one that sits comfortably with the West Australian pop orientated conceptual artist Matthew McVeigh. To which his latest work Economy Class to Bali (see above) attests.
In collaboration with Balinese artist Ida Bagus Rekah Bakurha, McVeigh explores the clash of cultures wherein a new and often foreign culture imposes itself upon the traditional.

As he says in his artist’s statement for the work “The work explores the particular phenomenon of young Australians heading to Bali as a rite of passage, their actions often taking on a religious fervor. The desire to make the work came from my own personal disgust, shame and reflections after observing other young Australians behaving in this foreign land with entitlement and a lack of respect for the culture, customs and spirit of place.”

Diagnosed as a child with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), which his parents treated organically rather than chemically, it had little effect upon the academic side of McVeigh’s education. And his skill at drawing saw him become the go to person amongst his peers when visual renditions became a necessity. Although the prospect of a career in the arts was given little thought.

With an interest in architecture, history and literature McVeigh’s acceptance into the Production and Design course of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts was turning point in his life and with its supportive collaborative culture it enabled him to gain his Bachelor of Performing Arts.

After a handful of years designing theatrical works that covered the genres of drama, dance, opera and puppetry McVeigh gravitated to community arts with residencies at schools and communities throughout the state. And all the while producing his own self-generated work which more often than not are collaborative in nature.

Like the kinetic sculptural work Delineate (see below) in which 24 builders spirt levels perform a stately gavotte. McVeigh has orchestrated the efforts of five others (Ken Seeber, Brett Seeber, Lachlan McVeigh, Jacob Leher and Hiroshi Ransom) to provide the expertise required to present this exploration of the building trades basic structure the square.

As he told me in a conversation at the gallery “What we build today is about what we build tomorrow and that is driven by working with other people.”


McVeigh’s current exhibition Built is on show at Western Australia’s Linton & Kay Perth gallery until the 29th of February.


Monday, February 08, 2016

A Bridge Too Far?


“I really think that the war on terror makes us less safe.”
Laura Poitras

With an Oscar and a shared Pulitzer Prize to her credit, Laura Poitras latest venture is the art installation Astro Noise on show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. An exhibition that explores the issues of mass surveillance, the war on terror, the U.S. drone program, Guantánamo Bay Prison, occupation, and torture.

The idea came to Poitras three years earlier whilst waiting for the now world famous whistle blower Edward Snowden to re-establish contact with her.

As she wrote in her diary at the time “Why the fuck am I making long-form documentaries when other ways of working are so much more energizing? I really want to do the installation project of hanging screens in a warehouse. So that entering it is like a torture chamber.”

But before the installation could be realized Poitras made her Oscar winning long-form documentary Citizenfour and became heavily involved with the publication of Snowden’s revelations of American mass surveillance.

Growing up in a well-heeled suburb of Boston, Poitras attended a private school about which she told Vogue’s Sara Corbett “there was a lot of unstructured time, which allowed me to develop my senses creatively.” 

After leaving school became a sous-chef first in Boston, then later in San Francisco, a quick paced, high stress environment, an excellent training ground for her later film making ventures. Whilst in San Francisco Poitras studied experimental and avant-garde film which eventually replace her interest in cooking and at 32 she graduated from New York’s New School for Public Engagement.

Three years later Poitras embarked on her first long-form documentary Flag Wars which was nominated for an Emmy after being screened on PBS in 2003. The attack on New York’s Twin Towers on 9/11 had a profound effect upon her and the ensuing drumbeat for the Iraq war was a cause for alarm.

As she says “I had a real sense that we were moving in a direction that was really dangerous. That was when I realized I wanted to say something about it.”

There followed a trilogy of films My Country, My Country in 2006, which was nominated for an Oscar, The Oath in 2010 and the aforementioned Oscar winning Citizenfour in 2014.

And now her Whitney installation Astro Noise Poitras has found another way to portray her concerns.
As she says “I’m interested in going back to these themes of the war on terror. What does it mean? How can we understand it on more human terms?”

How well her cinematic vision translated to the confines of the white cube has left the Guardian Newspaper’s art critic Jason Farago underwhelmed.

As he wrote “Yet amid her anxieties, she asks herself a curious question: “Why the fuck am I making long-form documentaries when other ways of working are so much more energizing?” I regret to say Astro Noise answers that question for her: because energizing is an insufficient aim, and she is capable of so much more.


Poitras’ Astro Noise is on show at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art until the 1st of May.


Saturday, February 06, 2016

Exposed by Abstraction


“I find inspiration in the doing.”
 
John DiPaolo

The San Francisco based abstract expressionist artist John DiPaolo is never too sure what his efforts at the easel will eventually produce. For his work is a struggle to find the balance between his inner and outer worlds, the resolution of the effects of intention and chance, the relationship between the personal and the universal.

 “I begin with an idea, usually about space,” Dipaolo told Cottages & Gardens’ Robyn Wise. “But as the painting unfolds, something enters in and changes the direction. This continues until the anchors I originally embedded have disappeared, and I’m doing something I never expected to do. It amazes me every time.” 

