Tag Archives: magic realism

Thomas Fransioli – Rain in Charleston

16 Jun

Thomas Fransioli (American, 1906 – 1997), Rain in Charleston, 1951

I had never heard of the American painter Thomas Fransioli until one day a few weeks ago, by serendipity, I stumbled upon his painting “Rain in Charleston” from 1951 and I was immediately captivated by its cold, sleek style and hints of magical realism. Fransioli was born in 1907 in Seattle, Washington and studied architecture at the University of Pennysilvania. In 1930 he got his degree and for a while worked as an architect, making plans for the exhibition rooms in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The Second World War interrupted his career in architecture and he served in the Pacific Theatre from 1943 to 1946. After the war he took up painting and settled in Boston, Massachausets.

His love of archicture pervades his painterly work, for his oeuvre consists almost entirely out of townscapes, street scenes and buildings. Fransioli showed little to no interest in portraying people and they are almost never seen in his paintings. The style of his paintings shows a love of structure and precision, a longing for order in the midst of a chaotic world. This makes me think of something that Oskar Schlemmer, a German artist associated with the Bauhaus school, said: “If today’s arts love the machine, technology and organization, if they aspire to precision and reject anything vague and dreamy, this implies an instinctive repudiation of chaos and a longing to find the form appropriate to our times.”

Fransioli’s painting “Rain in Charleston”, with its sleek, structured appearance, the sharp and algular, boldly outlined buildings, and its impersonal mood shows a distinct influence of the Precisionism. After all, the painting shows a street devoid of people, another characteristic of the aforementioned art movement. Precisionism was a distinctly American and distinctly modern art movement which first appeared in the early twentieth century in the paintings of Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler and others. The favoured motives of Precisionist painters were the objects tied exclusively to the modern world; tall buildings, urban landscapes, industrial architecture and factories. In the late 1940s, Fransioli was asked to paint townscapes for the magazine covers of the Collier’s Magazine and so it happened that, on his travels, he was passing through Charleston on one occassion and made some sketches, one of which he would later use as a basis for this painting.

Painting “Rain in Charleston” shows a street scene, more specifically a view of the Laurens Street in Charleston, on a rainy day. The main motifs in the scene are buildings, street, streetlight and trees, and a dark, gloomy sky looming over the town in threatening way. Each building – grey, white, red, blue – looks solitary and is standing separate and alone from the other buildings. Fransioli choses strong and dark colours to set the mood of the painting; a gloomy mood, tingled with strangeness and melancholy. Fransioli usually avoids portraying people in his paintings, but even when he does paint them, like here we see a man standing on the doorstep of his house and a person with an umbrella down the street, they are so small and insignificant that their presence is not strong enough to break the strange, desolate overall mood. Even when it comes to painting nature, such as trees, it is bare and desolate. The contrast between the gloomy, dark sky in the left part of the sky and the light sky in the right part of the sky is beautifully painted.

The combination of the dark clouds and the wet street and pavements really makes this painting atmospheric. One can almost feel how it would be to step into the puddle in the street; it is so realistically and vividly depicted, and almost mirrorlike. I have seen other paintings of towns that Fransioli painted, but I think this one is the best because it is so atmospheric and the rain is definitely something interesting to capture in art. The painting simultaneously appears very realistic and yet very strange because the buildings and the street are painted in a precise, realistic manner but the overall mood of the painting is a desolate, strange one. A rainy street with no people, or a very few unnoticable people, is like a dark dream. In this regard, Fransioli combines the precise and cold style of Precisionism with the Italian Metaphysical style of painting or Magic Realism, the example of which is Giorgio de Chirico and his lonely, melancholy scenes of empty squares and towns.

Andrea Kowch – Magic Realism of the Countryside

25 Oct

Last autumn I discovered the prodigious world that Andrea Kowch has created on her canvases and I was instantly captivated by the atmosphere of dreams and intrigues; in her paintings the desolation of the vast fields and weary old barns becomes intriguing and everyday domesticity is transformed into something spectacular.

