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Chapter 16 - Minimalism


Table of Contents:


Introduction:

The aim of graphic design is to elucidate a specific visual message and communicate it to a wide range of audiences. Given that the capacity of  various communication vehicles  for conveying a message is limited, and the viewers time for the gleaning of a message is scarce, the artist needs to clarify the core of a message with maximum efficiency so that a viewer would be able to absorb it as fast as possible. In 1971, the oft-quoted political scientist Herbert Simon predicted that in an information age, cultural producers, such as designers,  filmmakers, theater producers, musicians, and so on , would quickly face a shortage of attention. "What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients," he wrote. The more information, the less attention, and "the need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."

Thus, to capture this rarefied  attention, the massage needs to be clearly exposed, that is to be laid open to view and to be unconcealed and uninterrupted by irrelevant disturbances. The artist must try to resolve any lingering question in the minds of the viewers using the most adequate dimensions at her disposal. The idea of minimalism shed lights on the problem of dimensions in a graphic design context.

rom left to right, C.E. Chambers (1932), Harrison Fisher (1918), and N. C. Wyeth (1933) American Red Cross Posters,



For the start, consider the above posters which are designed to convey a rather identical message. The poster on the left side is the work of C.E. Chambers, in which a Red Cross Nurse looks at you, the viewer, straight in the eyes while stretching her right hand towards you, and its caption reads; YOUR RED CROSS NEEDS YOU. Note that the message is delivered in the spirit of the US individualism. The emphasis is on the viewer -- i.e., an individualist American. In contrast, the poster in the center contains a quotation from the US president, Woodrow Wilson, of the First World War era, which reads: "I Summon you to Comradeship in the Red Cross". The artist, Harrison Ford wraps the body of his female subject in the old glory, so it is immediately clear that he is appealing to the viewer's patriotic sentiment. The character appears to represent an all American girl, who has put her hand on her heart and sings, most probably, the national anthem. An image of the US congress is depicted in the back ground, which suggests that the president's message has the blessing of the US Congress, where the nation's democratic representatives reside, indicating that this is a democratic message, and a red cross on the upper left corner adds an extra spiritual dimension to the whole composition. Finally, the design of N. C. Wyeth poster on the right hand side, appears somewhat busy, showing a series of Red Cross flags at a rather complicated trajectory, perhaps moving towards clouds. The caption reads; The American Red Cross Carries on, Join!

When I show these images to my students, most would agree that the first image is the most powerful of all, and if you ask them why, most appear to be impressed with the simplicity and the clarity of its design. The poster in the middle comes the second, as most students think that the various messages of this poster are still clearly elucidated, but they feel it is on the whole somewhat less communicative. Finally, they all find the image of the last poster rather complex and aesthetically unbalanced. What is striking in the first two posters is that if you stripe them out of all their texts, still one may convey their messages - albeit this is more true for the Chamber's poster because of its striking simplicity of design. As the poster  designer  David Lance  Goines  has argued posters must be minimalist to be effective :
One of the most recent posters I just did was for the Fillmore Jazz Festival. It’s got a picture of a guy playing the piano and a piano keyboard above him and the word "Jazz"  in big letters. If you’ve got a little more time, it says “Fillmore Jazz Festival.” That’s all it says. It doesn’t tell you where. It’s doesn’t tell you when. It doesn’t say go. It doesn’t tell you what it costs. If you want more information, you can find it elsewhere. The poster is not the place for that information. If you want to figure out what’s going on in the poster, you can look at it more, but I would say that you would get an entire message in maybe a tenth of a second, maybe less if you’re fast. You can take it in all at once and not think about it ever again, or you can say, “Wait a minute. This has got some interesting stuff going on.” You can look at it if you want to, but you don’t have to. I don’t demand that you look. I’d give you the whole message in much less than a second.




Occam's and Einstein's razors; A Paradigm for Minimalism

All this, is just to introduce the concept of minimalism. What is today known as "Occam's razor" was a common minimalist principle in the medieval philosophy, which was then formulated by the medieval English philosopher and Franciscan monk William of Occam (1285-1349) as; "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate" or "plurality should not be posited without necessity." In other words 'Everything should be made as simple as possible'
"Einstein's razor", agrees with Occam, but warns about too much simplicity. It says "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." This has become known as the "KISS principle": Keep It Simple, Stupid — but never oversimplify.

Now how could an artist make her design as simple as possible -- but no simpler? To answer this question we should first note that in every works of art the artist utilizes a number of dimensions. The minimalist principle requires that the artist should be very choosy about the dimensions of her work and utilizes as few as possible of these dimensions, but not fewer. For instance the artist Piet Mondrian created paintings of absolute simplicity, where the form was reduced to the most essential dimensions; the vertical line, the horizontal line, and a limited range of the primary colors, plus white, gray and black.
The simple mosaic patterns of his work were painted frugally to suggest a chromatic tension. The varying thicknesses of their black borderlines imposed a delicate balance. Mondrian's message was then an abstract aesthetic derived from; “showing the dynamic balance of vertical and horizontal linear structure and simple, fundamental colour.”


Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue
1921; Oil on canvas

Understanding the Concept of Dimension

Most viewers are accustomed to three dimensions, and this is the way most of us perceive our universe. The cave rock artists were among the first people who became aware of the role of dimensions and the limitations they impose on an art work. The basic dimensions of a surface in cave rock painting were horizontal and vertical. The surrounding world, however, had a third dimension -- i.e., depth. Thus, when the cave artists tried to represent a three dimensional world of their surroundings into two dimensional surfaces of their cave walls, the idea of depth needed to be imposed on the image by other devices. Artists gradually invented and developed other dimensions that could be substituted for this missing spatial dimension. These new dimensions include distance, scale, luminosity of colors, idea of distance and so on and so forth.

