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John William Godward – When the heart is young

10 Aug

The sweetest thing on earth is …. to do nothing and enjoy it! Late Victorian British painter John William Godward was born on 9th August 1861 and his life ended by a suicide in 1922 because, as he stated in a note that he left, “the world is not big enough for myself and Picasso”. His perception seemed to be that Picasso was so superior a painter that he had to reside from the position of the painter and from planet earth. A very sad ending to a life devoted to art.

John William Godward, When the heart is young, 1902

“you came and I was crazy for you
and you cooled my mind that burned with longing”

(Sappho, translation by Anne Carson)

“When the heart is young” is one of my favourite painting by Godward, perhaps even the favourite one. There’s just something about it that lures me to it, again and again. Perhaps it is the sweet indolence that speaks to my heart the most. I just love the warmth, sensuality and clear, vibrant in this painting. Every detail about it is perfect and precise and no element of the painting seems superfluous. A beautiful and dreamy dark haired young woman occupies the central place in the painting and everything around her; the marble bench and floor, a peacock fan, animal skin, flowers and the sea in the background all serve to accentuate the idleness and luxury that she is oozing. She is lazing around on a sunny summer day and has the luxury to do so; daydreaming and allowing the minutes and hours to pass by without any guilt or concern, for being idle is not a crime. Gorgeous masses of her black hair are seductively falling over her head, her large dark eyes are full of desire and dreams and her flushed cheeks speak of desires unspoken in words. She seems to exist on a diet of sunlight’s caresses, sweet summer wines and thoughts of love. The curvy line of her body stretched on the fuzzy warm fur is as seductive as the yellowish line that separates the azure blueness of the sea from that of the sky. I can imagine the soft, summery breeze rustling the distant cypresses, kissing the poppies and bringing the salty scent of the sea to the woman’s nose. And now some more of Sappho’s verses because they fill so well with the mood of idleness and undisturbed ripe and juicy fig sweetness:

“Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.

here to me from Krete to this holy temple
where is your graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
with frankincense.
And in it cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant-shaking leaves
sleep comes dropping.
And in it a horse meadow has come into bloom
with spring flowers and breezes
like honey are blowing….”

(Sappho, translated by Anne Carson)

John William Godward, Dolce Far Niente, 1904

Marble and draped gowns worn by the indolent women in Godward’s paintings bring to mind the similar work of Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Godward was the protégé of Alma-Tadema and their styles hold similarities; they both drew inspiration from the imagined luxury of the Greek world, Ancient Roman Empire and the warm, rich, fragrant, mood of the Mediterranean, they both painted in a Neoclassical style with fine, elegant brushwork resembling that of Ingres, especially when the subject is that of a female body; both made paintings full of light and vibrancy. Paintings “When the Heart is Young” and “Dolce far niente” both show elegantly dressed women doing nothing, being sweetly idle in beautiful settings and thus they fall into the “dolce far niente” genre of painting. ‘Dolce far niente’ is a wonderful Italian expression meaning ‘sweet doing nothing’, and it illustrates the dreamy, hedonistic, self-indulgent nature of indolence, and the enjoyment of it. In the late 19th and early 20th century, in the artistic climate influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetic movement with its ‘cult of beauty’, popularity of this genre of paintings grew. Artists such as Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John William Godward and John William Waterhouse dared to tackle the subject and painted numerous vibrant and beautiful paintings of this theme.

There’s a certain pattern of beauty in all of these ‘dolce far niente’ paintings: a beautiful idle woman dressed in her finery, lazing around in sumptuous surroundings, doing nothing, gazing in the distance or at the viewer. Usually they’re presented in luxurious and idealised settings, aesthetically inspired by the Roman empire, lounging on animal skin, dressed in gorgeous diaphanous fabrics. Certain motifs appear in all of these paintings: finely painted marble balustrades or just marble in general, balconies overlooking the sea glistening underneath a perfectly blue sky with a few clouds, animal skin, clothes and hairstyles inspired by the styles of the Ancient world, flowers and flower pots, lush Mediterranean vegetation and plants such as oleander, lavender, cypresses, orange trees, even poppies, thyme, basil etc.

