Geo-Fauvism: Waking to the Wild Earth Through Visual Art

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This is the first post in a series where I outline the case for Geo-Fauvism, a growing movement of wild earth inspiration in art, literature, music and design, first presented at the Pando Populus Conference “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization” Conference at Pomona College. 

Lauren Monroe Jr. artist, Blackfeet Tribe

Lauren Monroe Jr., a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, creates abstract art reflective of Blackfeet cultural motifs, inspired by life growing up on the reservation in rural Montana. He captures the connection through spirit to the wild, intrinsic to his cultural traditions, and a bold representation of an ethic society in general must re-adopt to heal the ailing planet.

 

Fauvism: A Radical Perspective Shift Worthy of a Wild Beast

Taking off from the early 20th Century French art “Fauvists” or “Wild Beasts,” cross-disciplinary creations of art, lifestyle, literature, and design respond to and react against the collapse of global environmental systems, the destruction of indigenous earth-based societies, and a narrowing of cultural opportunities in the mainstream corporatized media. Geo-Fauvists create to reconnect with the wild and heal humanity’s rift with the landscape, building a new community based on integration with the ecosystem.

Fauvism, an early 20th Century painting movement out of France, broke with Impressionism as well as with older, traditional methods of earth-perception (Western Linear Perspective). Inspired by examples of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, and led by Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, Andre Derain and an early Pablo Picasso, the movement valued individual expression over everything. Fauvism celebrated the artist’s direct experience, their emotional response to nature, and their intuition superseded Western academic theory or elevated subject matter. Their spontaneous, often subjective response to nature was expressed in bold, undisguised brushstrokes and high-keyed, vibrant colors directly from the tube.

After viewing the boldly colored canvases of Matisse, Derain, Marquet, Maurice de Vlaminck, Kees van Dongen, Charles Camoin, and Jean Puy at the Salon d’Automne of 1905, the critic Louis Vauxcelles disparaged the painters as “fauves” (wild beasts), thus giving their movement the name by which it became known.

Henri Matisse’s Bonheur de Vivre (“Joy of Life”) embodies the perspective shift that typified the radical approach of the fauvists. Its depiction of human forms breaks any rational notion of scale, and redefines vision with regard to time and space. As a result of his experimentation with perspective, the viewer relates differently to the painting and is required to “enter” the scene. It is only from the varied perspectives within this landscape that the abrupt ruptures of scale make sense. In these regards, Fauvism proved to be an important precursor to Cubism and Expressionism as well as a touchstone for future modes of abstraction.

Henri Matisse, Fauvism, art

In 1906, Henri Matisse finished what is often considered his greatest Fauve painting, the Bonheur de Vivre, or the “Joy of Life.” It is a large-scale painting depicting a mythic Arcadian landscape filled with brilliantly colored forest, meadow, sea, and sky and populated by nude figures both at rest and in motion. Because of its use of non-natural color and light, and inhabitants freely delineated, Bonheur de Vivre became regarded as the most radical painting of its day.

Beyond the Linear, Into the Wild Earth

Speed forward more than 100 years, and the need for blurring the lines, for overcoming a societal adherence to humankind depicting itself as separate from “nature,” becomes an imperative for human survival and sustainability.

How can we heal our relationship with the earth? How can we reconnect with the wild order that completely blurs the lines between us and them, where invisible entities, mountains, trees, rocks, sand, flowing water, all become life and death elements of our being?

Furthermore, we live in a society inundated with endless information catalogued in servers from the world wide web, images in Google repetitiveness a click here, a meme there, video camera ubiquitous in our phones, social media addictions that respond to commodified flash and virtual reality flesh, and 24-hour sports networks grabbing our attention while the very forces of life and vitality, wind, sun, water, spin beyond our hope of control behind a sky strafed with desperate and futile geoengineered chem-trails.

Nevertheless, the antidote to the poison remains close at hand. The notion of wilderness, where wild beasts roam, water cascades in splashes down mountain streams flecked with water skaters and bleeping frogs, and greenery blends with insect and mammal to spawn the bounty of love and survival. The wild heals all.

The prefix “Geo” is taken from a Greek word meaning “earth,” usually in the sense of “ground or land.” Geo-Fauvism denotes Beasts of the Wild Earth, manifested in art, landscape creation, lifestyle, literature, music: it’s out there.

