Las Meninas

Some of My Latest Drawings of Beautiful Men

Santa Cruz Art League: All Mixed Up-Mixed Media Exhibit, Deadline May18

All Mixed Up-Mixed Media Exhibit, Deadline May18

All Mixed Up
Mixed Media
                A National Art Exhibit
"Do something, do something to that, and then do something to that." Jasper Johns.
Mixed Media can allow for great versatility in the creation of a work of art. Common media combinations include oil paint, graphite, textiles, or sculpture. However,mixed media pieces can include almost anything. Look around and see what you have -- then, do something to it!
              July 11 - August 10, 2014
                      Reception: July 19, 2014, 3-5pm
 Juror: Andrea Borsuk
                       Artist / Teacher / Curator
The Juror will grant $1,000 in awards
Deadline: May 18 (11:59pm) 2014
Each artist may submit up to 3 digital/jpeg entries.
Santa Cruz Art League
526 Broadway
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
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Hours: Wed-Sat 12-5pm
Sun 12-4pm
1st Friday: 12-9pm

Beautiful Sexy Figure Painting at Lyons Wier Gallery: AARON NAGEL Fathoms

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AARON NAGEL  "Fathoms"   May 9 - June 7, 2014
The Accomplice, The Abettor 
2014, Oil on canvas, 64 x 38 in / 162.6 x 96.5 cm
2014, Oil on canvas, 54 x 38 in / 137.2 x 96.5 cm
2014, Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in / 122 x 91 cm
2014, Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 in / 50.8 x 40.6 cm
2014, Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 in / 50.8 x 40.6 cm


May 9 - June 7, 2014

Opening Reception
Friday, May 9th 
6 - 9pm

"I happened upon Aaron Nagel's artwork while surfing the art-world blogosphere a few years back.  His images had all the makings of a great painting--wonderfully composed, impeccably painted, and slightly ominous. The work was swiftly etched in my brain and I had to find who this painter was.  Through due diligence, I learned that Nagel is an accomplished musician, graphic designer and self-taught artist.  Being self-taught added extra intrigue for me, as his painting prowess is simply astonishing.  I continued to watch Nagel's artistic growth and eventually added one of his pieces to our personal collection.  Living with the work allowed me to truly understand that Nagel's painting ability shares equal footing with his graphic design interest and skills, and that the work somehow has its own distinct yet indescribable timbre.

"Fathoms" evidences Nagel's enduring admiration for classical oil painting both in technique and composition. This exhibition builds upon his last body of work by advancing his understanding and use of light and shadow.  Working with live models and photography, Nagel seemingly sculpts the figure with brushwork and shadow play.  His renderings recall a litany of historical and contemporary painters that work with the female nude.  However Nagel transcends many of his contemporaries and comparisons in the way he encapsulates the spirit of his models with a blend of self-confidence, inner-peace and personal strength. There is a palpable sense of assuredness whereby one is immediately captivated by the conceptual context of the subjects' body language and eye contact (or lack of).  
Another engaging element in Nagel's work is his use of typography as a compositional and aesthetic element. "The Accomplice Abettor MMXIV," (seen above) is not only the name of the painting but also a formal element that clearly pays homage to historical artwork as well as to the artist's skill in graphic design.  I applaud these efforts as I have always contended that if the title of the piece is an integral part of the work, it should be a part its composition."  - Michael Lyons Wier 

Born in 1980 in San Francisco, CA, Aaron Nagel began drawing as a child and gradually made his way to painting. Upon discovering oils in his early twenties, he became enamored with the medium and has been obsessed with it ever since.  He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland (OR), Philadelphia, Tampa, Miami, and New York and has shown at international art fairs such as Art Miami and Scope Art Fair. Nagel was a Semi-Finalist for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition (2009) at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC. Aaron Nagel lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. This is his second solo show with Lyons Wier Gallery.

For more information, please contact:

Lyons Wier Gallery
542 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011

Gallery hours: Tues - Sat, 11am - 6pm

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Great Art

Art History Everyone Should Know: Expressionist Movements, Klimt, Munch, and Kirchner

Get all the lectures in order with the readings here:
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Expressionistic Movements: Life, Death and Anxiety at the turn of the Century


Gustav Klimt, Death and Life, 1916
Oil on canvas 178 x 198 cm
Private collection, Vienna
Stokstad calls him Art Nouveau
or Sezession-stil (Germany)

Form: Although painted in oil on canvas, the paint is applied in a rather thin often washy manner which exhibits little or no texture.  The composition is asymmetrical and the figure of the robed figure with the skull is placed in an empty field that stands in stark comparison to the group of figures on the right side. The figures are painted in a strange combination of illusionism and flat unrealistic anatomy.  There are passages of modeled value which are also in a formal tension against the flat graphic designs of the patterns on the figures' clothes.
The designs on the clothes vary in color and form from harsh angular crosslike forms, geometric shapes such as triangles and squares to rounded curvilinear forms.
Iconography:  The composition is designed to create a tension between the figure which represents death at left and wields either a club or some sort scepter against the massed interwoven bodies of the sleeping unaware figures on the right.
The types vary from old, and young woman, to mothers and young well muscled male youths.  The patterning of the clothing is also meant as a type of clue as to the roles each figure has.  Death is wearing a cruciform pattern which could be a semi-sarcastic or caustic statement about religion and salvation.  Each of the living figures seems to be sporting an individualistic pattern whose hues may be in accordance with there personalities as is the skin tone of the male and the pale females.
Klimt's work in general and this in specific exhibits a rather "expressionistic" quality.  According to the Brittanica, "Expressionism" is an,
artistic style in which the artist seeks to depict not objective reality but rather the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in him. He accomplishes his aim through distortion, exaggeration, primitivism, and fantasy and through the vivid, jarring, violent, or dynamic application of formal elements. In a broader sense Expressionism is one of the main currents of art in the later 19th and the 20th centuries, and its qualities of highly subjective, personal, spontaneous self-expression are typical of a wide range of modern artists and art movements. Expressionism can also be seen as a permanent tendency in Germanic and Nordic art from at least the European Middle Ages, particularly in times of social change or spiritual crisis, and in this sense it forms the converse of the rationalist and classicizing tendencies of Italy and later of France. More specifically, Expressionism as a distinct style or movement refers to a number of German artists, as well as Austrian, French, and Russian ones, who became active in the years before World War I and remained so throughout much of the interwar period.
The roots of the German Expressionist school lay in the works of Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and James Ensor, each of whom in the period 1885-1900 evolved a highly personal painting style. These artists used the expressive possibilities of colour and line to explore dramatic and emotion-laden themes, to convey the qualities of fear, horror, and the grotesque, or simply to celebrate nature with hallucinatory intensity. They broke away from the literal representation of nature in order to express more subjective outlooks or states of mind.
Context: According the Brittanica,
Gustave Klimt, b. July 14, 1862, Vienna, Austria d. Feb. 6, 1918, Vienna
Austrian painter and founder of the school of painting known as the Vienna Sezession. After studying at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts, Klimt in 1883 opened an independent studio specializing in the execution of mural paintings. His early work was typical of late 19th-century academic painting, as can be seen in his murals for the Vienna Burgtheater (1888) and on the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
In 1897 Klimt's mature style emerged, and he founded the Vienna Sezession, a group of painters who revolted against academic art in favour of a highly decorative style similar to Art Nouveau. Soon thereafter he painted three allegorical murals for the ceiling of the University of Vienna auditorium that were violently criticized; the erotic symbolism and pessimism of these works created such a scandal that the murals were rejected. His later murals, the "Beethoven Frieze" (1902; Österreichische Gallery, Vienna) and the murals (1909-11) in the dining room of the Stoclet House, Brussels, are characterized by precisely linear drawing and the bold and arbitrary use of flat, decorative patterns of colour and gold leaf. Klimt's most successful works include "The Kiss" (1908; Österreichische Gallery) and a series of portraits he did of fashionable Viennese matrons, such as "Frau Fritza Riedler" (1906; Österreichische Gallery) and "Frau Adele Bloch-Bauer" (1907; Österreichische Gallery). In these works he treats the human figure without shadow and heightens the lush sensuality of skin by surrounding it with areas of flat, highly ornamental, and brilliantly composed areas of decoration.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-8
oil on canvas, 5'10"x6'
Vienna National Museum
Stokstad calls him Art Nouveau
or Sezession-stil (Germany)
Form: This image shares in many of the same qualities as Death and Life.  Although painted in oil on canvas, the paint is applied in a rather thin often washy manner which exhibits little or no texture.  The composition is rather central and static but the filed of flowers in the foreground and the bending pose of the figures grants it a rather asymmetrical quality. Again here the figures are painted in a strange combination of illusionism and flat unrealistic anatomy.  There are passages of modeled value which are also in a formal tension against the flat graphic designs of the patterns on the figures' clothes.
The designs on the clothes for the male figure are angular boxlike forms as opposed to the rounded curvilinear forms of the female figure's clothes.  The same contrasts appear in the skin tones, the female is pale whereas the male is dark.  This seems very similar to the depictions of male and female figures in Egyptian Art as well as in the murals at Knossos.
Iconography:  The poses of the figures can be read immediately as a kiss, however, many of my students have noticed that the female's head seems bent back in an uncomfortable angle and to some she seems to be being accosted rather than kissed.  Other students have read this as a passionate willing liaison.
The pose, skin tone and patterns on the fabrics seem to conform with stereo types concerning male and female roles.  The pose of the male is more aggressive while the female's pose is at the very least the receptor of his advances.  Traditionally in many cultures males are depicted as darker than females.  Henry Sayre, in his text book A World of Art comments that males' bodies are often depicted as angular and square while the female form is often depicted with more curved line.  The patterns of the figure's garments seem conform to Sayre's and societies' views that woman are softer and rounder while the male body is more angular.
Context:  An interesting element in these works, and my own theory, is that Klimt was heavily influenced by the developments made in the fabric/weaving and printmaking industries.  It is possible to make the connection that thanks to industrialization, textile design and the creation of brightly colored and printed fabrics may have been a primary inspiration for Klimt.

