Tag Archives: artist

S- Salvador Dali- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to my latest dead artist. Today, I’ll be writing to creative powerhouse, Salvador Dali (1904 -1989).

Well, not everyone sees him that way. Writing in The Guardian, Australian art critic Robert Hughes, dismissed Dalí’s later works as “kitschy repetition of old motifs or vulgarly pompous piety on a Cinemascope scale.” Moreover, when Dawn Ades of England’s University of Essex, a leading Dalí scholar, began specializing in his work 30 years ago, her colleagues were aghast. “They thought I was wasting my time,” she says. “He had a reputation that was hard to salvage. I have had to work very hard to make it clear how serious he really was.” 1.

“One day it will have to be officially admitted that what we have christened reality is an even greater illusion than the world of dreams.”

-Salvador Dali

To provide a brief biographical sketch, Salvador Dali was born in 1904 in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. When he was 16, he lost his mother to breast cancer, which was according to him: “the greatest blow I had experienced in my life”. In 1922, Dalí moved into the Residencia de Estudiantes (Students’ Residence) in Madrid and studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. Dalí already drew attention as an eccentric and dandy. He had long hair and sideburns, coat, stockings, and knee-breeches in the style of English aesthetes of the late 19th century.  In 1924, French writer, Andre Breton, published his Manifesto of Surrealism, which influenced artists and writers alike. In 1926, Dali visited Pablo Picasso in Paris and found inspiration in what the cubists were doing. Picasso had already heard favorable reports about Dalí from Joan Miró, a fellow Catalan who introduced him to many Surrealist friends. As he developed his own style over the next few years, Dalí made a number of works heavily influenced by Picasso and Miró. Consequently, Dali was influenced by Freudian theory and began studying the psychoanalytical concepts of Freud and metaphysical painters like Giorgio Chrico and surrealists like Miro, and using psychoanalytic methods to generate imagery. Indeed, Salvador Dalí frequently described his paintings as “hand painted dream photographs.” In 1929, Dalí collaborated with surrealist film director Luis Buñuel on the short film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). His main contribution was to help Buñuel write the script for the film. Dalí later claimed to have also played a significant role in the filming of the project, but this is not substantiated by contemporary accounts.] Also, in August 1929, Dalí met his lifelong and primary muse, inspiration, and future wife Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. She was a Russian immigrant ten years his senior, who at that time was married to surrealist poet Paul Éluard. In the same year, Dalí had important professional exhibitions and officially joined the Surrealist group in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris. His work had already been heavily influenced by surrealism for two years. The Surrealists hailed what Dalí called his paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity. 2.

“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”

Salvador Dali.

However, in the 1930s Dali transformed from a key figure in the Surrealist movement, into its enemy when he was nearly expelled after a “trial” in 1934. His dismissal was due to his apolitical stance, his personal feud with leader Andre Breton, and his public antics. In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War started and Dali and his wife remained in Paris, where he continued evolving his artistic style. He was heavily influenced by the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, whom Dali met in 1938. In 1939 Andre Breton definitively expelled Dali from Surrealism.3.

“Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.”

Salvador Dali

In 1980, Dalí was forced to retire from painting due to a motor disorder that caused permanent trembling and weakness in his hands. No longer able to hold a paint brush, he’d lost the ability to express himself the way he knew best. More tragedy struck in 1982, when Dalí’s beloved wife and friend, Gala, died. The two events sent him into a deep depression. He moved to Pubol, in a castle that he had purchased and remodeled for Gala, possibly to hide from the public or, as some speculate, to die. In 1984, Dalí was severely burned in a fire. Due to his injuries, he was confined to wheelchair. Friends, patrons and fellow artists rescued him from the castle and returned him to Figueres, making him comfortable at the Teatro-Museo.

In November 1988, Salvador Dalí entered a hospital in Figueres with a failing heart. After a brief convalescence, he returned to the Teatro-Museo. On January 23, 1989, in the city of his birth, Dalí died of heart failure at the age of 84. His funeral was held at the Teatro-Museo, where he was buried in a crypt.4.

“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak…”

Andre Breton: The Manifesto of Surrealism 1924.

After dipping only the very tip of my little toe into Salvadore Dali tonight, I’m already overwhelmed by my ignorance. Am feeling quite the simpleton for loving his: The Persistence of Memory simply because of the melting clocks.

I’m an Australian and we get very, very hot Summers here, which do very nasty things to chocolate. Indeed, I’ve even seen candles bend over and do a complete U-turn in the heat. So when I see the melting clocks, I am reminded of chocolate coins melting in the heat.You know where the chocolate coin is housed in thick gold foil. You don’t have to be a child to fall under their spell.

Of course, when it comes to time itself melting away and evaporating completely, I’m no stranger to that either. Indeed, time seems to run out faster than my bank account. I know what it’s like to live on a tidal plain, and have to return home before the tide comes in. Or, to head out in the kayak, before you have to drag the beast home. In other words, you don’t need to remind me that “time and tide wait for no one.”

Of course, there’s that other aspect of time. How long is our personal piece of string and how much time do we have left?

For me, this question isn’t theoretical. Indeed, it’s breathing down my neck all the time. However, I’m now so used to it’s omnipresence, that I ignore it. Carpe Diem seize the day. Well, at least, I try to. That said, The Cough often has other ideas. Indeed, I think that cough thinks it’s Salvadore Dali himself craving attention and believing it’s the Lord of Heaven and Earth. However,  just as Dali’s been cut down to size, I’m determined to deflate The Cough its all its dreams to extend my existence well past its expiry date, even if I have to climb an Everest of hurdles to get there.

The Persistence of Memory

Returning to The Persistence of Memory, he based this seaside landscape on the cliffs in his home region of Catalonia, Spain. The ants and melting clocks are recognizable images that Dalí placed in an unfamiliar context or rendered in an unfamiliar way. The large central creature comprised of a deformed nose and eye was drawn from Dalí’s imagination, although it has frequently been interpreted as a self-portrait. Its long eyelashes seem insect-like; what may or may not be a tongue oozes from its nose like a fat snail from its shell.

Time is the theme here, from the melting watches to the decay implied by the swarming ants. Mastering what he called “the usual paralyzing tricks of eye-fooling,” Dalí painted this work with “the most imperialist fury of precision,” but only, he said, “to systematize confusion and thus to help discredit completely the world of reality.” There is, however, a nod to the real: the distant golden cliffs are those on the coast of Catalonia, Dalí’s home.https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/1168-2

Venus with Drawers.jpg

Salvadore Dali, Venus de Milo With Drawers

Venus With Drawers (1936)

Given that I’ve already touched on the Venus de Milo and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, I thought I should also touch on Salvador Dali’s Venus With Drawers (1936):

Among Salvador Dali’s many memorable works, perhaps none is more deeply embedded in the popular imagination than Venus de Milo with Drawers, a half-size plaster reproduction of the famous marble (130-120 B.C.; Musée de Louvre, Paris), altered with pompom-decorated drawers in the figure’s forehead, breasts, stomach, abdomen, and left knee. The provoking combination of cool painted plaster and silky mink tufts illustrates the Surrealist interest in uniting different elements to spark a new reality. For the Surrealists the best means of provoking this revolution of consciousness was a special kind of sculpture that, as Dali explained in a 1931 essay, was “absolutely useless … and created wholly for the purpose of materializing in a fetishistic way, with maximum tangible reality, ideas and fantasies of a delirious character.” Dali’s article, which drew upon the ideas of Marcel Duchamp‘s Readymades, inaugurated object making as an integral part of Surrealist activity.

Dali was deeply influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, contending “The only difference between immortal Greece and contemporary times is Sigmund Freud, who discovered that the human body, purely platonic in the Greek epoch, is nowadays full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable to open.” The artist was especially interested in Freud’s interpretation of William Jensen’s Gradiva, a 1903 novel about an archaeologist’s obsession with an ancient relief; this curiosity coincided with his first explorations on the theme of cabinets—works such as the intimately scaled Atmospheric Chair (1933), in which a small cabinet seems to give birth to a maelstrom of vaguely human body parts. In other works, like City of Drawers (1936), Dali transformed the cabinet into a female figure, or, as he put it, an “anthropomorphic cabinet.” Venus de Milo with Drawers is the three-dimensional culmination of Dali’s explorations into the deep, psychological mysteries of sexual desire symbolized in the figure of the ancient goddess of love.http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/185184

Dali Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War).jpg

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), c. 1936.

