The Flowers Of Time.

* * * The flowers of time. * * *

The painter of the Starry Night in 1889, Vincent Van Gogh, has not only blessed us with his exceptional paintings but also with his thoughts about his deep understanding of his art, of the poetry in light and colors that emerges from it. He has passed to us through his notes many aspects of his personality enough for us to understand him as a genuine artist.  As we all know he was suffering from Ménière’s disease. He overcame his discomfort, working beyond the threshold of pain while painting his self-portrait, the famous Bandaged Ear in 1889. Among the abundant stream of his reflections both in colors and in words, we would like to look into the one regarding normality, as he said:  “Normality is a paved road: it is comfortable for walking but nothing grows on it”

What is normal then? A dear friend of mine, also a painter, used to say that Normal is a setting on a washing machine”. What should we understand as being the norm, as being normality? Normal in the psychosomatic sciences, as in the psychoanalysis of Carl Gustave Jung, is a personality that does not cause suffering to others and which does not suffer itself. A merely impossible state for us to achieve in everyday life among other living beings. The norm understood in the sense of the ancient Greek, as nomos, is a law or a rule that can be internal and personal, which we impose freely upon ourselves or through external and collective impulses by society, tradition, etc. Normality, therefore, becomes the whole set of our attitudes and behaviors that remains normal within the limits of the norms.

Professor Dominique Assale, in his researches in phenomenology about the Logic Of Experience, in “The History Of The Great Currents Of The Western Philosophy”, returned to the Greek thinkers to account for the miracle of the Greek thought and its consequences in the history of critical thinking in general. Every good Greek citizen was a pious Greek. We know from the historical record that in ancient Greece all the cities with some differences like Athens and Sparta revolved around three major ideas. The first one was the dikè, namely the order in the cosmos that all good Greek had to complete on a personal level which we find the echo of in the theory of justice by Plato. The second one was the mimesis, which idea was of learning by imitating a model like Demosthenes for the rhetorical art, or Pericles for politics, or even also reproducing nature that is found in art when we look for instance at the sculpture of Myron’s discobolus (460-450 BC). The perfection of nature in terms of proportions was an ideal to be achieved, which the Renaissance took over from the Greek canon. Finally, the last idea was the Theoria, or contemplation, the speculative activity of the philosopher, the highest degree to be achieved, as Aristotle would say. 

Socrates’s condemnation to commit suicide is the result of the transgression of some principles deriving straight from these three pillars. The judges of the city blamed him for introducing new gods which would have disturbed the dikè and corrupting the youth by his teachings which would have altered the mimesis. His maieutic departed from the norms or the normality of the Athenian society in the fourth century before our era. by breaking radically with all materialistic thoughts before him, Socrates’s death in 399 BC is undoubtedly the founding act of Greek philosophy. Socrates, this eccentric old man, had shocked deeply the orthodoxy of Athenian thought. It is indeed, for the first time, that a man had died in defense of his ideas in the Hellenistic world. This is long before Christianity, defying by doing so all the social norms, came out of the “paved path” as Van Gogh said to truly become a “flower” of time. This heinous death will forever change the relationship to the tradition and to the truth which triggered other minds to find new paths and to pursue new ways to seek beauty and truth as we see with all the schools of thoughts in the continuation of Socrates like the Academy of Plato or those opposing him.  

We will never insist enough that Van Gogh’s flowers are metaphorical entities in the garden of time and not real ones like the flowers in the vase on the tea table in the living room. But that idea alone opens to us a beautiful approach to consider new relationships with art. Because an idea that goes only in one way does not go anywhere. The flowers are the most beautiful and eloquent essays about life. They are beautiful with a purpose. Everything about them fills a vital function. They are beautiful and fragile just like us. They last only for a while just like us. Nothing is superfluous in their appearance, as in their smell. They have the exact colors and the precise perfume to attract the one who is looking for their nectar or company. Too much light would kill them, too much water would destroy them. Flowers are friends of the arts, creativity, and romantic lovers. They carry within them the very essence of life. If we dare look at them carefully.

To be an artist is definitely to be a very special kind of “flower” in the garden of time. My professor of Hegel used to say ” You shall not be above your time, at best you shall be your time”. Being our time with a message to deliver is the highest goal in creating something. Bob Marley did likewise with his music. He tried  to bring an  awareness about the situation of the black people in Jamaica and his Rastafaria community to the world.  Leonardo Da Vinci in his time tried to create a fruitful dialogue between the science, the art and the  religion “he used science to paint the human body perfectly in its motion, as well as to expose its mind and the passions of its soul”. Mozart is well known for his immense respect toward Bach, he said  that “ Bach was the father of all musician”. Indeed there would have been no Mozart at all or Beethoven without the solid foundation that Bach established through his vast work and his great influence on future generations of composers till today. Vincent Van Gogh too is such an artist, having painted everything from within with light and poetry. We  need as artists to find ways to bring the flower in us to bloom and to deliver the very message that we carry for the world to know, for the universe to glue everything together by raising people from knowing to understanding.

Certainly, in a poetic way, no flower is thought without the tireless work that it creates around it. The needy little bees for example which extract the nutrient necessary for the honey that they manufacture, the pollination that they boost which is actually strengthening the chain of life itself. Love and honey have an intertwined destiny in our lives. Indeed, love is surely the honey of art and artists are its tireless little bees. But in art, love is passion, love is a gift, love is consecration… Without the fire of its passion, the fresco of Michelangelo, on the roof of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1508 to 1512) would never have been painted. Without Mozart’s gift, opera would have been only noises according to Peter Shaffer. In an interview about his movie Amadeus (1984) he says in 1986 about The Marriage Of Figaro: « Only opera can do this, in a play if more than one person speaks at the same time, it is noise. No one can understand a word, but with opera, with music, you can have twenty individuals all talking at the same time and it is not noise. It is perfect harmony». Without its consecration, there would never have been the sculpture by Rodin of the thinker (1880 to 1904), or the beautiful radiant sculpture in marble of the Veiled Virgin by Giovanni Strazza (19th century).

Art is therefore not a product that we find in nature, such as a mineral of copper or a  Baobab tree in Africa, or even the twelve apostles of the great ocean road in Australia. We create art, just like the bees manufacture their honey. We carve art from our own vulnerability because “Being a human being, is to be a fragile being. Fragile as a truth, vulnerable as a thought, as a vision, which has to deepen in life. Being just a thought, an idea, a vision of a vulnerable love, which is strengthened, which is empowered in time”  We also carve art with our love, with our passion, with our gift, with our consecration, with all our being mind, body, and soul.  We work hard to manifest it in the world. We as artists are body, mind, and soul of our art. We are everything that we express. It is a pure and a deep connection in the way that no one can isolate a flower from its colors or its scent.

To say the least, there would be no art without our concrete existence for it to bud and to bloom. It is in real-life that the corrosive effects of time weigh in on the artists, pushing them and inspiring them to the vision for which they will devote their whole lives. But what matters the most in the process of creativity as with the flower is the moment of change when the bud becomes the flower. The moment of transformation, which is also the moving away from the “paved paths”.  The artist then makes the jump from an objective and collective experience into his personal and subjective inspiration which crosses the limits of his life while continuing to speak to humanity. Examples can be found for instance in Le Roman De Renard (12th century), 2001: The Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick (1968), or even The tales of one and a thousand nights (978), and so many more… 

The idea of art moves us deeply, even when it comes to us, sometimes embodied into excess and eccentricity of some artists like Keith Moss or Fela Kuti, etc. Eccentricity is “part of the beautiful expression of art. Because we are not equal regarding talent, so we do not all react in the same way. Some eccentricities are for all to see and very loud, others are just subtle in the refined way of being oneself”. However, paying attention only to the eccentricity is missing the message that it conveys. Eccentricity is also a scent of art. An artist is a messenger and like any good messenger, it is the message that matters and not the messenger himself.

Moreover, each talent is unique, in the same way, that there are no two identical flowers in nature, even when they are growing in the same garden, on the same soil. The secret of each garden is the topsoil. We have to prepare the soil adequately depending on our needs. The flowers of time grow on the soil of vulnerability, openness, and generosity. True talent is seeded on the ground of generosity. So that the creativity that will grow on that specific seed will be as diverse and rich as the soil allows it. Two artists will never treat the same subject as equal because of their own personal experience and also their own internal battles to come out of the “paved paths” to establish themselves as masters of their arts. Every artistic creation is unique because it comes from a unique soil, a unique heart, and unique hands. All creations complete beautifully the destiny of art to uplift us and to fill our lives with high sentiments and purpose. Some artistic expressions are true of a total serenity like the Canon In D (1694) by Pachelbel, and others are all made out of lights and shadows like Rembrandt’s painting….

