Monday, October 22, 2012

Abdel Hadi Al Gazar

This post introduces the work of Abdel Hadi Al Gazar, an Egyptian artist, who is known to be one of the founders figures of the surreal movement in Egypt

Art Movements in Egypt  

The official beginning of the Egyptian art movement was 1908, with the opening of the first School of Fine Arts in Cairo. The work of all of these first-generation artists demonstrate a strong Egyptian character and a departure from the norms of European-style academic art prevalent at the time, to a pre-Islamic and pre-Christian past by the adoption of neo-pharaonic motifs on the one hand, and more focus on the spirituality of the common man on the other hand.   

The second generation of artists (from the second half of 1920s to 1940s) was witnessing an era of upheavals as with the rise of right-wing and left-wing groups (inspired by fascist and communist waves in the west). The result is that the work of such generation is remarkably eclectic. However this generation introduced modern in Egypt

The artist I am introducing here, Abdel Hadi Al Gazar belonged to the third generation of artists. Following the end of the Second World War, Egyptian art saw something of a revival by this third generation of Egyptian pioneer artists. At its outset this generation’s feeling was that the purpose of art was to move beyond figurative representation and formalist abstraction and instead to express profound and universal concepts.

There are three strands of this generation, First: a formalist approach, which embraced new trends in modern art, some of them Western. Second: metaphysical tendencies, expressed by depictions of figures in primitive settings, which evoked a yearning to rediscover nature, stylistically with ties to Surrealism.

The third strand was formed by number of artists who founded what they called the Group of Contemporary Art. They were seeking to move away from metaphysical and surrealist sympathies towards a synthesis of folk art, and to forcefully depict the lives of miserable and oppressed masses. Those artists spoke of the tough times, which followed the end of the Second World War, when Egypt experienced a recession such as it, had never seen. With an exploding population and mass unemployment, a large part of society, rooted in a deeply superstitious folk culture, was dipping below the poverty line.

Abdel Hadi Al Gazar

Abdel Hadi Al Gazzar (1925 – 1966, Alexandria, Egypt) occupies a unique position among the artists of his generation. Gazzar was a member of the Group of Contemporary Art mentioned above.

He is considered to be among the leading proponents of surrealism. Gazar would choose ordinary working-class people as well as those who lived on the edge- mystics, soothsayers and circus acrobats as his subjects. Through his strong line and colour, these depictions were to give these characters a certain nobility, but a pervasive feeling of magic and mystery permeates the paintings. (christies)

There is  an argument that Gazar was more of an expressionist than surrealist, though he’s often described as one. He is more attached to reality than to the products of the unconscious, visions of the imagination and dreams. However, there are definitely surreal elements in Gazar’s work. Like surrealists, Gazar did not naively accept that everything is in its logical place at the level of pure reality claim.

Historians usually classify Gazar’s work along three phases:

The first phase is the metaphysical stage and is reflected in Gazar’s work between 1938 and 1946. Gazar who was born in a Mediterranean city (Alexandria) translated his interaction with the abstract environment around him, and he was convinced that all creatures originate from one source (water). In this stage (also, historians call it the Shells Period), and based on the anthropological theme of man before civilization and his relationship with the wilderness, Gazar used shells as icons to express his ideas and feelings about sources of life.

The second phase of El-Gazzar's career reflected his move to and influence by Sayeda Zeinab, a Cairene historical popular district. In this district medieval traditions resisted all the winds of modern westernization. It was in this district that he witnessed the moulids (Sufis carnivals) and the religious festivals that have been celebrated since the Fatmid period. He began to associate the intuitive aspect of art (its soul) with the essential element in the popular magical art (the hidden and the unknown).

The third phase of El-Gazzar's later works were very different, influenced as he was by the politics of contemporary Egypt (1952 revolution) and with a focus on technology and progress (With the rise of the socialist state of 1952s and 1960s). A period of study in Italy and England (1956-1958) saw major stylistic changes in his work, namely a marked tendency towards abstraction. This later work shows him to have been both fascinated and repelled by scientific progress and the interaction (or lack thereof) between man and machine. He moved away from the irrationalism of folklore towards a surrealism that resembled ever more closely science fiction. This was really an extraordinary thing for an Egyptian artist of the time to do -amongst his contemporaries there were no parallels.


