Archive for the ‘painting’ Category

Jupiter and Io…

April 15, 2007

We grew up eating breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks under a number of old paintings. If conversations tended to be limited during meals, due to Father’s insistence on quiet, one could be distracted and occupied by looking up at the paintings. So, often, my gaze would linger on a smallish picture of a naked, zaftig woman embracing and being embraced by a cloud, as she sat, looking languid, her head thrown back in pleasure.

“Who is she?” I asked during one miserable, tense dinner. “Io,” replied Father.

“What is she doing?” I persisted. “Being embraced by Jupiter.” said Father, after swallowing some nokkedli, sauced livid with paprika.

“And is Jupiter a cloud?” I pressed further.

“Eat now,” he cautioned, ” you can look in your book on Greek and Roman myths after supper and find out for yourself.”

So, after dinner, while Mother and Ildiko cleared the table and Father went off into the waiting room to practice his violin, I took the thick book from the bookshelf and searched out Jupiter, then Io, in the index at the end pages. I learned that Jupiter tended to like many different beautiful women, and took different forms to visit and seduce them.  But the Io on our dining room wall was not particularly beautiful to my mind.  She had a dead fish complexion, ripply naked body and ridiculously small feet which didn’t appear to be able to support her bulk if she stood up. Oh well….I thought….she looked a lot like Mrs. Toth, a fattish lady who lounged about naked on the lawn at the naturist camp we visited every summer, and Mrs. Toth, although a blonde, didn’t seem to get much attention from men, unlike Mother who was slimmer and more athletic in build.

Despite not being to my taste as a picture, the little painting was a beautiful object. It had an eerie greenish glow. The surface was covered in many fine hairlike cracks. Finally, one day when I was alone in the dining room, reading, I took it off the wall to get a good close look at it.  The paint surface looked like enamel, very smooth. Overall the colour reminded me of the springtime “nyarfa” tree foliage that could be seen outside our apartment window, tender, soft green. I did not dare run my finger over the front surface, so turned the picture over and gently tapped the back with my finger-nails. A complete surprise, the painting had been made on metal, copper to be precise, that had turned a mottled greenish orange with time.  I was delighted with this discovery, but fearing admonishment if found handling the painting, quickly hung it back up on the wall.

In November 1956, I carried “Jupiter and Io” carefully wrapped in newspapers and string, and a violin, while traversing the stubble field separating the Hungarian and Austrian border. These two objects had been entrusted to me to carry, and I took care not to stumble and fall during our long walk. They were my baggage, to carry to the fugitive laager in Vienna, onto the train that transported us to Genoa for our embarkment on the Ocean-going vessel that was to take us to Canada.  I carried them when we disembarked in Halifax, then on the train to Toronto. Father and Mother knew I loved these two objects and would care for them well.

After some time, our family settled in British Columbia, and “Jupiter and Io” was always hung in our dining room in the various places we moved to.  This wonderful painting was the thread of continuity binding my past to the present and I treasured its reassuring presence.

Many years later, I found out that it was a copy of Correggio’s “Jupiter and Io” on copper. Its provenance was murky, obscured by the chaos of World War II.  I never cared, that it was obscure and an orphan – it held a pervasive grip on my imagination, and still does, even though it and the violin I carried were gifted by Father to a budding young violinist, years later.

I own it in memory, and this gives me great pleasure!

Pursuit of the Picturesque…

April 9, 2007

Certain acquaintances have made painting pilgrimages to Tuscany. These have involved month-long sojourns in small villages and hill-towns where daily activities of “plein-air” painting are interspersed with leisurely long lunches and prolonged wine-soaked dinners.  They return home to suburbia, laden down with numerous picturesque paintings and also with a plethora of photographic references which can be used to churn out yet more pictures.

A friend had travelled to Russia – St. Petersburg, Moscow, Novosibirsk, and came back with many pictures of the Soviet Wedding-Cake architecture of Moscow, and of the ornate Imperial architecture of St. Petersburg.  She expressed huge frustration about how the locals discouraged her from making photographs which might broadcast negative impressions of their homeland. They were insistent on what was worthy of being photographed, and frequently interrupted her efforts to take images of subjects of a non-picturesque nature.

