Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Jean Cocteau

     Jean Cocteau was all over the place from 1910-1950. Best known as a novelist, poet, or filmmaker, his drawings were not, however, the fore front of popular culture. He was part of a crowd of artists at the time; he hung out with French actors, had affairs with royalty, and was friends with such revolutionaries as Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel. In fact his portrait was taken by countless of his contemporaries, and he was a recognizable face of the time. His films, most notably "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) and "Blood of a Poet" (1930) were pivotal at the time, with their rich symbolism and surrealist spins. What makes him an exceptional film maker is that he did not just play role of director, but also writer, set director, and actor. In he midst of all his projects Cocteau was constantly sketching. His illustration often inspire, elaborate, or partner with his motion pictures, poetry, or plays. This is why I find his illustrations so interesting because I think they are even more intimate to him than his more processed work. Also the same extreme avant-garde themes that are in his major works are displayed in his illustrations.
      His work is bizarre and interesting.There are distinct categories of his work: the mystical, portraiture, the erotic, the surreal, however they all lay under a net of modernity. The range of work is also astounding. For Cocteau he really had no positions socially or politically, art was his refuge. He did, however, make serious political implication in the political weekly, Le Mot, that he contributed graphics to. These simple sketches bridged his imagination with the situation at hand in France. The bottom depicts the "eating" of Germany.

    Cocteau was never one to follow trends, but more often was breaking them and noting their cliches. He was constantly on the brink of two ideals. Parading himself around, while wanting to keep a sense of anonymity by dressing in disguises and wearing masks. This obsession with disguise is exemplified in his self portraiture in which he has no face.
Self portait without a face, 1915
He kept a sense of polarity in his work; it appears easy, but is actually extremely hard to understand. Partyly because his style was rather sporadic depending on his project. He could have really geometric, structured lines (as seen in the portrait above) but he could also let loose and go into more detailed expressive work like his the Vierge collection (view at
     His inventiveness kept all his viewers on their toes. Cocteau worked incredibly on his projects, trying to reinvent himself, wanting to become the best of his time - sometimes at the cost of being considered a peacock. His oeuvre stretched into two many fields making him inexplicable to many. Because of his social ridiculousness his work at the time often got pushed aside, but it nevertheless was important mind boggling work. I think that Cocteau was a genius in many of his fields. He embraced himself and his point of view. He was comfortable twisting the known into something fantastical, but still had the capability to perform structured straightforward work. His large amount of work continues to be unique and innovative. It is impossible to imitate because he questioned the very substance of art. He was a revolutionary for his time.

Opium, St Cloud 1929

Sommeil hollywoodien, 1953 (From several studies
 dating back to the 1920s)
Works Cited:

Centre Pompidou.  Jean Cocteau. London: Paul Holberton publishing, 2003. Print. 

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