There are as many art forms as there are talents to express it. But the seed of time needs its own soils to grow, to turn into a bud, and finally into a flower. As Van Gogh said: “the paved road” is too comfortable for anything to grow on it. We must find the courage, the faith to try new ways and to walk on our own where nobody has ever gone before us. We have to truly want to blossom with our own colors, spreading around us our own perfume. It does not mean that being an artist is living away from the normality but it is thinking it in a new light in order to find within it or outside of it the nutrients we need to be creative, to be seeded, to bud, and to bloom.

Paul Malimba. 

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Echoes and Reflections on Saint John the Baptist and Leonardo Da Vinci.

This is no ordinary painting. This is the will of an old man, the last work of great artist. His will to expose a glimpse of himself without ever revealing himself fully. This is the work of Leonardo Da Vinci. If it is easier to understand Da Vinci‘s work in science through his Codex. It is more difficult to read into his painting. He warns us in one of his notebooks by borrowing these verses to the Metamorphosis of Ovid: “ I doubt o Greek that you can do the account of my exploits even if you already know them. Because I made them without witnesses with only the forces of the darkness  as accomplice” .

The law of causality says that there is always something in the effect of a cause that belongs to the cause itself. Despite his will to conceal himself in his work, we are convinced that the Master left occasionally here and there a print of his true self through his brushes. Nevertheless, it is not so much what we understand about Da Vinci that helps us to understand him, but to understand ourselves. The entire work of Leonardo invites us to a great exercise of humility. How much of himself and ourselves can still be found in his last work? The radiant character and aura of the master, just like the sun which glows without discrimination, made of him a universal figure. He belongs to everybody because his works benefit the whole of humanity. What then can the Saint John The Baptist still give to us?

Saint John the Baptist is the last work of the master.

He gave to it his full care, even though, during that same time, he kept retouching and figuring out the portrait of Mona Lisa. Everything is present in the Saint John the Baptist and much more; the years of discoveries and sorrows of the past, the accumulated experiences in the moments of plenitude and scarceness, of wondering and wandering, the mastery of the theme of the light that illuminates Saint John the Baptist in contrast to the dark background, and finally the spiritual presence that springs from the holy man himself, whose index finger points upwards suggesting an otherworldly realm. What about his eyes and his smile that we see coming back on so many art work of Da Vinci, likewise in the Mona Lisa. Everything is there and much more in this remarkable beauty of the work, in the finesse and refinement of the features of Saint John the Baptist, the face, the arms, the posture, the shoulders, the chest and that sublime index finger pointing to the firmament.  All these details have been thought out, painted with extreme meticulousness and perfection to the point that Saint John the Baptist is confusing us. Is it really the man who baptized Christ that Leonardo painted? Or is it the master’s vision of what a beautiful human being should be in its most vivid expression?

It is worth noting that Da Vinci had an interest in the human anatomy and he devoted not only a great amount of time studying the body but also in doing so risking his own life by practicing autopsy because it was forbidden by the authorities, the Vatican. The Saint John The Baptist is a vision of beauty, in all its shapes and forms, all together in one body, all at the same time not only virile and masculine, but also brought to its ultimate perfection by all the femininity that emerges from it. A face of an elegant beauty with features that marries all forms of the masculine and also those of the feminine: whether it is the eyebrows, the cheekbones, the cheeks, the perfect curls of the hair that are an unequivocal feature, not only of the masculine, but also of the feminine.

Indeed it is not only physically that the Saint John the Baptist is an expression of such a  beauty, but also in his aura.

Features that only the mind can communicate like this flame in his eyes which connect to ours when we linger staring at them. Not the least is his smile, this pout, that says a lot about Leonardo. As a great master and as, at his usual, Da Vinci returns us to ourselves when we are facing him through his painting. The most disturbing thing about the Saint John the Baptist is that despite the fact that the Saint is announcing the spirit and the light, he has this look full of carnal vitality, very much in contrast to what he represents. His body, although masculine, is however suggesting something very feminine.

Some people see in it the expression of the master’s unproven homosexuality. In fact, on April 9, 1476, an anonymous indictment against Leonardo and three other men, accusing them of sexual practices against the young Goldsmith, Jacobo D’Andrea Salterelli, was filed in the infamous box of Florence, Tamburo, at the Palazzo della Signoria to the authorities. Due to the lack of evidence, the charge was dismissed. However, it must be said that although homosexuality in the fifteenth century was prohibited by the church, it was widespread in high society and among artists.

However, the interest and importance of Saint John the Baptist is not to inform us about the sexual orientations of the master, but rather about the ultimate expression of the beauty as he saw it later in his life. He pushed that understanding to its climax beyond the limits of the body and mocking not only the social conventions, but also the clear boundaries between the masculine and the feminine by merging them in one body. The art is a tension within the interiority of the artist and how he expresses it in the real world, how he transfers that tension into an idea and after into a matter. This precise degree of tension is very visible in Leonardo when we remember the extrovert that he was before that infamous indictment of April 1476 and the introvert he had become immediately after and for the rest of his life. 

The quote of Ovid that Da Vinci is using for himself is ever-present in the painting of the Saint John the Baptist, as if everything rested on this tension between the shadow and the light, the masculine and the feminine, the good and the evil, the reason and the passions. This in-between moment helps us to understand that the day adds nothing to the light itself, just as the dark mantle of the night does not subtract anything from the same light. Moreover, it makes us understand that it is an unfair exercise to pose the masculine as what is opposed to the feminine. It is important in what it means to be a human being: that our joys and sorrows, that our hopes and dreams show always the humanity in us and not the incarnate individual to whom Da Vinci opposes the Saint John the Baptist, who has both the beauty and the grace of the masculine and the feminine.

This half-man and this half-woman or better yet, this man and this woman at the same time is the Saint John the Baptist as painted by Leonardo. He is undoubtedly an androgyne being. Everything is there and much more, we know from his biographers that Leonardo, because of his situation as a child born outside of wedlock, was in his early childhood separated from his mother and was lonely. As a result, he could not receive a solid education. He spent a lot of time in the wild, marveling at plants, insects, birds, animals, etc. There he developed a great sense of intimacy with nature and also an out-of-the-ordinary visual acuity that will have decisive implications in his life, not only in science, but also in arts and as a person. As a living being, he was completely vegetarian urging his entourage in his words “Don’t make of your belly a grave”. It is certainly in his moments of solitude and observation that he understood that nature does not oppose the terms of the relation that it unites, but it completes them to perfection. 

It was nature itself, before his years of apprenticeship, in Verrochio‘s workshop, that was the only great master of the young Leonardo, introducing him to its subtle secrets of forms and light.

It is still that same nature that holds as homogeneous the whole structure of reality which the terms of our mind consider to be opposite. Hence the bold idea of a work of a perfect human body or an androgyne being may have certainly been tacitly and silently part of the interests of the young Leonardo, but without ever having been able to take the precedent on the existential necessities of the artist’s life up to the Saint John the Baptist very late in his life.

It should be said here that it is the ultimate effort to achieve a work that unifies all the aspects of the human beauty on the same medium that was certainly the first concern of Leonardo and not the androgyne being itself as the result. Otherwise, we would not only make a false trial to the master, but we would make him guilty of our intents to understand him through our lenses and not his perspective. Leonardo was not only a brilliant genius inventor, he also had the talent and ability to carry to perfection what some before him had already invented. The shortcomings of the inventions, which Da Vinci improved, were partly due to the lack of a keen sense of observation and also to the poor schematics of the sketches. It is no exaggeration to say that Leonardo is the pioneer of industrial design. He could visualize in his mind the parts and the whole. He could then develop perfect models that allowed a more efficient construction of the machines and tools that he already had in his mind. Leonardo‘s artistic universe followed that path using the same rule. He used science to paint the human body perfectly in its motion, as well as to expose its mind and the passions of its soul.

 The androgyne being is not a concept that Da Vinci created.

It is an old Greek myth. But the Saint John the Baptist’s painting, which rests on it and brings together both the beauty of the body, the light, the spirit and the passions of the soul is unique to Leonardo. Saint John the Baptist is therefore unique in this sense. We have to return to Greek antiquity, to understand, with the philosopher Plato, the myth of the androgyne beings. In the Symposium, 189d.193d, he gives the floor to the comic poet Aristophanes to explain the existence of the eros. The latter tells the story of three races; men, women and androgyne.

The last race was extraordinary in strength and in vigor, which led them to challenge the gods. Zeus decided that in order to weaken them and to take advantage of them, they had to be separated. The consequence of this separation was that each half was missing the other and went to search for it by embracing and kissing another half that they could find hoping to stumble on the right one. Zeus, helped by Apollo, had also taken care to fix the sexual organs in order to allow reproduction. This had two majors consequences; primo if two opposites mates; “they would give birth for the perpetuation of the species” and secundo if it is between the same sex, between a male and a male, it would “bring Satiety would separate them for a while” . For Plato, therefore, speaking through Aristophanes, “This is the moment when the innate love of men for one another comes”, in other words “the true love and pure friendship”.

The consequences and implications of these words for the Renaissance and Da Vinci’s society were capital punishment or exile. So why would Leonardo have painted an androgyne Saint John the Baptist to represent the person who baptized Christ?  When we have in mind the accusation against him about his alleged innate love of man for each other, this innate love was not a forbidden act in ancient Greek society, but centuries of Christianity up to the Renaissance had relegated it to the status of an abomination in the eyes of God. The plea in favor of Leonardo rests more on the side of the art, regarding The Saint John the Baptist, than the religion and the society. By the end of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, the androgyne myth will be revisited by psychoanalysis trying to understand in depth our sexualities and genders. 

There is no need to recall the scandal that Sigmund Freud’s newly elaborated theories had generated in the world at the end of the nineteenth century. The Pansexualism with its breakthrough, but also its limits, had been so decried and certainly misunderstood. Grotesquely understood, pansexualism wants that everything is sexual in our life, from the baby who experiences an erotic pleasure in sucking the breast milk, to the psychotic or neurotic adult. We will have to wait for Carl Gustave Jung, with the introduction of the collective unconscious and the concepts of the archetypes, to redraw our unconscious path and functions, and also to explain the key role of sexuality while relativizing the pansexualism.

Pierre Daco, much later in his book, The Triumphs Of Psychoanalysis, revisited Freud and Jung under new light going back to the meaning of the Greek myths, including the famous Oedipus complex, and also the myth of the androgyne being. Moreover, the results of the psycho-analysis sessions showed that the other sex is not only the one who faces us, but that we have in ourselves the other of ourselves. So we would be at some level of our personalities both male and female. So that gender is hard to determine. The way we understand our sex is not only a social construct, but also cultural and religious. Nowadays the findings in genetics also show that in the XY chromosome pair, it is only a molecule or a brick that determines whether an individual is male or female. Some individuals are XY, phenotype, but are actually lacking that brick on their Y. They may appear as male, but they have a XX genotype and vice versa. All these considerations, both in science and art, psychoanalysis and genetics, not only bring us back to the myth of the androgynous being, but also place us again in front of the Saint John the Baptist, which is stating the same thing.

Art transforms knowledge into understanding.

Art does not obey to the notion of causality according to the criteria of the mind. It acts on us beyond the sphere of the knowing, while supporting the knowledge. Art transforms knowledge into understanding. We call it an emotional understanding. It makes us feel the abstract through a concrete medium. It is not the music itself that is the cause of our joys and sorrows, but the layers and dimensions that it opens and touches within our souls. There is not only an endogenous or inner aspect to art but also another exogenous or external to any form of art invariably of its medium. So art talks to us, not only on an empirical level, but also on a metaphysical one. The “I love Mozart more than Beethoven” or “U2″ more than “The Police” is not always focused on the artist itself or the band. But on how their art finds us inside. Mozart, in the movie Amadeus, had this sentence for his defense;  “I am a vulgar man, but my music is not”.  As if art channels something higher than our mortal conditions, social ranks, nations, and belief system. Even the gods are not indifferent regarding to art.

Orpheus with his golden lyre had so deeply touched Hades to push the God to free Eurydice, Orpheus’ wife, from Hades kingdom. It is in these endogenous substrates that art has the infinite power to touch us in a silent dialogue. There is an entire network of connection and meaning between an artist, his work and his audience. These links are entangled in close and complex relations; all of them personal, historical, subjective and objective. The Saint John the Baptist offers us precisely this intimate and introspective look not only on Leonardo, but also on ourselves questioning our ideas of beauty, sex, gender, religion, society, freedom, etc.

The Saint John the Baptist ultimately stands before us, not only as a painting, but also as a mirror.

What we see through it, is more a reflection through the pareidolia effect than a painting. He is a man. He is a man with very feminine traits. He is maybe both a man and a woman. Just like the three races in the Symposium myth. There is much more to the Saint John the Baptist than what we see on the canvas. The art is an attempt to capture a moment of tension between the interiority and the exteriority. There is in each one of us a personality or some traits of our personality which are male and also female. They often ignore each other elegantly. It is our daily actions, our ways of moving and our gestures that highlight for each one of us these aspects of our inner personalities. The artists and their works are no strangers to that. It is even often an asset in art where creation is not only a conception but also a birth, a movement of life from the inside out.

In our previous article on Mona Lisa, we noted that she “will continue to evoke in us these various feelings and voices that refer us to our own internal dialogue with art and beauty through these multiple expressions“. The Saint John the Baptist does the same, and it goes even further because it touches the very notion of the beauty, which is not outside, but within. It is like touching some aspects that our culture and education are shutting down all the time, because of our rigid conception of the social function of our gender. But Leonardo, through the Saint Jean Baptist places the beauty in a movement of profound reconciliation between the masculine and the feminine. The Saint John the Baptist offers us, not only the painting of a Saint, but the psychological portrait of Leonardo himself as an artist. But much more as this man; fond of secrets, intrigues and mysteries that gives himself to us for the last time, but in a completely hidden way for us to discover. Finally, and above all, this is himself as the last vision of what is the absolute beauty of the human body and also pointing to the mind.

One of the most eloquent features of Da Vinci‘s personality is his free spirit. Some of his biographers reported that he would buy birds in a cage with the sole aim of freeing them in the wild. It is only natural that his last painting was in some ways a will to put together what centuries of traditions, religions, and cultural influences had always considered distinct: the body and the mind, the male and the female, in order to paint the most beautiful being which unites all those attributes. Those considerations help us even more to understand what truly an artist is. Artists are male and female from within who allow the transition of an idea into a shape, of the light into a matter. This latter painting is not only the last will of a painter to his profession, but also an open letter to the artists and all forms of arts. No form of art comes with a gender tag, but it is the artists, the patrons, the society, the religion (the market nowadays) that frame it that way.

Art is light.

All form of matter is born from the light, but the art exists first and independently of the artists who crystallize it accordingly to the medium offered to them by life. It is the nature of light to light up the world without discrimination. It is up to the artists to do the work of light within themselves, to let it pass without the filters of their culture, their religion and their prejudices. No matter how gifted an artist can be, he will always be a human being with all the perfections and the flaws that come with the gift. Just like the Saint John the Baptist is strongly suggesting a great testimony of the light, but still so human…

Everything is there in the Saint John the Baptist and even much more because he is not only the portrait of this holy man, but of Leonardo himself, and of us, as we evolve in our own understanding of the true nature of things, reality and life. Da Vinci through his painting has raised more questions than answering them. He gives us the right to ask those same questions, but shows us that we can only answer our own, if there is an answer, and not his. He gives us clues to find him and to know a bit about himself, but gives us the license to agree or disagree. There’s a spark in the Saint John the Baptist eyes and that spark is ours. It is our humanity, naked without title, gender, religion and social classes. That is why the Saint John the Baptist says so much about Leonardo and about ourselves.

 

 

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What makes Mona Lisa smile?

I have always wondered what makes Mona Lisa smile. Only Leonardo Da Vinci, I guess, knew why. Her smile however has always had a profound effect on me to the extent to which I could deepen my own dialogue with art and creativity in art. She, Mona Lisa, has this imperceptible pout at the cracks of her lips, which is very difficult to distinguish, between a nice grimace and a real smile. Da Vinci had devoted the last sixteen years of his life to it; perfecting an already perfect work, nuancing his own nuances, lightening up his own light to achieve the result that we all know. No matter how generous Francesco Del Giocondo was, I have no trouble believing that the finished work had by far exceeded the arrangements between him and Leonardo. You can’t really put a price tag on such a work. What is certainly true for the Joconde, is also true for any good artistic creativity. What does an artist really offer? What does the vast majority of the public really get?

What is the talent? What is its connection to art? What part does talent play in creativity?