So what is a dimension? Euclidean geometry provides us with a good visual grasp of the three spatial dimensions, but it is not capable of depicting time. Animation on the other hand can provide us with a visual depiction of time in a four dimensional structure, but it is not able to depict other dimensions such as fragrance or temperature. A viewer watching a scene from a hot tropical Savannah or a freezing arctic tundra does not feel any real sense of warmth or cold. Mathematicians have the most practical and perhaps the most precis definition of dimension . A dimension is defined as an explanatory variable that in combination with other explanatory variables would explain a dependent variable. For a non-mathematician this might be hard to grasp, but consider the concept of an apple, which is a dependent variable. It depends on independent variables like taste, aroma, size, color, texture and the shape. When a viewer sees an object, he uses these variables, which constitute his "information set", and decide if the object that he sees is an apple or something else. Mathematicians, argue that an independent dimension would be "orthogonal" to all other dimensions. That means a real dimension does not depend on any other dimension. For instance fragrance and size share no characteristics and do not depend on each other at each point in time.
Artists try to reduce the unnecessary dimensions in their works, and at the same time they want to introduce some new dimensions that would lead to discovery of new horizons, new understandings, and alternative universes. It was Paul Cézanne who in a letter to Emile Bernard wrote:
Treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything brought into proper perspective ... nature for us men is more depth than surface, whence the need to introduce into our light vibrations, represented by the reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of blueness to give the feel of air.
Perhaps he was also the father of minimalism as is evidenced by his masterpiece Bathers of 1904.


Paul Cézanne, Bathers, Oil on Canvas, 1906


The aesthetic of the Minimalists art has been quite powerful. It appears that the simplicity of a design can provoke a more intense reaction in the viewer . For example, in Pablo Picasso's serigraph, Le Taureu, many viewers find the more simplified bulls of the right hand side more agreeable and more striking.

Pablo Picasso, Le Taureu, serigraph, 1945



Notice that Picasso appears to adhere to Einstein's razor, and does not oversimplify after the fourth column in his serigraph. Many of my students upon examining a Matisse cutout called 'Nu Bleu I ' feel that he has only utilized three dimensions, the length, the width , and the color blue. However, in fact Matisse has also utilized the background color, white, the figure's pose, and the shape of her body as extra dimensions. Changing any of these new dimensions would change the image aesthetics in some fundamental way, as indeed is the case with his
'Nu Bleu II ' and 'Nu Bleu III '.


Henri Matisse, Nu bleu I, cutout, 1952



The serigraph of Georges Braque called 'L'oiseaux bleu et gris', has four extra dimensions, i.e two extra colors, black and gray, plus an impression of a texture.

Georges Braque, 'L'oiseaux bleu et gris', c. 1955




Picasso in his serigraph 'L'acrobat ' uses only two color dimensions, plus the figure's pose, and the shape of the body, but he also introduces two totally new dimensions; one the enigmatic contortion of the figure's body and the other its facial expression. The combination of these new dimensions not only add to the aesthetics of the work, but also evoke some philosophical questions. For example, does the balancing act of the figure, or his equilibrating pose, cause his serene facial expression or vice versa?



Pablo Picasso, L'Acrobat, 1930


Marcel Duchamp, Pourquoi ne pas éternuer Rose Sélavy? (Why not sneeze Rose Sélavy?), 1921







Marcel Duchamp with his multidimensional readymade constructions and his La boîte-en-valise, during the catastrophic era of the first world war, wanted to “put painting at the service of the mind”, and in order to do this he employed some unconventional dimensions which helped him to express the meaninglessness of war, destruction and displacement. In 1917, under the pseudo name of M. Mutt, he signed an urinal and called it a fountain. His main purpose was to find new a meaning by looking at things differently. In trying to explain this he wrote in an article in the Blind Man;
Le fait que Monsieur Mutt ait modelé ou non la fontaine de ses mains n'a aucune importance. Il l'a CHOISIE. Il a pris un article courant de la vie et fait disparaître sa signification utilitaire sous un nouveau titre. De ce point de vue, il lui a donné un sens nouveau.

The fact that Mr. Mutt has or hasn't shaped the fountain with his own hand is of no relevance. He has CHOSEN that object. He has taken an object used in everyday life, and has made its utilization significance to disappear under a new title. From this point of view, he has given it a new meaning.

The Blind Man, n° 2, cited by Janis Mink, Duchamp, 1887-1968, L’art contre l’art, Ed. Taschen, 1995,
In 1921, he made the above piece, Pourquoi ne pas éternuer ? (Why not sneeze ?). To make it, he filled a small wire birdcage with blocks of white marble cut to the same dimensions as sugar cubes. Rose Sélavy is a pun on Eros c'est la vie ('lovemaking is life'). However, the thermometer, the cold marble, and the whiteness of the cage and cuttlebone all suggest frigidity. The birdcage is a symbol of constraint, and suggestive of a sexual inhibition. Between 1935 and 1940, Duchamp created a deluxe edition of twenty boxes, each in a brown leather carrying case but with slight variations in design and Boîte-en-valise, or box in a suitcase, which is a portable miniature monograph including sixty-nine reproductions of the artist's own work. A later edition consisting of six different series was created during the 1950s and 1960s; these eliminated the suitcase, used different colored fabrics for the cover, and altered the number of items inside. Each box unfolds to reveal pull-out standing frames displaying Nude Descending a Staircase and other works, reduced size Readymades hung in a vertical "gallery," and loose prints mounted on paper. Duchamp included in each deluxe box one "original."

