Tag Archives: James Ensor

James Ensor – Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man

17 Feb

Welcome to the whimsical, colourful and macabre world of the Belgian painter James Ensor.

James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man, 1891

Painting “Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man” is a perfect example of the art that Ensor remains known for. Skeletons shouting, skeletons laughing, skeletons dressed in pretty clothes and fancy hats fighting and threatening each other with brooms and umbrellas. Meanwhile, on the far left and far right ends of the canvas a group of masked faces observe in silence. Their faces, or rather the masks they are wearing reveal a whole set of different emotions; anger, curiosity, shock, malice. Ensor’s whimsically knowns no end because in some paintings it is hard to tell whether a figure is a living person or a skeleton wearing a mask in order to trick us into thinking it’s a living flesh and blood. He skilfully combines playfulness with morbidity, eerie sense of transience with joyous hedonism of the carnival. Skeletons wearing clothes, fighting and living normally amongst humans is death itself laughing to our face, it is as if she is saying: you can’t avoid me, so embrace me. Unlike Edvard Munch who had a morbid obsession with death and illness, Ensor’s view on it is neither sad nor tragic. Death is inseparable from the often pointless and often laughable, at once colourful, burdensome and boring carnival of life. He in fact paints it in shiny and vibrant colours, often with the background in white, painted in careful small brushstrokes, showing attention to detail and filing the space with light.

James Ensor (1860-1949) didn’t always paint these kind of vibrant yet twisted scenes full of intrigues. He wasted his early years on painting in a Realistic manner and painting the popular plein air scenes inspired by the Impressionists. But as he approached his thirties, he found his artistic inspiration in something that had been right in front of his nose for years – carnival masks. In his coastal home town of Ostend in Belgium, Ensor’s parents owned a shop that sold masks, mostly for tourists. So, in carnival masks in front of his eyes and skeletons in his imagination, Ensor concocted many and many whimsical paintings with just a slight macabre touch. The faces on masks are perhaps a hint to Bruegel the Elder’s grotesque faces of peasants, but Ensor adds a social critique by portraying his disillusionment in society around him. Those masked faces, for me, perfectly capture the way I see people around me and in the streets; always eager to judge and stuff noses in matters that do not concern them, hiding their true malicious motifs under a mask of smiles and nice words. With its emphasis on surreal world where skeletons and humans live in harmony, and the expressive abilities of human faces with different emotions, Ensor’s art carried a seed that would later blossom into Expressionism and Surrealism, although it’s important to note that he wasn’t as influential on the development of those art movements as Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch were.

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Syd Barrett – Favourite Artists and Artworks

6 Jan

Today would have been Syd Barrett’s birthday, and, as always, I decided to write a post to commemorate that. In 2016 I wrote about British Psychedelia and in 2015 I wrote about Syd’s fashion style. You can check those out if you like, but today we’re going to focus on two topics that I like – Syd and art. Despite having achieved fame as a musician, first with Pink Floyd, and then later with two solo-albums, Syd was a painter first and foremost. He attended the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London, and continued painting later in life. Let’s take a look at the artists and artworks Syd loved!

syd-78

Syd’s first passion was art. Some even went as far as saying that he was a better painter than a musician. Even David Gilmour said that Syd was talented at art before he did guitar. I’ve seen his paintings, and I wouldn’t agree. What could surpass the beauty that he’s created musically?

All quotes in this post are from the book ‘Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe’ by Julian Palacios, and so is this one: ‘Waters brought older, upper-class friends round to Barrett’s house after school, among them Andrew Rawlinson and Bob Klose. They found him painting, paint below his easel, newspaper as a drop cloth and brushes on the windowsill. Painting and music ran in tandem, and Barrett was good at both. (…) Barrett sketched, painted and wrote, his output prolific.

syd-80Syd holding one of his paintings.

Syd first attended the Saturday-morning classes at Homerton College, and then started a two-year programme at the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology in autumn 1962. Along with his enthusiasm and skill at painting, he was good at memorising dates and authors of paintings. Here’s another quote that demonstrates Syd’s painting technique: ‘Syd drew and painted with ease, demonstrating a deft balance between shadow and light. He had a talent for portraits, though his subjects sometimes looked somewhat frozen. Best at quick drawings, Syd had a good feel for abstract art, creating bright canvases in red and blue.‘ It seems to me that Syd would have loved Rothko; an American Abstract-Expressionist artist who painted his canvases in strong colours with spiritual vibe.