Naively perhaps, but all talent seems to me to rest on a background of generosity. Lee Scratch Perry remembers that Bob Marley was writing music for Music’s sake. Art, therefore, in that generous dimension, is what is given in a multitude of forms which varies from the sound to the light, from the thought to its plasticity under different medias. Talent thus crystallizes what is firstly given in an abstract and intuitive form to the artist, then molded from the intangible to the tangible; from the light where we have all forms of paintings, from the sound where we have all forms of music, both instrumental and vocal, from the thought where we have it, not only in the all above cited dimensions as they all involve thought, but also in all the others forms that depend on it and are made perceptible by the transformation of what was felt as an intuition to ultimately exist in various shapes.

Moreover, talent is what helps to give shapes to what is given intuitively. It is therefore what manifests art through the artist.  But it does not look to the artist, always to the art, looking for the one who will be the beneficiary beyond the artists themselves.  There is therefore no art without a message already coded to its recipient, a message that can remain obscure even to the artist.  Because they simply had the intuition or the inspiration without knowing its origin and its destination. They merely faithfully transcribed it for the one who finds some benefit in it.  It is in this profound sense that we should understand the notions of generosity and talent. The artists create because that’s what his talent allows him to do. It is the brush that chooses its painter,  as well as an instrument of music to the musician for an already existing message but still awaiting its messenger. There is a message in the message of art, which is possible due to the coming together of generosity and talent.

Beauty is the essence of art, its ultimate expression. It is ageless and without one definitive criteria for all mankind. It is unfortunate that some cultures and societies, have constantly limited it and shaped it for their own convenience. It wouldn’t be fair to the artists and to art itself to try to find a consensus around the concept of beauty. If the beauty is central to art and to the artist, no matter what form of expression it takes, it also helps to touch another idea very dear to art: immortality.  An artist does not compose, does not paint, does not sing, does not dance only to live, but to exist, not only now, but for all eternities to come. Every artist has the ambition that their art will survive them. If an artist is misunderstood in their time, as it has happened many times, they will hope that the future generations will understand them better. The annals of art are filled with posthumous geniuses. To become famous after their death is not what drives an artist.

However the true reward of the artist’s talent is the recognition by their contemporaries.  If the artist accomplishes themselves through their art, their art was not intended for them, but to whom receives it. If such a thing as talent exists, it is to be given. This is why we call it a gift.  The artistic expression is an intimate relation between what is given through them and the one who receives it.  It is precisely this relationship between the artist and the one who benefits from their art that raises the difficult question of the value of what we acquire through art. Hans Zimmer said once that at the first theatrical release of the movie Gladiator he was so moved when his wife told him that now she understood why he had been working so hard. Why had he been so difficult about the project? Because he did not want anyone, even her, to have a knowledge of what it had taken from him before it was completely finished. What does the artist offer?  What does the public receive?

Going back to Mona Lisa, beyond the name of the artist, beyond the aura and the history that keep company with the painting, beyond anything that has been written or said about Lisa, as said earlier, Leonardo had worked on it the last 16 years of his life, trying to perfect it, to give to it what he thought was still in his brush. 16 years of perfecting the hand posture, the posture itself and the famous smile. That old smile, 500 years old at least but still so fresh, especially, so enigmatic…  Something about that little painting of 77 cm by 53 cm seems definitely beyond its spatial and temporal frame. There is something elusive in that painting that has passed through time, which has been able to be felt since its first appearance. That thing is not determined by Lisa Gherardini or by her husband, but by what the artist felt and wanted to immortalize. That very thing is a little more than the market value to which we often in our time use to judge the value of a work of art.

With Mona Lisa, and beyond her, it is when we are in contact with a work of art of great artistic quality that the crucial question of its price arises acutely. What do we pay when we acquire a work of art?  What does the artist sell when they sells a work of their hard work?  What can be said of the most talented artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, can also be said of the work many other artists, famous or unknown. Being fair to art, we must also mention the plethora of anonymous or unknown artists in its annals, especially in baroque music, where we find radiant works without a name to claim them.  Or others artists, who have only one major work to their credit, as Johannes Pachelbel and the majority of those who are still waiting in this life or posthumously that their work finally finds the audience for which it was intended . . .

The artist creates for art. But the art itself implies an audience to receive it.  Art thus unites the artist and their audience. Talent and beauty by nourishing the artist have no other price than to let the art exists for all eternities. The artist creates for immortality. The tendency to blend the art and the notion of immortality is much older than Rome and even ancient Greece. The art has always had something very spiritual and divine. This is the ultimate price for which the artist sacrifices everything. The art is the expression of the deep quest for beauty of the human spirit, it highlights the harmonies, the tensions, the wanderings, the moments of calm of the universe itself in the soul of a Beethoven, a Miron ,an Imothep, a Fela Kuti, an André Brink, a Bertone (if an automobile can be conceived as a piece of art), etc. The artists offer in their work the profound experience of the many universes in motion within them. The public acquires in material form that expression which is revealed in snippets, by the crumbling and the sweating so to speak of the meaning contained within each work of art that takes sometimes several generations of enthusiasts to appreciate it without ever exhausting its content.

Like in the case of Mona Lisa who has been smiling at us for more than 500 years never stopping to fascinate us, nor ever boring us. It is in this sense that the art is immortal. The artists aim to catch that immortality and to translate it into poems, musics, books, sculptures, fashion etc. The public in a mediated form acquires a plot of it to initiate their own dialogue with this ageless beauty. Whether the appreciation of the criteria of beauty is subjective, the price of a work of art is not felt objectively in both the mind and the heart of the public and the artist. One seeks to acquire in a tangible or digital form something that the other envisions only in a dialogue with eternity. Mona Lisa will continue to smile at us. We may never  know the why, but she will always be evoking in us these multiple feelings and voices that send us to our own inner dialogue with the art and its beauty through its many expressions.
Paul Malimba.
+22

A Viennese Double – Dürer versus Caravaggio and Bernini

Almost every year I happen to be in Vienna around the Christmas holidays. This gives me the privilege to be able to view two big fall/winter exhibitions usually presented by two of Vienna’s most important museums, shortly before they close in mid-January.  Last year I experienced a wonderful Monet show in the Albertina, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition on Bruegel in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. This year it was the turn of a huge Dürer retrospective in the Albertina, and an exhibition called Caravaggio & Bernini – The Discovery Of Emotions in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

A Matter Of Choices

The amount of cultural input for the eyes, the mind, and the soul is almost too much “to digest” at once. Especially when one has in mind to contribute to this blog by writing an article, and needs to choose a topic. Seeing two big exhibitions one after the other makes one unintentionally draw comparisons, at least concerning the way the shows are being curated and presented. Not having studied art history I don’t know what concepts of art-presentation exist. But seeing two big shows in a row, in two consecutive years gave me the impression that the museum’s director sets the agenda on the way a prestigious exhibition is being approached and showcased, of course in a constant interchange with the exhibition’s curator.  In the end, it is a matter of taste and choices.

Different Approaches

The Albertina follows a mostly chronological narrative in opposition to the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s rather thematical approach. Both methods have their merits, but I prefer the room-wise concentration on certain aspects of artistic creation which points out correlations, parallels as well as differences. Thus, it is easier to follow the exhibition and make own observations and discoveries, even without being a connoisseur.

A Dialog Between Painting And Sculpture

In the case of the Caravaggio – Bernini exhibition, this way of show-casing proves to be essential, as the number of exhibits by the two masters is not as numerous as the title might suggest. The subtitle – The Discovery Of Emotions – is more accurate in describing the show’s content and layout. By building eight units of emotions or “affects”, as I would rather name them following the doctrine of affects in baroque music, the museum introduces its visitors to the baroque way of thinking, looking and feeling. It points out both Caravaggio’s and Bernini’s interest and artistry in depicting as well as evoking strong feelings and passions in the spectator. To do so, it opens up a dialog between painting and sculpture.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, St John The Baptist, ca. 1602, Canvas
Gian Lorenzo Bernini A Putto Bitten by a Dolphin, ca. 1618, Marble

 

Quality And Quantity

On the other hand, the Dürer retrospective scores already by the number of valuable originals, many of which are in the museum’s permanent collection but cannot be shown regularly. As the exhibition’s introductory notice points out, “Dürer’s drawn oeuvre offers a complete picture of both his genesis as an artist and his reflections on art. This fact is due to the remarkable care with which the artist saw to the stock of his own drawings.” The Nürnberg born artist seems to have systematically consolidated and organized the collection stored in his workshop, which makes him an exception among artists of his time also in this matter.

Albrecht Dürer, Wing of a Blue Roller, ca. 1500, Watercolor and body color, on parchment

A Mind-Blowing Experience

The quantity and quality of the Northern master’s works presented in this once-in-a-century exhibition just blew my mind. Most of us know “the Dürer Hare” but probably aren’t aware of the novelties he introduced to his contemporaries, and know little of his universality as an artist.

