J is for Jawlensky

Alexei von Jawlensky did a series of very similar ‘Abstract Head’ paintings, of which this is one. Like many early 20c European artists, Jawlensky was fascinated by face masks that came out of the cultures of Africa. Like many such artists, he probably misinterpreted them, failing to see their sophistication; but what that misinterpretation went on to produce was very bold and striking art in its own right. African culture had given something unexpected to European art.

In this painting, a series of simple lines and patches of colour suggest an impassive face, the eyes hidden by shade, the head possible topped by a hat or simple headdress, or perhaps just by a flick of hair. The colours in this painting are less garish than in some others in the series, and as Jawlensky believed that colour spoke directly to the viewer’s emotions, this may be why the face seems impassive to me. Other paintings in this series use different colours to different effect, in what is essentially the same composition.

[Note: The paintings in this series are all over the internet. It is hardly worth attempting to give a citation!]