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Julio Alpuy and Paul Manes Paintings Comparison Essay

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Updated: Apr 8th, 2020


The painting “Constructivist View of Montevideo” was painted by Julio Alpuy in 1957 utilizing oil paint on a canvas that is roughly 5 feet in length and two feet across. It was painted in the constructivist style which utilizes a variety of grid patterns, squares, rectangles, and various geometric shapes to symbolically depict a particular subject matter. The focus of this painting is the city of Montevideo, which is located in the home country of the artist (i.e., Uruguay).

The second painting that I examined was “120-MM” created by Paul Manes in 1948 using oil on canvas. The painting depicts the front view of a tank and seemingly incorporate aspects related to the Neo-expressionist movement about the style utilized and how the tank seemingly “pops” out of the screen at the viewer.

Examination of Content

When going over the work of Julio Alpuy, it becomes immediately obvious that it is the artist’s representation of some sort of cityscape. Further analysis of the history behind the piece reveals that it is a representation of Montevideo (a major city within the artist’s home country) and seems to depict the current industrial and urban development that is occurring within the city.

When analyzing the piece, one cannot help but be struck by how simple the elements utilized are yet they come together to create a complex representation of a city that has been encapsulated into the size of a painting. The painting contains many of the modern elements that you would see in a major metropolitan city such as:

  1. Ground transportation in the form of buses, trucks, and carb.)
  2. Sea transport as seen in the large ship seen in the middle of the painting.
  3. An assortment of pedestrian traffic

I utilize the term “frame” to encapsulate my perspective that the work, despite being vertically oriented, is divided into different frames of reference, each depicting an aspect of Montevideo that the artist had encountered at some point during their life. For example, normally, it would not make sense to see a large cargo container ship in the middle of the city, yet there it is right in the middle of the portrait (Smith 37).

The same can be said regarding the placement of the buses above the buildings and how the buildings are placed in an almost haphazard fashion here and there yet when looking at it from afar, it seems that the entire portrait is divided into distinct grids that depict life within your average city. It is based on this that one assumption I developed after looking at the painting was that the author created it to encapsulate the entirety of what he believed was the changes that occurred to Montevideo in his time.

First and foremost, what must be understood is that unlike Montevideo at present, the area of the city during the childhood of the painter was largely rural and was not the bustling metropolis it is today. Overtime, the city developed into a bustling modern metropolis which Alpuy took note of; however, instead of depicting the city in bits and pieces, he chose to represent it as is.

What this means is that the hustle and bustle of Montevideo complete with its numerous buildings, trucks, ships, and cranes were all crammed into a single painting just as the city itself is crammed into a relatively small area within Uruguay (Basquin 33). I believe that the artist had two intentions when he created the painting, the first was to depict how far Montevideo has come from its rural origins as well as to showcase what it has lost as a direct result of modernization (Tsivian 94).

First and foremost, I would like to point out that the painting contains all the trappings of a modern day civilization, namely:

  1. In the bottom left corner we see what appears to be a café
  2. In the bottom middle section there appears to be a bus which represents mass transportation
  3. In the center of the painting is the ship that was mentioned earlier, which represents how Montevideo is now connected to the world via international trade.
  4. The buildings are an unmistakable representation of modern-day urban living
  5. The various antennas located on the top of the painting represent how the city is connected to the world via modern-day methods of communication.

All of these elements were not present in Montevideo during the childhood of the author and shows just how much the city has improved since then. However, what is interesting to note about this particular piece is the general lack of a sufficiently large skyline.

In most paintings that depict a city, we tend to see a skyline that helps to create a nice backdrop for the buildings. In the case of this particular work by Alpuy, we see that the skyline is relatively absent in that there is only a small space to depict it.

I believe that the contrast between the relatively bunched together buildings and city elements with the tiny skyline was an intentional design by the artist to showcase what Montevideo both gained and lost. From a certain perspective, Montevideo gained a considerable level of modernity and the trappings of civilization; however, the sheer lack of nature in the painting shows that it lost a large percentage of the natural beauty that used to exist within the area.

What must be understood is that Alpuy did not grow up in a time where it was natural to live in an apartment within a large metropolis. It is used to be the case that Uruguay was a largely rural country that subsisted on farming. This meant that the artist was exposed to its natural beauty in a time where it could be appreciated the most (Barry 597).

