Music Covers That Express Strong Emotions Through Fauvism and Minimalism

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This article examines the covers of two music albums: “Ya Lateef” which was composed by the Syrian artist Majd Al-Hamwi in 2011 in collaboration with other Syrian musicians and vocalists, and which wasn’t released until 2015 (Al Hamwi, 2015)[1] ; the other album is “Turbulence” which was composed by a Lebanese band called “Infinite Moment of Composure” and released in 2012. The article discusses how these artists express some strong emotions such as the mixture of war alienation and regression to happier times in their homeland. They do so through their album covers using mixture of Fauvism, Minimalism, and melancholic visual communication. This research framework is predominantly based upon the critique of a chapter entitled “The decorative, the expressive and the primitive” in the book “Primitivism and the Modern”[2].

Music is a form of art to express one’s emotions and ideas. These emotions and ideas may ideally reflect those of a whole generation, of a whole population, or even of a whole era. An album cover is designed to introduce the music visually to the potential buyer by using the suitable elements and structure. This is why it’s important to know how to interpret the strong emotions behind the lyrics and the music and to communicate them via visual art. This particular article discusses the great ability of Minimalism and Fauvism to do so. A critique related to the subject is provided for this purpose. “The decorative, the expressive and the primitive” is a chapter from a book entitled “Primitivism and the Modern” and it is dedicated to discuss what was considered as modern art in the beginning of the twentieth century as post symbolism and post Gauguin. It reveals the Fauvism concepts of the primitive, the expressive, and the decorative in order to find out if these art works have succeeded in communicating the aesthetic, social, and political aspects of life at that period of time. In the early twentieth century, some young artists, mainly in France and Germany, started a new painting style named the Fauvism due to the primitive works with bright colors. The “wild beasts” style presented what seemed to be naïve paintings which caused the outraged critics to consider them as evidences of real artistic skills; such as “Woman with a Hat” by Matisse who was “le fauve des fauves”.

Also, these unconventional paintings were about the unsophisticated methods that used avant-garde techniques though these Fauve works had many of the child-like qualities. They seemed to look as unfinished paintings which emphasized the untamed primitive side in them, in addition to the naïve and direct expression, yet they held a considerable cultural baggage. The Fauvism expressed the social aspects such as the sexual expression of the Naturist movement. This movement was about the exaltation of life and individualism as Nietzsche preached in his most celebrated book “Thus spoke Zarathustra”. That individualist tendency encouraged the free expression of art in general and painting in specific since many Fauves were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Nietzsche’s ideas. It was a cult that celebrated life and the joy of living it, hence the artists return to natural experiences and calling themselves “barbarians”. On the political side, the Anarchist movement was a great influence of that time, but it was loosely adopted by the artists without any serious political commitment. In his “Bonheur de vivre”, fauves landscapes were the center of debate and the value of “decorative”. The decorative meant in a way the deformation of nature while maintaining the symbolist ideas. Although by adding human figures to those landscapes, Matisse included many layers of meaning to his paintings.

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Adding to that, colonialism was present in Fauvism as another component of the social and political fabric of that era, mainly the occupation of Algeria which created a mix of oriental and African influences on art works. The aesthetic impact of African types of formation can be witnessed on many art works in that period of time. It can be seen clearly in the carved wooden masks and sculptures by Matisse for instance. Also, the way nude women were drawn with exaggerated proportions of bulbous breasts and buttocks. Adding to that, Matisse used oriental settings while women were presented as a part of a harem. This chapter is describing all circumstances that existed at the time of the Fauvism burst in the early twentieth century through the art works of Matisse and others. All technical terms related to painting and to other cultural sides of life at that period are well defined and thoroughly explained via many pictures. It shows how the Pictorial or the Decorative, carried inner meanings that could communicate essential truths. Though it isn’t an easy text to read, yet it reveals many of the details related to Fauvism and its qualities.

For a person who doesn’t know much about painting styles, this chapter can be very informative. It gives some brief historical facts about what preceded Fauvism. Then there’s an explanation as why this style of art works was called Fauvism. It clarifies how Fauvism style wasn’t welcomed at first by critics; on the contrary many underestimated the talent and skill of the Fauves. Readers are provided with satisfying explanation of the social and political circumstances at then to understand how and why that style was created. Those art works, especially paintings, communicated those influences visually through primitive and child-like qualities style. The text is accompanied with many pictures of paintings and other art works; such as masks and sculptures, to showcase the subject. Fauvism was labeled as barbaric due to its primitive and naïve qualities though it was marked by skillful techniques and it was based on some social and political ideas, not only aesthetic ones. It was an incarnation of the first decade of the twentieth century concepts and values; such as colonialism, individualism, and anarchism. Child-like qualities and primitivism were what set that style of Fauvism apart from other art styles. They were art works to evoke some of the most essential truths and cultural movement of their time.

