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Study on Charles Demuth’s “Poster Portraits”

주민선 1

1국민대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

American artist Charles Demuth is well known as a member of the Precisionists and also as a water colorist. Particularly, he produced portraits from 1923 to 1929 showing figures of 10 American artists, writers and actors: Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Charles Duncan, Arthur Dove, John Marin, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Eugene O’Neil and Bert Savoy whom are selected by Demuth. This series named “Poster portraits” are not consists of actual man’s figure, but various still life and texts which bring up the image of modern advertisement poster. He selected objects, texts and its arrangement deeply involved with the sitter’s characteristic, life, work,and their thoughts. In 1920s, American artists began to create “American” modern art based on their modern experience. In other words, the American modern art world of the 1920s was in strong demand for American artists who created art that could be identified as being solely “American”. And at the time, American art world was under the leadership of Alfred Stieglitz. So on the other hand, Demuth began his series of poster portraits also in order to receive the recognition of Alfred Stieglitz as a true American artist. And Demuth’s poster portraits are showing himself in indirectly and symbolic way. Consequently his poster portraits feature not only about each sitter but also personal relationships between sitter and Demuth. As making poster portrait series, there seems a certain purpose to strength self-identity becoming a member of Stieglitz circle. After the outbreak of the First World War I in 1914, the United States arose as the new center of the modern art world instead of Europe. Although it was 1940s that America became the heart of modern art through Abstract Expressionism, 1920s were the period which they were most concerned about their national identity. And we can strongly feel their concerns considering the letters exchanged among Demuth and Stieglitz and the other models of his poster portraits. So to speak, the motivation behind Demuth’s poster portraits series involved the over all mood of the American society, the state of the American modern art and the distinctiveness of the American visual culture during the early 20th century. Demuth’s poster portraits attempted to establish an identity of America and American art separate from that of Europe’s. Although European artists Francis Picabia and Marious de Zaya made symbolic machine portraits ahead of Demuth, there are certain differences between European Dadaists and Demuth in using text and selecting images. Also his interests in the visual culture of the 1920s such as billboards and advertisements has been credited as being the source of inspiration that started his poster portraits series. So to speak, his poster portraits are advertising American Modern art world based on modern America consume society. In conclusion, Demuth’s poster portraits seems to symbolize each sitter with still life and texts, sitters's name or not, identical form of advertisement, but it also feature relationship with sitter and Demuth himself and finally it could be considered as group portraits under the name of “Americanism”.

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* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.