Yevgeniya Mikhailik , Geo-Fauvism

Yevgeniya Mikhailik creates artwork that flows through phases of obsession — space kitties, singing foxes, crystal like specimens, maps and places — and her signature style pairs whimsy with delicate and innovative imagination, creating places and creatures that almost make magic seem real. — Evan Senn

 

Geo-Fauvism evolved to elevate and relieve the computer-blink-searching-in-vain for the way out of this labyrinth. Geo-Fauvism envisions humanity and wilderness inter-connected at the landscape ecosystem scale. Creativity employing artistic abstraction and traditional mythologies, post-dystopic literature, urban shamanism and mystical psychedelic use, ambient noise music, and the trend toward ecological urbanism are integrally entwined.

I will illustrate with a few examples from visual art and landscape creations. They are not meant to be exhaustive, just a way to set the tone for a much longer dialectic. In later posts, I will cover Geo-Fauvism in literature, design, urbanism, and music.

Leonard Knight, art, Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain

Leonard Knight’s “Salvation Mountain,” was created over the lifetime of the artist, living on the edge of society in the desert of Southern California.

Desert Vision: The late Leonard Knight, who lived out of the back of a truck without electricity or running water in the Imperial Valley desert, created Salvation Mountain, a cavalcade of pastoral designs and religious messages painted on to a mountain of adobe.

Tyree Guyton, Heidelberg Project, Detroit

The typical United States real estate paradigm for growth and development has failed Detroit, which for the last five decades has been in an economic free-fall. Tyree Guyton decided to re-conceptualize his boarded-up decrepit neighborhood as a whimsical art park. His project inspires hope, but has also faced arson and continual vandalism. Photo of his Heidelberg Project, his artistic re-imagination. Photo By Jack Eidt.

Art of Urban Decay Reborn: An urban conceptual art installation by Tyree Guyton called The Heidelberg Project in the formerly central core of Detroit, Michigan, transforms a neighborhood first devastated by the 1967 riots into a public art project. Embedded in the brightly-painted streets are messages about harmony with nature, intergenerational equity, community health, and economic resilience. Despite a recent arson fire and the city’s ongoing financial turmoil, the public art project set amid grassy fields persists as a monument to the imagination in the face of struggle.

Burning Man aerial, Geo-Fauvism

Have you even seen any of the aerial photographs of the whole of Burning Man? The scene most resembles the diagram of the great circle of the I Ching, in which all 64 hexagrams are laid out along the circumference. Each solid line, the expression of Yang energy, each broken line the expression of Yin energy; each three lines composing a trigram, each two trigrams coupled to form a hexagram, and within the hexagram, inner trigrams that revealing even more about life’s mysterious flow. — Richard Power

Geo-Fauvist Holy Pilgrimage: Burning Man is considered a vision of the future for many enthusiasts of do-it-yourself creation, a desert-nomad simulacra, based on ten principals of  decommodification, radical self-expression, -reliance, and -inclusion. While over the years it has morphed into a commodified free-for-all, with all-expense-paid packages for corporate executives, the entire exercise remains as a clear expression of a recontextualization of humanity within the wild, albeit messy, dusty, and crowded.

Ilana Spector, Mark Grieve, Burning Man, Geo-Fauvism

Bike Arch at Burning Man 2012 by Ilana Spector and Mark Grieve: Made of recycled bicycle gears, rims, frames and hoops, a series of intersecting rhythms – a visual metaphor for the human experience – technology and the humanities – history and the future – individual and collective. Photo from inspirationtogreen.com.

Recycled Art on the Playa: Burning Man’s Black Rock City, more than any other urban area, has been given over completely to bicycles, making it the highest bikes-per-capita metropolis anywhere on the planet. It also is a focus of art, creation, and a “leave no trace” ethic. The prohibition on driving anything but art cars beyond the Esplanade renders Burning Man an enormous week-long ciclavía, or land of the bicycle.

Andy Goldsworthy, environmental art, Geo-Fauvism

“I think it’s incredibly brave to be working with flowers and leaves and petals. But I have to: I can’t edit the materials I work with. My remit is to work with nature as a whole.” — Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy is a British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist who collaborates with nature to make transient, ephemeral site-specific sculpture and land art. He photographs each piece to capture the moment, and has many permanent sculptures as well. His goal is to understand nature by directly participating in nature as intimately as he can. He generally works with readily available materials: twigs, leaves, stones, snow and ice.

Cai Guo-Qiang, The Ninth Wave, Geo-Fauvism, Shanghai

When 16,000 dead pigs floated down a river in Shanghai in 2013, it inspired a lot of questions about China’s environmental conditions. Cai Guo-Quiang’s The Ninth Wave exhbition posed a counterpoint to the ecological destruction and has attracted world consciousness to the issue. Photo from designboom.com.