His artistic qualities struck me already when I viewed his Self-Portrait at the Age of Thirteen in 1484, which by the way is the earliest preserved children’s drawing. But when I saw his Nude Self-Portrait, painted around 1499 and unique for its time, for a moment I thought I was standing in front of a drawing made by Egon Schiele.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at the Age of Thirteen, 1484, Silverpoint
Albrecht Dürer, Nude Self-Portrait, ca. 1499, Pen and brush, heightened with white, on green prepared paper

Self-Confidence And Early Branding

What is also striking is Dürer’s self-confident appearance in and through his works. He often drew an image of himself in his pictures and didn’t hesitate to depict himself as Hercules or even in a Jesus-like pose. Albrecht Dürer was the first artist of his time to use a signet on all of his works. It soon became a quality mark. He established a workshop at the young age of 25, which specialized in high-quality prints. Thus he was able to reach a wider public. Reading about the way he built up connections throughout Europe and branded his name, I started thinking, that networking was as important as it is nowadays back then.

Dürer had made a journey to Italy in 1495, aiming to make contacts and start building up a network south of the Alps. Venice, the center of early book printing was of particular interest to him, and Andrea Mantegna, who marketed his works throughout Europe via a well-organized distribution network, his role model.

Andrea Mantegna, Battle of the Sea Gods, ca. 1470 – 1475, Engraving
Albrecht Dürer, Battle of the Sea Gods, Copy of Mantegna’s Engraving, 1494, Pen

Love Of Detail And Chiaroscuro

One could follow Dürer’s love of detail, as well as his artistry in depicting it throughout the exhibition. Using his extraordinary observation skills and making numerous studies, which could stand for themselves as outstanding works of arts, the German artist created world-famous masterpieces like The Hare and The Great Piece of Turf (both displayed in the exhibition). For Dürer the study of nature represented the foundation of art and included a meticulous observation of his own body, as seen in Three Studies of Dürer’s Left Hand.

Albrecht Dürer, Three Studies of Dürer’s Left Hand, 1493/94, Pen

Dürer was a master of the depiction of such diverse materials as skin and hair, stones and plants, and also showed a great interest in a naturalistic depiction of garments and draperies. His costume studies include a four-part series showing women from Nuremberg dressed in different public and domestic costumes. Coming from a family of goldsmiths and having been a goldsmith’s apprentice for a while, he continued throughout his life designing pieces of jewelry and splendorous vessels.

Albrecht Dürer, Nuremberg Women, 1500, Pen, watercolor
Albrecht Dürer, Vestment of God the Father, 1508, Brush, heightened with white, on green prepared paper

The German artist masterfully played with “chiaroscuro“, the effects of light and dark, making his drawings and engravings profoundly three-dimensional, and thus very exciting and theatrical. By the way, in the person of Caravaggio, he found a major successor to his chiaroscuro-artistry.

Albrecht Dürer, The Praying Hands, 1508, Brush, heightened with white, on blue prepared paper
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, St Francis in Ecstasy, ca. 1595/96, Canvas

 

The Artist’s Lesser-Known Side

The exhibition didn’t forget to mention the fact that Dürer, who experienced early recognition or even stardom as a printmaker, was eager to be recognized also as a painter. After all, painting is the most prestigious discipline in the fine arts. It was very interesting to follow the big amount of detailed studies to the few displayed paintings, mainly consisting of altarpieces. But the paintings themselves did not arouse the same fascination in me as the master’s drawings and printmaking work. To me, they didn’t appear to be as equally “modern” and innovative.

Albrecht Dürer, The Adoration of the Magi, 1504, Oil on wood

What I found more interesting because it brought me nearer to the artist as a “normal” human being, was a small curiosity on display:  a letter to Dürer’s Nuremberg friend Willibald Pirckheimer, in which the artist, after discussing different maters, inquires about the well-being of the addressee’s divers love-affairs, using encoded pictograms to characterize them.

Albrecht Dürer, Letter to Willibald Pirckheimer, 07.02.1506

Theoretical Work

Finally, the show also pointed out Dürer’s dedication to his theoretical work in the last years of his life. The German artist was convinced that the knowledge of perspective was fundamental when training to be an artist and indispensable to an artist’s work. He tried to discover and establish the ideal human measurements following the ideals of Ancient Greece. And probably he even gave us an insight into his working methods with his illustrations of A Man Drawing a Seated Man and A Man Drawing a Lute.

Albrecht Dürer, Study in Human Proportions: Male Body, Side and Front View, ca. 1513, Pen, black chalk
Albrecht Dürer, A Man Drawing A Seated Man and A Man Drawing A Lute, Illustrations in The Instruction In Measurement, 1525, Woodcut and type printing

 

 

 

+3

Silent Dialogue On Time And On Space In Art

* * * Silent Dialogue On Time And On Space In Art * * *

Eternity is not a time without an end, but, what we fill our moments with. 

The artistic expression that finds its way through us, has the power to fill not only our moments, but also our whole being. 

Art is one of the most efficient way in which we are in contact with the aspirations of our being without mediation. 

This is true for music, for painting, for film, for poetry, for any art form. 

Something in the various forms and expressions of art does not age. 

Homer’s verses are just as young today as they were more than 2,000 years ago.  

Art therefore transcends all barriers and boundaries, whether natural or artificial. 

If, and only if, it manages to find fertile soil without prejudice in the depth of our hearts. 

For those who loves divas, who does not remember Maria Callas. 

No knowledge is required for her repertoire to feel the full emotion within her voice.  

There was and there still is something in her voice. 

This thing that comforts and soothes by giving us a place to stay in her voice by marrying our various emotions with those that her voice and her interpretation wrap us.

This is also true, in a different order of things when Whitney Houston’s name comes to mind. When she starts singing.  

The small silhouette disappears to give way only to her powerful and phenomenal voice.  

It invades time and space, nothing exists, but the purity of her voice.  

There is only her and the  listener tied in the same moment, same intimacy. 

We can say here that there is a double intimacy that we share with art; 

The first one is with the artist and the second is with their art form, but both allow us to feel at home in their words, in their verses, in their paintings, in their sculptures, in their voice, in their work, etc. 

Moreover, there is a sense of remaining in the meaning that it offers us. 

From the Greek cannon to Leonardo da Vinci, from the Cantilena of St. Eulalia to Soyinka …

All these works, all these authors, all these concepts have in filigree this very notion or this feeling of allowing something better in us to come out and also they give us an horizon, they ennoble us, they inspire us…

There is a sense of being a home and at home  with what we share with the artists through their works. 

This home is a moment, an intimacy that exists between us, the artist and his art, much more, it has been the case through all human history. 

It is this thing that still makes relevant to us the discobolus of Myron, the Nordic epics and legends, the texts of Edfu, Fela Kuti, etc. 

These works speak to us because we share with them this moment of eternity. 

The philosopher Emmanuel Kant, in his Transcendental Aesthetics, trying to set the conditions that make possible experience, which will ultimately help him to ask the question of the possibility of  knowledge namely “What can I know?” “What can I do?” “What can I hope for?” 

He had made a major distinction between the notions of space and that of time, which are the foundations of almost all experiences and therefore of almost all knowledge. 

Kant had established that space is the dimension outside us and that time is the dimension within us. 

Let us just stop there with Kant for fear of making idle our present discussion. 

However, the two Kantian distinctions are not foreign to any art form since art expresses or materializes time in space. Or reshapes space in the artist’s temporal dimension. 

Art thus crystallizes a personal and subjective dimension into a reality that is often collective and objective. 

Unless the artworks come to the artist from an external commission, exterior to the artist themselves like the painting of Leonardo Da Vinci’s, the Annunciation. 

This does not completely erase in this case, this mirror game between interiority and externality. 

Although we  do not often have a consensus on the criterion of beauty, since all beauty is perceived by the culture that gives it and the artist who portrays it. 

To quote lightly Kant again, only lightly because of all the implications that follow his statement; “Beauty is what pleases without concept” 

We agree, however, with Kant that beauty is for all in law, but against Kant, we also believe that beauty is also in fact for everyone. What can be perceived as a contradiction for the reason may represent many possibilities in art and its form of expression.

We should not define absolutely  beauty for all of us as a general rule. 

Beauty is not a unique property of the reason, it belongs also to those who can perceive it in an intuitionally seized, an emotional understanding of what comes to them.

Away from those dry considerations, there still is a kind of intimacy that has to exist between the artist and their work. 

