The goal of my artwork is to educate the viewer about the evolution of Avant Garde art. Avant Garde is art which pushes the boundaries and limits of what is traditionally expected and accepted as art. For thousands of years art evolved from cave paintings into more elegant and realistic depictions of the world. Examples range from the realistic sculptures of the ancient Greeks (850-31 B.C.), to the realistic portrait and landscape paintings of the Renaissance (1400-1550).
But art began to change and the expected realism depicted in the artworks themselves would take suggestive and abstract forms. We can see this change toward the end of the Renaissance with Bosch who is considered the grandfather of surrealism, and El Greco the grandfather of expressionism. We can see later manifestations of art which begin to break the norm during the Baroque period (1600-1750) with the advancements of color theory by Vermeer, the extreme emphasis of shadow by Caravaggio, and the textures of Rembrandt. In other words, these artists began to express the world through more creative applications of paint and less with realistic depictions of exactly what they were looking at as the earlier Renaissance artists like Raphael, Michelangelo and Da Vinci were doing.
Realism did continue during and after the Baroque period however with artists like David and Ingres of the Neoclassical period (1750-1850) whose art is in every way perfectly realistic, as well as artists like Gericault and Delacroix of the Romantic period (1780-1850). But during the Romantic period we see a unique and drastic change in the works of Joseph Turner whose use of brushstrokes actually resembles that of the later Impressionists. We then have the Realism period (1848-1900) with artists like Corot and Courbet, but soon however we see a dramatic change in art beginning with the Impressionists (1865-1885).
The influence the dramatic textures and brushstrokes of Turner as well as the much earlier El Greco had on the impressionist period is obvious; and it is with these Avant Garde aspects, which push what typically is considered the “norm” for art, in the turbulent wind scenes of storms in Turners work, to the visible and expressive brushstrokes of El Greco and the emphasis of capturing movement and changes in light from the Impressionists that I find inspiration and attempt to depict in my own artwork. The visible brushstrokes and textures seen in Impressionist paintings create a unique phenomenon that realism does not since realism depicts the world as a photograph leaving little room for creative interpretation by the viewer. While Impressionism does not depict the world photographically as Realism does, we are still able to understand what we are looking at when we look at an Impressionist painting. The human brain has the ability to create a mental image from incomplete information in order to register a coherent understanding of what it is looking at. Because of this phenomenon, the viewer of an Impressionist painting becomes a part of the creative process when viewing the image, which is not possible with Realism.
I incorporate these elements into my artwork to illustrate the beginning of Avant Garde, and as we continue we will see new developments that come out of this age from each of the subsequent time periods which I also use in my artwork to illustrate the story of art history. Historically it is important to note before we go any further that part of the reason artists began to paint and sculpt creatively in this way is partly because of the invention and popularity of the commercial camera during the mid 1800’s. The question which arises from this historical moment is “What is art?” Although artists before this time period spent countless hours creating realistic depictions of the world, the end result is still no different than pushing a button on a camera. Is art simply meant to be an exact replica of the world, or can it be an expression of what we feel within ourselves? That is what Vincent Van Gogh believed.
We see further artistic developments in Avant Garde during the Post-Impressionist period (1885-1910), like that of Van Gogh who painted using vivid colors directly from the tube with minimal mixing. Van Gogh painted in this way to evoke an emotion or feeling from the viewer. He did this by using an obvious and simple method in color theory by pairing color opposites together. This is another aspect of Avant Garde that I use in my own artwork. Like Van Gogh, I attempt to evoke an emotion in the viewer. Another post-impressionist whose style I implement into my artwork is Henri Rousseau as he was incredibly influential to Pablo Picasso and also to the later surrealist artists. Rousseau was not a formally trained painter but he was recognized as a genius by his peers. His informal training is obvious as his figures were anatomically disproportionate and blocky and looked as though a child had painted them. This aspect of his work was heavily influential to Picasso who was in fact formally trained. The idea that Pablo Picasso came to and one of his many contributions to art was to depict purposely naïve and primitive images that were not tainted by formal training in order to achieve the most pure and natural expression of art, much like that of ancient cave paintings. Picasso had to unlearn how to paint academically in order to achieve this and his influence from Rousseau is also an element I use in my own artwork. As we can see in my artwork there is a collage of ink pen drawings applied with adhesive to a painted canvas which is also a reference to Pablo Picasso of the 20th century cubist period who was the first to use collage in oil painting as well as his contemporary George Braque who was the first to experiment with collage on charcoal drawings. This revolutionary artistic development changed the potential of art and how art could be created through different mediums.
