Is this a thing?
July 3, 2011 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Is there a name for this style of painting?

The style of painting I'm trying to identify (examples 1, 2) is primarily from the 1950's through the early 1970's. The main elements are broad brush strokes, thickly textured paint, soft colors/grayed pastels, and always an unfocused, blurred effect that makes backgrounds and edges seem to fall away. The result is dappled and otherworldly. It's probably considered kitch--though I've seen examples with more restraint (my first link is an example). Is there an actual name for this style? Any information anyone might have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!
posted by marimeko to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd call it a very loose, contemporary kind of post-impressionism ("vivid colours, thick application of paint, distinctive brush strokes, and real-life subject matter, but [...] more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural or arbitrary colour").
posted by Rhaomi at 10:39 PM on July 3, 2011

The technique is impasto, although not all impasto is this style.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:36 PM on July 3, 2011

You first link is illustration, your second is kitsch. They don't have a great deal in common. I know what you're talking about though, slightly kitschy, illustrative paintings from the 50's onwards which aped impressionism and post impressionism.

For me it's not post impressionism because that applies to a place and a time as well as a technique.

I don't think there is a word for it. Impasto (technique) applies, palette knife (technique) would probably apply.
posted by fire&wings at 3:36 AM on July 4, 2011

Response by poster: They don't have a great deal in common. I know what you're talking about though, slightly kitschy, illustrative paintings from the 50's onwards which aped impressionism and post impressionism.

That's a good description. I lack appropriate keywords or names of artists associated with this style so my examples aren't great. Adding impasto, palette knife and post impressionism (as a technique) to my keywords. Thanks all and please, keep 'em coming!
posted by marimeko at 6:52 AM on July 4, 2011

Another artist for you: Tretchikoff. His autobiography is fascinating. That NY Times obit says he called his style "symbolic realism."

There was a group show based on his art at a gallery in Cape Town not too long ago. I can't get a direct link to the catalogue it's here, then go to past shows -- but I can't get it to open, grrr, so I don't know if it'll be helpful.

All Mefites who have a copy of Chinese Girl up somewhere in your house, raise your hand!
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:40 AM on July 4, 2011

The Frazetta self-portrait (which is not necessarily representative of his fantasy illustration) feels like impressionism or neo-impressionism to me. The second work is not a significant example, but I believe it belongs to the school known as figurative expressionism^ (ex: Elaine de Kooning). They share certain elements, but I wouldn't group the two examples closely together except under the broad rubric "modern art".

The difference between impressionism and expressionism may be described, loosely, as whether you are painting what you see or what you feel. Clearly in Frazetta's case he is doing a relatively realistic portrayal of a human head, while in the Travis (whoever he is) example it's more of a scene or moment in time as experienced. To show it another way, the first owes more to Van Gogh's self-portrait, while the second owes more to Starry Night.

Basically, I don't think these are the same style, but what you're talking about are qualities that have carried forward from impressionism and expressionism into populist art (posters, "living room art") of the late 20th century. Frazetta is really a commercial artist and illustrator, and this Travis guy was, as far as I can tell, a forgotten amateur making kitsch. But spend time at a contemporary art museum and you will find much more indelible examples and get a feel for the breadth of the styles and periods at play here. Just a quick google finds this by Lucien Freud.
posted by dhartung at 2:24 PM on July 4, 2011

For number 2, I wonder if it grew as a vague imitation of Picasso's Rose Period. I've seen quite few prints and paintings like that, kicking around thrift shops with a similar style and they often feature skinny dancers and/or harlequins. The colours probably worked well with a certain type of interior decoration of the 50s.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:06 PM on July 4, 2011

I agree with fire&wings and dhartung. These two paintings have not much in common other than they are figurative and from the 20th century. They don't belong to any common style.

They are further away from each other than apples and oranges.

We could help you better if we knew why you are asking this question.
posted by bru at 7:44 PM on July 4, 2011

Response by poster: bru We could help you better if we knew why you are asking this question.

I guess I'm looking for a proper term because I'm bothered by how often I default to calling things 'kitsch'. I'm a designer and an artist and am currently attempting to imitate certain mid-century sensibilities in my work. The examples here are definitely apples and oranges, but something ties them together (??--the smudgy, blurred or non-existent background and heavy on white/pale colors is a big part of it) and it probably all boils down to technique. Maybe my question should have been, "What do these two things have in common?".

All of your answers has been very helpful! The links and information are much, much appreciated. Thank you!
posted by marimeko at 4:31 AM on July 5, 2011

Well, on the one hand, you might want to start with a class or a big coffeetable book or something on 20th century art, just to get a handle on where this all fits together. (I've been going to museums all my life and I could use that -- but I'm no visual artist, either, so it's academic in a sense for me.) On the other hand, it sounds like you're really interested in the actual aesthetic of kitsch per se kitsch -- and that is certainly a discipline all to its own nowadays, with kitsch itself an object of parody and objectification by artists such as Jeff Koons. You seem unsure yourself what you're getting at, but I now wonder if what interests you is the way that kitsch -- or any middlebrow, middle-class art -- apes and/or falls short of great art. There's no simple answer to that, and sometimes it's sort of a know it when you see it thing.

My own art professor of the early 80s would have been delighted to explain all this to you at length, but alas, he's retired now. He's a connoisseur of kitsch. One of his most recent works (we're in Wisconsin) is a black velvet painting of Brett Favre, and you can see his portrait of our former Governor here.

By the way, big-eyed harlequin girls are definitely a thing.
posted by dhartung at 3:43 PM on July 5, 2011

Thank you marimeko for making me think about this. Or rather: for making me write about it.

Thinking is easy: I know pretty well how these two paintings fit in my knowledge, in my sensibility and I have a good idea of their respective place in art history.

But should I tell you? I have friends who are artists and I don't tell them what I think about their work. Artists are afflicted by an excess of perception. You have to be careful because they already hurt without you. The only way for talking about their art and staying friends over the years is to tell them what I like in some works and why.

I love kitsch and I have quite a few kitsch objects and images around. But none of my friends do kitsch. dhartung has given some great links about kitsch. My personal idea is that it shows a certain involuntary clumsiness. Kitsch is gauche.

By this definition, there is nothing kitsch about Frazetta. He is a master of anatomy and expression. And there is nothing kitsch about Koons either. It's difficult not to think "kitsch!" when seeing "Michael Jackson and Bubbles" linked above: it shows an outrageous bad taste or an outrage of bad taste. But it is not clumsy. It is perfectly controlled, willed and made.

Since you are an artist yourself, I suggest that you try to reproduce the two paintings you have shown to us: the Frazetta and the Travis. Very old school: copy them, draw them, paint them on a screen or on a piece of paper. I think it is essential that you discover by yourself why these two paintings have nothing in common.
posted by bru at 7:01 PM on July 5, 2011

Response by poster: dhartung - Wow, excellent links. How I would love a professor (any professor!) to delight in talking to me about these things at length. I think you're on to something, there (apes and/or fall short of great art). Thank you!

bru - I love kitsch, too. I understand that Frazetta's self portrait isn't kitsch. It's hard to explain what I see as similar between my two examples and I suppose it's completely subjective, anyway. I am going to take your suggestion, though, and try to reproduce elements of such pieces in my artwork, Thanks!
posted by marimeko at 9:30 AM on July 6, 2011

« Older What if my landlord isn't allowed to rent to me?   |   Where can I learn to dance with a partner in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.