While I was devouring Dali tonight like a voracious glutton, I came across another work which I wanted to add to the mix. That is Dali’s  Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), c. 1936. This anti-war piece was brushed just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The painting depicts a tormented figure tearing itself apart in what Dalí called “a delirium of autostrangulation.5” Australian art critic, Robert Hughes commented:

“Despite all bombast of the later work, Dalí’s greatest and most frightening painting is probably the Soft Construction with Boiled Beans – Premonition of Civil War (1936). With this single painting, Dalí moved into the territory of Goya. This monstrous Titan – its body is part-based on that of stringy Saturn, seen in the act of eating his child, in one of Goya’s Black Paintings in the Prado – is the most powerful image of a country’s anguish and dismemberment to issue from Spain (or anywhere else) since Los Desastres de la Guerra. And every inch of it, from the sinister greenish clouds and electric-blue sky to the gnarled bone and putrescent flesh of the monster, is exquisitely painted. This, not Picasso’s Guernica, is modern art’s strongest testimony on the civil war, and on war in general. Not even the failures of Dalí’s later work can blur that fact.6″

……

When it comes to trying to understand Dali’s works, I am very grateful to art critics like Robert Hughes, who can translate the many mysteries of the visual into something tangible. Of course, we can always have our own interpretations, but quite often a more detailed knowledge of the artist sheds some light. I also think that while many of us love art, we’re more of the dabbling kind and don’t have the time to develop the expertise required to become a walking art encyclopaedia.

That said, even in the brief weeks I’ve been hunkering down, I feel like I’ve devoured the golden calf. I’m just amazed at how much you can learn from your chair at home these days through the Internet. You just have to switch off the TV. Put Facebook on hold and you too could become a genius. There’s nothing stopping you.

Lastly, I should mention that Dali was also a writer and wrote several autobiographies. While I haven’t had a chance to read these, I really liked this little story, which he claimed to write as an 8 year old:

“Una noche a finales de junio, un niño se pasea con su madre. Llueven estrellas fugaces. El niño recoge una y la lleva en las palmas de las manos. Llega a casa, la deposita sobre la mesa y la aprisiona dentro de un vaso puesto al revés. Por la mañana, al levantarse, deja escapar un grito de horror: ¡un gusano, durante la noche, ha roído su estrella!“
(Translation: “A night at the end of June, a child takes a walk with his mother. It’s raining falling stars. The child picks up one and carries it in the palms of his hands. At home he deposits it on the table and locks it in a reversed glass. The next morning, getting up, he lets escape a scream of terror: A worm, during the night, has nibbled his star!“) 7.
So, after that grand introduction, here is my letter to Salvadore Dali…

Letter to Salvadore Dali

Dear Salvadore,

Did your moustache keep growing after you died?

Curiously yours,

Rowena

A Letter From Salvador Dali

 Dear Rowena,

Thank you for your letter. Eileen Agar passed it on. It was rather mean of you to string me along like this, almost to the very end. Of course, you were playing with me because I knew you would write to me.
As for my moustache, I’ve been in discussions with Shakespeare about purchasing the plaque from his grave:
“Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.”
As you may be aware, I was my comfy crypt was opened up recently. Talk about an invasion of privacy and not respecting the eternal sleep of the dead. It’s the thing  nightmares are made of, having your lid opened up like that and the light pouring in. As for being pocked and prodded, the was the last straw. Well, at least no one took my photo. That was the one salvation. I just hope they’re not going to try and clone me…especially with Woolly Mammoth or even the Tasmania Tiger. I know I had some mixed-up crazy images in my paintings, but it’s quite another to do that with my DNA, especially without my consent!
Anyway, you don’t need to take my word for it. They checked out my mo and it’s still in fine form. The rest of me is also is well preserved. Almost good enough to stage a return.
Well on that note, Gala and I are off for dinner with Eileen Agar. No doubt she’ll be wearing her Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse, so I’d better find myself  something unique. Can’t have someone else stealing my limelight!
Yours sincerely,

Salvadore Dali.

………..

Are you doing the A-Z Challenge this year? How are you finding it? Are you keeping up? I fell a day behind due to my trip to Sydney yesterday but managed to catch up and even get a bit ahead today. Can you believe it!!! I know I’ve bitten off way to much with this theme, but it’s coming together well and I’m learning so much. I hope you are too.
Best wishes,

Rowena

 

References

1.https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-surreal-world-of-

2 Wikipaedia – Salvadore Dali

3, http://thedali.org/timeline/

4. https://www.biography.com/people/salvador-dal-40389

5. https://camdencivilrightsproject.com/d76c7649335a276498962a6ad00428a3/

6. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/mar/13/art

7. https://figueras.weebly.com/literary-work.html

Salvador Manifesto of Surrealism 1924.

Dali’s Remains Exhumed for Paternity Test

P- Pablo Picasso: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to my A-Z Challenge Series: Letters to Dead Artists. With my most sincere apologies to Australian artists Margaret Preston and Thea Proctor, I’ll be writing to Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, largely due to his work towards world peace, something we should never give up on.

If you are more familiar with Picasso’s cubist works, you might not have made the connection with how he used his art to promote peace and deplore war. In 1937, incensed by the inhumane German bombings on Guerica during the Spanish Civil War, he painted Guerica, which he displayed at the Paris Exhibition as a political statement. I’m not too proud to admit, I knew nothing about this, but at least I’m always willing to learn.

However, I was familiar with his Dove of Peace, but not the story or image behind it.

Guernica Pablo Picasso

Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937.

Even if you are not familiar with Guerica, you’ll probably be familiar with Picasso’s very simple outline of a dove, which is still used today to represent peace. That design grew out  a lithograph of a fan-tailed pigeon (Matisse had given the bird to Picasso), which appeared on the poster for the inaugural World Peace Congress in Paris in 1949. When Picasso’s daughter was born on the eve of the Paris Peace Congress, he poignantly named her Paloma, the Spanish word for dove[1]. In 1950, when Picasso spoke at the Peace Congress in Sheffield, he recalled how his father had taught him to paint doves, and finished with the words: “I stand for life against death; I stand for peace against war”.

Antonio Banderas, who will be playing Picasso in the National Geographic’s upcoming: Genius: Picasso, touched on Picasso’s activism:

“He was not only a man who was very capable painting, drawing the reality, but he put that at the service of the political and social context of his time, a guy who was a visionary and had a long sight for the future and, also, an introspection of himself, a reflection about life itself,” Banderas says. “That was very important.[2]

By the way, Banderas was born and raised in Picasso’s home town of Malaga, and used to walk past his house as a child:

“[It was] a time in Spain in which we didn’t have too many international heroes, so Picasso trespassed that barrier at a time in which we were pretty much isolated by the dictatorship with [General] Francisco Franco in power,” Banderas says.

“So I grew up with the projection of this huge artist who was capable of actually making the people all around the world fall in love with his art, and he was [from] my hometown, and I was able to just see the house where he was born. That was very important for me.”

Once upon a time, I could believe in peace. Peace at any cost. However, now I also understand that sometimes you need to get up and fight and that we as a nation might have to go to war. That we must defend our borders, and the universal principals we hold dear such as freedom, equality and justice. Unfortunately, the nature of modern day terrorism, has muddied the waters. Now, it’s much harder to recognize the enemy. It could be anyone, anywhere at any time. Yet, we still need to be inclusive. Love our neighbour as ourselves, and not let the terrorists win, by having the rest of us lock ourselves up in our self-made prisons. So, while Picasso created that dove of peace over 60 years ago, it still means as much to us now as it did then.

Picasso’s Blue Period 1901-1904

In addition to his peace work, I feel inexorably drawn towards the paintings of his Blue Period, which were heavily influenced by the suicide of his best friend and fellow Spanish artist, Casagemas. The works of this period are characterized by their blue palette, sombre subject matter, and destitute characters. His paintings feature begging mothers and fathers with small children and haggard old men and women with arms outstretched or huddled in despair. Picasso was heavily influenced by the Symbolist movement and a revival in interest in the art of 16th-century Spanish artist El Greco.

