Above The Odds - Lyse Marion

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Canadian artist living near Montreal, Lyse Marion borrows from a range of visual imagery to create lyrical and evocative digital collages. Marion is currently the manager of a small gallery near Montreal and draws upon her experience in social work and a passion for art to help create her images.
Above the Odds combines eastern and western imagery to create a mysterious, otherworldly atmosphere. The towering figure of Degas' little ballerina statue imposes itself on a Middle-eastern town. The young girl is on verge of womanhood, in a state of flux just as the Middle East struggles with it's own growing pains.
The juxtaposition of an immensely tall European girl-child into a Middle-eastern setting is enhanced by the further juxtaposition of orange and blue in the landscape. Though it is hardly unnatural to see an orange sky or a blue building, the saturation of the colors completes the atmosphere of uncertainty and vague foreboding. Yet the figure of the unselfconscious ballerina allows one to feel some sense of stability even here.
The image gently but firmly reminds us of the issue of women's rights, an often under-represented topic in the Middle East. Marion's long background in social work allows her to bring this issue to the fore with sensitivity and dignity. As the title Above the Odds implies, Marion has faith in human nature to rise above culturally imposed limitations.
Marion has much more work available to view in her Etsy shop (link provided above) and I encourage everyone to take a look.

The Art Political (part 4)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The 2008 political season grinds on leaving Florida and Michigan in it's wake as the Clinton camp accuses Obama of crushing new primary hopes and Obama tries to deal with race like an adult....and the media has a series of fits annoying enough to make me want to chuck my t.v. in the bin.

So let's forget all of them for a little while and look at some of the art that came out of revolutionary France. One of the very most important political pieces of art from this time was David's Death of Marat (1793).

During this period, the neoclassical style was hot - everyone was doing it. Neoclassicism was simple, classic, realistic, and it's biggest advantage was to communicate a clear, simple ideal. Delacroix's depiction of liberty is a fine example of this.
But getting back to Death of Marat, you can see that the composition is very starkly composed. Marat lies dead in a bathtub which runs parallel with the picture plane, effectively bringing him to us. And who is this fellow? In a word, a martyr.
Marat was stabbed in his bathtub by a woman from a rival revolutionary faction. The elegant way in which David has posed him is likely at odds with his actual death (I imagine there should be a teency bit more blood.) However, the pose recalls many pieta sculptures in which the dead form of Jesus is often draped across his mother's lap. David is effectively creating a new mythology for a new era, and this portrait of a martyr has become so iconic of that that simply googling 'david death' will come up with this picture.
The creation of a new mythology to support one's cause is, I think, the most interesting aspect here because I believe it has become such a common tactic, and art has become a common tool of this - even if it's just a bit of film about a red phone.
Next week, we'll take a little break from politics altogether to look at some art from Lyse Marion.

The Art Political (part 3)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Well, the presidential campaigns keep grinding on with no signs of resolution. McCain's off in Iraq, and Obama and Clinton are trying not to squabble too obviously.

Back in the realm of art....we'll skip over Constantine and move right along to an interesting mosaic from Emperor Justinian. Justinian faced a great many problems in his rule and very nearly lost his crown. He was, in fact, saved only by his co-regent, Theodora, who refused to give in to riots and danger and successfully rode out their problems.

In order to put up a strong front, Justinian utilized church imagery to reinforce his political position. As this mosaic shows, Justinian styled himself a representative of God. His purple robes and halo show his majesty and position as pontif-in-chief; his prominent position in the composition let's everyone know who is in charge.
After Justinian, one of the next big leaders in the West to use art to advance his political agenda was Charlemagne. Charlamagne is responsible for the creation of the lower-case alphabet and advancing education in the Dark Ages. He also fought the Iconoclasts who wanted to remove certain types of imagery from the theological sphere because Charlemagne recognised the power of art to help educate the masses.
The next major breakthrough came with Martin Luther and the use of movable type printing. This actually became something of an explosion as pamphlets with political cartoons began to circulate in force. Once the damn had been broken, the flow of information only increased to deluge proportions.

Next week...a bit of Revolutionary France's political art.

The Art Political (part 2)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ok...so Clinton and Obama haven't managed to settle anything in spite of their fliers and commercials, but McCain seems to be getting quite comfortable. Let's continue our brief survey of the history of political art, shall we?

Though much of the art created throughout history was politically motivated, certain examples stand out. One such is the statue Augustus Ceasar commissioned after an important victory over some Germanic tribes to the north.
This was by no means his first political art. Before becoming emperor he had, like many wealthy individuals, commissioned several portrait busts. These were not ordinary portraits because they depicted him as a bit of a rebel. He wore in them short hair and a clean shaven face to differentiate himself from the stodgy old Republicans in the Senate.
Ironically, he cultivated this rebellious look because he supported the idea of a monarchy in Rome - quite the strange idea from our perspective!
So this later sculpture continues his trend in utilizing art to promote a political message. Here, he wanted to make the citizenry both feel good about a victory over barbarians, and to thank Ceasar for it. His breastplate is carved with images of barbaric Germans being defeated handily. One of the odd things you'll notice is that even though he's in full battle dress, Augustus had bare feet. Could the sculptor have just forgotten them? Not at all - Ceasar's feet are bare because gods don't need shoes. That's a powerful statement, indeed.

Next week, we'll make a brief stopover in the Byzantine empire then move on to more recent political art...Look forward to it!

The Art Political (part one)

Monday, March 3, 2008

As Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and John McCain continue their tussle over who gets to sit on the throne, I thought it would be interesting to take a brief look at the history of political art from ancient Greece to today.

It seem that art and politics have been mixed up since the beginning of recorded history (at least) and the two have often supported eachother. In the ancient world, Greece and Persia fough a PR campaign through their respective art styles, both trying to make the case that their way was better.

The parthenon frieze shows the Greek triumph of order over chaos and Persia's answer (Darius and Xerxes Giving Audience, c 490 BCE) shows a more peaceful triumph of order over chaos.

But the first truly overt use of political art seems to come from
Alexander the Great. The man was an absolute PR genius and came up with a really ingenious way of helping to solidify his grip on his new empire: he basically plastered his face on everything he could think of. As his army marched through Mesopotamia they were picking up a lot of loot and some of that was converted into coinage that, for the first time, bore the image of a ruler. His face also showed up in large and small forms everywhere he went....from large marble statues to cheap touristy little busts. Suddenly, all these lands full of people who had never heard of this Macedonian invader, could actually see his face and feel his power through coinage.
What an amazing thing! Next time I'll continue exploring political art from ancient Rome and hopefully get to more modern times relatively quickly.

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