Edvard Munch The Dance of Life 1899
Form: Since this painting is both representational and also rather expressionist in it's rendering many of the forms are hard to decipher.  The symmetrical composition is arranged in three bands. In the foreground of the image, rendered in thin washy oil paint are several anatomically inaccurate figures.  A smiling female figure clothed in a pale patterned dress stands near a flower which may be growing out of the lawn on which they stand.  This figure is balanced in the right of the composition by a scowling female figure, dressed in a dark gown with clasped hands.  Both figures bracket a male and female figure who dance between them.  These females eye sockets appear to be dark hollows.  All the foreground figures' forms are delineated by the use of radiating contour lines.  There is a small indication of light and shadow in the rendering of the facial features but the drapery does not demonstrate and tonal rendering.  Similar figures dance on the lawn in the midground.  Although it is rather hard to make out, in the background is an image of the sea with the moon reflected in it.  
Iconography:  The almost childlike drawing and rendering of forms in Munch's work is almost equally reflected by his rather unsophisticated iconography.  As the title implies, this painting renders the artist's anxieties concerning the transient nature of life.  For Munch, (who many of his family was sick and or had died) this image represent the scary nature of life as a waltz that is almost out of control.  For Munch (who probably needed prozac or paxil) we dance through life in scary nocturnal environment perched between life and death.
Context: A colleague once related how that in many of the Northern countries in Europe, that often summer is so short that when the weather is warm enough great parties with dancing and music take place out of doors at all hours of the day and night to enjoy the weather.  It is possible that Munch is using such events as a point of departure for his imagery.


