Tag Archives: art

On Being an Artist…A Second letter from Shibata Zeshin A-Z Challenge.

This morning, I was trying to eat my breakfast and get back to the land of the living after spending the last month with an alphabet soup of dead artists. However, Japanese artist, Shibata Zeshin, had other ideas and wrote me another letter.

While I know what he’s getting at, I wasn’t quite sure how to condense all this wisdom into a succinct heading. However, it seems that he has a real heart for young emerging artists, not just in terms of painters, but also musicians, dancers…the works.

You see, he saw quite a difference in how young people and society approach learning their craft nowadays, to when he was a young man and it rattled him a bit. That although we live in this instant everything society, that it still takes time, patience, incredible perseverance, as well as natural talent, to produce a masterpiece. Moreover, it also takes a lot of faith, and an almost unrealistic belief that you can hop from mountain peak to mountain peak. That there might even be a bridge.

Anyway, the way that I’ve been rambling on for so long, soon you won’t need to read his letter, because I’ll have already spilled the beans, but here goes…

poem-and-falling-cherry-petals-1880

A Second Letter From Shibata Zeshin

Dear Rowena,

Last night, I retreated to the Quiet Carriage when I could simply be with my thoughts, my paintbrush and paper and think as an artist thinks…by painting.

Being the last artist onboard, I really haven’t had much of a chance to meet the other artists or see much of the contemporary world beyond our train. However, one thing has come across loud and clear. That is, an almost compulsive need to have everything done yesterday, and that at the press of a button, the world is at your command. This was very impressive. However, this is no way to make a lacquer box,  and while you can now buy yourself a cheap plastic or cardboard box, that can never replace the work of a master craftsman. Even with all your gadgets and trashy products, there is still a place for precision, beauty and quality craftsmanship…and it’s worth the extra cost.

However, what concerns me is that your young people think they know it all and have nothing to learn. That the long arduous painstaking methods of, for example, producing one of my lacquer boxes, take too long and they can just go on one of these reality shows and soar from obscurity to fame overnight. While this has seemingly been the lot of the winners, what you don’t see is the many, many years of diligent practice and how they have started from scratch and not usually experienced a smooth path to the top, but more of a jagged trajectory with more downs than ups. That they have a talent for perseverance, just as much as doing their thing be it painting, sculpture, dance, writing. Success is not a gift, and is by no means always guaranteed.

By the way, developing these skills isn’t just about developing technique either. You also need to experience the world in all its complexity to reflect the spirit of a living, breathing thing. Otherwise, there’s only an empty shell, something empty and mechanical and it can go and paint itself.

Being an artist is all encompassing. It’s in every breath that you take, and all that you see. It never stops or switches off. It is your being.

Best wishes,

Shibata Zeshin.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Needless to say, I’m a bit lost for words with his advice, but I will pass it onto my kids because I find it very reassuring. As a child, I was so impressed that my mother could sight-read any piece of music on the piano, but what I didn’t know was how exceptional her talent was, and how hard she’d worked to develop it further. If I had, I might not have been so frustrated by my own efforts. Playing the piano for her, is like breathing. I hope I’m not elevating my own writing abilities, to say that my kids might well look at my writing in the same way, and feel it’s completely unattainable. That they can’t write. Or, that Mum’s the writer. While I was always good at writing, I wasn’t great when I was younger and I had to work at it and my family and friends had to put up with some pretty dreadful and even sickening poetry over the years. However, I improved. Moreover, it’s something I’m continuously working to improve. That journey will never end. I am constantly seeking more, like a parched and thirsty traveller lost in the desert. I will lick the precious water droplets off the leaves if I have to.

On that note, I’d better go and see whether the fridge has cooked dinner tonight. Or, should I have words with the stove?

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I thought I’d just include a few paragraphs which explain just a fraction of the effort that went into making one of Shibata Zeshin’s lacquer boxes….

“Until Zeshin’s time, most quality lacquerwares had relied for their decorative effect not only on painstaking craftsmanship but also on lavish use of precious metal flakes, foils, and powders, as well as other materials such as ivory, coral, and shell. Zeshin learned these traditional methods from an early age and used them through his life. During the 1840s, however, he responded to harsh new laws against conspicuous consumption by developing alternative types of decoration, using cheaper materials but devoting extra time and skill to their preparation and execution.

