I have been thinking a lot lately about "the awkward" in modern and post-modern art. This use of the ungainly goes back at least to Cezanne where it is generally seen as a mark of his integrity, his refusal to make things too smooth, too pretty. His bathers seem a deliberate affront to the entire tradition of the Western female nude. They are neither sexy nor elegant nor even particularly voluminous. What they are is crudely drawn and rather awkwardly posed which gives them, at their best, a kind of power like an inarticulate oath. I admit that I have always preferred his still-lives and landscapes, and yet there is no denying that his nudes created a new template for the figure that Picasso, Matisse, and even Guston and Baselitz took advantage of. His embrace of more primitive means was liberating to an avant-garde increasingly suspicious of the West's sophistication--its science, rationalism, progress. Something rawer was being lost and these artists sought to reclaim it.
Because its parts do not fit together properly or completely there is almost always a potentiality that also accompanies the awkward. The perfect is a closed loop, sufficient unto itself. It does not reflect life as it is lived, but as we wish it was, without blemish. The ungainly reflects life's imperfections and by that very token it can speak of change, growth. Or it can simply vibrate with almost mystical possibility. That is what this Bonnard does for me. Again the drawing (of his wife Marthe) is crude--her legs like fleshy sticks, her face impossible to make out completely. The little dog at the bottom pops, perhaps too much. The bathtub's rim tilts and wobbles like the wall behind it. Bonnard applies his riotous colors like a drunken mason, in large squares above and small below--in amorphous clots on the side of the tub and within. The whole thing feels stitched together, as if it might come apart at any minute. And that is why it shimmers like it does. It flexes and breathes. Bonnard increasingly seems a major influence on many contemporary painters, just as Cezanne was a hundred plus years ago, and I think it is because he is so radically imperfect and finds in that imperfection a new freshness. Our 21st century world is a very mixed bag and we are not sure how to go forward--we are groping, often awkwardly. I think Bonnard (and Cezanne before him) speaks to that.