This is my favorite quote by Gazar :

“When the pencil or the paintbrush touches the paper, it starts a difficult task which is the process of creation to that degree that the viewer believer when it sees that painting at the end is that is a new creation which it is not. In other words, the viewer believes that the nature it sees in the drawing is a created object and this is untrue. The true creation starts when the universe began existing and it will end when the universe ends. The artists himself does not know when it started the painting and how he finished it as the painting and the artists is one piece. The different images get melting into the soul of the artists as the artists gets melting into his artistic works. It is the same process like the universe itself when the soul melts into the substance and the substance melts into the soul”


Selected Work ( from personal collections) 
(The title of the work and material used is in the image filename ) 

Shells Period 

The second phase (Folkloric phase)

this is my favorite. It is called Abou El Sebaa which means The Father of the lions. I like the adoption of folkloric motifs and pharaonic affects with the usage of hot colors. 

This piece is one of Gazar's political work ... it is titled chorus. It is to express hunger and poverty smashing lives of ordinary masses

This one is titled : the World of Love :) 

The Third Phase (Nationalist and Revolutionary Affects) 

The Third Phase (Surreal and Abstract work) 

This is the most famous work by Gazar. It is called High Dam. This work reflects man-nature-machine interaction so vivid in the project of the high dam with surrealist elements and touches. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fernando Jin - William-Adolphe Bouguereau

William-Adolphe Bouguereau

I chose the French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau because I was deeply captured by his extremely and realistic style of painting. Usually I will find realistic paintings not that beautiful, but Bouguereau’s paintings perfectly combine these two characters. I especially like those kids painted by him. Those kids’ pureness and smile can be really fascinating.

Source: Bouguereau, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Self Portrait, 1879.

Short Biography

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (November 30, 1825 – August 19, 1905) was born in La Rochelle, the Atlantic coast of France, into a merchant family of olive oil. He was supposed to join the family business but similar to Wolfgang A. Mozart’s early display of extreme talent in music, Bouguereau demonstrated his unusual ability to draw at a very young age. Thanks to the help of his uncle Eugene, who played a very important role in Bouguereau’s life, that is, to teach the first drawing lessons and arranged for Bouguereau to go to high school, Bouguereau’s father was convinced by a client to send him to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, where his talent stood out by winning first prize in a competition with an fabulous depiction of Saint Roch. After achieving early success, Bouguereau’s works were in great need among American millionaires who considered him the most important French artist of that time.  However, after 1920, Bouguereau fell into disrepute, partly because of the public’s changing tastes and partly his stubborn objection to the avant-garde artists who were gradually gaining acceptance. For several decades, his name was seldom mentioned in the world.

Style and techniques

He is a traditional Academic painter, who largely drew on religious and mythological themes and subjects with a strong emphasis of woman body. In his time, Bouguereau was both appreciated and criticized. He was considered to be one of the greatest painters in the world by the Academic community, while in the same time, strongly despised by those avant-garde painters.

Selected Works

Source: Bouguereau, William-Adolphe, The Bohemian, 1890

This is one of my favorite paintings. It is very realistic and beautiful.

Source: Bouguereau, William-Adolphe, Bather, 1870

An exemplification of Bouguereau's expertise on depicting female body.

Source: Bouguereau, William-Adolphe, The Virgin with Angels, 1881

Religious stories are a major theme of Bouguereau's paintings. Different from early paintings, Bouguereau's religious paintings are more realistic and appealing.

Source: Bouguereau, William-Adolphe, Sketch for Night, 1881

An exemplification of Bouguereau's Academician skills and focus on female body.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wenshun Liu - Andy Warhol

Andrew Warhola (Andy Warhol) is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and the central figure of theAmerican Pop Art movement. After a career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became famous worldwide for his avant-garde Pop Art paintings and screenprintings. He was a diverse figure known for friendships with bohemian street people, distinguished intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy aristocrats. He was also controversial figure because of the nature of his works, his near fatal shooting, and his sex life. For these reasons and others he is known as the Prince of Pop Art.