However, over time, cities such as Montevideo became the norm with nature being covered up in favor of the modernity that humans craved over time. I believe that while the artist appreciates the modernity that has come to the city of Montevideo, he also laments that it has taken away from the beauty that once existed in the location.

Evidence of this particular assertion can be seen in the very sullen and dark representation of the city and the use of colors that give the painting a “dirty” look. This seemingly dirty look could be an intentional depiction of the artist wherein he is attempting to symbolize the “dirtiness” of the modern-day city as compared to the cleanliness that existed before the buildings, buses, and ships were around.

Admittedly, if this is the case, Alpuy made a good point since most modern-day cities are filled with a variety of pollutants that choke the sky, make buildings look dirty and create a generally inhospitable atmosphere to breathe in.

From such a perspective, the painting takes on more meaning as the various dark smudges that are seen in nearly all the buildings come into focus under a new light. Originally, I had thought that the smudges were a way in which the artist had attempted to create a lighting contrast, however, as I continue to examine the way in which the smudges looked oddly familiar, it immediately dawned on me that they were exactly like the dark spots I see on buildings that are often exposed to large amounts of smoke pollution from cars (Barry 597).

It is based on this that the modernity of Montevideo takes on a whole other meaning wherein the people that keep on going about their daily lives within the painting are immersed in what is a veritable sea of pollution.

Looking at the painting from this perspective makes me believe that the artist viewed the modernity of Montevideo as both a blessing and a curse. While it may be true that the citizens in the painting were able to have all the advantages of modern-day living, they are still living within an environment that is so full of pollution that they are slowly being killed without realizing it.

The result is that I believe the intended message of the painting was to depict the price of modernity. In exchange for the beauty of nature, we have to live in a sea of pollution where all our “modern-day needs” are met yet we are slowly being killed as a direct result.

Examination of Content

This work by Paul Manes does not need any in-depth analysis to determine what it is since from a single glance, you can immediately tell it is a tank. Based on the description given by the museum, the tank is a symbol for the destructive elements in human interaction and how they often result in violence.

When looking at the painting, I have to admit that such a description is rather apt when taking into consideration the intimidating feeling one seems to get when looking at the front view of the tank and how it seemingly looks like it is about to leap off the canvas and attack you.

It is important to note that the concept of “perspective” is very important when it comes to the depiction of certain subjects since how something is portrayed from a particular angle drastically changes how it is interpreted by the viewer. In the case of this painting, the full-frontal “in your face” method of depiction was meant as a means of intimidation since you cannot help but look at the tank and feel small in comparison (Heinsohn 16).

One of the primary reasons behind this feeling was how the artist seemingly has the viewer look up at the turret of the tank as it approaches from some form of the dark abyss. Such a method of viewing the subject in the painting would elicit various forms of shock, awe, and especially fear.

This was the intention of Manes since if the tank is to represent the darker and more destructive elements of human interaction, then it would, of course, be necessary to depict it in such a way that it brings to the forefront the feelings that people would normally experience when confronted with such behavior, namely: shock and fear (Heinsohn 16).

Further examination of the painting shows a very interesting effect wherein the author has seemingly let paint drip down the front creating various random lines throughout the work. For some strange reason, this particular stylistic technique seemed familiar to me.

After some thought on the process, I immediately realized that it was similar to the style seen in various anime that I had watched in the past wherein to simulate the vibration when a car was turned on, or a very heavy object passed through, tiny vertical lines were superimposed on an image and were then made to go up and down in order to simulate the effects of vibration (Rubinstein 80).

When looking at the painting from this perspective, the use of this stylistic element to simulate vibration is immediately apparent and helps to add another layer to the visual intimidation that this particular painting exudes.

It should also be noted that the subject matter itself that was utilized in the painting is an effective means of showcasing violence. In modern-day history, tanks have always been associated as weapons of war with no other intended purpose aside from causing as much death and destruction as possible.

This is in sharp contrast to other symbols of violent human behavior such as a sword, a gun, or a soldier wherein the same amount of awe-inspiring shock is not as plausible since they seem relatively ordinary and mundane when compared to the sheer enormity that a tank represents, especially with one barreling towards you at high speeds.