Duchamp's new dimensions were the enigmatic and nostalgic attributes associated with various objects, which were suggestive of their complex interrelationships. They made the viewer to think hard about the piece and determine what it is Duchamp is trying to show and what the significance of such juxtapositions of objects could possibly be.



A History of Minimalism



Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915


In 1915, Kazimir Malevich, created his Black Square, which became one of the most celebrated piece of Russian art in the 20th century . This was the first image in the European art that had minimized the number of dimensions to only three. Black Square against white background became the symbol of non-representational art of the past century and an icon representing Modernism which by the late 20th century descended into the realm of absurd and vulgar.


Malevich created four replicas of the Black Square, between 1915 to the early 1930s. In those early innocent and naive days of minimalism his repeated production of the Black Square were regarded as a sort of assertive courage. He also created a Red Square that was subtitled; Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions. He called his style Suprematism, and wrote:
To the Suprematist, the appropriate means of representation is always the one which gives fullest possible expression to feeling as such and which ignores the familiar appearance of objects. Objectivity, in itself, is meaningless to him; the concepts of the conscious mind are worthless. Feeling is the determining factor ... and thus art arrives at non objective representation at Suprematism.











Of course, the idea of a black square was not something very modern or even radical. For example, as far back as 1617 Robert Fludd in his book Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris metaphysica created a black square to represent the metaphysics of the infinite and an image of the genesis.

Robert Fludd, 1617


The De Stijl movement of 1917, was an association of Dutch artists, architects and designers that was organized by painter Theo van Doesburg, and included Piet Mondrian among others. In the same year van Doesburg began editing the De Stijl magazine. De Stijl means ‘The Style’, in Dutch, and the aim was to create an international art in the spirit of peace and harmony, and in their first manifesto stated: “There is an old and a new consciousness of time. The old connected with the individual. The new is connected with the universal.”

The movement
emphasized on the need for abstraction and simplification, and concentrated on the dimensions of forms and colors in abstract from nature.This abstraction was the conduit for artists to explore and universalize their new minimalism aesthetics. The interrelationship between vertical and horizontal lines in a composition became Mondrian’s primary obsession and this constituted the basic compositional aesthetic in the De Stijl works. Any use of the diagonal line was considered by the most members of the De Stijl as heretical. When the van Doesburg added in his works diagonal lines and thus broke the principle of the orthogonality a bitter fall out with Mondrian ensued. This could have been one of the main reasons for Mondrian leaving the De Stijl in the mid twenties.



Theo van Doesberg "Counter-CompositionV" (1924)







Minimalism in the US

"Art excludes the unnecessary. Frank Stella has found it necessary to paint stripes. There is nothing else in his painting."
Artist's Statement, Written by Carl Andre for Frank Stella's group exhibition ; "Sixteen Americans" in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 1959.

The American minimalist movement started in the 1960's.This was a provoked backlash against the conventional inundation and pomposity of Abstract Expressionism. Its roots can be traced to Picasso, Braque, Warhol and Kasimir Malevich.



Andy Warhol, Liz, Offset Color Lithograph on paper, 1964




The father of American minimalism is perhaps Andy Warhol, who was one of the most successful commercial graphic designers of his time during 1950s, wining quite a few awards such as the Art Directors Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Among his clients were The New York Times, Columbia Records,Vogue, NBC, and many others. In 1952, he had his first one-man show at the Hugo Gallery in New York. He made his first Pop paintings, based on comics and ads, in 1961, and then a series of Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962. As a pop artist who illustrated brand name products, he also wanted to mass produce his own works in his art studio called The Factory , where he began a large series of celebrity portraits, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor, in 1962. In his designs Warhol was adhering to "Einstein's Razor" in the above portrait of Liz Taylor, a minimal number of dimensions are used to produce such a stunning impact. Any further reduction would have altered the impact drastically. The same can be said for the two following paintings by James Rosenquist and Jasper Jones, who were among the important pop art artists that have inspired the American minimalism.














Frank Stella. Die Fahne Hoch. 1959




American minimalism per se emanated from Frank Stella's Black Paintings. These were a series of linear shapes and squares in various shades of black,exhibited initially at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1959. One of these was the above paintings called Die Fahne Hoch! ( The flag on high ). This new dimension was inspired by the first line of the anthem of the National Socialist German Workers Party (the Horst-Wessel-Lied,) and as Stella revealed was in the same proportions as banners used by that organization. Some of these new dimensions was explained by him in a speech he gave at Pratt University in 1959:
"I had to do something about relational painting, i.e. the balancing of the various parts with and against each other. The obvious answer was symmetry - make it the same all over. The question still remained, though, of how to do this in depth. A symmetrical image or configuration placed on an open ground is not balanced out in the illusionistic space. The solution I arrived at forces illusionistic space out of the painting at a constant rate by using a regulated pattern.
Stella quoted in R. Rosenblum, Frank Stella, New York, 1971


Frank Stella, Carl Andre portrait, metallic paint on canvas, 1963


In 1963, Stella introduced yet another abstract dimension, as he created a series of virtual portraits, paying homage to some of his best friends. He designated a geometrical pattern to each character, and depicted these so-called portrait on large canvases, using the same style as his Black Paintings with metallic paint. One these portraits was that of his closest artist friend Carl Andre, which Stella shared his studio space with him on West Broadway.