The Blue Room 1901

Picasso, The Blue Room.

Casagemas (1880-1901), the son of the American consul general in Barcelona, was a painter and poet, and accompanied Picasso to Paris to visit the World’s Fair in autumn 1900. There, he fell in love with Laure Gargallo, known as Germaine, who ultimately spurned his affections. In despair, Casagemas committed suicide, shooting himself at the Hippodrome Restaurant in Paris on February 17, 1901, after first attempting to kill Germaine. Picasso was in Barcelona at that time, but was deeply affected by the news, as anybody who loses a friend to suicide always is. However, two things I find quite intriguing here, is that when Picasso returned to Paris in May 1901, he took up residence in Casagemas’s former apartment and also began a liaison with Germaine. I find this very difficult to understand, and to me, it feels like he’s almost trying to step inside his dead friend’s skin. However, it also could have been, that the apartment was offered to him rent-free and it was more of a practical decision. Personally, I would’ve found it emotionally impossible to live in the home of a dead friend, and could well have left Paris entirely.

Old_guitarist_chicago

Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, Art Gallery of Chicago.

Anyway, my favourite from his blue period is The Old Guitarist, where the blind musician bends over his guitar in an attitude of exhaustion and hopelessness. Like the figures of El Greco’s paintings, the guitarist’s features are attenuated and angular.[3]” It reminds me of a poet I met in Paris whose lover had thrown his guitar into the River Seine in a jealous rage. I can’t even remember his name anymore, but he was from Brooklyn and I met him at the Shakespeare Bookshop, when I was preparing for my reading. Things clearly weren’t going well for him, as he gave me a swag of his poems, the way one does when you don’t need them anymore. Anyway, clearly ours was a very short story. Not even a Haiku.

picasso-annotated-poem

Picasso The Poet

Finally, I wanted to share with you a bit of Picasso’s poetry. This has been yet another one of my discoveries during this series, and I really am starting to feel like I knew nothing at all about these artists before I embarked upon this journey. In the case of Picasso, I wasn’t too keen on his later cubist works, but really empathized with his blue period and Dove of Peace. So, I guess that encourages me to look beyond those few iconic works the world portrays as “THE Artist” and see what else you can find. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the time for that, but possibly through seeing more exhibitions and watching documentaries, we might be able to find our own view of an artist and, which might not be the so-called “greatest”, but become our own. After all, no one dictates which artists or their works we have to like or dislike. That’s our personal choice, but to fully capitalize on that we need to venture further afield away from the headlines and peer beyond the flow.

Anyway, back to Picasso’s poetry. He could very well be writing about my days in Paris when a deep and compassionate friendship became yet another victim of the male-female friendship debacle (which I’ll call the When Harry Met Sally Disease for all of you old enough to have that movie still etched in your heart like me!!) Quite aptly, it is called: Does She Know I Am There? I Doubt. –

You are beauty personified. You are charm solidified.
Without you, darling, it is a moonless night. I shall go to the ends of the world with or without a fight to seek you forever. Does it matter if the infinities crumble?
Does it matter if the worlds tear apart? You are the only one important to me, darling.

My entire being recognises and responds to you. I know it when you are close by. I can almost feel the sense of your cheeks on my lips. Your hair is my forest of ecstacy.

Your heartbeat is the only sound I’d give up everything for, love! Each time our eyes meet, my heart speeds, I only wish our hearts could join too.

Who said jealousy is green? It is fuming red. Each time I see you there, casting an occassional glance at me, my heart pumps sadness into my veins. I regret being unable to talk to you. How should I explain my love to you?

Each day I stand so far, hoping that someday, the distance would become a bond. Your countenance lacerates me. Why am I so heavy? Oh, right! Because. I am carrying someone else inside me, my heart that belongs to you

Perhaps, this is a great juncture to stop writing about the man, and start writing to Picasso instead.

writing in Paris

Writing on the Window Sill at the Hotel Henri IV July, 1992.

A Letter To Picasso

Dear Picasso,

Where were you when I needed you? I’ve only just found your poetry as a mature 40 something mother and wife, when I really could’ve used it when I was in Paris as a heartbroken 23 year old who lived and breathed poetry with every breath.

No one ever warned about the ugly side of Paris. How the “City of Lights” so easily become a sewer of darkness, horror and despair where the menacing gargoyles jump off the roof of Notre Dame and circle overhead. The pain was so excruciating and as a writer, there was only one way to get it out. I abandoned my room in the Henri IV Hotel with its twisting spiral staircase, and set up residence beside the River Seine next to Pont Neuf with my notebook and pen. I was writing, writing, writing raw pain dripping from my pen onto the page, hour after hour, oblivious to all danger and any thought of sleep. Heartbreak can consume your soul, all sense of the wider world and everything you have ever been or worked towards all disappears, and all that matters is their eyes. That love, compassion and connection which goes so much further than a physical connection ever could. I’ve been told: “Ro, you know how to find them!” Well, I also know how to lose them and how much that hurts.

However, that was a long time ago. Indeed, I now look upon that young, naive girl as someone else. For better or worse, I’ve grown so much stronger. Indeed, I’m made of steel. Moreover, like most parents, I carry the world on my shoulders and wouldn’t be the first parent who’s fantasized about a little getaway. Indeed, some days even walking down the end of the street to our local beach seems like trying reach the other side of the world. It doesn’t take much for the To Do List to build four walls around me Lego brick by tiny Lego brick and fence me in.

Anyway, as I’ve already made clear to some other artist in one of these letters, all this is about to change. I’m going to find my feet and start walking. You just ask my physio. She had grand plans. Actually, they’re not all that grand. She only wants me to find 30 minutes three times a week and a ten minute walk on other days. That isn’t much, is it? Especially when all you artists keep telling me that walking kept you sane or at least saner than you might have been.

Anyway, I just wanted to ask you about your thoughts of Paris?

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Picasso

My Dear Rowena,

I am so sorry to hear that you too experienced that horrible heartache of Paris. As you know, my best friend Carlos, suffered the same fate. I should’ve seen it coming and wasn’t there for him. You know how it is you replay and replay and replay something in your mind and try to change what happened, but it’s pointless. You can only change things moving forward, not going backwards. That is one of life’s hardest lessons, my friend.

There’s not much I can tell you about Paris, except that it became my home.

Next time you’re there, might I suggest take The Travel Guide to Picasso’s Paris . Then you’ll know me a little better.

By the way, I have been reading some of your blog posts and you have such a heart to help ease even the suffering of people you’ve never met. Never give up and keep carrying that dove of peace in your heart. You might not be able to change the world, but one by one the numbers add up.

By the way, I’ve also heard you keep all the paintings from your rainbow period shut away in a portfolio behind your closet. That should be a crime. How could you hide your art away? I want to see it framed and signed before the end of this series or I’ll set the gargoyles loose. Trust me, they know how to find you.

Best wishes,

Picasso.

References

[1] http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/picasso-peace-and-freedom/picasso-peace-and-freedom-explore-2

[2] https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/get-it-right-or-never-go-home-antonio-banderas-reveals-his-fear-of-picasso-20180413-h0yq1v.html

[3] http://www.artic.edu/collections/conservation/revealing-picasso-conservation-project/pablo-picasso-and-blue-period

 

O- Georgia O’Keeffe: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge

“I hate flowers – I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move.”
Georgia O’Keeffe in Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, 1981

As you may be aware, I am currently taking part in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, and my theme this year is: Writing Letters to Dead Artists. The overall concept is to explore the artists who have touched me through a particular work and then pose them a question. They then send me a reply, and even I’ve been surprised by what they’ve come back with, because much of it has been news to me. So, you can make of that what you will.

Today, I’ll be writing to American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), who has taken me beyond the bustling streets of New York and up into its iconic, soaring skyscrapers which she loved to paint from the ground looking up like teeny Jack staring up at the Giant. I have never been to New York, and yet I’ve sung and danced to the song with absolute gusto  to a band called Paris Dumper at The Nag’s Head, an English-style pub in Sydney’s Glebe. It was always their closing song, and an electric end to a great night out.

