Monthly Archives: April 2018

Y- Jack Butler Yeats- Letters to Dead Poets…A-Z Challenge.

 

Welcome to the second last day of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Today, we’re moving onto Irish artist, Jack Butler Yeats (1887-1957), who was not only a painter, but also won a medal in swimming at the x Olympics, wrote poetry and novels including a stream of conscious novel, which had the nod from none less than James Joyce of Ulysses fame himself. I’m not sure whether this qualifies him as a Renaissance Man, but he certainly could pass as Rodin’s Thinker, which represents a fusion of athletic fitness, the intellect and the poetic mind (at least in my humble, unqualified opinion!)

Initially, I’d chosen Jack Butler Yeats, because I’d written top his brother, William Butler Yeats, two years ago when my A-Z theme was Writing Letters to Dead Poets. While I didn’t know much about either brother at the outset, I felt a connection through our shared Irish blood. That although I’m a sixth generation Australian and my last Irish ancestor arrived in 1855, that I still have more than a glass and a half of Irish in me and I’ve been wanting to explore my own cultural heritage further.

We’ll be accompanied by The Dubliners playing The Town I Loved So Well.

Portrait jack Butler Yeats

Born in London in 1887, Jack Yeats was the youngest son of Irish portrait artist, John Butler Yeats and Susan Pollexfen, and the brother of   W. B. Yeats, who received the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature. He grew up in County Sligo, Ireland with his maternal grandparents, and was deeply influenced by his grandfather, William Pollexfen who was a former seaman. He returned to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he worked as an illustrator for magazines, drew comic strips and wrote articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird”. In 1894, he married Mary Cottenham, also a native of England, and they resided in County Wicklow. From around 1920, Yeats developed into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He was sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believed that ‘a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints’, and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helped capture 20th century Dublin , partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett wrote that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.”[4] The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also paid tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know”. Moreover, his father recognized that Jack was a far better painter than he, and also believed that ‘some day I will be remembered as the father of a great poet, and the poet is Jack’. Jack Yeats died in Dublin in 1957, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

Perhaps I’m running out of brainpower towards the end of the challenge, or Jack Butler Yeats is more difficult to fathom than most. That’s why he’s running a day late. The more I get to know him, the more confused I become. I guess that’s a natural part of getting to know anyone. That, after you get passed those initial introductions, it’s like all the pieces suddenly fall out of the cereal box at once, and it takes time and effort to assemble them into any kind of picture. If I was a surrealist like Salvador Dali, or an abstract expressionist like Jackson Pollock, that might not matter. They’ve already accepted that nothing makes sense. That there is no natural order of things, and our world is utter chaos. However, my background is in historical research where you research, document and footnote the facts. Moreover, you’re also meant to come up with conclusions, which should look more like a neat stack of boxes, than multi-coloured scribble on a whiteboard, which is how my thoughts are looking  right now.

This brings me to that great imponderable…Can anyone truly know anyone? I mean even when you look into your nearest and dearest’s eyes, how much do you really see? How well do you really know them? Can you be sure? Or, are you seemingly dancing together, yet actually listening to different songs with entirely different meanings? Since most of us marry our opposite, it’s probably more than likely. Yet, diversity, and having complementary skill sets and the capacity to extend each other, are all wonderful things. It’s just that sometimes it’s nice to look into someone’s eyes, and at least see a glimpse of ourselves. Get the feeling they’ve walked in our shoes…and reciprocate.

dogs

That’s Lady at the back and Bilbo at the front.

My dog has mastered this, especially when I’m cooking. Lady sits there at the foot of the stove and could easily take out “Best in Show” switching on her huge, chocolate-brown eyes, oozing with so much love and understanding, that I fall completely under her spell and feed her. Yet, for some reason we humans are losing the art of eye-contact, especially in this age of the screen. It really helps to bridge the gap between two souls.

 

 

 

Anyway, immersing myself in all things Jack Butler Yeats, last night I was reading:  Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound. Before I start linking some of his thoughts to his paintings, I thought I’d go off course again, and share some of his thoughts about poets and poetry…

“With the man of poetical temperament experience is an end in itself. Others go through life, as though they were tourists, with their eyes open for enjoyment and some kind of profitable speculation.[1]

“Carlyle was by nature all poet and musician, but his Scotch conscience put a veto on his natural inclinations. He married an ugly wife, thereby perhaps scaring away the Muses. It is often so.[2]

“…there is another type (of man) the man who does not want to rule or be ruled, and that is the man who writes poetry.[3]

Jack_butler_yeats_rha_man_in_a_room_thinking)

Jack Butler Yeats, Man In A Room Thinking.

One of the resounding themes of these letters was just how much Yeats valued solitude, and it could well be said that he elevated the Solitary Man to the heights of Da Vinci’s Renaissance Man.

“I will write again of the solitary man. First of all, alone among men, he is himself and only himself. The companionable man is himself and someone else, seeking expression through the medium of prose or action, thinking of other people and therefore always leaning towards compromise and for that reason working in a spirit of insincerity. Poetry is the voice of the solitary, as resonant and as pure and lonely as the lark at sunrise. If the lark were to bother itself with the `Collective Soul’ of the universe, it would not sing at all. Again, the solitary is the only man who retains his spiritual integrity. With the companionable, belief is opinion living in the heart of talk or action, and dying away when the heat fades.

Old hermits were right in their instinct for the desert since it meant a living to oneself, wrong in the sense that it meant a separation from human voices and from the faces of men, women and children, an uprooting of the human plant from its natural surroundings.[4]

Yeats Man In a Train Thinking

However, as much as Yeats elevated the solitary man, he populates his paintings with people and there was one particular story I came across which revealed he had quite a love and compassion for the every day person on the street, or in this instance train, and their story. For this story, we’re turning to Man on a Train Thinking 1928.

The painting went up for auction recently and this account appeared in The Irish Times:

“The painting depicts a man whom Yeats met on a train from Dublin to the west in 1928. Yeats apparently noticed a man “in the corner of the carriage, who had a woebegone expression and whose coat and collar were buttoned up to his ears”.

He looked so wan and sad that the artist asked him: “Are you ill? Can I do anything to help you?”

“No, sir, thank you,” replied the man.“You see, it’s like this, sir,” he continued. “I bought a ticket for the Calcutta sweepstake for a pound note. Then I sold it to a man for £2. And now that ticket has won a prize for a hundred thousand,” and he sighed dolefully.

