Monday, April 28, 2008

British Prints/El Greco to Velasquez

As gardening season really hasn't begun in earnest, I am taking the opportunity to get my fill of art. I have been meaning to see the British Print Show 1913-1939, at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston for quite sometime. It is there through June 1 and I highly recommend it. I went today....although I also highly recommend waiting until Art in Bloom is over. The place was shoulder to shoulder with women who wear pearls looking at artful flower arrangements plunked down in front of art.

The Vorticist Movement in pre-War (WWI) England was a parallel to the Italian Futurists. It was all swirling lines, movement, machinery and a dash of populism- what with all the heavily muscled working class men.

Almost all the prints in this show were lino-cuts. The blocks were linoleum instead of wood, so were not considered a real artistic medium, paving the way for women to grab their carving tools and make the medium their own. At least 1/3 of the prints displayed were by women. The second image, of a farm in his field plowing, is by Sybil Andrews- a British born Canadian. It is unusual for a show at a museum to prominently feature so many women artists without turning it into a political thing. They were included on their own merits.

I had an advance copy of the catalogue so was quite familiar the images, but was unprepared for the richness and nuance of the colors- especially as most of the prints were done with just four separate blocks- red, blue, yellow & green. The surfaces were like velvet- the real silk stuff, not the cheap polyester imitation-you can't imagine prints so rich with color. These colors just sat on the surface of the paper with all the preceding colors of ink shining luminously through. Sometimes a little off register the previous plate colors would bleed out from under the top layer giving a vibrating edge to the image. This added to the heightened sense of movement which was integral to the Vorticist's work.

El Greco to Velasquez opened up at the MFA a week or two ago so we felt obliged to take a look. After all these are the greats of Spanish art.

El Greco still looks as kooky as ever- that is the Ecstasy of Somebody or The Expulsion From the Garden. As my viewing partner pointed out "At least he has a point of view." He could really paint religious ecstasy and there is no denying what was going on. I think he really excelled at portraits. Without all the other activity going on in the canvas-just a single sitter- the viewer is really able to notice El Greco's brush stroke. They are broad and almost haphazard, yet they still build up to create a lifelike and convincing human.

Velasquez was good at portraying the more humble people. He was clearly a skilled painter and able to convey flesh and blood convincingly. He also excelled at portraiture- his veered more towards the Dutch model. His figure were solid, noble, supported by a dark background- and amazingly static.

Both of us became a little weary of this exhibition and all its crucifixes. I don't know if it was just that our modern sensibilities couldn't take in the old stories. Were the colors of El Greco & Peter Paul Rubens too lurid? I much preferred the clearer colors and straight forward compositions of the British Print show to the Spanish Painters.


Michelle said...

All I heard was "bla bla bla heavily muscled working class men bla bla bla" I love Heavily muscled working class men!
First rate blog post if you ask me!!
Keep up the good work!

SMC said...

Ahhhhh.... pornography masquerading as art. I love it when they slip that "hot stuff" into the museums. No wonder all those ladies in pearls looked a little flushed.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

I love lino-cuts. When we did them in art class I felt like it was a revelation... of what, I don't know, but a revelation.

Ecstasy is a good word in relation to El Greco's work. I've never taken the stuff, but it seems to me that if I did, the whole world would look like the high relief of an El Greco painting.