Saturday, June 20, 2020

ERIC SILVA


"I like music, I like it sweet I like it blue
But music makes me do the things I never should do." 
                                     -- Ginger Rogers, singing in  Flying Down to Rio                                                                          

I love this poster by Cuban graphic artist Eric Silva. 

Countless thousands of artists have attempted to illustrate jazz.  Most of them resort to standard cliches: hot colors, a trumpet, dancers.  Is there anything left in the tool kit for a young graphic artist who aspires to be original?

Silva's insight was to show the seductive power of jazz with the woman's hands trying to keep her dress down.  While her hands demurely protest, "no!" she continues to stand astride that ithyphallic trumpet which urges "yes!"

With bright colors and a beautiful design (look at those wonderful feet!) Silva takes just an instant-- about as long as we would require to view the poster through a passing streetcar window-- to remind us of a story we already know: the story of propriety unraveled by the music of desire.  This is the same tune that Bacchus played for his corybantes in classical antiquity and it remains in the heart of every commuter on that streetcar.

How does Silva convey this visually?  Well, note that the highest contrast portion of his image (and therefore the part that draws our attention first) is the woman's hands vainly trying to keep her dress down.  (Of course, Silva takes no chances: even if those high contrast colors escape our attention, that glimpse of thigh is guaranteed to grab us.)


Next we follow his design to learn that it is "jazz" that imperils her inhibitions.  Finally we are escorted off the page by the muted colors of the trumpet.

The names of the musicians Silva was assigned to include don't break up the flow of the image because he has wisely reduced their opacity and converted them to air swirling up her legs.

Poster art is a specialized art form, big and sensuous and instantaneous,  Recently it has become less popular but I think Mr. Silva has given us an excellent example of how effective it can be.

Eric Silva showing his work in Havana



18 comments:

MORAN said...

Awesome drawing.

chris bennett said...

Nice post David. Good choice of example and I agree with you.

Having played piano semi-professionally in the jazz genre as well as being a professional artist, I think I can add a few things that might be of interest.

It's my belief that genres in music are distinctively recognized primarily (though not exclusively) through their particular set of rhythmic habits. It follows that this subconsciously affects our physical response to them. For example; in dancing to rock music we generally remain in one spot whereas dancing to syncopated music we move across and around the floor. I attribute this to the displacement of the rhythmic emphasis away from the pulse inducing a sense of movement which we embody by dancing to it with forward momentum. (This probably accounts for why the waltz is generally associated with more sensual abandon than other musical time measures as three in a bar is sensed as a forward or anticipatory displacement of the four in a bar of common time.)

But there is another physical response to these two musical genres. Broadly speaking dancing to rock music is performed separate from a partner whereas dancing to syncopated music is in physical contact with a partner. Why this is so I am not sure, but we might ask ourselves if syncopation in music and the graphic arts arouses similar sensations.

kev ferrara said...
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kev ferrara said...

Chris,

I don't think we can be any clearer than to say that genre is just an established complex kind of mood. And mood suffuses everything. So there isn't a single aspect of any work in any genre that isn't employed in the service of expressing that genre.

Blue butterfly said...

Hi David,
Do you have an email address that you can be reached at?

Many thanks,
Parvaneh

Richard said...

> I don't think we can be any clearer than to say that genre is just an established complex kind of mood. [..] So there isn't a single aspect of any work in any genre that isn't employed in the service of expressing that genre.


Unless that complex kind of mood is not yet established, no?

kev ferrara said...

Unless that complex kind of mood is not yet established, no?

Right. Genre is established.

However, in my view, any work of art, should be so unified to its own mood, themes, content, details, references, effects, etc. that it forms its own genre of one.

In other words, the work should have sufficient material and poetic content to suggest 'its own world' such that further 'adventures' in that world - sequels, if you like - could be imagined.

I think all great artists produce 'their own world' and become a kind of genre unto themselves. This goes beyond 'style' because the choice of themes, elements, and settings matters too.

chris bennett said...

Absolutely Kev, I agree with this wholeheartedly.

I think the requirement to find a self-sustaining mythology in the absence of an overarching cultural consensus has become the central problem for contemporary artists - a situation I would say became very apparent around the turn of the 19th century and for reasons we are all aware of.

Post Impressionism has generally been the default position of gallery artists needing to sell their pictures outside the Post Modern Art Game, and this has tended to put a practical curtailment on the time needed to nurture personal inner fantasies upon which to build an emergent archetypal mythology.

xopxe said...

Cuba has a proud graphic design tradition.

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- Yes, I certainly think so.

Blue Butterfly-- Sure, David.Apatoff@gmail.com

xopxe-- Yes, I was late in discovering that but I'm truly impressed by Silva's work. Why do you think Cuba is so strong in that field?

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett, Kev Ferrara and Richard-- I generally agree with the points you've made, although I'd say "the absence of an overarching cultural consensus" is not just a "central problem for contemporary artists" but a central problem for humanity. In response to this situation much of 20th century art became the art of fragmentation, and the 21st century doesn't look much better. Rather than giving art credit for its relevance to changed circumstances, some of the commenters on this blog condemn it for its failure to find a current version of a cultural consensus.