Then, in autumn of 1964, Syd came to London to study at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. The curriculum at Camberwell was more rigorous than what Syd was used to at his previous college of arts: ‘At Camberwell, drawing formed the core curriculum. Tutors put Barrett through his paces working in different mediums and materials.‘ Syd’s art tutor, Christopher Chamberlain was taken with Syd’s tendency to paint in blunt, careless brushstrokes. Later in life, Barrett tended to burn his paintings, ‘psychedelic paintings, vaguely reminiscent of Jackson Pollock‘ because he believed that the point lies in creation and the finished product is unimportant. I can’t understand that at all – my paintings are my children.

Now I’ll be talking about seven artists that are in one way or another connected to Syd Barrett.

1918. Hébuterne by ModiglianiAmedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918

Modigliani

Sitting cross-legged in the cellar at Hills Road, Mick Rock was impressed as Syd rolled a joint with quick, nimble had. Nicely stoned, they listened to blues and talked about Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, until the morning light peeked through the narrow slot windows.

Amedeo Modigliani; whose name itself sounds like a sad hymn of beauty, is perhaps one of the most unsung heroes of the art world. And the story of Amedeo and Jeanne’s love is perhaps the saddest of all. When Modigliani died, she couldn’t bear life without him so she threw herself out of the window, eight months pregnant at the time, oh how engulfed in sadness that January of 1920 must have been. Modigliani painted women, he painted them nude, and he painted their heads with large sad eyes, elongated faces, long necks and sloping shoulders. I think Modigliani expressed melancholy and the fragility of life like no other painter. I can’t tell for sure that Syd loved Modigliani, but since he talked about him, I take it that he was at least interested in the story behind his art. I would really like to hear that conversation between Syd and Rock.

gustav klimt beechwood forestGustav Klimt, Beechwood forest, 1902

Klimt

Appealing to Barrett’s Cantabrigian sensibilities were paintings like Gustav Klimt’s 1903 Beechwood Forest, where dense beech trees blot the sky, each leaf captured in one golden brushstroke.

Smouldering eroticism pervades all of Gustav Klimt’s artworks. Sometimes flamboyant, at other occasions toned down, but always burning in the shadow. In ‘Beechwood Forest’, Klimt paints trees with sensuality and elegance. He always painted landscape as a means of meditation, usually on holidays spent in Litzlberg at Lake Attersee, enjoying the warm, sunny days with his life companion Emilie Flöge. Klimt approached painting landscapes the same way he painted women, with visible sensuality and liveliness. The absence of people in all of his landscapes suggest that Klimt perceived the landscape as a living being, mystical pantheism was always prevalent. The nature, in all its greenness, freshness and mystery, was a beautiful woman for Klimt.

1891. James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged ManJames Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man, 1891

James Ensor

Stephen Pyle recalled that Syd’s main interests were expressionist artist Chaim Soutine and surrealist painters Salvador Dali and James Ensor. Ensor’s surreal party of clowns with skeletons cropped up in his artwork even thirty years later.

Belgian painter James Ensor (1860-1949) was a true innovator of the late 19th century art. He was alone and misunderstood amongst his contemporaries, just like many revolutionary artists are, but he helped in clearing the path for some art movements like Surrealism and Expressions which would turn out to be more popular than Ensor himself. Painting ‘Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man’ is a good example of Ensor’s themes and style of painting: skeletons, puppets, masks and intrigues painted in thick but small brushstrokes, with just a hint of morbidness all found their place in Ensor’s art. There’s no doubt that Barrett was inspired by the twisted whimsicality and playfulness of Ensor’s canvases.

1920. Les Maisons by SoutineChaim Soutine, Les Maisons, 1920

Soutine

Art historian William Shutes noted,Barrett used large single brushstrokes, built up layer by layer, layer over layer, like relief contours.

