Archive for February, 2007

Pozzi and Amelie Gautreau

February 20, 2007

Visitors are coming by

continuously, lounging on the fauteuils,

smoking cheroots as if to send

up-towering clouds into the red and gilt

cage that is Pozzi’s lair.

Pozzi stands,  a carmine shrouded potentate,

holds court, his tapered surgeon’s fingers

twist and turn the belt of his robe

in unison with the rise and

fall of murmured conversations.

Amelie shifts briefly, a stilled

Venus de Milo one moment,

her swan neck rising out of her fichu ,

painted pallor a lapidary gleam.

She distracts my eye!

She moves, the next instant, and

alters into a Canova nymph,

russet hair burning against her lavender brow.

Pozzi follows her motions with eyes

captive to her restless posing.

These breathtaking people are coupled.

Gossip follows their every action.

Their glamour seeps into me,

holds my thoughts in their snare.

They are my Venus and Adonis.

GM 02/02/2005

(This written in response to reading about J.S. Sargent’s painting of Dr. Pozzi, and finding out that it was while painting Pozzi that Sargent made first aquaintance with Amelie Gautreau.  Apparently while modelling for Sargent, Pozzi also entertained visitors, so that must have been a difficult circumstance under which Sargent had to work!)

Mr. J. S. Sargent deliberates…

February 17, 2007

M. Gautreau welcomes me into his gilded salon

where his pallid prize of a wife reclines

on a recamier

amid bombazine drifts of insipid mauve.

He is eager to memorialize his passion

for this limpid creature

with her sharp-nosed profile

and pronounced overbite.

“Capture her glamorous essence,

her entrancing simplicity”

requires this amorous husband.

He wishes for tout le monde

to celebrate his good fortune, indeed

to smite them in the face with this fact

by entering the portrait in the Salon d’Automne.

The title is to be “Madame Gautreau”.

How best to present this white-skinned beauty?

She has spent her life indoors, it seems.

No sunshine has sullied her cheeks

with lively freckles or vital blush.

No exertions have strengthened

her slight supple body, for

she moves like a languid wraith

through a sluggish atmosphere.

How to express the value of this creature

to a man whose every act is

of acquisition, amassing treasure?

She cannot be presented as a bon bon 

set amid frills and laces,

to be selected at whim from among

many other such sweets.

She needs a more beguiling setting!

Ah, a glowing, lamp-lit, pale lunar moth,

whose vellum wings are dusted

with a powdered light.

She needs to touch upon the ground,

as if pausing, silent, soft, in mid-flight,

yielding a glimpse, a glance

of fleeting elegance

that will quickly disappear into night.

25/11/04   GM

A certain energy….

February 16, 2007

In looking at many paintings over a fairly long lifetime, what has struck me as most important to my understanding of what a painting can be is the element of energy sustained by the painter during the creation of a work which then is palpable to me as a viewer during a lengthy period of consideration. During such a long time of looking, the painting reveals its magic, the play and struggle of its maker and the willingness of a viewer to be suspended from quotidian pre-occupations and taken up into the work seen.

I gon’t get around much any more, in terms of long-distance travel, so the opportunity to see, first-hand, some wonderful paintings about which I am curious, is not a possibility for me. So, in a case such as this, the availability of books with good reproductions is invaluable if not an ideal way to get a view of an artist’s oeuvre. Recently, “PGT” shared with me his book of the photographic works of Joel-Peter Witkin.  We discussed the illustrations at length, but also the fact that J-P Wikin had a twin brother who painted, Jerome Witkin. On arriving back home, I Googled Jerome Witkin and found some intriguing information which firmed in my mind that I had to find and acquire a book about this remarkable painter.  This took a little bit of doing, of ordering a book which took some time to arrive, but it is here now, in my lucky hands.

“Life Lessons – The Art of Jerome Witkin”, Sherry Chayat (Second Edition) Syracuse University Press

     Looking at the reproductions, some of which are  5 inches by 7 inches, and then reading the actual size of a painting, say, 71 by 88 inches, required me to go out into my studio with the measuring tape to mark out on a wall this larger proportion, then sitting in front of that to look at the reproduction and imagine the shapes in the painting enlarged to that imagined size. Then, standing at my full height of 63 inches, extending my arm to full height and width (adding a brush) I tried to re-enact the making of a diagonal edge in the painting – and then realized how much psychic and bodily concentration may have been required of the painter in order to make the sure mark that delineated the long edge of a diagonal shape. Just what was the dance of Jerome Witkin like in establishing the underdrawing and composition of his rather complex designs, of moving forward and backward to check the marks for their desired direction, proportion and descriptiveness?  Then of course, there is his determination of how to disport the warms and cools, lights and darks, complex versus simple paint manipulations – he had to keep all these balls juggling for a long period of time in order to have arrived at such consistency of freshness, and just-rightness in so many paintings.

