Walking as Art


Auguste Rene Francois Rodin (1840-1917)

Rodin was one of the original subscribers to Muybridge's book, Animal Locomotion (1887):

Movement is the transition from one one position to another.

The Walking Man, ca. 1880 (Bronze 86.5 x 59.6 x 26.7cm)

Ph392Legs hold a torso away from the earth.S998
And a regular high poem of legs is here.
Powers of bone and cord raise a belly and lungs
Out of ooze and over the loam where eyes look and ears hear
And arms have a chance to hammer and shoot and run motors.
You make us
Proud of our legs, old man.
And you left off the head here,
The skull found always crumbling neighbor of the ankles

Pignatelli photographed by Edward SteichenWalking Man is actually a reworking of Rodin's Saint John the Baptist. Rodin was inspired to create such a statue upon first sight of his model, a 42 year-old Abruzzi peasant by the name of Pignatelli, in whom he "saw" his St. John and described him as "a man of nature, a visionary, a believer, a forerunner come to announce one greater than himself". Rodin wanted to create a statue involved in the single, intense moment of expression of St. John the Baptist (patron saint of Florence) preaching; however, it would appear that he also wanted to communicate the potential for movement as well as the emotional quality of the sculpture. Rodin's preliminary drawings reveal that the figure of St. John originally carried a shepherd's cross that was later eliminated. Apparently, when Rodin discovered that it would disturb the harmony, movement, and gesture of the figure, he altered the drawing. The statue was made in pieces (the torso being the first to be exhibited in 1890), then assembled (in 1900), and the "model" for each part of the body and personality of Rodin's statue may also contribute to the fragmentation of movement and visual harmony:

'Take my St. John, for example,' Rodin explained to Paul Gsell, `While he is represented with both feet on the ground, a snapshot of a model executing the same movement would probably show the back foot already raised and moving in the direction of the other one.'

Walking Man was given to the French Embassy in Rome for the 50th anniversary of Italian reunification, but was sent back in 1916 by Barré (who called it "only a broken statue"), with the excuse that it impeded traffic! St. John of the Column is another embodiment - St. John spent more than 30 years, until his death, at the top of a column, where he received his food by means of a basket attached to a cord.

And even in those of my works in which action is less pronounced, I have always sought to give some indication of movement. I have very rarely represented complete repose. I have always endeavored to express inner feelings by the mobility of muscles.

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

[marche]Walking Man (Homme qui Marche) 1960 (bronze, 190 x 27 x 110 cm), Kröller-Muller Museum, Otterlo Louisiana, CopenhagenAlberto Giacometti, L'homme qui marche, 1960

Man Walking in the Rain (Homme qui marche sous la pluie)
1948 (bronze, 46.5 x 77 x 15 cm). Alberto Giacometti Foundation, Kunsthaus Zurich, "Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966", book by Tony Stooss and Patrick Elliott

nimm066 - Alberto Giacometti - Man Walking Man Walking (24 x 31 paper)

Walking Woman (Femme qui Marche), 1933 Swiss (Bronze Height: 59 in.) Henry Lee Higginson and William Frances Warden Funds

Most art critics assumed that those thin. gaunt figures were rising from the ashes of Europe after the Holocaust, embodiments of existentialism. Giacometti himself often said they were his homage to the ancient Greek and Egyptian art he saw and sketched at the Louvre Museum and Musée de l'Homme in Paris. But many critics say it is the very ambiguity of the images that give them such power.

In the late 1930s his career was interrupted - first by an accident when a car ran over his foot, then by the outbreak of war. In 1941, in wartime Paris, he made very important new friendships, with the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. But as the Occupation tightened its grip, he moved to Switzerland, arriving in Geneva on the last day of 1941.

In a famous encounter, the head of the surrealist movement, Andre Breton, asked Giacometti whether any artist cared what a human head looked like. Giacometti said, "I do." Giacometti was tricked into attending what turned out to be a Surrealist tribunal. Before the proceedings could be fully started, he said, 'Don't bother. I'm going,' and turned his back and walked out. There was no public excommunication, but his friends in the movement deserted him.