Frank Stella, Avicenna, aluminum series, 1970



O
ther virtual dimensions in his aluminum series of 1970 was the abstract portrait of the Persian philosopher Avicenna, and the Andalusian polymath Averroes among other themes. It
is evident from his initial sketches that Stella cogitated about these personalities and the forms associated with them. Each virtual dimension in these works is represented by a distinct polygonal pattern which conveys a discernible revelatory character that in a heraldic fashion distinguishes the personality of the subject. In these new dimensions Robert Rosenblum discovered a new relationship between an image and its frame, as though the viewer can imagine the portrait of a character in her mind and place it in the small core of the center. He wrote:
If anything, these Dada portraits were more closely united with the picture's frame than with its contents, for now the very core of the picture was hollow, a possibility already hinted at in two of the 1960 aluminum canvases. Here the central void had been so enlarged that the usual relationship between the picture and the frame was totally reversed. The enclosed area, traditionally reserved for the 'picture,' had simply disappeared; the bones and the flesh of painting were united. If we were to look at anything at all, it would have to be the tangible structure that isolated this void, a void that became all the more conspicuous because of the emphasis given to its frame, a polygon that was reiterated concentrically as many as nine times.

R. Rosenblum, Frank Stella, New York, 1971







Ellsworth Kelly, White bands on yellow,
1959, Oil and graphie on paper






Ellsworth Kelly is among the few Minimalist artists who understood the role of dimensions in Einstein's Razor paradigm with an encompassing grace. Furthermore, he understood Cézanne, and worked with geometric form with an ethereal touch of proportion, producing the most charming patterns with lines, grids and areas of black on white paper and then extended these motifs in vivid color. By 1959 he had enjoyed considerable success in a number of exhibitions. He has said of his works;
“I decided I was not quite an inventor. Not in the way that art was being invented by Picasso or Matisse, Picasso especially. He found the painting — as the Abstract Expressionists did too — in the painting. But I have to plan my pictures. Look at all these here; they’re not rectangles. I have to order the canvases. So I plan the painting small and see it as a large image.”

Ellsworth Kelly: America in the abstract, NY Times, December 9, 2009

"Primary Structures", at the Jewish Museum, New York, in 1966, established minimalism in the American art officialdom. Primary Structures' minimalist art was categorical, explicit, and uncompromising . It integrated mathematically composed geometric motifs and compact surfaces of primary colors. Many artists used industrial materials in order to dispose any trace of artist interference, their purpose was to represent a Kantian thing-in-itself; a dimension that could not be distorted by the complexity of unnecessary dimensions. Because of its success many aspiring young artists jumped over its band wagon.

However,
in the hands of the new artists in hurry, the original philosophy was degenerated into a destructive nihilism .They ignored traditional craft skills in deference to an overriding system or idea that often arose in their mind from a banal and sophomoric question.


Ad Reinhardt , Abstract Painting, 1960-66.
Oil on canvas,

For example, Ad Reinhardt's abstract painting of a black square, that he called Abstract painting was the most famous of his so-called "ultimate" paintings, which he claimed to be the "last paintings" that anyone can paint. He rehashed the French Parnasian concept of "art pour l'art" which was advocated by the French painter and poet Gautier as far back as 1830, and also Baudelaire. In fact, it was through the American painter James Whistler McNill that art for art was imported to England in the 1860s, after his stay in Paris. Reinhardt used the expression Art-as-Art and ranted against against "the disreputable practices of artists-as-artists". His black square was very much like Malevich's, but if the viewer tilts the screen, it would be seen that this painting is not uniformly black, it is instead a picture of a Greek cross, as Rosalind Krauss,Meyer Schapiro Professor of Modern Art and Theory at Columbia University, has argued;
"The grid is a staircase to the Universal.... We could think about Ad Reinhardt, who, despite his repeated insistence that 'Art is art,' ended up by painting a series of... nine-square grids in which the motif that inescapably emerges is a Greek cross. There is no painter in the West who can be unaware of the symbolic power of the cruciform shape and the Pandora's box of spiritual reference that is opened once one uses it.


Go to the next chapter; Chapter 17 - Communications: from Speech to Pictograms and Heraldic signs


References
  • Arnason, H. H. History of Modern Art. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 2003.
  • Baljeu, Joost. Theo Van Doesburg. London: Cassell & Collier Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1974
  • Blotkamp, Carel. De Stijl: The Formative years, 1917-1922. London: The MIT Press, 1982.Doig, Allan.
  • Theo van Doesburg: Painting into architecture, Theory into practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986
  • Harrison-Moore, Abigail and Dorothy C. Rowe. Architecture and design in Europe and America, 1750-2000. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.
  • Holtzman, Harry and Martin S. James. The New Art – The new Life. The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1993.
  • Overy, Paul. De Stijl. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1991.
  • Raizman, David. History of Modern Design. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc., 2004.
  • Wilk, Christopher. Modernism: designing a new world. London: V&A Publications, 2006.







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Chapter 33 Pop Art

During  the1960s period, a powerful reaction against the established norms of the society was developing throughout the glob which was later dobbed  "the counterculture of the 1960s".  The prolonged TV coverage of the U.S. military intervention in Vietnam, which for the first time could be observed in the living rooms along with the broadcasting of other social tensions including, colonial exploitations, struggles for democracy and liberation,  race relations,  women's rights, sexual mores and so on created a defiant attitude among the young university students and intellectuals that demanded a total reassessment of old values. In the cultural chaos that ensued many of the aesthetic values were lost, and while some new directions for art and artistic endeavors were discovered, the destruction of artistic criteria gave rise to the emergence of a new class of untalented charlatans that tried to get the maximum financial advantage from the prevailing turmoil.  Unfortunately,  institutions like the Tate gallery of London, in their blind competition to be  more modern than the MOMA in New York, and therefore to attract  more tourists, exacerbated this trend. 