It is their ability to marry space and time in art that we call the intimacy of time, as we mentioned with Homer’s verses, that thing in Maria Callas’ voice or the power in Whitney Houston’s work.

To be able to appreciate a work of art, is to be able to enter into the intimacy of the artist which also becomes ipso facto our own intimacy. 

Their work marks us. It stays with us. We share it with others. We pass them on from one generation to the next. We create communities around our favourite artists, as is the case of communities created around the works of Tolkien, George Lucas, etc. 

They give us a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. 

The art is the home of our most human expressions; from the sordid to the sublime. 

The need to remain in life is antagonistic to the imperative of time to consume everything. 

We must remain because time leaves us no other alternative but to leave. 

To remain, we must build what can defy time like the pyramids, which can testify to our passage in life, which will remain as a moment of eternity. 

What remains is who we are, what we are is our home. 

What remains will fill time in this moment of eternity and plenitude. 

Where else in fact will we be at home? 

Art by its ability to render our exteriority as interiority or time and to convert our externality or space into interiority thus it is finishing in us our highest capacities; those that allow us to turn the unknown into familiar, the shapeless into form, to convert the house into a home, to fill our personal universes with a multitude of connections and worlds that make us able to call this world around us, home, while transforming our personal views, into something common. By sharing and communicating, we establish all around us bridges of meaning in what we have in common according to the fields concerned whether it is in music, painting, sculpture, slams, poetry, etc. 

When we acquire, for example, a copy of the Mona Lisa, when we place it carefully into our home. Or that we visit the original at the Louvre Museum.

We are not only showing our artistic sensibility, we are building a bridge between us, all the people that like the same artwork, the artist and their time. 

It is an intimate dialogue between two subjectivities that marry one (the artist) leading outwards and the others (the fans) bringing back inwards. 

This is equally valid for other art forms in their unceasing effort to reveal the often hidden meaning of people and the world. 

Art reveals us in our various relationships to it, whether by imitating it, revealing it or contemplating it…

We always find a source of new  ideas, of various directions, but also and above all, a home that is our intimacy to time. 

It is this intimacy that makes who we are, in the world around us, and even in the universe itself, familiar to us. 

Without time, space would lack objective reality, but without space we could not intuitively feel the time. 

Art combines them in all its forms to express and highlight its own diversity, which is also our own.

+1

How necessary is Art? My thoughts after a week in Madrid

Having just come back from a successful and inspiring week in Madrid I can’t help thinking about what I experienced there. And by doing so, I am faced with a wonderful maybe unanswerable question: why is art so powerful? And furthermore: is it, that by touching an inner nerve art reminds us of what really matters? It isn’t that I don’t know how strong an artist can be, but perhaps amidst all the activities and impulses one is confronted with daily, one tends to forget just how important art’s impulses on us are…

Unexpected exhibition

Refuel Meal, 1996, Tetsuya Ishida, acryl on board

On my first day in Madrid, I experienced such a moment. Purely coincidently, I happened to walk through the Retiro Park and discovered the Reina Sofia‘s external exhibition space, the Palacio de Velázquez. After admiring the building and taking a few photos, I walked in, not knowing what to expect. A most fascinating exhibition of, an unknown to me, Japanese artist was being shown: “Tetsuya Ishida, Self-Portrait of Other“.

Not expecting anything, I observed the inside of the building first.  It is a beautiful, very bright and open space… perfect for exhibitions. Then, I started looking at the paintings. Very quickly, I felt disturbed by them. Who is this artist? Why do I get the feeling that the men being portrayed are machine-like human beings? Always the same person, sometimes alone sometimes as a series… More and more I started to reflect and understand that this is what our society is becoming. Men turning into producing machines, men being lost, men in search of their identity… Where has life gone? Questions upon questions springing to my mind…

Hothouse, 2003, Tetsuya Ishida, acryl and oil on canvas

Some paintings were so disturbing I first had to walk away to come back to them later. This artist touched a chord in me, moved something in me so that when walking out in the bright sunshine I was a little dazzled and first had to sit on a bench in the shade before moving on.

Zarzuela magic

A few days later during the dress rehearsal of Doña Francisquita at the Zarzuela Theater in Madrid, I experienced a different powerful moment. A dear friend of mine had managed to get us tickets, knowing that I very much wanted to see a Zarzuela. I had never seen one before and was very curious and excited to discover this typical Spanish Artform. What a wonderful evening it turned out to be. The theatre itself is a jewel, and the music by Amadeo Vives is lively and fun, the piece was premiered in 1923, using a big orchestra with a large guitar section added to it.

The highlight came when the Fandango, probably the most famous dance in this Zarzuela, was about to happen. We had already sat through most of the piece having enjoyed some beautiful singing, some laughter, and some flamenco dancing.  Now, in the 3rd Act, one of the protagonists suddenly came up front and spoke to the public directly explaining that the “Maestra” was here and that, totally unexpectedly, she had agreed to play for us the Fandango. My Spanish friend knew straight away who was meant, and was totally in shock and excited as Lucero Tena walked in and stood at the front of the stage waiting for the orchestra to start playing.

Lucero Tena is a legend, and I, although not knowing her until then, quickly found out why. She is now over 90 years old, and even if she doesn’t dance anymore, she most certainly plays the castanets like nobody else. The music she produces, the colours, the dynamics, the expression, the presence is absolutely breathtaking. As I sat there, I just could not believe what I was hearing. The whole audience just went crazy, and the 6 dancers who straight after danced, with their own castanets, the same Fandango, were so energized you couldn’t help but be fully taken in. Incredible!

Personal experience

The last experience I had which reminded me of the power art has, is probably the most personal. Of course, I wasn’t in Madrid just to visit, although that would be a good enough reason to go there. I was also there to perform. It turned out to be a very special performance, as this was also a present for a dear friend of mine’s birthday.

As a musician, one is very much busy thinking about this note or that rhythm, about this sound or that expression, this being together and that tempo… When the performance comes, it is necessary to let it all go, so that the performing can take place. Being an opera singer, I possess a certain amount of stage presence and acting ability. However when singing Lied, such as the Wesendonck Lieder (Richard Wagner) here, the acting becomes unnecessary, the music and especially the text are the most important.

On this evening, when singing “Träume” (the last of the cycle) I became aware of the power of my instrument and of my artistry… It is as if one touches the listener’s inner self through something unexplainable, one moves something inside… One feels the concentration, the silence, the strong emotions coming back from the audience, and really one can’t say how it happened… Quite magical really. And then, when public and performer join in a time of mutual silenced thanks after the last sound has rung, you know that you, as an artist, are important just for that.

Afterthought

Maybe I had, with all my little worries or stresses forgotten how vital and necessary my job and artform is. Not just as a performer, but also as a person. Today’s hectic competitive life often doesn’t allow us to remember this enough. But really without art, we become machines… just as in Tetsuya Ishida’s paintings. Maybe that is why these paintings were so disturbing and moving for me. It is vital to have such artists, reminding us of what is important: being a human being who feels and not a machine which produces.

Lost, 2001, Tetsuya Ishida, oil on canvas

 

+2

El Anatsui: Triomphant scales

An exhibition off the beaten path at Haus der Kunst in Munich.

I recently discovered this artist and his incredible work. A discovery that does not leave indifferent, quite on the contrary.
First of all, the facade of the museum is completely covered and transformed by the hand of the artist. This already triggers my curiosity.

Once in the Haus der Kunst, we enter the first room and immediately we have the impression that a huge majestic drapery fell on the wall.

We turn our heads to the left, and we have the impression that a huge net and its shells are hanging.

Illusion

Two absolutely unexpected impressions for me. We approach, curious, and we realize that the sections of fabric, like tapestries, are nothing other than bottle caps, cans and aluminium pieces, collected, cut, hammered, folded, twisted and assembled with great care. The same on the other side with shells, plugs folded in another way, is just as beautiful. The illusion is perfect.

Arriving in the central hall, a labyrinth faces us, the artist invites us to walk inside, be close to his work and by making so, we change perspective.
In the different rooms, we discover other facets of the artist, other materials with which he experimented. His use of wood, but also ceramics.
Indeed, he begins in 1976 by modelling the ground, breaking pots, then glueing them together, a metaphor of the African society.

What particularly caught my attention was his work on wood, recovered in the street, pieces of furniture, thrown away drawers, broken, dislocated… He cuts, polishes, burns, paints these pieces of wood. By unifies them, he is forming an artwork.

Look at this magnificent blue behind the wood, in the wood…and this feeling for detail

What is most remarkable is that all his works of art, are transported and made up of several pieces, then reconstituted always in a different way so that no exhibition is identical to another. This gives a certain movement, a freedom to the artist. The work is not static, it lives.

