Amedeo Modigliani was one of the first artists, beyond my teenage infatuation with Surrealism, that led me into an appreciation for modern art. (I should make a caveat that my appreciation for modernism is largely concentrated in the first half of the 20th Century, before the boring postwar theorists elected themselves the raison d’être for visual art.)
I stumbled across Modigliani’s work while thumbing through art books in the school library, and immediately hunted down an inexpensive paperback of his work at the local bookstore. There was just some innate charm about the freedom with which he distorts the faces and figures, drawing them out with an almost cartoon-like sensibility, that captured my attention.
His brash colors and large graphic shapes filled with texture add to the appeal, making a fascinating visual soup of lines, colors and forms. Modigliani’s figures lean and twist, their geometry askew as though gravity has shifted to an an angle off of perpendicular. His faces are sometimes perched atop elongated necks, as if striving to be taller, and are often tilted to one side in some quizzical inflection.
His geometrically distilled portraits and languorous nudes project a warmth and humanity that is often lacking in the work of many of the other modern painters, who seemed to be striving to remove those characteristics from their angular collisions of shapes and colors.
Modigliani was friends with Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who sparked his interest in sculpture and introduced him to the primal appeal of African masks, which would greatly influence his work.,
Modigliani’s charms were wasted on the art patrons of the time, even those interested in the other emerging modern painters. His work became very popular years after it was too late to do anyone but the gallery owners any good.
Sadly, Modigliani lived the tragic, falsely romanticized life of the “starving artist”. So charming and romantic was this lifestyle that the desperation and shame of his poverty, along with bouts of chronic illness, drove him to be consumed by drink and drugs in addition to the tuberculosis that cut short his life in 1920 at the age of 35.
The Royal Academy of Arts in London, UK has just mounted the first major exhibition of his work in forty plus years: “Modigliani and His Models“, which runs from July 6 to October 15, 2006. There is also a book associated with the exhibit, Modigliani and His Models by Emily Braun, Kenneth Silver, Simonetta Fraquelli and Kenneth Wayne, but it hasn’t been released in the US yet. Modigliani is well represented in art publishing, though, and you’ll find numerous titles in bookstores.
Taks a look through Modigliani’s portraits and figures and you’ll see the source for much of the stylization in the 50′s and 60′s animators and the current crop of retro-sixties-modern animators and illustrators. At the very least, you may get a different slant on things.
Link via Art Knowledge News.