Please excuse my ignorance, but I only stumbled across Georgia O’Keeffe two weeks ago when I was hastily trying to fill all the letters of the alphabet for this challenge. I feel a little remiss in not getting to know her sooner. However, my justification is that I’m Australian, and art seems to be a bit of a nationalistic thing. We don’t always get exposed to artists from other countries. Moreover, my poor, overstretched brain also has its limits. You can’t know everyone. That said, one of the things I love about writing, is how my limits are continuously stretching and expanding, hungrily devouring fodder like a starving teen fuelling a growth spurt.

Poppy Untitled 1970 oil

Georgia O’Keeffe Untitled 1970 oil.

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) has been described as “the mother of American modernism”. Yet, within this framework, her subject matter is quite diverse. Indeed, there’s so much more to her, than just her infamous, flower portraits. A few nights ago, I was stoked to stumble across her series of New York Skyscapers 1925-29. These were painted while she and her famous photographer husband, Alfred Stieglitz, were living in a 30th floor apartment in the Shelton Hotel, one of New York’s first residential skyscrapers. It had a gobsmacking view across the city, and they really were living and breathing the New York vibe. In 1929, O’Keeffe made her first trip to New Mexico, where she made love to the rugged, arid landscape, and it soon became an integral part of herself. After her Stieglitz’s death in 1946, she moved to Abiquiu full-time. She lived there until her final few years, when she moved to Santa Fe where she died on the 6th March, 1986.

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”

-Georgia O’Keeffe

That’s the condensed version. You see, I’m keen to continue on our travels, focusing more upon the road less travelled, than regurgitating biographical facts. Indeed, I’m much more interested in getting to know Georgia O’Keeffe the woman instead. I never expected this to be easy. However, when I scratched the surface, she burst into a thousand pieces, which have been very hard to put into any kind of order or structure to create a cohesive portrait. I shouldn’t be surprised, but it would’ve been much less work and mental angst, if she could’ve stayed between the lines.

No discussion of Georgia O’Keeffe is complete without mentioning her husband…the famous photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, who gave O’Keeffe her big break.

Georgia O'Keeffe New York Night

Georgia O’Keeffe, New York Night 1929. I have always marvelled at this little boxes of light through the darkness, signalling somebody’s home and wondered who is there, what they are doing. each box is like an illuminated mystery.

Stieglitz created and managed New York City’s internationally famous 291 Gallery located at 291 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. While Stieglitz was at the forefront of photography, he also introduced some of the most avant-garde European artists of the time to the United States. These included:  Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Henri Rousseau, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brâncuși, and the Dadaists Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp. This was clearly a man who knew his art. Knew his artists, and was very well connected.

Radiator Building-Night NY 1927

In early 1916, Anita Pollitzer, a friend of O’Keeffe’s, showed Stieglitz a series of her highly innovative charcoal abstractions. He found them to be the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while”. In April 1916, Stieglitz exhibited ten of her drawings at 291 without her knowledge. At his request, she moved to New York in 1918 and their professional relationship soon became personal. She was 28 at the time and he was 52. She also became his photographic muse. In 1924, after he’d divorced his wife, they were married. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz were prolific letter writers and exchanged around 25,000 pieces of paper between them…a mind-boggling volume of correspondence, which covered the highs and lows of their relationship.

At this point, perhaps it’s pertinent to mention O’Keeffe’s battles with mental health issues, which were exacerbated by her husband’s affair with Dorothy Norman, who he called ”Dorothy-child.” Yet, despite this apparent confidence, apparently she experienced anxiety all her life. Yet, instead of making it her prison, she went on and did what she wanted to do regardless.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

Indeed, I wonder whether she might’ve known Dorothy Parker’s poem: Resume written in 1928:

 

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

I tend to feel this earlier O’Keeffe is almost a complete contrast to the fiercely independent, tenacious woman she became in later life, even before her husband’s death. Indeed, I can almost hear her singing from her grave: I Did It My Way.

georgia-okeeffe with her car

This freedom could best be symbolized by her car, which she adapted into a mobile studio and was a critical necessity for her trips to and from New Mexico. As Carolyn Kastner, curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum explained:

“She would remove the driver’s seat. Then she would unbolt the passenger seat, turn it around to face the back seat. Then she would lay the canvas on the back seat as an easel and paint inside her Model-A Ford.[1]

After all, the heat in New Mexico was intense and she’d paint with the windows down, until the bees became a nuisance and she’d wind them up until the heat became too much and she headed home.

Georgia O'Keeffe Painting in her car at Ghost Ranch New Mexico

Georgia O’Keeffe painting in her car studio at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.

 

As much as I don’t really like driving, it does provide that sense of freedom, which can really only be surpassed by learning to fly. There’s a huge part of me, which would love to jump in the car and escape somewhere and immerse myself in my writing, photography and possibly even paint. Indeed, playing my violin somewhere out in the middle of Australia’s Nullarbor Desert has a strange appeal, although my preferred escape has been driving a Kombi up to Byron Bay and going for a surf. The fact that I can’t surf or drive a Kombi has done nothing to dampen this dream, although now that the kids are getting older and my health isn’t quite so dire, it’s been awhile since I’ve been indulging in some Kombi dreaming.

I’m sure many of us indulge in some form of escapism, and I guess that’s where TV can take you on a thousand journeys without even leaving your chair. That ease of entertainment, I guess is something to watch out for. Living vicariously through a screen is a poor substitute for living and going on real life adventures of your own, instead of living through someone else.

Speaking of living, I’d better get on with this letter to Georgia O’Keeffe.

Envelope to Georgia O'Keeffe

 

A Letter to Georgia O’Keeffe

Dear Georgia,

A few short week’s ago, I’d barely heard of you, and yet now I’m in raptures. Not just with your paintings, especially your New York Skyscraper series, but with you as a person who was such a strident individual with your own ideas, and yet there was also your marriage to Alfred, with it’s 2500 pieces of paper, the photographs, his affair and then how he didn’t want to sell your paintings. He wanted to keep them all for himself. I’d also love to pile into your Model T with you and drive from New York to New Mexico. I’ve never ever been to America, but there’s something about America and the big road trip which has a certain magic and reminds me of my many trips across Australia’s Nullarbor Plain on my travels between Sydney and Perth. I’d better warn you though. I hope you like having plenty of stops, because I’ve never been an A-B traveller. I always have to stop.

Well, that assumes that I’d be driving the car, which is probably very doubtful. Something tells me that you wouldn’t hand over the keys to your beloved studio on wheels under any circumstances. That said, I think your eyesight started failing later in life so perhaps I would be driving after all.

While I’m fascinated by your New York Skyscraper Series, I’m actually writing to you about your bone paintings from Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. There you were painting flowers for such a long time, which are such a thing of beauty, and then you turn to bones, which intrinsically have to have some association with death, destruction and despair. There a bit of a gulf between the two, don’t you think?

Please explain.

There’s so much more I coujld ask you, but this might just be the beginning of our own series of 2,500 pieces of paper. You never know. I have a hell of a lot of questions and who knows, perhaps you might just have a few of the answers.

By the way, did you happen to meet up with Australian artist, Sidney Nolan? I wrote to him yesterday. While I focused on his Ned Kelly Series, about an Australian bushranger, he also did a series set in the Australian outback about doomed Australian explorers, Burke and Wills. I think the two of you should go on a long car trip together and see what you can come up with. You might even what to take along his mate, Russell Drysdale and author Patrick White, although the last I heard Nolan and White had a falling out. However, one hopes those petty earthly squabbles would all get ironed out somewhere along the between heaven and Earth.

Bets wishes,

Rowena

A Reply From Georgia O’Keeffe

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your energetic letter. I could sense your uncontained enthusism in each and every word and your unstoppable energy reminded me of myself. Indeed, I suspect you also have something of my nervous energy, which was a positive negative force my entire life. It drove me forward. I wouldn’t let it hold me back, but there were those times it overwhelmed me like a wave and swept me under.

