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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jacques Lipchitz

Figure, 1926, Jacques Lipchitz
Painters and sculptors are two, decidedly different types of people. Oh, from time to time, painters may "play" with three-dimensional forms of some kind, and it's not unheard of for a sculptor to dabble and daub in paint, sometimes even slapping a little of the stuff on some of his sculptural work, but by and large, in art history, there is very little successful crossover. Picasso did both, but then Picasso did it all. Ditto for Michelangelo. A few painters, such as Leonardo and Degas, had their sculptural work made out to be ever so much more than it really was on account of their painting proficiency. Perhaps with this in mind, one early twentieth century artist went so far as to claim there was no difference between painting and sculpture. His name was Jacques Lipchitz.

Still Life with Musical Instruments, 1918, Jacques Lipchitz
Many people have heard the's not quite a household word...but precocious little brats in sitcoms love to shock their TV parents by uttering the incongruous, slightly off-color sounding name to the wails of canned laughter generated at the push of a button by some sound engineer in the control booth. And it's quite likely no experienced art teacher in his or her right mind would think of mentioning him in front of a classroom of adolescent toddlers. Okay, so it's a funny name, get over it. Lipchitz was born in 1891, a Lithuanian who came to Paris in 1909. Given the timing of his arrival in the art capital of the world, he could scarcely have helped but been influenced by Picasso and Cubism. However, he seemed little effected by Picasso's analytic period, but instead gravitated toward the synthetic element as Picasso moved from taking apart masses into reconfiguring them. Lipchitz's Still Life with Musical Instruments (above, left) carved in stone, though predating them, would seem to be a direct, sculptural counterpart to either of Picasso's Three Musicians (below).

Three Musicians, 1921, Pablo Picasso
Despite their differences, sculptors are often influenced by painters, as was Lipchitz. Art movements more often than not have their beginnings in paint. Lipchitz seems to have been of the opinion that anything anyone can paint, he could sculpt. Some of his later work is much less cubist, such as his Figure (top, right), a massive, seven-foot-tall bronze now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Still, there is the mark of Picasso in his later years indelibly stamped upon it. Though Picasso obviously didn't need one, Lipchitz seems to have been his sculptural alter-ego. What Lipchitz seems to have meant in claiming there was "no difference" in painting and sculpture, was not in the formal, literal sense, but figuratively speaking from a creative point of view. What he was saying was that in conceiving a work of art the difference between painting and sculpture is merely one of choosing a favorite medium--nothing more.

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