“Great heavens,” Yeats said, “if that happened to me I’d have cut my throat.” Then, to the artist’s consternation, his sickly looking fellow-traveller moaned: “That’s just what I have done, sir!”[5].

By the way, I completely misread this painting. What I saw was a man sitting on the train reading a book. Yeats’ solitary man…the poet. This interpretation really resonated with me as the only time I can really get stuck into a book, is on the train, although I always write a lot too and always take a notepad and a book with me. That said, I’ve also been caught short, and resorted to those last blank pages they leave at the back of the book. BY the way, my train trip is quite scenic, as the train snakes around the waterfront and crosses over the Hawkesbury River Bridge. The view’s particularly magnificent at sunset, illuminated by the golden glow of the setting sun.

A Giant Reading

Jack Butler Yeats, A Giant Reading.

Yeats also addressed the social isolation experienced by people who are different in some way and saw it as a mixed blessing:

“A man on his deathbed or after he has been snubbed by his wife may enjoy a few moments of solitude, the rest of his life is a noisy gregariousness. He fears solitude as a child fears the dark, indeed it is a universal dread which one must learn to conquer. A poet learns his lesson generally by finding himself early in life shunned, he is odd. `Why was I born with a different face?’ Blake asked. Genius is fundamentally odd and men hate the exceptional.[6]

As you might recall, people with extraordinary physical appearance often became attractions in the circus, where they became spectacles for general entertainment. In A Giant Reading, he’s showing two circus weirdos sitting together…the tallest man in the world and the blonde woman sitting next to him is an albino. Of course, that wasn’t how I saw it and thought it was possibly a couple who’d just got married…the newlyweds.

Yeats, Jack Butler, 1871-1957; Among the Reeds

Jack Butler Yeats, Among the Reeds.

Finally, I just wanted to mention Among the Reeds. Although I don’t get out very often, I love kayaking and when my parents had a holiday house on the waterfront, I used to paddle along a narrow waterway through the mangroves and almost disappear. It was magical, being surrounded by nature on all four sides, and inhaling and exhaling with King Neptune and anything else that was above or below the water.

By the way, I just stumbled upon an article in the Irish Times, which exposes Jack Butler Yeats greatest secret in The Secret Life of Jack Yeats. I decided not to ruin the anticipation and highly recommend you read the article itself. Clearly, I am not the only one who found that the various pieces of Jack Yeats which weren’t fitting together very well.

After all this challenging research, I’ve almost run out of steam. However, I’d better get that letter written…

A Letter to Jack Butler Yeats

Dear Jack,

You were quite a letter writer back in your day, so I hope you’ll be pleased to hear from me. I can’t remember exactly why I started writing these Letters to Dead Artists. Of course, I needed some kind of theme for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge and while it’s decimated my capacity to keep up with the day to day, this daily pressure cooker environment does wonders for my writing, and instead of editing my work over and over and over an\gain and filing it in the bottom drawer or my hard drive, it’s post and up on the world wide web. It’s out there. It’s almost turning me into a Woman of Action, although I’m still too much of an over-thinker to get there yet.

Anyway, as I said, I’m not exactly sure why I started writing these letters. I honestly don’t feel like I’m really communicating with the dead and it’s surely not you guys replying back to me and yet there’s stuff popping into these letters which clearly hasn’t come from myself. It’s all a bit of a mystery really, but I’m not the first creative soul who’s experienced “the muse”. Indeed, you wrote:

“The solitary is one with the forces of nature, with which no man can argue; every action and thought of his mind and every feeling comes from sources beyond our utmost ken. And in thus describing the solitary, am I not uncovering what is the essence of that true poetry which I have called the voice of the solitary?”

I have a feeling that when you passed away and crossed over the rainbow bridge as we say about our dog, you took a few pieces out of the puzzle with you so that any nosy parkers like myself who came snooping around in your wake, would only get more and more confused the more they delved into the pot. Indeed, I can’t help wondering whether you completely dismantled or even burned up your studio to maintain your mystique. French artist and sculptor Edgar Degas, who you might’ve known, is regretting not torching his studio, now he’s seen what they’ve done to the Little Dancer. He’s still dropping F bombs and it’s now been a few weeks. He’s even tried to snatch her out of the Louvre to blow her up. I shouldn’t be telling you this because you could become implicated. It’s bad enough I’m in on it.

Anyway, the whole idea of these letters is to ask each artist a question. I guess my question for you, is how focused should an artist, writer, creative person be on the task at hand? Or, should they leave themselves some room to jump off the railway track and even go right off the grid? You achieved so much across a range of fields, that you were clearly able to divide your focus and back a few winning horses at the same time. I often find that I stumble across things and most of my best work has been completely spontaneous. Indeed, this series is a case in point. I simply started out with a list of artists but even that’s changed and I only plucked you out of the hat two days ago out of some inexplicable gut feel. That said, there wasn’t a lot of competition for the letter Y.

Anyway, you’d better join the train with the rest of the rabble. I’m sorry your journey will be so short. There’s only one day to go.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From William Butler Yeats.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. Ezra Pound snatched it straight out of my hands. He calls himself my “Letter Keeper”. Indeed, it’s been a bit tricky because of course I have to keep my correspondence with Punch Magazine a secret and I couldn’t have him knowing that I’m “W. Bird”. Clearly, he’s not very discreet as he’s already published my private letters.

Well, I don’t know if this answers your question, but here goes:

“Reason is a school-master calling his boys into school, imagination is a school master in a happy mood dismissing them to wander in the woods, for the space of that holiday every boy to be his own master. “

Does that help? In my day, we also said you needed to stop to smell the roses. That doesn’t mean you can only smell roses and keep walking past the frangipanni, lavender or wattle blossoms if I’m over your way. It means you’ve got to take time out of the everyday and immerse yourself in nature for awhile. Recharge your soul, just like you people are constantly charging your stupid phones.

Well, I’d better post this before Ezra sees it.

Best wishes,

Jack.

 

 

[1] Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound. This letter was dated February 6th, 1915

[2] Ibid December 21st, 1914.

[3] Ibid September 6, 1915 p 14.

[4] Ibid April 2nd, 1915 pg 41.

[5] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/fine-art-antiques/yeats-painting-with-a-sorry-story-1.2438058

[6] Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound, 1910. This letter was dated January 6, 1916 p 47.