There is something acute and remarkable in how Witkin draws the human form, and so much pleasure in how he “sees” the specificity of the turn of a foot, or a pant-covered leg, that looking even at these small reproductions feels like seeing these things for the very first time.  That the theme of the paintings  varies from the harrowing to the poetic, symbolic is in itself a daunting reminder of the drama of life, of the witnessing of life and its circumstances by a most remarkable painter.  These are not paintings one can just walk by, unscathed.

Jerome Witkin’s work is my newly discovered treasure. How I wish to be in a room full of his work, and just sit, walk about and be inundated!

On becoming a medical illustration subject….

February 15, 2007

Being raised in a medical family, at an early age I became desensitized to seeing the human body represented in various stages in a variety of image making media.  For our family of children, Father’s various textbooks and medical journals were as available for our perusal as perhaps the ubiquitous National Geographic magazines were in many North American homes.

I particularly loved to look at the very fine line drawing illustrations of muscle becoming ligament and the layering and inter-relationship between closely spaced muscle forms which help to articulate the various body parts.  The close observation by the illustrator created a clarity of understanding much more than did photographs of the same muscle masses. Later as an art student I reveled in drawing parts of the skeleton available in the studio, and also in trying to establish the skeletal structure of the posed model in life drawing classes.

It was always the photographic depictions of skin conditions, in early years in black and white, and in later ones in full colour, that caused in me the greatest discomforting reactions.  For, it was obvious to me that the bodies photographed were of persons still living, despite the fact of anonymity being scrupulously observed.  Faces were blocked out with little black rectangles. Disembodied torsos, one after the other, illustrated massive infections in a staggering variety. However, the pictures did not convey the agony and discomfort of the patients, they merely depicted conditions.

It was not until 1988 when I was in hospital for treatment of AML (acute myelogenous leukemia) that the opportunity, if it may be called that, of becoming a medical illustration subject presented itself. During the first rounds of chemotherapy, Ara-C was one of the medications administered intravenously. In response, my body had a major allergic response to this medication. I itched terribly and developed a livid, mottled red rash all over my torso and legs. On rounds, the doctors stated ” Yes, this is a classic Ara-C rash.” They prescribed a little green pill to mitigate the itching. They probably called the medical illustration department to summon the photographer to capture forever this classic example of rash.

I was shortly visited, on a lovely sunny spring afternoon (good light) by a very brisk and officious man bearing a shiny aluminum photographer’s briefcase.  He introduced himself and explained what he was about to do; this while assembling lens to camera body in a no-nonsense manner. He asked me to climb out of bed and stand near my IVpole and drop my hospital gown.  I complied with this request in as modest a manner as was available to me.  If I blushed, he really couldn’t tell due to my overall rotten tomato colouration.  He looked through the lens then decided the angle of the photo would be wrong;  I was very short, he was quite higher up and was shooting downward. “Please climb, back onto the bed, and we’ll try again”, he suggested.  Back onto the bed I crawled, meanwhile trying to be covered as much as possible. He, however, didn’t like what he saw through the lens and requested me to kneel up in bed for the shot. To me, by this time getting tired of the proceedings, this had unfortunate elements of a Playboy photo shoot, and I was beginning to get quite grumpy. The photographer still wasn’t satisfied.  He had fired off a couple of kneeling shots of my exposed abdomen and breasts. His next request pushed my grumpiness up a notch toward irateness – he asked me to stand up on the mattress, and keep balanced while he would shoot off several frames (carefully bracketed, one assumes).  I pointed over his shoulder and suggested he look at the calendar drawn up on the white-board behind him.  There in plain black and white were my daily counts of hemoglobin, white blood and platelets, with that day’s counts having plummeted to an all time low.  I said that I was dizzy, due to the low hemoglobin count and standing up in bed would cause me to be quite unsure of my footing and very insecure. Furthermore, with my platelet counts so low, if If I fell off the bed I would have a major bleed, so I demurred.  He was quite chastened, dismantled his camera and reassembled his case, mumbled a quick thanks and practically ran from my room.