Knolls Edge

An extremely prolific, imaginative and skilled contemporary painter, Andrea Kowch, was born in Detroit in 1986. She loves fairy tales and uses her daydreams as springboards for her paintings. Also, the band she often listens to whilst painting is Depeche Mode.

You will notice from the paintings I’ve assembled in this post that countryside is a motif which pervades her art; American countryside to be more precise. These canvases are filled with dreamy meadows littered with silver dandelions, golden fields of barley, corn and wheat, barns with paint flaking off, wooden cottages, murky brooks with dark waters, strange old trees, blades of grass swayed by a mysterious wind, roosters, ravens and turkeys. Another recurring motif is a wistful pale-faced woman, often with messy red hair, dressed in an unusual old-fashioned dress. You will also notice a distinctly autumnal colour palette of deep, warm and cozy shades of orange, purple, red, olive green, browns and yellows. Kowch uses these colours to further convey that mood. And also because of other things as well, as she says herself:

Autumn is my favorite season. The scents in the air, changing landscapes, colors, mood of the sky, air of ominous foreshadowing… It’s when the earth begins to truly bare its soul. It’s when I can feel the bones, core, and essence of nature. There is also a cozy and mysterious quality that inspires me to turn inward and relish solitude and explore deeper feelings. The heavy, rolling clouds spark moods in me which translate into the work. A beautiful sense of melancholy and nostalgia permeates everything as the natural world prepares to surrender itself over to winter. All of those things are very poignant, and speak to my soul in many profound ways.” (read her entire interview here)

Perhaps the women appear languid, lost in thoughts or dreams, but the turkey’s disdainful face expression with squinted eyes speaks volumes about what is going on in the scene….

Though repetitive in her use of motifs, Kowch succeeded in creating a world that is realistic at first sight, and very strange and fanciful at the same time. She beautifully illustrated the working of her imagination and opened the doors of her inner world for us viewers. Kowch’s visions of the countryside are undoubtedly very dreamy, but they are a bit eerie as well, there is something strangely silent in them, the fanciful wind is blowing out of nowhere, the women often appear frozen in the moment, not very convincing in the activity they are doing, such as catching butterflies, eating or dancing; though their mortal bodies are there in that space, their thoughts are elsewhere. Whether the setting is a field or a kitchen, a strangeness hangs above the wistful, mysterious figures like a cloud.

…and making pies with forest fruit was never so fun. And look at that crow leaving a print of her tiny feet on the dough, adorable!

Though very peculiar and dreamy at first sight, endowed with a distinct aesthetic, Kowch’s paintings reveal some influences from the art history as well, mainly the Northern Renaissance and the art of Andrew Wyeth. Both Kowch and Wyeth have a similar way of portraying the countryside and people in it, but Kowch is stylistically more vivid in colours whereas Wyeth uses a minimalist toned-down colour palette of grey, white, brown and green. Kowch’s paintings are richer with details that charm the eye, they are more illustrative, resembling scenes of fairy tales rather than desolate state of the soul. The season that fuels her art is autumn, and Wyeth also favours autumn and winter and the way nature is in that time of the year: “I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape—the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it—the whole story doesn’t show.” Grass in Kowch’s paintings bears a similarity to the very detailed grass in Wyeth’s painting “Christine’s World”, and the flimsy curtains dancing in the wind are also a shared motif. Her attention to detail when it comes to portraying scenes from nature, such as the grass in the painting “Knolls Edge”, also reminds me of the very precise way Botticelli painted the background and the grass in his famous painting “Primavera“.

Kowch uses her friends as models for the paintings. The face expressions of these strange and mad women are also very peculiar; they appear troubled, sad, wistful, their pale oval faces laced with yearning and nostalgia. They walk the meadows with wild determination, in silence, only the blades of grass sing sweet songs, they make pies with ravens, sit at the table uninterested in food, or gaze in the void. They seem mute, but with a lot of hidden drama and secrets inside.

Two somnambulists treading their way through the meadow in a misty autumn morning, the birds are curious observers.

