It was the steam and heat that fueled their disagreement on art. He stormed out of the sauna, to cool out in the snow. The ice hole in the lake was emitting the blackness of winter. With a Wicked Witch laugh, she jeered at him, “Jump, Kazimir!”

Suprematism was born.

This is a 50-word story inspired by the Daily Prompt, and, of course, the Black Square, to while away the time left until the Last Judgement post finally hits the press.

When you come up in the world, you may come in.

This man – seeing everything for miles around, and reciprocally seen by everyone with an eye sharp enough - has been sitting on top of the Bern Minster (Cathedral) for more than a hundred years. Given Switzerland’s rather uneventful history during this time, it must have been dead boring. Coming up in the world is guaranteed to lead to a recessing hairline, but not happiness. Besides, there are pigeons there. 

Bern Cathedral Belfry

Bern Cathedral Belfry

Alternatively, this golden angel watches the ever changing art shows from atop a room in the Royal Academy of Art in London. Pigeons are not allowed, which is a bonus and a relief. Visitors rarely pay the angel any attention, for art on the walls is their primary mission.

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It took an artist to make the angel visible: these columns are hollow with a spiral flight of stairs leading to a flat room from which a personal introduction to the angel takes place:

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Up there, you can watch the angels, talk to them, wonder at their celestial beauty – but don’t touch them (there are signs, “Please do not touch the historic architecture” everywhere).

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Would you choose to be an angel indoors watching over the evolution of art (which tends to get more artificial with each passing century) or a pigeon-friendly statue outside enjoying the never-changing lanscape of ordinary lives? 

To sample this blog, click on About at the top. It has links to some of my best or typical posts. There’s an Art & Fun shelf if you feel like in need of a laugh.

Come back: we’ll be talking about the Apocalypse once again in a couple of days

Do black people have a soul?

Today, even the question itself seems blasphemous. Yet, for most of Christian history, the answer was rather negative.

White people in Medieval Europe were aware of black people’s existence, even though this knowledge was akin to that of a Sahara Bedouin about snow. They could get the picture of what black people really looked like, as many churches would have an Adoration of the Magi icon or fresco, with Balthazar painted tar black.

Otherwise, the Medieval European art scene was as white as your typical refrigerator; with people of colour assigned the rare roles of pageboys and the Queen of Sheba (confined mostly to book illustration, and racially vague, for sometimes her skin was painted blue or purple). Albertus Magnus, a saint and scholar of the 12th c., was certain that perfect reason could dwell in the “normal body” only. His ideas had paved the way for black people to be seen as sub-human for the next three hundred years.

It was unimaginable to have a mix of black and white people in a religious painting. The Last Judgement theme was especially difficult. The Apocalypse was supposed to happen to everybody, not just white people. Black people had to be present there and, hence, shown.

Artists didn’t know what to do with black people. The Church was at a loss itself! Were the unfair-skinned supposed to descend to Hell in marching order, given that they were given black skin already? Was soul-weighting to have any meaning for people with black skin at all?

So, artists put the doctrinally awkward population at the back of the queue of the resurrected, hoping it would get sorted out in some natural order during the Apocalypse.

This Judgement Day of 1435 by Stefan Lochner, a German artist who was Durer’s inspiration, is a good example of the trick:

Stefan Lochner, the Last Judgement, 1435

Stefan Lochner, the Last Judgement, 1435

I know it is difficult to see a black man in this work without a magnifying glass. Here he is, barely visible:


What is most remarkable about this painting though – and I can’t miss it even though it takes me off the main track – is its monster community. Each monster is individually unique and mesmerizingly frightening. My favourite is this multi-faced green guy:


Seeing that devilish creature upon resurrection can send a man back to the grave with a heart attack, which is rather ironic. And yes, if you look to the right of the cutie, you’d realise a beer belly takes you to Hell, with the weighting of the soul being no longer necessary. My other fav is the face of the monster relaxing in Hell at the very right corner of the painting:


Look at the different deformities, skin textures, and at the rage and fury of this…yes, BLUE-EYED beast. 011_01

I am sorry I have to torture you, says the eye. And sheds a tear.

