How many times have you heard the phrase ‘…with a nod towards…’, ‘…heavily influenced by…’ or ‘…has borrowed from…’? We hear this in galleries and when reading about Art and Design but how are these connections formed and why? The process of connecting is inevitable because Art surrounds and influences us in our daily lives through what we see. The girls in school use similarities and differences between artists and designers as starting points for their investigations. As a teacher, it is interesting to see how this process unfolds in the classroom and through independent study.
Graphics and Advertising are perfect examples of how ideas interrelate and share characteristics. Consider the Warhol influence in a Marmite poster where the famous jar is repeated four times, mirroring the classic compositional device used by the Pop artist in his ‘Elvis’ series below. U4N and U4H girls are currently using Pop Art devices in their ‘Animals’ project with Mr Laubscher.
We can also use Christian Dior as an example where a perfume advertisement for ‘Dune’ borrows ideas and dual meanings from the photographer Bill Brandt, both using the female form to signify the curves of pebbles, features or sand dunes on a beach. Dior’s woman is an abstraction of the coastal landscape. A surreal image is created, as the eyebrow and lash are the only clues we have to identify it as essentially feminine. The scent is evocative of a dune, signifying open air and freshness. As a viewer and potential consumer we are lured into this world of persuasion that plays on our daydreams, offering us an improved alternative to what we signify in life. Our desire makes us momentarily envy and fantasise about an improved self-image; it is precisely this process that motivates consumerism. Dior and Brandt investigate form and shape and their ambiguities. Additionally, both play on the Surrealism of Dali who also used human forms to play tricks on the viewer.
Artists frequently rely on what has come before them and, whether working as solitary practitioners or grouping with contemporaries to form Movements, we see these connections through subject matter, techniques or concept.
Monet and Renoir worked alongside each other harmoniously and were prominent Impressionists. They both painted scenes of Parisian life, for example at La Grenouillere, where their visible brushwork on the surface of the canvas is seen now to be an accepted style but was rejected by critics at the time. Whilst we can celebrate the similar approach in technique by these two friends, a marked difference between them is their choice of palette. Renoir was the only Impressionist who favoured the use of pure black.
‘La Grenouillere’ 1869
Pierre Auguste Renoir Claude Monet
I remember an exhibition at the Tate Modern which played beautifully on the idea of similarities, and influence. Despite some work in the rooms having no obvious connection, upon closer inspection relationships emerged. ‘Waterfall Line’ was exhibited in a room entitled ‘Richard Long and Claude Monet’ in the ‘Landscape/Matter/Environment’ display. I liked the fact that the audience were invited to search and explore connections between subject matter, materials and processes. It made me think about some works that I had seen hung differently in the past (previously in different galleries) that were now playing with or against each other in the same space. The two pieces which illustrated this point for me personally were one of Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ 1916 and Richard Long’s ‘Waterfall Line’ 2000.
Claude Monet ‘Waterlilies’ Oils on Canvas after 1916
‘Filling the canvas, the pond becomes a world in itself, inspiring a sense of immersion in nature. At times verging on abstraction…’ (Tate Modern on Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’).
Richard Long ‘Waterfall Line’ 2000 River Mud on Emulsion
‘…the artist slung white river mud, scrubbing and wiping it with his gloved hands to create a swirling, striped pattern resembling the trace left by an enlarged and simplified paintbrush…allowing the mud to splatter down the broader strip of black background below… A line of solid white expanding into millions of tiny dots at the very base of the work…resembles the intense spray at the base of a waterfall, where liquid hits a surface of strong resistance and is shot back upwards.’ (Tate Modern).
Both are huge pieces that consume you but nearly one hundred years separate them. Both share nature as subject matter but palette choice, application speed and style reveal their position in Art History and yet I felt their connection through their dimensions and the expressive semi abstraction which dominate both compositions. You get lost in the mark making. It was thrilling and underlined the fact that you cannot appreciate Art fully unless you view it in the flesh.
Film also plays a part in this game of influence and one of my favourite examples is the Design connection between two unlikely relatives. Fritz Lang’s ‘the False Maria’ futuristic robot in his 1927 film ‘Metropolis’ and George Lucas’ C-3PO in ‘Star Wars’.
‘Maria’ From ‘Metropolis’ 1927 George Lucas’ C-3PO from ‘A New Hope’ 1977
Bringing this back to school life, the girls at Northampton High School frequently connect their work to historical and contemporary sources, the Edexcel assessment objectives demand it at GCSE and A Level. Many of our painters who connect with Francis Bacon are asked to research Eisenstein’s woman screaming in ‘Battleship Potemkin.’ 1925.
Left: Still from “Battleship Potemkin,” directed by S.M. Eisenstein, 1925. Right: Study for the Nurse (detail), Francis Bacon, 1957
The nurse shot in the face with broken spectacles from the Odessa Steps sequence in the film inspired Francis Bacon as above but also influenced his ‘Pope Innocent X’ in 1953, which in turn derives from Velázquez just over 300 years earlier.
Pope Innocent X, Francis Bacon, 1953 Portrait of Innocent X, Diego Velázquez, c 1650
Erin Barton included the C-3PO/Metropolis connection in her GCSE examination book and Julia Wardley-Kershaw is currently connecting Kraftwerk stage shows with lines and shapes in dance, architecture, nature and sculpture. This is what makes the Arts so exciting. We play around with relationships and enjoy the process of looking for new paths whilst not forgetting the origins and influences of the older, well-trodden routes.
Mel Beacroft. Head of Arts Faculty