Development of "Guanajuato Cubed"

Well, at long last, I’m trying to get some blogging done here. Welcome, if you’re here.

I’ve just finished a large (for me) canvas, entitled “Guanajuato Cubed”. It is, as one may surmise from the title, a piece that is inspired in part by looking at Cubist works by other artists. Since I have not only had extensive training in studio arts, but also have an Art History degree, I am as much a student of the arts as a practitioner, so I spent some time reading about and looking at early cubist art while I was developing this.

I have a series of paintings that have been inspired by my time spent in Guanajuato, Mexico (birthplace of famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera), studying Mexican Art History at the University of Guanajuato. Actually, there have been two series that resulted from that trip. One is a series of abstracts entitled “Mexico”, and the other a series of whimsical and impressionistic, near-abstracts that go under the “Guanajuato” label (Guanajuato #1, #2, etc.).

These were fine; I enjoyed doing them, and learned a lot from them, but I was hitting a dead end in terms of what I was doing. I started reading about the early cubists, not just Picasso but Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, and many others.

And so, as I frequently do, I began a series of visual “conversations” with cubism. And my first results were horrible. I tried approaching my subjects in much the way I first approach most of my abstracts, just jumping in and learning to swim as it were. I failed miserably.

So, I went back and began looking more closely, reading more about them, about Paris at the start of the 20th century, about philosophical and social and cultural events at the time (there’s my Art Historian coming through), and then went back to the canvas.

Paint. Fail. Recover. Repeat.

I’m certainly not under any delusions that I can “repeat” or “recreate” what the cubists were doing; there is no way to go back to Paris of 1908 or 1910, no way I can put myself in that place and time. But, there is still a lot one can learn (at some point, I think, all visual artists must confront the long shadow of Picasso. I was doing this more or less in a passing way. I still have on my to-do list to do a more in-depth exploration of all that Picasso was and did, but that’s for a later time). Still, I did find that I had to unlearn a lot of what I “knew” about representational painting and drawing to begin to get the feel of what the cubists were doing. And I wasn’t just trying to imitate a visual style, I was trying to understand the ‘why’ behind their visual experiments.

I found I had to go back and sketch out some ideas first, before committing them to paint. This is a very traditional way of developing canvases, or course, but I had deliberately un-learned that at a previous time. My approach to abstracts has been to find a palette of colors I respond to, and then to begin flinging them on the canvas. Then you step back, see where things are going, react to what is happening rather than your preconceived notions of what you expected to happen, and just keep adjusting and reacting as you go along until the whole thing starts to work. There is always a point at which you are sure you have ruined the canvas; the challenge is to find a way to recover it, to bring it back.

That wasn’t working at all with the cubist piece. I had to think alot more about specific images, about passages within the overall piece, and really think through how I wanted them to work. I began with images of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato, and distorting them to get a sense of viewing it from several angles, and several different times of the day, at once.