7. Ibid April 2nd, 1915 pg 43.

News Flash:Dead Artists Disappear Onboard Train…A-Z Challenge.

 

NEWS FLASH. The World’s Most Wanted… Great Ghost Train Robbery. Masked Artists Hijack Historic Diesel Locomotive.

Central Station, Sydney: Saturday 28th April 6.00am (EST) a gang of masked bandits wielding paintbrushes have hijacked the recently restored 4301 Diesel locomotive, and gone off the grid. Vanished. Forensic experts are clueless, and have found no trace of the robbers at the scene or in the local vicinity. The distraught driver said they were wearing fancy dress with painted bags over their heads, and were all armed with paintbrushes.  The train and four carriages are irreplaceable and valued at over $1million. Anyone with any information, please call Crime Stoppers immediately.

……..

In all my years of writing, and even after attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival for many years, nobody has ever warned me to keep a sharp eye on my characters. Make sure they don’t escape my imagination, and take on a life of their own. Indeed, it’s never crossed my mind. Living so close to the beach, I’ve only ever been told: “Never turn your back on the sea”. It now turns out, that writers can’t turn their backs on their characters either.

DSC_8233

Rosie’s also been doing some painting!

So, I was rather shocked to find out, that my dead artists had escaped and hijacked the historic 4301 Diesel locomotive from Sydney’s Central Station. Worse still, they turned up on our doorstep and lured us along. So, now even my family and I have been swept up in THEIR plot. Indeed, my husband’s driving the train, and they’ve also decided to teach my kids how to paint. Just to add to the mad chaos, someone brought along our dogs (I suspect Andrew Wyeth. They all call him “Dog Man”). Rosie has just chewed up Picasso’s paintbrush. Meanwhile, Lady’s parked herself right next to Norman Lindsay, convinced he’s stashed the Magic Pudding in his suitcase. Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me that Lady would join the pudding thieves. She devoured our Christmas cake one year. However, while we’d save on dog food,  having a pudding that never runs out, would be quite detrimental to her waistline…and my own! Meanwhile, Jackson Pollock has dripped paint all over Alexandros of Antioch’s replacement of the Venus de Milo with the arms back in play. So, now he’s running round the carriage threatening to strangle him, and Zac the dog has joined in for the thrill of the chase.

Above: From Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series.

As if that wasn’t chaos enough, Sidney Nolan is screaming for his therapist. He swears he saw Ned Kelly riding past followed by Constable Scanlon. Meanwhile out the opposite window, Degas was equally convinced he saw the Paris Opera with all of his tutu dancers throwing him roses. Vincent Van Gogh told him “he’s dreaming” and kept painting his sunflowers. All he wants to do is sell a painting. “You don’t know what it’s like to devote your entire life to painting and never sell a work. Humiliating. Still need to pay back Theo.” He was so busy painting, that he didn’t hear how much his paintings are now worth. That selling only one painting, could probably buy a third world nation. Humph. Better keep him painting, and we’ll all be moving into the fast lane.  I don’t know what’s suddenly got into them all, but I’m starting to suspect Degas smuggled some absinthe onboard, and they’ll all soon be painting green angels, each in their own style, of course!

Gauguin The Painter of Sunflowers

Van Gogh The Painter of Sunflowers, painted by Paul Gauguin, who somehow found his way onboard.

By the way, I don’t know where all their supplies have come from, but each artist is very well kitted out and Andrew Wyeth even has a couple of dozen eggs to mix his egg tempera.

What is going on?

What would I know? I’m just the writer, the observer and in any case, I didn’t create these dead artists. I simply wrote them a letter. That’s all. Now, they’ve all escaped the plot and gone rogue. They’re beyond my control. I just hope Constable Scanlon sees it that way if he ever catches up with us, especially with my husband driving the train. What about the kids? The whole family will be heading directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. This is serious. Real life isn’t a game of Monopoly!

Christina Olsen 1947

Been sitting out here with Christina Olsen and Andrew Wyeth. Am I going mad?

Yet, to be perfectly honest, I’ve had a few weird experiences myself, which might warrant some time on the couch as well. Only yesterday, I thought I was sitting on the front step with Andrew Wyeth and Christina Olsen drinking Root Beer, or what I know as Sarsaparilla. Fortunately, they didn’t say anything, which I think is a good sign. It must be worse when they start talking to you, surely! What do you think? Am I going crazy? Have I spent so much time talking to dead artists and sticking my nose in their paintings, that I think they’ve come to life? Or, could it possibly be true? That the doors between heaven and earth, indeed the very doors of perception, have suddenly opened up and let them all out?

I don’t think so. The thing is that everything around here still looks just the same as usual. Indeed, I just made pancakes for lunch, and the dishes didn’t magically fly into the sink and wash themselves. There’s been no mad dance of the pink washing up gloves either. Moreover, the dirty roasting dish from last night is still sitting on the stove. If I was really going off with the pixies, those dishes would be done, the washing brought in and dinner on the table. At least, the leg of lamb is in the fridge, but if I’m to believe the surrealists, it could very well jump out all by itself, and hop over into the oven. Then, we could have dinner with Tom Cruise. Or, better still with Hugh Jackman.

Well, as if all that’s going to happen.

Those dead artists might’ve hijacked a train, but I’m still at home…AND more of a realist.

Anyway, just in case this isn’t a figment of my over-active imagination, if you happen to stray across a runaway train painted goodness knows how with this gang of dead artists onboard, you’d better give me a call. Please don’t call the Police. The way things are going, you might have us both locked up, and Ned Kelly could very well run off with key.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Eileen Agar’s frantic. Has anyone seen her Ceremonial hat for eating Bouillabaisse? She got into a bit of an altercation with my kids who said she couldn’t wear it while eating meat pies. Someone might’ve accidentally, intentionally launched it and it was rather aerodynamic, which couldn’t be the kid’s fault, could it?

Eileen Agar wearing Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse

Eileen Agar wearing her Ceremonial hat for eating Bouillabaisse. Have you seen it?

 

 

X-Guo Xi – Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Perhaps, I should wait until the morning to launch into writing to Guo Xi and focusing on one of his most famous works Early Spring, dated 1072. It’s well after midnight and you know how it is when you’re having a great time and you find someone you really connect with…you don’t want to leave. Indeed, I don’t feel I’ll ever quite leave Andrew Wyeth and Christina’s World behind me. We are one.