Virginia Mori – Silent Nightmarish World

3 Aug

I recently discovered these striking drawings by a contemporary Italian artist Virginia Mori born in 1981 and based on Milano. Mori is very prolific and imaginative and all her drawings seem like little pieces of a silent nightmarish world which is filled with mysteries and surreal occurrences and brings to mind the spirit of Edward Gorey, Poe and the childish and gory sketches of Tim Burton. Most of these drawings are black and white, and mostly drawn with ballpoint pen, and are rather simplistic in composition and the elements; nothing unnecessary is drawn, only the essence of the scene, backgrounds and detailing are unnecessary. I quite like that because my eye is drawn only to what is important. Similarly to Edward Gorey’s “Gashlycrumb Tinies”, Mori’s girls are seen in strange, twisted poses and odd situations, often the head is separate from the rest of the body, handshaking through a hole in the stomach of another girl, head through pillow… And when I say silent, I mean that drawing is a silent art form and looking at these girls, I get the impression that they have a lot of say, but that they are unable to and this intensified the mystery and fires my imagination.

Visit the artist’s page here and Instagram here.

John Corbet – The Tower

29 Jul

“All was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.”

(Jane Eyre)

John Corbet, The Tower, 2020, watercolour

John Corbet is one of my favourite contemporary artists; I enjoyed seeing his style develop throughout the years and I am always curious to see what wonderful and dreamy watercolours and pastels his brush and his imagination will give birth to. I already wrote about his Renoir inspired watercolour here. One of his most recent works called “The Tower” was a love at first sight for me. It’s hard to explain what particular element of the watercolour appeals to me so much because I love all of it; first of all, it’s easy to seduce me with watercolours, then I just love the colours; hushed and melancholy shades of purple, greys and blues, like a cloudy sky just moments before a rainstorm. The scene excites my imagination and the mystery compels me to further gaze at the painting. A pale young girl is seen running over the moors, her purple dress, like a fragrant and large violet petal, swamps the lower part of the paper, flowing like a deep purple river, widening down from her slender waist.

One can just feel the Gothic mood of the watercolour, the mystery and suspense, shining through in dark colours and objects that seemed to serves as symbols open to interpretation, for example the looming yellowish tower on the hill; it can symbolise the captivity, a bird cage for the young maiden, or a protection from the harsh realities symbolised by the darkness and gloom of the strange moors and meadows she found herself in, it can be a prison and a safe haven, depends on what you wish you see. Its erect shape and unbreakable strength could also bring to mind other things, in a Freudian way. Also, the motif of a tower instantly brought to mind the painting “Vejez” by a female Spanish-Mexican Surreliast painter Remedios Varo. In the painting, a pink tower is shown to be full of cracks and starting to be overgrown by ivy, and it certainly has a lot of character despite being an object.

Without a doubt, there is a secret connection between the innocent Gothic maiden and the stern face vaguely yet convincingly appearing in the grey cloud. I will imagine it is her strict guardian watching over her, in spirit, even when he is not near her in flesh. “When I’m not there, in spirit I’ll be there”, to quote Depeche Mode’s song “Disease”. Her eyes are turned upwards; she can sense his gaze upon her and she knows there is no way to escape, no matter how fast or far she ran over the meadows and moors, she knows that her guardian transcends both time and space. The girl’s hair dancing in the melody of the wind and the raspberry pink ribbons on her sleeves form a repeating pattern and add to the scene’s drama and a whirlwind of intensity.

Remedios Varo, Vejez, 1948

The stern face in the cloud and the round rosy-cheeked face of the maiden in a violet-gown brought to mind the mystical connection between Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester when they both, at the same moment, around midnight, heard each other’s voices and cries, coming from kilometers afar, more through the power of mind than physically through space:

All the house was still; for I believe all, except St. John and myself, were now retired to rest. The one candle was dying out: the room was full of moonlight. My heart beat fast and thick: I heard its throb. Suddenly it stood still to an inexpressible feeling that thrilled it through, and passed at once to my head and extremities. The feeling was not like an electric shock, but it was quite as sharp, as strange, as startling: it acted on my senses as if their utmost activity hitherto had been but torpor, from which they were now summoned and forced to wake. They rose expectant: eye and ear waited while the flesh quivered on my bones.

“What have you heard? What do you see?” asked St. John. I saw nothing, but I heard a voice somewhere cry —

“Jane! Jane! Jane!” — nothing more.

“O God! what is it?” I gasped.