Edvard Munch The Scream 1893
According to the Brittanica,
Edvrad Munch b. Dec. 12, 1863, Löten, Nor.d. Jan. 23, 1944, Ekely, near Oslo  
Norwegian painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. His painting "The Scream" (1893; see photograph  "The Scream," tempera and casein on cardboard by Edvard Munch, 1893; in the Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo...) can be seen as a symbol of modern man's spiritual anguish.
Early years.
Munch was born into a middle-class family that was plagued with ill health. His mother died when he was 5, his eldest sister when he was 14, both of tuberculosis--the latter event being recalled in his first masterpiece, "The Sick Child" (1885-86). Munch's father and brother also died when he was still young, while another sister developed mental illness. "Illness, insanity and death," as he said, "were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life."
Munch showed a flair for drawing at an early age but received little formal training. An important factor in his artistic development was the Christiania Bohème, a circle of writers and artists in Christiania, as Oslo was then called. Its members were characterized by a belief in free love and a general opposition to bourgeois narrow-mindedness. One of the older painters in the circle, Christian Krohg, gave Munch both instruction and encouragement. But Munch soon outgrew the prevailing naturalist aesthetic in Christiania, partly as a result of his assimilation of French Impressionism after a trip to Paris in 1889 and his contact with the work of the Postimpressionist painters Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec from about 1890.


Munch, The Vampire 1895
Munch Madonna 1902
Artistic maturity.
Munch's own deeply original style crystallized in about 1892. The flowing, tortuous use of line in his new paintings was similar to that of contemporary Art Nouveau, but Munch used line not as decoration but as a vehicle for profound psychological revelation. The outraged incomprehension of Norwegian critics was echoed by their counterparts in Berlin when Munch exhibited a large number of his paintings there in 1892 at the invitation of the Union of Berlin Artists. The violent emotionalism and unconventional imagery of his paintings created a bitter controversy. The scandal, however, helped make his name known throughout Germany, from where his reputation spread internationally. Munch lived mainly in Berlin in 1892-95 and then in Paris in 1896-97, and he continued to move around extensively until he settled in Norway in 1910. Paintings of love and death.
At the heart of Munch's achievement is his series of paintings on love and death. Its original nucleus was formed by six pictures exhibited in 1893, and the series had grown to 22 works by the time it was first exhibited under the title "Frieze of Life" at the Berlin Secession in 1902. Munch constantly rearranged these paintings, and if one had to be sold, he would make another version of it. Thus in many cases there are several painted versions, in addition to prints based on the same images. Though the Frieze draws deeply on personal experience, its themes are universal: it is not about particular men or women but about man and woman in general, and about the human experience of the great elemental forces of nature. Seen in sequence, an implicit narrative emerges of love's awakening, blossoming, and withering, followed by despair and death.
Love's awakening is shown in "The Voice" (1893), where on a summer night a girl standing among trees is summoned more by an inner voice than by any sounds from a boat on the sea behind her. Compositionally, this is one of several paintings in the Frieze in which the winding horizontal of the coastline is counterpoised with the verticals of trees, figures, or the pillarlike reflection across the sea of sun or moon. Love's blossoming is shown in "The Kiss" (1892), in which the faces of the kissing man and woman melt so completely into each other that neither retains any individual features. An especially powerful image of the surrender, or transcendence, of individuality is "Madonna" (1894-95), which shows a naked woman with her head thrown back in ecstasy, her eyes closed, and a red halo-like shape above her flowing black hair. This may be understood as the moment of conception, but there is more than a hint of death in the woman's beautiful face. In Munch's art, woman is an "other" with whom union is desperately desired, yet feared because it threatens the destruction of the creative ego.
Munch's acute awareness of the suffering caused by love is clear from such titles as "Melancholy" (c. 1892-93), "Jealousy" (1894-95), and "Ashes" (1894). If isolation and loneliness, always present in his work, are especially emphasized in these pictures, they are equally so in "Death in the Sick Room" (1893-95), one of many paintings about death. Here the focus is not on the dying child, who is not even visible, but on the living, each wrapped in their own experience of grief and unable to communicate or offer each other any consolation. The picture's power is heightened by the claustrophobically enclosed space and by the steeply rushing perspective of the floor.
The same type of dramatic perspective is used in "The Scream," or "The Cry" (1893), which is almost certainly Munch's most famous painting (see photograph 
"The Scream," tempera and casein on cardboard by Edvard Munch, 1893; in the Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo...). It depicts a panic-stricken creature, simultaneously corpselike and reminiscent of a sperm or fetus, whose contours are echoed in the swirling lines of the blood-red sky. In this painting anxiety is raised to a cosmic level, ultimately related to that intuition of death and the void which was to be central to Existentialism.
Munch's massive output of graphic art--consisting of etchings, dry point, lithographs, and woodcuts--began in 1894. The principal attraction of printmaking was that it enabled him to communicate his message to a much larger number of people, but it also afforded him exciting opportunities for experimentation. Munch's prints closely resemble his paintings in both style and subject matter. Munch's art had evident affinities with the poetry and drama of his day, and interesting comparisons can be made with the work of the dramatists Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, both of whose portraits he painted. Later years.
Munch suffered a nervous breakdown in 1908-09, and afterward his art became more positive and extroverted but hardly ever regained its previous intensity. Among the few exceptions is his haunting "Self-Portrait: The Night Wanderer" (c. 1930), one of a long series of self-portraits he painted throughout his life. An especially important commission, which marked the belated acceptance of his importance in Norway, was for the Oslo University Murals (1909-16), the centrepiece of which was a vast painting of the sun, flanked by allegorical images. Both landscapes and men at work provided subjects for Munch's later paintings. This increased emphasis on the outside world may well have reflected a greater personal maturity, but artistically Munch was no longer in the vanguard. It was principally through his work of the 1890s, in which he gave form to mysterious and dangerous psychic forces, that he made such a crucial contribution to modern art. Munch bequeathed his estate and all the paintings, prints, and drawings in his possession to the city of Oslo, which erected the Munch Museum in 1963. Many of his finest works are in the National Gallery (Nasjonalgalleriet) in Oslo.