Examining the album cover of “Ya Lateef”, it can be seen through some of the element how Fauvism, besides Minimalism, was used to convey the artist strong emotions. While in “Turbulence”, Minimalism had a greater role. To inspect this, let’s examine the two albums “Ya Lateef” and “Turbulence”. The first album is composed by Majd Al-Hamwi who’s also a painter, but the cover is designed by Nadine Bekdash. Al-Hamwi recorded his songs with a group of musicians and vocalists who are: Afraa Batous, Fadi Al-Hamwi, and Alia Hajo. The record label is ‘Nadi lekol el nas’ and the album was produced in collaboration with ‘Shobbak Amal’ institution. It was released in 2015 in Lebanon (Al Hamwi, 2015)[3] Al-Hamwi refuses to categorize his music in a certain genre. The album cover is made in the context of the Syrian war and its complications, so it’s expected that the music is loaded with emotions. The illustrations on the cover consist of the sun drawn in a more or less childish way; inconsistent semi-circles forming half of the sun disc, to bring the time dimension and to cast some rays of joy and hope in a better future which is what childhood represents. This childlike quality of the drawing is done with respect to Fauvism style of painting.

Under that sun rises the Qassyoon Mountain which lives in all Syrians hearts and memory representing what’s strong and reliable in the wounded country. The cover interprets all the regression of these deep feelings and it’s reassured with the used typography and the lack of any punctuation next to the title, leaving the viewer to decide how to translate that expression of “Ya Lateef”. Is it intended to express irony, fear, joy, or supplication to God asking for salvation. The expression is hanging in the middle between the warm sun and the mountain of memories, surrounded by unlimited space and light. It may seem in these pictures that the cover is in black and white, but it’s made with a very light green color to give a hint of hope. The second album “Turbulence” is the work of a Lebanese band called “Infinite Moment Of Composure”. The record label is Syrphe which is based in Europe but works with artists from the different corners of the world. There is a music review and a profile of the album on bandcamp site (Infinite Moment of Composure, 2012)[4] and another review on Discogs site (Infinite Moment of Composure, 2012)[5]. Based on the information found on these two sites, the music in this album is classified as experimental and western. Similarly to the music genre, youth tend to experiment new horizons and possibilities. Exploring the western music reflects the western culture effects brought stronger and closer with the major changes in the world.

On “Turbulence” cover, the illustration shows two individuals who walked a certain distance leaving a trail behind them until they reached a refuge from the sunrays under a cloud. The cloud has been always an interesting symbol to most civilizations, philosophies, religions, and artistic tastes. It can be interpreted positively or negatively, but in this illustration the cloud is the only cover for these two persons. Maria Kassab who drew this illustration probably wanted to convey the hard circumstances of life nowadays and the youth struggle to reach a peaceful place in the future. It must be noted that the cloud was drawn in a childlike qualities according to Fauvism style. Looking at the album title set in the middle of the page, brings more attention to it. In opposition to “Turbulence”, stands the band name “Infinite Moment of Composure” which means having control on oneself and being calm. It’s an infinite control in the middle of all the turbulence in this world, and under the cloud is the only place to take cover. Though not many geometric shapes were used but it can be seen that illustrations were reduced to the possible minimum, where “less is more”. The cover is made in black and white to attract more attention to the drawing in the center where it constituted a point of focus. That is where the most important message is placed. Also, the lack of colors adds a feeling of serenity and calmness it. Both covers followed a Minimalism tendency where important ideas are represented with the least of drawing and coloring possible.

In conclusion, Fauvism, Minimalism, and other visual elements were used to communicate the strong emotions to the audience through childlike qualities drawings. The illustrations were minimal as to add to them more intensity and ability to express the feelings behind the artwork of music. That’s been said, these artists explicitly elaborate on and express the notions of war alienation and regression to older happier times as in “Ya Lateef” and the youth struggles and aspirations in “Turbulence”. They did so through a mixture of Fauvism and Minimalism to achieve the best visual communication with the audience.

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