Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bridge Anyone? (part five)

With today's installment, I'll conclude this exploration that began as a simple response to a question I had posed to myself about how artists in years past may have zeroed in on bridges and bridge structure as a subject for a painting. I've come across many fine and quite inspiring works as I've traveled around the Internet and picked out some of my favorite works to spotlight these last few days from dozens and dozens of paintings, some of which I was familiar with before, but many of which were fresh and new to me.

In this first trio of early 20th Century American works seen above, figure 59 is by John Sloan, one of the founders of the so-called AshcanSchool whose artist cadre portrayed scenes of daily life, not dissimilar to what the Impressionists had done some forty to fifty years earlier. In Wet Night on the Bowery, Sloan brushed a moody work where the strong, dark triangular thrust of the elevated structure really dominates the composition and drives the viewer's eye into the work. A similar compositional structure and feel is seen in figure 60, a work by Johann Berthelsen, who was also known for his iconic paintings of New York City and its environs. In his painting of one of the East River bridges of Manhattan, the under bridge scene has great strength, accomplished by the severe thrust of the bridge as in the Sloan work, drawing the viewer into and through the work.

The third work (figure 61), Bridge - Blackwell's Island by George Bellows another of the Ashcan School artists, takes a similar under bridge view to emphasize the strength of the structure and to act as the key to bring a viewer into the work. I like the "husky" quality of all three of these works, very masculine in feel and very emotive of the character and strength of the bridges and the city that hosted them.

Morning on the River (figure 62), by Norwegian-American Jonas Lie, is the first of the next trio of works seen below. In it, the Brooklyn Bridge holds sway once again and its sharp, angular directive brings the viewer right into the heart of the painting. Queensboro Bridge by Edward Hopper (figure 63) echoes the composition of Lie's work and yet again, acts as the spark point to bring the viewer into the work and move the eye throughout. 

The final work by Britain's Sir Cedric Morris, Les Ponts de Ceret (figure 64), reconnects both sides of the Atlantic during the early decades of the 20th Century once again through his straight-on, very direct portrait of the two bridges.

Before a few closing words, this last quartet of works, above, with bridges as a theme represent how more expressionist artists chose to feature atmospheric renderings of bridge structure. Seen in figure 65 is one of the numerous paintings of the Brooklyn Bridge that Joseph Stella brushed during the first half of the 20th Century. Known for his focus on industrial American imagery, he painted the bridge again and again, and as quoted from a label card on one of his other Brooklyn Bridge works in the collection of the Whitney Museum in New York, "In the engineering marvel of the Brooklyn Bridge, which he first depicted in 1918 and returned to throughout his career, he found a contemporary technological monument that embodied the modern human spirit." 

Georgia O'Keeffe's Brooklyn Bridge (figure 66), considered to be her farewell to New York City as one of the last paintings done before her permanent move to New Mexico at the midpoint of the 20th Century, focused on the typically pared-down, essential aspects of the subjects she chose to spotlight, in this case the towers of the iconic bridge.

Lyonel Feininger, perhaps one of the most well known exponents of the Expressionist movement, featured bridge anatomy in his 1913 canvas seen in figure 67, and in figure 68, Frenchman Albert Gleizes, expressed his vision of the Brooklyn Bridge through bold brush strokes and geometric forms reminiscent of Picasso's work and that of the other Cubists.

It's been an interesting journey for me as an artist, going back into the history of several hundred years of art, looking for examples of how others have come to express their having been inspired to include bridges in their work. As one who finds great inspiration in the structural aspects of bridges and their integration into their surrounding landscape as possible subjects for my own work, it's been a rewarding journey as well in that it has helped to rekindle the desire to compose ideas around that central theme once again. I've already been looking through much of the reference material gathered all those years ago and have begun to see possibilities for new works. 

In going back and looking over all the works that I've chosen to spotlight here, it has been interesting too, to see how each of the artists represented chose to approach the inclusion of a bridge or part of a bridge or its position within the landscape in their particular paintings; did the bridge become the major element, did it act as a stage set for other elements to take the spotlight, did it act as a directive to help bring a viewer into a work, did it take on an importance beyond its mere presence in the work, did it represent a pure portrait of the structure? In the end, the works shown here embodied all of those possible compositional ideas, giving each artist their own way of engaging that subject matter into their work and allowing for the sort of creative exploration that inspires, gratifies, and challenges.

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