Saturday, February 18, 2017

Gino Severini by Annie Kornack

Gino Severini (1883 – 1966)

Gino Severini was born on April 7, 1883 to a poor family in Cortona, Italy. Growing up in hardship, Severini had a personality that allowed him to easily acquaint himself with friends. After being expelled from school at the age of fifteen, he moved to Rome with his mother where his love for art was able to flourish. In 1900 he met with painter Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla where they began experimenting with the painting technique of Divisionism, which is characterized by the painting of adjacent colors creating a broken surface of shapes, and this new style of painting helped turn his gears on how to see the world differently and express that through art.

In 1906, Severini moved to Paris where he was elated by his new home and despite continual poverty, was quick to embrace the French culture and settle himself into the artistic scene Paris had to offer, even befriending Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Guillaume Apollinaire amongst others. In 1910 he officially joined the Futurist movement with his signing of the Manifesto of the Futurist Painters. Before the opening of the Futurist exhibition in February 1912 at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in Paris, it is recorded that Picasso visited Severini’s studio and admired his painting, Souvenirs de voyage.

Souvenirs de voyage, 1911. A piece at the early side of Severini's career that is very classic Severini with the use of form and shape and great attention to color. 

Severini was concerned with the balance between matter and light, between objects and their emanations, and this critical balance is a thread seen both through his work and his writing. He embraced Italian futurism and enjoyed portraying the division of color and form. At his first solo exhibition in London in 1913 at the Marlborough Gallery, he said that futurism is the “violent affirmation of human activity” and that in this new day and age, “The spectacle of the sea and mountains no longer moved Futurists, who preferred the ‘tragedy and the lyricism of electric light, of motor cars, of locomotives and airplanes.” Severini was different than most of his contemporary futurist friends because of his tendency to steer away from the subject of machinery and instead use futuristic styles paired with everyday encounters and scenes, such as dancers, which were one of his favorite subjects.

His love of Paris is seen in The Dance of the Pan Pan at the Monico, 1911 – his technique of portraying movement and the frenzy of dance, sounds of music and laughter are easily seen in this piece. Also the use of overlapping, jagged shapes that combine together to form this haphazard yet detailed image are characteristic of Severini.

In this 1914 painting Sea = Dancer, the dance of light versus the dance of solids is portrayed as electrical energy and optical curvatures, creating a sense of motions and movements. The complexity to this piece, like Severini’s others, leaves no dull place to look at as the eyes are constantly moving all over the page.  

By the end of 1912, Severini had developed his own mature Futurist style. He wasn’t trying to depict the speed of an object, but rather speed itself—instead of choosing objects of automated speed such as cars and airplanes; he chose often to express the sensation of speed and universal dynamism of dance, as stated above. By 1914, the Futurist group was starting to disintegrate, with each forging his own path. With the war pursuing, Severini immersed himself in his work, possibly with the desire to be accepted by his adopted country and perhaps the frustration of guilt of being a non-combatant.

In this 1916 self portrait sketch, his division of form is easily seen through the geometric separation of different facial features that was a prominent characteristic of Severini’s sketches.

The year 1916 was a turning point for Severini: war seemed interminable, he was cut off from Futurist friends, he was saddened by the death of his infant son and friend Boccioni. He transitioned into the adoption of Synthetic Cubist style during the war years and finally settled to paint timeless and mathematically composed still lifes and figures from 1919 onwards. He adopted the subject matter of the Cubists: portraits, interiors, still lifes. Focusing on lines and color arrangement in a certain order to express dynamism is any random object, his emphasis on color remained constant and his ideology that art that touches the senses and the intellectual was never lost despite his transforming style.

This 1919 piece title Nature Morte shows Severini's transition from a seemingly chaotic and colorful frenzy of dancers and elements as seen in the two first pieces, towards a depiction of a still-life such as this one, which still has many elements of Severini's use of form and shape to portray his aesthetic, but is definitely more refined. 

Severini died in Paris on February 26, 1966.

I chose to pick Gino Severini as my artist because when browsing through the books in the stacks at Lilly Library I came across some of his paintings and it strangely reminded me of some of Edgar Degas’ work due to the dancer as the main focus. Degas is one of my favorite artists since I grew up dancing since the age of three and hold his depictions of the fantasy and beauty of the dancer close to my heart. I found it interesting in a book I read it said “Like Degas, he was considered a supreme painter of dancers.” I also enjoyed the dynamism in Severini’s works and the history of his key role in defining the Futurism movement; I found it sad that despite his numerous connections with so many mainstream famed artists such as Picasso, he is rarely discussed so I thought it would be a nice homage to all his work to choose him.

Works Used to Complete this post:
Firenze, Electa. Gino Severini. Italy: Stampato, 1983. Print.

Fonti, Daniela. Gino Severini: The Dance 1909-1916. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2001. Print.

Hanson, Anne Coffin. Severini futurista: 1912-1917. New Haven, Conneticut: Yale University Art Gallery, 1995. Print.

Gino Severini:From Futurism to Classicism. London: Hayward Gallery, 1999. Print.

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