There is a constant battle between realistic and surreal, dreamy, scarcely believable elements in Kowch’s paintings. Motifs she uses; women, fields and barns are all very realistic and not unusual at all to our eyes. Her painting technique is detailed, precise and accurate, which further leads our eyes to believe that what she is presenting is real. Still, the final result is all but “realism” in any term of the word. The best way to describe her art would then be: magic realism. Also, her method of portraying the boring and plain everyday reality and presenting it as something strange and whimsical reminds me of a term called “defamiliarization” (“ostranienie” in Russian), used in theoretical discussions of literature, originally coined by Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky in his essay “Art as Device”. It’s making things strange in order to intrigue the reader, or here, the viewer. In my view, this is exactly what Kowch is doing to us: she is making us see the otherwise laughably boring and normal scenes is a strange exciting way.

Her paintings definitely leave the viewer with a sense of vagueness, for, what are they really? Scenes from dreams, everyday life seen through rose-tinted glasses, an topsy-turvy world of Alice in Wonderland: the American version, frozen moments in secret tales known only to her…

Grasshoppers even on her hat, now, this is called crossing boundaries!

Rural sisters

Whirlwind

These roosters are madly adorable; little, angry and with great hairstyles! 😉

What is she running away from, what secrets does the barn withhold from us?

And here is our sombre grown-up Alice in Pumpkinland. Gorgeous colours and so much feelings in that landscape.

Shattered hopes, or just painful memories revisited?

Story Inspiration: Wind, Oranges, Love and Guitars

5 Jul

Photo by Pedro Gabriel.

Photo found here.

Gabriel Garcia Márquez: Love Letters, Fresh Lilies, Tears and Dried Butterflies (One Hundred Years of Solitude)

16 Jul

A week ago I finished reading Márquez’s magnificent novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and I have fallen in love with the story, the mood, the characters, his writing style and magic realism. Art equivalent of the book must be, for me, the blue dreamy world of Marc Chagall’s lovers, flowers and psychedelic fiddlers on roofs in far-off villages of his imagination, which might as well be Márquez’s mystical Macondo, and I can also see myself listening to Pink Floyd and daydreaming of chapters from the books. Some sentences have really left me feeling high as a kite; it rains for four years, plague insomnia which leaves people not tired but nostalgic for dreams, tiny yellow flowers that cover the entire village the moment José Arcadio Buendía dies, yellow butterflies that follow the dark melancholic-eyed Mauricio at every step, Rebeca who eats earth and arrives with a sack that makes a clock-clock-clock sound of her parents’ bones; illusion upon illusion, magic upon magic, and in the end, only eternal solitude remains.

Savely Sorin, Two Women, c. 1920s

I recently discovered this painting of two women in white by the Russian artist Savely Sorin (1887-1953), and now every time I look at it, it reminds me of Amaranda and Rebeca, sitting on a begonia porch, their hands busy embroidering; both lost in their own worlds and their hearts full of woe, both lonely with an impenetrable inner life, both finding consolation in writing passionate perfumed love letters to the same man which they never send… I imagine the lady in the front to be Rebeca and the brown-haired one is Amaranta, for me.

When I started reading the book, one morning sitting on my balcony, surrounded by pots of pink begonias, I flipped through the pages wondering about their content, and this was the first sentence that I randomly saw and I was mesmerised, what a scene: “On rainy afternoon, embroidering with a group of friends on the begonia porch, she would lose the thread of the conversation and a tear of nostalgia would salt her palate when she saw the strips of damp earth and the piles of mud that the earthworms had pushed up in the garden. Those secret tastes, defeated in the past by oranges and rhubarb, broke out into an irrepressible urge when she began to weep. She went back to eating earth.

I don’t think I will ever see begonias again and not think of Márquez. I like to daydream of flowers and their different personalities and connect flowers and trees to people, real or imaginary.

