We have a double episode of the Cafe Calcio Football Art Masterclass for you this evening, featuring Mannerism and Pop Art. Don’t forget that you can listen live to Cafe Calcio on Resonance 104.4 FM in the London area from 9pm this evening, and if you’re not in London you can still listen by clicking here. The show is also repeated at 11am tomorrow, and a podcast will be available next week.
Artists of the Early and High Renaissance developed their characteristic styles from the observation of nature and the formulation of a pictorial science. When Mannerism (from the Italian maniera, meaning “style” or “manner”) matured after 1520 all the representational artistic problems appeared to have been solved. Whereas artists of the past had based their work in nature, the Mannerists were the first who deliberately referenced other artists; they looked first for a style and found a manner.
In Mannerist paintings, compositions can have no focal point, space can be ambiguous, figures can be characterized by an athletic bending and twisting with distortions or an elastic elongation of the limbs, bizarre posturing on one hand, graceful poses on the other. The compositions were frequently jammed by clashing colors which resulted in Mannerist artwork seeming instable and restless. There is also a fondness for allegories that have lascivious undertones.
Key aspects of Mannerism in El Greco for example include the jarring “acid” color sense, a kind of tortured anatomy, irrational perspectives alongside obscure and troubling iconography. In Alessandro Allori’s work, Susanna and the Elders, there is an artificial, waxy eroticism alongside consciously brilliant still life detail.
So what we have here is a blend of colour, athleticism, religious iconography, strange movements and odder physiques along with a certain tortured mental style, not to mention strange posturing. Need we really look any further than the Brazilian side of the late 1990s? This seems to perfectly portray all of the above and even, in some ways, mirror the evolution of the stylized mannerist approach from the more natural and, some would suggest noble, renaissance style which proceeded it just as the later Brazilian teams seem an peculiar distortion of the graceful forms which went before.
Eugène Delacroix describes Michelangelo as painting “muscles and poses, in which actual anatomy is not the dominant factor. When he was making an arm or a leg, it seems as if he were thinking only of that arm or leg and was not giving the slightest consideration to the way it relates with the action of the figure to which it belongs, much less to the action of the picture as a whole….”, though of course he could equally have been discussing Ronaldo wondering aimlessly out of contention in the 1998 final.
Pop Art had a fascination with popular culture. Reflecting the affluence in post-war society the movement turned the commonplace into icons and mocked the established art world by appropriating images from the street, the supermarket and mass media. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg based their work around flags and beer bottles whilst Andy Warhol famously used commercial production techniques to create iconic images of film stars. Their brash easily recognizable symbols – Roy Lichtenstein’s comic masterpieces- are a deliberate departure from the inward-looking tendencies of the Abstract Expressionist movement that preceded them.
It was Andy Warhol who really brought Pop Art to the public eye with his screen prints of Coke bottles, Campbell’s soup tins and yet the movement actually began in Britain with artists like Jasper Johns and Richard Hamilton. Pop Art owed much to Dada in the way it challenged tradition by asserting that an artist’s use of the mass-produced visual commodities of popular culture is contiguous with the perspective of fine art. Pop removes the material from its context and isolates the object, or combines it with other objects, for contemplation. The concept of pop art refers not as much to the art itself as to the attitudes that led to it and aimed to employ images of popular as opposed to elitist culture in art, emphasizing the banal or kitschy elements of any given culture.
Whilst many sides have –over the years- set themselves up against the elites of the game and stressed commonplace values this is rarely combined with art or joy. Richard Hamilton’s definition of Pop Art is “transient and expendable”, but also “young, witty, sexy, gimmicky; glamorous, and Big Business” and in this the West Ham side of the 1960s stand out. They may, as the song goes, have never won fuck all (unless you count their claim to have won the World Cup for England) but the brio of that team allied with the music scene and swinging London at the time produced the great British footballing icon of the age and also a sense of exuberant flashy cockernee joy.
Their silly anthem, their squeaky hammers –you hit them and they squeak- their celebration of the banal from Zamora to “can’t control” Carlton Cole, the deadpan humour (like the song “if you made a lot of money selling biscuits, buy our club”), the blatant selling of hooligan souvenirs and now also, with the Olympic Stadium, the big business angle the ‘appy Hammers are definitely the Pop Art club which hopefully won’t burst just yet.
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