The breakthrough in the attitude towards black people occurred in 1471, in the work of another German artist, Hans Memling.

Hans Memling, the Last Judgement, 1471

Hans Memling, the Last Judgement, 1471

This Last Judgement triptych is full of symbolism that has helped many a student obtain top marks for their art theses (I won’t torture you with it, but you can read about it here). While many observers notice two black people in this painting, no one (at least no one I am aware of) has reflected upon the importance of where they were painted. No longer are they queuing at the back. Even though they are not painted at the front, the artist sends one of them to Paradise, while the other is lined up for Hell.

This is the unfortunate black man. He stands among screaming people wriggling with pain and despair, looking up to Archangel Michael with a silent question in his eyes, “What the hell – no pun intended – am I doing here?! Is this just the colour of my skin?!” And indeed, Memling could paint a black man, but he probably had never seen a black man screaming in pain. Do black people tear their hair off? Do they wring their hands? OK, let’s just leave him standing there, wondering what mortal sin he committed. Memling created, inadvertently, the first “WTF” visualisation in art history.

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And this is the lucky black man who stands at the back of the crowd herded by angels towards the Gates of Paradise. No rush, there is a whole eternity in front of them.


It is in this painting that black people were recognised to be (a) people, and (b) equal to white Europeans in the eyes of God, perhaps, for the first time, because they were worthy of the weighting of their souls.

I will come back to Memling and this painting over the week. There are many things to enjoy there. Surprisingly, some art critics believe Memling was a lesser artist than Rogier van der Wayden, his predecessor and mentor. This is so not true.


This week’s Writing Challenge is about writing a story of 50 words. As this is an art blog or rather a blog on art appreciation, I thought it might be nice to launch a new category: art-inspired stories. If you like it, let me know, I’ll make it a regular feature.




She was a hardline atheist. “No exequy”, were her last words.

After the funerals, he slumped in the empty kitchen, afraid of now, mortified by tomorrow. So he prayed.  For her.

He realised there was God above when he felt… ascended.

My dear, he whispered, you were… ARE dead wrong!




He trained his dog to bring the top newspaper from the stack in the bedroom.

He would tell visitors his dog could read, and commanded it to fetch over The Times, then The Guardian, and then The Star.

It was important to remember the order the papers were stacked in.




Decade is a period of ten years.
Century is a period of one hundred years.
Millennium is a period of one thousand years.
“Together forever” lasts a fortnight.

That is, statistically.
That is, in about 90% of cases.

That is also why romantic mathematicians are so hard to come by!

Becoming an avant-garde artist

…is easy if your kids are grown up enough to let you use their cache of Lego.

Enrico Baj. Cover for Une Medaille book, 1972

Enrico Baj. Cover for Une Medaille book, 1972

This is a cover for the book that Enrico Baj both wrote and illustrated, having created an encyclopedia of graphic techniques with references to his surrealist friends (Max Ernst and Man Ray).


Enrico Baj was a great graphic artist full of bullshit ideas (beyond the realm of graphic arts), which – quite surprisingly – produced some very right attitudes.

He was head over heels into pataphysics (and no, you don’t want to know what it is, but if you click on this link and understand what it is about, you may qualify for the Nobel Prize in Comprehending the Inexplicable). He admired the founder of Anarchism. Yet, he fiercely opposed nuclear arms (who doesn’t?) and was a stern opponent of Berlusconi.

Perhaps, his inner strength in common sense prevented him from being enslaved by any of the isms of the 20th century art. He never formally joined dada or surrealism. This gave him a lot of freedom and artistic insight. Plus, he could safely borrow ideas from (or “quote”) his predominantly surrealist friends.