Born in New York, DiPaolo moved to America’s West Coast in his mid-twenties to study at San Francisco Art Institute followed by a stint at the San Francisco State University to get his MFA. And whilst there his style changed from a pop art inspired realism to embrace the tenants of the earlier Abstract Expressionist movement.

Working with a richly layered applications of paint on canvas DiPaolo dances with his works in a convoluted conversation in which the artist’s control is mediated by the work itself.

As he has explained even when you think you know what you want, it tells you what it wants. The work takes over.” 

And that can take time, as he told the Wall Street International Magazine “Sometimes even the ones I love in the very beginning end up getting covered over, but with something that is even better. So I say to myself, ‘You’ve got to surrender. All you are is some in-between force that’s making this thing happen.’ It’s not about doing it so forcibly. It’s about getting the organic-ness of the material and of my experience with that to come out.”

Although DiPaolo has been making his paintings for many years it hasn’t got any easier.

As he says in the press release for his current exhibition “I’ve been doing this for 40 years and it’s still a confront every time you’ve got to start putting paint on. You’re exposed. There it is. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean that.’ 


Dipaolo’s current exhibition is on show at San Francisco’s Dolby Chadwick Gallery until the 27th of February.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Getting Lost in the Past


“I think I’m homing in on some interesting ideas.”
 
Damian Stamer

The American painter Damian Stamer, who had his first New York exhibition whilst still studying for his MFA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is inspired by the landscapes of his youth. The memory of which he recreates with his abstracted figurative works.

Stamer regularly returns to the North Carolina countryside to photograph the remaining remnants of the past which he reworks in his New York Studio.

As he told The Nashville Arts Magazine’s Daniel Tidwell These are the same old barns, relatively unchanged, that my bus passed every day to and from school over twenty years ago.”

It is the challenge of turning his trips down memory lane into paintings that speak to an audience endowed mostly with an urban aesthetic through paint and canvas that enthralls.

About which he says “the difficulty of accessing information and emotions of years past, translated visually through faded colors and erasure. These works also hint at black-and-white photography, perhaps our most common window to the past, with white borders and dappled aging… There comes a time when these biographical and identity-laden concerns fall away, like the rockets of a space shuttle after launch. Chance and intuition take over. Painting becomes a dance outside the realm of language and concept.

It is a dance that sees Stamer constantly looking for new steps that will drive his work forward.

As he says “My most exciting times in the studio come when I discover how to make a new mark or surface effect. I’m like a scientist, always tinkering and experimenting with unique ways to push my medium. When I find a new way to use paint that I’ve never seen before, I feel like I am adding to a conversation that began thousands of years ago.”

A point he underscored to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Newsletter, Endeavors “I’m always looking for new tools and ways to spread paint. I’ve used masking tape, squeegees, heavy-duty paper towels, solvents, and even a frying pan to splatter paint.”

And whilst technique is important, it is when he ignores it getting lost in the work that Stamer achieves his most satisfying paintings.

As he says “I think I make my best work when I’m not really thinking at all. It may sound odd, but I think it’s like an athlete being in the zone.”

Stamer’s current exhibition A little past Lake Michie is on show at Philadelphia’s Bridgette Mayer Gallery until the 27th of February.




Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Anarchist Seduced by Science


The golden age has not passed; it lies in the future.
Paul Signac

The scientific application of optical theory that enables television would have intrigued and vindicated the radical 19th Century French painter Paul Signac’s championing of Pointillism. Devised by the post-impressionist artist Georges Seurat, small dots of pure color are placed side by side on the painter’s canvas allowing the eye to optically mix the color.

Signac was 21 when came across Seurat’s work to which he had an instant affinity and the two became lifelong friends.

The son of an affluent middle class family, Signac had given up studying architecture to pursue the life of a painter, inspired by the work of the impressionists. As a 16-year-old Signac had been chased out of the 1880 5th Impressionist exhibition by Paul Gaugin whilst copying an Edgar Degas painting with the reportedly stinging rebuke ‘One does not copy here Sir! 

The discovery of Seurat’s work led him to state the separated elements will be reconstituted into brilliantly colored lights.

 And two years after the discovery Signac was exhibiting his own landscapes that had confidently moved on from the loose impressionist style to that of the more formal and scientific pointillism.
About which the art critic and fellow anarchist Félix Fénéon said The colors provoke each other to mad chromatic flights – they exult, shout! And the Seine flows on, and in its waters flow the sky and the vegetation along the riverside.”

Being in the vanguard of artistic expression suited Signac well, for not only did his art but also his politics challenged the traditional and throughout his life he was an impassioned advocate of both. Whilst introducing Seurat’s theories to others including Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Camille Pissarro he also improvised upon Pointillism. Signac’s later works evolved from the dots of Pointillism into the mosaic like tiles of Divisionism.

For as he has reportedly said “The anarchist painter is not the one who will create anarchist pictures, but the one who will fight with all his individuality against official conventions.


The exhibition Signac: Une Vie au Fil de L’eau is currently on show at Switzerland’s Fondation de l’Hermitage until the 22nd of May.