The next important time period in our story is Fauvism (1900-1935) where Henri Matisse found a unique color theory from that of the Post-Impressionists. While Van Gogh used color opposites of the primary and secondary colors, Matisse experimented with color opposites of the tertiary colors, and even multiple sets of color opposites in the same painting. However in doing so Matisse came to a problem since such images are too rich and confusing and so creates an image difficult to understand. He solved this by introducing neutral colors like black and white within his art which act as centers of coherency in his wildly colorful paintings. This is why we see solid black and white shapes that could be anything from a subtle outline to a physical object in his artwork. It is this very theme that I use in my own paintings and why some of the figures and objects in my pieces are black and white ink pen drawings. Like Matisse I am also using this unique color theory and as you can see the ink pen drawings which are paper cut outs are also a reference to Matisse who later in his life as he became bedridden worked less with paint and more with paper cut outs.
The next historical time period during Avant Garde whose developments I use in my own artwork is Surrealism (1917-1950). The goal of Surrealism is to explore the realm of the human psyche. Influenced heavily by the ideas found in psychology and of Sigmund Freud, the surrealist movement grappled with aspects of dreams and reality as well as the carnal desires of the human subconscious. However, I use surrealist themes in my work not just as a reference to the surrealist movement but also because of the effect my own dreams have had on me since a back surgery I had from a sports injury during college. Since my surgery I have experienced incredibly intense and prophetic dreams, from traveling to distant alien worlds throughout space, to time-travelling and communicating with higher powers which is the source of inspiration for my art. I am a skeptic however so I do not believe these experiences to be anything more significant than simple dreams, but I do wonder why a skeptic such as myself would even have dreams like this?
The next and final element I use within the medium of my work is acrylic paint which is a reference to the modern contemporary painters such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, David Hockney, James Rosenquist and others. These artists all experimented with non-traditional forms of paint like acrylic without being limited by tradition. Avant Garde allows us the freedom to create and express ourselves through any medium we wish to use. This is what allows us to grow as an artistic community without being trapped in the same formal and repetitive art forms of academic art. That being said, I believe Avant Garde is at the same time a tragedy of art history because its potential for contribution to the world is not something I believe has yet been actualized. The elements of Avant Garde are used in my work not just to educate the viewer but so that these developments are not made in vain. The potential of these artists and the modern market value of their art could benefit the world in profound ways. Imagine the millions invested in artwork going towards a cause that could cure disease. Imagine a world where AIDS, cancers, congenital disorders, personal injuries are all curable. Imagine a world where people no longer need to be on disability or disabled like myself but instead can be healed and return to work. Imagine a world where our society and economics run more efficiently without the disabling effects from our current medical system. This is the world that I envision achievable through the field of stem cell and regenerative medicine and the collective support of the contemporary art community. It is from the injury I endured which I use as the source of inspiration for my art to work with organizations focused on scientific research to find cures for disease.
Currently I am a developmental therapist for autistic/down syndrome children and also been involved in the Son-Rise program for Autistic children where I worked with them on their artistic and life skills. I do the work that I do because art has the ability to bring these children out of their challenges and give them focus and a level of functioning they can use to be a productive member of society. I advocate and fundraise for stem cell research because I believe one day we will no longer need developmental therapy, medicine, or disability. Regenerative medicine has the potential to cure disease which would benefit the overall health of our communities and the world. My artwork is duel in its goal to raise funding and also educate because I use the elements of the masters in my own work as a conceptual collage. The viewer can see the elements of each of the masters in my artwork and can use my artwork as a source of reference to these elements. My art is therefore educational and functional. This is how I teach because it not only educates on how to paint and draw but it also teaches who developed each of these elements and when they were developed in a historical context.
It is through the revolutionary artistic developments found in Avant Garde, from the Impressionists to the Surrealists and beyond, that I hope my artwork can educate viewers to Avant Garde’s importance, why it began, why it is important to art and art history, how it evolved and why it will give purpose and an achievable goal to art, changing the art worlds philosophy of art for arts sake to art for a dream.