The turbulent 1960s ignited an impressive and wildly prolific time in Warhol’s life.  It is this period, extending into the early 1970s, which saw the production of many of Warhol’s most iconic works. Building on the emerging movement of Pop Art, wherein artists used everyday consumer objects as subjects, Warhol started painting readily found, mass-produced objects, drawing on his extensive advertising background.  When asked about the impulse to paint Campbell’s soup cans, Warhol replied, “I wanted to paint nothing. I was looking for something that was the essence of nothing, and that was it”. The humble soup cans would soon take their place among the Marilyn MonroesDollar Signs,Disasters, and Coca Cola Bottles as essential, exemplary works of contemporary art. 

displayed in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Brillo Box 

More than thirty years after their first exhibition at Stable Gallery (in 1964) in New York, Warhol's Brillo Boxes continue to unsettle museum visitors through their deadpan replication of American commercial culture. As part of Warhol's first sculptural project, theBrillo Boxes comment on the commercial framework behind the pristine spaces of the art gallery and art museum, while rubbing the nose of high culture in the mundane disorder of the supermarket stockroom.

Warhol at the Stable Gallery 1964

The Brillo Boxes were but one type within a group of replicas of commonplace supermarket packaging--Del Monte Peach Halves, Campbell's Tomato Juice, and Heinz's Ketchup--included in the 1964 Stable Gallery show.  The boxes were fabricated in plywood by an outside manufacturer, and then painted to mimic the models. The lettering and logos were screenprinted on the prepared boxes, replicating the originals with uncanny accuracy.  The first group of boxes was screenprinted in The Factory by Warhol and his principal assistant of the '60s, Gerard Malanga, the mode of production aping the assembly-line techniques then thought to be the sole paradigm for industrial production. Seldom was the brute act of repetition as evident as in the box project.


Celebrity Portraits 

Andy Warhol brought portraiture back into focus in the 1960s when he began creating iconic Pop art paintings of celebrities. As a whole, Warhol's portraits provide a fascinating account of his personal and artistic circle, as well as a chronicle of many of the most talented, best known and wealthiest public figures of the period. Warhol's celebrated subjects ranged from tyrants, tycoons and Hollywood movie stars to rock stars, fashion designers and drag queens of the New York City nightlife of the 1970s and 1980s.

Warhol paints Marilyn Monroe because she is the typical icon of the "glamorous women". Every female portrait he completed was in the same format which included emphasis on lipstick, eye shadow and frozen camera smile. He wanted to portray Marilyn as the comtemporary sex goddess , packaged for the public as a consumer item. Warhol uses a wide range of colors and off the registar printing to show variations on the image. Warhol could relate to Monroe's desperate try to rid herself of the vain, dumb blonde stereotype that she struggled with her entire life. Warhol too struggled with desperatly tying to be taken seriously.

The Elvis portrait is a silkscreen on acrylic on canvas. It was done in 1964 and is another celebrity portrait of a popular icon in the 1960's. For Warhol, Elvis was a symbol of an American success story. Elvis went from a singing truck driver to an idol of an entire generation. He also was known for slipping into fits of depression like Mariln Monroe and Warhol himself. This portrait is surrounded by a hint of tragedy similar to many of the celebrities Warhol painted.

The below portrait of Jackie O was based on a famous mass media potograph. He photographed Jackie O many times before and after the assisination of her husband, John F. Kennedy. He saw this painting as a documentary news piece reflecting American political and social history. The print has a graniness effect said by Warhol to show the hint of tragedy covering Jackie O. Warhol used a group of Jackie O paintings in a book to show how the event of her husbands assignation altered the spirit of the country.

