The history of art, music and fashion is written by those who aren’t content to follow the well-trodden path, but those who are brave enough to search out a new way of looking at the world. A new way to see us. Here we salute four true pioneers in their fields…

LAURIE ANDERSON

A true electronic artist pioneer, Anderson’s work takes in sculpture, performance art, music (scoring a worldwide hit in the eight minute mini masterpiece, O Superman, addressing her recurring themes of alienation, technology and communication), invention (including a violin played by a bow whose strings were actually recording tape, and her trademark voice filters which lower her register to chilling effect), and turning Moby Dick into a full blown opera. Art forms that had all been done before but…together? Never.

Anderson knows how to look at things. To pull them apart and question them. She’s not an expert – she takes great pains to make that clear. Like all truly great artists, she’s simply curious.

She emerged out of the febrile New York counter-culture scene of the mid 70s, but it was her landmark two-evening (and four LP box set) of United States I-IV in 1980 that cemented her position as a true visionary, one who was able to use modern tech’s flashing lights, synths and computers to warmly, and often humorously show us all the state we’re in. She’s always sought out other, like minded, transformative artists to examine the world around us, collaborating with Brian Eno, the choreographer Trisha Brown for the Paris Opera Ballet and the Kronos Quartet, and Naked Lunch writer William Burroughs. Her best work is like a forensics lab report – delving deep into the stuff other artists just don’t see, just as the eviscerating Only An Expert, smartly dissecting the calamity of the financial crisis, and the complete failure of the financial markets to spot it.

 

CHRISTIAN DIOR

 

A photo posted by @classic.and.chic on

A photo posted by @classic.and.chic on

At the tender age of just 20, Christian Dior was already making waves. Normandy-born, he’d moved to Paris as a teenager, and was hired as a fashion sketch artist by Robert Piguet. He’d originally wanted to be an artist in the early 1930s, but his flair for capturing the joy and movement of fabric, and the clean lines of mid-century Parisian fashions soon earned the young draftsman a name for himself. Before long, the fashion bug took hold deep in Dior’s soul and, by 1941 he was working for the hugely influential Lucien Lelong. Five years later, backed by textile manufacturer Marcel Boussac, he opened his own house. And the year after that? He redefined the look of the post war years with what’s considered the single most influential debut collections in Parisian (make that world) fashion’s history.

Dior’s “New Look” – all soft, feminine shoulders, with rounded silhouettes, cinched waists and decadently full and billowing skirts positively shouted ‘the war is over! Time to celebrate!’ After years of hardship, rations, make-do-and-mend, women’s fashion was on the front line again. And the world sat up and took notice. It was, unquestionably, this show that reestablished Paris’ position at the centre of the world’s fashion scene: after a few years when it looked like New York was beginning to get a head start. He was a smart businessman too. With his partner Jacques Rouet, Dior pioneered license agreements in the fashion business – and by the end of the 40s, Dior’s name was associated with perfumes too. By now, the brand was a household name, and it was shaking up the sedate and rather fusty Parisian fashion elite. Now, it was open season, and long-established houses such as Chanel were beginning to take a leaf out of Dior’s book, and adopting his signature voluptuous, decadent style.

A true visionary, Dior died aged just 52: he’d only designed under his own name for just a decade. But his influence will continue for many years to come. “We have witnessed a revolution in fashion”, the editor of Vogue said when his New Look show hit the catwalks. She was spot on.

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JACKSON POLLOCK

The life force, and the heart and soul of the hugely game-changing abstract expressionist art movement, Jackson Pollock was also a bit of a poster boy for a much bigger cultural shift: those white capped t-shirts, and his ‘live hard die young’ lifestyle saw him attain superstar status, akin to a movie star like James Dean. The art world had never seen anything like him. In the end, though, his alcoholism and personal demons won. But not before he completely reshaped the landscape of American art.

Pollock moved to New York in 1930, aged just 18, renting a studio in Greenwich Village and studying at the Art Students League. After a few low key exhibitions in Brooklyn he began to make a noise in the city’s art circles. Pollock’s patron, Peggy Guggenheim, chose Pollock as a protégé, paying him a monthly allowance, after a meeting in the Solomon Guggenheim museum (he was a carpenter at the time). She introduced him to the New York scene in 1945 (with his influential partner, Lee Krasner). It was here where Pollock developed his ‘action paintings’ – huge, expressive, kinetic displays of ferocity and tumult. Replacing dainty paintbrushes with sticks, decorator’s brushes and turkey basters to flick, hurl and throw the paint on to the stretched out canvas. This form of painting was a homage to Pollock’s earlier love of Surreal art – in that it was deeply influenced by the artist’s emotions and mood.

The years between 1947 and 1950 were Jackson Pollock’s “Drip Period”, and they were nothing short of a revolution. And not just in the art world: the mainstream media was fascinated, slapping his face, and pictures of his paint-splattered studio on the cover of hundreds of magazines. The world was changing fast. In post war America all the old rules were breaking down, the world was clamouring for new rules of engagement: and into that void a few visionary artists trod.

 

IGOR STRAVINSKY

His artistic parents didn’t want young Igor Stravinsky to follow in their footsteps, so they attempted to get him to learn law. But genius will find a way. At university, Stravinsky became friendly with a certain Vladimir Rimsky-Korsakov, whose father, Nikolai, was a renowned composer. Stravinsky soon swapped courses and studied under his friend’s father. At the turn of the century, the Art Nouveau movement was in full bloom across Eastern Europe and, invited by Ballets Russes choreographer Diaghilev to orchestrate his Art Nouveau-inspired ballet Les Sylphides, Stravinsky’s career was up and running. The collaboration work continued in Firebird based on an ancient Russian fairytale. It was a huge critical success: ‘mark him out, here’s a composer on the verge of celebrity,’ Diaghilev commented. Little did he know what was coming next. The composer’s next production, Petrouchka opened in Paris to a similarly rapturous reception. But back home, the rumblings had started. Russian critics in St. Petersburg complained that it was no more than a collage of Russian pop tunes, rural folk song, and ambient noise loosely tethered with – as peer Prokofiev called it dismissively, ‘modernist padding.’

It was exactly this ‘modernist’ approach that most excited the still-under-30 composer. Stravinsky was simply bored of the old, accepted rules of composition, thinking them ersatz, fake and contrived. He was searching for a deeper, truer and more visceral connection between music and subject – and he was fascinated by the growing ‘avant-garde’ movement that favored forward-looking, experimental new ideas.


Header Image

Christian Dior RTW Spring Summer 2013 Paris Fashion Week / SharonaGott / Flickr.com

1950s Christian Dior Floral Gowns / Bess Georgette / Flickr.com

 



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