  Beastly Color! "Les Fauves" (Wild Beasts).

Henri Matisse The Green Stripe 1905
oil and tempera on canvas
Form: Oil on canvas, broad strokes of thick impastos, using non- local color, and visible brush strokes. Vivid, saturated colors. "He has used color alone to describe the image. Her oval face is bisected with a slash of green and her coiffure, purpled and top-knotted, juts against a frame of three jostling colors. Her right side repeats the vividness of the intrusive green; on her left, the mauve and orange echo the colors of her dress. This is Matisse's version of the dress, his creative essay in harmony." ( Iconography: Here the subject matter wasn't so much his wife as it was playing eith color. With this he's moving away from representation and is now playing with the idea of color. "The green stripe down the center of Amélie Matisse's face acts as an artificial shadow line and divides the face in the conventional portraiture style, with a light and a dark side, Matisse divides the face chromatically, with a cool and warm side. The left side of the face seems to echo the green in the picture's right, the corresponding is true for the right side of the face, where the pink responds to the orange on the left. The natural light is translated directly into colors and the highly visible brush strokes add to the sense of artistic drama."
Context: "Matisse was born the son of a middle-class family, he studied and began to practice law. In 1890, however, while recovering slowly from an attack of appendicitis, he became intrigued by the practice of painting. In 1892, having given up his law career, he went to Paris to study art formally. His first teachers were academically trained and relatively conservative; Matisse's own early style was a conventional form of naturalism, and he made many copies after the old masters. He also studied more contemporary art, especially that of the impressionists, and he began to experiment, earning a reputation as a rebellious member of his studio classes. Matisse's true artistic liberation, in terms of the use of color to render forms and organize spatial planes, came about first through the influence of the French painters Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne and the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, whose work he studied closely beginning about 1899. Then, in 1903 and 1904, Matisse encountered the pointillist painting of Henri Edmond Cross and Paul Signac. Cross and Signac were experimenting with juxtaposing small strokes (often dots or “points”) of pure pigment to create the strongest visual vibration of intense color. Matisse adopted their technique and modified it repeatedly, using broader strokes. By 1905 he had produced some of the boldest color images ever created,  including a striking picture of his wife, Green Stripe (Madame Matisse) (1905, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen). The title refers to a broad stroke of brilliant green that defines Madame Matisse's brow and nose. In the same year Matisse exhibited this and similar paintings along with works by his artist companions, including Andre Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck. Together, the group was dubbed les fauves (literally, “the wild beasts”) because of the extremes of emotionalism in which they seemed to have indulged, their use of vivid colors, and their distortion of shapes."
"What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue."~Henri Matisse


Matisse Woman with the Hat 1905
oil/canvas 31.75"x 23.5" SF MOMA
Form: Oil on canvas, broad strokes of thick impastos, using non- local color, and visible brush strokes. Vivid, saturated colors. He used bright, saturated analogous colors to create the lights and darks, instead of traditional skin tones. The hat itself is wild and abstract looking, perched precariously atop her head. The composition is symmetrical, she looks directly over her shoulder at the viewer from the center of the canvas. "Brisk strokes of colour--blues, greens, and reds--form an energetic, expressive view of the woman. As always in Matisse's Fauve style, his painting is ruled by his intuitive sense of formal order". ( Iconography: "The painting exemplifies the fundamental characteristics of fauvism with its choice of subject (a portrait), energetic paint strokes, and use of unnatural colors. Madame Matisse’s dress, skin, and feathered hat — as well as the background — are all portrayed with unrealistic shades of vivid colors applied with active brushwork." ( The portrait wasn't made for just a portraits sake. It was used as a "pretext for pictorial innovation sometimes leading toward pure abstraction".
Context: "Matisse's portraits are almost always of family, or of friends - people in his circle, painters, painters wives, musicians, actresses, collectors who had become friends. There are very few commissioned portraits. And as to his models, it is only occasionally that he made portraits of them. The family, Mme Matisse and Marguerite in particular, are like hard driven laboratory assistants. During the crucial years 1905/6 his wife is the model for the paintings in which he summarized the Fauve style, The Hat and The Green Stripe. And it is she again who sits through endless sittings for the great portrait that is his major response to cubism. These paintings mark radical turning points. She had supported him through thick and thin. These sittings which stretched her nerves to breaking point, and the results of which brought down storms of ridicule from conservative critics and the ardent support of critics like Appolinaire, were strenuous tests of her support and understanding." 
(Full text at

Van Gogh Self-Portait September 1889
oil/canvas 65"x54"cm 
Saint-Rémy, Paris
Musèe d'Orsay
Form: Oil on canvas. Painting done with thick impastos of paint in a very 'painterly' manner, which means that the brush stroke is visible. This piece was done in hues of blues, greens, and red. The composition is symmetrical, and the colors used are non-local. Iconography:  "The compulsive, restless alluvia ornament of the background, recalling the work of mental patients, is for some physicians an evidence that the painting was done in a psychotic state. But the self-image of the painter shows a masterly control and power of observation, a mind perfectly capable of integrating the elements of its chosen activity. The background reminds us of the rhythms of The Starry Night, which the portrait resembles also in the dominating bluish tone of the work. The flowing, pulsing forms of the background, schemata of sustained excitement, are not just ornament, although related to the undulant forms of the decorative art of the 1890's; they are unconfined by a fixed rhythm or pattern and are a means of intensity, rather, an overflow of the artist's feelings to his surroundings. Beside the powerful modeling of the head and bust, so compact and weighty, the wall pattern appears a pale, shallow ornament. Yet the same rhythms occur in the figure and even in the head, which are painted in similar close packed, coiling, and wavy lines. As we shift our attention from the man to his surroundings and back again, the analogies are multiplied; the nodal points, or centres, in the background ornament begin to resemble more the eyes and ear and buttons of the figure. In all this turmoil and congested eddying motion, we sense the extraordinary firmness of the painter's hand. The acute contrasts of the reddish beard and the surrounding blues and greens, the probing draughtsmanship, the liveness of the tense features, the perfectly ordered play of breaks, variations, and continuities, the very stable proportioning of the areas of the work - all these point to a superior mind, however disturbed and apprehensive the artist's feelings." 
Context: Vincent VanGogh is famous for his self portraits, he painted 24 during a two year stay in paris 1886-88. . He has done many over the years, all chronicling his unstable state of mind and descent into madness and depression. Van Gogh, as a mentally disturbed individual, seemed committed to painting the world the way that he experienced it in his mind, not the way it truly was. His self portraits are often disturbing and bizarre, and share a glimpse into his own distorted self perception. "He sold only one painting during his lifetime (Red Vineyard at Arles; Pushkin Museum, Moscow), and was little known to the art world at the time of his death, but his fame grew rapidly thereafter. His influence on Expressionism, Fauvism and early abstraction was enormous, and it can be seen in many other aspects of 20th-century art. His stormy and dramatic life and his unswerving devotion to his ideals have made him one of the great cultural heroes of modern times, providing the most auspicious material for the 20th-century vogue in romanticized psychological biography." (


