Sunday, April 27, 2014

Compelling Faces in Art - Henry Herbert La Thangue, An Autumn Morning.

Willa Cather wrote in O Pioneers!: “And now the old story has begun to write itself over there," said Carl softly. "Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years.” 

Henry Herbert La Thangue was an English painter who was noted for his strong convictions and forceful personality. In An Autumn Morning, he gives us the land with a force and presence of its own, utterly independent, and perhaps even disdainful. It has an undeniable power over those who attempt to exert their will upon it. Yet, the story here is same old story repeating itself “as fiercely” as if it had never happened before. 

Do we see in her face, the grand struggle between human agency and the larger forces; a relationship that goes deeper than mere control or influence? Is she, to some extent, an incarnation of the land, curiously empty of human emotion and personality? 

At first glance, she seems to lack a personal inner life. But we know better. She is an individual with a massive, internal landscape. 

At the same time, I can’t help but remember what Josephine Hart told us in Damage: “Our sanity depends essentially on a narrowness of vision--the ability to select the elements vital to survival, while ignoring the great truths.”

Compelling Faces in Art - Vincent Van Gogh, Père Tanguy.

Vincent Van Gogh painted three portraits of Père Tanguy. Van Gogh joined his brother Theo in Paris, in March 1886, where he met Julien-François Tanguy, one of the most delightful characters in the Parisian art world. He ran a small paint supplies shop, on the Rue Clauzel, and often accepted paintings in exchange for the goods he sold. The shopkeeper never parted with this painting. 

Here we have pure colors, the use of contrasting complementary colors, and visible well-positioned brushwork on a flat picture space. There is great depth and harmony. He represents the old man in a strictly frontal pose, immobile, lost in thought, with his hands clasped over his stomach. The painting succeeds in capturing all the sitter’s kindness and modesty. Van Gogh has turned him into a sage. A peace comes from within.

I have always been interested in people that carry a smile; the kind that is committed to letting go of self-criticism and self-doubt. 

Even the very young Anne Frank knew the secret: “No one has ever become poor by giving.”

Compelling Faces in Art - Charles Scott Wilkin, Collage.

Collage (from the French verb “coller,” meaning “to glue” or “to stick”), as an art form and technique, has often served as a correlation with the pace and discontinuity of the modern world. By affixing unrelated materials, the collage introduces the possibility of allusion to everyday events in the very fabric of the work. 

However you feel about it, there is no question that it revolutionized modern art, with an audacious intermingling of high and low culture. 

Here we have a work by Charles Scott Wilkin. According to his Artist Statement (on his web page): “Fundamentally my work investigates the innate struggle between cause and effect. Derived primarily from the study of headlines, sounds bites and idle conversations my assemblages attempt to transpose these disjointed remnants of media overload and targeted consumption into tangible yet uncertain analogies.”

Personally, I like what Damien Hirst said: “I have titles floating around in my head; I have sculptures floating around in my head. It's like a collage.” This is what it is like to be a writer. All these thoughts and images floating around in one’s imagination. It is like a hall of mirrors. 

And this particular face, reminds me of something that Anaïs Nin once said: “It is my secrecy which makes you unhappy, my evasions, my silences. And so I have found a solution. Whenever you get desperate with my mysteries, my ambiguities, here is a set of Chinese puzzle boxes. You have always said that I was myself a Chinese puzzle box. When you are in the mood and I baffle your love of confidences, your love of openness, your love of sharing experiences, then open one of the boxes. And in it you will find a story, a story about me and my life. Do you like this idea? Do you think it will help us to live together?”

Compelling Faces in Art - Rudolf Krivoš, Obraz.

In the paintings of Rudolf Krivoš we are confronted with an optical-mechanical reality; a manifested unity, constructed of shapes into a synthetic cubism. We can almost track the process of abstraction. We see tense opposing forces over the entire surface of the canvas becoming a composition--seeking and finding of human identity. 

A theme jumps out at me:
We are all deformed under the weight of life and are at the mercy of time and space. But coping with tension in different areas and at different levels of life, leads to belief in the authenticity of a person (a universal theme), and all the conflicts, tensions and contradictions bring about new personal and natural relationships. We seek answers in these experiences, as well as our emotional survival. 

So, perhaps in Obraz I, we are seeing a character approaching the greatest of all contemporary visions of beauty.

One might say, as May Sarton did, “We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” 

And, if we are nothing more than composites, I can’t help but think of Jim Jarmusch: “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.’”

Monday, April 7, 2014

Compelling Faces in Art - Francesco Hayez, La Meditazione (L’Italia nel 1848).

Here we have calculated distribution of shadows on the face of a seductive semi-nude female. The success of this painting derives in large part from the virtuoso description of the flesh and of the fabrics. Annexed to it, is an inherent political message. Francesco Hayez’s La Meditazione (L’Italia nel 1848), is an allegorical composition that describes the Italian political situation during the uprisings of 1848. Hayez was personally very active politically, and in this painting perhaps we glimpse a profound bitterness. 

A face covered by a veil of shadow, the raven hair, the air and deep sorrow in the eyes, and the hands highlighting the weight of the large volume and cross, impart the "melancholy" of contemporary consciousness transformed into meditation. Italy is a woman humiliated. 

This work reminds me of the sixth canto of Dante's Purgatorio: "Servile Italy, grief hostel ship without a pilot in great tempest woman not of Provinces, but brothel!" 

Which also reminds me of what Graham Greene said in The End of the Affair: “The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.”

Compelling Faces in Art - George Frederic Watts, Sympathy.

As a English Victorian painter, George Frederic Watts became famous for his allegorical works. This painting is called Sympathy, and is part of an epic symbolic cycle called the House of Life, in which the emotions and aspirations of life would all be represented in a universal symbolic language.

Often, something concrete used as symbolism can be somewhat ambiguous. Here it is “sympathy.” One must look for the clues. We start with the sensory impressions. Do we find any metaphysical, political, or social connotations? Does it evoke immense and unfathomable things? Or, is something revealed about human nature by the way the character responds to the symbol? 

Why ask these question? Because, Symbolism above all asks the question: What if? It doesn’t focus upon real situations that can be observed and compared to it.

What I see is--possibilities. And for some reason, I think of Madame Bovary. This is how I imagine she looks.

This painting evokes creativity and depth, once we speculate, imagine, and wonder.

Alas, when Modernism arrived, Watts’ reputation declined. Virginia Woolf's comic play Freshwater portrays him in a satirical manner.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Compelling Faces in Art - Francis Bacon, Head VI.

Cue the outrage... Here we have a face that screams with mercy as its flesh is stretched and pulled from its face. It is whitened by the horror of the situation. But doesn’t a little alarm now and then keep life from stagnation; providing us with uncomfortable and unexpected interference in the normally seamless flow of banal and comfortable information that our social environment constantly supplies us with. 

"Head VI" is one of Francis Bacon’s famous "Pope paintings," with the haunting mouth recalling the anguished cry of the bespectacled nanny in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin. It is in fact based on the portrayal of pope Innocent IX which was originally painted by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660).

According to Stephanie Taylor, “Francis Bacon was the master of self destruction within modern art. He had an amazing ability to portray violence and create unsettling images. With the use of the human figure, he played around with distortion through human actions and emotion, creating disturbed representations, which often involved political undercurrents.”

Ingmar Bergman said of his films, “I don't want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically... I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency.”

But in this work, Bacon also contemplates and deals with our frailty--suggesting that within the realms of horror, beauty must not be forgotten.