To achieve the wave-patterned seigaiha-nuri (“blue-sea-waves lacquering”), for example, he pulled a comb through a thin layer of wet lacquer mixed with cereal starch to

Tetsusabi-nuri: Cake box with butterflies and stylized chrysanthemums, about 1860–90. Lacquered wood, 4 1/2 x 6 5/8 x 2 1/2 in. (11.4 x 16.8 x 6.4 cm). Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection; courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art.

improve its viscosity, an apparently simple technique requiring almost unimaginable skill and accuracy, since the work had to be perfectly executed in a very short time before the lacquer dried, and mistakes could not be corrected. To create a subdued dark-green ground suggestive of antique Chinese bronze, called seidō-nuri (“bronze lacquering”), he scattered several layers of charcoal and bronze dust onto wet lacquer, while in tetsusabi-nuri (“iron-rust lacquering”) he simulated the look of rusty iron using charcoal dust, vinegar, and iron-oxide filings. Shitan-nuri, the most elaborate of all these finishes, combines a whole range of techniques (including the use of a scratching tool made from a rat’s tooth) to imitate polished Chinese rosewood.”

https://www.japansociety.org/page/multimedia/articles/the_genius_of_japanese_lacquer_masterworks_by_shibata_zeshin

 

Z- Shibata Zeshin, Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Z…the very last day of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme for 2018 is Writing Letters to Dead Artists and the last artist I’ll be writing to during the challenge, is Japanese artist Shibata Zeshin (1801-1891).

During this series, I’ve revealed a raw honesty which is somewhat of a personal trademark. So, I’m undermine that by pretending  that I understand Shibata Zeshin, and know everything there is to know about him. Indeed, after so many very late nights and burning the post-midnight oil, I was even prepared to be creative…a dead artist who was snoring Z’s perhaps…

However, thank goodness for my Google lucky dips, because I not only found Shibata Zeshin but I very bravely dipped my toe into the very tip of the Japanese art “iceberg”. Personally, I find it a bit intimidating tapping into Japanese art. Their culture is much more structured than what I’m used to which many rules and an exquisite attention to detail which in itself is totally foreign to me. Moreover, as an aspiring perfectionist, there’s only one thing I hate making mistakes and try to fill myself up with so much knowledge and detail that I couldn’t possibly slip up and get something wrong, especially mucking up something as important as a historical detail. People have been hung, drawn and quartered for less.

Yet, it is far better to get up and have a go and do something. To extend yourself beyond the safe and the familiar than it is to stay within your comfort zone and go nowhere. I keep reminding myself of this, but quite often these processes are quite unconscious and our lives are that busy, that we can easily move onto something else and that covers up our avoidance. I guess this is where going public with your ambitions is important. There’s always someone who’ll ask you how that book you abandoned a few years ago and consigned to the bottom drawer is going. One of these days, I’d at least like to tell them that something got published. Anything! I’m not fussy anymore. Indeed, am rapidly sliding towards desperate, which as any single out in the dating scene knows, is never a good thing.

Anyway, here goes…

Shibata Zeshin was born and raised in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). His grandfather Izumi Chobei and his father Ichigoro were shrine carpenters (miyadaiku) and skilled wood carvers. His father, who had taken his wife’s family name of Shibata, was also an experienced ukiyo-e painter, having studied under Katsukawa Shunshō. At age eleven, Kametaro, as Zeshin was called in his childhood, became apprenticed to a lacquerer named Koma Kansai II. At age 13, the young man who would become Zeshin abandoned the name Kametaro and became Junzo. Koma Kansai decided that his young charge would need to learn to sketch, paint, and create original designs in order to become a great lacquerer. He arranged for young Shibata to study under Suzuki Nanrei, a great painter of the Shijō school. Shibata then took on yet another artist’s name, abandoning Junzo and signing his works “Reisai,” using the Rei from Suzuki Nanrei, and the sai from Koma Kansai.