It should also be noted that the color scheme utilized on the tank is seemingly one that is utilized by the U.S. military today when it comes to its tank designs. This is not to say that the artist was in any way trying to critique U.S. military action; rather, the ubiquitous nature of the color scheme helped to reinforce the realism behind the painting.

When examining the painting, one question immediately arises, namely: why would the artist choose to create something like this? While it is immediately apparent that they wanted to elicit some form of fearful reaction from the viewer, it is also important to note that eliciting fear alone is an insufficient means of justifying a particular piece of work (McClister 327).

After contemplating on this thought for a while and delving deeper into the meaning of the painting, I came to realize that maybe the artist was trying to showcase just how far we have fallen as a species wherein in order to manifest the violent tendencies we have gone to extensive lengths in order to enhance and even perfect the act of killing. Instead of trying to develop better methods of peace, we have gone in the opposite direction and have instead attempted to make better weapons of war.

If the painting itself is meant to represent the darker and more violent aspects of humanity, then it can be stated that even though we fear death, war and destruction we also tend to glorify it to a certain extent. I make this assertion based on my personal perspective wherein not only did I feel a certain level of fear when I saw the painting but I also experienced the awe and even a bit of respect for the designer of the tank for crafting such an impressive weapon of death (Rubinstein 80).

While it may be true that as a species, we have developed better methods of communication, we still tend to find a certain level of awe and even joy when it comes to weapons of destruction. For instance, we are always impressed whenever we see a procession of tanks, displays of prowess when it comes to aerial shows involving jet fighters and often feels entertained when it comes to watching violent action movies.

When looking at such eccentricities and how the artist has chosen to depict the tank, it immediately becomes obvious that it is a representation of our darker side and how humanity tends to be a hypocrite when it comes to war and violence. Groups of people tend to say that they are against war and violence, yet we tend to glorify weapons of war and find violence in certain formats to be entertaining.

Thus, when looking at the painting, I see not only a tank; rather, I also see how violence, destruction, and the desire for war is an intrinsic aspect of human nature. No matter how much we have advanced as a society, at the end of the day, we are still a species that is intrinsically violent and work towards better means of killing each other. Such a viewpoint when looking at the painting is incredibly depressing since it highlights how, despite all the trappings of modernity, we are still beasts on the inside.

Why I do not like a particular Piece

When examining both pieces, I prefer the painting done by Julio Alpuy over the one created by Paul Manes. The reason behind this is quite simple, despite the dark theme utilized by Alpuy in his portrayal of modern-day civilization; it is still far more familiar to me as compared to the tank depicted by Manes.

However, I prefer a certain level of “familiarity” when it comes to the paintings that I like. The tank depicted by Manes, while aesthetically nice, has no familiarity whatsoever to my tastes. I do not like guns; I abhor weapons of war and, as such, the entire painting is an eyesore to me even though I do think that the artist was quite skilled when he created it.

Why I like a Particular Piece

On the other end of the spectrum, the depiction of a modern-day city by Alpuy is something that I have seen throughout my entire life and, as such, is a familiar backdrop that I find a certain level of comfort in. Even though the work seemingly depicts the polluted backdrop of modernity, I would still prefer living in the present that is full of civilization, traffic, and pollution as compared to the primitive past.

Suffice it to say, I am a child of the modern era and I would feel uncomfortable in an age where there is little in the way of modern civilization yet is rife with the beauty of nature. This is not to say that I do not appreciate nature; rather, it would be more accurate to state that I am more comfortable with the trappings of modernity than I am in the great outdoors.

Works Cited

Barry, Arlene Lundmark. “‘I Was Skeptical At First’: Content Literacy In The Art Museum.” Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 55.7 (2012): 597-607. Print

Basquin, Kit. “Paint And Form.” School Arts 92.6 (1993): 33. Print

Heinsohn, Richard. “Neo-Ex Revisited.” Art In America 101.5 (2013): 16. Print

McClister, Nell. “Ruffneck Constructivists.” Artforum International 52.9 (2014): 325. Print

Rubinstein, Raphael. “Neo-Expressionism (Not) Remembered.” Art In America 101.2 (2013): 80. Print

Smith, Roberta. “Art In Review.” New York Times 148.51298 (1998): E37. Print

Tsivian, Yuri. “Turning Objects, Toppled Pictures: Give And Take Between Vertov’s Films And Constructivist Art.” October 121 (2007): 92-110. Print

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