Establishing yourself, furnishing a house, building up a comfortable existence, and having that menace hanging over your head all the time - no, I prefer to live in hotels, cafés, just passing through.

Umberto Boccioni

Unique Forms in the Continuity of Space
(1913) Bronze (1264 x 890 x 406), Private Collection, Rome

The Italian and Russian Futurists such as Russolo, Boccioni, Larionov and Goncharova, attempted to represent movement: an approach known as "dynamism".

Universal dynamism must be rendered as dynamic sensation ... motion and light destroy the substance of objects.
                                                                                                                                        Futurist manifesto
20 centthe Italian 20 Eurocent

Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas (1834-1917)

Dancer Looking at the Sole of Her Right Foot (c.1890/1900), dark green wax and cork, height without base: 45.7 cm, overall with base: 50.8 x 17.78 x 44.45 cm (National Gallery, Washington DC)
Dancer Moving Forward, Arms Raised (c.1885/1890), greenish-black wax, metal armature, height without base: 35 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)
Fourth Position Front, on the Left Leg (c.1885/1890), yellow brown wax and plastilene, height without base: 56.83 cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)
Dancer Putting on her StockingDancer Putting on her Stocking, bronze (The Minneapolis Institute of Arts)

Young 14 year-old Dancer Bronze statue with diversely coloured patina, with a tulle ballet skirt, and a satin ribbon in her hair, 0.98 x 0.352 x. 0.245 m, (Paris, Musée d'Orsay and National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, where it shown being x-rayed by Suzanne Glover Lindsay and Shelley Sturman)

During his lifetime, Edgar Degas exhibited only one of his wax sculptures (this one) and cast three in plaster. Immediately after his death, 72 of his waxes were cast in bronze editions of 22 to 25 examples each. Given the scarcity of documentary evidence, the original dates of execution for nearly all the waxes are simply not known. The original Little Dancer caused a furor when first exhibited in 1881. Made of tinted wax and dressed in real clothes, the sculpture outraged many viewers' sense of propriety. One critic railed: "Wishing to present us with a statuette of a dancer, he has chosen amongst the most odiously ugly.... Oh, certainly, at the very bottom of the barrel of the dance school, there are some poor girls who look like this monster.... but what good are they in terms of statuary? Put them in a museum of zoology, of anthropology, of physiology, all right: but in a museum of art, really!" This hostility was, however, very much to the point, as Degas was clearly using the sculpture to question accepted ideas of art. Joris-Karl Huysmans, a generally more sympathetic critic observed: "The terrible truthfulness of this statuette is a source of obvious discomfort... all their notions about sculpture, about that cold, inanimate whiteness, those memorable stereotypes replicated for centuries, are demolished. The fact is that, on first blow M. Degas has overturned the conventions of sculpture." With its incorporation of ordinary materials there is a good argument for making Degas' "first blow" the first modern sculpture. 

Julian Voss-Andreae, Quantum Man

A wave-particle duality runs through Julian Voss-Andreae’s life. He was a budding painter before opting for a graduate program in physics at the University of Vienna in Austria. But before long, Voss-Andreae’s artistic nature reasserted itself. Since graduating 2 years ago from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, Voss-Andreae has focused on abstract sculptures of hemoglobin and other proteins. “My interest is really nature,” he says. “One way to explore it is through science. Another is through intuitive sense and a search for metaphors.” His latest work, titled Quantum Man, at Moses Lake, Washington is a 2.5-meter sculpture is made of 115 thin steel slabs connected and spaced apart by 1000 short steel rods.
Seen from the front, the figure looks dark and solid. But from the side the quantum walker nearly disappears, as light shines through the spaces between the slabs. “It shows that when you look at things from a different perspective, they can look extremely different,” says Anton Zeilinger, a physicist at the University of Vienna and Voss-Andreae’s former group leader. That’s part of the quantum message.”

Theo Jansen, Strandbeesten Kinetic Sculptures

Dutch artist/engineer Theo Jansen makes unbelievable kinetic sculptures; it's as if da Vinci had access to PVC. This video (a BMW ad, as it happens) shows off some of his walking machines in motion on the beach.

Theo Jansen wants to make "life" and he figures the best way to do it is to start from scratch.