Yet, one of the hurdles inherent in this challenge, is to move on. Not to get bogged down at one station along the way. Rather, the train needs to keep moving. Well, I wonder if I can take all my other artists with me, and create something of an Arty Party, not unlike the Elvis Train called The Blue Suede Express which heads out to the Parkes Elvis Festival, in far West NSW. I don’t know who we’d put in charge of designing and painting the outside of the train. Indeed, we’d probably have to pick names out of a hat. There might be a bit of competition, not to a mention stylistic debate. I couldn’t imagine Jackson Pollock and Norman Lindsay sharing a seat, let painting the same carriage. I need to consult my seating app and see who is sitting where. Of course, they’d have to sit in alphabetical order, although I could see some tricksters mixing up the place tags. They always do.

Anyway, without further ado, we’re moving onto Guo Xi (郭熙, ca.1020–1090), a Chinese landscape painter from Wenxian in Henan province who lived during the Northern Song dynasty. Just to put that into perspective, he died 928 years ago and I think he’s our second oldest artist, if you can think about it like that. Inspired by his Snow Mountain, Xi will be accompanied by Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Guo Xi served as a court painter under Emperor Shenzong (reigned 1068–1085). Early in his career as an artist, Guo Xi painted large screens and walls for major palaces and halls in the capital that had caught the emperor’s attention. Guo was later promoted to the highest position of Painter-in-Attendance in the court Hanlin Academy of Painting. He produced many monumental landscape paintings, and specialized in painting large pine trees and scenery enveloped in mist and clouds. He employed “curled cloud” texture strokes (卷雲皴) for mountain slopes, while he did trees in “crab claw (蟹爪)” forms to create a style of his own. Being a court professional, he developed an incredibly detailed system of idiomatic brushstrokes which became important for later painters. His most famous work is Early Spring, dated 1072. The work demonstrates his innovative techniques for producing multiple perspectives which he called “the angle of totality.”-China Online Museum

 

Guo Xi was often referred to as a “Northern Song master” when it came to painting. His work inspired many later artists and he even had landscapes dedicated to him. His lesser-known “Deep Valley” scroll painting depicted a serene mountain valley covered with snow and several trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs. The ink washes and amorphous brush strokes are employed to model surfaces that suggest the veiling effects of the atmosphere. One of Guo Xi’s techniques was to layer ink washes to build up forms and his “Deep Valley” is a masterpiece of the use of light ink and magnificent composition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guo_Xi

One of his most famous works is Early Spring, dated 1072. The work demonstrates his innovative techniques for producing multiple perspectives which he called “the angle of totality.” This type of visual representation is also called “Floating Perspective”, a technique which displaces the static eye of the viewer and highlights the differences between Chinese and Western modes of spatial representation.Xi developed an innovative technique, called “Floating Perspective” or “Angle of the Totality”, with which the artist was able to represent multiple perspectives within a single painting. This is an exceptional advance that did not appear in Western painting until many centuries later. Moreover, it’s also interesting when you compare it to the efforts of Renaissance artists like Da Vinci towards linear perspective. As I mentioned before, I can barely park my car in a straight line, so linear perspective is not my thing. I’ll just have to count on the wisdom of others.

guo-xi_snow-mountains-664x1024-500x900

Guo Xi – Snow Mountain, ShanghHai Museum This piece shows a scene of deep and serene mountain valley covered with snow and several old trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs. It is a masterpiece of Guo Xi by using light ink and magnificent composition to express his open and high artistic conception.

His son later described how Guo Xi approached his work: “On days when he was going to paint, he would seat himself at a clean table, by a bright window, burning incense to right and left. He would choose the finest brushes, the most exquisite ink; wash his hands, and clean the ink-stone, as though he were expecting a visitor of rank. He waited until his mind was calm and undisturbed, and then began.”2.

Gao Xi clearly had an incredible eye and appreciation for the details of the landscape, including how it transitioned from season to season. In his “Treatise on Mountains and Waters (山水訓)”, he wrote:

The clouds and the vapors of real landscapes are not the same in the four seasons. In spring they are light and diffused, in summer rich and dense, in autumn scattered and thin, and in winter dark and solitary. When such effects can be seen in pictures, the clouds and vapors have an air of life. The mist around the mountains is not the same in the four seasons. The mountains in spring are light and seductive as if smiling; the mountains in summer have a blue-green color which seems to be spread over them; the mountains in autumn are bright and tidy as if freshly painted; the mountains in winter are sad and tranquil as if sleeping.”

So, not only are his painting touchingly beautiful, but also his prose.

So, without further ado, here’s my letter to Guo Xi.

Letter to Guo Xi

Dear Xi,

I can’t help wondering where you’re from and wanting to find those mountains you’ve immortalised in your paintings. Not that I can climb them myself, but perhaps I could at least admire them from the ground, the same way we marvel at the stars. Well, that is if we actually take the time out to look for them. Or, indeed, if the sky isn’t too polluted to block their light. Isn’t it terrible that the machines of man have blackened out the stars and the heavens? Indeed, we’ve even tried to tame the mountains, although the big ones still put up a fight.

I’d love to sit on top of a mountain and just look up at the stars, the moon and feel that clarity all around me. That nothing else matters. You can just sit on your rock and just be. The cares of the world are all taking care of themselves on autopilot without us.

I guess I should be careful what I wish for because more than one intrepid explorer has climbed their own mountain, and found nobody left when they came home. They didn’t like being left on hold while they explored other realms without them.

So, Xi, I could see myself on top of your mountain now with my husband, the kids and three dogs in tow. I just hope they don’t have any sticks up there. We’re already regretting to teach the dogs how to fetch. Hopefully, they too could benefit from a bit o stillness and they might even find their inner dog.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Guo Xi

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. I have been here for such a long time withut any communication from the earth so I was very happy.

You must be careful when you climb the big mountains. The greatest danger isn’t climbing up or climbing down. It’s how to continue living with your fellow man in day to day life when you have known such peace and freedom. There is no tick of the clock and you are in your own time zone in your own world. I almost went mad with all the talk of chickens, what to eat for dinner, a hole in the roof. I didn’t care for these things anymore. Wanted to return to the mountains. They were calling me. But I have wife, son. Must stay. Keep my pictures in my head and paint them with my inks.