The below portrait of Liz Taylor was based on a famous mass media photograph. It is an offset lithograph printed on white paper. Liz like Marilyn Monroe represented the "glamorous women" that Warhol became obsessed with. Liz was also surronded by a hint of tragedy by constatly struggling with health problems. Warhol had a similar struggle being a sickly child as well as adult. She embodied a success story by starting out as a child film actress and becoming one of the most highly paid stars in Hollywood.

The Factory

In 1963 Warhol moved his visual arts operations to a building at 231 East 47th Street in New York, a space dubbed The Factory by Warhol and his growing circle. By the time Warhol had become famous, he was working day and night on his paintings. To create his art, Warhol used silkscreens so that he could mass-produce images the way capitalist corporations mass produce consumer goods. In order to continue working the way he did, he assembled a menagerie of adult film performers, drag queens, socialites, drug addicts, musicians, and free-thinkers that became known as the Warhol Superstars, to help him. These "art-workers" helped him create his paintings, starred in his films, and basically developed the atmosphere for which the Factory became legendary.

The Factory, its interior sheathed with silver foil and aluminum paint by Billy Name, one of Warhol's most fanatic assistants during the 1960s, theatricalized the mock-industrial mode of production Warhol had adopted for his paintings and the films he had begun to make earlier that year. The exploitative character of Warhol's enterprise earned him a new nickname amongst his entourage: Drella, a conjunction of Dracula and Cinderella.

In 1968 Warhol suffered a nearly fatal gun-shot wound from aspiring playwright and radical feminist author, Valerie Solanas. The shooting, which occurred in the entrance of the Factory, forever changed Warhol.  Some point to the shock of this event as a factor in his further embrace of an increasingly distant persona. The brush with death along with mounting pressure from the Internal Revenue Service (stemming from his critical stance against President Richard Nixon), seem to have prompted Warhol to document his life to an ever more obsessive degree. He would dictate every activity, including noting  the most minor expenses, and  employ interns and assistants to transcribe the content of what would amount to over 3,400 audio tapes. 

What I really like about these works is how they refined the definition of art. The question What is art? has been part of philosophy since the time of Plati. But Andy forced us to rethink the question in an entirely new way. He closes the gap between high art and daily necessities. Plus, Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes look exactly like the real cartoons one could see in the stockroom of any supermarket in the land. Indeed, it would have been impossible for anyone unfamiliar with avant-garde art in 1964 to have seen the boxes as art at all. So the new form of the ancient question was: given two objects that look exactly alike, how is it possible for one of them to be a work of art and the other just an ordinary object? In all, his idea that "Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it" is mind-blowing to me, and affects my way of viewing art from many perspectives.

Arthur C. Danto Andy Warhol


Gustav Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist painter born in Baumgartner, Austria-Hungary on July 14, 1862. He was born in a family of seven children to the son of a gold engraver, which later influenced his paintings created in the “Golden Period.” I became drawn to Klimt when I viewed his most famous painting “The Kiss,” which reflected light through the sheen of gold leaf. I was fascinated by the different textures he created in his paintings and the rich sensation that was imbued by the novel techniques. 

“The Kiss” is his best-known work, which was completed in 1907-1908. The painting is on a square canvas with oil paint and layers of gold leaf applied on top. "The Kiss" is a symbol of the Viennese Art Nouveau, which was a movement inspired by natural forms and curves. The painting is intriguing in that the female is not merely the object of affection, but she serves as the main focal point. 

This painting titled "Death and Life" was completed in 1908 and won first place at the 1911 world exhibition in Rome. To the left, death is depicted as the stereotypical grim reaper, covered in a cloth of symbols. Life is symbolized on the right, with figures drawn from various phases of life. It is also covered with a robe of symbols, but the color scheme differs drastically from that of the left. 

This drawing drastically differs from what Klimt is most known for, his magnetic golden paintings. It is titled "Fishblood" and was created in 1898 through the use of pencil, ink, and black and white chalk. This drawing illustrates exquisitely both structure and fluidity. 

This sketch is from the series "Impurity" during the "Beethoven frieze." A common theme of this sketch and his other paintings is the subtlety of emotion that is conveyed.