Figure and Landscape

To return to a topic discussed earlier, I mentioned the pastels of Degas, in which he transformed a nude into a landscape—or vice versa. In any case what we have is a work,


Edgar Degas, Landscape 1884-1900

and we can take it or leave it. I would prefer to leave it. Ellsworth Kelly’s collage print


Ellsworth Kelly, St. Martin Landscape 1976

is more modern, even typically modern. The figure and landscape are not transformed into each other, but kept separate, and this makes it an idea and a fertile one. One could say it’s more abstract. In any case, works like this give the figure/landscape a future. This may seem to contradict what I said about catching both in a single gesture, and to be very different from Jeff Tutt’s approach, mentioned in an earlier post, but not really. There is a way to keep the elements separate and yet have them exist together in one form, and it has something to do with avoiding the painterly working through and transformations with the hand (or brush) that we can see in Degas. In some art, the material is the skin of an idea, wrapping it around the way that the nude body shows behind the grass and moss in Degas’s pastel. Better if the way the material is worked is the idea.

This entry was posted in American Modernism, Early Abstraction, Principles of Abstraction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Figure and Landscape

  1. Marcus Bowcott says:

    I like your posts about the visual realm Robert, you often make thought provoking observations about interesting images.
    … but I’m not so sure about comparing apple Degas with orange Kelly – or orange Degas with apple Kelly – whichever you prefer.

    • but any two things can be compared – the question is whether the comparison helps us to see better, or make better art. For me, the figure in a landscape, especially the nude, is a very important image and tradition in modern art – going back to the 16th. c., even that kind of modern. It was also super important for Cezanne, Matisse, Renoir, Picabia and many others. I’m very interested to see how Kelly does it, and to see that it’s still important for an artist of Kelly’s generation.

  2. Andrew Smith says:

    I would look forward to a show of “Banned Landscapes”.

  3. Eli Bornowsky says:

    I always lean toward the landscape being inside the figure: inner life.

  4. Eli, I can go with that. A good idea because it can lead to work. But mine is the same—just leads to a different kind of work.

  5. Any two things can be compared – fair enough – but the leap from Degas to Kelly crosses several chasms. Degas’ work was rooted in academic drawing and he was remarkable in the way he used conventional method to address the changing contemporary 19C life. Reluctantly modern but not to be dismissed.
    The merging of the figure & landscape in formal terms is an interesting one. Edvard Munch is closer in time to a modernist sensibility. But there is a merging and no dissolve. Maybe that’s what draws you to the Kelly? The two subjects merged as one fiercely in contrast?
    … maybe your choice of Degas & Kelly is a good one after all. Joined by stark contrast.

    • that’s the idea, though it’s not mine. Judd can take credit. In the end I don’t believe the distinction between two merged things or two contrasting things in the same space is so important.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *