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Nouveau Totem

70 by 100 cm - oils and acrylics on paper

When no appropriate title to a painting comes to me, I call it something like "Abstract Painting" or "Abstract Portrait" and therefore the painting seen on this page was previously called "Abstract Portrait No 5", hoping to find a better title in time. During a past couple of years I have delved somewhat deeply into the history of Picasso's art, at some point realizing the importance of African totem art to Picasso's work. This, of course, is well known, and Picasso's black period revolves around totem art and is well-documented as such, but such knowledge remains fairly abstract, until you see the source of Picasso's inspiration.
Somewhat famous is Picasso's trip to a museum in Paris, during which he was confronted with some African masks and I was fortunate enough to see these on a TV documentary (oh yes, my sources are utterly mundane - mediocre, if you will). I was unprepared and the images came to me like news-flashes, but they bowled me over. I immediately saw those two masks in much of Picasso's work, I saw the masks' incredible emotional intensity and how they defined the human mind and the human experience at the most basic level - and how Picasso spent a lifetime trying to reproduce this effect - always unsuccessful. The essence of art however, is the search process the artist goes through, and as such Picasso did something better than accurately reproducing African totem art: his search process resulted in modern art as we know it today. Picasso was, as Einstein formulated, a "true searcher", which "is scarce within every generation" (according to Einstein). One reason why Picasso was interested in totem art was it's exorcism. Totems serve to exorcise evil spirits, so it's tempting to see Picasso's portraits of women as exorcizing Picasso's alleged fear of women. Whether or not he really had this fear to the extent that he felt compelled to exorcise it, I can't tell, but to me it certainly seems that his abstract portraits of women have a totem quality, in that he tried to incorporate totem art into abstract portraitism.
To me Picasso is the artist that nullifies post-modernism, in that his legacy gives ample opportunity to perpetuate the tradition of modern art. But why Picasso and not Miró or Mondrian? Because they were true to their own style, while Picasso tried to be a "mainstream avant-gardist". He had plenty of artistic integrity, with outspoken ideas on art and principles he remained true to, but he balanced these with his desire to be successful. Certainly not foreign to this was his fondness of fame and fortune, but it seems plausible he was also simply being a man of his time. Rather than wasting away in his niche, he sought to reach the masses and directly influence popular culture. As such he became one of the most influential people of the 20th century and whatever you may think of this, to today's artist (who is paying attention, that is) Picasso is far more valuable than greater original and inimitable talents like Modigliani and Miró. By remaining mainstream and paying careful attention to the way Western culture developed, he created an art that was at the heart of society, containing many of the hopes, ideals and prejudices of modern man. Picasso never wanted to produce a masterpiece, he wanted to live modern culture to the full, entirely in accordance with the spirit of the 20th century.
Modern culture is about communicating with society and about formulating it's thoughts. While pop art (for one thing) only shows modern society at it's most shallow level, contemporary modern art has the ability to formulate the subconcious and Picasso has shown the way to do that.
On realizing the totem aspect of Picasso's art, I began to look differently at my own art. While it may seem like a far stretch to regard the painting shown on this page as contemporary totem art (for real contemporary totem art click here), it is partly derived from totem art, through Picasso's influence, and it subscribes, if anything, to Picasso's legacy.

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