As much as I would like to go back to my mountains, I will do that in my head. Too much change. Time not stand still. Almost 1000 years. Memory better.

Still we must climb and conquer our metaphysical mountains. Don’t let them build up across our path to block the track. No good. You need to get your shovel out and move the dirt before the mountain gets too big. Can’t get moved. You get strong shoveling dirt. You only get flattened when the mountain buries you.

By the way, here in China we have the Year of the Dog.
Yours,

Guo Xi.

PS I had to share a comment I found re Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. “The first part of the song is when you’re sitting in the exam hall, just writing and sitting in silence while you think “I’ve got two hours left”. The second part of the song is when the examiner suddenly says “Five minutes”. So true.

References & Links

  1. http://www.comuseum.com/painting/masters/guo-xi/
  2. Quoted by Arthur Waley in “Chinese Philosophy of Art-IV” in Burlington Magazine, vol. xxxviii, No. ccxviii, p. 247 in Jenyns, Soame. A Background to Chinese Painting. New York: Schocken Books, 1966, p. 134

Walking Through Christina’s World…A-Z Challenge.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

As you might be aware, I’m currently taking part in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, and my theme is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Yesterday, I wrote to American artist, Andrew Newell Wyeth regarding his iconic masterpiece, Christina’s World.

What I discovered, has been a Eureka Moment. Indeed, I’ve not only jumped out of the bathtub, but also leaped out of my skin. You see, I live with a muscle wasting disease called dermatomyositis, and a complication which causes fibrosis in my lungs, leaving me short of breath and prone to infection. My situation is extremely rare and even world-wide, there are only a handful of people who walk in my shoes. So, it’s also equally difficult to meet anyone who gets my situation from the inside out, without having some kind of medical training. Clearly, this isn’t something you can bond over with a stranger at the bus stop.

Christinasworld

Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World

However, then I stumbled across Christina’s World. Not only is there the connection with Christina and her muscle weakness, but very late last night, I found out Andrew Wyeth experienced a chronic lung condition. What the??? I was absolutely gobsmacked!  Somehow this painting had brought about this very intense cosmic fusion between artist, subject and observer. I’m not even going to estimate the chances of this happening. They’re so infinitesimal, that you’d need a microscope to find them.

So, clearly you could understand why I was so excited about finding this work of art. It was like I’ve been travelling along the road less travelled forever, and suddenly meeting  two fellow travellers, and having someone to walk with. Not that I’ve been alone, but you get my drift.

That’s why I’ve come back to Andrew Wyeth today. While the whole point of this challenge is to visit a new artist every day, I felt this connection deserved so much more than a fleeting, one-off letter exchange. That the three of us needed to sit out on Christina Olsen’s front step, or which ever step it was, and chat. Or, simply inhale and exhale the same air, and not even say a word.  Me being me, I’d have to add a sunset. I’m not sure whether we’d be facing the sunset in real life, but sharing a Ginger Beer with two dead people is hardly what I’d call “living in the real world”. So, I can paint the sky any way I please, even neon if I get the urge. Well, that is, unless some of these Wyeths feel like giving me some painting lessons, or doing the job for me.

However, while we shared these struggles, we also shared our strengths. None of us were victims, who let circumstances chew us up and spit us out. Rather, we are survivors, battlers to the very end.

Despite her great mobility difficulties, Christina was out in the field picking blueberries and getting herself around without a wheelchair. She wasn’t sitting on the porch waiting to die.

As a young boy, Andrew Wyeth was frail and too unwell to go to school. However, encouraged and taught by his illustrator father and brought into his wider circle, he painted and mastered his craft trying various techniques until he found his own voice in egg tempera. Yet, his lung deteriorated further.  In 1951, he had major surgery to remove a portion of his lung. He survived two near death experiences, and they even had to cut through muscles in his painting arm. This would’ve devastated many. Wiped them out. Yet, within a matter of weeks, Wyeth was back at work again. Indeed,  Trodden Weed (featured image) was completed in March and if you’re familiar with Wyeth’s paintings, there’s all his usual attention to detail in blade after blade of grass. He didn’t slack off.

Of course, I don’t know for sure what Wyeth was really trying to say in Trodden Weed, which has been described as an “unconventional self-portrait”. However, based on my own experiences of medical setbacks, it could well signify that he’s back on his feet, even if he is wearing Howard Pyle’s boots. That he’s going places, and that his heath problems aren’t going to hold him back. Indeed, he certainly didn’t paint himself sitting in a chair out on the porch. No! Here is an artist, yet a man of action, much like Rodin’s The Thinker, if not so muscular.

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

This sense of perseverance is something I’ve experienced myself, and I’ve pushed myself in ways that defy logic. I’ve always been a writer and photography has also been an omnipresent part of me. Yet, since my diagnosis I’ve also taken up the violin, done some adult dance classes, and even gone skiing. Each of these activities defies logic. While I’m certainly better than I was, I still have days when I even struggle to walk around my house, and my lung problems aren’t trifle either. So, I’m not superhuman, but it does show that there are forces at work which we don’t understand, and it’s worth getting out of our comfort zones to stretch what is possible as far as we can. I’m just mighty grateful that Australia’s largely flat, and I’m not living in Switzerland!

So, it is little wonder that alongside Christina’s World, I also relate to Brendan Graham’s modern hymn: You Raise Me Up, in such a personal way. For, along with Andrew Wyeth and Christina Olsen, I have also conquered mountains. Mountains beyond the physical and into the spiritual realm and I know I haven’t merely done this on my own strength. (By the way, I actually had the privilege of meeting Brendan Graham when he came to Sydney.)

Anyway, the day is done and I still have to move onto today’s artist…Guo Xi, which is starting to look like a very brief encounter indeed.

andrewwyeth-masterbedroom 1965

Andrew Wyeth, Master Bedroom.

So, I thought I’d let Andrew Wyeth have the last word. You see, it’s a great irony that after spending most of his life in the shadow of death, that he somehow managed to live a very long, full life and passed away at the grand old age of ninety-one. How did he do it? That’s a side to Andrew Wyeth’s genius, that I’m truly wanting to pursue further. Was it something he did? Luck? The will of God? When I get to heaven, I’ll be lining up Andrew Wyeth and Stephen Hawking side-by-side and asking questions… “Please explain!”