A self-styled god, Jansen is evolving an entirely new line of animals: immense multi-legged walking critters designed to roam the Dutch coastline, feeding on gusts of wind. Over the years, successive generations of his creatures have evolved into increasingly complex animals that walk by flapping wings in response to the wind, discerning obstacles in their path through feelers and even hammering themselves into the sand on sensing an approaching storm.

A scientist-turned-artist, Jansen's bizarre beach animals have their roots in a computer program that he designed 17 years ago in which virtual four-legged creatures raced against each other to identify survivors fit enough to reproduce. Determined to translate the evolutionary process off-screen, Jansen went to a local shop and found his own alternative to the biological cell -- the humble plastic tube.

"Animals are machines as well," said Jansen. "I was making animals with just the tubes because they were cheap but later on they turned out to be very helpful in making artificial life because they are very flexible and multifunctional as well. I see it now as a sort of protein -- in nature, everything is almost made of protein and you have various uses of protein; you can make nails, hair, skin and bones. There's a lot of variety in what you can do with just one material and this is what I try to do as well."

With plastic tubes costing about 10 cents a meter and with cable ties, nylon strings and adhesive tape doing the rest, these lightweight, insect-like beasts are pretty inexpensive to create. Designed to live on the beach and race on wet sand, their evolution hasn't been easy. While Jansen initially used a computer program to figure out the most effective design to get the feet walking, all of his subsequent creations have been entirely free-form, constructed solely through trial and error.

"I've seen a lot of mechanical sculpture, and Jansen's animari are the finest I've seen by far in the 'low-tech clockwork' mechanism category," said Carl Pisaturo, a robotic designer. "By clockwork, I mean mechanisms that have intrinsic, not universally controllable actions, and by low-tech I mean parts more 'crafted' than machined, and the lack of electronic or electrical systems. These are amazing creations and the simplicity of the technology and the fact that they are wind-powered only makes their poetic motions more impressive."

Each animal is made up of 375 replaceable tubes whose respective lengths represent the beast's very own unique "genetic code" influencing its quality and its walking pattern. Many of the initial species failed to stand or died out over time, and later models tackled different problems. The Animaris Arena rolled out a trunk that had a hammer that drove a pin into the ground to prevent itself from being blown away in a storm, and the Animaris Sabulosa tried to push down its nose in the same situation

Jansen is dedicated to creating artificial life through the use of genetic algorithms. These programs simulate evolution inside their code. Genetic algorithms can be modified to solve a variety of problems including circuit design, and in the case of Theo Jansen's creations, complex systems. Some measure of "fitness" is introduced into the algorithm; in Theo's case it is to survive on the beach while moving around within two enclosing lines on the wet sand near the ocean, and the dry sand at the edge of the beach. Those designs best at the assigned task within the modeled beach environment are bred together and graded again. Over time complex designs emerge which sprout wings and flap in the breeze pressurizing what look like plastic 2 liter soda bottles. Articulated legs sprout and scuttle across the sand like those of a crab. Theo uses plastic electrical conduit to make some of the computer's most promising designs. He then lets them roam free on the beach, measures their success, and updates his model.
Animaris Rhinoceros Transport

Animaris Currens Ventosa walking

Animaris Ondura walking

Animaris Percipiere walking

The Spinario

The first century AD Spinario was first recorded around 1165 in Rome. Believed by some to be a conscientious shepherd boy, Marcius, stopped to remove a thorn from his foot after delivering a message to the Roman senate.

Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488)

Putto Poised on a Globe (1480), unbaked clay, 75x38x23cm (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)

The Florentine sculptor and painter is ranked second only to Donatello among the Italian sculptors of the Renaissance. His bronze of the bandit, Colleoni, was considered the greatest equestrian statue in the world. 