It was during his time with Nanrei that he was given the name Zeshin, which he would stick with for the rest of his life. The name has a meaning similar to “this is true” or “the Truth”. It was a reference to an old Chinese tale of a king who held an audience with a great number of painters. While nearly all of the painters afforded the king the proper respect, bowing before him and comporting themselves appropriately, one arrived half-naked, did not bow, and sat on the floor licking his paintbrush; the king exclaimed “now, this is a true artist!” And from this the name Zeshin was taken[1]. That story really amused me.

Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891) was the greatest of all lacquer artists. His unique talent was hewn from a childhood spent in traditional artisan workshops, a strong respect and devotion to tradition, and a constant thirst for innovation and self-education. His career saw the transition of Japan from the Edo (samurai) period to the Meiji era, when the nation, united under a semi-constitutional monarchy, set about an ambitious modernization process that would rapidly develop the country into a world power.

Zeshin took full advantage of these abrupt changes. A shogunal decree restricting artists’ use of precious metals, materials considered essential to lacquer work, led Zeshin to instead employ bronze dust, charcoal, and iron filings to create novel, eye-teasing effects. One of very few lacquerers granted the title of Artist to the Imperial Household, he later embraced the emergence of Japan on the world stage, exhibiting his work at international expositions and developing new ways to push the boundaries of lacquer to rival Western oil paintings. It was during this period that Zeshin created a series of masterpieces in lacquered wood, lacquer painting, and conventional ink painting on paper or silk that attracted numerous prominent clients and made him one of the first living Japanese artists to achieve name recognition in Europe and the United States. Yet he remained at heart a proud member of Japan’s urban artisan class, and his art is emblematic of his extraordinary ability to combine two conflicting roles in a time of national upheaval[2].

Through his depictions of nature, Zeshin has elevated the simple into something truly magnificent, and almost had an ethereal sense. Indeed, he’s immortalised his fleeting glimpses of nature and his works have that real sense of being in the moment, or even inside it, where time doesn’t even exist and the observer and the subject are one. Moreover, he also brings out the spirit of the subject.

grasshopper-and-sunflower-1877

This brings me to Zeshin’s Grasshopper & Sunflower 1877. While the sunflower immediately caught my eye and the grasshopper was more of a distraction or something to be shoed away, this is not my culture and my gut told me this grasshopper was there for a reason That is, one other than hiding from some kid madly chasing it with their Bug Catcher. Oops! That’s right. They didn’t have Bug Catchers back in 1877, but I’m sure someone or something was trying to catch it in their own way, even if it was just the artist with his brush. Anyway, that’s how I found out that the Japanese see the grasshopper as a symbol of good luck and have a long tradition of enjoying their beautiful calls, both in the wild and as pets. Indeed, grasshoppers also appeared in Haiku:

Grasshopper’s song in

moonlight- someone’s

survived theflood.

Issa

Yet, as I said, I was drawn to the sunflower, not the grasshopper.

“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”
― Helen Mirren, Actor

Van Gogh Sunflowers

Why pay millions, when you can pick one up at the local thrift shop…

If you’ve been following the series through, you may recall that I have a very strong attachment to Van Gogh’s Sunflower Series. Indeed, I have a print of the London version hanging in our hallway, and have also seen the Amsterdam version in person and experienced the sunflowers dancing right in front of me. Back at university, I also recited my “sunflower” poem at readings, and it became a bit of a connection with the person I wrote it about. So, just like Van Gogh, I felt like the sunflower was mine.

In Japanese, the sunflower is called Himari, it is very popular in Japan and even has its own festival in Zama city, Kanagawa prefecture where farmers plant sunflowers as a fill in crop after the wheat harvest to avoid undesirable weeds proliferating in the fields. Presumably the farmers also harvest and sell the sunflower seeds.

However, the sunflower isn’t just an eye-catching beauty. As well as providing a harvest of seeds, sunflowers also reduce toxins in the soil through a process called phytoremediation. The sunflower sucks up toxins like lead, arsenic and uranium, which are sucked up by the roots and after a few generations, the soil can be returned to forests. Indeed, through the Chernobyl Sunflower Project, sunflowers were used to clean up the radioactive waste in the plant’s cooling pond. Japan has followed their lead with the Fukushima Sunflower project to remove radioactive waste after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

Personally, I find this very exciting. While I don’t lie awake worrying about the fallout from these disasters, you only have to switch on the news to be very concerned about the state of our planet and a natural solution like this is absolutely fantastic. Bring it on.