Have you ever had an experience like this with a work of art, or a book perhaps where the artist, writer, whoever knows your innermost struggle in such a personal way? Please share it in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I just wanted to mention someone who walked with Andrew Wyeth in a very personal and unique way. That is Joyce H Stoner, a Conservator who worked with him on his paintings for the last 12 years of his life. Here’s a link to her reflections http://samblog.seattleartmuseum.org/tag/joyce-hill-stoner/. She talks about him in such an illustrating, personal way that even if you’d never seen his paintings, you’ll enjoy it.

She also appeared in this this detailed interview of his works.

 

W- Andrew Newell Wyeth: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to my series of Letters to a Dead Artists, which I’ve put together for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge. For the past month, I’ve been steadily moving through the alphabet and after writing to Leonardo Da Vinci yesterday, today I’ll be writing to Andrew Newell Wyeth, an American realist painter.The music I have chosen to accompany Andrew Wyeth is Celtic Woman singing You Raise Me Up

Wyeth was born on July 12, 1917 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and passed away at the age of 91 on January 16, 2009…a very long way from Sydney, Australia.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”

Andrew Newell Wyeth

Prior to setting out on this challenge, I had never heard of Andrew Newell Wyeth, and to be perfectly honest, I only found out about him on a Google search trying to fill up the vacant letters. It’s a problem I face every year, where I’m forced to leave something out because certain letters are bombarded with choice, and I’m left desperately scrambling to find anything for others. However, my criterion for choosing every single one of these artists, whether I knew them before, or whether  they popped up in the Great Google Lucky Dip, was that I needed to experience some kind of emotional, psychological and even spiritual connection. It couldn’t just be a case of: “She’ll be right mate”, or any artist will do.

As it turned out, Andrew Newell Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World (1948), grabbed me by the throat and almost stopped me dead. This artist I had never ever heard of before, had never met, and lived on the other side of the world, had miraculously captured my suppressed, desperate, clawing frustration of battling against the muscle weakness brought on by dermatomyositis.

“To be interested solely in technique would be a very superficial thing to me. If I have an emotion, before I die, that’s deeper than any emotion that I’ve ever had, then I will paint a more powerful picture that will have nothing to do with just technique, but will go beyond it.”

Andrew Wyeth

When I first saw the house on top of the hill, and Christina groping her way up through the grass, I could feel her struggle in my own body. Yet, it didn’t occur to me straight away that Christina also had some form of muscle loss. Rather, I thought the painting simply portrayed human struggle, and that clawing desperation to make it up the top of the hill. Indeed, I felt a sort of chill or goose bumps, as soon as I saw the painting. There was that instant recognition of myself, and of course, it helped that I also have long dark hair and there could well have been quite a likeness once upon a time. Of course, it helps that he painted her with her back to the world and we can’t see her face.

Christina Olsen 1947.jpg

Andrew Wyeth, Christina Olden 1947

Indeed, seeing Christina’s World, I was swept into a horrific vortex of memory, reliving when I simply tripped over a broom at home.  Much to my surprise, I was literally swept into a blood-chilling nightmare, when I couldn’t get myself up again.

Rowena with kids Mt Wilga 2007.JPG

How the camera lies. An everyday photo of Mum and kids, except I was in Mt Wilga Rehbilitation Hospital and could barely walk or get myself up off the ground. That was just over ten years ago.

There I was a 36 year old Mum home alone with my two young kids. Mister was about three and a half and at an age where, like a scene out of Dead Poet’s Society, he’d climb up onto our back shed to get a better look at the “mountains”. He was somewhere when I fell, which usually meant mischief, danger or a combination of the two. Meanwhile, Miss was only 16 months old, and Mummy’s little shadow. However, that also meant that when I fell, I knocked her over on the way down. She was crying and this was no ordinary cry either but had that same chilling sensation of fingernails scraping down a chalkboard, which travels right under your skin. Of course, I’d normally pick her straight up. Comfort her. Kiss it better. However, I was weighed down like a sack of lead potatoes, and couldn’t move at all to reach her and just had her cry in my ear.

Instead, there I was lying face down on the tiles and couldn’t get up. Moreover, at this point of time, I didn’t have a name for the horrific monster which had invaded my body and my bloodstream. Not having a diagnosis, in a way, meant that it didn’t exist and that I was just “tired”. It was just part of being a Mum with very young kids… having a baby. Sleep deprivation and utter exhaustion are par for the course, aren’t they? However, this was different…something nasty, sinister, a monster.  While I hurt my knee in the fall, why couldn’t I get up? For somebody with normal mobility, this was so surreal and strange. Quite unlike the sort of panic that comes, when you can’t feel your legs. As far as I was concerned, there was no reason I couldn’t get up. I was just tired, rundown although there was something funny going on with my blood tests. Eventually, I was able to lift myself onto my bottom and I shuffled into the kitchen. For once, the cordless phone was there when I needed it and I rang my husband who was at work a two hour train trip away. Clearly, he couldn’t just pop home and magically save the day. Meanwhile, my call filled him with a sense of dread, absolute powerlessness and horror. Clearly I was very unwell and needed immediate help, and he couldn’t do a thing. In fact, I don’t think either of us even considered calling an ambulance. That was for emergencies and I’d just simply fallen over…

All he could suggest was levering myself up with a chair and that worked. It took a further six weeks for me to finally receive a diagnosis and then I was in a combination of hospital and rehab for about 8 weeks.

“There’s a quote from Hamlet that is my guide… He tells the players not to exaggerate but to hold a mirror up to nature. Don’t overdo it, don’t underdo it. Do it just on the line.”

Andrew Wyeth

So, while it was sensational to find Christina’s World and to see my struggles depicted and represented on canvas, there was also an enormous sense of sadness. You see, like Christina, despite pushing myself beyond breaking point so many, many times, I still haven’t made it to the top of the hill. I haven’t made it home. Not only am I adrift, but there’s also that intense frustration better known as angst where I can see where I want to go. Where I’m meant to be. Yet, I’m constantly clawing through the mud and getting nowhere.

“I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future-the timelessness of the rocks and the hills-all the people who have existed there. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape-the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”

Andrew Wyeth

Yet, ironically there is also great strength in persevering through weakness. Indeed, there’s that old adage: “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”. That’s so true and these days they’ve even called this fighting comeback…resilience. Indeed, resilience is now considered one of the key ingredients for getting through life. So, for those of us who received more than their allocated glass and a half, we must be powering all the way to the moon. Well, if only we could make up that darn hill.

