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… More On Cubism

Todd Powelson
"Forest" by Todd Powelson

A week or two ago a new friend and I exchanged a couple of emails. He had some questions about and insights on my work, and we discussed art in general and Cubism in particular. Even though I’ve changed the writing somewhat, I thought I’d post the essence of my reply here on ArtDuh. Because I wanted to keep it easily available to me, and because I wanted to share it with you too, gentle reader.

My interest in Cubism started long ago. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, even when I was learning to draw and paint in a realistic way, geometry was what helped me do that. For example, when I was learning how to draw a realistic portrait, I would study the angles of a face. The corner of the eye creates an angle relative to the tip of the nose, and the tip of the nose and the corner of the mouth create another angle. And they have a relationship to the bottom of the ear. As a whole, they all create a plane. The structure of the jaw can be represented by a line that illustrates its relationship to those other points and planes. Together, they all help describe an individual face.

As I’ve gotten older and learned to appreciate mathematics and geometry even more, my commitment to expressing it in my artwork has only grown (I’m no mathematician by any means, not even close. But I appreciate what others reveal). Even the ancient Greeks, with their hyper-realistic artwork, understood that geometry described the building blocks of the natural world. Geometry created, through the Platonic Solids, all matter in the physical universe. And these micro-shapes are repeated over and over in the macro world. Even today we might understand that the super-high velocities of sub-atomic particles, or the waves made by super-strings, create geometry that builds structure and physical form.

Anyway, I didn’t really go into all that in my email… a little side tangent there. You can read more on Cubism (among other things) below.

Picasso‘s Cubism is, of course, a product of the time he lived in and almost seems more of an intellectual exercise than an attempt to reproduce something beautiful. Especially early on. Early cubism also celebrates and reminds me of machines and gears more than I am interested in doing. That isn’t to say I don’t find his work beautiful, because I do, but his more monochromatic palette in the early days of Cubism isn’t quite the same for me as what it evolved into. Especially in the work of artists like Juan Gris. Even though he didn’t come up with the original concept, Gris was a true master and is probably my favorite Cubist painter.

Picasso’s Cubist artwork is meant to break the subject down into its most basic forms and then reassemble it. It is also shows the subject from multiple perspectives. You might be looking at the front, the sides and the back all at the same time. The Italian Futurists took this even further by adding time and motion into their two dimensional pieces. I just find it all so interesting, what these artists were doing on the canvas, and the concepts they were working with.

It reminds me of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Trying to show these different points of view in 2D space. It is interesting to me that relativity and Cubism were both introduced into culture at relatively the same time. A connection I’d never thought of before… I’ve read that Picasso and Braque first conceived of their shared cubist idea while watching their reflections in the windows of a train as it passed by. It’s funny that Einstein also developed his theory while riding a train.

But Cubism doesn’t really celebrate the natural world. At least, not in the traditional way. I love Cubism and geometry, but I use the ideas in a slightly different way, usually expressing my love for nature. I use it to try and portray our place in a larger system. I don’t know how successful I am, but that is what I am trying to do.

When I look at the side of a mountain, I see all of the geometric shapes I can use. Minerals, mud and dirt create these small shapes which come together to create a larger rock wall and very abstract pattern. I look up into the trees and foliage and see the way the geometry of the branches breaks up the blue sky above. I see the way the trees and mountain weave themselves together to make a larger whole. The animals and people move through, with the geometry of their bodies, become an important part of that system. That is often what I am trying to portray. The way individual pieces come together to make a larger whole.

Even if it is just the way the individual pieces of our animal bodies come together. Those pieces make a larger whole, our bodies. Maybe then I might even add extra eyes or wings, for example, because those might help describe personality and spirit.

And then, in my work, I sometimes put mythology into the piece, because to me, those gods are usually representing and describing different aspects of Nature. A sort of personified Nature. And I use that personified Nature because it help me understand that the whole system, the individual parts and the larger system, is alive. Alive with mind and spirit moving through it. In my heart, I’m an animist. I think everything and everyplace has a soul and personality. Even the rocks, rivers, trees and towns have a sort of mind or personality that is moving and evolving into something else. Retaining their individual form while adding to the whole.

For me, this is very beautiful, and geometry gives a structure to build from and work through.

Todd Powelson
Todd Powelson works as a Graphic Designer, Illustrator, and Visual Artist.

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