The only question I have is…Do you think we could possibly plant sunflowers inside the brains of society’s bad eggs, and decontaminate them? Indeed, this process could also be used to treat depression? Hey, I just thought of a third possible application….plant sunflowers in the brains of teenagers and they’ll start turning to the sun all day, instead of their electronics. Much better for them!

Sunflowers, therefore, have their healing powers and there was perhaps no greater psychological need, than when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in the Ukraine and the plane just happened to crash in a field of sunflowers, who incidentally turned their faces away from the horror. Everyone onboard was killed and the twisted and broken wreckage reflected the heartbreak and brokenness of their loved ones and mourners the world over. You might not be aware that the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul McGeough, Foreign Correspondent and photographer, Kate Gerraghty, salvaged sunflower seeds from the scene and brought them back via quarantine for the families and friends of the victims. Paul McGeogh writes: “we had decided that if families and friends of the Australian victims could not get to the crash site, then we were obliged to bring them a keepsake. First we wondered about a small quantity of soil, which might be carried in a locket. But we settled on seeds – they would be lighter, more compact and, with careful gardening, might be propagated from year to year. It would help too, we thought, that sunflowers are such happy chaps.[3]

Sunflower letter

Sunflower seeds from the Ukraine

It’s a long story but I received some of these seeds in the mail and planted them in our backyard. I also took the seedlings into my kids’ classes at school and beyond and talking about what these photographers did to make a difference. My only hope is that these seeds grew and the sunflowers’s smiles and their special phytoremediation abilities somehow managed to ease their grief.

However, it just so happened that the plane landed in a field of sunflowers and I guess these beautiful, vibrant flowers can to represent good triumphing over evil and hate, as well as a hope for the future when for the families who lost their precious loved ones, they were plunged  not only into unfathomable grief, but also a burning sense of injustice. A need to see terrorism, war and violence wiped off the face of the earth. Or, at the very least, from underneath the flight paths of passenger jets.

Two Carp

Shibata Zeshin, Two Carp.

 “The orange of the golden carp appeared at the edge of the pond. . . . We watched in silence at the beauty and grandeur of the great fish. Out of the corners of my eyes I saw Cico hold his hand to his breast as the golden carp glided by. Then with a switch of his powerful tail the golden carp disappeared into the shadowy water under the thicket.”
Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

Returning to environmental disasters, as much as I really admired Shibato Zeshin’s carp, as an Australian, I find it very hard to like carp anymore after they’ve taken over many Australian waterways and are killing our native fish. It’s been a huge problem for quite awhile, especially in the Murray River. However, there are plans to release a virulent strain of herpes virus into the Murray-Darling river system in a bid to eradicate European carp, in what Science Minister Christopher Pyne has dubbed a “carp-aggedon”.

So after staring at the sunflowers, chasing grasshoppers and trying to keep the carp out of our river systems, I’d better start writing my letter to Shibata Zeshin.

My Letter to Shibata Zeshin

Dear Shibata,

The obvious thing to ask anyone whose name starts with Z, is whether they’re always sick of being last and always at the end of the alphabet? Most humans are very stuck in their ways and for some reason organizing things in reverse alphabetical order is too difficult. I’m not sure whether they think they’re some very complex and difficult mathematical equation involved, or if they’re just lazy. Of course, I could understand why a librarian wouldn’t want to rearrange an entire library just to give the Z authors a better chance of being chosen, but is doesn’t take much to rearrange a classroom of kids. Mind you, I guess that would set the teachers brain in reverse, which could be dangerous, especially if they started walking backwards. Best we leave things just the way they are, before we have any nasty accidents and next time you decide to change your name, might I suggest you go for Aardvark. It’s very popular in the telephone book.