Chaim Soutine was a wilful eccentric, an Eastern Jew, an introvert who left no diaries and only a few letters. But he left a lot of paintings, mostly landscapes that all present us with his bitter visions of the world. He painted in thick, heavy brushstrokes laden with pain, anger, resentment and loneliness. In ‘Les Maisons’ the houses are crooked, elongated, painted in murky earthy colours. Their mood of alienation and instability is ever present in Soutine’s art. He portrayed his depression and psychological instability very eloquently. Description of Barrett’s style of painting, layers and layers of colour, relief brushstrokes, reminds me very much of the way Soutine painted; in heavy brushstrokes, tormented by pain and longings, as if layering colours could release the burden off of his soul.

Ren? Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009 øðä îàâøéè, áðå ùì àãí, 1964, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009Rene Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964

Rene Magritte

There’s no doubt that, as a Surrealist, Magritte was inspirational to young people in the sixties who were inclined to listening to psychedelic music or had a whimsical imagination. With Barrett, Magritte is mostly associated with his ‘Vegetable Man’ phase, in times when his LSD usage was getting out of control, just prior to being kicked out of band. Magritte is, along with Dali, another Surrealist that appealed to Barrett’s imagination. Belgian artist, Magritte meticulously painted similar, everyday objects like men in suits, clouds, pipes, umbrellas and buildings with strange compositions and shadows. In ‘The Son of Man’, some have suggested that he was dealing with the subject of one’s own identity, and that might be something that appealed to Syd when he appeared in the promotional picture with spring onions tied to his head which is an obvious wink to Magritte, not to mention Acimboldo.

1875. Les Raboteurs de parquet - Gustave CaillebotteGustave Caillebotte, Les Raboteurs de parquet, 1875

Gustave Caillebotte

Lying in bed one morning, he stared at his blanket’s orange and blue stripes and had a flashback to Gustave Caillebotte’s 1875 painting ‘The Wood Floor Planers’, which depicts workers scraping the wood floors of a sunlit room in striated patterns. Inspired, with Storm Thorgenson’s garish orange and red room at Egerton fresh in his mind, he got up, pushed his few belongings into a corner, and sauntered off to fetch paint from the Earl’s Court Road.

This is perhaps Caillebotte’s best legacy – inspiring Syd Barrett to paint his floor in stripes which later ended up gracing his first solo-album, the famously dark and whimsical ‘The Madcap Laughs’, released on 3 January 1970. Like the cover, other pictures taken that spring day in 1969 by Mick Rock and Storm Thorgenson, are all filled with light and have a transcendent mood.

1935-dali-paranoiac-visageDali, Paranoiac Visage, 1935

Dali

I believe none of you are surprised that Dali is on this list. Anyone who is familiar with his art will know that it ties very well with the music of Pink Floyd, and perhaps some other psychedelic bands. There’s no one quite like Dali in the world of art. Art he created, like Surrealism in general, is a visual portrayal of Freud’s ideas of the unconscious, and is based on irrationality, dreams, hallucinations and obsessions. His paintings are mostly hallucinogenic landscapes in the realm of dreams; realistic approach combined with deformed figures and objects which, just like in the art of Giorgio de Chirico, evokes feelings of anxiety in the viewer.

When I like an artist, musician or a writer, I always want to know what inspired them, or what they thought of something that I love. What did Barrett really think of Modigliani, for example? But, some things will forever stay a mystery. Perhaps it’s better that way.

Painters that inspire me the most…

6 Jul

Though I absolutely adore many artists, not all of them inspire me in painting. I love Fragonard for example, but I could hardly be inspired by his stiff ladies in pastoral setting, dressed in their finest rose coloured silk gowns; that’s to idealistic, art needs to be more raw, filled with melancholy or anger or despair for me to like it. Other artists, on the other hand, inspire me with almost all of their paintings. I’ll present you the nine painters that inspire me the most.

1877. Degas - The Green Dancers

Degas

I hope you already know what great passion I have for Degas; I absolutely adore his ballerinas and he’s probably my favourite Impressionist. Degas is the proof that one subject, such as ballerinas in this case, can be painted over and over again, every time interpreted in a different way. Claude Monet did something similar, painting the Rouen Cathedral more than thirty times, each time observing the change of light. Back to the subject, I love Degas’ work in general because when I look at his paintings I feel like I’m there, like I am the candle that lightens the stage. His paintings have a very intimate feel.