Andy Warhol - Campbell's Soup (1962)

Artist's shit - Piero Manzoni (1961)
The impact of the Pop Art era on graphic design, and the role played by artists like Andy Warhol, and Roy Liechtenstein is one of the least understood areas in the art and culture of the mid-twentieth century. These artists discovered a new and bold chromatic aesthetic, expressed mostly in spatial relationships of figurative art. Unfortunately,  pop art was also the predecessor to "conceptual art" of the 1990s  that  was responsible for a flood of uncreative garbage, produced by charlatans that found the art market of the time gullible enough for accepting their products as art. This monstrosity has been interpreted by some as the reflection of the popular  counterculture of the 1960s on artists. Some have tried to attribute the aesthetic of the pop to the mind-altering influence of drugs. Whatever were the causes, the fact remains that it had a devastating  impact on the visual art scene. In the words of Barbara  Kay:

Conceptual faddishness soon colonized art schools, where pranks and performance theatre replaced serious skills-building. The Royal University of Fine Arts in Stockholm no longer teaches traditional drawing and painting techniques. But last January, as a (tax-funded) academic project, an art student in Stockholm was encouraged by her teacher to fake a suicidal tableau on a bridge, then dramatically fight, kick and bite her police rescuers and psychiatric examiners, all in aid of “questioning the accepted definitions of sanity.”

Instead of technically proficient craftspeople with respect for art’s traditions, these art schools are graduating preening fifth columnists. Decades ago, most art schools became, and remain, militantly politicized along politically correct lines. At the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, staff who defended two professors awarded figurative art and sculpture appointments were characterized by their colleagues as Nazi sympathizers.

Canadian schools are no better. A long-time male art teacher who stubbornly champions courses offering technical skills and figurative art at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) told me, “My students can’t draw and paint.” He added, “If you have talent with your hands and eyes, you’re out of luck at OCAD.  Barbara Kay: The artist has no clothes,  February 03, 2010.
 

White Painting (Three Panels), 1951, Robert Rauschenberg
, In SFMoma


Roy Liechtenstein (1923-1997)





Roy Fox Lichtenstein was born in New York. His father, Milton Lichtenstein was a real-estate broker, and his mother was a gifted piano player. He had an uneventful childhood. He started to draw and paint as a hobby in his high school years. In those early days, he was fascinated by jazz players, and he tried to imitate Picasso's style of Blue and Rose Period paintings. In 1939, he entered the summer art classes of the Art Students' League under Reginald Marsh. He then enrolled in the School of Fine Arts at Ohio State University, but was drafted in 1943 into the army and served in Britain and continental Europe. After the war he returned to Ohio State University and finished his Bachelor of Fine Art in 1946. He then accepted an instructor position at the graduate program, and in 1949 gained his Master of Fine Art and exhibited his first solo-exhibition at the Ten Thirty Gallery in Cleveland.





In 1951 Lichtenstein exhibited his found-objects show in New York, and during the 1957-60 period he experimented with a number of styles, including Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism and Dadaism. His sophisticated compositions of surfaces were enriched by bold colors, letters and other symbols, such as maps and other esoterica l signs. In 1960 he was appointed Assistant Professor at Douglas College at Rutgers University of New Jersey. His proximity to the New York's art scene provided him with the opportunity to be in contact with a number of influential artists and critics. He became interested in the Pop Art movement, and in 1961 he produced a number of paintings that were based on comic-strip frames. By using Ben-Day dots, lettering and speech balloons, he added a new dimension to his paintings. Leo Castelli Gallery offered him a show which would feature his comic-based works in 1962. He participated at the Venice Biennale In 1966, and Guggenheim Museum exhibited a retrospective of his works in 1969.


Lichtenstein pulled the comics into a new paradigm, changing them from a humdrum existence with limited audience into a thought provoking art form where panels juxtaposed print, advertising and more to create a conceptual work for a more sophisticated audiences. His work showed that comics have stylistic characteristics that inescapably follow an aesthetic code. He worked on a number of subtle parodying of various styles including Cubism, Futurism and Surrealism.
All my art is in some way about other art, even if the other art is cartoons" -Roy Lichtenstein ( J. Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein, Cologne 2000, frontispiece
 Lichtenstein's work is characterized by an inexhaustible ebullience and energy, manifested in his resolute appreciation of pop-culture. His images are dominated by the vivid primary colors, masterfully outlined with black lines. His nonchalant blunt conceits with perplexing, and often playful renditions of tawdry images are appended by  thought balloons - which renders an enigmatic and visual sentiment. Similar qualities can be found in his three-dimensional graphic imitations of German Expressionist woodcuts in the early 1980s, and in his later works of painted or sculpted brushstrokes - which meticulously created an impression of modernist impulsiveness.

Lichtenstein was wholesome, freethinking and almost always a down-to-earth explorer. Perhaps he invariably conceived of the concepts of 'here' and 'now' as  an  amazing occasion and he was quite confident of how to deal with the uncertainties of this moment. More than anything else he was not a charlatan who would hide his lack of talent behind a discourse in philosophical nonsense -- a practice all too common these days.  As Roberta Smith of New York Times has written:

The perfection of his paintings was achieved through extensive and beautiful preparatory studies, as indicated by his drawing retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1987. It is not too soon to be reminded of this again, in a delicious survey of nearly 60 works. (NY Times January 12, 2007)
In the late 80s Lichtenstein created a series of "Perfect" and "imperfect" paintings, in which he explored the reduction of form in the spirit of 'neo-geo' painting. They were deliberate gaudy composition of triangles, spheres and other geometric shapes, which according to him
Parody nameless or generic abstraction you might find in the background of a sitcom - the abstraction hanging over the couch. (Deborah Solomon, 'The Art Behind the Dots', in The New York Times, 8 March 1987)
His "perfect" paintings were compositions made by a number of triangles that were constrained by the boundaries of a rectangular canvas. Lichtenstein explored the color tensions of these geometric surfaces with some humor. His ''Imperfect'' paintings, which according to him were supposed to be "humorous" were in some sense an evolution of his perfect paintings that some sides of those triangles extruded beyond the square frames of the canvases. According to the artist ''Art becomes this game of whether I hit the edges.'' These awe-inspiring and artistic work were scoffing at the philosophical tenet of the early modernists who criticized the  pictorial illusionism of the three-dimensional spatiality in painting . His experimentation with shaped canvas and geometric imagery represented the formidable level of his inventiveness and  sustained creative curiosity. Lichtenstein's rebellious challenging of  the philosophical underpinnings of modern styles led to a straight forward resolution of aesthetic dilemma of the modern art. 


