[first published 23 March 2012.]
Juan Gris (born José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos Gonzàlez-Perez, in Madrid, Spain, 1887; died in Boulogne-sur-Seine, France, 1927) lived half his life in Paris, near Picasso and Georges Braque, and with them formed the trinity that launched Cubism. While Picasso and Braque created Cubism as an art movement, Gris spent nearly his entire career working within the style and extending its possibilities. Gris lived and breathed Cubism, so to speak.
Cubism attempted to portray its subject matter from as many viewpoints as possible: if the subject in question was a bowl of fruit, a Cubist painting of it might show the bowl and fruit as seen simultaneously from top, bottom, sides, and back, as well as from the conventional front picture plane. These different views of the subject often coexisted apparently at random, without further unification other than the focus on a common subject. In this sense, Cubism acted as a logical continuation of Paul Cézanne’s efforts to dissect three-dimensional subjects into combinations of pure geometric forms. Gris enthusiastically embraced this Analytic Cubism, and pushed it forward fast and far, as his portrait of Picasso shows.
Gris did not long stay within the limited, low-key, earth-toned palette favored by Braque and Picasso. He soon filled his pictures with a broad spectrum of highly saturated color, echoing the vibrancy of Cézanne’s color range.
Gris, Braque, and Picasso quickly exhausted the possibilities of Analytic Cubism (though others would continue working in the style for years afterward). They then created Synthetic Cubism, which broke through the flat plane of painting by incorporating collaged paper, fabric, and other materials into pictorial composition. Rather than relying exclusively on the illusion of depth and recession created by perspective, painting could now draw upon resources of solid form and texture to enhance its portrayal of a multidimensional world.
The Cubist “invention” of collage would have consequences far beyond enhancing pictorial realism: unintentionally, it legitimized the art of appropriation as a creative expression. Within the scope of Cubism (a relatively limited movement whose primary influence extended over two decades) was born collage, a medium of unlimited influence and possibilities. Coming into being almost at the same time, collage and film were the two great art mediums invented in the twentieth century.
Reflecting an age of cinema, machines, and rapid transportation, later art styles like Italian Futurism would continue the Synthetic Cubist trend by adding movement to the pictorial mix, showing time-series views of objects in motion. Collages of objects henceforth would coexist with collages of progression through time and space.
In his last two years, Gris suffered from kidney problems, and kidney failure cut his life short at the age of forty. We can only imagine what further innovative work Juan Gris would have produced, had he been granted another forty years.(All artwork, descriptions, & other text (except for quotations & reproductions of artwork by others) created & copyright © by Eric Edelman. All rights reserved.)