1873. The Railway by Manet

Manet

Manet is one of my favourite Impressionist too; his simple approach to painting, rebellious spirit and Victorine Meurent as his muse and a model have all drawn me into exploring his work. I love how he painted every day life scenes; Parisian cafes, courtesans, ladies, absinth drinkers…

1888. Starry Night Over the Rhone - van gogh

1889. The Starry Night - van gogh

Van Gogh

I’m not a die-hard Van Gogh fan, but admire his work greatly and the two paintings you see above are my favourite paintings by him, they’re called Starry Night Over the Rhone and The Starry Night. The striking thing about these paintings is how you can see the brush strokes and still, with that heavy, relief coat of colour the paintings seem dreamy and magical, it’s amazing. And the stars seem so cheerful, as if they’re playing on the indigo sky above the sleeping town.

1888. Mardi gras (Pierrot et Arlequin) - Cezanne

1898. The Bathers (Cézanne)

Cezanne

Another Post-Impressionist, Cezanne, is influential on my art because I find his work to be daring with a rather different approach. The water colours you see above are one of my favourite paintings by him, not to mention his series of skulls which show his concern with transience. I like how real this water colour painting seems, you can really see the brush strokes and he used only two basic colours; yellow and blue which shows the simplicity in which he executed his work.

1878. La Buveuse d'absinthe - Felicien Rops

Felicien Rops

What I like about Felicien Rops’ paintings is the provocative way in which he painted, at first sight, ordinary subject. This painting, for example, is called La Buveuse d’Absinthe, and though Rops is not the first who elaborated this theme, he’s certainly the first who had done it in this rough way. If you look at this painting, you’ll see it appears more like a sketch rather than a finished painting. So ahead of his time, Rops painted this back in 1878. when the painting had to be perfectly detailed and executed in order to be presentable and accepted by the conservative public.

1891. James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man

James Ensor

I first became acquainted with Ensor’s work in late December 2013. and since then I’ve studied his paintings in detail. Far more important than considered, Ensor was crucial in the development of both Expressionism and Surrealism. His paintings mostly feature the same elements; skeletons which he used as an allegory. In his paintings skeletons wear masks and are depicted the same as humans. Ensor was the innovator of the 19th century art and there for his paintings are a foundation for the twentieth century art.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

Edvard Munch

Painting The Scream is perhaps one of my favourite paintings ever. I love the vibrant colours, strong contrasts and the helplessness and agony of that man. I find the crooked, restless and hectic atmosphere of the painting very inspirational. It almost seems as if it was done at one brush stroke, at one moment. The painting is very, very expressive.

1918. Hébuterne by Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani

I have a great passion for Modigliani’s work. Melancholic spirit captivates all his portraits and nudes. Long-faced, sad beauties,that gaze thoughtfully at their dreary and lonely surrounding. The sadness that pervades his paintings is very inspirational to me and I like how dreamy the ladies on his paintings seem. His portraits, particularly this portrait of Jeanne, seem so realistic, yet so beautiful and magical.

1890. Bal au Moulin Rouge  - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

 Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec

And finally, the famous Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec, a Post-Impressionistic painter who depicted the Parisian night life; courtesans, theatres, Montmarte and elegant ladies in provocative, elegant and rather exciting approach. His painting stand as a colourful ending of the nineteenth century.

Of course, these are not all the artists that I seek inspiration from. Others are: George de Feuer, Klimt, Soutine…

My inspirations for January

31 Jan

In this post I’ll just simply put pictures or photos of my current inspirations for the month. It’s kinda like my diary because later I’ll be able to see what I’ve been crazy about for that month. I’ll post these posts at the end of every month and I’ll ‘collect ‘my inspirations during the month.

There’s plenty of photos here but I hope you’ll enjoy!

1960s london girls

1960s london look

1960s marianne faithful1960s marianne faithfull 4

1960s pattie and george wedding

1960s pattie boyd 24

1960s pattie boyd 2

1960s pretty violet hued

1960s Swinging London fashion - pvc raincoat

1960s summer dresses

1960s twiggy 8

1960s twiggy 13

1960s twiggy 20

1969. pattie boyd and twiggy for vogue

sharon tate wedding dress

1960s catherine and francoise 4

floyd 18.tif

syd 30

iggy the eskimo 3

syd 66

syd 57

Lindsay Korner

james ensor skeletons

james ensor Pierrot and Skeleton

1889. The Starry Night - van gogh

1877. Degas - The Green Dancers

1907. gustav klimt - Adele Bloch-Bauer I,

gustav klimt beechwood forest

James Ensor – The innovator of 19. century art

20 Jan

My tastes have evolved over the years and though I despised modern art merely a year ago, recently I found myself liking Expressionism and Surrealism. One of the things I love about art is that you can always find out something new – there are so many art movements and artists to choose from. James Ensor is a painter who intrigued me and the more of his painting I’ve seen the more I loved his work.

James Ensor, The Intrigue, 1890

               1890. ”The Intrigue”

James Ensor was born in Brussels on 13. April 1860. He left school early, at the age of fifteen, to live his passion – art. He attended Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels from 1877. to 1880. His work was first exhibited in 1881. At the end of the 19. century most of his paintings, particularly Christ’s entry into Brussels (1889.), were considered scandalous, preposterous and even insulting. Who knew that a young man painting in his parent’s attic would turn up to be the innovator of the 19. century art. He was instrumental in influencing Expressionist and Surrealists. Seems like the initiator always ends up being misunderstood, and rigid Victorian society certainly wasn’t prepared for James Ensor.

james ensor skeletons

               1896. ”Death Chasing the Flock of Mortals”

Ensor did get acceptance, tough gradually, but he continued to exhibit his paintings and eventually won acclaim too. His early paintings were somber and gloomy but at the end of 1880s he choose bizarre subjects and lighter palette. His paintings are easily recognizable by grotesque masks, skeletons, carnivals and puppetry. Noted for his incredible gift for allegories, he used masks as a theatrical aspect in his still lifes. Bright colours and mask’s plastic forms attracted Ensor and he painted with complete freedom. His paintings show great originality and his views on the world, that is, his disapproval of the society and rigid norms that prevent one from developing entirely as a human being.

james ensor the frightful musitians

               ”The frightful musicians”

Turning point in Ensor’s work happened in four years; between 1888. and 1892. From bizarre themes which included skeletons and masks, he turned to more deeper subjects and religious themes such as the torments of Christ. As a master of allegories he showed his disgust for the inhumanity of the world. Painting Christ’s Entry into Brussels (1889.) shown below, is considered a forerunner of twentieth-century Expressionism.

1888. Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889.

               1888. “Entry of Christ into Brussels”

The characters on the painting are based on Belgian politicians from Ensor’s times, historical figures and members of his close family. Ensor himself was an atheist but he identified with Christ as a victim o mockery. In final years of the 19. century Ensor started receiving recognition, but he painted less and his style softened. In fact, the last fifty years of his life are seen as years of decline.

james ensor pierrot lunaire

Pierrot lunaire”

His paintings, earlier characterized by aggressive sarcasm and scatology, were now only mild repetitions of his earlier work. Paintings The Artist’s Mother in Death (1915) and The Vile Vivisectors (1925) turned out to be the most significant works of his late period.

james ensor Pierrot and Skeleton

               ”Pierrot and Skeleton”

His work was different from art of the time but he influenced many 20. century artists such as Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Alfred Kubin, George Grosz, Felix Nussbaum and many other Expressionist and Surrealist of the 20. century. His work is partly considered symbolism, but the originality and choice of subjects made his paintings stood apart from other paintings of the era. He isn’t as famous as other artist of the time, but certainly equally important.

james ensor mascaras singulares

                             ”Mascaras singulares”

I relished looking at his paintings; the great originality and undoubted sense of humor and sarcasm show profound disdain and disappointment in society; feeling many artist had in common. I love his paintings because they are experimental, colourful, wide open and different; Ensor didn’t follow the pattern, he, as it turned out to be, created his own pattern by setting the scene for Expressionism and Surrealism.

1891. James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man

               1891. ”Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man”

1894. James Ensor - Masks looking at a tortoise

               1894. ”Masks looking at a tortoise”

1909. James Ensor - Flowered craniums