I might have said, “Where is it?” for it did not seem in the room — nor in the house — nor in the garden; it did not come out of the air — nor from under the earth — nor from overhead. I had heard it — where, or whence, for ever impossible to know! And it was the voice of a human being — a known, loved, well-remembered voice — that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently.

“I am coming!” I cried. “Wait for me! Oh, I will come!” I flew to the door and looked into the passage: it was dark. I ran out into the garden: it was void.

“Where are you?” I exclaimed.

The hills beyond Marsh Glen sent the answer faintly back — “Where are you?” I listened. The wind sighed low in the firs: all was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.

Jane Eyre (2011): In spirit, I believe we must have met.

And here is what Mr Rochester tells Jane later on, when they meet again:

As I exclaimed ‘Jane! Jane! Jane!’ a voice- I cannot tell whence the voice came, but I know whose voice it was- replied, ‘I am coming: wait for me;’ and a moment after, went whispering on the wind the words- ‘Where are you?’ “I’ll tell you, if I can, the idea, the picture these words opened to my mind: yet it is difficult to express what I want to express. Ferndean is buried, as you see, in a heavy wood, where sound falls dull, and dies unreverberating. ‘Where are you?’ seemed spoken amongst mountains; for I heard a hill-sent echo repeat the words. Cooler and fresher at the moment the gale seemed to visit my brow: I could have deemed that in some wild, lone scene, I and Jane were meeting. In spirit, I believe we must have met. You no doubt were, at that hour, in unconscious sleep, Jane: perhaps your soul wandered from its cell to comfort mine; for those were your accents- as certain as I live- they were yours!” Reader, it was on Monday night- near midnight- that I too had received the mysterious summons: those were the very words by which I replied to it.

In the same way, we know the face in the cloud cannot be real but we can imagine what powerful bonds connects their spirits that the girl can feel his gaze upon her even when she is out on the meadow.

You can visit the artist’s page here.

Art in John Fowles’s The Collector

25 Jul

“I’m so far from everything. From normality. From light. From what I want to be.”

(John Fowles, The Collector)

Berthe Morisot, Child With A Red Apron, 1886

John Fowles’ debut novel “The Collector” is one of the most fascinating novels I’ve read recently and it will probably become one of my all time favourites as well because the theme is so fascinating. It’s about a lonely, alienated individual called Frederick who collects butterflies and one day “collects” a girl called Miranda, a pretty twenty year old art student that he had spent weeks admiring from afar. I wrote a book review of it here, but today I would like to focus on the theme of art in the novel because it’s not so often that art gets mentioned in fiction. Art is bound to come up in the conversation with Frederick because Miranda is an art student in the dawn of the sixties so it’s specially interesting to hear her thoughts on the then contemporary art world. After Frederick kidnaps her, he keeps her in his basement and they spend time together and start to get to know each other. On one of such occasions, Miranda draws a portrait of him:

One day about then she did a picture of me, like returned the compliment. I had to sit in a chair and look at the corner of the room. After half an hour she tore up the drawing before I could stop her. (She often tore up. Artistic temperament, I suppose.) I’d have liked it, I said. But she didn’t even reply to that, she just said, don’t move. From time to time she talked. Mostly personal remarks. “You’re very difficult to get. You’re so featureless. Everything’s nondescript. I’m thinking of you as an object, not as a person.” Later she said, “You’re not ugly, but your face has all sorts of ugly habits. Your underlip is worst. It betrays you.” I looked in the mirror upstairs, but I couldn’t see what she meant.

Paul Cezanne, Four Apples, 1881

Another time, Miranda made still life studies of fruits in a bowl. I think this scene shows Miranda’s artistic temperament and how Frederick never has a clue about anything, he is so inferior to her in every sense that Miranda cannot help but laugh. For example, he thinks the best painting is the one that is most accurate, most realistic, he doesn’t understand why someone paints something in a free-spirited, colourful way:

Another day she drew a bowl of fruit. She drew them about ten times, and then she pinned them all up on the screen and asked me to pick the best. I said they were all beautiful but she insisted so I plumped for one. “That’s the worst,” she said. “That’s a clever little art student’s picture.” She said, “One of them is good. I know it is good. It is worth all the rest a hundred times over. If you can pick it in three guesses you can have it for nothing when I go. If I go. If you don’t, you must give me ten guineas for it.” Well, ignoring her dig I had three guesses, they were all wrong. The one that was so good only looked half-finished to me, you could hardly tell what the fruit were and it was all lop-sided. “There I’m just on the threshold of saying something about the fruit. I don’t actually say it, but you get the idea that I might. Do you feel that?” I said I didn’t actually. She went and got a book of pictures by Cezanne. “There,” she said, pointing to a coloured one of a plate of apples. “He’s not only saying everything there is about the apples, but everything about all apples and all form and colour.” I take your word for it, I said. All your pictures are nice, I said. She just looked at me. “Ferdinand,” she said. “They should have called you Caliban.