My daughter-in-law’s mother and friend visited here last summer.  They had come from the Scotland, bearing their cameras.  They wanted photographs of the main gate in China-town, of the groomed exotic nature of the Sun Yat Sen Garden, of the view seen from the gondola as they rode up the mountain in Whistler – a panorama of peaks diminishing into hazy distance. While walking near the river, they may have noted small tugs nosing floating logs into booms, or the occasional log-handler jumping from log to log, but an image like this they did not deem worthy of photographing. They did not note the peculiar beauty of the sulphur hills by the waterfront, it did not fit their idea of the picturesque.

It seems to me that many people traverse the globe, ceaselessly and persistently, seeking the unique, different, exotic and memorable views that are already plentifully available in their own little corner of the world – if they bothered to look and consider with fresh eyes.

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!

Kay’s mother’s death watch…

January 25, 2007

Kay’s mother is 95 years old.   Kay’s mother is in the process of dying. Kay is spending most of her time now, sitting with her mother. They converse whenever her mother is lucid – her mother’s mental faculties are intact and she communicates her physical discomforts as well as her desire for and appreciation of how Kay has been  and continues to be a caring companion and caregiver up to now. 

Two days ago, her Mother announced that she was “ready to go”, and that she felt she had died twice that day. They had an interesting discussion about whether this actually happened. Kay reports telling her that “Yes, she was still here”, and where here was.  They together looked around the room where her mother was lying, to enumerate things familiar there. Look at the wallpaper (check) grasp hands(check) sing a hymn(check).

Kay’s mother then requested that Kay keep her company and go with her to the afterlife.  She really thought this was a good idea and would prefer this to happen.  (Kay’s mother has, throughout her long life, reinforced and acted on her belief in a strict hierarchy of “Power from the top down” with God at the top, prophets, the Bible, priests and other learned men, Government at all levels, bosses, parents and finally children. She fully understands the importance of her position in the pecking order of “Power from the top down” authorities and what duties she must fulfill and how she must fulfill them. She also has firm expectations of Kay’s duties and desired conduct as a daughter, someone operating from a lower level of power. She dispenses her approval, permission or displeasure in what she considers an even-handed way; she is the arbiter of all matters pertaining to family life.)  Kay patiently explained that she had still some of her own unfinished business to complete here.  Her Mother understood and approved the need for Kay to finish her tasks, and gave her permission to remain behind.

Today, Kay has reported on the phone that her siblings have all arrived in suburbia to be with their mother in her final days.  They spent the afternoon together by the bed, where their mother is lying, now mostly unconscious. They remained quiet, and to preserve silence, they sat on their respective chairs doing cross-word puzzles, each by themselves.

Kay said she has been taking photographs of her mother, whenever she has lapsed into sleep, to have a record of her mother as she is right now. One of Kay’s sisters thinks this is not a good thing to do. Her brother just shrugged. Kay, an artist as well as business woman, expressed to me that she wants to make some artwork using her mother’s image.  We segued into a conversation about why it is okay to take pictures of people while they are alive, but is considered less desirable to show them in the stages of dying. Kay mentioned the various paintings that Edvard Munch had made of deathbed scenes. In these scenes, people dying are tastefully depicted, and  those who surround them are shown in various postures that can be read as expressions of their feelings of loss. Kay said “Imagine the furore that would have erupted in Munch’s day if he had painted a death scene showing family members playing cross-words”.  We  considered that Munch would have been considered dis-respectful, unloving and thoughtless, or insane. He would be highly criticized, maybe shunned. Kay ruefully stated that her mother, would  react in a similar fashion, and perhaps also with sadness and anger, if Munch had been her son and painted such a picture..  Next, Kay wasn’t sure how to feel about doing cross-words at her mother’s deathbed.  She made this candid and thought-provoking observation –

“Mother is beyond caring about this and I guess I’ll have to live with the consequences that result.”

Visitors, and decompression…

January 9, 2007

Weekend visitors left, earlier this afternoon.  We hugged and kissed, energetically waved each other goodbyes and yelled promises to see each other soon as their car drove away.

These people are close friends.  We don’t feel squeamish about their rooting around in the refrigerator, linen closet, bookshelves and piles of books, studio, workshop or music collection. They really are like family, in that they are free to come and go in our lives, go away and return again,  as they prefer, with the understanding that we share our lives and spaces in full respect of each others’ preferences and peccadilloes.  To my friend’s wife, I am known as “The Stepford Wife”, a mislabelling if there ever was one.  To me, she is “The Obsessive/Compulsive Shopaholic”.  My friend, we tend to tease and call “The Prissy German Tourist”, and my husband, “Rumpole”.  Our visits together could be the stuff of a quirky TV situation comedy.  Our visits back and forth from each other’s homes are exhilerating, exasperating, exhausting fun!

My friend “The Prissy German Tourist” and I, “The Stepford Wife” share a keen interest in music, perception, art and films.  Every time one of these topics are insinuated into conversations, “Rumpole” and “The Obsessive/Compulsive Shopper” roll their eyes and forcefully change the subject.  On Sunday afternoon, my friend and I wanted to pore over a book, about Damien Hirst, that he had found remaindered at a book sale.  We needed merely two hours in which to look and share our impressions about what was illustrated and written.  The “OCS” was miffed!  “Rumpole” had to drive her to her chosen shopping destination for the afternoon, after which he could escape to visit with a friend.  Friend and I spent two heavenly hours, looking over the “Spot Paintings”, the installations with drugs and medical paraphernalia, and the infamous shark, sheep and cowsheads in vitrines. On looking at the butterfly paintings I decided they were too glib.  So we segued into a what-if conversation about coating a surface with fly-paper glue and letting flies become adhered to the surface, randomly, in what we decided to dub a “Cage-ian” method. Nah, too easy we decided. So friend and I had a wonderful time, immersed in a mutual interest.  Much to our irritation, our flights of fancy and brilliant discussion were frequently interrupted by the “OCS”, as in, when were we going to pick her up and bring her home, etc., etc.  We decided to let her cool her heels in browsing her favourite decor store, and after a sufficient time had passed, friend dutifully drove off to fetch her highness.

“Rumpole” sloped in near the dinner hour, bearing the requisite bottle of red.  A young writer friend and her husband, mutual friends to all four of us, were expected for dinner.  As I, “The Stepford Wife” scrambled around assembling dinner, “Rumpole” and “The Prissy German Tourist” repaired to the study to play with Photoshop. “The Obsessive/Compulsive Shopaholic” unwrapped her afternoon’s purchases, sniffed and fondled them, daydreamed about what a wonderful enrichment to her life these items represented.  Annoyingly, she kept barging into the kitchen, swathed in a 600 thread count sheet, to make me “feel” how wonderfully luxe this sheet felt.  I threatened to baste her and her sheet in butter, at which point she withdrew, sniffing in chagrin, to traipse around in her buying induced stupour in the living room.

The young couple arrived.  We ate, and milled around in shifting groups of three, from room to room, discussing our recent trips, doings and plans.  At one point, the young writer friend discussed her research into the lives of Ukranian immigrants to Canada in the early part of the 20th century.  She had trouble wrapping her imagination around just how difficult life for familes living in pit structures in the Prairies, with scant access to necessities, may have been. So we all discussed at length stories of family experiences from an earlier time, and just how challenging daily life must have been for those people.

At 10pm, “Rumpole” retired to bed – he could no longer take any more stimulation.  The rest of us disbanded, sometime later, and reluctantly, for we do not have the opportunity to visit like this very often and we revel in such occasions.

This afternoon has been one of slow moving, and doings of little, mundane tasks for me.  This quiet rhythm is necessary to decompress from the stimulus obtained from such visits.  I feel old and worn right now.  However, when these friends come to stay and visit, I feel ageless, full of energy and curiosity, and I am so glad!