Sometimes, I wonder if people don'[t have anything better to do than make up fantastic Freudian interpretations of my paintings, when my thinking was very practical. I painted flowers simply because they were there. They were cheaper than models and they don’t move. Quite frankly, I don’t know how my husband coped handled all those models. Sorry, I wasn’t going to go there. We both know what happened with that wretched Dorothy woman, although more than one of my so-called friends told me I’d got my comeuppance.  You don’t always think of that when you’re a young woman caught up in the throws of passion and you have this incredible, world famous photographer falling at your feet. I was just a girl from a wheat farm in Wisconsin, who was dazzled by the bright lights. That’s all.

Anyway, getting back to my paintings of the animal bones, it was the same as the flowers. The bones were scattered across the landscape and I gathered up a barrel of bones and took them home. This was around the time that they were hell bent on finding the greatest American novel, the greatest American play. Indeed, Superman was created in 1938. America was looking for heroes. This was my cheeky contribution to the quest. You’ll notice the red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes in the painting.

You see, abstract works aren’t always so cryptic as you might think, and I encourage you to release your inhibitions and preconceived ideas and explore more abstract works for yourself. Find your own meaning, if you must. Or, simply enjoy them for what they are.

By the way, I heard you gave up on art growing up because you couldn’t draw your dog. What a pity. No one should ever give up painting and drawing and expressing their inner world through art. It’s just like dancing, which I’ve heard you’ve embraced now that you’re almost 50 and battling this dermatowhatwhat disease. I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, but why do they give these rare diseases such long unpronouncible names? Humph…dermatowhat what…ther’s subject for an abstract work. HOw would you paint it?

See, I got you back with a tough question of my own!

Best wishes,

Georgia.

PS Rowena, you don’t need a Kombi to go off the grid and you don’t need to drive to the end of the Earth either. You live in such an inspirational part of the world, surrounded by beaches, the ocean but also the bush. Don’t tell me you have nothing to paint!

Sources & Further Reading

[1] https://www.c-span.org/video/?310650-1/life-artwork-georgia-okeeffe

Wikipaedia

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

https://www.biography.com/people/georgia-okeeffe-9427684

http://artreport.com/exploring-mental-health-through-art/

Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition at Tate Modern

N- Sidney Nolan: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

As you may be aware, my theme for this year’s A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Australian artist, Sir Sidney Nolan and will be focusing on his iconic Ned Kelly Series 1946-47. The series is held at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Sidney Nolan was born on the 22nd April, 1917 in Carlton, a working-class suburb of Melbourne and always saw himself as a member of the proletariat…a Working Class Man. In 1938, he married Elizabeth Paterson, but he started having an affair with Sunday Reed. In 1948, he married Cynthia Reed. In 1976, Cynthia Nolan took her life. In 1978, Nolan married Mary née Boyd (1926-2016),youngest daughter within the artistic Boyd family and previously married to artist, John Perceval. Nolan died in London on 28 November, 1992 at the age of 75, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery, London.

Ned Kelly was a notorious Australian bushranger who has become something of a folk hero inspiring poets, musicians and artists alike. Sidney Nolan has said that the main ingredients of his “Kelly” series of paintings were “Kelly’s own words, and Rousseau, and sunlight”. Kelly’s words, including the Jerilderie Letter, “fascinated Nolan with their blend of poetry and political engagement”.Speaking of inspiration, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series has also inspired other works, including Tin Symphony, which was composed and performed by Ian Cooper at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

When I was growing up, my parents had a print of Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly & Constable Scanlon, which was wedded to the walls of three different houses. Indeed, by the time I left home, it had become a much loved member of the family. I’m not sure where it is now. Perhaps, it was buried in the family plot. However, it’s much more likely, that my father dumped it at the tip. He’s not what you’d call “a sentimental bloke”, and more of a “minimalist extremist”. Either way, the painting’s staying power, had me question how often other families change their artworks over, and rotate what’s on display? Or, do their paintings also become married to their walls… “til death do us part”?

Who Was Ned Kelly?

 “…some say that Ned Kelly was a courageous and fundamentally decent young man who was wronged by social conditions that he could not challenge except by violence; while others maintain that he was a common thief and a murderer who deserved only to hang and be forgotten. There is no simple truth of the matter[2]”.

Edward Kelly (December 1854 – 11 November 1880) was an Australian bushranger, outlaw, leader of the Kelly Gang and convicted police murderer. He was born in Victoria, Australia, around 1855. As a teenager he was in trouble with the police and was arrested several times and served time in prison. In mid-1878, following his mother’s imprisonment on perjured police evidence and feeling that the police were harassing him, Kelly took to bushranging with his brother, Dan, Joe Byrne, and Steve Hart. They became known as the Kelly Gang.[3][4] After they shot dead three policemen at Stringybark Creek in Victoria in October 1878, they were declared outlaws. Reacting to the killings, the Victorian Government enacted the Felons’ Apprehension Act 1878 which authorised any citizen to shoot a declared outlaw on sight. A substantial reward was offered for each member of the Kelly Gang, ‘dead or alive’. Ned Kelly is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police at Glenrowan. This armour was made from stolen plough mouldboards. Kelly, the only survivor, was severely wounded by police fire and captured. Despite thousands of supporters attending rallies and signing a petition for his reprieve, Kelly was tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out at the Old Melbourne Gaol. His last words were famously reported to have been, “such is life”.

Nolan has depicted bushranger Ned Kelly with a square, black box on his head with a rectangle cut out so he can see out and we can see his eyes, which are particularly graphic and expressive.

Kelly has been described as a metaphor for Nolan himself in this series. Nolan, like the bushranger, was a fugitive from the law. In July 1944, facing the possibility that he would be sent to Papua New Guinea on front-line duty, Nolan went absent without leave. He adopted the alias Robin Murray, a name suggested by Sunday Reed, whose affectionate nickname for him was “Robin Redbreast”. So when he created this series he viewed himself as the misunderstood hero/artist like the protagonist, Kelly. “Nolan like this Kelly figure has also been a hero, a victim, a man who armoured himself against Australia and who faced it, conquered it, lost it…. ambiguity personified.[3]

Kelly with clouds

My Favourite

Although Ned Kelly & Constable Scanlon brings back precious childhood memories, my favourite is the one simply called Ned Kelly.What resonates with me about this painting, is that when you peer through the eye-slot in his helmet instead of seeing his eyes, there’s blue sky and clouds. This is me. I always have my head in the clouds. At least, I would if I could. I’m proud to be a dreamer.

That’s no doubt a very personal view of the painting, but isn’t that the point of art in the first place? That we develop a personal attachment and relationship with it and it’s not all about head knowledge and gobbledygook.

Sidney Nolan’s Approach to Art & Painting

During my travels today, I came across an interview with Sidney Nolan in the Australian Women’s Weekly, which provides some helpful insights into his thought processes as an artist:

“Like all the projects he discusses, it sounds as if it’s planned within an inch of its life. “I do that with all my paintings, sometimes years ahead, because I feel all the brainwork, so to speak, should be done by the artist, and should not show in the work. Painting is a celebratory process and an emotional one not quite suited to the conveyance of ideas.”

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about painting, says Nolan, and it tends to alienate some people.

“The average person, so to speak, shouldn’t have to be put through an intellectual process in order to understand paintings. The appeal should be immediate, like people one to the other.”

As far as he’s concerned, “it’s the same thing for all of us – an emotional response. You stand in front of a painting and the first thing you get is a wobbly sort of feeling in your stomach.”

To get his own paintings to that point of impact, he “rehearses” them in his head. “I’m always doing it, in a taxi, over break-fast. It’s like moving furniture – it’s so much easier if you’ve done it in your head beforehand, otherwise it’s heavy going.”