Syd Barrett with his painting, spring 1964

And I chose this last quote because it shows Miranda’s view on art at the time, her disdain for the avant-garde approach to art. This picture of Syd Barrett above may seem out of place because the post is not about him or the Pink Floyd, but the reason I decided to include it is because he was an art student in the early sixties. When I read The Collector and thought about Miranda, I also thought about the real people and the real art scene from that time. Miranda the book character was probably a few years older, but they could have crossed paths in London. Syd’s generation praise imagination and had a child-like vision of things and I love that approach to art; experimental and fun, not stuffy and rigid and full of rules. I also love how Miranda points out that the bottom line is that either you can paint or you can’t, and I agree:

I felt our whole age was a hoax, a sham. The way people talk and talk about tachism and cubism and this ism and that ism and all the long words they use — great smeary clots of words and phrases. All to hide the fact that either you can paint or you can’t. I want to paint like Berthe Morisot, I don’t mean with her colours or forms or anything physical, but with her simplicity and light. I don’t want to be clever or great or “significant” or given all that clumsy masculine analysis. I want to paint sunlight on children’s faces, or flowers in a hedge or a street after April rain. The essences. Not the things themselves. Swimmings of light on the smallest things. Or am I being sentimental? Depressed. I’m so far from everything. From normality. From light. From what I want to be.

Voyeurism in Edward Hopper’s Night Windows and Hitchcock’s Rear Window

22 Jul

American painter Edward Hopper was born on this day in 1882 in the Hudson river town of Nyack, New York, and what better opportunity to publish this post than on the man’s birthday!

Edward Hopper, Night Windows, 1928

Although Edward Hopper is mostly remembered as the painter who captured the alienating mood of the modern city in his scenes of solitary people, lonesome bars and empty streets, but it’s not the portrayal of the alienation in the city which fascinates me the most in his art but the voyeurism which shines through in his painting “Night Windows”. While we gaze at the painting, we too are the voyeurs of this quiet night scene tinged with eroticism and mystery. Three windows reveal to us a sight of an illuminated room where a figure of a woman dressed in a salmon toned slip is half-hidden from us, and yet the little glimpse of her that we do have makes us crave her presence. The figure of a woman in a slip is sensual yet subtle. The darkness on the outside of the murky old building is contrasted strongly with the interior full of lightness and intrigue. The woman is like an actress on an illuminated stage, aware that all eyes of the auditorium are on her, yet feigning ignorance of the fact. The painting looks like a still from the film, and indeed Hopper’s other passion, besides painting, was the cinema. Two windows are closed, but the third one is open and allowing the fresh night air into the room. A billowing white curtain is dancing in the midnight breeze.

Even though the painting seems like a film scene, the inspiration came from literature and not from cinema: “Night Windows recalls the experience of the voyeur pastor in “The Strength of God,” one of Sherwood Anderson’s short stories in Winesburg, Ohio. From the clergyman’s study in the church bell tower, he accidentally discovers that he can see into the bedroom of a young woman in the house next door. He becomes a virtual Peeping Tom, unable to resist being drawn to spy upon the woman in various states of undress. “When the shade of the window to Kate Swift’s room was raised he could see, through the hole, directly into her bed.” (…) Night Windows communicates a mood like that, too, of Anderson’s 1923 Many Marriages, which was the first of his novels to focus on modern sexual experience. (…) Anderson’s preoccupation in Many Marriages is with the symbolic value of nudity, sexual frankness, and the inner emotional life of its characters. In a number of his subsequent oil paintings. Hopper addressed similar issues of voyeurism, temptation, repression, and sexual ennui, continuing the imaginative exploration of the etchings.” (Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, 1995)

