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Russian Icons in Buenos Aires

25 Jan

I haven’t been really inspired to write lately (take that ‘lately’ as a ‘well, actually, more or less a year’); and I must admit I’m still feeling a bit awkward in front of the blank page.

Last year I was too busy being all stupid, crazy in love (and then recovering from the breakup and then trying to (successfully) win him back); studying for my first year back in university (yes, at 26 I decided to start a new career: Art History), WORKING, watching all of Mad Men’s seasons online, and attending some other short courses on art  here and there. So you see? I became a little lazy to write.

But my eyes were kept wide open though to new ideas and stuff!

Anyways, good catching up, but let’s get down to business: There’s an exhibition I don’t want to miss in Buenos Aires, and that’s the one about Russian Icons and Tibetan art. The objects displayed were donated to the museum by the princess  Senta Hohenlohe_Waldenburg; who moved from Budapest to Buenos Aires in 1949 and finally settled here after the kingdom of Hungary was officially dissolved.

The Byzantine icons between the 16th and the 18th century proceed, mostly, from Russia and Bulgaria, and some from Greece. The Buddhist objects come from China, Tibet and Thailand.

I can’t wait to see them and tell you about it.

Here are some icons for you to feist your eyes in the meantime; courtesy of http://myweb.rollins.edu/aboguslawski/Ruspaint/ruspaint.html:

St. Nicholas, with Scenes from His Life (fist half of the 16th c.) - Novgorodian school

St. George Slaying the Dragon (16th c.) - Pskov school

We’re so vain: Inside Seventeenth Century’s Vanitases

26 Dec

Vanitas -atis f. (Latin)

  Emptiness, worthlessness, unreality, boasting, ostentation.

 Vain/ [veyn] –adjective, -er, -est.

  1.     Ineffectual or unsuccessful; futile: a vain effort. 

 2.     Without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless: vain pageantry; vain display.

  3.    Archaic. Senseless or foolish.

  Van·i·ty [van-i-tee] noun, plural -ties

  1.Excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.; character or quality of being vain; conceit.

 2.Lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness: the vanity of a selfish life.

  3.Something worthless, trivial, or pointless. 

 December has arrived, and with it, many things come to end. It’s funny how every year the same thing happens (I swear! December comes every year) and I still can’t get used to it. Here we are… the candle’s gone out, yet again, reminding us that we are getting older while time flies.

 These past few months have been hectic and I have therefore neglected the blog a little bit; so I thought the finishing of my first year of the Art History course I took was the best excuse to deoxidize my writing. I thought: “Out of all that I’ve studied… What really made an impression or surprised me?” Two things came to mind: The Roman catacombs from the third and fourth centuries and the seventeenth century Vanitas… which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how I recurrently feel captivated by symbolist or allusive content in art.

    Anyway, this is why vanitas (some better known as Still Life) surprised me: apparently, there’s more to them than random stuff scattered around in the shadows.

Vanitases talk about the futility and shortness of earthly life and symbolize how death will eventually come and take every one of us without discriminating. 

QUIS EVADET?  Who avoids it (death)?

I guess I myself had never really thought about vanity as futility…huh…

To depict and symbolize our brief time on earth, several elements were used:

  • Soap bubbles, antique ruins, withering flowers, candles going out, smoke and wind stand for how ephemeral things can be.
  • Skulls and skeletons represent death
  • Mirrors show how the reflected image is always altered from reality
  • Clocks and snakes are time
  • Books, scientific instruments, materials and tools, jewels, crowns, weapons, vases, cards, musical instruments, represent our earthly existence
  • And finally, spikes symbolize the resurrection

 Life was being reevaluated.

‘What does it all mean?’ ‘Why are we here?’ ‘What are we here for if everything eventually goes away?’ Leonardo quotes Ovid when he says: ‘Devouring Time, and you, jealous Age, consume everything, and slowly gnawing at them, with your teeth, little by little, consign all things to eternal death!’(1). This awareness of the passing of time brings both despair and comfort. How come? Comfort was found in the afterlife. Arcadia became the epitome of a perfect and ideal world(2), and that is where the beauty of eternity lied.

There is some vanity in vanitases, too. And that is the artistry itself. In vanitases we read that Art outlives everyone: sculptures, buildings, paintings, vases; even in ruins, beat the longest-lived of us and even death itself. Death now also becomes ephemeral before the grandness of art.

Were vanitases deep, reflexive and melancholic compositions? or a way to bring the faithful closer to the afterlife? a way to make oneself relinquish of possessions and devote to God? Because -let’s not forget- the seveteenth century was the time of the counter reform, the Catholic Revival.

 I guess in times of conflict (as were the seventeenth century in Europe, and  now) we tend to reflect on how frail life can be and how we want to treasure every moment of it. I also guess many in pain hold on to the hopes of better luck in the afterlife.

Whichever the answer, vanitas are very much still alive and moving.  