Sukhothai walking Buddha (Thailand)

Sukhothai BuddhaThe walking Buddha is unique to the Sukhothai (1243) style of sculpture. This asana (posture) is said to symbolize Buddha's walking down from Tavatisma Heaven after he had visited his mother. Alternately, it has been interpreted as Buddha moving foward to offer the world his teachings.  Buddha images are made in one of four asanas - walking, standing, sitting, reclining - each with a distinctive mudra, or hand position. The posture of walking was once fairly common during the Sukhothai period in Thailand, but as later kingdoms emerged, the seated attitude of Calling the Earth to Witness became more common. The Buddha has a graceful appearance, as if he was not just walking, but more gliding on air.

walkingbuddha.jpg (21721 bytes)

Dvaravati style, gesture of Turning the Wheel.In some, the hand is raised in the gesture of Warding off Fear / Protection from Evil. This hand gestures is known as the Abhya Mudra.. There is an interesting legend about this hand gesture. Devadatta, a cousin of the Buddha, had been jealous of the Buddha. As Devadatta's pride increased, he attempted to murder the Buddha by releasing a rampaging elephant into the Buddha's path. But as the elephant approached him, Buddha displayed the Abhaya mudra, which immediately calmed the animal. Accordingly, it indicates not only the appeasement of the senses, but also the absence of fear. People who are looking to overcome fear in their own lives, or overcome jealousy, will therefore often meditate upon an image of the Buddha in the Abhya mudra. In Chinese and Japanese art this hand gesture can be a symbol for teaching of the Dharma.

Walking BuddhaDetail of walking Buddha
Wat Sa Si outside Wat Mahathat, Historic Park of Sukhothai

Robert Graham (b. 1938)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the wheelchair he designed, FDR Memorial, Washington DC

Roosevelt contracted polio in August 1921 while on a family vacation at Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born in Paris on 7 June, 1848, the son of Clovis Gauguin, a Republican editor, and his wife Aline Marie Chazal. In 1849, after Louis Napoléon came to power, the family emigrated to Peru. Clovis Gauguin died on the way. His widow and 2 children (Paul and his elder sister Mari) stayed in Lima with their rich relatives and did not return to France until 1855. At age 17, he became a sailor in the French merchant navy, and first learned about the South seas. After the death of his mother in 1867, he settled down with his wealthy guardian, Gustave Arosa, who had a large art collection that included works by Delacroix. This period in time shaped Gauguin's interest in the arts. He started collecting Impressionist paintings, and became an amateur painter. This lasted until he was 23. At this time Gauguin became very successful: he was a wealthy stockbroker, married Mette-Sophie Gad, from Denmark, and had five children. At 34, the stock market crashed and he lost his job. The result was poverty. Soon after, the family decided to move to Mette's homeland, Denmark. In 1885 Gauguin came back to Paris - alone.  Fifteen years after his separation, he went to Tahiti and discovered primitive art. He enjoyed it and the surroundings of the South Pacific because it meant he could paint people and scenery simply and naturally, with vibrant, contrasting colors. In 1887, Gauguin left France for Panama. For a short time he worked as a labourer for the Panama Canal Company. He soon left Panama for Martinique, where he continued his development as an artist. In 1888 he returned to Brittany. His experience in Martinique broadened his vision and enabled him to develop original interpretations of scenes in Brittany. In October, 1888 he travelled to Vincent van Gogh's home in Arles, France. His stay was both traumatic and fruitfull for both artists. They learned a great deal from each other but were often at odds. Gauguin returned to Paris in December after Van Gogh's "ear incident."This proved to be a turbulent arrangement. Thus Gauguin moved again, to Brittany, where he painted the walls and ceiling of an inn, and sculpted in wood and marble.
image of Pair of Wooden Shoes (Sabots) Pair of Wooden Shoes (Sabots), 1889/1890, polychromed oak, leather, and iron nails, 12.8 x 32.7 x 11.2 cm (NGA, Wash. DC)

I love Brittany: there I find the wild and the primitive. When my wooden shoes ring on this stony soil, I hear the muffled, dull, and mighty tone I am looking for in my painting.

In 1895, Gauguin went back to Tahiti. 27 months later, he returned to France. Gauguin did not find any refuge in France, though. First, he broke his ankle in a fight about a mulatto girl with whom he was living.

                            In passing through Gestel the other day with a comrade, sitting on a bench
                            near the church we found two remarkable figures, a young man raggédly
                            clothed, with a strange reckless face, and an old man bent over and leaning
                            on a heavy stick.

