For the next four or five Mondays I will be writing posts about early 20th century artists and their art work as expressions of urbanity. The arts, be it literature, visual arts or music, display instructive examples of what life was like in the past.
Exposing people to arts and culture through wonderful museums is an essential character trait of great cities like London. One particular print in the Tate Britain gift shop, Cyril Power’s Merry-Go-Round, is all it took for me to start learning about British Modern Artists.
This summer I spent a week in London, England doing what most visitors do in the British Capital: seeing the sights and shopping. One such excursion lead me to the Tate Gallery, just a few blocks from my hostel in Victoria. I was looking through a few books on English graffiti artist Bansky when Cyril Power’s work caught my eye. It was a tilting, whirling top of bright orange, black and yellow that really expressed dynamism and motion in a way that felt new to me. The form was reminiscent of graffiti stencils, overlapping blocks of pure colour, but the style was different.
Picking up the book I was again excited to see the same curving, colourful style, now evoking a London underground station. The scene was very familiar to me at this point after spending so much time in the Tube. I flipped through more and more images depicting scenes of urban life: fun fairs, roaring airplanes and sporting events. A copy of British Prints from the Machine Age: Rhythms of Modern Life 1914 – 1939 (edited by Clifford S. Ackley) came home with me.
Last week, almost four months since my return, I finally decided to crack open my British Prints book again thinking I might post something about the material on RUE. But the story of these British Print makers is far more than one post can cover, and influences in other movements of the time require their own discussion. Certainly I want to focus on the Vorticists, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the Grosvenor School of Art. To do so may require looking at Post-Impressionism, Italian and English Futurism, German Expressionism, Bauhaus and Art Deco design as contributing elements.
What I hope to explore is how different movements understood their urban, social, cultural and technological environment in relation to each other. What subjects interested them and how they represented these subjects. By examining art movements and ideas maybe we can understand their impressions of the city. When I am done this series, I hope to find some common links and divine influences from the early 20th century as our society begins the 21st.
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