Tag Archives: postaday

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Possessing Russia in Condensed Form

This is one of my most prized possessions: a view of Vladimir, one of Russia’s oldest cities, by Valery Kokurin. It says a lot about Russian character and outlook on life.

There are FOUR IMPORTANT THINGS it says about Russians:

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1. Turbulent skies: a symbol of troubled history that’s also the present

An outside observer may say Russian history has been turbulent, violent, and generally not user-friendly, but Russians find certain pride in the fact they’ve survived cataclysms other nations couldn’t possibly handle at all. It is impolite to remind a Russian that Russians were often bringing those calamities upon themselves.

The beauty of the skies is meant to remind the observer that the whirlwind of dramatic events in Russian history can be an inspiration: what other country could produce so many depressed literature geniuses?

2. Wait until it is too late, and then save the day/country/world.

There is a man, walking with a roll of wire (possibly, stolen) along the rail tracks at the bottom of the painting.

He is painted NOT to give scale to objects in the picture – the size of objects has only symbolic meaning here. He is there to make a point about Russian men disregarding danger until their guardian angels hand in their resignation notices.

When the sky becomes as menacing as it is shown in the painting, most nations would decide to leave town or, at least, stay indoors. Russians are proud of their resolve and patience: they will be carrying on with their normal life, enjoying the whistling of the steam cooker, up until the moment it blows into their faces. This is also one of the side-effects of fatalism, for which Russians are famous across the Globe: Russians would believe it may not actually blow up until the moment it does, and for a few seconds after.

We are not leaving this man – for there’s another message in him as well.

3. Faith is big

The churches are made much bigger in comparison to homes to symbolise Russians’ dedication to Christian faith. Moscow might be the Third Rome, with its megalomaniac ideas of being the Chosen torch-bearer for the whole world but Vladimir represents the common, ordinary Russia that simply believes in God. The belief is so strong and sincere that reading the Bible is not necessarily a part of it. There are people who believe Christ was the son of a Russian emigree to Israel, making Russians the God-Chosen Nation.

Someone fond of impressionist techniques may notice the turbulent skies do not reflect on the yellowish wall of the churches. Yes, Faith in Russia is the pillar, the unsullied beacon, the torch that may not show the right way, but it dispels the darkness of despair and prevents the skies from falling all over the place. No trouble can cast a shade on it.

“The blue skies punctured by belfries
Can hear brazen bell’s rejoicing.
Or is it getting cross?”
(Vladimir Vysotsky, a Russian poet)

4. Life is going on

The motley crew collection of small houses represents people cuddling up together. Each of them may seem insignificant, but together they make up a strong and multicoloured force. Their different colours symbolise their different lives. In the real life, the colours of buildings are not as cheerful, and not as different.

And the man, yes, the only human character in the painting, is a collective symbol of Russians carrying their cross (and stolen wire, but who’s without sin?) – despite the ominous skies, despite the early snow, despite life that’s rushing past (see the green train speeding in the opposite direction).

And, finally, it is simply a very good painting.

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Can art help to forgive and forget?

People who hold grudges resemble ships carrying tons of toxic waste in their hold, with port after port rejecting them entry and unloading. They’re rusty, lonely, and ecologically dangerous.

I’ve met people who believed “art could help”. Yes and No. Art can’t help to forget a grievance; all it can do is assist with the unloading. Artists, being notoriously easy to offend, have learned to use this art magic, metaphorically similar to Dumbledore’s Memory Pensieve. 

So, when you look at an art object and mutter, “what a freaking pervert!”, chances are you look at one of the artist’s grudges.

Lars von Trier had been feeling gloomy and made the Melancholy movie to get rid of his depression. He admitted it got him cured. Critics are still debating the flick’s artistic value.

Artemisia Gentileschi (raped by her father’s friend) dedicated her art to the celebration of revenge. She is the most famous female artist of the Renaissance, and it is a pity she’s got most of her fame for being very convincing about cutting men’s heads off.

Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620, oil on canvas, the Uffizi, Florence, Italy)

Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620)

Were it not for her naturalistic penchant, she might have been lost in the obscure army of Caravaggio’s followers. Grudge helped her to stay in history.

Salvador Dali‘s beloved sister and model for most of his early paintings made a grudge deposit in her brother’s bank of memories when she published a book about him, a memoir that Salvador didn’t like a bit.

So, his beloved sister from this famous painting of 1925…

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…got reinterpreted in 1954 into “Young Virgin Autosodomized by her Own Chastity”:

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I mean, what a freak he was, really. But had he not painted his grudge, he might kill his sister. So, freak or no freak, art can help neurotic characters stay away from prison.