________________________________________________

(1)Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book XV, AD 8

(2)After the collapse of the Roman power in the west, Arcadia became part of the Byzantine Empire. Arcadia remained a rustic, secluded area, and its inhabitants became proverbial as primitive herdsmen leading simple pastoral unsophisticated yet happy lives, to the point that Arcadia may refer to some imaginary idyllic paradise, immortalized by Virgil’s Eclogues, and later by Jacopo Sannazaro in his pastoral masterpiece, Arcadia (1504). From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkadia

Ta Matete – aka, Walk Like a Tahitian

26 Dec

We're not going to the market today

“Painting is the most beautiful of all arts. n it, all sensations are condensed; contemplating it, everyone can create a story at the will of his imagination and -wih a single glance- have his soul invaded by the most profound recollections; no effort of memory, everything is summed up in one instant”

NOT long ago, a man told me that it is necessary to separate a person from its work. We were talking about Roman Polanski, that director who can’t go to the States due to an open case on child abuse. “The Ghost Writer”, his latest movie -which in the beginning I was rluctant to see due to rejection- is, to say the least: Excellent.

 It seems then that he was right. We need to separate.

 Paul Gauguin was the classic stereotype of a man any woman (ok.. me at least) would lose her mind for: intelligent, educated, adventurous, sensible at times, a bit stubborn some other times, and passionate most times (for which we could say he had a soft spot for women): an overall curious soul.

But he was also an abandonic father and husband, who was no stranger to child abuse himself -well, in Tahiti that wasn’t frowned upon-.

 When Gauguin decides to escape his reality, he leaves for the land of the “primitive” -curiously, where he felt most himself-. This shouldn’t come a surprise, after all, our friend had latin roots; his grandmother was Flora Tristán, whose uncle had been the viceroy of Peru. Not only that, already since Flora’s times, his family had a clear marxist tendency.

Paul is born in 1848, during Paris’ revolt, and in 1849 his family escapes to Peru; where they will spend the following six years. Back in Orleans and after several failed attempts to run away from his home, an adolescent Paul Gauguin enrolls as a junior steerer in a freight boat where he spent another five years. Upon his return he finds himself in a broken home and under the guardianship of Gustavo Arosa, a neighbor and family friend who had great influence on him both artistically and professionally. Mr. Arosa was an enthusiastic art collector: Delacroix, Pisarro, Corot, Courbet…all of them were hanging on his walls. He was also who introduced Gauguin to the banking business where he met Emile Schuffenecker, another art enthusiast who later abandons banking to work as a professor at the Lycée Michelet. Once immersed in the art scene, Gauguin starts to feel more and more stuck -by this time he was married and had a couple of kids, worked in an environment that didn’t suit him-; and decides to leave his rigid job, as well as the rest of the things he felt tied him down, to go and live as the savage that he said he was.

“The savage is decidedly better than us. You were once wrong to say that I was mistaken in calling me a savage. It is true, nevertheless, I am. And the civilixed foresee it, thus there’s nothing surpriding or confusing in my work except this savage-in-spit-of-himself. (…) That is why solitude shouldn’t be advised for everyone, since one has to have the strengh to be able to bear it and act alone”

 And he went to Tahiti.

 As one of the precursors of pictorial symbolism, he saw reality and painting from a different point. He used to say, regarding color -and this is a reflection of his wild nature-:

“What color do you see this tree? is it really green? Use green, then, the most beautiful in your palette. And that shadow, rather blue? Don’t be afraid to paint it as blue as possible.”

“(…) Colors are even more explanatory, though less varied (than lines) because of their power over the eye. there are noble tones, ordinary, tranquil harmonies, consoling ones, other that excite for their vigor.”

Finally, his postulate was that painting had to be a carrier of ideas and for that, subordinate to color; and he even said to his good friend Schuffenecker: “A word of advice: do not paint much from nature. Art is an abstraction; derive this abstraction from nature while dreaming before it and think more about the creation that will result from it.”

 In Ta Matete we can see a group of chromatic stains that subconsiously has an effect on us. Symbolism would somehow derive into abstraction, which takes me back to my first post, in which I wondered why, if I didn’t understand art, I thought Malevich was a genious. Abstraction was always appealing to me.

  When I came back from my last trip, I had an American student who dared me to this sort of psychological test that a friend of his had taught him, and made me draw a pig… I know what you’re thinking… “miss fashion designer drew a fantastic pig!”…mhhh not so much… “I am a symbolist!” I told him.

  I’m all about the history as well, so it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to the work of one of the fathers of abstraction -always referring back to the sources!-. and on that note, it is worth mentioning that after Gauguin’s death, a series of japanese prints, a reproduction of Manet’s Olympia… and a XVIII Theban Dynasty painting reproduction -the original is in the British Museum and clearly served as a model for Ta Matete-, were found in his hut.

 I would like to go back to the quote with which I opened this post:

“Painting is the most beautiful of all arts. n it, all sensations are condensed; contemplating it, everyone can create a story at the will of his imagination and -wih a single glance- have his soul invaded by the most profound recollections; no effort of memory, everything is summed up in one instant”

 Ta Matete, to me, is being six years old “Walking Like An Egyptian” in disneyworld with my mom and grandma; it’s growing up in a family of women, it’s my mom, my grandma, my aunt, Marta and her looking up to Ela -that’s what we call my gradnma- and her tacchini (heels), my cousins, Gilmore Girls, Sex & the City, The Bangles, Veruca Salt, the Spice Girls… and my friends :).

 And now… what do you recall? What do you see? … to women: which one are you of these? and to men… which one do you prefer?