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Benjamin Garrison Art Blog

My cubist paintings

by bgarri , December 12, 2011—12:10 AM

Topics: Cubism, Indians, Native American art, Picasso, Western art

When I was in college, I was fortunate to have an excellent professor named Otis Lumpkin. He taught an old master style of painting. I still use it to paint my more realistic paintings such as "The Swan of Tuonela." But he also taught a course in modern painting including impressionism, expressionism, abstract expressionism and cubism. I had already admired the work of Picasso and Braque so I found I was suited to cubism.

To be sure, many dismiss cubism now as derivative...and anyone trying that style is accused of copying Picasso or Braque. Nothing could be further from the truth. Think of the of artists who have painted or still paint using the impressionist style. And all the realist painters? That's all been done before, too. So why is cubism singled out unfairly? It shouldn't be that way. After all, everyone has their own approach no matter what style they choose. Monet's impressionism is different from Renoir's who was different than Pissaro. Guaguin's style of expressionism is quite different from Van Gogh's and so forth. It's the same with cubism. It's not a dead end street and, in fact, I don't think it has been adequately explored. Even if it were, it hasn't been explored by me.

Cubism has many advantages. The most important advantage to me is it does not tire easily. As I grow older I find I get tired of the same old thing. Where I live western art remains very popular...along with the same old pretty, fussy, realistic landscapes. I see the same old western art of cowboys on horses. The same realistic portraits of stony-faced Indians and so forth. Yes, I know these remain popular because people will always love realism and have a nostalgia for the old west. But as an artist who has studied a lot of art history, such magic wears thin. I can only look at the same wildlife painting for so long.

Then I had the idea of applying cubism to western art. Voila! It became fresh to me again. The magic returned. Here are the advantages of cubism: It reflects a sense of motion and passage of time. It is not static. The viewer participates and decides on what he sees. This makes the painting more engaging and less tiresome. When I did a painting of a Sioux Indian chief, for example, it was a bit shocking. It looked like a cacophony of colors and a riot of lines. Nobody would expect a portrait of a noble native American to be done this way. I also did a painting of an Indian on horseback. My wife didn't like it at first. She thought it would be better if I had done it realistically. Once framed and on the wall, however...she changed her mind. It grew on her and she liked seeing how the teepees melded in with the background. Now she loves the painting.

This brings to mind an apocryphal story about a Picasso painting. A rich man was having a room remodeled at his big city condo. A Picasso painting was in the hallway and the man who was working on the remodel passed by it each day. At first he expressed his disdain. "How can this be so daughter can paint better than that." Every day he passed by he made some disparaging remark...but less disparaging as the days went by. When the remodeling was finished the man remarked, "It's a good thing I'm done because I'm starting to like this painting!"

And that's my point about 'tireability' in paintings. It takes a long time to get tired of a good cubist painting because it takes a new, fresh and interesting approach to reality. We see several angles at once. We can dissect and better explore the inner reality of the subject matter. The colors aren't subject to the dictates of the usual representationalism and we have a sense of time passing. The latter is a superior attribute that many other styles of painting simply cannot match. I love painting motion and the passage of time. Reality is not static!

This does not mean that I won't continue to paint more realistic work, but for me, cubism remains an obsession.



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