So, art can transform a depression of one into that of millions, a rape into fame, and prevent a murder, among other things, of course. 

Isn’t it magic? It is, of the black variety mostly.

Or not?

 

Death, sex, surrealism

Theo Mercier.

He’s been called the last dadaist, the new surrealist, a penis-obsessed maniac and the most scary artist whose art may give spectators nightmares for years after seeing his shows.

He is 30, French, extraordinarily talented and – what I find most important about him – he is not morbidly serious about himself.

Even when he creates surreal death (Desperanzo project) he stays playful:

Well, maybe not there. But here the playfulness is obvious:

Yesterday, as I was walking through a surrealist exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, I was NOT surprised to see a lot of his works (and many of the ticket-selling penis-related projects) almost immediately after the first two halls with works by the founding fathers of surrealism.

Here they are, all of them crazy guys, greeting exhibition’s visitors at the entrance. I wonder if you can put names to their faces, or rather their names to these faces. Most people – and a lot of people from the art world – can’t. And this is not about not knowing names. It is about not connecting rational knowledge of names and works under those names to real people. To remember someone’s face (unless it is very unusual) we need to connect emotionally, don’t we?

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Which is further proven by the exceptions: Picasso and Dali. They are resonating with people’s feelings, not just talking to them at the rational level.

The exhibition is packed with surrealist exhibits of sex and violence.

Cindy Sheman (above) is not the worst.

And of course healthy people get crowded around works with lighthearted take on sexuality: the space in front of Theo’s works is always packed. He is not simply attaching penises to everything that comes across his way.

There is a subtle message behind most of his genitalia endowed ceramics. I am not going to spoil the fun now. Just have a smile while looking at it.

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This gallery can help you get a bit closer to some of the items:

Enjoying the cocktail:

The happy couple:

I encourage all my readers to visit his website, and enjoy his talent.

Make sure you remember his face:

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He was not born just to be wild. He may become the new headmaster of surrealism.

Not that I am wishing his head to start off a new row in the exhibit gracing at the entrance. I mean, I wish the guy a long life full of new projects.

Thank you, the Daily post for inspiration!

P.S. Oh, and one thing I believe is important. The manager of Centre Georges Pompidou shall be fired. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a toilet / restroom/ WC in such a horrendous state as in this building. Half of cabins are barricaded by cleaning buckets because they’re out of order. The other half is overflowing with sewage because of clogging. The smell! The hygiene! It should be a national disgrace for France that one of its finest museums has been brought to this state of despair. The theatre begins at the cloackroom.

FIRST TIME, I FELL IN LOVE AT 6. AND THEN AT 6:30.

Love is more or less easy to picture. Embracing couples, cuddling couples, kissing couples, and then… well, then you have to go through an age check.

Showing first love is difficult.

I first fell in love when I was about 6 yo. It was a kindergarten love-affair that most people don’t remember anything about by the age of 18. Her name was Anna. She was slender, had a thick black plait, dark eyes and serious giggle. When she giggled she didn’t look stupidly snickering like other girls. She was – somehow – smartly ironic. I don’t remember her ever saying anything though. She must have said something at some point, but her huge black eyes were muting the sound by numbing my mind, I guess.

When she was sick I was in love with another girl, Elena, who was plump, blond and was managing everything by talking a lot. She knew who should sit where, with whom, and say what. She’d always hold my hand, not letting me out of her sight and reach.

I was seriously contemplating marrying them both.

I don’t know if that kind of feeling can be visualised. There are lots of images online, but they feel staged and false:

First love was about butterflies in the stomach (which is why pathologists hate to have first-time lovers among victims: too much fuss catching’em butterflies).

First love was about feeling morbidly sick, because something was happening to the body and I didn’t know what it is and if it could be cured.

First love was about feeling immortally strong and able to support a family of two very different wives.

How do you SHOW it?

There are plenty of adult versions though.

Rodin did it with the Kiss.

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Male and female feet trembling against each other is a genius artistic expression of butterflies:

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And the hand, that presses ever so slightly into the thigh of the woman is the manifestation of empowerment provided by love:

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Marc Chagall did it in his painting here:

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Gustav Klimt did it in his very own Kiss, with plenty of colourful butterflies and golden immortality:

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Art makes you think people experience first love when they are adults only. I am a witness to the falsehood of this concept!

Thank you, the Daily Prompt for inspiration!