El Anatsui learned through the last five decades to master sculpture, painting and assembling.

All his work is very committed. For me, it carries a message that goes beyond African society. Using all these objects or pieces of torn things that no one wants, gathering this rubbish to finally unite it and make something beautiful with it. Creating a work of art with shimmering colours,  sublimating these little bits of nothing and letting them exist, it is simply magnificent and inspiring. I see our history in it, I see hope and more.

I hope you will have the urge and the chance to discover this artist if you haven’t done so already.

 

Erika Luisella

+2

Hockney’s Thin Legs

Hockney Yorkshire

Well yes, it wasn’t really about his thin legs, but the fact that he mentioned them in the introductory blurb made me warm to him even more.  He wanted to complete an artwork every day, in the early spring of 2011, to document nature’s inevitable forward movement, and the sheer beauty of the spring in one particular lane in East Yorkshire,.  Spring temperatures being what they are in that part of the world, whilst he would have liked to face his subject directly, he had to take refuge in his car (due to the aforementioned thin legs).

The idea was to document every day in that spring, and that he did.  The exhibition collates those pictures with the most impact, and it has to be said that they are stunning.  Ridiculous that it costs nothing to see these fabulous artworks!

These images were created (I am wondering whether one can still say “painted”) using Hockney’s iPad and a bog-standard app;  the limitations of the medium are very obvious as soon as you get anywhere near the prints.  It doesn’t matter, though!  Move back a bit; unfocus the eyes if necessary; this is mastery.  Hockney knows how to block colour, how to pull the gaze; it’s a masterclass in composition.

From the unfrosting ice of the first pictures to the lacy froth of the greenness in the last, this is an artist documenting his environment, his times, his intimate world, as they change infinitesimally around him.  The pictures are arranged chronologically, so you can actually feel winter turning into spring.  (I managed to do this the wrong way round the first time I visited, though, and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment!)

Characteristic purple of the lane, with spring in full flush

This particular picture is so light and hopeful, the blossom on the bush appearing like lace in the gentle spring sunshine.   Like all of these compositions, it’s best viewed at a  certain distance; I include a detail here as support!

Close-up of the hawthorn blossom

 

 

 

 

 

It really was quite astonishing to see what he had managed to achieve with his iPad; I entered as a cynic, and came out a convert.  So much so that I persuaded my mother, who had come to see me in performance, that we should both stay over near the venue so that she could visit the exhibition the next day – so I saw it twice, once in louring rain, the next day in bright sunshine.  Fabulous!

A multicoloured fairytale of a day, evidently!

The site of the exhibition was also fascinating in itself; Salts Mill, in Saltaire, near Bradford, West Yorkshire.  A massive building with a fascinating history (in short, the mill and the surrounding town of Saltaire was planned and built in the mid-nineteenth century by a textiles magnate by the (utterly magnificent) name of Sit Titus Salt.  It was all designed as an antidote to the “dark, satanic mills” that constituted Bradford at the time.  Saltaire is an immensely pleasant place even now; well worth a wander round if you happen to be nearby (it’s has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

 

One last look around.

The massive spaces and iron pillars of the mill made it a very good fit for these particular paintings; Hockney is definitely not what you might call an effete aesthete.  In fact, there is also a corner of this exhibition where you can sit and watch the drawings he made on his iPad as little messages to friends, pop up on three digital screens, and I had to laugh out loud a couple of times, not least at his stubborn pro-smoking missives.

After we’d left the exhibition, she for the first time and I for the second, equally entranced, my mother and I headed to one of the cafés in Salts Mill for refreshment.  I ordered a dandelion and burdock (for those unfamiliar with the drink, explanation here) and proceeded to stare, fascinated, at the beautiful patterns the light made travelling through it, making the liquid glow deep red, with complex patterns caused by refraction in the glass patterning the table, and changing with every sip.  I believe that one of the things that makes good art so worth chasing after and drinking in is the degree to which it sensitises you to the beauty all around you.

Well, that’s my excuse – pretty certain the bloke at the next table thought I was a thoroughgoing weirdo, photographing my drink more than actually sipping it . . .

Oh, and did I mention that it’s free to visit this exhibition?  Free parking at the Mill, and Saltaire train station right across the road.  Do make time to go if you happen to be nearby.

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Is this a portrait?

Katz

One sunny afternoon I decided to go to the Alex Katz exhibition in Munich. I expected to see many beautiful portraits, maybe a few landscapes. It turns out the exhibition at the Brandhorst Museum offers both. Without being a huge retrospective it does give a proper impression of what his work and artistry are about from his early days to today. What really made this show interesting to me though, was that it confronted me with one question: what makes a portrait? I couldn’t help feeling while walking through the exhibition that Katz’s approach to portraiture whether in the traditional painting on canvas or the cutouts oil on aluminium figures doesn’t quite comply with my idea of what a portrait is. Why is it so? Are these portraits?

a painting that looks simple

Paul Taylor, 1959, oil on canvas

At the start of this exhibition, we see a full body painting of Paul Taylor, dating of 1959. Katz started working with Paul Taylor in 1960, producing numerous costumes and sets for the Taylor dance company. This is still the early years for Katz, but already we see his clear trademark style: a monochrome background and a figure on it. It’s a rather simple idea, but actually quite refreshing and peaceful.  The background is clean and neat, no brushstrokes obvious or appearing to break the surface. The result is that there is a minimum of depth of field. The vision is reduced to one canvas and a figure on it. Actually it is quite a wonderful idea, seeing how our world has become so obsessed with multi-dimensional vision. Here we get back down to just what matters, and it is refreshing. “I try to make painting that looks simple.” (A.Katz)

No expression, no content, no form?

Private Domain, 1969, oil on canvas

“Private Domain” (1969) is, however, the first painting one sees when walking in the entrance room. This big painting and “Paul Taylor Dance Company” (1963-1964)  next to it really explains a lot to me about Katz’s artistic style. It seems to me, that Paul Katz is studying the physicality and aesthetics of the body here. His work with dancers as a set and costume designer seems logical when looking at these paintings.  Here are 2 paintings where the body is put in the forefront. Not the soul, but the physical aesthetics of the body. This is of course just my impression but it explains my starting to wonder whether it matters who stands in front of him, or whether the actual beauty and presence of the physique in space matters more. To confirm my thoughts this is what I found on his website about his impressions on Paul Taylor:

“I had seen Paul dance for the first time shortly before we met with Edwin [Denby] and thought his choreography was one of the most surprising things I had seen as an artist. Paul’s dancing seemed to be a real break with that of the previous generation: no expression, no content, no form, as he said, and with great technique and intelligence.” (A. Katz)

No expression, no content, no form? Could that apply for his paintings? The word Robot comes to mind when I read these words, but that is really not what Katz’s painting is about. These are no machines on the canvas. There is an aesthetic, a beauty which shines first and foremost. And yes, this beauty does have to do with the people in the paintings. It is a physical beauty, a superficial pleasing to the eye with perfect clean faces, no wrinkles to be found.

Paul Taylor Dance Company, 1964-64, oil on canvas

“I’m not telling you about the person’s inner feelings, I’m not interested in that stuff. Most realistic painting has to do with the plight of man, which  I find horribly sentimental. I’d rather deal with the energy of life than the sadness of it.” (A. Katz)

Fashion is ephemeral

Red hat, (Alba), 2013, oil on canvas

Katz is a very elegant and self-conscious man. Here is someone who at the age of 91 still does 4 hours of physical training a day! No wonder Katz is also said to be close to fashion. “I’ve always been interested in fashion because it’s ephemeral.” he says. In his later work “Red Hat” (Alba) of 2013, the hat takes almost half the canvas. This is a gorgeous painting in my eyes, yet not because of Alba, but because of the composition. Alba’s face is present but without emotion, such as a model on the catwalk.  She serves her purpose. Is a beautiful woman, but this isn’t about her, it’s about the hat she is wearing. Or in “Grey Coat” (1997), where the coat covers most of the figure, Alba’s face turning around to look at us in a direct yet distant manner being secondary to the actual full painting. Here I feel again Katz’s fascinating use of the composition. Just like in photography. The figure is set in a diagonal on the left side of the canvas which in turn means most of the canvas is occupied by the monochrome background. Just beautiful.

