Be the Artist: The Vibrant World of the Fauvists

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This summer’s Be the Artist 2021 will help readers discover visual art-related words.

The Word: Fauvism

Fauvism is a modern art style coming from the French “le Fauves” or “the wild beasts.”

Fauvism paintings include bright, bold colors, and broad brushstrokes creating a “non-naturalistic” look at the world around us from portraits to landscapes.

The actual “Fauvist” movement only lasted a few years, about 1905 to 1910, but the idea of the wild colorful works was still practiced by several artists, including many contemporary artists today.

The Fauvism movement was founded most notably by Henri Matisse and French painter and sculptor André Derain. Matisse and Derain were working together in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1905 making vivid “unnatural” paintings, including many landscapes, in bright hues. This started off the Fauvist movement, and eventually other artists joined in, including Henri Manguin, Maurice de Vlaminck, Fauvist-turned-Cubist Georges Braque, and many others.

As with any new style of art, many art critics were not immediately taken with this style. According to the biographical site Henrimatisse.org, art critic Leo Stein called Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (Femme au Chapeau) “the nastiest smear of paint I have ever seen.”

Of course, this piece went on to be one of the most famous examples of Fauvism today, and was purchased by members of the Stein family. It can now be seen in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Works by artists like Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, and their contemporaries, helped spark imaginations with the fauvist movement. Images: Public Domain

Even with criticisms, Fauvist artists were happy with the impression they made, as it was a bold one.

The 1950 book The Fauvist Painters by George Duthuit, offers a quote by Derain, who recalled the “explosive” impact of Fauvism on the art world:

“Fauvism was our ordeal by fire… colours became charges of dynamite,” Derain said. “They were expected to charge light…The great merit of this method was to free the picture from all imitative and conventional contact.”

The Project: Recolor Your Superhero

The Spider-Man of Many Colors. Image: Lisa Tate

Chances are, any kid who has taken a sketch class, participated in an elementary school lesson, or got a new color book has experimented with a form or Fauvism, as it is all about going in a different direction in the world of color.

Think of painting a giraffe purple and orange, or a penguin yellow and green. It is certainly “not natural,” but something wild and colorful to see.

This project gives favorite superheroes their own Fauvism take, and kids and beginning artists won’t even have to know how to draw a perfect face.

Very, very early only in the Be the Artist series, we celebrated Andy Warhol’s play on color over printed works by painting over pictures in different ways. This will be very similar.

Find your hero and gather your paints for this easy fauvist project.

The big difference is we’ll be concentrating on just one image with a little more detail, instead of several.

Find a photo  of a superhero…or villain…and print it out on plain paper or cardstock. Try to find a photo and not and drawing or painting. There are more than enough movie and television series images out there to find, but you can also use a photo of yourself or a friend in costume or cosplay of a favorite character.

Now, look at the colors associated with these heroes such as black and red on Harley Quinn or red, white and blue on Captain America and forget about them.

Give these images a repaint, with bright acrylic or craft paints.

Start with the costume itself, and follow the strokes with something completely unexpected, next, fill in the facial features (if you’re doing a full body image), then work on the background with bright, strokes or swirls. If you have different sizes brushes to use, take advantage of them.

It is easiest to start with the costume (or head if doing a portrait), then add brush strokes to the background.

This result should turn this photo into a completely new and one-of-a-kind painting, and give the audience a whole new way of seeing a familiar character.

Of course, once you get better at this idea, try it with your own original art, or even a self-portrait.

Whatever you paint, hero or villain, remember to let their colors show, even if they aren’t the ones others see

Derain said Fauvism was like an intoxicated state when showing off his and fellow artists’ love for color.

“We become intoxicated with color,” he said, “with words that speak of color, and with the sun that makes colors brighter.”

Technicolor Venom. Image: Lisa Tate
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