“….Yes, I do have rather a lot planned. And of course apart from the painting I have a lot more travelling I want to do. It’s not so much looking for themes – more just soaking things up, images, feelings, perhaps they’ll come together into some good ideas one day, perhaps not, but I doubt that I’ll ever stop doing it.[4]

A Letter To Sidney Nolan

Dear Sidney,

Our time together today was so rushed, but I wanted to thank you for help out with us on the Scout Sausage Sizzle and providing the kids with a few drawings. They will treasure them always. I also wanted to thank you for lending me your pen and your sketchbook during my daughter’s dance Eisteddfod and helping me alleviate my stress. Thank you very much, also for not laughing when we found out we’d left the tutu at home and I’d failed to sew on the last of the ribbons on top my daughter’s ballet shoe, forcing her to dance with a pin jabbing her in the foot. I really wish we could’ve spent the day at the art gallery. Or, perhaps you prefer being out amongst the people, and feast on the inspiration of the everyday. Personally, I’d rather load up a kombi and had up to Byron Bay and park illegally beside the beach. I think you’d be joining me in that, but you’d need to bring your own Kombi.

I know this is probably being rather forward of me, but I wanted to ask you how you managed to keep going after you lost your beloved wife Cynthia, in such tragic circumstances. I thought you might be able to offer some coping strategies and encouragement to those who have lost loved ones in similar circumstances.

Many thanks & best wishes,

Rowena

A Reply From Sidney Nolan

Dear Rowena,

I had a delightful day with you today. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and expect perfection all the time. Everyone makes mistakes, but most of them aren’t fatal and we can recover ourselves in some way. Indeed, I’ve found a bit of paint can cover up a multitude of sins.

Anyway, you asked me about those terrible years after I lost my beloved Cynthia with her famous kingfisher spirit.

For awhile there, it was very hard for me to go on. I wasn’t a young man and wondered whether  “my life had gone as far as it could go.”

“But you see I have some friends who have looked after me very well. And I’ve been lucky that I’ve been helped to survive, because I have been.”

“Lonely? Oh yes. Lonely. But alone? Well, you see, because of those friends I wasn’t really on my own, except with respect to that relationship which, anyway, I’ll have with me for the rest of my life.”

In a way there was a choice, recalls Nolan. “Either you went down, you went under – which in a way would have been all right, because I’d seen a lot of life – or you just came through it and painted harder than before.

“What I think now is that if you remain alive and you’re a painter, your responsibility is to become a better painter. What 1 have to do now is paint more into the paintings – which I’ve tried to do this time.”

I hope that helps. Anyway, I’ve been keeping you up and it’s well after your bed time.

Best wishes,

Sidney.

These quotes were taken from Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 8 June 1977, page 6.

Sources & References

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

[2] Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Saturday 3 April 1965, page 9

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Nolan

[4] Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 8 June 1977, page 6

 

 

L – Norman Lindsay: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

As you may be aware, my theme for the 2018 A-Z April Blogging Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today,  I’ll be writing to Norman Alfred William Lindsay (22 February 1879 – 21 November 1969). He was a famous Australian artist, sculptor, writer, editorial cartoonist, scale modeler, and an accomplished amateur boxer.

By the way, it is almost comical that Norman Lindsay follows on directly after Abstract Expressionist, Wassily Kandinsky. While Kandinsky lauded modern art as a founder of the Blaue Reiter and later at the Bauhaus, Norman Linsday, like Hans Heysen , seemed oblivious to various new ways of painting and steadfastly continued along the same path. Both Norman Lindsay and his brother and fellow artist, Lionel, resisted modernism. Indeed, Lionel Lindsay called modernism : “The Cult of Ugliness” and they distinctly saw it as a threat to the Australian national identity and civilization itself.

Magic Pudding

Warning…Pudding with Attitude.

However, my introduction to Norman Lindsay pre-dates my awareness of all these “isms”. When I was a little girl. My mother gave me a book for Christmas… The Magic Pudding , which was written & illustrated by Norman Lindsay. For some reason, I didn’t read the book at the time, just as both my kids have managed to ignore the beautiful, hardcover edition I bought for them at around the same age. Surely, I must’ve read it at some point. The illustrations are very familiar and the story line more or less came back to me tonight, as I powered through it online.

The Magic Pudding was published in 1918 and tells the story of a magic pudding, which grows back after a slice is eaten. Moreover, you just have to whistle and the pudding changes flavour. Clearly, such a pudding was worth a fortune, and the plot centres around the battles between the pudding owners and the conniving pudding thieves. While I’m focusing on the illustration side of the book, the creative use of language throughout reminds me of Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) in Fawlty Towers (who I just found out played Alfred the Pudding in the movie based on the book). How about you try reading this out after a few drinks:

Of all the swivel-eyed, up-jumped, cross-grained, sons of a cock-eyed tinker,’ exclaimed Bill, boiling with rage. ‘If punching parrots on the beak wasn’t too painful for pleasure, I’d land you a sockdolager on the muzzle that ‘ud lay you out till Christmas. Come on, mates,’ he added, ‘it’s no use wastin’ time over this low-down, hook-nosed tobacco-grabber.’ And leaving the evil-minded Parrot to pursue his evil-minded way, they hurried off in search of information. [1]

Pudding characters

Yet, while the language is comical and entertaining, Lindsay’s illustrations bring the story to life with his incredible drawings. These include: Albert the Pudding, Bunyip Bluegum, the Koala; Sam Sawnoff, the penguin; Watkin Wombat and the Possum.

However, there was a lot more to Norman Lindsay than the Magic Pudding. However, to get to know that side of Norman Lindsay, I had to grow up. I can’t remember which came first…the movie Sirens starring Elle McPherson, or visiting his former home at Falconbridge in the Blue Mountains and seeing his obsession with the nude in its unrestrained splendour. He didn’t hold a lot back. Indeed, some of his works were very controversial.

The first major controversy of Norman Lindsay’s career erupted in Sydney in 1904 when the pen and ink drawing, Pollice verso, 1904, was displayed in the twenty-fifth Annual Exhibition of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales. A huge debate erupted over the painting, which was seen as “blasphemous”and debauched by its detractors. Indeed, it landed Lindsay in a lot of hot water, which carried over into the pages of The Bulletin, where Lindsay worked as an illustrator. Three years later, Lindsay sent it to Melbourne for display in the Sydney Society of Artists’ First Melbourne Exhibition, which opened at the Guild Hall in Swanston Street on 25 October 1907. Most astounding for Lindsay,  Pollice verso was purchased from the exhibition by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria for the extraordinary sum of 157 guineas and 10 shillings[2].

While Lindsay might condemn me as a “wowser”, I am much more comfortable with his Magic Pudding sketches, than his more “interesting” nudes.

Meanwhile, today I uncovered another Norman Lindsay gem: Creative Effort: An Essay in Affirmation, which was published in 1924, which covers the meaning of life and art, drawing on philosophical concepts and is heavily influenced by the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche. It was mind-boggling reading, especially as I was really zooming through it. However, I’ve jotted down a few quotes, which I intend to follow up later…

“One thing alone in existence is manifest, permanent, indestructible, and that is the individual effort to create through thought and beauty. This passion to create something finer than the creator himself is the one, permanent and enduring element in man, and since creative effort is the rarest, most difficult achievement, it remains the greatest stimulus to high development- and this development is life”[3].

 “But evil must be measured by its reach, its aim, its capacity to destroy the highest. Therefore, its attack must be in an effort to pervert, mislead and destroy the creative impulse[4]

“Pain and exultation, Beauty and Ugliness, Good and Evil, these are all part of the Test. Without them there is no development – no leap upwards into the gigantic problems of Futurity.[5]

“But the problem of Common man is not effort, it is the desire to escape effort.[6]

So, after cramming my head full of all of this today, I am somewhat prepared to start writing to Norman Lindsay…

Letter to Norman Lindsay

Dear Norman,

I don’t know whether you ever felt torn between your creative drive and inspiration and the realities of family life. However, I’m burning the midnight oil and it’s getting far too late to wax lyrically about anything. I have an early start and need to get my daughter ready for a dance Eisteddfod. Clearly, it doesn’t take much for my mind to fill up with research and I should be thinking about tutus instead of the meaning of life.

However, after reading snatches of your Effort: An Essay in Affirmation, I thought you might be a good one to direct this rather weighty question to:

What is the meaning of life? Has it become any clearer for you since you crossed over to the other side?

I’d appreciate your help.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Letter from Norman Lindsay

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter. It’s forced me into conversing with that Kandinsky chap, although I did enjoy sharing letters with Hans Heysen.

