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My Favorite Artists and Their Art: Odilon Redon

  • Aug 29, 2011
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Odilon Redon's artwork is extraordinarily unique and hard to describe. Whether working in colorful pastels or stark charcoal drawings, the images he created are remarkably vivid and dreamlike. Shifting in styles and genres from Post-Impressionism to Symbolism, his art is saturated with an emotional intensity that seems almost prophetic of future art movements such as Expressionism and Surrealism, yet he doesn't seem to belong to any single movement. Rather, Redon's skill was transcending the boundaries of what had come before and exploring what was yet to come, all the while journeying inward to a place of psychological conflict and spiritual awakening.
The Smiling Spider
Redon's eerily human spiders (which for some unknown reason have ten legs... something I need to ask a friend who's an expert on symbolism about) are some of my favorite works by him. The starkness of the charcoal on the paper and the evocative expressions are superb. In this particular drawing he's created a malicious smiling spider who seems to be just completely focused on being devious.
The Crying Spider
In a complete contrast to the drawing above, here Redon creates a sympathetic spider whose crying face is at once pitiful and somewhat comical (what could be more absurd than a human head on a spider's body). For me this particular work is one of the most memorable and certainly the most Kafkaesque.
The Spirit of the Forest
One of the most brilliantly bizarre images Redon ever created. This one is part human with a skeleton body and part tree roots. Certainly one could draw a modern parable claiming that this drawing is about the symbiotic bond between man and nature, but that seems so radically modern and environmental considering that this was created in 1880.
The Buddha
The first time I saw this beautiful watercolor and pastel painting I became aware of Redon's immense talent at working with colors (I had only been familiar with his charcoal drawings prior to this point) and I was stunned at how vividly and almost surrealistically he brought his subject matter to life.
The Flame (a.k.a. The Goddess of Fire)
In colors and tones, this is a bit reminiscent to Munch, so it's no surprise that I love it. Whether this painting was inspired by Munch or by archetypal goddesses, I'm not entirely sure, but it has a mystique to it that is rather inviting.
The Raven
Odilon Redon did a series of charcoal drawings inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe and to this day the combination of Poe's words with Redon's art still gets me excited about the gloomy romanticism of 19th Century poetry. This rather simplistic, indeed crude, drawing captures the essence of the poem "The Raven" so perfectly and yet it has an added melancholy quality of its own.
Guardian Spirit of the Waters
Another stunningly bizarre drawing. This one reminds me a great deal of the surrealists like DalĂ­ and Magritte, but also a bit of Dave McKean's work. Here Redon takes two perfectly normal images of a ship sailing on calm waters while gulls flying around it and the image of head and then he juxtaposes the two in such a manner that is truly eccentric.
Flower Clouds
Again the image of a ship returns to Redon's work although this time in a much more colorful and cheerfully abstract manner. I love the title of this watercolor and pastel painting: Flower Clouds. It has a beautiful simplicity to it that can't really be elaborated on and which is self-explanatory of the painting.
Stained Glass Window
Equally beautiful and peculiar, this painting, which was also known as The Stained Glass Window: An Allegory, seems to be depicting a seemingly disapproving angel and the figure of Christ standing before an ornate stained glass window within a Church. One could view this as some sort of Gnostic parable suggesting that the angel and Christ are lamenting humankind's tendency to turn spiritual reverie into material vanity thus reducing the sublime to mere mortal endeavors.
Portrait of Mademoiselle Jeane Roberte de Domecy
I don't know what it is about this portrait I love. I've seen numerous portraits by Redon and frankly I think that many of them are mundane or at least lacking his signature qualities. But this one is terrific. It reminds me a little of the Gothic whimsy of Edward Gorey who would later become a famous illustrator and cartoonist. I love the youthful melancholy look in the girl's eyes.
The Cyclops
I'm not sure if this painting was intended to allude to the Greek myth in which Ulysses and his fellow soldiers find themselves on an island where the cyclops captures them before they manage to make a daring escape. In some ways, it has that mythical timeless quality, but it seems far less brutal than the ancient legends. There's almost a romantic, even erotic, aspect to this scene in which a giant cyclops comes across a sleeping nude in the middle of a field of flowers.
Cactus Man
Again, a perfect title. It says just everything about the drawing that there is to say from the artist's perspective. From the viewer's perspective, however, the image is saddening as it's clear that nobody can ever get close to this person, to embrace them, to love them without being pierced by the sharp spines of the cactus-like body. I must also point out that the way the head, the cactus body, and the cube planter are rendered it reminds me of a jack-in-the-box.

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August 31, 2011
I need to do an impressionist painting called "Woopak Man" LMAO!
August 31, 2011
I want to see a Dali-esque surrealist painting entitled "Filipino with the Head of a Waffle Subverting Expectations While Obscuring a Window with a Fly-swatter".
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