However, I’m not writing to you to discuss the alphabet, other than to apologise for getting to you so late in the peace and you’ll only have one day to join us on the journey, where we’ve been visiting Dead Artists from A-Z. Quite a few of these artists were influenced by Japanese art, so even though you stuck to more of a traditional Japanese style yourself, you might find it interesting to see how it’s been applied over in Europe by the likes of Edgar Degas and Van Gogh. By the way, you and Van Gogh are both into sunflowers in a big way, and they could be the start of a great friendship. Van Gogh was trying to set up an artists community in Arles in the South of France so maybe you could both join up with Gauguin and set something up near a dazzling field of sunflowers. Indeed, you might want to visit the festival in Zama city, Kanagawa prefecture. They have 30 different species of sunflower so you’re bound to find at least one which inspires you.

“I write, erase, rewrite,
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms”

Issa

Focus, Rowena. Focus.

Thank goodness Issa whispered in my ear again…

“A world of dew,
And within every drewdrop
A world of struggle”

Shibata, I wanted to ask you why there is so much struggle, tragedy and heartache in our world. So many of the artists in this series have suffered enormous grief, sometimes through the loved ones they’ve tragically or prematurely lost, but many have also experienced a grief, a sadness, an inner torment which is simply the storm within. I know and understand that we can’t be happy all the time and that we need the interaction between misery and joy, happiness and sorrow to be able to experience joy much more intensely, but why does growth have to hurt so much?

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Shibata Zeshin.

Dear Rowena,

The weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders, Rowena. It is carried by the cranes. Leave them to it.

I’m not sure if anyone’s immune to suffering. But the world is also overflowing with such beauty. When your heart is heavy, turn your eyes outward and see creation all around you. Don’t let it slip through your fingertips. Yet, don’t hold onto it too tightly either or your destroy it. Simply hold it in the palm of your hand. Or, watch it through that camera lens of yours and absorb each and every particle until you’re one.

Many people used to tell me I did things my own way, which is why they called me “Zeshin” and it stuck. Do you really think there could be a way of planting sunflowers in people’s heads? Technology is so advanced in your world, anything’s possible. I just heard Van Gogh asking Gauguin to “Beam me up, Scotty” and he disappeared. I’m going next.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with another Haiku…

With dewdrops dripping,

I wish somehow I could wash

this perishing world

Basho

Best wishes,

Shibata Zeshin.

mouse Zeshin

 

References & Links

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibata_Zeshin

[2] http://artdaily.com/news/22655/Genius-of-Japanese-Lacquer–Masterworks-by-Shibata-Zeshin#.WucHPZdlNhE

[3] https://www.smh.com.au/interactive/2015/planting-hope/

 

 

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

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

U- Paolo Uccelli “Paul of the Birds” – Letters to Dead Artist, A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Letters to Dead Artists, my theme for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Today, I’ll be writing to Paolo Uccelli (1397 – 1475), or “Paul of the Birds”.Uccelli will be accompanied by the Two Cellos playing  Game of Thrones

So strap on your seat belts. We’re boarding the time machine and heading back to early Renaissance Florence. By the way, the term Renaissance means rebirth.  and to give you a quick insight into Paolo Uccelli, he was concerned with achieving with linear perspective, something which hasn’t really crossed my mind so I’m in for a steep learning curve.

Cinque_maestri_del_rinascimento_fiorentino,_XVI_sec,_paolo_uccello

Portrait of Paolo Uccelli, Artist unknown, The Louvre, Paris.

Rather than going into much biographical detail about Uccelli, I’m going to place him in a very loose historical context. While there’s naturally debate about The Renaissance, it roughly started in Florence around 1350-1400. Paulo Uccelli was born in 1397 and died in 1475 only 17 years before Colombus “discovered the “New World” in 1492. Florence’s Cathedrale di Santa Maria de Fiore was completed in 1436, during Uccelli’s life time. Botticelli was born in 1445 and died in 1510. Leonardo Da Vinci was born in 1452 in near Vinci in Tuscany and died in 1519 in France. Michelangelo was born in 1475… the year Uccelli died.

According to Vasari, Uccello’s first painting was a Saint Anthony between the saints Cosmas and Damianus, a commission for the hospital of Lelmo. Next, he painted two figures in the convent of Annalena. Shortly afterwards, he painted three frescoes with scenes from

Paolo Uccello The Annunciation 1430

Paolo Uccelli, The Annunciation

anta Maria Maggiore church, he painted a fresco of the Annunciation. In this fresco, he painted a large building with columns in perspective. According to Vasari, people found this to be a great and beautiful achievement because this was the first example of how lines could be expertly used to demonstrate perspective and size. As a result, this work became a model for artists who wished to craft illusions of space in order to enhance the realness of their paintings.1.