    "Imperfect"  and perfect Paintings
Andy Warhol (1929?- 1987)





Andy Warhol's pop art was a byproduct of the technological revolution of the 20th century. As the critic Robert Hughes wrote in 1971.
Painting a soup can is not in itself a radical act, but what was radical in Warhol was that he adapted the means of production of soup cans to the way he produced paintings, turning them out en masse - consumer art mimicking the the process as well as the look of consumer culture... To look at an image like Campbell's Soup Can, 1965, is not to see it through Warhol's eyes—he has eliminated all idiosyncrasies. There is no contagion of personality. What remains is the flat, mute face of an actuality presented as meaning nothing beyond itself. (Art: Man for the Machin, Time, May, 17, 1971)

What Hughes failed to mention is that Warhol's work, particularly silk-screen prints he made of political and Hollywood celebrities, including Mao, Liza Minelli, Jimmy Carter and Jacqueline Kennedy, were not only aesthetically pleasing in terms of their composition, color, and artistic sensitivity, but also were a new interpretation of portraiture — they amounted to a radically new conceptual paradigm. Warhol genuinely believed in the endless reproducibility of  art. 


It is not clear where or when Andy Warhol was born. It has been suggested that he might have been born around 1929, somewhere in Pennsylvania. The son of a coal miner, his family immigrated to the US from Czechoslovakia. Andy graduated with a degree in pictorial design from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), in 1949. Immediately after graduation he relocated to New York and changed his name to Warhol. He became a successful commercial artist and graphic designer for Tiffany's, Bonwit Teller's, Vogue, Glamour, The New York Times and other magazines and department stores. In 1960 he started a series of illustrations based on comic strips, such as Superman and Dick Tracy, and on Coca-Cola bottles.

He tried to exhibit with Leo Castelli, an art dealer who was best known for representing the artists Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg. Castelli declined to exhibit his work, since his gallery artist Roy Lichtenstein, was already painting from comic strips. However, Warhol's first exhibition of the Campbell's soup cans at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962, followed by his next exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York finally convinced Castelli to represent him in 1964, and he remained his art dealer until his death.

In Warhol's Pop Art, consumer culture came face-to-face with itself reflectively , and that encounter was at once boastful and apprehensive -- apprehensive because the very fact of reflectiveness challenges self-absorbed consumption even as its temptation is acquiesced halfheartedly or placated fully. His art is not quaint or whimsical, because as David Dalton of the New York Times writes:

You can have him with or without irony, and it all still works. And because he was a master of the double-take, everything about him remains ambivalent. Once you choose one aspect of Warhol over another, you miss the point. Like Jean Cocteau’s definition of himself, Warhol is “the lie that tells the truth.” His paintings have the paradoxical quality of being both sexy and icily mechanical, and this ambivalence is at the core of his art. Even the affectionate nickname he was given at the Factory — Drella — is double-edged, a fusion of two disturbingly irreconcilable images: the waif-like Cinderella and the sinister, manipulative Dracula
Over the six years period, between 1962 to 1968 when he was shot, Warhol created some of his most powerful images that were inspired by a profound reflection on the state of the consumer society, in which mass media have appropriated the role of man's brain, and dictated his choice through bombarding him with banal and senseless images that would sear in his mind his required course of actions through an endless repetition of commercial messages. Warhol created the banal art for the banal man. You no longer need to be a thinking and reflective entity. You are only expected to be a conformist robot, you should buy the over-the-counter drugs that would relieve your headaches and your heart burns, purchase a host of hygienic products that would make your hairs shine, and your skin look young and so on. Warhol's work meditated over a prevalent American mindset that extolled fame and celebrity status. He created the modern icons of this culture, using silk screen of not only stars such as Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe,and Marlon Brando, but also those rich and famous people who commissioned him to silk screen their images in the new style-- people like the Shah of Iran, his wife Farah Diba, his sister Ashraf Pahlavi, and Conrad Black a Canadian millionaire, and he obliged. Like any good businessman, he opted to maximize profit so when it didn't matter, he did not bother to clean up the imperfections of his silk screen prints; caused by slips of the screen, uneven inkings of the roller, and other defects. He was imitating a mass production process without any quality control. But he made sure that the image of the Shah would look exactly like one of his commemorating stamps, and the image of Ashraf would prominently display her diamonds.; Nevertheless, the imperfections, together with his enchantment with the American celebrity culture became the hallmarks of Warhol's work.






Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia , in 1930. However, due to the marriage breakup of his parents, he was raised in Allendale, South Carolina by his paternal grandparents. It  was in Allendale in his  early childhood that he showed an intense interest in art. He has said;   “In the place where I was a child, there were no artists and there was no art, so I really didn’t know what that meant ... I think I thought it meant that I would be in a situation different from the one that I was in.”  Later on, he entered a high school  in Sumter, South Carolina to be with his mother, He entered the University of South Carolina to study art, but he dropped out in the middle of his second year to enter the art scene at New York. However, he had to return to South Carolina, when the US Army sent him a summons in 1951. He served in the army until 1953, and a  yrear after returned to New York, where he met a number of other artists including the composer John Cage, the choreographer Merce Cunningham, and another Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg.

