Paintings as a Reflection of the Epoch
Art has been popular for a thousand of decades, and the studying of this subject shows that it will be popular in future. It usually belongs to different movements and actions in the world.
Speaking about expressionism, John Biggers and Gifford Beal should be mentioned as those artists who made a great contribution to this movement. Looking at their paintings, their backgrounds, composition, mood of Web of Life and Mountebanks, we can see the alternative vision of life and messages expressing civic reflection of African culture and hope for better life in one epoch. Despite some minor differences in technique, the chain of similarities reveals the common message about celebration of life through the harsh circumstances of the epoch. Therefore, the background of those paintings makes viewers think about the quality of life in America and Western Africa. The first painting shows the subjective point of view on web of life in Western Africa describing life near the sea, life in the forest region, and life on the open plains. The second Mountebanks depicts rodeo as a celebration of American leisure pursuits during the decades between two World Wars. John Biggers painted nature in all its variety of lives: trees and water, bowels of the earth, roots and people. As the author marked, he showed “the interdependence of living organisms in the balance of nature”. It is interesting that Biggers made all people brown painted. That was because the author of the painting Web of Life was an Afro-American. Thus, he saw people in brown as a big nation.
As a contrast, the painting of rodeo portrays people in a rush of competition and small war. Such atmosphere may be felt by the audience and judges. These settings are intensified by the use of colors. Nature is presented in warm brown, white, blue, green and yellow colors hat are combined with wave’s lines, whereas rodeo has more vibrant colors with bold lines. The composition of Mountebanks shows the point of an action; on the contrary, another drawing presents a metaphor of human’s life in the natural world by means of placing males figure at the epicenter of the depicted wide horizon. In the center of the composition of Web of Life is a woman with a child that represents the beginning of everything. A mother and a child are personalization of life that can create continuity of nature and even nations. The lines around them are symbols of the web. It is like an aura, which is in trees, people, and it covers everything and gives the power to breathe. On the top of a cocoon there is a couple that are holding their hands, which means a new nation. The author wants to show that even in trees you can find a hidden sense. On the contrary, rodeo is strong and not as peaceful as the previous painting. Three riders and three horses are in the center of the picture. Two roughriders are trying to keep the third one from a bucking horse. This work of art represents danger and hope, and a difficult life of people, who really need to have some rest.
Comparing these two paintings, the common message becomes evident. In the first case, the sanctity of freedom and life is expressed through the moment of action, and in the second through stillness. Basically, Gifford Reynolds uses micro-narrative, he condenses the whole story into a single moment, while John Biggers depicts the eternal metaphor, the viewer does not see any action in his painting.
As it has already been mentioned, John Biggers was Afro-American. He showed that freedom and life are the biggest values of every human being, regardless of race or ethnicity. In 1957, John Biggers had a journey to Ghana, Nigeria, and countries of Western Africa. One oof the most striking issues is life, its quality, safety, and dignity. Being the biggest gift from nature to human, life is one of the common concerns of artists of the 20th century. It seems like he was claiming that the system would be balanced only in one case, when people would be equal and nobody could take someone`s life. Besides, he showed a realistic situation that he saw, when African girls were carrying big bundles on their heads. The aim was to show that power was in cultural identity.
There is an idea of saving someone’s life in Mountebanks as well. Three roughriders try to support each other even when there is a risk of losing their own lives. Gifford Reynolds showed how Americans were spending leisure time, but the idea has stayed clear. “Don’t kill, don’t take someone`s life” as the Bible says. The risk of death was too high. In this small war between a roughrider and a horse, the artist shows a carefree life that sometimes appears on the dark side between two World Wars. Militaries came back to the USA, the quality of life was not so good, and the economic situation was poor. It is clear from these observations that the level of life was getting better: American culture, political situation, economic situation were increasing during the period of 1933- 1945. What is more, the work was painted in 1936. So, the author personalized the stand with the audience as a reflection of the present and the battlefield as the past.
To sum up, art has always been a full-hearted and even sometimes successful attempt of a human to comprehend the life and their place in the history. Nowadays, the idea of these paintings is also worthwhile. By looking at their composition, backgrounds and the plot, a viewer becomes able to get absorbed by each artist`s personal philosophy and explore their notion of the sacredness of life.