One aspect of Uccello’s work that writers have not failed to praise is his imaginative and innovative imagery, replete with fantastically elaborate dragons, fierce thunderstorms, the pageantry of war, and the elegance of the Renaissance hunt 2.

When it comes to most of the artists in this series, we’ve had “history”. Thank goodness, we’re only talking about falling in love with their paintings and sculptures, and not with the artists themselves. Or, I’d be in huge trouble with my husband. Putting the shoe on the other foot, goodness know how I’d feel if he ran off with 26 artists for the month. Let’s just say there would be a “discussion” at the very least.

On the other hand, when it came to choosing Paolo Uccelli, is was more of a lucky dip because I didn’t know any artists starting with “U”. However, there’s nothing like turning a challenge into an opportunity, is there? Could I actually find a connection with Uccelli’s art after plucking his name out of a hat? That remained to be seen. First, I had to check out his paintings, and get to know what I could about the man. A man who died in 1475 and 563 years ago and all I really have to go on is Giorgio Vasari’s biography, written 75 years after Paolo’s death, and a few contemporary official documents. Indeed, it would easier to get to know the man on the moon.

Yet, all it takes is an angle and a hook and from there, you can launch a journey of a thousand miles. On the other hand, you can also end up in a dead-end before you’ve even got started. It’s all in the luck of the draw as well as just how persistent you are as a researcher and conversationalist. Can you draw blood from a stone or a dead artist who could be very determined to conceal their secrets.

When it comes to understanding Uccelli, it’s all a matter of PERSPECTIVE. That is, the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.

However, if you’ve ever seen me try to park my car, you’ll know that my spatial skills are abysmal. Moreover, while my husband will tell you I can’t navigate or read a map, our son would just snatch the map away and give up on me in disgust.

So, you could say I have a lot of learn about perspective.

However, that’s another story.

What I wanted to understand was why perspective was such a big deal to Renaissance artists. Surely, perspective was kind of obvious…what’s close up appears larger than the stuff in the distance or further away. However, that also depends on your world view. You see, during the medieval period, a person or object who was more important, was often larger than a less significant person who might’ve been standing closer. That’s putting it very simply, but if you’re anything like me when it comes to geometry and maths, I need to keep it very slow and s-i-m-p-l-e.

In about 1413 there was a big breakthrough in art when  a contemporary of Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, demonstrated the geometrical method of perspective, used today by artists, by painting the outlines of various Florentine buildings onto a mirror. When the building’s outline was continued, he noticed that all of the lines converged on the horizon line. According to Vasari, he then set up a demonstration of his painting of the Baptistery in the incomplete doorway of the Duomo. He had the viewer look through a small hole on the back of the painting, facing the Baptistery. He would then set up a mirror, facing the viewer, which reflected his painting. To the viewer, the painting of the Baptistery and the building itself were nearly indistinguishable. Soon after, nearly every artist in Florence and in Italy used geometrical perspective in their paintings, notably Paolo Uccello, Masolino da Panicale and Donatello.

Speaking abut Renaissance sculptor Donatello, Uccello and Donatello were long term friends, and Uccello even named his son after him.

800px-OrteliusWorldMap1570

Ortelius World Map 1570.

Letter to Paolo Uccello

Dear Paolo,

I hope you don’t mind me popping in on you like this out of the blue. Of course, even a dead artist should be allowed to rest in peace, but are you getting bored? After all, you were living in Florence during the early Renaissance, when humanity was just waking up from years of repression and a very long sleep. Indeed, humanity was thirsting for knowledge, and it was such a time of human discovery and awakening. You were there. Not on the periphery of it all. You were there in Florence at the very epicentre of it all. What was it like?

Today, I was reading about the Renaissance and how humanity had lost all the knowledge of the mighty Greek and Roman civilizations for a thousand years. That’s not to say, nothing was going on during those so-called Dark Ages, but it is a healthy reminder that what goes up, can come down and we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels. How much would it take to destroy much of our centres of learning? There’s the nuclear threat, global warming, but what about a computer virus? A lightening bolt up in the cloud? Then they’ll be saying “Blessed are the book hoarders, for they will have knowledge.”