Left there in deshabille, I was struggling to put on my hospital gown and then straighten my messed up bed, mulling over the possibility that next year’s medical students on rotation through Hemotology would see in their textbooks a brilliantly coloured, disembodied, headless, armless torso sporting a “classic ARA-C rash”, of unknown female subject, 41 years old.

As I struggled to regain composure I moved the IV pole to it’s correct position by the bed head, and settled onto the covers to watch the Pirates of Penzance video my Mother had brought in for me. My primary nurse, a fresh-faced new nursing graduate stuck her head in the door and asked,

“What on earth did you do to the medical photographer? He practically ran from the ward and didn’t linger to chat us up!”

Yes, medical photographers must have their tough days – with ugly and unwilling subjects.

The innocence of vision…

February 13, 2007

My grand-daughter is 6 months old.  She is making forays into moving around her yet limited world, trying to co-ordinate the movement of her  arms and legs, and discovering just what her legs and arms are capable of in articulating in space.  She moves her body into strange tripod configurations, looks between her arms to see what has happened, flops down and rolls over and pulls her legs up to her head and really closely inspects her toes and instep.  Losing interest in this after a while, she cranes her neck about to determine what she will attempt to take closer looks at. Once she has decided this, she flips over onto her stomach and begins the concentrated effort to try and move her legs in tandem with her arms.  From time to time she turns her head and eyes to guage her progress, and then resumes her gargantuan effort.

She took 15 minutes to reach me from the space of about 4 feet away.  She was very determined and looked at me frequently for the come hither signals.  Her little mouth set in a grim pout and taking frequent sit-ups for a breather, she crept along and made progress sometimes with three consecutive alternating crawls before losing rhythm and flopping to her stomach.  By the time she reached my toes, which she announced by a smart tweak of my stockinged big toe, she uttered the complaining tones by which she indicates wanting to be picked up.

Once up in my arms she was most intent on exploring my face.  The first thing she is most attracted by are my glasses – an immediate grab is in order, and into her mouth goes the shiny bit with the glass in it. Doesn’t taste so good, she drops it.  But then immediately she fixes upon what I suspect is the shine of my eyes, and tries to extricate the orb from its housing, carefully working her fingers with delicate movements.  She leans in to peer closely, very intent and very serious her chocolate brown button eyes mere inches from my faded khaki ones.  I wonder, does she see herself reflected in my eye? She looks carefully from one eye to the other and presses my eyelid closed one moment, and pulling down on the undereye the next. She chortles, and progresses to my bangs which she pulls away from my face quite smartly and looks at very closely. She has a huge smile of pleasure on her face as she proceeds to ruffle the hair around my face.

We sit face to face, and I sing her a quiet song, slowly and with emphasis. We gaze at each other and she mimics my mouth movements, and occasionally she will repeat sounds with a wondering expression on her face.  She is a quick study! Her concentration is so complete, so quiet. She pats my face with unintended hard whacks, and after awhile leaves her hand on my cheek, poking and prodding.  When I lean in to touch my forehead to hers she smiles in pleasure, her lovely chubby face looking almost buddha-like.

There is almost nothing that compares to this marvellous communion with a young infant.  It is sheer joy to witness such innocent vision, such non-judgmental gaze, such over-arching curiosity. I think it is so important to go about, at any time of life, with this innocence of vision, to be prepared to be constantly surprised, delighted  or wary with the world and what it holds.  For certain, having children in our lives is one way to reconnect with this sense of wonder, for children at all stages and ages provide many gifts for our re-experiencing.

Need I say that I am thrilled to be a grandmother right now?

Women’s concerns….in the movies…

February 11, 2007

As I have aged over the past 10 years, much of what is pictured in Hollywood movies regarding women’s lives and concerns has not resonated so much with me.  I suspect I may not be alone in this.

As a late-middle-aged woman I had my battles with weight gain and inevitable changing physical appearance – greying hair, more saggy musculature,, the appearance of lines on face and throat, mottling skin. No, the mirror never lies unlike intimates who wish to minimize these changes that are taking place. And the actresses in the movies of the same vintage as I are either the perennially unchanging Goldie Hawn, or the elegant, long-boned Diane Keaton. who seems somewhat fixed in amber.