By the way, after spilling my guts about how Christina’s World touched me so personally, I had to laugh as these prophetic words of Andrew Wyeth’s:

“I get letters from people about my work. The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches their feelings. In fact, they don’t talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life or how their father died.”

Andrew Wyeth

I guess it’s not surprising that Wyatt knew and had experience intensive suffering and loss himself. In 1945, Wyeth’s father and his three-year-old nephew were killed near their home, when his car stalled on railroad tracks and was struck by a train. Wyeth has often referred to his father’s death as a formative emotional event in his artistic career. Shortly following the tragedy, Wyeth’s art consolidated into his mature and enduring style, characterized by a subdued colour palette, highly realistic renderings, and the depiction of emotionally charged symbolic objects[1].

Christina’s World was painted a year after his father’s death.

Although this introduction is very rushed and feeling incomplete and inadequate, I’m going to get moving and start writing my letter to Andrew Wyeth.

A Letter to Andrew Wyeth

Dear Andrew,

For the last month, I’ve been trying on the shoes of so many artists and tried to see the world through their eyes, before I take a huge, audacious step and actually write them a letter. As much as it’s been a lot of fun in a heavy research searching for the meaning of life kind of way, it’s also been very challenging, especially as it seems that almost every artist without exception, has experience incredible suffering. I don’t know whether it’s this understanding and empathy with suffering, which has given their paintings added depth and emotional insight, but there’s definitely that common thread.

Do you think artists suffer more than others, and their grief inspires their art? Or, does their art become more of an antidote, a way of releasing the anguish trapped inside?

I have asked God myself why there’s so much suffering, especially at one point where I felt he’d channelled centuries of wrath in my direction and afflicted me with the dermatomyositis. However, ever faithful, he replied and said: “if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” I didn’t challenge him on that front again. He’d made his point.

Anyway, I’d like to thank you for giving us Christina’s World. While everybody who sees the painting could well have their own interpretation, her story obviously has a very personal connection for me. Trying to get up hills is particularly hard for me these days. Not so much due to the muscle weakness but due to the associated problems I have with my lungs, which are currently not much over 50% capacity. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, but you seem like the sort of people I could simply talk to. That you care. That no one’s experiences or struggles are too small or insignificant. Each of us matters.

Before I head off, I’ve enclosed some leftover egg yolks, which I thought you could use to make up your tempura paint. I made a pavlova yesterday and I hate wasting the left over yolks. By the way, I’ve attached my recipe for Betsy. I understand she made a lot of meringues in her time.

Best wishes,

Rowena

wind-from-the-sea

Andrew Wyeth: Wind From the Sea.

A Letter From Andrew Wyeth

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter and the egg yolks. I’ve already started on a painting. This one depicts Andy Warhol’s reaction when I received your letter and he missed out. Dad, ever out to compete and do things bigger, bolder, brighter has splashed oils all over the biggest canvas in stock. Mine is more subdued, but you’ll have to wait.

I was rather taken aback to read that you have lung troubles, my friend. You see, I had lung troubles from a very young age and even had one of my lungs removed and the other one wasn’t that good either. So, I was living on less than half a tank never expecting to grow up, make it through middle age and it was the most confusing things after being so terribly ill, to actually see most of my friends pass away before me like Autumn leaves.

So, my friend, there is hope for you yet.

Sorry, I forgot to thank you for the Pavlova recipe. Betsy loved it and everyone’s grateful for a change to meringues!

Best wishes,

Andrew.

By the way, I highly recommend Dan Schneider’s Video interview with three experts on Andrew Wyeth:

 

[1] http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3707.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374451/

https://curiator.com/art/andrew-wyeth/trodden-weed

 

V-Leonardo Da Vinci – Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

‘Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.’

-Leonardo Da Vinci

Welcome back to my series for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge… Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Leonardo Da Vinci and I’ve paired him up with the inimitable David Bowie. Firstly, encapsulating the relationship between the artistic genius and their masterpiece (in Leonardo’s case being the Mona Lisa), I’ve chosen Heroes (I will be King, and you, you will be Queen). To reflect the man of science and the great inventor, I’ve chosen Star Man.

My goodness! Only a masochist or a lunatic would ever attempt to tackle Leonardo da Vinci in one day. Well, it hasn’t exactly been a day, because there’s been something like a lifetime of osmosis, absorbing his genius drop by drop like a glass of rich, red Beaujolais. I’ve also managed to squeeze some preparation while working on the rest.

‘Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.’

Leonardo Da Vinci

Of course,  Leonardo is so much more than the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, or even his Vitruvian Man. He is a man who deeply embraced painting, anatomy, science, engineering and had an absolute fascination with flight. There was seemingly no end to his vast genius and he certainly wasn’t one of those experts who stuck tenaciously to their specialty but knew nothing about the bigger picture. He even dissected the human smile, to find out how it worked. The only thing I’ve dissected lately, other than the minds of dead artists, has been a leg of lamb.

 

On the 29th July, 1992, the day before my 23rd birthday, I visited the Louvre in Paris for the very first time. I know it was on that very day, because I still have the ticket pasted into my diary some 26 years later. I also recorded my very first impressions of seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time.

By the way, I should probably point out that I stayed in Paris for about six weeks and so my experience was very different to somebody who was in more of a hurry and needing to cross things off their checklist. Hence, there was this remark:

I’m about to be stampeded by tourists here all blindly whizzing past without pausing to take in the other art. It’s” Go Directly to the Mona Lisa. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”

It looks like I took my time to find the Mona Lisa, and by the time I found her, I wasn’t that impressed:

“What’s the big deal about Mona Lisa? Why is it here? Why is it everywhere? The most reproduced work of art. The crowd watching the Mona Lisa is more interesting. Standing on tippy toes of tippy toes with cameras, video cameras all vying for a shot. …Why doesn’t anybody challenge the supremacy of this boring portrait? Sure, her eyes follow you around and there’s something about her smile, which suggests she knows some unspoken, secret raison d’etre. That she holds the key to unlocking the truth of human existence behind that ever-reproduced smile. It’s quite apt then, that she’s kept sealed behind the glass. We need to protect her secret as though one day she will speak. Share her words of wisdom gained from watching her admirers with those moving eyes and watching us while were watching her and making her own conclusions about humanity. It’s like…if you could cut her smile open with a Swiss Army Knife, the mystery would all gush out from behind the canvas. Of speak, oh Mona. Speak!”