Serial models

Eyes closed, eyes open 1 (double Vivien), 2004, oil on canvas

His work has also been said to be close to the cinema. In “eyes closed, eyes open” (2004), one sees this clearly. The same person side by side has once her eyes open and once the eyes shut. Like an attempt to create movement through stills. Again a very beautiful painting, but a portrait? Even though the painting is about a figure, a face, in this case that of Vivien, it seems to me to be just too perfect. She is almost like a fashion doll. Saying that it doesn’t take away from the beauty of the work.  And that is quite incredible, to see that a painter can achieve that.

The black dress, 1960, oil on canvas

In “The Black Dress” (1960) Katz uses the image of Alba 6 times standing in various ways and also sitting, always dressed in the same black dress, yet all 6 figures are interwoven in a scene. In this painting, we do have a floor, some wall panels, and a section of a portrait by Katz. But the depth of field is still reduced to its minimum. And the person? Alba? Well, we see her 6 times in different poses, her facial expression though is secondary to the actual physical connections created by the composition. The painting stands strong with a story but not a personal story.

Renaissance Technique

Maybe this feeling is created by the technique Katz uses for his big paintings. In the early 1960s, as he was beginning to paint bigger, he started using the cartoon drawing technique from the Renaissance. For this, he makes a large line drawing with holes pinched along the lines. A small amount of charcoal or graphite go through the holes on the canvas and create thus a faint outline for his composition. This allows him then to repeat a figure or to repeat a whole painting just like in “Laure and Alain” (1964/1991). The same painting twice, put together side by side as one. The original was done in 1964 and then repeated again in 1991. The only difference is that in the later version his craftsmanship has been mastered expertly meaning that for instance the light in the hair of Laure is more subtly painted. Both figures seem in their own world, Alain is in profile, Laure frontal.

Laure and Alain, 1964/1991, oil on canvas, two panels

So, is this a portrait, Mr Katz?

To go back to my original question: are these portraits? Well, my first reaction says they are not. I feel a portrait is something personal. It is first and foremost a vision of a person, of the whole being with wrinkles or tired eyes. We all have different visions, of course, we all see things with our own eyes, and in my opinion, a portrait is the vision by a painter of a person’s soul. In Katz’ paintings, I feel it is about the painting, the aesthetics of the painting, the colours on it, the composition of it, the beauty of it… so really the people on the canvases are “just” models for the work of art Katz produces. Saying that, when I think of today’s obsession with looking young and being self-obsessed: the selfies, the likes and the Influencers’ “look at me” pose, well maybe Katz is just reflecting that and is after all making the portraits of today!

“The pictures are supposed to be lyric, they’re supposed to give you an up, I want to make something that’s sort of like your happier condition. Impressionist pictures are basically that—Impressionist painting is a happy lie.” (A. Katz)

 

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When worlds grow and explode

I’ve never come out of an exhibition before so full of feelings and thoughts that I had to write them down immediately just to get them out of the way so others could flood into my brain. My head was full of beauty, and of possibilities, and I needed to write things down before my mind just exploded.  (This was a great excuse to find a little Parisian corner bar and order a glass of red.  Just to get my thoughts in order, you understand.)   I shall present some of those immediate, overwhelming thoughts unedited, in italics, with explanations where necessary (they were not meant for publication).  I’ve cobbled together some of my photos into short videos just to show the visual flow of the thing, but without the music, they are but poor reflections of the original.  There’s a proper video at the end, though!

This was the immersive Klimt exhibition at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris.  It was produced by Culturespaces and created by Gianfranco Iannuzzi, Renato Gatto, and Massimiliano Siccardi, with the musical collaboration of Luca Longobardi, and was one of the most fabulous things I have ever experienced.

Entering to the last, plaintive notes of “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”, stepping into Klimt’s birch forest as it breathed its last and disappeared.

I went in to the space consciously ignorant of what exactly was going to happen.  I’d read a few reviews which sparked my interest, and friends who’d been all told me I had to go, as it combined many interests of mine, but I wanted the full impact, and my goodness I got it.  The above was my impression of the first moments; it was halfway through the Klimt section of the exhibition, and it felt like I really was in one of his pictures, with leaves dropping gently through the air, falling onto the floor, ready to be crunched underfoot, with the plangent strains of Mahler the ideal emotional complement to the mood of the painting I had somehow actually entered.

Trees unfurling gradually until the last curl let the leaves drop and glitter.

I was hooked.  Klimt’s paintings moved and breathed, and I was not just standing and looking, but a part of the whole.  Utterly exhilarating.  WHAT a use of current digital technology!  Art is brought to life and set to music; aspects of paintings break away and move; images glow and then fade into nothingness; and the audience, by dint of being bathed in the light and colour, become part of the whole.  The possibilities in terms of theatre are obvious, and tremendously exciting (I want my voice to dictate when worlds grow and explode – I fear I may have let grandiosity get the better of me there!).

Gold on a neck close to a cheek, a hungry kiss, the subsequent sliding frozen in time but here?  Who knows.

The sheer sumptuousness of the Vienna Secession couldn’t have been better expressed, and the immersive nature of the experience really allowed one to smell and breathe Klimt’s abundant creativity.  Technically, what was happening was that they reproduced various of his paintings, projected them on to the walls and sometimes the floor, added a (very relevant) soundtrack, and through digital manipulation introduced movement.  I have no idea how they managed to project across such vast spaces without distortion, or how everything was covered in light and colour without (seemingly) any of the audience casting shadows, but the effect was breathtaking.

I don’t appear to have written about the jarring sensation when the exhibition finished each run, and the space was revealed in its original state; a massive concrete space, ugly, industrial (I believe it was previously an iron foundry), full of other people.  All that was utterly transformed once the show got going, and it felt as near to magic as I have ever got.  I spent over five hours in there, moving around the space to gain new perspectives as the exhibition repeated.  Time indubitably well spent.

These photos show the same space seconds apart:

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t just Klimt, though:

A swollen belly, a knowing look, and oh, OH!, Schiele’s dirty, shamed, defiant bodies cover the space, cover us . . .

  (do I have a penis reflected on my face?)

A logical correlation, a growth, but – like a cancer – maleficent, shocking; it grates.  

(I am not be the world’s biggest fan of Schiele.  I understand the flow of artistic energy between him and Klimt, but I cannot warm to his work.)

Hundertwasser (or, how to make the universe anew) is another matter entirely; I am well acquainted with his philosophy and with his life-affirming art, and was entranced by the short programme concentrating on his works:

A low, mechanical hum, and his golden ship breaks loose with a mournful bass trumpeting and circles the space, anticlockwise, unapologetic.  Birds fly, leaves explode.  Grass grows, and you know it’s the start of a perfect new world.

His gorgeous multicoloured cities grew in front of our eyes (In such fresh hope can a new architecture arise. Brick by fantastic brick, a curve here, a whimsical wall: look, no hands!).

I’d always loved his work, but what these artists had done, introducing an element of movement, adding just the right music, seemed like an enhancement, and it made me very happy.  I have been wondering whether one would obtain quite such enjoyment without any previous knowledge of these paintings.  It would still be a wonderful immersive experience, so maybe, but I do feel that my initial knowledge enriched my experience here.

The walls open up and reveal what’s behind, as that inner world revolves.  Organic openings; orgasmic.  Or maybe the wall’s moving?  Slowly, exploring?  I can’t remember how – if – this ends.

The immersive nature of this whole undertaking is truly new, thanks to the latest in digital technology, and truly mind-expanding.  It combines visual art with music which adds to it rather than clashing, and it uses imaginative techniques to focus on certain aspects and details, whilst providing a richly sensual overview of the oeuvre of these great artists.

I have to apologise, though.  This exhibition is now over.  However, this was only the first show by the Atelier des Lumières.  The next one is already in the pipeline – “Van Gogh, Starry Night” opens on 22 February, and I can’t imagine that will be less thrilling than this.  The side exhibitions (they are not content with blowing your mind just once) include Japanese art, and a contemporary creation.  (I could write pages about the stunning impact of “Colours X Colours”, the result of a two-year collaboration between the artists Thomas Blanchard and Oilhack, which was showing in the café.  Maybe I shall, another time.)  All I can say is that if you’re interested in the crossover of artistic disciplines, or want to believe in magic (or both), don’t miss any new output from this team!

Thank you for reading this far!  It’s actually impossible to fully express how innovative and exciting this exhibition was just using words, so here’s a video of the opening sequence of the Klimt programme, as filmed by a friend of mine (thanks, Sue!); this time, with the music that was so much a part of the experience.  My notes on the sequence were as follows:

Magnificent halls building out of nothing; pillars which grow and spread, a carpet rotating and setting into intaglio in a church.  Frescoes – what’s the antithesis of fading?  Creativity in visible motion.

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