All I’ll simply say is not to be afraid of death. Indeed, death is birth. After all, “why should the change in this life to the next be anymore stupendous than the arrival of Life on Earth?[7]

I hope that helps.

Best wishes,

Norman Lindsay.

Further Reading

https://www.salon.com/2004/07/28/pudding

Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort.

References

[1] The Magic Pudding: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23625/23625-h/23625-h.htm pg 53

[2] https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down-the-trials-and-tribulations-of-norman-lindsays-pollice-verso-2/

[3] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort pp 20-21.

[4] Ibid p 45.

[5] Ibid p 48.

[6] Ibid p 59

[7] Ibid pg 52.

H- Hans Heysen…A-Z Challenge.

As you may recall, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today we’re heading off to Hahndorf in South Australia to drop off a letter to German-Australian artist, Sir Hans Heysen (1877–1968).

Wilhelm Ernst Hans Franz Heysen was born 8 October 1877 in Hamburg, Germany. He migrated to Adelaide in South Australia with his family in 1884 at the age of 7. As a young boy Heysen showed an early interest in art and in 1897, aged 20, he was sponsored by a group of wealthy Adelaide art enthusiasts to study art for four years in France[1] In Paris, he studied at the Académie Julian and Colarossi’s Academy under various masters including Jean Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant and at the Académie des Beaux Arts and he later studied in Italy. There were also summer painting excursions to Holland and Scotland, and a hasty visit to Germany. In 1903, he returned to Adelaide in 1903. He later reported that the impact of Australian light as he sailed up St Vincent’s Gulf was like a slap in the face, profoundly affecting his attitude and vision. Almost at once he turned his back on Europe and concentrated on Australian landscape[2].

Soon Heysen was attracted by one of his pupils, Selma Bartels, known as “Sallie”. They were married on 15 December 1904.

“Its (the gum tree) main appeal to me has been its combination of mightiness and delicacy – mighty in its strength of limb and delicate in the colouring of its covering. Then it has distinctive qualities; in fact I know of no other tree which is more decorative, both as regards the flow of its limbs and the patterns the bark makes on its main trunk. In all its stages the gum tree is extremely beautiful.”

SIR HANS HEYSEN

To the unappreciative eye, Heysen’s works could be dismissed as “yet another gum tree”. Indeed, the artist himself became somewhat of an anachronism as he remained stuck in his ways. Ignoring artistic trends, he remained true to himself, right down to wearing his knee-length knickerbockers and long socks (a rather peculiar sight even in Hahndorf). Yet, when you take the time to appreciate the detail in Heysen’s paintings, the gum trees come alive. Each has its own endearing personality, and his use of light creates a sense of awe and majesty. You feel drawn into the painting, as if into a dream. Indeed, these Arcadian scenes emit a real joie de vivre, happiness, contentment and quite frankly, I’m inspired to pack up my swag to have a long afternoon snooze on the shaded grass beneath their branches.

Heysen White Gums

Hans Heysen, “White Gums”.

Yet, Heysen was more than just gum trees. Influenced by French artist Millett who inspired a generation of artists with his famous depictions of peasants working in the fields, Heysen painted Hahndorf locals, capturing a passing era.

Haebich's Cottage Postcard

Haebich’s Cottage, Hahndorf where Heinrich Haebich and family lived.

This is what drew Hans Heysen into my orbit. He sketched my Great Great Grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich, who owned Haebich’s smithy in Main Street. With the coming of the motor car, clearly the blacksmith was going the way of the slate. Yet, the Haebichs were also progressing with the times, a fact not reflected in Heysen’s work. Indeed, Heysen as well as the artists he brought to Haebich’s, zoomed into a narrow perspective of the place and turned a bustling and often dramatic hive of industry, into a still life.

Lionel Lindsay The Smith Window, Ambleside 1924

Lionel Lindsay: “The Smithy Window, Ambleside” (1924).

While Heysen sketched Heinrich August in 1912, he later brought his friends into the smithy at a time when the car was replacing the horse. Sir Lionel Lindsay’s: The Smithy Window, Ambleside was completed in 1924 and Sydney Ure Smith’s: The Blacksmith’s Shop, Ambleside was painted in1925. (Hahndorf was known as Ambleside for a time due to anti-German sentiment). Sydney Ure Smith even included his sketch in his book, Old Colonial By-Ways, which largely comprised on historic Sydney buildings, but also had a handful of sketches of Hahndorf thrown in and seemed a little out of place.

Frankly, you have to ask why these three artists drew the blacksmith’s shop. Moreover, having heard my grandfather’s descriptions, their still life perspective doesn’t sit right. After all, a blacksmith’s shop was a hive of industry. Even as an old man, my grandfather’s face would light up when he talked about watching them make cart wheels. He and his sisters would walk past the smithy after school. They loved watching the water whoosh up when the red hot, steel rim for the wheel was dunked in water, producing an incredible gush of steam. There was so much theatre and it was a pretty dangerous place too. They had to stand back. So, clearly this wasn’t a place of still life.

Amelia with Hans Heysen smithy.JPG

Our daughter posing with Haebich’s Smithy 1912, 101 years after it was sketched.

I have visited Hahndorf a few times over the years, and on our last visit we toured Hans Heysen’s home, The Cedars. Visiting an artist’s home always changes your relationship. While you never become “friends” as such, with a good guide loaded with stories and an eye for detail, you can feel like you’ve at least taken a short walk in their shoes. Or, in my case, peering through the lens and seeing things through his eyes. Indeed, his house reminded me of my grandparents’ homes with lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and was a real delight.

Hans Heysens house

Path leading to Hans Heysen’s House: The Cedars. Couldn’t help wondering whether a Haebich forged his gate.

A Letter to Sir Hans Heysen

Dear Hans,

I wonder what it would be like like for you to walk through that rusty gate again and come back home? A few of your old gum trees are still around, and thankfully they managed to save the historic German houses from the bulldozer. Destroying all that heritage would’ve been a crime. Indeed, I am rather grateful for the watercolour and sketches you did of Haebich’s Smithy, which was owned by my Great Great Grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich. Along with the parallel works undertaken by your friends Lionel Lindsay and Sydney Ure Smith, they provide a detailed study of the workshop and his tools of trade.

My grandfather has spoken to me about the intense anti-German sentiment associated with WWI and WWII, and I wonder if you were ever tempted to change your name. From 1914-1935 Hahndorf was just one of many German towns in the Adelaide Hills whose names were changed to English alternatives. Hahndorf became known as Ambleside and many German families changed their names. Indeed, my grandfather attended Ambleside Public School and during his time there, the Principal changed his name. Families who didn’t change their names, often lost jobs, despite the high percentage of German descendants in South Australia. My grandfather was thrown into a blackberry bush when he started high school due to his German heritage.

These problems have resurfaced recent years, although this time it’s Muslims and people of “Middle-Eastern appearance” who are being targeted due to the perceived terrorism threat. Women wearing the hijab have been particularly targeted, and many women felt unsafe leaving their homes and catching public transport. This led to the #ridewithme campaign, which has at least raised more awareness.

I feel I live in a bubble much of the time, and don’t get exposed to these troubles. However, I think we each have an obligation to be as inclusive as possible and to challenge our own beliefs and behavior. Try to knock down walls of prejudice and hate and build bridges of understanding, acceptance and compassion in their place. Indeed, we need to do this each and every day with everyone we meet, because no one is the same. We’re all different.

Anyway, I’m sorry I’ve got back up on my soapbox again. I should’ve joined you out in your studio instead. I could use a few lessons on how to paint a gum tree, and you seem to be the artist who knew them best…the Gum Tree Whisperer.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I hope you like the photo. It was taken by my grandfather at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938. I spotted you in the foreground.

3-Hahndorf Celebrations2

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

A Letter From Sir Hans Heysen.

Dear Rowena,

We had a saying in Hahndorf back in my day: “The Geese go barefoot everywhere”. It is a good thing to keep in mind, as you journey through life. While we humans focus on our differences, we really do have more in common once you scratch beneath the surface. We just need to get to know each other better.

You have a good head on your shoulders, just like all the Haebich’s I knew. Keep watching, analyzing what’s going on around you and feeling with your heart, instead of getting swept up in the momentary impulses of the crowd, which have caused unfathomable destruction throughout our human history. It’s little wonder that I loved the gum tree. What have they ever done to hurt anyone?