The same voyeurism appears in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Rear Window” (1954) where the broken-legged photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (played by James Stewart) spends the long, lazy and hot summer days resting and spying at his neighbours in his Chelsea apartment whose rear window is looking out into the courtyard. At first he is doing it to pass the time and then later their seemingly ordinary lives begin to intrigue him more and more. Each neighbour is like an animal in the zoos; not behind bars but behind their large windows and balconies, ordinary yet strange in their unique way. He observes a flamboyant dancer he nicknames “Miss Torso”; a single woman he calls “Miss Lonelyhearts”; a talented yet lonely pianist, a newlywed couple, and a middle-aged couple who sleep on their balcony in hot summer nights, a female amateur sculptor; and Lars Thorwald who is a traveling salesman with an ill wife. The beautiful and sophisticated Grace Kelly plays his girlfriend who joins him in his peeping Tom activities which ultimately lead them both to a discovery of a murder. I really liked something that Jeff’s friend Tom, who is a detective, said about spying on neighbours: “That’s a secret, private world you are looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private which they couldn’t possibly explain in public.” And Edward Hopper captured that world on his canvases.

Robert Henri: The Art Spirit and Painting a Portrait

12 Jul

Work with great speed. Have your energies alert, up and active. Finish as quickly as you can. There is no virtue in de-laying.

(Robert Henri)

Robert Henri, Mary of Connemara, 1913

Robert Henri, American artist connected with the Ashcan School, died on 12th July 1929 in New York. As I already mentioned in my previous post about Robert Henri’s “Irish Lass” painted in 1913, Henri was an amazing art teacher, along with being a brilliant and prolific artist, a rare combination, and his teachings were collected in 1923 (six years before he died in 1929) in a work called “The Art Spirit” by his students. Many of them were poor workers who would often work all day, then attend Henri’s painting classes in the evening and slept outdoors, on some bench in the park because they could not afford a room. This only shows how Henri aimed to awake the artist in all of his students and didn’t care about social class or what jobs they had during the day, for Henri the ability to be an artist was something everyone possessed and it needed to be awaken by a good teacher or something else. Here are some excerpts from “The Art Spirit” where Henri speaks of the way a portrait ought to be painted:

When later you come to the painting of the features of the face, consider well the feature’s part in relation to the idea you have to express. It will not be so much a question of painting that nose as it will be painting the expression of that nose. All the features are concerned in one expression which manifests the state of mind or the condition of the sitter. No feature should be started until you have fully comprehended its character and have established in your mind the manner of its full accomplishment. To stop in the process of drawing the lines of a feature to inquire “what next” is surely to leave a record of disconnection. No feature should be drawn except in its relation to the others. There is a dominating movement through all the features. There is sequence in their relationship. There is sequence in the leading lines of the features with the movements of the body. This spirit of related movement is very important in the drawing or painting of hair.”

Hair is beautiful in itself, this should not be forgotten, but it is the last position of importance it takes in the make-up of a portrait.The hair must draw the grace and dignity—perhaps the brains—of the head. The lights on the hair must be used to stress the construction, to vitalize, accentuate and continue movement. The outline of the hair over the face must be used as a principal agent for the drawing of the forms of the forehead and temples, and must at the same time partake of the general movement of the shoulders and of the whole body. The hair is to be used as a great drawing medium. It is to be rendered according to its nature, but it is not to be copied. Think well on this; it is very important.”

“The eyebrows are hair in the last instance. To a good draftsman they are primarily powerful evidences of the muscular actions of the forehead, which muscular actions are manifestations of the sitter’s state of being. The muscles respond instantly to such obvious sensations as surprise, horror, pain, mirth, inquiry, etc., and the actions of the muscles are most defined in their effect on that strongly marked line of hair, the eyebrow. However subtle the emotion, the eye-brow by its definiteness marks the response in the muscular movement.In certain heads, the eyebrow, while normal, still holds a very positive gesture. There are those, therefore, who carry in repose an expression of sadness, boredom, surprise, dignity, and some accentuate the force or direction in the action of looking. To a good draughtsman the eyebrow is a living thing. It develops a habit which it expresses in repose and it flashes intelligence of every changing emotion.

Robert Henri, Irish Lass, 1913

By the spring in the drawing of the eyelash the quick action of the eye may be suggested. The upper eyelid and lash generally cast a shadow scarcely observed yet very effective on the eyeball. The white of the eye is more often the same color as the flesh about it than the average painter is likely to think it to be. The pupil is larger in quiet light, becoming very small by contraction when looking into brilliant light.The highlight in the pupil is a matter of drawing although best done with one quick touch. Its direction, shape, edges,and its contrast in color and value to the pupil give shape,curve, brilliancy or mark the contrary.”