Later on, I added:

“She’s determined to keep her mouth shut to hold onto her precious secret, because it’s the only privacy she has left.”

I wrote a lot more about the Mona Lisa and visiting the Louvre while I was actually there, especially about the Salle de Rubins, which I absolutely loved. It was much more my type of art than the Mona Lisa.

However, my understanding of Leonardo da Vinci went to another level when I attended a touring exhibition in Sydney. This exhibition brought to life a number of his inventions and it was amazing to see them in person and even interact with them. I was so impressed by the exhibition that I saw it once by myself and then went back with the family. Our son was only five at the time and our daughter was three but I just felt it was something they had to experience. Who knows what they retained, but I wanted to plant a seed.

Through this exhibition I gained a much deeper appreciation of Leonardo’s quest for humans to fly as well as how his detailed knowledge of human anatomy gained by dissecting and drawing cadavers himself, must’ve greatly contributed towards his artistic genius. Indeed, I wondered if I embraced my physical body more, whether my creativity would also flourish in some way. Leonardo’s example, at least as far as I’ve been concerned, demonstrates the importance of creative cross-training where you’re not just an Artist, a Poet or Photographer, but you enhance your abilities by delving into other fields the same way for example that a runner will go to the gym, swim and modify diet to improve their overall fitness and performance.

This brings me to perhaps the greatest mystery of all surrounded Leonardo Da Vinci…What was the source of his genius?

Ritchie Caldor author of Leonardo & The Age of the Eye writes: “There was nothing in Leonardo’s origins to account for his attributes. For generations on his father’s side, they had been notories, registrars, farmers and winegrowers. His mother, Caterina, who was “of humble station”.”Certainly he was an interesting concatenation of genes, from the unlikely stock-pot of rural Tuscany, from the lusty notary and the peasant wench.”

He goes on to say:

“The shuffled genes of heredity talents can be compared to the deck of cards in the game of poker. In the deal, one would recognize as a genius anything from a Full House to a royal flush. Leonardo held the ace, the king, the queen, the knave and the ten – supreme in the talents of many fields- but in our awe we tend to throw in the joker as well and regard him as unique for all time- The Universal Genius. Rather we should regard him as the Universal Man who added to his innate talents an avid awareness of what was going on around him, and could exercise his skill in expressing and amplifying his own interests.”

This brings me to a very interesting point. What would you do if you had a genius like Leonardo Da Vinci in your family? Would you simply stop at the one you had, or would you try to create some more? Clearly, this type of thinking was taken to an extreme by the Nazi’s with their horrific crimes against humanity. However, we’re not talking about something on such a grand scale. Just perhaps being a little selective in your choice of marriage partner, for example.

Well, Leonardo had a half-brother by his father’s third wife, Bartolommeo who examined every detail of his father’s association with Caterina  and sought out  another peasant woman who corresponded to what he knew about Caterina and married her. He called the child Piero. The boy looked like Leonardo and was brought up with all the encouragement to follow in his footsteps. He became an artist and a sculptor of some talent but unfortunately died young. After that, “the Da Vinci genes reverted to the commonplace”.

Portrait circa 1510

My Letter To Leonardo Da Vinci

Dear Leonardo,

There was only one way I could post my letter to you, Leonardo…as a paper plane. How I wish that I could take you up in a jumbo jet and soar above the clouds. Or, perhaps you’d prefer hang gliding?

Personally, I’d rather stick to the relative safety of a plane, but you strike me as more of a risk taker. A man of action. Indeed, perhaps you’re the embodiment of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker. Although he might be called “The Thinker”, you just need to look at his muscular legs to see he’s not a desk jockey. That his thoughts translate into action.

This brings me to my question:

What does it take to create a genius? What are the essential ingredients?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Why did you put “Describe the tongue of the woodpecker” on your to do list? Why did it matter?

Vitruvian man

A Letter From Leonardo Da Vinci

Dear Rowena,

You sure know how to throw a dead artist in at the deep end. How to create a genius? You could’ve given me something easy to warm up on. Indeed, I could’ve described the tongue of a woodpecker without any trouble at all! Creating a genius? That’s going to take a bit of thought and I might have to consult a few of these fellow dead artists.

Not that I’ve been idle around here. I brought my insatiable curiosity with me, and have been driving everyone mad asking: “Why is it so?” They told me in no uncertain terms to join the choir!

Anyway, I flicked through some of my notebooks I’ve written up here and have jotted down a few ideas:

Firstly, curiosity is very important. It’s more important to ask questions, than it is to have all the answers. “I roamed the countryside searching for the answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plant and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it and why immediately on its creation the lightening becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engaged my thought throughout my life.”

Leonardo eye drawing

Secondly, you need to keep your eyes open. The sense of sight is three times greater than any of the other senses: “The eye whereby the beauty of the world is reflected by beholders is of such excellence that whoso consents to its loss deprives himself of the representation of all the works of nature. Because we can see these things owing to our eyes the soul is content to stay imprisoned in the human body; for through the eyes all the various things of nature are represented to the soul. Who loses his eyes leaves his soul a dark prison without hope of ever again seeing the sun, light of all the world….”

Lastly, you need to get out there and make things happen. Stop sticking your manuscripts in your bottom drawer and filing your paintings at the back of your cupboard.  “People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

I hope that helps. I’ll put my thinking cap on and try to think of some more.
Best wishes,

Leonardo.

Further Reading & References

When it Takes the Village…Friday Fictioneers.

There was no reason why he couldn’t ski off the edge of Mt Kosciusko. Fly across the valley with the crow. Not even for the smallest nanosecond, did he actually consider his human form. That while his spirit soared, that he was made of flesh and blood and belonged to the Earth.

“Joshua! Joshua!” The crow was calling his name.

“Joshua!” His mother’s scream echoed across the valley. Only the power of prayer could save him now.

The stranger could almost sense his skis mysteriously turning under foot, then spotted the troubled young man and understood. His time had come.

……..

100 Words

This story is dedicated to families who love and cherish children with special needs and the constant vigilance required to keep them safe. An 11 year old autistic boy was run over and killed by a train in Sydney last week after escaping from a care facility.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Jan Wayne Fields.

Best wishes,

Rowena