Matisse, Harmony in Red (La Desserte), 1908
Oil on canvas 180 x 200 cm The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Form: This painting is done with a very saturated color-pallete, it has a flattened picture plane and little attention is paid to concepts of proportion or depth. Has a feel of graphic design. Iconography: Matisse was interested in making things 'happy'. He wanted his paintings to show the joy he felt for life, so they are often whimsical and filled with patterns and scenes of everyday life, the thing that he enjoyed the most. "Matisse also limits his perspective in this work. He makes elisions in the line around the table, frames the chair, the window, and the little house in an innovative manner by cutting them off, and encloses two of the planes, the green and the blue in a window." (
Context: Matisse was often sick at various times throughout his career, but it did not seem to dampen his passion for creating. This painting started out as 'Harmony in Green', then it became 'Harmony in Blue'. The canvas was actually painted entirely blue to begin with, and then he decided it was better as 'Harmony in Red'. This may be a motivating factor in the choice of red used, as it had to cover a whole lot of blue without it peeking through.As he gets older, his works simplify. 

Matisse, The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown,
Plate V from the Jazz series, 1947
Color pochoir. 25 5/8 x 16 9/16 in. (65 x 42 cm)
Form: An early form of stencil, these images are actually cut-out shapes. The colorful cut-out shapes known as pochoir. Iconography: "The two principal themes to be found in Jazz are the noise and excitement of the circus (the series was originally named Le Cirque, but Matisse changed it before publication) and the syncopated rhythms of  popular jazz music. In the The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown the horse is the only distinct figure; the equestrienne is implied by her fan shaped skirt, overlapping the horse's flank, and the clown by his vibrant costume in green, black, and yellow." (
Context: "Matisse's twenty cut-outs called Jazz, depicting circus scenes, folklore subjects, life in Parisian  music halls, and the artist's own travel experiences. It was in the early 1940s, when he was confined to his bed for most of the day, that Matisse began to pursue the cut-out as an art form. His assistants painted opaque watercolor onto white sheets of paper, which Matisse in turn cut into a variety of shapes, often retaining both the primary form (the "positive") and the cut-away piece (the  "negative"), arranging them  in vibrant juxtapositions. He pinned and re-pinned the pieces to the wall of his studio until he was finally satisfied with the overall harmony of the composition."
( Matisse is once again  focusing on what he observes, what is lighthearted, what makes him feel "happy." He is also going beyond painting and pioneering new ways to create his images.

Matisse Icarus 1947
Form: The colorful cut-out shapes known as pochoir. Gouche on paper. It was also screen printed and used as an illustration for a book entitled "Jazz".  Iconography: "In his Jazz series, Matisse used prepared, gouache-painted papers of various vibrant colors to compose collages that related to his memories of the circus, popular stories, myths and journeys he took. They are very personal expressions of his imagination, feelings, and inspirations." ( 
Context: The story of Icarus is an old one, in which a man and his son wanting to fly to escape a certain doom,  fashions wings for his son and his self with wax and feathers. The father warns him not to fly too close to the son. But Icarus, becoming  too confident and perhaps rebellious, flies to close to the sun, the wax melts, the wings fall apart, and he falls to the ground far below. Here, Matisse has Icarus falling against a night sky filled with stars, and the figure looks more joyful than death bound. This may have been Matisse's' way of changing the story to make the context one of happiness and salvation rather than death and defeat. Being confined to his bed did little to dampen his love for life or the energy of social events such as the circus or musical performances. Matisse was determined to not allow politics or social mores affect the message of his work. "Like many artists of his time, Matisse took an active interest in creating artwork to accompany written texts. The resulting illustrated books are works of art in their own right and exemplify his style. Matisse's Jazz, printed in 1947, is such a book."