“Hey, lady, can I have your phone?”
“Don’t be so fast, sweetie! Is it love at first sight?”
“Don’t be so *** romantic. It’s a robbery!”

TAKE A MOMENT TO ENVY ME

A man fished out a bottle from the sea and found a letter inside.

“I have been marooned on an uninhabited tropical island. There is no inflation, no taxes, no city noise, no traffic or pollution. Take a moment to reflect and envy me” 

The letter in a bottle is a powerful concept of despair, hope and salvation in an improbable twist of fate. Yet, is rarely used by artists as a theme, apart from the millions of images of old bottles half-buried in sand.

Yet, there’s an artist who decided to document his suburban world existing half-way between a large city and nature, in a series of bottled pictures.

Jim Dingilian makes pictures inside bottles with candle soot as his primary media. This allows him to create dreamlike images encapsulating the life of a small suburb,

It is not great art, but it is something that makes you stop, look inside, and reflect on your personal experiences (if any) with suburban life and/or moments frozen in time. I find it strangely captivating.

Thank you, the Daily Prompt for reminding me of this artist.

Playing with death

Mountains are often very boring to photograph, especially in winter, because they’re white on white on more white and their scale, their enormity, their eternal beauty is often lost.

Mountains are very difficult to paint correctly. A friend of mine who lives in the Alps is always ready to point out artistic mistakes that reveal the artist had no knowledge of how a mountain shoulder or ridge had been shaped by tectonic shifts, earthquakes, and millions of years of tear and wear. It can be tearfully painful for a professional mountaineer to see artists deforming nature.

Mountains are very difficult to establish a relationship with. Men can climb mountains, litter their tops with cans of coke and cigarette butts but when mountains decide to severe the relationship, they simply kill men.

Let’s watch a man-to-mountain relationship, from outside, at a safe distance. We’d need to climb a little up this mountain top for seats at the stalls:

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What we see there is a bowl with perfect snow:

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It is not a static picture. We’d have to look closer to see dynamics in it.

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This is a grassy slope. Cows don’t go there in summer, so grass grows long, which makes it easy for snow to slide down in winter. You see, the slab of snow that slided down in the big avalanche left almost nothing in its wake:

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When the avalanche stops, the snow often gets compressed so hard it becomes concrete. An unfortunate skier can’t get out from under the snow mass, even if it is only a few dozen centimetres deep.

Now you can appreciate the strength of character utter stupidity of skiers who decided to play with the mountain choosing the path between two avalanches.

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What’s even more dumb, is stopping on the slope with other skiers starting directly above. If they trigger an avalanche, the guy beneath them is doomed.

These people made it down to the bottom safely.

A week before, two men (experienced pisters) were killed by avalanches in neighbouring valleys, all in one day.

The mountaineer friend of mine, who was with me that day, wanted to go skiing there. But he knew it would be a risk too great to test the relationship with the mountain. It was better to watch the bravely suicidal skiers from the outside.

Somehow, watching these guys, and, of course, the mountains made me think of Turner. He was afraid of and respected the power of mountains. He could paint it in a way that makes professional mountaineer shudder.

J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, 1812.

J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, 1812.

In this painting, the mountains are one with the skies, with the clouds raising from the mountain tops like ancient spirits, re-examining their attitude to human ants scattered around. Few artists could express the deadly power of mountains better than Turner.

Claude Monet’s reflective paintings

What is so great about Monet’s water-lily paintings? He painted dozens of them; he didn’t paint anything else in his later years, he kept painting water lilies when his eyes betrayed him; he made the Water Lilies panoramic set a gift to the state when he died.

When you are in front of any of his lilies (and I assume many of you have had the experience), do you ask yourself, “gosh, what is really great about’em?” Not a singe visitor to The Musée de l’Orangerie which houses the most giant of the series can be seen wishing the 10 euros paid for the ticket could be spent in a wiser fashion.

I don’t say one needs to know the answer to the greatness question to enjoy the paintings. Some years ago, I was coming to the National Gallery in London each time I was in town just to see the Lily Pond. Were I asked then what was so great about the painting, I might try to give an answer, but it would be tall tales spin-yarned into a baloney pullover of meaningless adjectives.

Now that I have my thoughts a little bit more organised, I can outline a hypothesis about the workings of Monet’s lily paintings.

We need to step back though, to Velazquez, an artist who had a great influence on Manet, who – in his turn – influenced Monet, although in a different way.