Thank you very much for the photograph, although I’m not so keen on seeing my derriere on centre stage.

Next time you’re in Hahndorf, please pop round to my studio for a portrait. I might paint you writing in your notebook under a gum tree.

Greetings to the rest of your family.

Yours,

Hans Heysen.

References

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

[2] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/heysen-sir-wilhelm-ernst-hans-6657.

G- Vincent Van Gogh…A-Z Challenge.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

As you may recall, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, we’re off to catch up with Vincent Van Gogh, the “Painter of Sunflowers”, who is equally well-known for his Starry Night and many other iconic works. I might be mistaken, but it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh somehow opened Blake’s “doors of perception” and possibly even saw a glimpse of something in between Heaven and Earth. He was indeed a visionary genius.

If you are interested in some musical accompaniment, here’s Don McLean’s Starry Starry Night

It’s no secret that “Vincent The Man” was more beautiful, intricate and complex than any of his paintings. While his self-portraits barely scratch the surface, the inner man is best revealed through his letters to his beloved brother, Theo, an art dealer who financed his entire artistic enterprise. Indeed, these letters are considered masterpieces in their own right.

“But what is to be done? It is unfortunately complicated by lots of things, my pictures are valueless, they cost me, it is true, an extraordinary amount, even in blood and brains at times perhaps. I won’t harp on it, and what am I to say to you about it?[1]

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh  Arles, 17 January 1889

Yet, it is also well-known that Vincent Van Gogh had a tortured existence. That, despite the vibrant colours almost glowing in his later works, he experienced extreme hardship, failure and rejection most of his life. Indeed, he only sold one painting in his life time. That’s hard going. So, you could say that all these failures added up and that these, combined with his psychological troubles, caused him to cut off his ear and ultimately commit suicide.

Or, so the story goes…

Meeting Vincent

Trying to remember when I first “discovered” Vincent, is like trying to track down the origins of a dream. There are endless stars and nebulae with no beginning. His paintings expressed an anguish, an inner-chaos which I couldn’t put into words. You see, I spent the first 28 years of my life living with undiagnosed, untreated hydrocephalus, which I jokingly call: “a harbour in my head”. In the year leading up to surgery, I experienced a myriad of bizarre neurological symptoms. So, you could almost say those swirls in Starry Night, had moved inside head. Indeed, my head was like a pressure-cooker about to explode. So, it’s no wonder Vincent made sense and somehow he cast a light out of the darkness. Indeed, it was the light of a thousand stars.

In April 1992, my best friend and I touched down in Amstersdam. I was a 22 year old Australian backpacker, and I’d just finished my university studies. It was an exhilarating time. My cocooned world of intensive study had sprung open, and I’d flown to the other side of the world. You can’t get much more liberated than that, and being in Europe for the very first time, was incredible. It blew me away.

In those early days, we not only visited the Anne Frank House, but we also went to the Van Gogh Museum. It was there, seeing Van Gogh’s paintings in the flesh, that Vincent suddenly came to life with the force of a thousand stars. That was now over 25 years ago, so much of the detail has faded. Yet, I still vividly remember how his paintings came to life. Indeed, I could swear they were moving. You know, the irises, the sunflowers… The whole experience blew my mind.

A few months later, I even visited his house…The Maison de Van Gogh in Cuesmes, Belgium near Mons. This was where Van Gogh worked as an itinerant preacher. That was yet another mind-blowing Vincent experience.

Vincent and I were growing closer…

Starry Night MOMA

Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night”, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

His Paintings

When it comes to Vincent’s works, I find it hard to pick a favourite. Of course, there’s Starry Night, but I also love his Sunflower series. I love sunflowers, but when you hear that the Amsterdam Sunflower contains 32 different tones of yellow, you’ve got to respect the mind-boggling genius of the man, and his sensitive attentive to detail. As a cafe lover, I adore Cafe Terrace At Night 1888.

After immersing myself in all things Vincent for the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been struck by an intriguing pair of paintings: Vincent’s Chair With His Pipe (1888) (left) and Gauguin’s Armchair (1888). The two chairs are like chalk and cheese and were painted while Gauguin stayed with Vincent at the Yellow House in Arles. Vincent’s chair was comparatively simple and painted in daylight. On the other hand, Gauguin’s chair was much more sophisticated, and it was painted at night. Van Gogh seemingly hero-worshipped Gauguin and bent over backwards to prepare the Yellow House for his arrival. This included painting the first of the two sunflower paintings to decorate the walls. He also had furniture made and asked Theo to help Gauguin out of his financial woes . However, their friendship became rather tempestuous. During a heated argument, Van Gogh cut off his ear and Gauguin returned to Paris.  The breakdown in their friendship must’ve devastated Vincent.

Van Gogh’s Last Days

Unfortunately, no discussion of Vincent Van Gogh is complete without addressing the psychological/psychiatric struggles which plagued him towards the end of his life. These, as you may well be aware, culminated in him cutting off his ear and ultimately committing suicide by shooting himself in the stomach. He died two days later.

Vincent was only 37 years old.

If you are a lover of Van Gogh’s and are particularly interested in his last days, I strongly recommend you see the movie: Loving Vincent. It’s now available on DVD. They have animated hundreds of his paintings in the movie, and also question whether he actually took his own life.

So, without any further ado, here’s my letter to Vincent Van Gogh:

Maldives Postage Stamps

Letter to Vincent Van Gogh

Dear Vincent,

Vincent! Vincent! Wherefore art thou, Vincent? You appear before me like a dream, an apparition. Stars are swirling through a wave of blue, carrying me to a place inside my head, which exists somewhere beyond the lines.

Like you, I feverishly work away. Not for dollars and cents or immediate payment, but through a belief in something bigger. I don’t know whether you can set a dollar amount on that. Yet an artist, a writer, needs to eat and pay for their kids’ school shoes and excursions. These realities place a sense of gravity on even the most inspired imagination. That is,  unless we have no strings, no ties to hold us down to the earth, and we can just do as we please. However, that life is not for me. As much as I might crave time and space to write and “be”, I’d die in my own orbit. My family and I are one, interwoven, yet each is our own being (however that works).

Vincent, I hope you don’t mind me dredging up the past. However, there are many doubters among us, who could ironically also be termed: “believers”. I just find it hard to accept that you took your life. That after suffering for so long, why then? Your paintings might not have been selling, but you were producing masterpiece after masterpiece. Surely, you could see that. What went wrong? Indeed, I’m even starting to wonder if you even shot yourself at all. Did somebody else pull the trigger, and you wouldn’t say? Please speak up now. Send me a letter. It’s never too late.

Your loving friend,

Rowena

Van Gogh Crows In A Wheatfield

Vincent Van Gogh, Crows in a Wheatfield, Van Gogh Museum.

Letter From Van Gogh

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. My old friend Joseph Roulin from Post Office in Arles delivered it this morning. We were both overjoyed.  Joseph’s been missing the old post office. You’re the only one who ever sends a letter around here and we’re all trying to work out who’ll be next.

By the way, I loved the stamps. Who would’ve thought!

Sorry I can’t help you with the details of my final days. I’ve put all those earthly matters behind me now.

However, I wanted to send you a fragment of a letter I wrote to my brother, Theo on the 21st July, 1882:

“What I want and have as my aim is infernally difficult to achieve, and yet I don’t think I am raising my sights too high. I want to make drawings that touch some people.”

That’s what it’s all about.

I’m not sure that I regret not finding fame and fortune in my life time,. However, it baffles me that I could be spat upon and ridiculed in life, yet hero-worshipped in death. Does that make any sense to you?

Your friend,

Vincent

Sources

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

[1] http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/19/571.htm

http://blog.vangoghgallery.com/index.php/en/2012/07/29/van-gogh-and-gauguins-chairs/

The Yellow House, Arles

 

Further Reading

https://www.facebook.com/VanGoghMuseum/videos/10159187334010597/

DVD: Loving Vincent

Brainpickings: The Fluid Dynamics of Starry Night

The Unexpected Maths in Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night