The lines and forms in the clothes should be used to draw the body in its sensitive relationship with the head.The wrinkles and forms of the clothes are building mate-rial not for tailoring in your hands but for established basic lines rising to the head. There is an orchestration through-out the whole canvas. Nothing is for itself, but each thing partaking of the other is living its greatest possibility, is surpassing itself with vitality and meaning and is part of the making of a great unity. (…)

Robert Henri, Little Irish Girl, 1913

“Do not tell me that you as students will first learn how to draw and then afterwards attend to all this. It is only through such motives that you can learn to draw. This kind of thought is drawing, the hand must obey the spirit. With motive you will become clairvoyant of means, will seize and command them. Without motive you will wabble about.

Realize that your sitter has a state of being, that this state of being manifests itself to you through form, color and gesture, that your appreciation of him has depended on your perception of these things in their significance, that they are there of your selection (others will see differently), that your work will be the statement of what have been your emotions, and you will use these specialized forms, colors and gestures to make your statement. Plainly you are to develop as a seer, as an appreciator as well as a craftsman. You are to give the craftsman in you a motive, else he cannot develop. All that I have said argues the predominant value of gesture. Gesture expresses through form and color the states of life.

Work with great speed. Have your energies alert, up and active. Finish as quickly as you can. There is no virtue in de-laying. Get the greatest possibility of expression in the larger masses first. Then the features in their greatest simplicity in concordance with and dependent on the mass. Do it all in one sitting if you can. In one minute if you can. There is no virtue in delaying.

Robert Henri – Irish Lass

9 Jul

“My people may be old or young, rich or poor, I may speak their language or I may communicate with them only by gestures. But wherever I find them, the Indian at work in the white man’s way, the Spanish gypsy moving back to the freedom of the hills, the little boy, quiet and reticent before the stranger, my interest is awakened and my impulse immediately is to tell about them through my own language-drawing and painting in color.”

(Robert Henri)

Robert Henri, Irish Lass, 1913, oil on canvas 61 x 5.8 cm

Robert Henri, American artist, teacher and a guiding spirit of the Ashcan school, always spent his summers travelling either in Europe or in the States and he was always on the lookout for interesting and peculiar faces full of beauty and character to capture on his canvases. “Irish Lass” is one of such portraits of common people whose inner Beauty shines through colours and brushstrokes, the kind of Beauty seen only by those who seek to see Beauty at every step; the artists and the poets. This portrait of a young Irish girl is one of my favourites by Robert Henri, in general, and in particular these days. I find myself enjoying all the details; not what was painted, but how it was painted. Vigorous in his teachings, vigorous in his brushstrokes, Henri yearned to capture the rawness of the moment and that makes his paintings seem as if they aren’t bound to a specific time, the large blue eyes and rosy cheeks of the Irish Lass seem as fresh and alive as if they were painted yesterday. Vitality, freshness and vivacity permeate Henri’s portraits and other paintings.

Henri’s second wife, Marjorie Organ was Irish-born and the pair spent the summer of 1913 travelling through the emerald greenness of Ireland. I am sure Henri admired the beauty of the landscape, but what he captured on his canvases were not the verdant hills and old ruins, but rather the rosy cheeked fresh faces of both shy and wild Irish girls with auburn tresses. This Irish Lass, with the pink bows in her hair and that pretty white apron, looks like a wistful schoolgirl yearning for a life of adventure outside the bounds of her schoolbooks and her school yard, like a young Jane Eyre yearning to be a bird and transcend the barriers of her life. Her lips and cheeks are rosy, as if she had been running freely and exploring the wilderness. In his portraits, Henri always used colours to convey something; he used red and pink for the cheeks to signify vivacity and liveliness. Inner beauty radiates through the colours and shapes of this portrait, through her eyes as blue as the sea and flower forget me not and through the rest of her face and figure. I love how the volume is built through shades of colours.

Charles Burchfield: Catalogue of Tattered Dreams

5 Jul

“Burchfield’s paintings in the years between the wars are a catalogue of tattered dreams: abandoned towns with their false-fronted ramshackle facades, sitting on the edge of vast prairies, decrepit Victorian rowhouses, resembling tooth-less old women, the barren wastes left by industries once robust.”

(American Encounters: Art, History and Cultural Identity)

Charles Burchfield, Promenade, 1927-28, watercolour on paper, 31 5/8 x 42 1/2 inches (80.33 x 107.95 cm)

Charles Burchfield’s watercolours of streets, houses, lonely barns and fields all have a particularly haunting and captivating lyrical beauty, but his watercolour “Promenade” painted in 1927-28 seems to be my favourite because it is at once so whimsical and poetic and tinged with a certain melancholy of grey and brown shades. Abandonment and decay are motives which linger throughout Burchfield’s artworks. He gave a new life to motifs that Modernism had ignored; in times when other painters, such as Charles Sheeler, George Ault and Max Weber, glorified speed and modern architecture, Burchfield returned to the past, in a poetic and not sentimental way and portrayed all the lonely, forgotten corners of the town. This watercolour may not be the best example of Burchfield’s fascination with the motif of decay and abandonment that linger throughout his work, but it is incredibly poetic and shows how Burchfield gave personalities and unique quirks to buildings and places rather than people.

His watercolours such as “Promenade” look as if they arose from a puddle of rain; watery, grey and dipped in wistfulness and nostalgia. My eye wanders from one corner of the painting to the other and every bit of this artwork delights my eyes; the gloomy and mysterious houses have windows which resemble eye sockets, like something from Edgar Allan Poe, and so are the almost bare treetops with grey masses of leaves and long, dark and thin branches which stretch out like long shadowy arms ready to snatch you and take you down to the underworld. You can imagine the sad autumnal wind playing its mournful tunes and making the leaves dance between the street lanterns, wooden fences and trees. Once shining roofs and freshly painted facades now appear as if the whirlwind of change and decay had left its irreparable mark. The melancholy appeal of trees and houses is broken by the action in the street; cars are driving up and down the street, a plump old lady is walking her dog and three other dog are running after it, and this really adds a touch of liveliness to the mood. Still, the liveliness in the street doesn’t reflect itself on the old Victorian facades.

Watercolour “In a Deserted House” is a better example of Burchfield’s poetic enthusiasm for decaying places where spiders weave their webs in the corners of once dear and sunlight rooms, once cheerful wallpapers are now flaking, old fireplace is now cold, laughter is heard no more, and who lived there, no one knows any more. You can really feel that Burchfield felt the beauty and sadness of those places.

Charles Burchfield, In a Deserted House, ca. 1918-1939

Charles Burchfield, The Abandoned House, 1959

Jean-Vincent Simonet – Under Neon Loneliness

3 Jul

“Under neon loneliness, everlasting nothingness.”

(Manic Street Preachers, Motorcycle Empintess.)

I recently stumbled upon these groovy photographs by a young French photographer Jean-Vincent Simonet and they instantly captivated me! This series of photographs, named “In Bloom” and indeed it is blooming with all sorts of vibrant colours, is a product of nocturnal wanderings through the busy streets of Tokyo and Osaka. But these photographs show the cities in a rather different view than most people walking the streets in those same evenings saw it. Vibrant colours melting into one another, slightly distorted shapes of buildings and streets, neon signs, purple skies and pink streets look like something out of a Sailor Moon anime, and also, for some reason, they remind me of the line “Under neon loneliness, everlasting nothingness” from the song “Motorcycle Emptiness” by the Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers; the video for that song was also, coincidentally, filmed in Tokyo where the band is seen walking the streets, under the garish neon signs and shining promises of fun that the city has to offer, but their faces show alienation from all that garish world. Therefore, I see these photographs not only as psychedelic, bubbly and wild in colours, but also as a garishly coloured fantasy world of chaos and excitement which offers cheap dreams but nonetheless leaves one lonely and lost; I have never felt more lonely than when wondering the streets in the evening, seeing the glitter and neon lights and feeling complete emptiness and detachment from it all. But they can also be seen as presenting the magic of the night when anything seems possible and one can be whoever one wants; the dream is pulsating and alive until the faint grey light of dawn kills it. Simonet made prints of the photographs onto plastic paper then washed the photograph with chemicals and that is how he succeeded in creating images with such a psychedelic mood to portray his experience of Tokyo at night.

The photographer’s page: https://www.jeanvincentsimonet.com/about

Frederick Carl Frieseke: Lady in the Garden in June

27 Jun

What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”

(Gerture Jekyll)

Frederick Carl Frieseke, Lady in the Garden in June, 1911

Painting “Lady in the Garden in June” and many other paintings by the American Impressionist painter Frederick Carl Frieseke perfectly encapsulate the lazy and indolent mood of a summer garden. Female figures in their pretty dresses and fashionable hats serve to beautify the scenes of gardens in bloom, but Frieseke paints both the flowers and the ladies with equal attentiveness and vibrancy, they seem to be a part of the landscape. Gertrude Jekyll, a British Victorian era horticulturist, writer and garden designer perfectly described this transient and illusive, yet magical and captivating mood of June when summer has revealed to us all its charms and we feel the dream will never end. John Singer Sargent encapsulated this same ethereal and dreamy mood in his painting “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose“, but with Frieseke it’s not just a single painting which speaks of summer delights, but many.

On these canvases Frieseke translates the charms of summer into an oasis of joyous, vibrant colours and countless little dabs, dots and dashes of paint. In the painting “Hollyhocks” from 1911 you can really see how a few dabs of light pink or red can create a whole hollyhock flower. The painting looks pulsating and alive with all these trembling brush strokes and all these colours and it is easy to see why a critic had referred to Frieseke’s style as “Decorative Impressionism” because he uses the same motives as the Impressionists, the wonderful outdoors with flowers and sunshine, but fills his paintings with details, patterns and shapes and some paintings, such as the one called “Hollyhocks” from 1912-13 reminds me of Gustav Klimt’s landscapes which never feature human figures but are instead made out of garish colours and filled with details leaving no space free of shapes and dabs of rich colour.

Frederick Carl Frieseke, Hollyhocks, by 1911

There is little difference between the figure of a lady and the figure of a flower in Frieseke’s garden scenes, both are here for their beauty, colour and shape, and we can see that in the painting “Hollyhocks” above, from 1911, where the woman is seen from the profile in her garden in bloom and, seen from afar, her lean, upward figure would resemble a tall, lean hollyhock flower. In “Lady in Garden” the domineering pattern are vertical dashes which linger on and on over the canvas creating a rhythm and we can hardly see the line which separates the tall, sharp blades of grass from the stripes on the fabric of the woman’s dress. Although Frieseke was an American artist, in 1898, at the age of twenty-four he moved to France and studied art at Academie Julian. He regularly spent his summers at Giverny and in 1906 he moved into a house there, previously owned by another American painter Theodore Robinson, and found himself being a neighbour of none other but the Father of Impressionism: Claude Monet. Despite this lucky coincidence, Frieseke and Monet didn’t develop a friendship. Frieseke found Renoir to be his inspiration instead, inspired by Renoir’s voluptuous women, vibrant colours and a sense of joie de vivre and sensuality lingering through his canvases. And now, speaking of flowers and lovely gardens in summer reminded me of this passage from Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women”:

As spring came on, a new set of amusements became the fashion, and the lengthening days gave long afternoons for work and play of all sorts. The garden had to be put in order, and each sister had a quarter of the little plot to do what she liked with. Hannah used to say, “I’d know which each of them gardings belonged to, ef I see ’em in Chiny,” and so she might, for the girls’ tastes differed as much as their characters. Meg’s had roses and heliotrope, myrtle, and a little orange tree in it. Jo’s bed was never alike two seasons, for she was always trying experiments. This year it was to be a plantation of sun flowers, the seeds of which cheerful land aspiring plant were to feed Aunt Cockle-top and her family of chicks. Beth had old-fashioned fragrant flowers in her garden, sweet peas and mignonette, larkspur, pinks, pansies, and southernwood, with chickweed for the birds and catnip for the pussies. Amy had a bower in hers, rather small and earwiggy, but very pretty to look at, with honeysuckle and morning-glories hanging their colored horns and bells in graceful wreaths all over it, tall white lilies, delicate ferns, and as many brilliant, picturesque plants as would consent to blossom there. Gardening, walks, rows on the river, and flower hunts employed the fine days, and for rainy ones, they had house diversions, some old, some new, all more or less original.

Frederick Carl Frieseke, Lilies, 1911

Frederick Carl Frieseke, Lady in a Garden, 1912, oil on canvas, 81 x 65.4 cm

Frederick Carl Frieseke, Hollyhocks, 1912-13

Frederick Carl Frieseke, Grey Day on the River (Two Ladies in a Boat), c 1908