The End of the Earth: New York-based, Chinese-born Cai Guo-Qiang’s The Ninth Wave addresses one of the greatest challenges faced by mankind: Earth’s current environmental crisis. He references a theme in traditional Chinese aesthetics and philiosophy: humanity’s longing to return to a primordial landscape and spiritual homeland. The 2014 exhibition included a dystopian Noah’s Ark laden with starving animals escaping an empty city overtaken by nature.

Sacred Healing: Marvin Swallow, Sundance and ceremonial Chief in the Lakota tradition, roadman of the Native American Church, paints “images of time before and after the moment,” whispering sacred stories of the beauty and mystery of creation. What has emerged through his art is a unique and powerful contribution to the growing genre of Sacred Art.

Marvin Swallow travels nationwide along with his Japanese wife, Water Woman Hiroko Matsuda-Swallow, to share their traditions and ceremonies. Swallow is a member of the Sicangu band of the Teton Lakota from the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Roden Crater, James Turrell

“I make spaces that apprehend light for our perception, and in some ways gather it, or seem to hold it…my work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing.”
— James Turrell. Pictured: The Roden Crater.

Artist of the Land? While technically not a “Wild Beast” outsider, California light, space, and landscape artist James Turrell has set the tone with the Roden Crater project for a wild earth aesthetic advancing toward the border of artistic mainstream. In 1979 he acquired a vast natural cinder crater located outside Flagstaff, Arizona. The Roden Crater, his best known work still in progress, has him transforming the volcanic crater into a massive naked-eye observatory, designed specifically for the viewing of celestial phenomena.

NYC Waterfalls

NYC Waterfalls consisted of 4 waterfalls, 90-120 feet high, placed at various points along the East River, including one under the Brooklyn Bridge. While recreating a natural phenomena, he purposefully revealed the scaffolding. Is this nature juxtaposed against the urban fabric just more dualistic thinking, or is there a sustainability intent?

The Pseudo-Phenomenologist: Another not-so-outsider like a true Geo-Fauvist, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson created such a $15 million phenomena of challenging perspectives in the 2008 NYC Waterfalls Project, it merits mention in this survey.

“His works challenge presuppositions of our surroundings by creating situations that require viewers to reorder their perception of the environment and their place within it.” It begs the question, is this more fad and flash, or do the juxtapositions inspire us to reconnect?

Niki de Saint Phalle, art

Niki de Saint Phalle, “Autoportrait” (“Self-Portrait”) (c. 1958–59) (© 2014 Niki Charitable Art Foundation; all rights reserved; photo by Laurent Condominas)

Rebellion with Whimsy: The late Niki de Saint Phalle is the creator of the the Nanas, rotund, ebullient female sculptures, dressed in bold primary colors, modeled after the architecture of whimsical Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudí. Her darker work broke ground for women in art, like the 1958 piece “Autoportrait” (“Self-Portrait”) above, questioning high art, family, and the church.

Lena Rushing, Geo-Fauvism

Adrift, by Lena Rushing.

Power of Female Identity: Complicating and challenging the prevailing views of the wilds of female identity has become a consistent theme in Lena Rushing’s work.

Alexandra Wiesenfeld, geo-fauvism, nocturne

“Landscape painting” used to scare me. Too much stroke and texture, there was nothing my marks could do to come close to that expansive and disorienting feeling when confronted with a vast landscape. How could I capture the psychology of space and not just paint scenery? — Alexandra Wiesenfeld. Painting: Nocturne

Psychology of the Wild: All of Wiesenfeld’s paintings, to varying degrees, utilize provocative, sometimes dreamily Feminist subject matter to inspire discomfort, whether they be the overhead-looking-down, futuristic spectacle of woman and lawnmower, the outright absurdist comedy of the huge, hugely entangled octopus woman, or the sexy, anti-sexist poignancy of Schadenfreude, which lives up to its German title (“taking delight in the misfortune of others”) as various and sundry, out-of-frame males take outsized evident advantage of a sad, prone nude. — Zing Magazine

Sources

Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, “The Joy of Life,” KhanAcademy.org

Eunice Lipton, “The Darkness Behind Niki de Saint Phalle’s Colorful Beauties,” Hyperallergic.com

Thanks to the late Adrian Thean Teik Ong,  Carl Welty, and Nancy Popp for inspiration, encouragement, and collaboration.

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt