Thursday, August 16, 2012

Alphonse Mucha

Mucha Self Portrait 1899

Recently I took a road trip with my husband to Cedar Rapids, IA to see the Alphonse Mucha show at the National Czech and Slovak Museum . I wasn't sure what to expect at the exhibit, would it be worth the drive or not.  I have been a fan of Mucha's work since the first time I saw any of it in print so we had to take the risk and go see it. The entire Art Nouveau movement has been an inspiration for me. Maybe it is the elegance and flowing lines, the organic quality that I love so much, the abstraction and design just excites my creative juices. 

The Lady of the Camellias

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon but decided to wait until Sunday morning to see the show. We planned to get there when they opened so we could avoid the crowds and take out time in the exhibit.

I'd say the exhibit was rather large and yes we did avoid the crowds. Getting there right when they opened was key, although it never did get nearly as busy as the special exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago often does. I was struck right away by the first painting in the exhibit, A self portrait done in 1899. Wow the prints you see of this painting do not do it justice. The colors were amazing,  so vibrant and subtle at the same time. I spent probably a good 5 to 10 minutes gazing at this painting in amazement. I was definitely psyched to see the rest of the exhibit. My husband likes to read everything in these exhibits, while I scan most of it and get right to the images, I passed him up rather quickly but got stuck for several minutes or so at each image, photograph and drawing they had.

Zodiac - 1896
The exhibit was broken down into sections of his life, early schooling and painting, beginnings of his art nouveau style, leanings toward his Slovak nationality, his famed posters, his Slav epic paintings, and steined glass work.  Although they did not have the original Slav epic paintings, they had several studies he did for the work which were great to see the process he went through. You will need to go to Prague to see the original painting.

I loved seeing the contrast of Mucha's early paintings and the color palette he used, it was rather dark compared to his famed posters and their vibrant intense colors.

Several times my husband, being a graphic designer, pointed out the beautiful line quality and designs of large and small shapes, areas for your eyes to rest in and areas of extreme detail in which you want to linger and discover.  He loves looking at those qualities in a work of art and I am always learning from his insights.

I can't say any one image that was my favorite in this exhibit, it was just exhilarating to see some of Mucha's work right up close. I would say that I was especially delighted to see some of his work that I have never seen before, more specifically his paintings of little girls with typical Czech apparel. Perhaps its because of what I am doing in my own work right now with my Polish themed paintings, in any case they were a delight. His overall colors were also fascinating, so vibrant and alive. Perhaps like most paintings you see in print they do not compare in any way to seeing the work in person.

Women with a burning candle  1933

One particular fun surprise in the exhibit was photographs Mucha actually took for references to work from. It was like looking at his sketch book, getting right into his head.  Sometimes I think these are the best ways to really see what the artist was thinking, how they work out an idea, you learn so much. It was also very interesting to see the interior of Mucha's studio in these photos as well as several of his artists friends included Paul Gauguin. The photos themselves were pretty amazing,  as much as I love having digital images in this day and age, they do not compare to that old black and white print photography.

One important thing I walked away with after seeing the show is how what we do as artists can speak to others in a deep way. Many of Mucha's works were speaking out about the trials of the Czech people and their history, he was deeply drawn to his nationality and wanted to give a voice to them. He created works that spoke from his heart and he wanted to give the people, all people, access to real art and so birthed many of his Art Nouvaeu designs and objects. He embraced what he was called to do, what his passion was and many were touched and delighted to take part in the gift that he so willingly shared.

In closing it was worth the somewhat short drive from Chicago to see the show and would recommend any other Mucha fans to take the trip. You will be inspired and energized to create the work that touches your own heart and speaks to you.