As for the larger point that "all great artists produce 'their own world' and become a kind of genre unto themselves," that's probably true of artists but it's also true of mental patients. (And perhaps mental patient artists-- would you say it's true of Henry Darger or Richard Dadd?) If you want to generalize beyond the genre of an individual work of art to make a systemic point about art and culture, you're back looking for that elusive "overarching cultural consensus." Is there a recent or current "great artist" who you would say has achieved that?

chris bennett said...

...I'd say "the absence of an overarching cultural consensus" is not just a "central problem for contemporary artists" but a central problem for humanity.

I absolutely agree with that but didn't want to broaden the arena outside of art. My long term loathing of post modernism is essentially down to its poisonous ideology of cultural relativism. The bitter fruits of nihilism have fermented and currently reek beneath the cloak of righteous anger against western civilization.

Rather than giving art credit for its relevance to changed circumstances, some of the commenters on this blog condemn it for its failure to find a current version of a cultural consensus.

I see the fragmentation of 20th and 21st century art which you alluded to as a direct outcome of these 'changed circumstances', which are, as far as I can tell, the widespread and institutional belief in the relativism of morality, truth and values.

As for the larger point that "all great artists produce 'their own world' and become a kind of genre unto themselves," that's probably true of artists but it's also true of mental patients. (And perhaps mental patient artists-- would you say it's true of Henry Darger or Richard Dadd?)

This is why I was careful to include the word 'archetypal' in my sentence; "the time needed to nurture personal inner fantasies upon which to build an emergent archetypal mythology". With the case of a mad person the logos of their fantasies is, to varying degrees depending on the individual, distinct from that of realty, the logos of reality being what I would define as the consensus shared by the sane about what constitutes the principles that make sense of the world. Our fantasies, like our dreams, are means by which the subconscious mind gropes to make sense of the world, and to have any chance of doing that properly the mind has to be healthy.

If you want to generalize beyond the genre of an individual work of art to make a systemic point about art and culture, you're back looking for that elusive "overarching cultural consensus." Is there a recent or current "great artist" who you would say has achieved that?

That's a good question.
My answer goes back to the archetype that manifests itself across individual genres constituting the works of individual artists, in other words; each genre is a variable 'how' and the archetype is the universal, unchanging 'what'. I believe archetypes to be the shared expressions of our innate understanding of truth. But when an ideology (which I would define as a construct to control complexity) sidelines, or worse, supplants this innate understanding then we have a construct supplanting our 'common sense' of reality witnessed as the mess and confusion of cultural disintegration.

So any contemporary artist who creates something poetically everlasting is speaking to our 'common sense' of the truth, which is why it speaks across all times and through all genres.

But I wont dodge your specific question:
Of those artists currently working that I am aware of and in no particular order and inevitably tilted towards my own temperament I would say:
Mark Shields (his early and middle period, NOT his productions over the last ten years), Alex Kanevsky, Charles Weed, David Inshaw (he has very limited technical chops but a few of his early paintings like 'The Badminton Game' and 'She Did not Turn' I consider to be masterpieces), Anne Magill, Diamuid Kelly, Antonio Garcia Lopez (early and later work equally), Odd Nerdrum, John Jude Palencar...

Laurence John said...

Chris, how is Alex Kanevsky's work (and the broader 'disrupted realism / disrupted narrative' trend he's part of) not postmodern ?

chris bennett said...

Well Laurence, I would agree that the disrupted realism thing is a symptom of post modernism in that by way of perceptual discombobulation it plays a relativistic game with the beholder in lieu of intrinsic content.

But Kanevsky's best work, although he is the progenitor of this fashionable movement, drops deeper than these surface mannerisms. His paintings of people walking into a dark pond, many of the portraits and nudes, the big square picture of Cheshire Hounds on a field of melting snow, and the one of the woman in a fur coat walking out of a red building seemingly transplanted on an alien landscape are, in my view, examples of this. These pictures transcend the DSBS (disrupted realism bullshit).

chris bennett said...
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chris bennett said...

Gah! What's the matter with me? DRBS for god's sake!

xopxe said...

David:

Post-revolution optimism, the overarching sense of recovering a popular tradition and building something new and pure an beautiful. It hit everywhere. Where is was more readily perceived from outside was in music, followed by cinema and graphic design. I think new literature was the manifestation with the less impact outside of Cuba (though immense inside), because it attacked very local problems with a very local voice, which is sort of expected from literature in such a moment. Cuban speech and writing is very colorful and expansive and rooted on folk traditions, which works for internationalizing music but no so much for literature.
And the graphic design was bold, powerful and full of meaning. And there were institutions that gave artists critical mass and tasks and resources, such as the ICAIC or INEAC.
This produced generations of young artists immersed in a sea of local produced art and exposed to a local and distinct visual language. As a southamerican I'm used to intense graphical languages, but they are usually very old, and looking to the past. Cuba was new and was going forward. That kicked ass.
Just in case, this is personal perspective, I did not research anything beyond what I met, so I'm sort of skewed. My point of view is of a southamerican kid born in the '70s living in the USSR of the 80s in a community of political exiles, obsessively consuming every piece of illustrated work. A different landscape from you guys :)

comicstripfan said...

Apologize for the non-sequitur, but thank you Mr. Apatoff for your recent article in the Post on the role of illustrators in marketing that "new" invention: the "refrigerator"! The ad for the gas fridge was particularly interesting - wonder why it never caught on?