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?.
Existence is recognition. Things do not exist until they are observed.”-Jack Kerouac
Many hip-hop fans have seen George Condo’s works on Kanye West’s 2010 release “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. Together Kanye West and George Condo are branded a new era of pop art for Generation-Y.
Condo’s style could be branded as surrealism or cubism or heavily grounded in the classical tradition but does this all mean that it is something entirely new instead? The human mind is able to process things by using the connections they have already established, in this case it is recognized artistic movements. So even for an art connoisseur who is accustomed to ushering in new waves, the idea of something entirely new is hard to digest because we haven’t developed the artistic enzymes to do so. Therefore I may say that it has elements of this and that and indeed his work may have some already familiar components, but understand George Condo is ushering in a new wave of fine art which is really the less “refined”. (All of which will be saved for a later discussion)
How is George Condo surrealistic? If you look at how Condo uses space in his portraits of his “podular” beings, there is a very jarring contrast between the background and the foreground. This subject, being this very non-human creature, is portrayed in a very human fashion. This allows the viewer to better grasp this entirely new species. All of these creatures possessing extremely exaggerated features including swollen cheeks, extra mouths and very large ears and noses. This all being SUR-real as in above or beyond real. George Condo has observed a new world and a new species in his mind and has brought that thought out into this world. And now it is indeed real to us all too.
The very controversial cover of Kanye West’s album follows along within the realm of Condo’s SURreal work. It was banned by Target for its “suggestive” subject matter. Condo said this in reference to the issue,
The superimposition of people’s perceptions on a cartoon is shocking. What’s happening in their minds should be banned. Not the painting.-George Condo
I can understand why Mr. West teamed up with Condo. These two men have made an art of vocalizing, through music and fine art respectively, the treasures in their own vaults. They both share the talent of making what it real to only them in their minds, real to the other 3 billion of us.
But if you ask me, he stole that iconic coral for the “MBDTF” cover from Matisse. They say though that good artist borrow but the best artist steal.
Further Reading (or actually viewing): “Condo Painting” currently streaming on Netflix.
I can personally say that my fascination with modern art with an emphasis on 80’s art comes from a more formal, classroom introduction to modern art. As of late though, I have noticed that I am not the only one with an interest in this era of art. This curiosity can especially be found in urban culture.
Ranging from references to Basquiat on the “Watch the Throne” album to Swizz Beats teaming up with Reebok to create a line inspired by Basquiat. You can watch a video of Swizz art shopping below.
Uh, Picasso was alive he woulda made her
That’s right nigga Mona Lisa can’t fade her
I mean Marilyn Monroe, she’s quite nice
But why all the pretty icons always all white?
Put some colored girls in the MoMA
(for a more detailed list of Basquiat references, you can check this VERY well down list but complex.com here)
But where did all this come from?! Here’s my theory: The musicians that are now making the music we listen to grew up in the 80’s at the height of street art in NY. So what they are doing now is glorifying their heroes. The same way they recently put 90’s Nick shows back on TV because the kids that watching those shows are now in their 20’s, these musicians are bringing back the influences that raised them.
All of this makes me incredibly happy because it is a great example that the heroes of OUR generation draw from a diverse group for inspiration. They are not these one dimensional figures. It also shows that hip-hop/music are not the only things that come from the street but it also brings us this beautiful art that now in the realm of artistic academia. You can conclude the same thing with hip-hop. Originally music critics thought that the genre of hip-hop was just a phase and wouldn’t last but now these hip-hop pioneers are being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
May this be a trend that continues.
“Oh I’m about to blow Andre The Giant”-Lil’ Wayne
As a New Yorker, I’ve seen these stickers everywhere and if you haven’t seen them then head down to the Bowery or Williamsburg and find a light pole. For those who have seen them and wondered what they were, you have a friend in me.
The artist: Shepard Fairey
The Label: OBEY GIANT
Shepard Fairey got his start the same way most other street label artist do which is on the street via Rhode Island art school. But man has he come a long way…His art has been described in the NY Times as “guerrilla style”. And he is of course accredited for the infamous Obama “Hope” flyers that was literally the poster-child of the 2008 campaign propaganda.
Major, right? That’s a super massive accomplishment.
The NY Times has a well-written bio of his late work which you can check out here. So let’s focus on his artistic style and the clothing line.
So where did the “OBEY” name come from?
Fairey created the Andre The Giant stickers in the ’80’s while in art school in Rhode Island. His art is a reactionary art. This is entirely counter to the Fauvist art of Matisse and birthed from protest movements of the ’70’s. Using art as a political tool is seeing a resurgence in recent history as more grassroots-based movements are erecting. The “Hope” poster is an exemplary example of that.
Here’s an excerpt from the OBEY manifesto written by Fairey in 1990:
“The OBEY sticker campaign can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology…The FIRST AIM OF PHENOMENOLOGY is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment. The OBEY sticker attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the product or motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with the sticker provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail. The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker.”
Fairey uses mainly a palette of red and beige in his works. There is also frequent use of red and beige rays and asian themes. Messages of anti-violence (including images of guns with roses and “Make Art Not War” slogan) saturate his work. My belief is that he choose red because of its association with Communism and the idea that Communism brings equality. You can even see images of Chinese soldiers within his work. And then there is the reaction at people have to the idea of Communism and to the color red itself which people usually associate with caution/danger and causes people to literally stop and react.
His art is compelling, emotional, stimulating with images of Black Panthers. But most of all it captures the human experience.
You can check out his entire catalogue here.