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Velazquez painted this Venus with a Mirror sometime around 1650. The viewer can’t really see the face of Venus. It is blurred on purpose: the beauty of a goddess, the Ideal or Ultimate Beauty, can’t be painted because no one has seen it, and even today Venus is not known to post selfies on Instagram. The Ideal Beauty is in the mind of the beholder. This blurred image activates those neural networks in the brain that house individual associations with beauty, memories, created by myths, books, movies and Playboy mass media.

Were it a particular face, the mind would react to it similarly to a meaningless portrait of an unknown celebrity of bygone times. It still would be attractive, primarily catering to people whose idea of beauty was congruent to the shape of the buttocks that are so close to the viewer one might be tempted to slap them.

Likewise, some 250+ years later, Monet was painting a refection of nature, but in a way that it couldn’t be attributed to any particular tree, sky, or flower.

His lilies – any and all of them – represent the Ideal Beauty of Nature, and for many they’ve grown to become a representation of the Ideal Beauty of Life itself. Not because they show some mind-boggling beauty of tender lily flowers blossoming against the green surface of a water reservoir – but precisely because they don’t show it.

I will use the painting that a friend of mine took in Vienna – and sent to me a few days ago.

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It is known these paintings stay in memory. Somehow. Many people are known not to like them, but they remember them, though they can’t say what were the colours, the shapes, or the lines in them.

Wassily Kandinsky wrote of them,

“Until then I knew only naturalist and, to tell the truth, almost exclusively Russian naturalist art…I believed that no one had the right to paint so imprecisely. I vaguely felt that the object (the subject) was missing in this work. But with astonishment and confusion, I observed that not only did it surprise, but it imprinted itself indelibly in the memory and that before your eyes it recomposed itself in the smallest details. All this remained muddled in me, and I could not yet foresee the natural consequences of this discovery. But what clearly came out of it is the incredible power, a power I had never known, of a palette that outstripped my wildest dreams. To me the painter seemed gifted with a fabulous power. The object used as an indispensable element in my work unconsciously lost some of its importance to me. In short, there was already a little bit of my enchanting Moscow on this canvas.”

I don’t like this style of art writing: too many adjectives. “Fabulous”, “incredible”, “gifted”, etc. Adjectives that don’t explain anything. Why was the power of Monet “incredible” or “fabulous”? Yet, Kandinsky registered the important facts:

  • the paintings stay in memory (even despite the vague sensation there’s nothing in them, at least nothing of real importance)
  • the painting fire up [neural networks storing] personal associations (like Moscow for Kandinsky)
  • the combination of colours creates a conflict that makes even those who dislike the paintings to get involved into watching them.

Indeed, his greens and violets can be found on the opposite sides of the colour wheel, and thus they create a colour conflict – we do not normally see these colours in their pure form at the same time. It makes the brain go “wow” without us registering it. There is nothing subconscious in this though, the brain starts scanning the painting to understand what the heck is going on – and the viewer does not necessarily register it either.

But there is even a bigger conflict that goes on in the mind of the viewer.

We are used to this:

A real 3D scene ==>
is represented in a 2D picture by the artist ==>
gets reconstructed into a 3D scene in the viewer’s mind.

Monet’s Lilies work differently:

A real 2D scene (the mirror of the pond) ==>
is represented in a 2D picture by the artist (which bizarrely seems 3D, because of the difference in brushstrokes) ==>
gets reconstructed into a 3D scene… BUT WE KNOW IT WAS A 2D SCENE TO START WITH!

And this is when the mind goes off thinking, remembering and associating in its own, very individual ways, some of which the mind’s owner does not register consciously.

Contemporary art is often differentiated from all the other types of art because it transfers the conflict from a painting or a sculpture into the mind of the viewer.

Instead of appreciating the drama that Michelangelo wanted people to live through their exposure to David, a contemporary artist wants to stimulate the viewer into creating his or her own drama, their own conflict, and live through their individual hell.

Monet used traditional colour conflict and innovative 2D-3D play with the mind of the viewer to CREATE A DRAMA OUTSIDE OF THE PAINTING, BUT INSIDE THE VIEWER’S MIND.

In this, he had become a true contemporary artist in his later years. He started the collective impressionistic revolution in visual arts that everyone noticed, but he then overturned visual arts single-handedly, in ways more radical than Cezanne could even imagine, and long before Picasso.

if there’s any painting that is more about individual reflection, I’d love to know about it.

IT IS A PAINTING OF A REFLECTION THAT MAKES A VIEWER REFLECT UPON THINGS IMPORTANT TO EACH VIEWER.