In a small art group that Jer and I belong to, we were given a challenge: for the next meeting, we were each to create some form of art based on “biscuits.” That meeting will be next week. I have to make some art. Using “biscuits” I came up with an anagram: “is Cubist.” I will make a Cubist-style painting, containing biscuits.
I thought the exercise would be simple. I would look at some Cubist works, get a couple books from the library and raid my bookshelves to see what others had to say, decide on motifs beyond the biscuits, and do a few sketches. Then, I would be ready to paint.
I turned to the internet to see what “making a Cubist painting” would turn up. ArtLex’s definition of Cubism is as good as any although none cover the full range of possible elements. Lots of middle-school curricula appear on the internet, it turns out, with detailed descriptions of assignments, most of them focusing on fragmentation and monochromism. Good for vocabulary, I thought, but not so useful for actually making the painting. Also a description of how to mock up a Cubist work on Photoshop, print it out, and then paint it. I’m reserving that one for when all else fails.
My pencil-sketches and sketch-paintings now number 20 and are still so rough that I shudder to look at them. The books had bits and pieces of useful information but tend to be dense and hard to wade through to get to the helpful stuff. Finding the most appropriate motifs turn out to have its own difficulties. I have settled on the biscuits, strawberries for color, and a vase or jug to give verticality. For its shape, I added the Betty Crocker (Bisquick) spoon to the motifs. I will be doing a still life, of course.
Assembling these items into something a casual on-looker would look at as cubist is yet to be accomplished.
Here’s some of what I have to think about: the interplay of a mulitiplicity of fragmented elements, pulled together across the picture plane, fitting into one another while retaining integrity, playing with motifs while transmuting them, – space, shading, monochromes, taut geometries somehow both beneath the primary forms but strongly influencing them, all elements that are not necessarily part of the fragmentation of the image but are necessary to carry out the picture plane.
And that doesn’t begin to deal with the real questions of art — what is it I am trying to evoke, to communicate, to unveil, to show?
“Where/how to begin?” How to make the translucencies, the transparencies, that pierce and interplay. According to Lucia Salemme (in her excellent book of exercises called Composition,) a light source is essential. That much I can manage.
Geometries — the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, the cube. A contemporary of the Cubists, Andre Salmon, called cubism “painting as algebra.” I have not been good at math since 10th grade. My feeling for math is very like my feeling for Cubism. I respect but don’t love either.
I was relieved, however, to find that the Cubists permitted recognizable tables, and even used table legs and chairs as part of their still life compositions. It seemed important to them that bits of objects be recognizable (an eye, a breast, guitar frets, a pear, a table leg). Other bits seem to be fillers, negative space, carefully considered no doubt, but not just another jigsawed fragment. And collage, something any self-respecting quilt artist can do in her sleep, became one of the aspects of later Cubist art.
I have to find a focus — “the means of organizing a canvas in terms of interacting and transparent facets or planes, which could be made to suggest movement and depth while preserving the unity of the picture plane.” (John Golding, Cubism). This focus will, of course, be integrated with all the other elements of translucency, interpenetration, angularity, volume, and fragmentation.
So I am embarked this week on the journey. I have an itinerary and a final station, but the details of the passing landscape are yet to be discovered. I have photographs of vases and jugs. I have made and sketched biscuits to my satisfaction. I have tried out angularities and volumic spaces. I have a big bowl of strawberries. I’m ready to roll.