Zodiaque (“La Plume”) 1896–97 by Alphonse Mucha
Collection: The Art Institute of Chicago
Mucha has an advanced understanding of art composition. In art composition, balance is found through contrast, so Mucha effortlessly balances the rich detail with a simple circular shape. You can see the influence of his catholic upbringing. This composition wouldn’t be out of place in a church. There are many images from Christianity that depict a circular halo around the person. This image isn’t religious and is designed to be a decorative calendar. Still, aspects of the artist’s personal philosophy will always come through in the artwork they create. Mucha was interested in spiritualism, and there is a spiritual aspect to his work. His spirituality still comes even though many of his images were made within the confines of a commercial brief.
His images were often created to advertise different products. Yet, there is still so much of his personality within the work. There is an undeniable individuality. I look at his images, and I immediately know that he is the artist. His artwork doesn’t just fit into the category of art nouveau. He is one of the creators who define that category. Those decorative swirls that he incorporates into a woman’s hair are almost like a signature. He uses some beautiful abstract shapes and swirls, and they are almost gestural. They are flowing abstract shapes that give a sense of movement throughout all of his work. Abstract shapes become decoration as they accompany realistic subject matter. You could crop part of this image and find some fascinating pieces of abstract art. It is a beautiful balance between realism and abstraction, and that’s what makes these images so decorative.
Mucha was a successful commercial artist, but that does negatively impact his legacy. Mucha’s voice was muted to help others achieve their advertising objectives. When you sacrifice your expression, people cease to believe you have anything to say. Mucha’s images speak about more than aesthetics, but his expression is still quieter.
He couldn’t have expressed himself completely while creating commercial artwork. Over this time, he is also developing his style and advancing his technical skills. In later life, he creates the Slav Epic. It is a series of 20 paintings, and the largest is over 6×8 meters in size. They are monumental works that really situate him as one of the great masters. He moves away from his art nouveau style and creates historical images that depict the history of the Slav people. It is a project filled with passion, but there is no Slav epic without the earlier work that acts as its foundation. It’s a louder act of expression from Mucha. I’ve found that you only learn the value of expression once you’ve been silenced. Your passion for speaking becomes louder until it erupts in a significant creative endeavor. This is what I see when I look at Mucha’s artwork.
I’m exploring how earlier works influence Mucha’s artistic development, but that doesn’t take anything away from images like Zodiaque. They have a beautiful style that has been influential on many artists, including me. I often create fluid abstract shapes as part of my work, and I can see Mucha’s influence on that part of my artistic practice. It can be seen in many of my abstract pieces and the animations that I’ve created. Mucha celebrates beauty, and I find myself more influenced by the aesthetics of his commercial work. The swirls make those images full of life and movement, and I find that aesthetically appealing.
Solitude and Connection by Jina Wallwork
This piece I created shows some abstract swirls that are influenced by Art Nouveau and Mucha. I’m not purposefully selecting Mucha as an influence. The process is more natural because I’m simply connecting to his artwork. There are many influences inside each piece of artwork. I find Mucha inspirational.
Mucha Foundation http://www.muchafoundation.org/