Even though I loved the entire book, there is a part of that I particularly enjoyed reading, that appealed to me the most, when Buendía family was at its most lively, vibrant state, and the house was full of love: Aureliano was consumed with passion for Remedios who is described as “a pretty little girl with lily-colored skin and green eyes”, and Rebeca and Amaranda were besotted with their dance instructor, a dashing and handsome blonde Italian called Pietro Crespi. With love followed daydreams, passionate letters, tears, torments and jealousies:

The house became full of love. Aureliano expressed it in poetry that had no beginning or end. He would write it on the harsh pieces of parchment that Melquiades gave him, on the bathroom walls, on the skin of his arms, and in all of it Remedios would appear transfigured: Remedios in the soporific air of two in the afternoon, Remedios in the soft breath of the roses, Remedios in the water-clock secrets of the moths, Remedios in the steaming morning bread, Remedios everywhere and Remedios forever. Rebeca waited for her love at four in the afternoon, embroidering by the window. She knew that the mailman’s mule arrived only every two weeks, but she always waited for him, convinced that he was going to arrive on some other day by mistake. It happened quite the opposite : once the mule did not come on the usual day. Mad with desperation, Rebeca got up in the middle of the night and ate handfuls of earth in the garden with a suicidal drive, weeping with pain and fury, chewing tender earthworms and chipping her teeth on snail shells. She vomited until dawn. She fell into a state of feverish prostration, lost consciousness, and her heart went into a shameless delirium. Ursula, scandalized, forced the lock on her trunk and found at the bottom, tied together with pink ribbons, the sixteen perfumed letters and the skeletons of leaves and petals preserved in old books and the dried butterflies that turned to powder at the touch.

As soon as Amaranta found out about Rebeca’s interest in Pietro, she wanted him too:

When she discovered Rebeca’s passion, which was impossible to keep secret because of her shouts, Amaranta suffered an attack of fever. She also suffered from the barb of a lonely love. Shut up in the bathroom, she would release herself from the torment of a hopeless passion by writing feverish letters, which she finally hid in the bottom of her trunk. Ursula barely had the strength to take care of the two sick girls. (…) Finally, in another moment of inspiration, she forced the lock on the trunk and found the letters tied with a pink ribbon, swollen with fresh lilies and still wet with tears, addressed and never sent to Pietro Crespi.

Marc Chagall, Bouquet près de la fenêtre, 1959-60

Meanwhile, some things occur, Rebeca marries another man and Pietro, heartbroken, finds consolation in hours spend in Amaranta’s company. This must be the dreamiest, most romantic passage of the book, for me. I mean; suffocating smell of roses in dusk, this dashing Italian translating Petrarca’s love poetry for his sweetheart, and both sighing and daydreaming on the begonia porch of that remote village in Columbia about that famed Europe and wonders of Italy, nostalgia pervading the Columbian night:

Amaranta and Pietro Crespi had, in fact, deepened their friendship, protected by Ursula, who this time did not think it necessary to watch over the visits. It was a twilight engagement. The Italian would arrive at dusk, with a gardenia in his buttonhole, and he would translate Petrarch’s sonnets for Amaranta. They would sit on the porch, suffocated by the oregano and the roses, he reading and she sewing lace cuffs, indifferent to the shocks and bad news of the; war, until the mosquitoes made them take refuge in the parlor. Amaranta’s sensibility, her discreet but enveloping tenderness had been weaving an invisible web about her fiance, which he had to push aside materially with his pale and ringless fingers in order to leave the house at eight o’clock. They had put together a delightful album with the postcards that Pietro Crespi received from Italy. They were pictures of lovers in lonely pink. with vignettes of hearts pierced with arrows and golden ribbons held by doves. “I’ve been to this park in Florence,” Pietro Crespi would say, going through the cards. “A person can put out his hand and the birds will come to feed.” Sometimes, over a watercolor of Venice, nostalgia would transform the smell of mud and putrefying shellfish of the canals into the warm aroma of flowers. Amaranta would sigh, laugh, and dream of a second homeland of handsome men and beautiful women who spoke a childlike language, with ancient cities of whose past grandeur only the cats among the rubble remained.

Have you read the book? Have you enjoyed these passages as much as I have?