By the way, I thought I’d enclose a current world map, along with a copy of Ortelius’s WorldMap from 1570 so you can get a bit of a comparison. If you look down towards the bottom of the map, you’ll find Australia and I’m from Sydney, a beautiful city with its stunning harbour, Harbour Bridge and Opera House all coming together to make a perfect  postcard. Hope you like it.

Well, I’ve been so engrossed in the Renaissance, that I haven’t been able to make my ANZAC biscuits. Tomorrow is ANZAC Day here where we honour those who have served our country, especially those you made the ultimate sacrifice.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Paolo Uccelli

Dear Rowena,

Thank goodness you wrote to me. I can’t tell you what it’s been like being cut off from the happenings on Earth for so long. Of course, we have quite an artists fraternity up here, and even Heaven has it’s prima donnas always wanting their portraits done. I’m afraid there’s no such thing as a selfie up here, although I could think of a few good uses for the stick, especially if you could attach an electric current!

I actually have a question for you, Rowena. What happens when you lose perspective? My entire life’s mission was to find perspective, and now humans are throwing that all away. Humph! That Jackson Pollock and I…Let’s just say were seated poles apart up here at the dinner table. That man was something of a rogue barbarian splashing his paint around like that, without any respect for the rules. You know what really breaks my heart, is the extraordinary price tag humanity has attached to that rubbish when mine works are worth a fraction of the price. Indeed, one of mine ended up in a charity shop in Bondi the other day, simply because someone was decluttering. I bought it back and hid it. You’re not getting it back.

Anyway, as I said, what happens when you lose perspective? Not just in a painting or in your own life, but as a civilization?

Civilizations can rise up, but just as easily fall down. Your generation takes too much for granted, and has become lazy. Why can’t you walk, instead of burning up the planet wasting so much petrol? You only have two feet, so why do you have enough shoes for an army? You’ll end up consuming the Earth.

Hey, but what would I know? I’m just a Renaissance Man!

Your friend,

Paolo

PS: Could you please send me one of those cheeky white cockatoos with the yellow crest? I’d love to teach it to speak and stir up Leonardo. He works so hard and could use a funny distraction.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paolo_Uccello

http://www.carnesecchi.eu/Maggiore4.htm

 

T – Albert Tucker- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome Back to the A-Z Challenge, where I am writing Letters to Dead Artists through the month of April. Today’s artist, is Australian expressionist Albert Tucker (1914-1999). He is being accompanied by INXS – The Devil Inside.

While it is difficult for me to work out the exact sequence of events, I saw a Retrospective of Albert Tucker’s works in 1990, and I think it was held at the same time as an exhibition of the German Expressionists, who heavily influenced Albert Tucker’s work. I can’t be sure of the exact sequence of events. HOwever, what I do recall, is what it meant for me as a young university student, to stumble across these vivid, emotionally demonstrative paintings when I felt locked inside an inner labyrinth with so much built up angst I could barely breathe. As an extroverted poet who grew up in Volvoland, I found Albert Tucker’s works so liberating. While I might not have been able to show how I was really feeling, he had done it for me, and I particularly felt drawn towards his with its terrifying image of the speeding tram with its glowing headlight staring straight at you. Indeed, I am very, very careful whenever I go to Melbourne around those trams. It wouldn’t take much for one of them to sneak up behind you and flatten you.

The Torment of Love Unsatisfied

Albert Tucker, The Torment of Love Unsatisfied

Well, Albert Tucker was almost over by a tram at night, and so you could say his fear and animosity towards trams is well placed.

However, the tram was just one character which appeared in his famous Images of Modern Evil series, painted between 1943 and 1948.

This series offers a probing and powerful insight into the schismatic socio-political climate of World War II and its aftermath. Moreover, it proved formative in Tucker’s practice as a distillation of humanist, psychological and mythological ideas and as a vehicle for specific motifs and narratives that have endured within his art.

Victory Girls

Albert Tucker, Victory Girls, National Gallery of Australia.