So imagine my surprised delight when my friend “The Lady of Perpetual Crisis” brought over a video one evening for us to watch while “Rumpole” was at his bass guitar lesson. In it, a group of neighbourhood women of varying ages embark on a trip downtown to see the doctor overseeing their diet and exercise regime.  This is a wonderfully humorous look at the  quirky things that can happen en route to a simple experience of weighing in and sitting in a waiting room.

“C’t’a ton tour Laura Cadieux”  1998,  Canadian, starring Ginette Reno, Pierrette Robitaille. Directed by Etienne Chatiliez and Denise Filiatrault.

“C’t’a ton tour…” is a marvellous example of casting an ensemble of very fine actors, Quebecois patois and humour and realistic, un-glossed settings. Ginette Reno, a beloved Quebec Chanteuse, does a fine turn as actress in this movie.

Many women of my generation have been labelled as the “sandwich generation”.  We have grown children, some of whom have left the nest while others linger longer and as well we have aging parents toward whom we have to extend increasing filial care.  There is much support and information available to us, however the presence of the aged and their difficulties are rarely addressed in the movies.  Only in discussing details of care of aging parents with friends engaged in the same kind of relationship does the potential of humour in such inter-relationships crop up. Of course, there are many heart-rending situations that occur, full of pathos, but there are also some amazingly funny happenings that crop up between aged persons and their caregivers.

 The video, “Tatie Danielle” 1990, French, Starring Tsilla Chelton, Isabelle Nanty and Catherine Jacob,

 follows the travails of “Tatie Danielle” as she loses her caregiver companion and moves into her nephew’s family home and there wreaks havoc. This is a humorous look at the cliche idea of “the nice little old lady”, who really is an old devil in disguise.  The acting is fabulous!

Both these movies are “chick-flicks” for older women

KOUROS (1966 – Rijeka)

February 10, 2007

He is
Kouros on the pier,
loose-limbed, long-flanked,
balanced on his feet,
toes grasping the planks.
At the end of his relaxed arms
his fingers curl palm-ward.
A bright aura shines around
his tidy head and shoulders.
Innocent, strong, he hesitates against
a dusk-dappled sea, and
makes his plunge, headlong,
away from me.

The sea yields him from
its amniotic embrace:
He surfaces – a gift, and
dripping twilight streams
climbs the ladder.
With outstretched hands, I offer
the towel.

In memory of J-D S., and a summer. GM 12/10/2005

Photography, photographers… new and old learning…

February 8, 2007

Last weekend, our friend “The Prissy German Tourist” came to stay overnight, so he could attend the downtown passport office and line up all day for his turn to present his documents and passport application for processing.  Knowing full well that any attempt at artspeak with me over dinner and while lounging around would be met by strict admonitions from “Rumpole” to cease and desist, PGT cleverly brought a book to casually place at the end of the table.

“Photgraphy REBORN – image making in the digital era”, by Jonathan Lipkin, 2005, Abrams Studio,

is this book which enticed “Rumpole” into a lengthy discussion among us of how photography has changed over the past 20 years with the advent of digital technologies.  We spent a stimulating evening looking at the images in this book.  “PGT” has pretty much abandoned his painting practice and has been working with his digital camera and computer programs to experiment in extending his visual vocabulary and resulting expression. “Rumpole” has always loved making photos, developing film and printing pictures in a home dark-room, and together we did this together and separately until 1989 when we moved to suburbia, and into a more complex life which precluded photography.  So, here is left behind this marvellous book to pore over, and for the time we have it here to share with other friends.

It so happens that M (Martha) my clever, delightful friend who teaches photography and video production and is also quite savvy with computer technology, is a keen photographer much interested in the history and the developments in this medium.  She is a very fine maker of black and white photographic images.  While browsing in an art book store, I found a treasure which called out, “I am meant for Martha!  Buy me, right now!” Such a find!

“Tete a Tete –  the portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson

“Rumpole” and I presented it to Martha at dinner on Tuesday night, as her “un-birthday” present. We passed around the book, held up  to each other the book as we pored over it page by page. We didn’t get any arrabiata sauce on any pages at all, and dinner became a protracted affair, very pleasurable.

We made a date for the three of us to go to the big public gallery downtown later this month to see the retrospective exhibition of a Canadian photographer, whose day job was  medical photographic illustration, but whose real all-consuming passion was to record the changing nature of our large city.

So this seems to be immersion in photography month, and many pleasant surprises await us all, I think.