 The Dutch Wives (1975). 
Johns became very interested in Marcel Duchamp’s work,  after  visiting his  Philadelphia exhibition of “readymades” — created with  a series of found objects. Inspired by Duchamp’s philosophy of looking at things differently Johns created  “Walkaround Time", a performance with Merce Cunningham. In 1958,  Leo Castelli's gallery discovered John's work at Rauschenberg's art studio and offered him a one-man exhibition, where four of his artworks  was purchased by Alfred Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  In his  early work Johns reflected  on the meaning of an everyday, almost absurd, subject matter. He found such a meaning in the painting process itself. His flag paintings was part of this process. The banality,  absurdity and the enigmatic nature of the subject matter provoked  viewer's curiosity for discovering a deeper meaning. Johns' own  ambiguous and enigmatic explanation appeared to suggest that there is a deeper ontological meaning at work; “There may or may not be an idea, and the meaning may just be that the painting exists.” It is claimed that the writings of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein had a  great influences on Johns' work. Although, John's works still show a high degree of artistic accomplishment,  his was the start of a trend  in which art appears to have morphed into a philosophical discipline, without any regards for aesthetically trained talent and artistic skill in the later modern art.  In this prevailing trend in the visual art, the compositional component of the artwork is to be supported by an accompanying written explanation in order to grasp what the artist was getting at. The actual art work merely illustrates the concept. Apparently, in Wittgenstein’s work Johns recognized both a concern for logic, and a desire to investigate the times when logic breaks down! It was through painting that Johns found his own process for trying to understand logic!


Three Flags (1954-1955)
Nevertheless, Johns’ printmaking experimentation and innovations in screen printing, lithography, and etching have been valuable artistic endeavor, notwithstanding, of course,  his explanation that: “My experience of life is that it’s very fragmented; certain kinds of things happen, and in another place, a different kind of thing occurs. I would like my work to have some vivid indication of those differences.”
In the 1960s, while continuing  producing works with flags, numbers, targets, and maps, he began to introduce other objects such as paint brushes, beer cans, and light bulbs, into his later works. Johns has also illustrated the poet Frank O’Hara's book, In Memory of My Feelings; and  Samuel Beckett's, Fizzles.

 Target, 1974

By the early 1970s Pop Art became internationally prominent.  Pink Floyd worked extensively with London based designers, Hypnosis, to create graphics to support the concepts in their album soundtrack from the film More. Yellow Submarine which was was a milestone in graphic design, was inspired by the Pop art. Heinz Edelman was hired by TVC as the art director for this film. Despite the critical acclaim of his design work for the film, Edelman never worked on another animated feature. In 1967 The Beatles company "Nems" contracted Richard Avedon to create four posters depicting John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  In the US  they were published in "LOOK" magazine, and in England in the Daily Express Newspaper.



Unfortunately, a misguided belief soon took hold of the art scene. The belief was that the bold and strong color contrasts in the Pop Art works are created by the effect of mind altering drugs. According to Mati Klarwein a Pop Art painter;
I'll tell you about a funny episode. Jean Houston and Robert Masters put together a book called Psychedelic Art in the sixties, and they came to me. They did an interview with me, like we're doing now, to include me in their book. And they asked me, "What kind of psychedelics do you take when you're painting?" And I said, "I don't take anything when I'm painting. When I take psychedelics I get very horny, and I start going out to nightclubs and cruising." (laughter) So they said, "Well, we can't put you in the book." I freaked out, because I wasn't in any book yet (laughter), and I said, "But I get my ideas when I'm high." And they said, "Alright, we'll put you in the book." Next they asked me for the names of other psychedelic painters, and I gave them a whole list, including Fuchs. I called them all up right away, and I told them, "Tell them that you're taking psychedelics!" And they all got in the book.' (laughter)
This attitude gave rise to Psychedelic artificiality that relied on drugs and abandoned all the artistic aspects of the pop art, such as balanced composition, aesthetics, and authenticity. As the bars for achievement of excellence were persistently lowered, more and more of the publicity seekers around the world tried their luck by creating low quality, but highly controversial art-ificial  objects. The criteria for acceptance became the shock value for the piece and how much controversy they generate. But there are signs that this tendency has began to subsided by the end of the 20th century, although some remnants of that era still lingers on in places that bureaucrats are still in control.  In the words jdy Singer:
“The whole business: collectors, dealers, museums, universities, art magazines have nothing to do with what it takes to make a great work of art. Curators are not the trailblazers that they portray themselves to be, but rather, they are sheep, merely following trends. I challenge them to step out of the mainstream and show art that is great. To do this, they would have to know what it really is.”  Judy Singer: Is art dead? February 19, 2010,

Tadanori Yokoo 
 

Tadanori Yokoo was born in Nishiwaki, Japan in 1936.  He was interested in art at very young, and  started his art career with  reproduction of paintings. Soon after he was designing store wrapping paper, and drawing posters for the Chamber of Commerce. In his early posters he was influenced  by the works of Seymour Chwast.  In 1965 he participated in the Persona group's  joint exhibition, in which his name appeared at the top of a dark, lyrical, and enigmatic poster,  depicting  a hanged man against a blue sky with red rays emanating from a rising sun.  At  the bottom corners some childhood photographs together with  a stunning statement, completed the composition. The statement read; "having reached a climax at the age of 29, I was dead."  With this poster "Yokoo style" in  Japanese pop art was born in which  rising sun is a recurring  motif. 

