Wild Beasts of the Jazz Age – Matisse and Fauvism

Riverwalk by SAMA

The Matisse: Life in Color exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art, on loan from the Baltimore Museum of Art features more than 80 drawings, paintings and sculptures.  The extensive Cone Sisters collection contributes the bulk of these phenomenal works and will only be in San Antonio until September 7, 2014.  A pop up cafe  (The Wild Beast) and Matisse themed treats are offered around town, in the spirit of the man whose exquisite sense of color started a movement all its own.

Fauvism poster at the Wild Beast Cafe

Fauvism was a short lived but potent bridge between the impressionist and later avant-garde movements of the early 20th Century.  Henri Matisse was the acknowledged leader and the yin to Pablo Picasso’s Cubist yang. Wild beasts were loosed into Europe, through the advent of psychoanalysis, World War I and the Jazz Age.  Vibrant, living, emotive color flowed from the Impressionists into the palettes of these passionate, unruly artists.  In 1906, the 20th Century was full of promise, psychology having just lifted the lid off the unconscious mind.  ElevatorWild beasts fighting the repression of the Victorian era found a welcome home in Paris, which later became an international haven for writers, artists and African American jazz musicians in the 1920’s.  I’ve separated the photos I took at the exhibit into 2 parts.  The gallery below focuses on the undulating rhythms of color and form, the beasts.  The second post will focus on the emergence of the dark feminine, the liberated erotic woman of the new era.  Asian and Africa design themes influenced European culture in ways never imagined by colonialists who kept Queen and country sacrosanct.

Paris was the crucible of art, literature, philosophy and fashion in the early 1900s. France and Spain were always more open to the exotic influences of the Orient and of Africa than the English and Dutch colonialists. Artists began to see the world in ways that could be considered prescient, given the perspectives  science and technology afford us today. Light, form and color were transformed to capture the life of the mind, the spirit and speak directly to the flesh. It’s that experience of color splashing into the body, senses undulating with the rhythm of the paintings, the secret language of artistic seduction that a live viewing of these works convey.   Energizing the body, mind and spirit and lifting us out of the doldrums that being human imposes – this is the gift of art.  Go and see for yourself.  MatisseBed

I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it.

The Guggenheim – Kandinsky in Paris

Before, during and after World War I, artists sought to create paradigms that would move European culture in a new direction, a tabula rasa for the arts. The German Bauhaus, the Dadaists at the Cafe Voltaire in Zurich and the post impressionists performed a fresh aesthetic that would integrate art, architecture, music, philosophy and spiritual psychology. The Avant garde, infused with musical and intellectual dissonance clashed with nationalistic myths perpetuated by nascent fascist regimes. Wassily Kandinsky sought to express the soul of art, each piece becoming the sum of its prior parts.  Having studied music and the law as a young man growing up in an affluent Russian family, he found new life in art and resonance with Madam Blavatsky and the Theosophists as he  describes in his book The Art of Spiritual Harmony. While he remains a noted theorist among symbolist artists, his insistence on remaining true to the expression of the most vital inner compulsion of his soul and in translating music visually is most apparent in the development and increasing abstraction of his work.

European art in the late 19th and early 20th Century expressed the transformation of naturalism as it was expressed in the Art Nouveau period into more symbolic and abstract styles of the Modern Art movement.

The dissonance of the modern era is lyrically expressed in the explosion of sub-conscious imagery in the turn of the 20th Century. Electrified music has done the same for the 21st. Kandinsky sought to project the impulse of his soul, much like James Turrell projects his inner light onto the public canvas. Will we recognize the essence of our humanity in their expression?

If the emotional power of the artist can overwhelm the “how?” and can give free scope to his finer feelings, then art is on the crest of the road by which she will not fail later on to find the “what” she has lost, the “what” which will show the way to the spiritual food of the newly awakened spiritual life. This “what?” will no longer be the material, objective “what” of the former period, but the internal truth of art, the soul without which the body (i.e. the “how”) can never be healthy, whether in an individual or in a whole people.