Eye Test…Red-Green-Yellow

February 8, 2007

Earlier this week, a friend fetched me to drive us in morning rush -hour traffic into the city for my test at the retinologist’s. We quaffed down  cups of coffee before setting off on an overcast grey day with lowering skies. Driving on grey concrete roads into neighbourhoods which look as if they were poorly developed black and white photographs of lacklustre tonality makes for an eerie experience. Of course, the overall greyness is punctuated with flashes of red from car brake-lights, but this felt like moving through a black and white video. We chatted and discussed family happenings on this trip.

My friend is a hockey and water-polo mom; she drives her two teenagers, all over the expanse of this largish city, to take them to their competition destinations. She made short work of taking the shortest route to the central medical area of hospitals, large clinics and doctors’ offices. My parking angel accompanied us, so parking was a breeze. We made our way across the street from the parking lot; she had me firmly grasped by the elbow and directed me to avoid curbs and other city walking pit-falls.

We entered a massive concrete building of about 18 floors in height. The elevator, that took us to the4th floor where the retinologist’s office was, had odd hardwood flooring on its walls, which felt slightly disorienting.

The doctor’s office was  very large, with a spacious waiting area separated by a divider from the receptionist’s space, also huge, backed by a wall of floor to ceiling files. The receptionist, my friend and I were the only people there. The walls in the waiting room were covered with many original artworks of fabulous coloration.  After we checked in, taken off our winter coats, my friend walked around looking at the artwork.  She’d say, “Come and look at this!”. So I’d climb up onto chairs  on my knees to get closer to the images hung on the wall. While we waited, we made our way around all the pictures, me with my nose an inch or so away form their surface, happily studying them. Imagine, to be enjoying an art gallery at a doctor’s office, particularly an office which serviced people with vision problems- this was a treat on such a grey morning!

After a short wait the technician came and ushered me into a pleasantly darkened room where the OCT and PAM tests were to be administered.  She did the usual eye test with the black spoon over either eye, where I did my usual best to minimize my poor vision, but in the end couldn’t fool the technician.  She caught me guessing letters and numbers. The tests were non-invasive, except for the drops in the eyes beforehand.

The OCT machine looked like R2-D2 in Star Wars movies, but it just sat there passively waiting for the chin and forehead to be rested in molded receptacles. The scan takes little time, but it is a spectacular experience.  A red flashing circle blinks off and on, every time it turns off a brilliant green afterimage circle takes its place.  This goes on for several seconds; then a string of yellow pin-points travels in straight lines and builds up a stellate pattern over the blinking red/green. This was amazingly beautiful, and I was actually happy to get both eyes tested in sequence, so that this light-show could continue.  The PAM test, also visually curious, held second candle to the marvels of the OCT test.

As we were putting on our coats to leave, my friend and I looked again at a beautifully-made water-colour illustration of musicians, in which the image was accompanied by Hebrew script from the Torah – a fragment of translation underneath expressed the joys of music and vision as God-given gifts.  We lingered…. then said our good byes.

Before leaving town to go home ahead of the afternoon rush-hour traffic, we slipped into a Thai reataurant and shared a dish of Nasi Goreng, deliciously spiced.  While paying for our meal, I spied a container full of colourful candy suckers by the till, and asked the waiter if I could take three suckers which he graciously permitted.  I selected a brilliant red one, it’s complementary green and finally a brilliant yellow one, and stuck them into my pocket.

While my friend and I settled into the car at the parking garage, I pulled out the three colourful suckers and presented them to her, saying, “Look through each of these against the light – these are the three marvellous colours that appeared in my eye test which had me gasping with pleasure”.

On our way home, back to suburbia, the sun broke through the clouds.

Worthwhile to watch on PBS – TV

February 7, 2007

February is Black History Month.

Worth watching is “Forgotten Genius”, part of the science series, “Nova”, a dramatization of the life of black research chemist Percy L. Julian.

There is a wonderful article in the February 6, 2007 edition of The New York Times – “Reclaiming a Black Research Scientist’s Forgotten Legacy”, by Felicia R. Lee.

For any of us who have benefitted from use of cortisone for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, or other conditions (including Psoriasis), some knowledge of individuals engaged in the development of such drugs is useful in celebrating the gifts our predecessors have bestowed on us to ease our lives.

As a past and current user of cortisone medication, I salute the memory of this remarkable individual, Mr. Percy L. Julian.