"having reached a climax at the age of 29, I was dead.", 1965
Yokoo has  worked  on virtually every aspects of visual communication including  book designs, animation, prints, posters, album covers, Swatch watches, illustration,  paintings and so on. In all his works he incorporates an eclectic artistic taste informed by a wide range of styles including Surrealism, Dada, Russian Constructivism, American Pop Art, contemporary Japanese popular culture and traditional Japanese art forms, especially the woodblock prints. His art is imbued with  the postwar energy, of Tokyo with its cultural contradictions, human tragedies, and social challenges.  In Yokoo's own words; “When I walk through the streets of Tokyo, it is not unusual for me to weave back and forth as if I were recovering from an illness.”



He became fearful of death ans stopped work after an injury in a traffic accident and the hara-kiri suicide of his close friend Yukio Mlshiman in the 1970s.  He began a spiritual quest for a philosophical meaning and become interested  in  Hindu religion , Buddhism, UFOs, and extraterrestrial civilizations.  He returned to art and began to create collages using images of the universe and various religious symbols. His work was noticed by various musicians such as the Beatles, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Carlos Santana, and Cat Stevens who offered him projects to design their posters and album covers. Yokoo became especially close to John Lennon and Carlos Santana. In 1974, his cover for Santana's triple album "Lotus" was awarded the special jury prize at the sixth Brno Biennial .




According to the art critic Yasushi Kurabayashi ; “Yokoo’s posters are not designed around conventional poster-like ideas. Rather his posters have been executed from his own desire for creative expression, with little regard for cognitive clarity or message.”  Yokoo himself has said that he learned in the late 1960s "to escape from compromise when designing by linking my creations directly to my lifestyle."  He is immersed in deep subjectivity, and his themes are about his personal  desires, visions, fears and spirituality.

 

"Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC)," 1988

Shigeo Fukuda

Shigeo Fukuda was born  in Tokyo to a family of toy manufacturers,  in 1932. As a boy he enjoyed making origami, the Japanese art of paperfolding, which  began in China in the first or second century and then spread to Japan during the sixth century.  He was still a teenager, when he  became intensely influenced by the philosophy the International Style, or the Swiss Style; which was a reflection of the modernist and constructivist ideals. Fukuda was interested in  styles' authentic pursuit of simplicity, and the idea that  the beauty is inherent in the foundation of a purpose, and it cannot be the purpose of art was appealing to him. In practical terms, he followed the International Style's keen attention to detail, precision, craft skills, and supported a system of graphic design education and technical training that would aim at a high standard of craftsmanship and art in design and printing as well as a clear refined and inventive lettering and typoraphy.



He graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1956.  In 1966, Fokuda's work gained prominence at a Czechoslovakian graphic design competition, and in the subsequent year his posters for Montreal's Expo '67 brought him the fame. His reputation began to snowball when Paul Rand noticing his work in an issue of Japanese Graphic Design Magazine  helped him to exhibit his stunning,  wooden puzzle-like sculptures at New York City's IBM Gallery. The structures were based on the design of toys which he originally created  for his young daughter.  In 1999, the Japan Foundation in Toronto presented the show “Visual Prankster: Shigeo Fukuda.”

 
Fukuda's  talent in visual communication design,  using minimal graphic dimensions was at the foundation of his fame. He admired the clean and powerful design of   Japanese woodblock traditions, and tried to link  them to the modern global communication exigencies. Fokuda was an idealist, whose main body of work was created for social and cultural concerns. His 1980,  poster for Amnesty International, which features a  clenched fist interwoven with barbed wire,  his 1982 Happy Earth Day  posters; one with an upside-down axe, with a sprouting  wooden handle, and another with the image of the earth in the shape of an opening seed awash in a pristine sea-blue background, and his most celebrated poster, Victory 1945 , with a cannon barrel that its shell firing, backwards, destroying the cannon forever, are examples of Fukuda's dark sense of humor, pointing to a childlike innocence that wishes  for a better world. His Victory 1945 won the grand prize at the 1975 Warsaw Poster, and he devoted all the proceeds from the competition to the Peace Fund Movement.




Fokuda's boyish playfulness and enthusiasm for various pranks were a reflection of his philosophical outlook towards the world that were represented in his 1960s  visual illusion  of “Ryu Mita Ka?” (“Have You Seen the Dragon?”) in the Asahi newspaper, and Idea Magazine 's "Visual Circus." He had said;
"I believe that in design, 30% dignity, 20% beauty and 50% absurdity are necessary. Rather than catering to the design sensitivity of the general public, there is advancement in design if people are left to feel satisfied with their own superiority, by entrapping them with visual illusion."
According to Seymour Chwast  in his introduction to “Masterworks” (Firefly Books, 2005), a monograph about  Fukuda;
“Fukuda is not a communicator who conforms to the principles of accessibility. With few exceptions, his purpose is to mystify.”
Shigeo Fukuda died in Tokyo on Jan. 11, 2009.  


Go to the next chapter; Chapter 34- Graphic Designers in the Fashion Industry

References
  • Masters, Robert E.L. and Houston, Jean Psychedelic Art New York: 1968 A Balance House book—printed by Grove Press, Inc.
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  • Lobel, Michael. Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop, Yale University Press, 2002, ISBN-10: 0300087624
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  • Bader, Graham. Roy Lichtenstein (October Files,The MIT Press, 2001, ISBN-10: 0262512319
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  • Waldman, Diane. Roy Lichtenstein, Guggenheim Museum Pubns, 1994, ISBN-10: 0810968754
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  • Hickey, Dave et al. Andy Warhol ''Giant'' Size, Large Format, Phaidon Press, 2009, ISBN-10: 0714849804
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