We all have moments in life when things begin to look grim. Most of us, thankfully, find a way to handle these taxing situations. Some people drink, others buy a pet or a new car. There are certain individuals that choose to turn this negative energy into something creative. This can be said of artist such as Kanye West and Picasso. Both men were able to transform their sorrow into art and this shared motivation is what links them. Most specifically in 2008, Kanye West released “808′s & Heartbreak” to mixed reviews. These reviews spawned from West’s use of a tool called “auto-tune” to alter his voice to be more melodic. The album has dominant themes of sadness, heartbreak and vanity. It is grounded on these dynamics that Kanye West’s album can be connected to Picasso’s Blue Period (1901-1904).
The connection exist through emotion. The entire “808′s” album is full of West mourning the loss of his love and recovering from the damage she inflicted as well as the torment of the death of his mother. In regards to Picasso, he was mourning the death of a friend, which is why his color palette changed. So due to the traumatic experiences that had recently occurred in their lives, both artist were changing their palettes. In the case of West he was using darker chords and Auto-Tune instead of more up-tempo tunes. Picasso’s color palette was Cezannian and fauvism inspired, meaning that it was colorful and drastically changed to a palette where the majority of the colors are variations of blue.
During a conversation with NJ-based artist, Luca Molnar, she brought to my attention how these bodies of work were also created out of artist who were forced to create in unknown ways due to their emotion instability which hindered them from creating in their usual manner. For example Kanye West recorded his album in Hawaii, instead of on the mainland as he is accustomed to, because that was the only place he could find peace*.
Luca was also able to connect “Heartless” with Picasso’s “Woman with Crossed Arms”. She mentioned that it was more than the center of both pieces being a woman but rather it is the sentiment that connects them. They both embody a feeling of sadness but “Heartless” is primarily about actual heartbreak and is more animated (literally and figuratively) while “Woman With Crossed Arms” personifies a more general sense of sadness and depression that is underlying in “Heartless”.
(In the video he even literally turns blue. His wardrobe on the onset features a brightly color sweater but by the end of the video his attire changes to a monochromatic palette of silvers and gray. While the women are all depicted in vivid colors)
The connection extends beyond this to how the artist evolved out of this stage. After this 2-3 year blue period, Picasso immediately moves into his rose period where red is the dominant color. Similarly, West on his next album, which was 2010′s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, has music videos that use red as the central color i.e. “Runaway” and “All of the Lights”, has a George Condo album artwork that features a vivid, fauvist inspired red background and also the sound of the album is a deep rouge.
Go listen and see what color you visualize the sound of the album to be? In all, these are both the kings of their respective realm. So next time you hear Kanye’s music, make sure you see it too.
*TANGENT ALERT: If you read the previous post where I correlate Kanye West to my favorite painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat, you will know what I have already established as the connecting threads. Another one is that Kanye found solace in Hawaii. The same can be said about Basquiat. It has been said that Hawaii was the only place where he did not use drugs. Interesante, aye?.