25 May 2009

Kind des Bauhauses (Child of the Bauhaus Movement)

In my work, over the past years, I've come to appreciate more and more, just how strongly I've been influenced by the Bauhaus movement and other European artists who were working in the first half of the past century.

Indeed, I have to say that the Bauhaus movement, more than any other movement (including the impressionists and expressionists, of whom I'm very fond) has shaped my sensibilities and my art.

And when I look at the works I've been producing for the past years and compare them with the works and sensibilities of Bauhaus-related and inspired works, I get a better sense of where I stand in the grand scheme of things. I must admit, I have never been very diligent at studying past masters in the usual ways. And I'm not formally trained in artistic styles, I haven't had a classical arts education, and I am waaaay out on the margins of the art world. I tend to work in my own style, then cast about looking for folks who seem(ed) like kindred spirits, when they were working, and look for similarities. I'm an outlier, really. And yet, I'm very much steeped in some important traditions -- not only with regard to my art works, but with regard to my whole life.

Let me explain...

I was born in 1965, which was smack dab in the middle of the Cold War, and had this undertone of hardness to it that I believe got carried forward from WWII times -- indeed, both World Wars. There was a strong European influence in the American world I was born into -- in no small part, I think, due to the rather abrupt rise of the United States on the international scene after much of the rest of the "developed" world got itself all blown to bits. We Americans were suddenly thrust onto the world stage as world leaders (after having been pretty much consumed with getting settled on our own continent, sorting things out via (let's be honest), genocide and conquest and mowing down anyone and anything that stood in the way of our European-American Dreams. We went from being highly insular and focusing on getting our domestic house in order -- settle the West, build the cities, establish our industrial manufacturing base, quash rebellion wherever it sprang up, and define our American culture (more or less) -- to being the military and moral watchdogs of the world. Where oh where would we look for guidance in steering the world in the direction we saw fit?

We couldn't very well look to Asia, as Japan was still very much our sworn enemy -- they attacked us, after all. Africa had never been a source of "mastery" for us -- rather, slavery. The Middle East was a sorta-kinda fragmented collection of warring tribes (more or less -- no offense to anyone from there), so those models weren't apropos for our burgeoning American purposes, either. We needed some cultural precedents for world leadership, which were best (at that time) supplied by Europe. Europeans knew, from what we could tell, how to run things on a large scale. The conquest of the Americas (not to mention Africa and Asia) had been driven by European powers, so we could derive some "template" for cultural success from that heritage.

Yes, Europe would do.

Much as the United States has always been a melting pot, when it came to the cultural heritage(s) we tapped into, 'round about the time when I was born and first growing up, it was really Europe -- bombed out and reconstructing as it was -- that shaped my East Coast cultural experience. And the Bauhaus Movement had a huge impact on my environment. I'm talking, in particular, about all the architecture that was built in the aftermath of WWII -- during the Baby Boom, which immediately preceded my generation.

Note: For the record, I consider myself one of the first Gen-X'ers. I share many more of their qualities, than the Baby Boom. I'm just too much of a pragmatic, make-it-up-as-you-go-along entrepreneur, to be well-qualified for inclusion in the idealistic Boomer crowd.

The world I grew up in -- in particular, the school buildings where I spent most of my waking hours -- was strongly Bauhaus-derived. Look at the square, brick-and-metal, highly functional school buildings where I whiled away countless hours, and you'll see what I mean.

The front entrance of the first early childhood center I attended - note the front door -- all the blocky windows and the straight lines.

My high school, in its early days -- see all the straight lines -- it looks more like a factory than a school, to tell the truth.

There have been plenty of other buildings I've spent lots of time in, which had a strong Bauhaus flavor.

At least, that's how it seems to me. And I really believe that growing up and living my life in the midst of that predominating design had a strong influence on my visual and artistic sensibilities.

Or maybe I'm just the kind of person who gravitates to straight lines and highly utilitarian functionality...

In any case, looking at my relatively "unschooled" work -- after not really studying many artists formally, having no real background in art history or theory -- I see so many similarities between my work and my sensibilities and the Bauhaus Movement, I have to wonder where the influence came from, if not from a classroom or a course of study.

My true influence? Life, actually.

And for an artist, that's probably the best sort of influence, of all.