                            The latter was largely built, his legs half naked, and of a dark metalic, salmon
                            colour; and his feet thrust into the straw of his enormous sabots, one ankle
                            swollen and wounded, — it was this infirmity that prevented him from working
                            — he sat motionless beside his insouciant and listless companion. With a
                            heavy grey mat of hair, he was dark-skin'd and look'd like some bedouin; the
                            flesh was pucker'd round his eyes into innumerable deep wrinkles, as
                            though some torrid sun were constantly in his eyes: and gazing into Space,
                            he seem'd to find in the nothingness always before him and blank of his
                            reverie, the same occupation as those old sailors find, sitting for hours on
                            the benches of the quays, and gazing at the empty sea. He look'd at us
                            steadily when we spoke to him, and answer'd our questions slowly. My
                            companion ask'd him if he would be painted; he made no difficulty. When
                            ask'd where was his home, where he was habitually to be found, he replied
                            simply, with that deep and tragic voice — that had this accent naturally, as a
                            voice heard in a ruin'd and deserted dwelling, because of the solitude and
                            bareness of his life, — "On the stones" ("sur les pierres",): it was there that
                            he sat the greater part of the day, on the cobbles, to receive alms.
                                                                                                                                                        Percy Wyndham Lewis

 Then an auction sale of his works failed in 1895, and he decided to go back to Tahiti, and then to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas. This period was captured in his book of memoires, Noa Noa.

Gauguin suffered a chronic sore on his left ankle, which had refused to heal for more than two years. This was during his self imposed exile in Tahiti, and he thought the poor healing was due to the tropical climate. In his last years Gauguin's mobility was severely restricted, and he endured considerable pain, on account of his ankle. He became blind and unable to walk. It was later discovered that it was a complication of his syphilis, which eventually led to his death in 1903 on Hiva Oa Island in the Marquesas. In March of 1903 he was fined and imprisoned, and two months later was found dead. Gauguin's native neighbor Tioka, called to see him, announcing his arrival by shouting 'Koke, Koke" from the bottom of the staircase. To his surprise he received no answer. After a short hesitation he climbed the stairs and discovered Gauguin lying an his bed with one leg hanging over the side. Not sure that his friend was really dead, Tioka resorted to a traditional method and bit his head. Gauguin remained silent and motionless. In a shrill voice Tioka intoned an ancient Marquesan death lament.When filling in the death certificate, the priest added, "He was married and a father, but the name of his wife is unknown."

His work, which was influenced greatly by the native symbolism of Tahiti, included a wood carving of Christ on the Cross (Stela of Christ). The left foot of Christ is given greater prominence than any other part of the carving, thus referring to the source of Gauguin's physical suffering, his infected ankle. This piece therefore, has autobiographical significance.

Do not paint too much after nature. Art is an abstraction; derive this abstraction from nature while dreaming before it, and think more of the creation which will result than of nature.
                                                                                                        - letter to Emile Shuffenecker, 1888

Leone (1509-1590) & Pompeo Leoni (1533-1608)

The Emperor Charles V Subduing Rage/Violence, Bronze (251 cms. in height), Prado

This bronze is one of the most beautiful pieces of Renaissance Statuary. The two figures rise up over a plinth, around the circumference of which is the inscription "Caesaris virtute domitus furor" (Rage dominated by Caesar's valour). On the same plynth, to the left, there is another inscripition referring to the piece`s creators. In Latin it reads "Leone, the father, and Pompeo, the son, natives of Arezzo, made this 1564". It is probable that it was actually Leone who made it and that his son only helped in its firing. Celebrated in this sculptural group is a victory of the imperial troops; some argue that it refers to the conquest of Tunis, others that it is the Battle of Mühlberg against the Protestants. In the figure of the emperor the clothing is removable, revealing a nude worked in the fashion of the old deified Roman emperors. In his right hand he carries a lance that has felled the body of his vanquished foe, while in his left he has a sword, the hilt of which is shaped like an eagle's head.

Robert Gober

Untitled, 1990.
Wax, cotton, wood, leather shoe and human hair,10-3/4 x 20-1/2 x 5-5/8", Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC