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Front cover: The Mechanic - Fernand Leger 1920

National Gallery of Canada - Ottowa

 

PAINTING IN SLANG 

Léger, an exact contemporary of Picasso and Braque, started off experimenting with cubism but gave it up following his experiences in the first world war. He forgot the abstraction of 1912-13 because of the “crudeness, variety, humour, and downright perfection of certain men around me, their precise sense of utilitarian reality and its application in the midst of the life-and-death drama we were in ... made me want to paint in slang with all its colour and mobility." 

In 1945, he joined the Communist Party. During this period his work became less abstract, and he produced many monumental figure compositions depicting scenes of popular life featuring acrobats, builders, divers, and country outings. Art historian Charlotta Kotik has written that Léger's "determination to depict the common man, as well as to create for him, was a result of socialist theories widespread among the avant-garde both before and after World War II. However, Léger's social conscience was not that of a fierce Marxist, but of a passionate humanist" 

He wrote in 1945 that "the object in modern painting must become the main character and overthrow the subject. If, in turn, the human form becomes an object, it can considerably liberate possibilities for the modern artist." He elaborated on this idea in his 1949 essay, "How I Conceive the Human Figure", where he wrote that "abstract art came as a complete revelation, and then we were able to consider the human figure as a plastic value, not as a sentimental value. That is why the human figure has remained willfully inexpressive throughout the evolution of my work"