Juan Gris and the Birth of Cubism

Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth-Los Angeles abstract artist -dianahobsonfieart.com

Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth by Juan Gris 1915

Juan Gris didn’t invent Cubism, but he was an integral part of this important trend in abstract art, and even helped to name the movement. Jose Victoriano Gonzalez-Perez changed his name to the catchier Juan Gris when he was just eighteen years old. He always had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and for coining phrases and encapsulating big themes in his illustrations. Born in Madrid, Gris moved to Paris just after the turn of the Twentieth Century, where he immediately fell in with such luminaries as Fernand Leger, George Braque, and Henri Matisse.

Gris worked as a satirical cartoonist, but quickly became part of the abstract art movement that was coalescing in Paris. He became intensely interested in painting, and he developed his own approach to Cubism while the style was being developed by artists like Picasso and Braque. Gris’ earliest exhibited works show a decidedly mathematical bent. His paintings had an instantly recognizable gridwork that he shaded to form facets that seem to rise from the canvas. These added a feeling of depth that the works of many contemporary artists lacked.

The Artist Picasso Envied

Gris called this early version of his approach “Analytical Cubism,” a name that stuck in the art world. He continued to push in new directions, and he eventually moved on to a style that incorporated collage, dubbed “Synthetic Cubism.” His work was always bold, innovative, and self-assured, and according to Gertrude Stein, Gris was the only artist who the most notable Cubist painter, Pablo Picasso, envied.

More Color Than His Contemporaries

Cubism is based on a form of deconstruction. Objects, persons, and landscapes are taken apart and put back together as abstract forms. The resulting assemblies represent multiple viewpoints at the same time. This method also allows the painter to show movement on a static canvas. Cubism excited artist like Gris because it infused the artwork with more context than strictly representational art could offer.

The Cubist method led many of Gris’ fellow artists to concentrate on forms instead of color, and the resulting paintings were close to monochromatic. Gris never limited his palette, and he used bright, eye-catching color that made his canvases pop. His later work moved toward what became known as Crystal Cubism, which blurred the differences between all the elements of a painting even further, with almost no demarcation between foreground and background, or even the subject and the background. It was in this later, advanced stage of his career that Gris’ fondness for striking color palettes and combinations made his work stand out even more.

A Short Career Made Gris Lesser Known

Juan Gris never really labored in obscurity, although his name is less well-known than many of his contemporaries. Unlike titans of Cubism like Picasso, or Gris’ friend Matisse, Gris died when he was very young, only forty years old. This severely limited the catalog of his work compared to his friends, some of whom painted for over seventy years.

His Most Famous Painting

Perhaps Gris’ most famous painting is his Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth, painted in 1915. It’s an amazing work, with the mundane subject exploded and recombined so densely and deftly that it’s possible to look at it for hours and still find new vantage points in its composition. In 2014, the painting sold at Christie’s for $57.1 million dollars, a testament to its importance in Juan Gris’ catalog, and the artist’s place in the firmament of Cubist pioneers.

Los Angeles Abstract Artist Diana Hobson

Scatter Shot-Los Angeles abstract artist-Diana Hobson

Scatter Shot, 2013, by Los Angeles abstract artist Diana Hobson

Like Juan Gris, Los Angeles abstract artist Diana Hobson isn’t afraid to use vibrant color in her paintings. Her 2013 oil on canvas, Scatter Shot, hints at another everyday scene with bold color and overlapping shapes that blur the distinction between foreground and background. Like Gris’ work, there’s a great deal of curved shapes among the blocky, geometric patterns. The painting rewards the viewer with an opportunity to see the same compositional elements in many different ways, hinting at movement and depth.

If you’d like to see Scatter Shot, and many of Los Angeles abstract artist Diana Hobson’s other vibrant and penetrating works, visit her gallery on Abbot Kinney Blvd, in Venice, California.

Notes on Paintings:

Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth, 1915, is courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Scatter Shot, 2013, is used by permission of Los Angeles abstract artist Diana Hobson. All rights reserved.

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