The exhibition of books illustrated by surrealists currently run by Moscow’s Pushkin museum made me wish I kept my boys’ two chests of Lego somewhere safe. I have a couple of empty walls that might benefit from a bit of graphic colour on them.

Can’t not, daily

Ed Ruscha made a clever statement using banal materials and simple words .



It is not that I have to do that. No one is twisting my arm, really.

It is not that I must do that, as otherwise public scorn would twist my neck.

It is not that I can do that, for I don’t know if I can, actually.

This is RESOLVE at its best.

This is determination of a man who can’t avoid responsibility – and he is not necessarily happy to assume it either.

It is easy to know resolve in action movies, when the setting includes a countdown bomb display with 30 seconds to go, and the hero decides to stay and disarm the ticker or die.

It is more difficult to recognise resolve In the real life, when men have to show heroic resolution in mundane environment. Such as their own kitchen and dining table.

Hence the table mat.

Is this great art?

It is a great joke by a very talented artist. And a very expensive piece of joke at that, sitting nicely between Picassos and Max Ernstes, even though I can’t imagine why it is seen as a surrealist object.

It is very real to me.

P.S. Some intellectuals believe one can only be seen as an intellectual if he or she knows how to pronounce “Ed Ruscha”. It is stupid. But, just in case, it is pronounced “Roo-SHAY”. Next time you meet someone intellectual, you’d know what to ask them. 


Cloud could be proud

These are lenticular clouds that I was watching in awe a few days ago over the French Alps.

They form on the downwind side of mountains. Wind blows most types of clouds across the sky, but lenticular clouds seem to stay in one place. Air moves up and over a mountain, and at the point where the air goes past the mountaintop the lenticular cloud forms, and then the air evaporates on the side farther away from the mountains. These clouds are not born to be carried away to end their life as rain or snow. They get born and die each and every second, tethered to a single spot. 

Were these clouds painted, spectators would say the artist needs to spend more time outdoors instead of watching Si-Fi channel.

That’s one point going to photography over painting: the former can do what the latter can not. A photograph can present the unusual in a way no one doubts its existence dismissing it as a product of the painter’s imagination.

Artists love towering clouds that somehow foretell a coming storm (like in the painting by Constable) or symbolise the merry-go-round of life through their careless game of tag (like in the painting by Gerhard Richter).

Constable (1776-1837) Weymouth Bay

Constable (1776-1837) Weymouth Bay

Gerhard Richter. CLouds 1978

Gerhard Richter. CLouds 1978

Please note: Richter’s painting is 4 metres high to exclude collectors who are short of a palace.

Artists also like clouds for their ability to add emotion to almost any landscape:

Arkhip Kuindzhy, Cloud above the steppe. 1890s

Arkhip Kuindzhy, Cloud above the steppe. 1890s

Without the cloud, it would be an expressionless flat piece of land. With the cloud, it becomes a home to people who can rise high, stand firm, and do daring things (often seen as crazy by outside visitors) for the absence of anything else to do. In short, this cloud adds inspiration, pride, challenge and a sense of purpose.

While some artists use clouds to send across a foreboding or reassuring message, many painters use clouds as natural wrinkles on the face of nature that are meant to add or enhance emotion to their portrayal of a landscape. Being asked directly, artists often say they are uncertain about the link between their emotions and their painterly actions: “it just got drawn that way” is a very common reply.

Likewise, some people are unsure about the relationship between the day&night change and the Earth’s rotation: for them the natural fade-ins and fade-outs just “happen” (fortunately, on a regular basis) – and they don’t care about the mechanism.

But the mechanism is there, go ask Van Gogh.

Happy Vincent:

Vincent van Gogh, Wheat Field Under Cloudy Sky, Oil on canvas, 1890

Vincent van Gogh, Wheat Field Under Cloudy Sky, Oil on canvas, 1890

Troubled Vincent, same year:

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheat Field with Crows, 1890

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheat Field with Crows, Oil on canvas, 1890